We Save $$$ Traveling with Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

My Favorite Holiday Gifts 2019: Teens/Young Adults

Ahhh….youth. Remember trying to have a private phone call when you were a teenager? Stretching the cord connecting the handset to the wall phone as faaaaaaaar as it would stretch out of earshot of your parents? And then, I had to hope my brother didn’t pick up on the extension. When I was in college, we were excited to get call waiting! And we had to answer the phone without knowing who was calling, because, well…no Caller ID. Now, everyone plans their lives on their smart phones, including me, but I’m not as technologically advanced as my 16-yr-old. Heck, I knew that when she was two or three and could operate a DVD player way better than I could! But sometimes, those very same technologically advanced teenagers and young adults still like good, old-fashioned comfort in the form of warm blankets and slippers. Sometimes, they actually want to interact over an old-fashioned game. Below, I’ve shared what I think could be some big hits with the teen and college set this holiday season! But be forewarned…I’m listing a lot of items, so settle in and make your list now!

Cornhole Game. Teens and young adults love to play cornhole. And I’m just glad they want to do something besides stare at their phones or play video games. Cornhole games come in a wide range of prices, starting at about $30 on Amazon, but the highest rated ones are between $100 and $130. Search for them here. And Uncommon Goods offers a tabletop version for $48. Could be a lot of fun in a dorm room! See it here.27131_1_640px

Bluetooth speakers. Whether they’re waterproof or decorative, bluetooth speakers are here to stay. And for good reason. Teens and young adults love music and want to share their playlists with the world! If they’re looking for a great, quality speaker to use out by the pool, the JBL Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker could be the perfect gift. Get it for $119 from Amazon here. If it’s more important to have a speaker that’s cute, the Flower Pot speaker from dormify might be the best option. Get it for $19 here.

Lighting. And since we are talking about dormify.com, they have lots of special lighting (and other products) for teen rooms and dorm rooms. Some favorites I have actually seen in some friends’ kids rooms are the Clip String Lights ($14) and lots of different versions of fun neon lighting. Check them all out at dormify.com here.

Big O Clear Bag. I listed this in my Women’s Accessories gifts last week, but it’s worth sharing again, because I think it will be a big hit with teens and young adults. Most sports arenas/stadiums don’t allow big handbags anymore. In fact, spectators need clear bags, and this Big O Clear Bag is perfect…it’s small…it’s clear…and it can hang from a wrist, so it’s virtually hands free! It’s great for concerts and sporting events…or just for going out to the local hotspot. Get it for $79.95 at Swoozie’s here.258340-500

Air Candy Inflatable Chair. There are lots of different versions of this chair, but my favorite is the faux fur version. Priced at $49.99, it’s a great gift for a young person’s bedroom. Get it at Tilly’s here. OrAmazon offers other versions of the Air Candy Inflatable Chair. See them here.  Or get a similar inflatable chair called the Illuminated BloChair from Poolcandy.com for the same price…and it lights up! Get it here.

 

RSVLTS shirts. I know lots of teens/young adults who like to be a little different. Don’t get me wrong…RSVLTS offers some “normal” flannel shirts/hoodies/tshirts, but their line of “cult” shirts is especially fun and will appeal to those teen boys and college students. They pay homage to The Sandlot, Saved By The Bell, and Ghostbusters...among other television shows, teams, personalities, and movies. Their t-shirts start at $27, and their cult shirts are around $60. See the website here.

 

Jackery Bolt 6000 iPhone Charger. If your teen or college student has an iPhone, I’ve read lots of places that this is the best portable charger on the market for the iPhone. According to some websites, it charges twice as fast as Apple accessories. Priced at $32.99 on Amazon, it’s good. One friend tells me she will never use another portable charger for her iPhone. Get it at Amazon here.51w3zK98wTL._SL1250_

Urban Decay Naked Honey Eyeshadow Palette. I don’t know what it is about Urban Decay Naked palettes, but teens and young adults love them. The latest sensation is the Naked Honey Eyeshadow Palette. Priced at $49, it will be a hit with any fashion-forward young person on your shopping list. In fact, there’s an entire Naked Honey line. Purchase it all at Ulta here.

