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!

 

 

 

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My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2018: Part 8, Southern Gifts

For our friends who live in other parts of the country, or even other parts of the world, it’s fun to send regional gifts. For me, that means sending something that represents the flavor and culture of THE SOUTH. I’ve written about some of these before, but they’re worth mentioning again. You might even want to “gift” some to yourself!  Here are my selections:

Hi Y’all. Holy moly…this is one of my new favorite sites. Based in Starkville, Mississippi, this fun company started in 2012, according to their website. A friend whose daughter is a student at nearby Mississippi State University told me about this company, and I can’t stop perusing the website. They produce handprinted pillows, apparel, prints, and custom paintings…and I love them all! Of course, they have a southern theme, and anything they have would make a great gift for a fellow southerner or someone who has never visited the south. See the website here.

 

Pepperoni Rolls. Country Club Bakery, Fairmont, West Virginia. I’ve just placed an order. I saw a story about these on CBS Sunday Morning (you can see it here), and I can hardly wait to receive them. This was one I hesitated to share, because I want them to be my secret. Alas, I couldn’t resist telling y’all about them too. Y’all are going to wish you lived in West Virginia. Pepperoni rolls were introduced in WV when Italian immigrants went there to work in the mines, and pepperoni rolls were the perfect hand-held snack that wouldn’t spoil in their lunches. You can order yours here.

Olde Colony Bakery Benne Wafers. Based the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, Olde Colony offers Benne Wafers, which are basically Sesame seed cookies. They’ve been a part of the culture of Charleston for hundreds of years, and Olde Colony has been making them since 1940. Representing a taste of the history of the Charleston area, send these to some friends in other parts of the country, or get some for yourself. Shop here.

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GooGoo Cluster. I don’t know if GooGoo Clusters are sold everywhere, but even if they are, they are fun to send! Made in Nashville, Tennessee, these treats containing marshmallow nougat, caramel, peanuts, and covered in chocolate have been around since 1912, and they’ve survived for a good reason: they’re yummy! Standard Candy, the makers of the clusters, was an early sponsor of the Grand Ole Opry, selling the candy at shows there in the 1920s. They are definitely a taste of the south! Send a box to someone in another part of the country as a Christmas treat! See their website here.

Aunt Sally’s Pralines. Straight out of New Orleans, these sweet treats are definitely a taste of the deep, Deep South. They are described on the website as “creamy and sugary, with hints of vanilla and delicate, melt in your mouth texture.” Pralines are definitely sweet and creamy with just the right number of pecans. They know what they’re doing at Aunt Sally’s. There are lots of great pralines throughout the south, but I went with one from New Orleans, since that’s where they originated in the US. With prices starting at $14.95 for a box of the treats, this is a great gift to send. See the website here.

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King Cakes. Since we’re talking about New Orleans, I should mention King Cakes. Traditionally a Mardi Gras treat, Haydel’s Bakery makes a Christmas version and a candy cane version. If you’ve never experienced a King Cake, the holidays might be the perfect time. And anyone anywhere would love to receive one, because they are fun and delicious. They’re not cheap, though. Priced at $53, they include some beads and a pack of French Market Coffee. You can get their Cajun Kringle starting at $43.95, or as a package with French Market Coffee and a Christmas towel for $55. See Haydel’s here. .

 

Videri Chocolate. This company in Raleigh, North Carolina, makes an assortment of delicious chocolate products…hot chocolate, bonbons, chocolate bars, and even teabags. And they’re not only delicious, they’re beautiful too! And the packaging! I’m sending some friends some of their Jingle Bell Caramels ($21) this Christmas. I’ll be sending myself some too! You know…one for you, one for me. Prices start at $6 for bars. See Videri Chocolate Factory here.

South Georgia Pecan Company. I was introduced to this company, located in Valdosta, Georgia, by a friend who used to live there. She gave me a bag of their Chocolate Amaretto Pecans, and it was love at first bite. She also told me a secret to making them even better…store them in the freezer! Since then, I’ve ordered them for friends and myself too! Check out their website here. 

