Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Joys of Adulthood

"This is our last year in our 30s!," a friend commented on a Facebook photo last week. While she's technically correct, I assured her that I have decided not to get any older. This ripe old age is fine enough for me. Even though I'm technically still considered "young," I am also well into adulthood at this point. And adulthood, as it turns out, is a giant pain in the arse.

Adulthood means I've now reached the point in life where I have the need for both acne and anti-aging creams; a beauty arsenal, if you will. It seems particularly unfair for someone to be blessed simultaneously with breakouts and laugh lines, but this is one of the gifts that adulthood gives.

I'm not alone in these joys of adult life; Clint is now having to watch his sodium intake and monitor his blood pressure, checking it every day and recording the results in a log for his doctor. Do you know what has salt in it? Everything that tastes good. Luckily for him, he enjoys eating healthy things like oatmeal and fruit. I, on the other hand, have resorted to hiding in my laundry room scarfing down handfuls of Chex Mix while no one is looking, enjoying the taste of salt, glorious, salty, salt.

I'll have a Sad Meal and a Diet Coke, please.

Lately, we've spent our weekends doing fun things like shopping for laptop computers and a new couch. This, apparently, is what adults do. I have to suppress a sob when we leave our house for Best Buy, easily among my top five least favorite places on earth, and I hear the splashes and shouts of carefree kids at the neighborhood pool across the street. Enjoy it now, kiddos, because adulthood is coming for you and you, too, will need a computer and a place to sit. Your Labor Day weekends will be sullied by things like mattress sales, or closeout deals on appliances. New Year's Eve will become a great time for new car shopping, because adulting is exciting that way.

It's probably best for my Saturdays to be regaled to the glow of big box store florescent lighting, since sitting out in the sun now requires that I use a hat and a full coating of zinc oxide or I get something called melasma. In layman's terms, it means my skin turns dark brown from even the tiniest amount of sun and I look like I have Raggedy Ann cheeks and a mustache. I'm not exactly fashion forward enough to pull that look off, so I slather myself with sunscreen until I resemble a white-faced geisha and pull a hat down until my vision is nearly completely blocked. Then: ah, free to fully enjoy the great outdoors.

Life as an adult means we've also developed unexplained aches and pains that I never experienced in my youth. Every week, one of us has a hurt back/elbow/knee that goes away as mysteriously as it appeared. Our bones let us know when it's going to rain (thanks, broken ankle, for the forecast) and we don't travel without a freezer bag full of medicine to cure whatever could possibly ail us. When I was a kid,my brother and I used to cruelly point out my mother's varicose veins and call them gross. What I should have called them is hereditary, because lo and behold, I've got them now, too.

I find myself at a weird age where I have subscriptions to both Southern Living and US Weekly, because I'm expected to do things like "create stunning front porch planters" and enjoy "creative cooking with Swiss chard," but I still need to know where Britney Spears took her last vacation and what really happened inside the Brad and Angelina split. I alternate pinning healthy eating ideas on Pinterest with cheesy, fried, delicious appetizers I will save for those most glorious "cheat days." (By the by, we tried Swiss chard Sunday night for dinner--it was earthy, with the texture of wet rope. If you're looking for a good recipe: start with a heaping tablespoon of DON'T EAT THAT).

We find ourselves saying things like, "Oh, I can't drink Chardonnay; it's too heavy and gives me a headache." Weddings or open bar events are a roll of the dice: will they have Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio? Or will we be forced to nurse a lukewarm glass of Head Pounder all night? Whichever the case, the odds are high that we'd rather be home watching Dateline.

You know you're a real adult when you are excited about things like a new flavor of sparkling water (no calories and watermelon flavor!) or overnight oats--things which,as a child, you would have gone on a hunger strike to avoid. You have fully reached adult status when you eagerly look forward to your dessert after dinner each night...and by dessert, I mean gummy vitamins. We've actually discussed if it's possible to overdose on VitaGummies and if it's okay to indulge in more than the recommended daily allowance. We haven't gotten bold enough to risk it yet, but some day, when we are particularly rebellious....

I suppose if there's any good news at all in this, I can look forward to reaching senior adulthood, when you basically get to become a kid all over again. Birthdays once again become a really big deal, you are encouraged to take naps and play games (bingo, anyone?), and Clint and I have made a pact that once he reaches 80 years of age and I'm 79, we are going to throw diets out the window and eat anything we want (dentures permitting, I'm sure).