Away luggage. This is something I discovered last year, and it should be on everyone’s list. Heck, if you wanted to give everyone in your family a piece of Away luggage, they would all be thrilled. Lots of these pieces are outfitted with ejectable batteries, so you always have a charger handy. And they’re ejectable, because if you decide to check your bag, you can’t leave the lithium battery attached…per FAA regulations. They’re durable. They are lightweight. And they’re attractive! The bags come in lots of colors, but I prefer to go with less popular color…less change of confusion at the luggage carousel. Prices for the suitcases start at $225, but there are other great accessories for less. Color shown below is limited edition color starting at $275 on the carry-on bag. Get yours here.IMG_5299

Comfortable Loungewear. Loungewear has come a long way since the sweatpants and Jamz shorts (remember those?) of the 1980s. These days, it’s a staple in the wardrobes of anyone under 30. And there are lots of options out there. Because there are so many options, it can be hard to decide. Well, here are a few I recommend: Ugg Scuff slipper for Men, $90 here. Ugg Scuffette slipper for women, $84.95 at Nordstrom here. MeUndies Lounge Pant for Women, $68 direct from MeUndies here. MeUndies Lounge Pant for Men, $68 direct from MeUndies here. Pajama Pants for men and women at Old Navy, starting at $15…I love getting PJ pants there, because they have so many options (flannel, cotton, etc) at such great prices…click here. The Original Comfy, a giant, sweatshirt/blanket all in one…I have one, and it’s glorious… $39.99, here.

 

Coma Inducer Duvet Cover. Several of my friends have told me about this duvet cover after buying it for their own teens. My daughter doesn’t even know about it yet, but she will come Christmas morning…and she will thank Santa! My friends tell me it is the softest, coziest, plushest duvet cover ever! I’m afraid my daughter might not ever want to get out of bed after she receives this cozy gift. About $85. You can purchase on Amazon here.14b7fbdf-37fe-42c7-b922-0cc3c59b9172_1.b58e929358fada28da5d488ac86cfc53

Polaroid Originals. Truly, my new favorite thing is something I totally stumbled upon in a store recently. I was browsing through gifts in Nordstrom and came across the Polaroid Originals Holiday Everything Set, which includes a OneStep 2 viewfinder camera and two packs of film, for $129. Purchase here. Anytime I see Polaroid anything, I get nostalgic, so I fell in love with the set. Then, as often happens, I started seeing ads on Facebook for different vintage Polaroid cameras. Sold! A little nostalgia goes a long way with me. And who doesn’t love a Polaroid picture?!?! And vintage?!?! Give it to me, baby! See the vintage and new Polaroid cameras here. Yes, I totally want the MTV Polaroid camera, because “I Want My MTV!” And I think teens and college students are fascinated by vintage items (and new too!). You have to check them out.Polaroid-600-Camera_MTV-Stereo-004982_angle_600x600

 

Mini Refrigerator. Last year, I was excited to encourage folks to purchase the small refrigerators for their teens/college students’ rooms, and those are great. We got one for our daughter, and it’s great for holding a bunch of small water bottles. But some students need a larger version. Frigidaire offers a larger version with a freezer and built-in bottle opener for $125. You can get it here.

 

 

Concert/plays/sporting event experience. Teens and college students love concerts, plays,  and sporting events. I’m a big proponent of gifting “experiences.” Sure, it’s fun to give them things they like or need, but lots of them get really excited about experience gifts. For example, my daughter loves music festivals, so she will get tickets to one of her favorites for Christmas this year. She’ll be thrilled. She would also love tickets to sporting events…this is always a no-brainer at our house.

104624301-vector-music-festival-blue-ticket-design-template-with-headphones-and-grunge-effects

Card Games. Just like when I was in college in the 1980s, college students still love silly distractions from their studies…and they need them! When I was in college, my friend, Angela, and I played Yahtzee relentlessly. Now, they love games like Never Have I Ever (which we played without cards when I was in school) and Cards Against Humanity. You can find both games at Amazon and Target. Priced at $32.95 and $25.00 respectively, they’re great gifts with a low price tag.