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The Alabama Sweet Tea Company. A friend recently told me about this company that’s based in Montgomery, Alabama. She loves their full-flavored tea, which you can purchase by the box, and she loves their other products too! Fun fact: their tea is served at Magnolia Table in Waco, Texas…maybe you’ve heard of it on HGTV? You can purchase their tea on their website, but their gear is fun too! Their t-shirts, tumblers, and hats are pure southern. I think my friends at Front Porch Football (see them here) will like these shirts! See the website here. 

Loveless Cafe, Nashville. Opened in 1951, this “down home” establishment is known around the world for its southern-style biscuits and pies. Back in the day, there was an adjacent 14-room motel, but it closed in 1985, and the rooms were converted into shops and office space. The cafe is going strong in 2018, and you can order jams, bacon, hams, a cookbook, mixes, and all sorts of Loveless paraphernalia. It definitely represents the south. I may send the cookbook to a friend who writes her own cookbooks of healthy recipes…she might enjoy trying to decrease the calories and fat in some of the down home recipes. Shop Loveless Cafe here.

Holy Spirit Monastery Gifts. Located in Conyers, GA, the Holy Spirit Monastery has a gift shop that helps support the monks. They sell honey, biscotti, and more, but the most southern gift they make is their fudge. The monks make the fudge by hand on premises, and a friend tells me it’s delicious. Plus, they have one flavor called Southern Touch that contains peach morsels, pecans, and a touch of brandy. Wow! Boxes containing 12 ounces of fudge are $12.95. Shop it here.

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30a Gear. Nothing says “Florida panhandle” like 30a Gear. If you’re thinking “Florida doesn’t have the flavor of the south,” you’ve never visited the very southern panhandle. 30a is a beach lifestyle brand that was created by a man from Birmingham, Alabama, when he moved to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. With the panhandle being in disrepair after Hurricane Michael, I needed to include a business from there. You’ve likely seen 30a gear, and some of you likely had no idea what it meant. Well, Hwy 30A is a beach road through the panhandle of Florida. I could get more specific, but that’s the gist. It’s a beautiful stretch of beach, and it’s very popular. Shop here.

 

Edgar’s Bakery Cheese Straws. It’s no secret to my friends and family that I love anything Edgar’s Bakery makes. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, but with several locations, this bakery makes my very favorite strawberry cake. Alas, it cannot be shipped. But they can ship their gift tins. With prices starting at $16.50, you can ship a tin of their housemade cheese straws (also my favorite) or wedding cookies. The cheese straws will make you want a tall glass of sweet tea! Shop here.

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Sweet Potato Sweets. Straight from the Sweet Potato Capital of the World, Vardaman, Mississippi, Sweet Potato Sweets offers lots of goodies made from…you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Bread and pies and cakes, oh my! Personally, I never met a sweet potato I didn’t like, especially when a little sugar is added. Representing the true south, anything you send from Sweet Potato Sweets will be welcomed with open arms. I’ll be ordering some of their breads. Shop here.

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There you have it! Wanna share a little bit of the south with someone who doesn’t live here? Send them any one of these items, and they will feel the southern love! Or order some for yourself. I’m placing some orders right now.

 

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A Southern Boy Turns 50

I wish I could remember the day my parents brought my brother home from the hospital, but I can’t. I was seventeen months old, and I was angry. According to Mother, I avoided her and wouldn’t talk to her when they came home. I’m not a silent-treatment kind of person, but apparently, I was then. My life had changed forever. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a change for the better. See slideshow:

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Today, that baby brother turns 50. I don’t want to embarrass him, but I do want to celebrate him.

Growing up, we were polar opposites. Mother used to say, “No matter how long you were outside…five minutes or two hours…you came back in clean, and he came back in dirty.” He was all boy…snakes, snails…you get the picture. I was all girl. He was always funny; I wasn’t so funny. I made mudpies, but he made mudpies to have a mud fight. I hated to get in trouble; he didn’t mind getting in trouble. I was a rule follower; he was a rule breaker. I evaluated situations before getting involved; he threw all caution to the wind. I wanted to do well on standardized tests; he wanted to make patterns with the dots on standardized tests.