In the meantime, adulthood is calling my name. Luckily for us, we found a reasonably priced, reliable laptop computer and also ordered a new couch. That frees up our to-do list so that this weekend, Clint can work on a storage addition to our garage and I can buy groceries and do laundry. Nothing says young, wild and free quite like that, now does it?

Someone pour a glass of not Chardonnay; we've got a wild weekend ahead.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Game of Thrones Evening

Clint has made me promise to begin by explaining that we are not usually big fans of sci-fi or fantasy. We don't play Dungeons and Dragons, we are not comic book collectors, and we've never been to a Star Trek convention or a Comi-Con, pinky swear. But last summer, when we were stuck in our tiny little apartment during our renovation, we were desperate for entertainment. Game of Thrones is so wildly popular, it seemed like everyone I asked for a TV show recommendation insisted that we needed to get on board, and so we did. The show moves at an amazingly fast pace, it's exciting, and we binge-watched six seasons in just a few weeks. Still, I wasn't even going to blog about our Game of Thrones evening, but several people asked for details, and I am a woman of the people, so here we go.

Discovery Place museum here in Charlotte does something they call Science on the Rocks the third Friday of each month. Each event features a different theme, activities, cash bar, and music. It's adults only and it is wildly popular. This was our first time trying it and I can see why people love it: Discovery Place does not fool around. They fully commit to a theme, and we all know how much I love a good theme.

I was surprised when we arrived to see the line stretching down the block...and back again! Science on the Rocks lasts from 5:00 until 9:00 p.m. and we got there just a few minutes after 5:00, along with a huge crowd. Luckily, the line moved quickly and please believe me when I tell you that the people watching did not disappoint.

Far and away the most popular wardrobe choice for the night was this t-shirt, with a quote from everyone's favorite imp, Tyrion Lannister:

I think we can all relate, Tyrion. 

In addition to all the witty t-shirts, I should mention that there was also a costume contest as part of the evening. Needless to say, people went all out for their costumes. I saw someone in full knight's armor, about a half dozen Daenerys lookalikes, a few wanderers who may have recycled their Renaissance Festival garb, and even a grown man dressed as a dragon.

Presenting Brienne of Tarth and Daenerys Targaryen, complete with baby dragon.

Last, but certainly not least, I don't want to leave out these iron throne stilettos.

There were so many more that I think I became numb to it and stopped taking pictures! I'm not sure who won the contest, but I will cast my vote for the full body dragon costume. It was a steamy 92 degrees that afternoon, and dedication of that sort deserves reward.

One of the first things we saw when we came in was a catapult game where two players use catapults to launch bean bags at images of Game of Thrones characters to see who can knock the most down. Not that I'm competitive or anything, but I beat Clint (twice).

The catapult competition.

Next, we wandered to a station where we were each handed a small cup of very cold popcorn. It turns out, it had been frozen with liquid nitrogen (more of that later), and when you crunched down on it, smoke came out your nose, a la dragon's breath! It was a highly entertaining little snack, but try as I might, I just could not capture the smoke coming out of Clint's nose. Dragon's breath is quite elusive to capture on film, and even my good sport husband quickly got tired of me taking close-up shots of his nostrils with my iPhone.

Never one to pass on concessions of any kind, our next stop was the bar where we picked up one of the signature cocktails to enjoy, the Kingslayer.

Just like Jaime Lannister, we drank these with one hand.

Sure, a Lannister always pays his debt,
 but you did you know about their chili cheese fries?

After we quenched our thirst, we waiting in a never ending line for archery, then decided to double back to that attraction later (which turned out to be a mistake since the line was twice as long later in the night). Naturally, a tiara-loving girl like myself was drawn like a moth to a flame to the crown souvenirs table. You chose which style of crown you preferred, and if you liked, they had rhinestones and feathers to embellish. I'm not typically one to bypass any type of sparkle, but sometimes simpler is best (i.e., Clint had no interest and we had other sights to see). Off we went.

I never met a crown I didn't like.

In the midst of all the activities, Discovery Place also had a puppeteer making his rounds with a rather large dragon puppet. It moved, it roared, it scared the bejeezus out of so, so many unsuspecting people throughout the course of the night.