Mason Jar Garden. This is a fun gift for just about anybody. Teens and students can add a little sunshine to their dorm rooms or bedrooms with this indoor garden that’s simple to set up. And it won’t break the budget at $20. Get it at Uncommon Goods here.42998_1_640px

Ridge Wallet. I know, men are funny about their wallets, but this one is different. It’s metal, and while it’s slimmer than most wallets, the company claims it holds the same stuff. Starting at $75 for the aluminum wallet, it’s a cool, different gift, and the wallet fits well into front pockets. Get the Ridge Wallet here.

Apple Airpods. If they don’t have AirPods yet, this is a pretty safe bet, but they’re pricey. My own daughter realized she would lose them, so she didn’t even ask me for them, but all her friends seem to have them. They’re cordless bluetooth earbuds, and this phone-dependent generation loves them for music while they study. There are different versions, and the latest AirPods Pro claims to have noise-cancelling technology, which one of my friends says actually works…for $249. Not in the market to spend that much? The regular AirPods with charging case starts at $159, and the AirPods with wireless charging case is $199. Get them all direct from Apple here.MWP22

Subscriptions. There are lots of different subscriptions you can give, and they will be appreciated, for sure. Here are a few that I know would be great for teens and young adults: Amazon Prime, because Amazon has almost everything…the subscription is $119, and they can order goods (extra charge) and watch various original series…at Amazon. FabFitFun for the young ladies on your list…a quarterly box of full-size beauty products, and its arrival is always highly anticipated…$200/yr. here. DripDrop…yes, a subscription for an Oral Rehydration System, because lots of college students need to rehydrate the morning after a night of fun, and high school students need to rehydrate after sports…am I right? Get it at Dripdrop.com for the amount you choose. And while you’re there, order the Drip Drop Camelback, which works perfectly with the product. I have one of my own. Cravebox, a regular shipment of lots of snacks to your hungry college student…Amazon offers subscriptions. Check it out here.fall-2019@2x

Eno Hammock. A great gift for almost anyone, a hammock is always welcomed by teens and young adults. It’s a great way to relax or even study outdoors. Eno has been on everyone’s radar for a long time. The single “nests” start at about $30 at REI, but you also need to get the suspension system, which can run an extra $20. See it all at REI here.507da8cf-24fe-4106-8e4d-698598e96b2a

Gift Cards. Teenagers and young adults love to dine out or grab a quick bit with friends. Gift cards might seem impersonal to you, but they love them. Here are some favorites: Chick-Fil-a, Taco Bell, Cheesecake Factory, Panera, California Pizza Kitchen, PF Chang’s, Dunkin Donuts…and the almighty Starbucks. You can purchase them in different dollar amounts at your local Target or on Amazon.41g1u7SJubL

Cash is king. And when in doubt, you can always rest assured that cash is king. Teenagers and young adults love cash, because it gives them the opportunity to purchase or do something they might otherwise feel guilty splurging on.photo-1515606378517-3451a4fa2e12

 

Most of all, enjoy the shopping experience! They will appreciate whatever you do, but if you get them something they love, they will appreciate it that much more. And for more ideas, see last year’s recommendations here. 

Daddy’s Birthday

“Tough row to hoe.” I’ve heard it my whole life. My daddy loved idioms, and “tough row to hoe” was one of his favorites, and sometimes he would say it as “long row to hoe.” Either way, it means someone is facing a difficult situation. If you’ve never been on a farm, you might not get it, but to “hoe a row” on a farm means you’re turning the soil in a row for planting.

Someone might say, “They have a long/tough row to hoe cleaning up the Bahamas after the recent hurricane.” You get it.

I thought of that just now, because I’m watching a news show, and one of the commenters said “tough ROAD to hoe.” That would have driven Daddy crazy. Who ever heard of using a hoe (the farm implement) on a ROAD?!? It is clear that commenter hasn’t ever spent any time on a farm.

Daddy’s birthday is today…his 81st birthday, but he is no longer with us. He died 2 1/2 weeks after his 68th birthday….pancreatic cancer. I’ve written about him before, and I’ve written about the misery we all experienced as he suffered. I don’t like to dwell on that, though. I like to think about the things Daddy taught me and the things we all learned from his illness.