When we were kids, Brother (I call him Brother, and he calls me Sister) loved playing outside. And I mean he loved it. He loved fishing, hunting, baseball, basketball, getting muddy, Tonka trucks in the dirt…if he could be outside, he was happy.  He was always athletic. I think he could ride a two-wheeled bicycle before he was three; the neighbors in Brewton were amazed. He played baseball with the older boys in the neighborhood. He fished in the neighborhood lake. When we moved to Spanish Fort, he would talk me into going through the bamboo to the creek behind our house…where I once saw a gigantic rattlesnake swim past; I ran home and never went back after that, but he did. I would still venture into the bamboo with him, so he could show me green snakes eating frogs or black snakes slithering by, but I didn’t go back to the creek.

Daddy spent countless hours throwing a baseball with my left-handed brother. Oh, I was so jealous that he was left-handed; it got so much attention. We all had fun together, but Brother and Daddy were a team. They were both funny and appreciated each other’s humor, but Daddy was more serious and cautious than Brother.

Because he has always been adventurous and funny, there are stories. Oh, the stories! One of my favorites is about a phone call Daddy received one night when Brother was in ninth grade. It was from a teacher whose class I had been in two years before, Coach Long. I had always behaved very nicely in his class. And then along came Brother. That night, Daddy picked up the phone, and Coach Long said, “Mr. Parmer, I sure hated to have to call you.” I’m sure they exchanged pleasantries before Coach Long told him the purpose of the call. “Mr. Parmer, your son is a leader, but he’s leading my class in the wrong direction (emphasis on the first syllable..DI-rection).” Uh-oh. Uh, yeah…. Brother was in big trouble. Apparently, he had been quite the class clown during Coach Long’s class. For the rest of the school year, I had to visit Coach Long every two weeks and ask him if Brother was behaving correctly. He would laugh, and I would too, but Brother behaved well for the rest of the school year, and he and Coach Long developed a mutual respect for each other…later becoming friends.

When Brother was 14, Mother drove past a local church and saw Brother driving a friend’s car…doing doughnuts in the parking lot. When she asked him about it later, he told her everything was under control…he knew how to drive…at 14. Apparently, he had been driving a friend’s car…frequently…big trouble. Another time, after he could drive legally, he and a friend drove a truck into a construction site. It was a weekend, so no one was there. They drove the truck down a steep loose-dirt hill and then couldn’t drive it out. Daddy borrowed a truck with a winch to pull them out…more trouble…and a lecture about responsibility and self control. “Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.” I know about the lecture, because I sat quietly at the top of the stairs and listened.

Brother is a lot of fun, with a contagious laugh and a sometimes warped sense of humor.   But Brother’s not all fun and games. He’s a licensed airplane pilot and skilled boat captain. He’s strong in a crisis. He helps folks on a regular basis and expects nothing in return. Over the years, he has helped stranded motorists on interstates and back roads; helped people move; and more. When we were young, we looked out for each other and felt each other’s pain. If someone slammed Brother’s fingers in a door, I cried. Mother told people when we were little that if something happened to her, since Daddy traveled with work, my 17-months younger brother would take care of me. We’ve been through life together. We’ve lost both parents together. Everyone else may not get us, but we get us. We are connected.  All his humor hides a big heart.

That class clown is all grown up now; he’s still an overgrown little boy, but he’s 50. He has a beautiful wife; two handsome, smart sons; and three awesome bonus sons. I’m lucky he’s my brother. Have there been times I’ve wanted to wring his neck? Yes. Have there been times I’ve needed his support? Yes. Now that both our parents are gone, we know it’s even more important to support each other. We talk almost every day  and often call each other with silly trivia questions.