Sword fights and archery and dragons, oh my!

Another attraction that had everyone's attention was the liquid nitrogen wine slushie station. Apparently, they do this at all of the Science on the Rocks events, and it was really showy and fun to watch. Plus, you know, wine slushie.

Adding the liquid nitrogen to freeze the wine for slushies. Ah, science.

One of the longest lines of the night, inexplicably, was for the make-your-own Hand of the King pin. I'm always a fan of accessories, but once I saw what the finished product was, we decided to move on. After all, we had places to go and dinner to eat (and NOT Lannister's newly famous chili cheese fries).

Tah dah! (Someone else's) Hand of the King custom pin.

We tried to be patient as we stood in line for the direwolf exhibit; naturally, having an adult wolf and a wolf puppy draws a crowd, and the poor wolves were hot and tired, but we finally made our way to the front of the line and got to pet the wolf puppy. As you can see, he was a fierce, wild, untamed creature:

We're clearly wolf whisperers.

After all that excitement, we were a little "Throned" out. We made one last stop at the photo booth and then called it a night. If you live in Charlotte, I would highly recommend trying Science on the Rocks one Friday evening, and if you don't...Game of Thrones will be back on Sunday night, so hang in there until then. Valar morghulis, and all of that.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Red, White, and Man, That Was a Long Holiday Weekend

I apologize that this post is a week late, but has taken me a few days to recover from all that holiday time we just enjoyed. Since Independence Day fell on a Tuesday this year, and since Mr. Fix-It had some household projects he was itching to work on, we had ourselves a full five days of staycationing. Five glorious days of quality time, which is fine when we are together in places like the Bahamas, but becomes a bit tedious here in the confines of home sweet home.

To be festive, I bought us star spangled cups, plates, and napkins. We shoved as much summer as we could think of into that loooooong weekend: we grilled out sirloin kabobs one night, hamburgers another evening. We made waffles for sleep-late breakfasts, tomato sandwiches on fresh white bread for lunch, and I stocked us up on plenty of junk food snacks since we all know that holiday calories don't count.

Cotton, chilling while we were grilling. And don't worry: that's not his beer.

We spent time on our deck, sunning ourselves and enjoying mindless reading material, we walked the dog (and stopped for ice cream along the way), we watched lots and lots of television. In our couch potato mode, we blazed through several of what we consider all-American movies: Jaws, Revenge of the Nerds, and Independence Day, to name a few.

Does it get more American?

On July 4th, we ate our sink sandwiches in front of the TV, mesmerized by the annual Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Competition in Atlantic City (in case you were left in suspense, past winner and crowd favorite Joey "Jaws" Chestnut once again took home the win, managing 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes). Then, we donned our super tacky but ultra-American t-shirts we bought just for the occasion and went to see the USA Baseball National Collegiate team play Cuba. And just to really make it a festive occasion, we stopped and ate some delicious gourmet hot dogs for dinner on our way to the ballpark.

Patriotic wardrobe for the ball game, all ready to wear. We practically reek of class.

Our July 4th dinner at JJ's Red Hots, as seen on Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Clint's meal. Our apologies in advance to his doctor as this was a slight breech
from his low-sodium diet plan.

We wrapped up our five day fete with a win over Cuba and (but of course) a fireworks display. To recap, that was sun, fun, hamburgers, hot dogs, grilling out, stars and stripes, tacky t-shirts, watermelon, tomato sandwiches, ice cream, baseball, fireworks, movies, television, gossip magazines, and a dash of home improvement. If it gets more 'Merica than that, I'm afraid I don't have the energy.

Stars, stripes, and headed to the ball game. 

I hope everyone had a fun and fabulous fourth! Maybe I'll be rested and recovered by the time Labor Day weekend rolls around!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Mixology Class

I'll admit that when I got an email about a mixology class and accompanying dinner at a restaurant nearby, I pictured Clint and I like Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail, flipping bottles and dancing around while making fancy concoctions. I eagerly signed us up, and we talked for a week about what awesome bartenders we were going to become. As it turns out, that was not the case, but I do have to tell you about how fabulous this dinner turned out to be.

When we arrived last Thursday night at the restaurant, a place in South Charlotte called Leroy Fox, and were shown to a small private dining room, I instantly knew this was going to be my jam. You see, the hosts had fully embraced the theme in a way that made my little heart go pitter patter.