For many years, on his birthday, I remembered the illness, the suffering, the sadness, but I am finally at the point that I remember happy, healthy times. I remember how he laughed…something I couldn’t recall for a long time. He did love to laugh, and he loved to tell stories. Most of all, he loved to tell stories that made us laugh.

And that’s one thing we learned from Daddy during his illness: laughter can cure a lot of ills. It can’t cure cancer, but it sure can make it easier. He said it. He wanted us to keep laughing with him as much as we could. We talked about old times. We laughed about old stories. My brother told his usual crazy stories. Having my then-two-year-old daughter and my brother’s then-eight-year-old twins around helped too. They gave him something to smile about. He loved those grandchildren. When we were growing up, he had to travel for work a lot, so he wasn’t able to enjoy us as much, but after he retired, he got to spend time with his grandchildren…and that brought him great joy.

Incredibly, we have a lot of happy memories from his illness. He turned 68 a few weeks before he died. His brothers and sister came over to Alabama from Florida to be with him on his birthday. He didn’t know they were coming, and when we awoke from a nap to find them standing in his room, he looked around and said, “Well, this is a motley crew!” We have laughed about that for years. In fact, I recently visited his oldest brother in a rehab facility (he broke a hip) in Florida, and I reminded him of that moment…and we laughed again.

But I have lots of happy memories of Daddy in general. When we were little and living in Brewton, Alabama, he would take us to the “candy store” on Saturdays. It was really a locally owned convenience store called Murphy’s. In fact, now that I think about it, we only called it the “candy store” on Saturdays. The rest of the time, we called it “Murphy’s.”  Sometimes, he would take us to fly kites in a nearby pasture. I remember holding the kite string one time, and of course, I accidentally let it go. I can still see Daddy chasing it and catching it! He took us fishing at the pond in our neighborhood and cleaned the fish we caught. Mother would fry it up in the kitchen afterward. He helped us climb high up in the sycamore tree in our backyard. He rode a tandem bicycle with us. We had a lot of fun.

And when I was an adult, he helped me whenever I needed it. Heartbreak? Call Daddy. Bad day at work? Call Daddy. Stressed out about a test in college? Call Daddy. Sometimes, I just needed to talk. Sometimes, I needed him to “rescue” me when I had a flat tire or a car accident. And whenever I visited my parents, he always gave me WAM (walking around money) as I left. It was usually $20 or $40, but I was happy to have it, and he was happy to give it to me. In truth, we were always fortunate to know Daddy was our safety net…emotionally and financially.

Just like Mother, Daddy loved the happy faces of sunflowers. Most of my Mammoth Sunflowers have already bloomed this year, but there is one that’s holding out. Incredibly, one of my Evening Sun Sunflowers started opening today…the first of that variety to open. I’m in New York, but I called my husband in Charlotte and asked him to walk outside and see if it was opening, and it is…on Daddy’s Birthday. It made my day when he sent the picture of the bloom just beginning to open.

We have lots of great memories of Daddy. His laughter was contagious, and his sense of humor was awesome. His strength was unrivaled, and his love for his family was great.  I hope God lets him get little glimpses of his beautiful grandchildren. He would be so proud of them. And I remind them all the time that Big Ken (as they called him) would want them to enjoy life…sure, save for a rainy day, but enjoy today.

Happy 81st Birthday to Daddy in Heaven.

 

*****

Lollapalooza With Teens

It’s the 50th anniversary of Woodstock. My husband and I watched a documentary about it recently and loved it. When naked people were swimming and bathing in the lake, I turned to my husband and said, “Just think…those people are someone’s grandparents now. Imagine watching this and seeing your grandparents!”

I was far too young to go to Woodstock, but I remember seeing lots of “hippies” around when I was a kid in the 70s. When I was around five, every time we saw a “hippie,” we would flash them the peace sign. It seemed like the thing to do.

Now there are lots more music festivals around the country. I’ve been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans…way back when, but I don’t think I’ve been to any other music festivals…till this weekend.

I just got back from Chicago with my daughter. She and a friend wanted to go to a YouTuber concert just outside the city, in Palatine. The concert was scheduled for 11am Saturday, and it was scheduled to end at about 4pm. When she first asked, I said, “No.” But as it got closer to August, I started thinking about it again. My daughter started field hockey tryouts today, so if I took her to the YouTube concert, it could be our last hurrah of the summer. And I bought the tickets, booked the airline tickets, and made hotel and rental car reservations. She was thrilled.