I’m lucky my parents brought that baby home 50 years ago. Happy Birthday, Brother!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keep The Courtesy Wave Alive

Is it possible there are people out there who don’t know what a courtesy wave is? I guess it’s possible. I grew up thinking everyone knew about it and everyone did it, but as time has passed, I’ve come to realize some folks still don’t know. Are we witnessing the slow death of the courtesy wave?

A courtesy wave is a hand wave or gesture a driver or pedestrian offers as an expression of gratitude for a kindness on the road, or as an expression of apology after a mistake.

When I was growing up, courtesy waves were commonplace. Everybody did it, as far as I knew. I remember both my parents being courtesy wavers, and my brother and I became courtesy wavers, as well. It’s just what we do. Or at least that’s what I thought. It seems fewer people offer the courtesy wave these days.

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Last week, when I was driving to school, a man was trying to back out of his driveway into the street, but traffic made it difficult for him. I stopped so he could get out. He backed out of his driveway and drove away…no courtesy wave. He certainly didn’t owe me anything, since I did it out of the kindness of my heart, but really? I couldn’t believe it! I stopped traffic for him, and he couldn’t just hold up his hand to thank me? That’s like someone holding open a door for you and you don’t say “thank you”! Come on, dude! Just give me the wave!

Another afternoon, I was picking up my child from a crowded place. The car next to me and I allowed a car to pass in front of us, so he could exit. He didn’t even look at us, much less give a courtesy wave. I looked over at the driver of the car next to me and recognized him, so I put down my window and said, “Wow. A courtesy wave would have been nice.” He responded, “I thought the exact same thing!”

But it happens all the time. I think there are way fewer courtesy wavers than there used to be. I don’t get mad, but I often wonder if they know how great the courtesy wave is. Courtesy waves carry a lot of power, but if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. They have the power to make someone feel appreciated; or to apologize; or to offer forgiveness.

I’m an extreme courtesy waver. My courtesy wave is one long continuous wave from different angles…or accompanied by a “thank you” if I’m a pedestrian. I offer that wave in different situations. Here are some examples:

  • If I’m trying to walk into Target, even if I’m in the crosswalk, and you stop to let me cross, I’m giving you a courtesy wave to thank you for your kindness. I’m likely going to smile and actually say, “Thank you!” I appreciate someone letting me cross. That’s how a pedestrian can use the courtesy wave.
  • As a driver, if traffic is backed up in my lane, and you let me over in front of you, you get a giant courtesy wave. In fact, chances are I will roll down my window and hang out the window to give a big wave with a big smile, and I will likely follow up with another wave over my shoulder and a wave out my sunroof. Like I said, I’m an extreme courtesy waver.
  • A courtesy wave can go a long way in bad situations too. If you cut me off in traffic and keep going, I think, “What?!?!” But if you offer a courtesy wave after, I simmer down. That courtesy wave means, to me, that you are apologizing for making that mistake. And I even give the courtesy wave of forgiveness in return. At the same time, if I accidentally cut someone off, I raise my hand for that courtesy wave as quickly as possible.

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I understand frustration in traffic. There are lots of things I dislike about driving: slow drivers in the left lane, drivers who fail to yield the right of way, people who change lanes without looking, and more, but a lot of those things can be forgiven with a courtesy wave. Sometimes slow drivers don’t realize they need to get over, but if they give me a quick wave and move over after I pass them on the right (ugh…if I’m having to pass you on the right, you’re doing it wrong), all is forgiven. I know they don’t care if I forgive them or not, but it’s civility.

Civility is good, and courtesy waves are part of that. I refuse to believe this gesture is dying. I choose to believe it is alive and well, but some folks just don’t know about it yet. Spread the word, friends…courtesy waves are powerful. They aren’t required, but they are appreciated.

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If Only I Could Call Them

When Daddy was dying, it seemed the thing he hated most about dying was thinking about what he was going to miss. He said he wasn’t afraid of what would happen to him, but he was sad he would miss his family, and he would miss some of the big moments.

I think, we, the ones left behind, often feel the same thing. There are lots of times I think, “I wish Daddy were here to see this.” And since December, I often think, “I wish I could call Mother and tell her about this.”