And so our Tiki style adventure began. Leis, tiki dolls, and palm trees set the scene.

The format for the "mixology" class was actually more of a food and cocktail pairing lesson. Basically, we had a representative for several brands of liquor who led the class, educating us a little about the spirits used and their origins, then the bartender walked us through how to make each cocktail, and then we enjoyed each course and the accompanying drink. I was more than pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food and libations were!
Our first cocktail of the evening, a smoky "Island Campfire"

First course

To begin, we started with tuna tartare with pineapple carpacio on top of fried avocado, with pickled Fresno peppers and a cilantro lime aioli. If you've never had fried avocado (and we hadn't), it does not disappoint; it was a perfect combination of crunchy and creamy and YUM. The dish was served with a drink called an Island Campfire: a smoky margarita style cocktail made with Mezcal and a jalapeno infused ice sphere. This combination was our table's favorite of the night. We were off to a fancy and delicious start!

See what I mean about embracing the theme?

As soon as the beverages to accompany our main course came out, I was giddy. The heavier on the party favors and kitschy decor we go, the happier I become. This was a pina colada made with a local rum, distilled right down the road in Belmont, North Carolina. When I first read pina coladas were being served with our meal, I thought they would be way too heavy and ruin our appetites, but these were blended rather than frozen and they actually tasted light (despite the fact that they probably have a zillion and ten calories). The bartender explained that since they were North Carolina rum drinks, they were served in a mason jar to embrace their Southern roots.

Second course

For our second course, we feasted on Kalua pork belly with jus over ginger and carrot fried rice and a Hawaiian slaw. Naturally, the men in our group were thrilled with all that mouth watering pork belly! The pina colada we drank alongside this course was made with Coco Lopez cream of coconut and Muddy River coconut rum, which (blessedly) doesn't have that overpowering suntan lotion smell that most coconut rums tend to give off. 

Getting into the spirit of the dinner (literally).

I was almost sad to see our third course arrive, because that meant our dinner and mixology class was coming to a close. But it's very hard to be sad about anything when someone puts this drink in front of you, followed by a decadent dessert:

Tiki mug, umbrella, and a crazy straw? It's like they read my mind.

Our bartender, putting the mix in mixology class.

Third (and sadly, final) course

Our last course, to finish off our most fabulous tiki dinner, was a Hawaiian fried doughnut with a lime curd dipping sauce. I could put lemon curd on absolutely anything, so I was over-the-moon to devour this flaky, sugared doughnut with the creamy, zesty lime sauce on the side. The cocktail finale was a Planters punch made with Kraken brand black spiced rum and fresh lemon, pineapple, and orange juices. The giant ceramic mugs were our souvenirs to keep from the night--which I'm sure will be a practical addition to our china cabinet.

The mixologist who led our class told us these type of dinners are really popular right now--in fact, he was doing another one the very next night at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Charlotte. It was five courses, paired with five different bourbon tastings, all for just $100. That sounds great, but I can't imagine it having a whimsical, fun theme like our dinner, so I think our class was the winner, hands down. If you hear about a mixology class that's near you, I highly recommend giving it a try. We may not be slinging drinks quite like the bartenders in Cocktail, but we've got some tiki mugs and leis for our efforts, not to mention a really fun and unique night out.

Amazing food, refreshing cocktails, and great company. Just the right "mix!"

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sweet Tea: The House Wine of the South

This is going to be controversial, I know it. What I'm about to tell you will no doubt draw plenty of surprise, disappointment, and critical comments, but I won't (pun intended) sugarcoat it: I don't like sweet tea. I've pretended over the years, but I'm an impostor, a fake, a genuine sweet tea fraud.

Cue the gasp from the peanut gallery. Sweet tea is sacred in the South, the fuel that gets so many of our genteel engines running. You didn't see Uncle Si on Duck Dynasty forever clutching a cup of orange juice, now did you? Dolly Parton's character, Truvy, so wisely sums it up in Steel Magnolias, "It's the house wine of the South." Around here, tea is an all-day beverage, the perfect quencher for any and every occasion. Just to show how serious Southerners can get about their sweet tea, in 2003, the Georgia State Legislature (jokingly) considered making serving unsweetened tea at any restaurant operating within its border a criminal act. 