We arrived in Chicago late Friday afternoon, and at the rental car counter, I heard lots of chatter about Lollapalooza, a huge music festival that was going on in Chicago while we were there. I hadn’t even realized it was happening. The girls didn’t dare ask me to take them for any number of reasons…we were staying outside the city; they didn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth; and I’m sure they thought I would say “no.” We got our car and made a few stops on the way to the hotel. I had booked two rooms; sharing a hotel room with two teenage girls is no fun. But when I got to my room, I quickly got online and looked for tickets. I purchased three one-day tickets for Saturday from StubHuba trusted resale company, and I got a surprisingly good price. You only live once, right?Then I picked up my phone and called my daughter in their room, saying, “Tomorrow, after you get out of your YouTube thing, we’re going to Lollapalooza. I just got us tickets.” She gasped. “What?!?! Really?!?!” She told her friend, and they squealed with delight!

So Saturday, while they were at their first event, I drove around looking at sights and  had lunch with a friend who had moved from Charlotte to Chicago years ago. We met at a place called Mother Clucker’s Kitchen(who knew people in Chicagoland could cook good collard greens?!?), and we laughed and talked, and she told me how to take the train from Palatine into the city…and back. And as soon as the girls were finished with their event, we did just that…took the train into the city.

When we arrived at Grant Park, I thought it was a little overwhelming…the sights, the sounds, the people! But the girls were completely unfazed. They hit the ground running, telling me they were going to see Lil Skies at the Lakeshore Stage. What?! Huh?!? But they were gone! I looked on the directory and found the Lakeshore Stage and headed that way. To get to it, I had to walk over a slight hill, and when I did I was amazed. There was a sea of people standing in front of me! I couldn’t believe my eyes! At first, I thought I’d never seen so may people in one place, but then I realized I had…in football stadiums, but never just out on a flat surface. It was incredible that so many people were standing together, singing the same song, waving their arms at the same time as Lil Skies.img_6119

After Lil Skies played, I found the girls (thank God for cellphones), and we went to a merchandise stand together, where we shopped, regrouped, and setting up a meeting point and meeting times. They told me which stages they were going to and which artists they wanted to hear, and I sent them on their way. But first, I made sure their phones were charged, and if they weren’t they had to take a portable charger (I always carry one).

I wandered between stages. I listened to different artists. I talked with folks around me…from Deerfield, Illinois; from New York; from South Carolina; from Alabama (the Tua Tagliavaloa jersey was a conversation starter); and a family from California. I watched people dance. I checked out the food vendors but didn’t get anything. I enjoyed the crazy wardrobes and the funny t-shirts. One favorite t-shirt was “Done Adulting For Today.” Indeed!

Did I feel safe? You bet! At no time did I feel threatened or see anyone else who appeared to feel threatened or looked threatening. People were happy. Folks were polite. There was no pushing or shoving…lots of folks offering to take pictures of others, giving each other directions to stages, etc. I did see two or three folks jump the fence to get in near the Lakeshore stage, and I read in a newspaper article there were a few arrests for possession of controlled substances…and one for assault…but I didn’t witness it. And honestly…there were thousands of people there; one assault arrest? Do the math…that’s pretty good.

After the girls had heard the artists they wanted to hear, we were on our way back to our hotel. They talked and talked about how much fun they had and how they couldn’t believe they got to go to Lollapalooza! We then made plans to return next year. I will definitely take friends with me, because it would be so much more fun with friends. And next year, I’ll feel better knowing the girls know their way around.

I feel like this is only the beginning of the music festivals for us now. We’ve already been talking about Coachella. That’s one I definitely want to do, so I hope we can make it happen before she’s off to college. Going to a music festival might sound like a crazy thing for a middle-aged mom, but I wasn’t even the oldest person there…and there were lots of people about my age. I was also a “safe person” for teens to approach; several walked over and talked to me while they waited for friends or tried to regroup. Moms have that affect on teens.