In the last few weeks, I’ve found myself wishing they were here more than usual. I always miss them, but situations arise that I would love to share with them, and that’s when I really wish they were here.

In May, I wrote a piece titled Behind That White Picket Fence (click here to see it) about how we never know what’s going on in someone’s private life. A friend from college commented on my post, making me think of Mother and something that happened twenty years ago.

When I was about 30, a friend was diagnosed with colon cancer. Her name is Susan, and I think she was 28 or 29 at the time. She was/is married (in fact, I introduced her to her husband) and while her husband was supportive, her parents jumped right in to help. Her husband needed to work and couldn’t be there all the time, so her parents took turns spending the night at the hospital with her and stayed during the day, as well. She had  complications after surgery, but they were there to advocate for her. If I remember correctly, she was in the hospital for months.

During this time, my maternal grandmother and a friend of hers were breezing through Mobile on a trip and stopped in to visit Mother. We will call the friend Gladys. Mother had never met Gladys and frankly, found her to be rather harsh. They were there for a few hours, so Mother didn’t jump to that conclusion quickly.

While they were there, insurance became the topic of conversation. Gladys, at some point, complained about her insurance agent, saying he had not been responsive over recent months. When she mentioned his name, Mother knew she had to say something. She responded, “Well, I’m sure you don’t know, but his young daughter has colon cancer. She’s had surgery and complications, and he has been spending days and nights at the hospital with her. If he hasn’t been responsive, that’s a good reason. God bless him.”

That evening, Mother called me to tell me what had happened, and she was a little hot under the collar. Of course, I reminded her Gladys probably had no idea, and while Mother realized that, she was miffed Gladys wasn’t giving Susan’s dad, her insurance agent for 30 years, the benefit of the doubt.

So, after Susan commented on Behind That Picket Fence, I sent her a message telling her about the exchange. She responded by telling me she was happy to hear my mother had interceded. She reminded me her daddy had stayed with her in the hospital and had even devised a way to wash her hair, simply because he knew it was something he could do that would make her feel a little better. He made some sort of “contraption” that made it possible for him to wash her hair while she was lying in bed. The nurses didn’t want him to do it, but he did, and Susan immediately felt better. Afterward, the nurses started started using the same contraption and method to wash the hair of other patients.

That exchange with my friend was one of those moments I wish Mother were here. I wanted to call and tell her I had shared the story with Susan, and in response, she told me what great things her daddy did for her. In fact, Susan told me her daddy was retired by the time she was diagnosed, so no wonder he wasn’t responsive! He was no longer the agent!

But I couldn’t call Mother. She would have loved that story.

There are also things I’d love to share with my daddy. Just this week, I had lunch with my cousin, Ardrue, who lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, about an hour away. Ardrue and I started getting together over the past couple of years. We had never met until early 2016, but I had heard about Ardrue my entire life. She is my daddy’s first cousin. Their mothers were sisters.

When I say I’d heard about Ardrue my entire life, I mean it. I remember, as a little girl, hearing Daddy and Aunt Katie talk about Ardrue. I don’t remember the stories, but who can forget a name like Ardrue? I’ve told her this, so it’s OK…I remember asking daddy, “What kind of name is Ardrue?” I remember seeing pictures of a little girl/teenage Ardrue when I would go through old pictures. Her name appeared on the backs of several pictures.  In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to Alabama to go through pictures and find some to bring back to show her.

Ardrue has told me stories about my daddy as a young man, and she has shared stories about the family, as well. When we are talking, I love when she mentions a familiar name in one of her stories. Sometimes she is even surprised I recognize a name. Most of the times, I recognize the names from stories Daddy used to tell…he was a good storyteller. She is a charming lady with a great sense of humor. I’ll have to ask her if a sense of humor runs in the family. It’s hard to tell, because in all the old pictures of my grandparents and great-grandparents, they all look so serious.