Southern church suppers practically revolve around the sweet tea station. A gallon pitcher of extra sweet iced tea is as much a staple in a Southern house as the Bible or a can of extra hold aerosol hairspray. The bigger the holiday, the more tea we're going to need on hand. Easter Sunday? That's a two pitcher occasion in our house. Thanksgiving and Christmas? Those gatherings call for at least three pitchers, because no one wants their yuletide turkey and dressing ruined by having to drink tap water. Tea is such a fixture in the South that the popular 1990s band from South Carolina, Cravin Melon, even had a song entitled "Sweet Tea." I'll let you listen to the catchy ditty on your own, but I'll go ahead and tell you the gist of the lyrics: "Cause on the eighth day, God made sweet tea."

In fact, we don't even bother to call it "sweet" because down here, if it doesn't have a cup or five of sugar in it, it's not really tea. Southern mamas are renowned for their sugar sweet iced tea making--my mother-in-law's tea was famous among my husband's college crowd for being so sweet it would make your teeth ache, and they loved every sip of it. On many an occasion, I have watched my own mother pour straight from the bag of Dixie Crystal sugar, or "eyeball it" as we like to say. When in doubt, sweeter is better than not sweet enough. Can I get an amen?

Except I, as Southern as they come, prefer unsweetened tea. Shock and awe, I know. I remember being taken, very much against my will, to PoFolks restaurants as a child. Sitting there with a huge mason jar full of the sweet stuff in front of me, while being forced to endure a plate of vegetables, was pure torture. For many years, once I was old enough to control my own drink destiny, I didn't drink tea at all, opting for my beloved Diet Coke or a simple glass of water whenever the syrupy stuff was served. And then one day, whether out of boredom or desperation I can't say, I ventured into unsweet tea territory. Without the sugar, we are basically talking about a tall glass of caffeinated water. As it turns out, I'm a fan.

This causes confusion at fast food chains, bewilderment from waitresses, disapproving looks even from friends and relatives. It seems contrary to practically everyone I encounter that someone with my Southern drawl would order the most Yankee of beverages. I've been asked why, how? Maybe it has to do with the fact that I prefer salty snacks to sweets? Or, since I am a girl who is perpetually thirsty, a sip of concentrated cane sugar just doesn't quite quench it for me? Whatever the case, I notice the looks and reactions my drink choice garners. I have to push aside the guilt I feel for shunning deep South protocol. Surely, since I have always been willing to say sir and ma'am, wear a slip, curl my hair, and pledge allegiance to grits, I can be forgiven for this one wayward faux pas?

Maybe it's the way that tea cuts through the grease of fried chicken, or the sweetness that's right up there with the pralines and pies we love so much, or the idea of a tall glass of iced tea enjoyed in the shade of a porch on a hot day. Whatever the allure is, sweet tea is absolutely considered the nectar of the Southern gods. Even after all this talk of good taste and tradition, I still remain inexplicably immune to the charms of the sweet stuff, which is why I'll continue to (sheepishly, with an apologetic shrug) sip my unsweetened version. I like to think, as my granddaddy would have said, it's because I'm sweet enough already.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Belles without Borders: Happy Travels, Y'all

This week, my mom embarks on a two-week Alaskan cruise. Of all the people who should not, would not embark on an Alaskan cruise, I would register my mother right at the top of the list. Say what you want about what a fabulous trip that sounds like for you, but this is a woman who doesn't like travel, being cold, the great outdoors, or large meals. This does not seem like the best fit. I sent her off with a "bon voyage" and a reminder to make the best of every situation and adventure. And heaven help her travel companions, too.

We all know the basics when it comes to travel: pack layers of clothing in case you need more or less once you reach your destination, keep your medication in your carry on in case of lost luggage, wear sunscreen, and for women, pack at least 12 outfits and 18 pairs of shoes per day of your trip. Women need options. But I'd like to think I have figured out a few other travel hacks over the years, purely through trial and error (mostly error, to be honest).

This brings me to my first rule of thumb when considering travel: remember, different strokes for different folks. Just because your friend tells you she absolutely loved that island getaway does not make it the right place for you. My mom will not be impressed by the sight of a bear, a whale, or a glacier. Some people enjoy being active and doing things like hiking and climbing; I'm relatively certain that I will only experience the thrill of the hike if I severely mess up my walk with the Lord and wind up in the throes of hell, surrounded by raw vegans wearing comfortable shoes and being forced to trek along the fiery depths of Mount Hades.