So now I’m already booking our hotel rooms for next year. We’ll purchase tickets for the full weekend next year, and several friends have already “volunteered” to go with us! And next year, I will be prepared with the correct wardrobe. The only shoes I had taken this year were wedges, and I didn’t take any really casual clothes. But next year...it is on!

 

 

 

***

Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

Miracle_Strip_Amusement_Park

Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

11890034_1136177743089714_2795682653520860646_o

Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

Mom On Vacation

For the next week, I’m not just a mom. I’m a mom on vacation.

It’s impossible to take a vacation from everything moms have to do. I can’t (and don’t want to) ignore or abandon my teenage daughter. I can’t say, “I’m on vacation. Don’t expect me to make sure you have food, and don’t expect me to talk with you or help you with anything.” That’s not even what I would want to do. My very favorite role in life…ever…is my role as Mom. I love being a mom. Is it work? Yes. Do I want to get as far away from my daughter as possible on vacation? Heck no! I love being with her…but I do have some things I don’t do on vacation…and some things I love to do.

One thing I do on vacation is unthinkable to lots of people: I don’t check email. I know! In 2019, I don’t check email when I’m on vacation. Irresponsible? Yes, but I don’t want to see the email about summer reading requirements. I don’t want to think about school. I don’t want to think about things that need to be done. I just want to enjoy some time away. I enjoy it with my child, but I don’t want to think about all the other essential stuff like school, what needs to be done at home, and all those other things moms do.

The older she gets, the more time I want to spend talking with our daughter on vacation. When she was younger, she was constantly asking questions…all the time…and especially on vacation. Now that she is 15, I don’t get many questions, except, “Can we go shopping?” Or “Where are we eating tonight?” But we have lots of great conversations about life in general. Vacation is a great time for us to sit down together and just talk…and I love it.

On this vacation, I’ve been getting coffee delivered to the room when I wake up, and I sit out on our balcony and enjoy it. The mornings are just a little cool, so the caffeine and cool air make for a good wake up. My daughter and her friend will come out and chat for a little while. The hummingbirds don’t impress them as much as they impress me, so they don’t sit outside as long as I do, but we make a nice connection first thing in the morning.

And while shopping with two teenage girls can be torture, on vacation it’s more fun, because the stores are different. The people are different. The surroundings are different. And all that makes for more great conversation. Meals are the different too…new restaurants, new foods, new beverages, new experiences…all make for fun conversations.

But I will tell you what else I try not to do on vacation. I try not to nag. Yes, moms can nag…even me. Heck, especially me. My nagging is in the form of “reminders” most of the time at home. I remind her she has three pairs of shoes that need to be put away. Or I remind her that she has less than 30 minutes to be ready to go. On vacation, I try really hard not to do all the reminders. I try to just let life happen…happily. If we have a dinner reservation, I just tell a little white lie about the time of the reservation, and then I don’t get annoyed when she is 15 minutes late getting ready. Reservation at 8:30? I tell her it’s at 8:15 or even 8:00. It’s barely a lie, right? Instead of staying in the hotel room while she gets ready, I go to the hotel bar and enjoy a cocktail while I wait for her to get dressed. When it’s time to leave, she usually shows up right on cue…thinking, of course, that we are about to miss our reservation! But we’re not going to miss it…because of that little white lie.

Also, as part of vacation, I do things I don’t get to do at home. Swim with dolphins? Check. Climb a waterfall? Check. Hike through a rainforest? Check. Swim in pitch black water so I can observe bioluminescence up close and personal? Check. On this vacation, because it’s a city vacation, I’m not doing those things, but I’m trying new foods. I’m spending lots of time outdoors relaxing. I’m just enjoying life without thinking about things that need to be done around our house.

My friend, Angela, will be joining us today. She arrives in a couple of hours, and she will be doing a mom vacation in a different way, because her daughter won’t be here. Her daughter is on a trip of her own. Angela will bring even more conversation. My daughter loves chatting her up, so the conversations will get even better. They’re conversations that don’t always take place at home. And with Angela, I will enjoy people watching on a whole new level, because it’s vacation.

We still have another week left of vacation, and I plan to enjoy it without emails and without nagging. I plan to enjoy being a mom on vacation with my daughter and friends. And I will continue telling the little white lie about the reservation time…just to keep the peace.