And this is one of those times I wish Daddy were here. He would be thrilled Ardrue and I  get together. Not only that, but we enjoy each other’s company! He would want to sit right there with us, laughing and talking. The two of them would be able to reminisce and remind each other of things that happened when they were children.

But I can’t call Daddy. He can’t join us for lunch. He would have loved spending time with Ardrue.

And recently, when our daughter was away for two weeks on a group trip to Iceland and not allowed to use her phone to call home, Mother and Daddy would have commiserated with me. They likely would have been calling me three times a day to ask if there had been any email updates from the group leaders.

While it’s painful immediately following the loss of a parent, there are other times that are difficult too. Interestingly, for me, it’s usually the happy times that I miss them. I wish they could see my daughter play lacrosse and field hockey. Daddy would have loved watching her play basketball too. I used to always call Mother from my car after I dropped off my daughter somewhere, and I would call her after any of my daughter’s games and give her the post-game wrap-up. That was a habit that was hard to break after Mother passed.  I wish I could just pick up the phone and call both of them to tell them funny stories, talk about trivial stuff, and brag about my daughter. They would love knowing my brother and I talk almost every day, and we still call each other to get answers to trivial questions. And they would be so happy to know we have been vacationing together.

But I can’t call them.

If only I could call them…

My Favorite Social Experiment

The American South and Midwest have reputations as friendly places, while the West and Northeast have reputations of being less so. On another note, people in the West are perceived as creative, and people in the Northeast are perceived as less inhibited. A 2013 study by the University of Cambridge supports that. You can see the results of the study here. After reading that today, I started thinking about our own little social experiment we conducted in Beverly Hills a few years ago.

Southern California: beautiful weather, beautiful people, good food, creativity, and good people-watching. My daugher and I love to go. We’ve been, as my mother used to say, “umpteen times.” That means we’ve been a lot. Today, we are embarking on another adventure to the Los Angeles area. We love visiting. Is it different than other parts of the country? Yes, and that’s part of what we love. Different parts of the country have different cultures and different attitudes, and that’s a good thing. How boring would our country be if there weren’t differences? Why bother visiting another place if that’s the case?

We love visiting the LA area, but would we want to live there? The bloom might fall right off the rose if we lived there. I’ve had to explain to my daughter on more than one occasion that living there isn’t the same as visiting. If you live there, real life gets in the way. Plus, you don’t live in a hotel with fantastic room service, and really, that’s part of the charm.

The first time I took her to LA, we were standing in line at a coffee shop, and my then 7-yr-old daughter looked up and said, “I want to live here, Mom.” The lady behind us heard her and leaned up to say, “Oh, honey. You don’t want to live here. People aren’t nice here like they are where you’re from.” Maybe she heard the southern accent? I had to take a few minutes after we sat down to explain that there are lots of nice people in LA, but I thought the lady meant they don’t wave to everybody and speak to everyone on sidewalks like we often do.

My friend, Mary Ann, who lives in Mobile, Alabama, and her son went with us on our next trip to the area. One day, as we were walking to breakfast at a restaurant about a mile from our hotel, we decided to conduct a social experiment by saying “good morning” to everyone we met on the sidewalk. We got all sorts of responses. Some people gave us sideways glances and moved farther away on the sidewalk, clutching their bags more tightly as if they thought we were trying to mug them. Others ignored us altogether. But there were three who were thrilled. One said how refreshing it was. Another hugged us and thanked us. And yet another had an entire conversation with us, starting with, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

We felt pretty sure we would get different results in the South.

We came home to Charlotte and tried the same Good Morning Experiment at our local Neiman Marcus, thinking the socioeconomics would be closest to Beverly Hills. About two weeks after the initial “experiment,” my daughter and I strolled through Neiman’s, and I greeted everyone we encountered with “Good morning!” My daughter didn’t even notice, because I do it all the time. Here’s what happened: no one looked at me like I was going to mug them. Every single person smiled, and most responded with a pleasant “good morning” in return. One had two gifts in her hand for her young daughter and stopped my daughter to ask which one was better for a young girl. Two or three complimented my shoes. And not one person looked at me like I was strange for greeting them.