To maximize your contentment while traveling this great big world, it's imperative to plan ahead and bring the necessary comforts of home. I'm not talking about your favorite scented candles or satin sleep mask--I'm talking about a modern day first aid kit to cure whatever may ail you along the way. Sure, you can probably find these things available for purchase, but as a girl who has frantically scoured the Bahamas for extra strength Pepto Bismol and found herself in New Orleans without migraine meds, it's best to have what you need, when you need it. You will realize you're getting older when you pack your gallon freezer bag full of Band Aids, Benadryl, nasal spray, and every pain reliever ever created, but it beats the alternative.

I'm told that as we age, there's a strong chance one will need to upgrade from a gallon storage bag to a larger size. It's nice to know there's room to grow. 

Mom and I in Paris, 2008. Let's just call this trip "memorable" and leave it at that.

In the spring of 2008, Mom and I took a truly unforgettable trip to Paris that ranks right up there with the maiden voyage of the Titanic and Gilligan's 3-hour tour. After a couple of days of pea shoot purees and medium rare salmon, I started to wonder if the American embassy would let me in...and if they might have snacks. I may have also made the threat statement that I would kill a man with my bare hands for a Little Debbie snack cake. This is why there is no shame whatsoever in my next tip:  go ahead and find yourself a McDonald's. No, seriously. Travel experts will tell you it's a great way to compare the local culture of wherever you are visiting with what you know from the familiarity of home. Plus, they will have cheeseburgers. Duh.

This McDonald's on the Champs Elysee in Paris was a most welcome sight.
The Royale with cheese may have saved my life.

It's also important to note that timing is everything. We heard rave reviews about St. Thomas, but it turned out we were there during the "off" season, when many things were closed and the majority of other visitors were vacation bargain hunters sporting fashionable resort attire like multiple tattoos and gold nugget ankle bracelets. Try as I might to rest and relax, it was just not my kind of crowd. My inner cheapskate tried to appreciate the frugality of bringing your own Styrofoam cooler of Busch Light out by the pool, but I just could not get on board. There's nothing wrong with traveling somewhere that's not in its peak tourism time, as long as you're okay with fewer choices and a slightly, er, different crowd that it may attract.

Know what you're getting yourself into. As my granddaddy was fond of saying, "Don't just buy a pig in a poke." You need to know what you're booking and what you're buying to be sure you get what you want, and that you pay what you want as well. Our family took a Hawaiian vacation years ago and stayed at a particularly luxurious hotel in Maui. Clint and I wandered down to the lobby our first morning there and were delighted to find a breakfast buffet fit for a king. We dined on macadamia nut pancakes with warm white chocolate syrup, omelets made to order, and other dazzling dishes while sitting beside a swan-filled lagoon. Imagine our surprise when the check came and our breakfast cost $75 a person! Or the guilt we experienced when we found out the rest of the family had enjoyed an economical bagel breakfast from room service. Oops.

Aloha from Hawaii, 2006. Some of us were decadently well-fed!

Remember that tip about timing? It's also paramount that, when you consider the length of your trip, you know your limits. Clint and I thought the idea of a full week at an all-inclusive resort in Cabo San Lucas sounded heavenly...until we got there and realized the strength of the sun in Mexico in July. By day five, we were hiding from the scorching heat in our tiny room, eating plain ham sandwiches from room service (not a huge selection at our all-inclusive locale, as it turned out) and watching Beverly Hills, 90210 reruns dubbed in Spanish. We overstayed our welcome and paid the price, amigo.

If all these travel tales sound horrific, rest assured we have had plenty of successful vacations in our time. There was an amazing trip to Italy where every detail was more incredible than the next, from the gondola-filled canals lining the streets of Venice to the Coliseum in Rome. Well, except that one hotdog topped pizza we were conned into eating in Florence--we're gluttonous American tourists and we can't help ourselves, what can I say? There's a lesson in there about not falling for touristy gimmicks, except we always fall for touristy gimmicks, so I'm not one to lecture in that arena.

From Dollywood to Dallas, to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands and beyond, I'd like to think we've gotten some travel experience and learned how to make our trips the most enjoyable (and least homicidal).

Enjoying rooftop cocktails in Florence, Italy, with the famous Duomo in the background.

Summer travel season is upon us, and I wish you happy travels filled with fun, food, and adventure of whatever sort you crave. Pack that freezer bag to the brim, don't stay longer than you can stand, and just be aware that there are breakfast buffets that cost more than your outfit...which seems foolish since I'm certain there's a McDonald's right down the street. Bon voyage, y'all!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Celebrating Southern Mamas

I found what I thought to be the perfect Mother's Day card in Hallmark last was pink and bedazzled and simply said, "Mama" on the front. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and saw it was a Spanish card! I had no idea that anyone other than Southerners called their mothers "mama." I'm still pretty certain no one quite lives up to the name like Southern mamas do. After all, these are the women who are the stage moms, who impart etiquette in their children like handwritten thank you notes and using "sir" and "ma'am," and who pass down the art of the casserole to future generations. Mamas are the glue that holds our society together, and thank the Lord for them.

My mama taught me that even the most natural beauty can still benefit from a sprinkle of pretty. The truth of the matter is that we could all use enhancements. Never underestimate the importance of a swipe of lipstick (note to Northerners: Chapstick does not count) or a pair of earrings, or that holy grail for my mama and me--hairspray. Because no one can take you seriously when your hair is just flopping in your eyes, your ears are naked, and your lips are pale.

Along those same lines, Southern mamas will not allow you to leave the house with wet hair. It is simply not done. I suppose an exception could be made in the event that your house caught fire and there was no time for an emergency blowout, but even then, some quick styling would be appropriate. Wash and wear is not something that Southern mamas can condone. (Note: this does not apply to men and boys--in the event of a cowlick, mamas will lick, spit, and slick down your hair by any means necessary and send you right out into the world, wet head and all.)

Beauty is more than skin deep, and that's why our Southern mamas have always stressed the importance of not "acting ugly." We learn at an early age to tease our hair, not each other. Down South, we much prefer to kill with kindness, and so we've been taught to treat each other as sweetly as we do our iced tea.

Mamas firmly believe that one does not chew gum or cry in public, nor do we wear strappy sandals before Easter or show too much cleavage, ever (Southern mamas much prefer the Dickie to a plunging neckline). Committing any of these acts would be tacky, and tacky is something Southern women try to avoid at all costs. Roll your shoulders back, suck it in, and don't embarrass the family.

Another mama-ism I was raised on is that "nothing good happens after midnight." Imagine my (sheltered) surprise when I arrived on my college campus and my new friends made plans to go out at 10:00. At night?!? I questioned this in disbelief. I thought only big city club kids and DJs kept those kind of hours. Even though I have admittedly had my share of late night fun, but I will admit: midnight is a pretty good boundary to keep a girl away from bad behavior. Let's call this the Cinderella rule and vow to keep an eye on the clock.

Mamas down South have the uncanny ability to shut down any kind of misbehavior with a simple look, but sometimes, mama feels like being vocal. I can't tell you the fear it would strike in my heart to hear her say, "You just wait until we get home." I would pray for divine intervention to keep us from ever reaching our house again, just to stop the horror that was ultimately waiting there. "Let me tell you something" was also a terrifying close second. You would be best to stop and listen, wide eyed, to the knowledge bomb your mama was about to drop on you and then nod your guilty little head while humbly saying, "yes, ma'am." Then do yourself a favor and don't say anything else. Back talking your mama is harmful to your health.

Southern mamas' prime real estate is the mall, the beauty salon, and the spa, and probably in that order. These are places which are a weekly ritual for many a mama. You have to look good to feel good...and if you doubt that, please refer back to the mama guidelines on lipstick, earrings, and hairspray. This is the South, where even the girls in the trailer parks paint their nails.