I considered trying it in my favorite Target store in Charlotte but realized it wasn’t necessary. I speak to everyone in there every time I go anyway. I’ve even made friends in Target!

On our next visit to LA, we were with friends from the Northeast. We hadn’t discussed the social experiment. We were having breakfast in a restaurant one morning when a gentleman walked past our table on his way to the deli case and smiled. I smiled back and kept talking. When he passed again, he smiled again. I smiled and gave a little wave…it’s what I do. Apparently, he walked past two more times, and I smiled back without even realizing it. As we were leaving, he stopped me at the door. He told me he and his wife were dining in the back of the restaurant and decided to see how many people smiled back when he walked to the deli case. He said, “I smiled at every person at every table I passed, and you were the only one who smiled back. Not only did you smile every time, you waved!” I told him about our previous social experiment, and we all had a good laugh.

I’m not saying I’m always friendly and in a happy mood, and everybody in Charlotte isn’t always friendly either. The “results” of our “experiments” were interesting, though.

That’s not to say there aren’t friendly people in LA. I know some fabulous, friendly people who live there, and I hope to see them when we are there this time. Every time we go, we meet delightful people…every time…LOTS of great people. We’ve met people who treated us like old friends or family. We’ve met people who have welcomed us to their city with open arms…lots of fantastic people.

I can hardly wait to introduce our “newbies” to the places and people we love, and I’m looking forward to spending time with this fun group. We won’t be the most beautiful, skinniest, or most wealthy people in the city, but we can try to be the happiest and most friendly!

Maybe we will conduct another social experiment of some kind on this trip. Ideas?

Share The South

Y’all might think I’m crazy, but when I travel, I make friends. It’s what I do. It’s my thing.

Therefore, when we return to places, I like to take regional gifts or gifts that represent something about me or where I’m from: the South. For example, when we visit Los Angeles, I have a few friends I like to see, and I try to take a little something for them, because some of them have never been here. It’s fun.

Sometimes, it’s something obvious that I take. If the person knows I went to The University of Alabama, I might take a Bama sweatshirt or t-shirt. But I can’t take the same thing every time. It’s fun, to me, to search for interesting places to purchase stuff that represents North Carolina, Alabama, or just the south in general.

Since it’s summertime, we try to make a few more trips than the rest of the year. During the rest of the year there’s that thing that messes up all our travel. It’s called school.

This summer, we have a few trips planned, and I’ve been looking for the perfect southern gifts to take with me on my trips. You know, lots of people all over the country still think we don’t have paved roads or shoes in the south. They think we still cook everything in lard. But with my gifts, I like to introduce them to the real south. Sometimes it’s funny stuff, and sometimes not. But here are a few of my favorite places to get southern gifts.

THE BUTTERCUP GIFTS AND STATIONERY: The Buttercup on Providence Road in Charlotte has great gifts for everyone, and a lot of them represent the south. They have college mascot gifts, personalized stationery and other gifts, jewelry and art by southern artists, and a lovely assortment of other unique gifts you’d be proud to present to that hotel concierge who fielded all your crazy questions before you traveled. Their website can be accessed here, but they have a much bigger assortment in the store.

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THE BITTER SOUTHERNER GENERAL STORE: A friend recently sent me a text and shared this fun website with me. It’s called The Bitter Southerner, and they offer lots of funny gifts with a southern theme. Some of my personal favorites are t-shirts listing the first names of well-known southern authors; sweatshirts featuring one of our favorite southern sayings, “Bless Your Heart;” t-shirts that simply say “Mayo and Tomato;” baseball caps; automobile license plates…you’ll have a great time perusing this site. They even have The Bitter Southerner Coffee Club, a membership plan through which they ship the recipient coffee from “some of the best coffee roasters in the South,” according to the website. Take a look at their offeringshere.byh-sweatshirt_1024x1024.