Anyone who is called "mama" makes sweet tea with a sugar content that rivals rock candy, owns a deviled egg plate, and believes without hesitation that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable. These women teach the importance of church on Sunday morning and of family always. It's from Southern mamas that we learn to never meet a stranger, give a smile to everyone you pass, and that the best answer to "How are you?" is, "Fine, and you?" They believe in an appreciation of good china, perfect meringue, and a proper monogram. It's true that we do things a little differently here in the South, and thanks to our mamas, we know how to do them the right way--just not after midnight or without a fresh coat of lipstick.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mamas out there--Southern or not. I don't know what we would do with you, but I'm afraid it would be tacky.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Art of Birthday Month

April was, in case you hadn't heard, my birthday month. For reasons that are both for the benefit of myself and my friends and family, I decided a while back not to contain my birthday to a single 24-hour period, but instead to enjoy celebrating the whole month long. Trying to celebrate a birthday in just one day is too restrictive; it puts pressure on everyone involved to get it just right. I've found, through trial and error, that the best thing for all involved is to take the entire month of your birth and celebrate at your leisure. That way, no one needs to feel stressed about belated gifts or well wishes, or feel guilt about not being present on the actual day of my birth for festivities. Relax, y'all: we have the whole month. You're welcome.

We kicked off what may be one of the best birthday months I've ever had with a fiesta dinner with friends at Paco's Tacos and Tequila, a favorite restaurant of mine. If there's a better way to get into the celebratory spirit than chips, salsa, margaritas, and tacos, I don't know about it. Unless it's also with a piece of Paco's most amazing tres leches cake. 

Birthday month kickoff at Paco's. 

The week of my actual birthday was a high note as well. Clint was out of town on business for several days, so in his absence he sent these beauties to keep me company:

As a bonus, these flowers made our whole house smell fabulous.

Plus, I am one lucky girl to have friends who celebrate birthday month right along with me...especially the ones who do so with gifts and cards. You sure know how to spoil a girl, and I'm just fine with that. Within a span of two days, my love of mail and my love of my birthday had collided in a whirlwind of goodies.

You know I'm not big on attention (ahem), but this was a nice touch.

I kept these on display all month!

My real, actual, day of birth is April 9, and lest you think it was more of the usual revelry, we boarded a plane and headed to New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival. I already blogged about what an awesome trip we had last time, but it bears repeating. We had four days of sightseeing, seafood, and cocktail sipping. And in case it's been too long, here's another picture of me with a cake and candle.

Celebrating at the Bourbon House restaurant in New Orleans. What a birthday!

Once we got back from the Big Easy, it was time to do a little laundry and repack our suitcases to head to my parents' house for Easter weekend. My mom didn't create as much birthday fanfare this year as she typically does--occasionally, people will tire of the month long observance, and that's okay--but we still managed to have yet another cake and a little more celebration, including a girls' trip for the day to Atlanta for shopping and lunch. We paid a visit to one of my very favorite places, the Swan Coach House, and savored every bite of shrimp and chicken salads, zucchini bread, cheese straws, and their signature drink the "Bubbly Atlantan." If you haven't been to this landmark and you enjoy places full of history and charm, it is a must.

Two Bubbly Atlantans, and cocktails by the same name. Wink.

Back in Charlotte, I was lucky enough to enjoy a few more lunches with friends to mark the occasion, as well as a cupcake or two and a sip or two of bubbly (birthday month demands it, who am I to refuse?). And just like that, the last weekend of the month arrived and it was time to send birthday month on its way...but I wanted to send it out in happy fashion. Cue Hops for Hospice, a charity beer event at my neighborhood wine shop. The patio was lined with tents from 17 different area breweries, and the wine shop chef prepared small bites for the crowd to enjoy as they sampled beverages. Good food, good drinks, and raising money for a worthy cause like hospice make this such a great event.

Enjoying Hops for Hospice with some of my favorite guys.

Once the Hops event was over, a couple of our friends went on with us to visit two other breweries, just sipping our way through Saturday. We talked and laughed and finally made our way to Queen Park Social, a new spot filled with fun and entertainment: this former warehouse has full size shuffleboard courts inside, eight lanes of bowling, darts and games. We grabbed one last cocktail and headed straight for the Skee-Ball machines. It was the perfect closeout to birthday month.

Is there a better way to fend off old age than Skee-Ball and hitting the McDonald's drive-thru
on your way home? 

All good things must come to an end, and so birthday month is now over and officially closed. I guess it's time to drink some water and eat a vegetable or something. The good news (I suppose) is that next year is a milestone birthday for me and so there has already been talk of how best to celebrate. I love a party that starts a year in advance. 

To all of you May babies out there, I'm passing the birthday month baton to you. Eat, drink, and be merry the entire month long--you deserve it!