LOCALS ONLY CHATTANOOGA GIFT SHOP: Another friend told me about a gift shop she stumbled upon in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they offer all sorts of Southern fun stuff and delicacies, including one of my favorites…Miss Shelley’s Southern Jam. They offer four flavors of her jam, and many of my friends could tell you they are fantastic jams, and they make great gifts. In addition to this, they offer all sorts of Chattanooga merchandise, Moon Pies, Southern seasoned grits, and See Rock City birdhouses. People who don’t live in the south might not be familiar with the iconic See Rock City rooftops on barns, but this is a fun way to introduce them. This is a fun website I highly recommend. See their website here.

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PAPER SKYSCRAPER, CHARLOTTE, NC: This store on East Boulevard in Charlotte is chock full of gifts that represent Charlotte and North Carolina. I’ve purchased all sorts of gifts there…lowball glasses with “704” (our zip code) on them, bourbon-infused honey, candles made in Charlotte, cans of Bertie County peanuts, books about Charlotte, and postcards galore. If you’re looking for gifts that represent Charlotte or North Carolina, this is a great place to shop. You can get information about the store from their website here, but to purchase from them, you’ll need to go in for a visit…and it will be fun when you do!

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CORNER COPIA GARDENS AND GIFT SHOP: I’ve written about this one before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Corner Copia Gardens and Gift Shop is located in charming Fairhope, Alabama, a lovely small town on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. It is owned and operated by a childhood friend of mine, Michelle Prouty Johns, who has had a lifelong love of plants and gardening. If you find yourself in the area, it’s worth a stop to see the lovely and sometimes rare plants she has in stock and purchase some fun stuff from the gift shop. She opened the gift shop to supplement the gardens in the off-season, and she has some great gifts, including “air plant jellies,” head-shaped planters, and lots more. If you stop in, please tell her Kelly sent you! She doesn’t have a website, but you can check out her Facebook page here.

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SOUTH GEORGIA PECAN COMPANY: My friend, Linda, who used to live in Valdosta, Georgia, introduced me to South Georgia Pecan Company a few years ago when she gifted me some Chocolate Amaretto Pecans that were absolutely heavenly. She even advised me to keep them in the freezer…it just enhances the flavor. Since then, I’ve gifted them to a few folks myself. The company also offers other types of pecans, gift baskets, and even Southern Pecan Pies, a treat indeed. While you’re at the website, check out their great t-shirts too. They would make great gifts for taking on a flight…easy to get through security. And if you’re not from the south, it’s pronounced puh-KAHN down here. You can order directly through their website here, but if you call them for any reason, please don’t say pee-can.

THREE GEORGES CANDY: Three Georges has been a staple in Mobile, Alabama, for a hundred years. According to a story on the WALA-TV website, the store was opened in 1918 by three Greek immigrants “who, you guessed it, shared the same name: George Pappalamporous, George Spero, and George Pope.” The store is located on Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile, and it should be on your list of places to visit if you find yourself on the Gulf Coast. If you want to try one of their old recipes, go for my favorite, the Heavenly Hash, made up of marshmallows and pecans smothered in milk chocolate. A little bit goes a long way, but everybody in Mobile knows about Heavenly Hash. You an order directly through their website here, but visit if you can.

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I also enjoy sharing books or magazines about the south (click on title for more info): Southern Living Magazine,Our State Magazinefrom North Carolina, Mobile Bay Monthly Magazine, Charlotte Magazine, Southern Home Magazine, and more. Earlier this year, I picked up a photo book about Charlotte from Paper Skyscraper and sent it to a friend who has never visited. Short stories are great too. For a book of short stories about the south, there is The Signet Classic Book of Southern Short Stories, which you can purchasehere.

So, there’s an assortment of places you can find trinkets, apparel, or foods that represent the South. Since I’m going on vacation soon, I plan to put in my orders this weekend. My friends, old and new, that I see on vacation this summer will receive a little piece of the south from us. To me, it’s fun to show them where we’re from, just like it’s fun for me to learn about their homes.

I need to get busy finding things to take, because if I don’t get things done early, I’ll be “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” (I thank my Daddy for sharing that little saying with me.)