Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Victorian Christmas!

Last weekend, hubs, booger, and I loaded up in the car and headed to Canton for their annual Victorian Christmas event and display. Every year, the town decorates its little square in thousands of twinkling lights. Visitors can also take little train rides around the square, view the scene from atop a carousel horse, take horse and buggy rides, and visit three little "museums" offering animatronic Christmas displays. Hot cocoa and snacks are on hand, too!

We took Clay to see the lights last year, and he really enjoyed it. We arrived early (5:20-ish), just as the evening was getting dark enough for the lights to put on a show. Canton lights up the whole square, with a giant lit Christmas tree; several light displays featuring toys, elves, etc.; and lights festooning the facades of many of the buildings on the square. After enjoying our train ride, we explored the lights and took some fun rides on the carousel and the little antique cars ride. By then, it was starting to get chilly, so we warmed up inside at the animatronic exhibits.

A word about the exhibits - they can be kinda creepy. It's basically three long hallways with various "booths" depicting loose themes - baking, toy making, etc. But, in addition to the animatronic characters, there are TONS of current and vintage toys crammed into these small spaces, many of which have no relation whatsoever to the theme. There's a lot to see, and kids love it, but it can be a little puzzling for adults. Regardless, for $1 per museum, it's a great way to get the feeling back in your fingers and toes for a while.

We so enjoyed our experience in Canton this year. We were in and out in about two hours, which was enough to feel Christmasy but not so long that we froze to death. Picked up a little dinner on the way home and turned in right on time.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Oasis of art

Sometimes, when I'm having a really hectic week, I'll try and visit the Mississippi Museum of Art during my lunch break. It doesn't always work out, but when it does, I'm very glad I went.

After rushing by the bank one afternoon last week, I thought to myself, "I'll pass the museum on my walk back. Why don't I duck in for a few minutes?" I was rewarded with a great exhibit, plus the gorgeous Bethlehem Tree!

There are two parts to the museum's current exhibit - 1.) Oraien Catledge : Photographs of Cabbagetown and 2.) River and Reverie: Paintings of the Mississippi by Rolland Golden.

The photography exhibit showcases black and white images of poverty, shot over two decades in an Atlanta neighborhood. You will recognize these faces - flattered but shy because they are not used to being photographed. Collections of dirty children, wearing only their diapers, as they gather on rickety porches. The whole town coming out to play in a busted fire hydrant. There are some similarities that stretch across the poor, no matter where they live. The pose of bravado that covers the naked need. I found these images extremely moving.

River and Reverie was more soothing, showing the many incarnations of the Mississippi river. Different seasons, different times of day. I love the sunsets, as they provide the kind of window view I think everyone wishes they had. Interestingly, some of these pieces had a pointilistic quality, and I found others to be very fluid. Colors ran the gamut, with some paintings offering multiple shades of brown (the muddy Mississippi) and others showing off all the blues, purples, yellows, and reds in God's paintbox. I loved so many of these: Pastel River I and II, Sultry Evening (with its reds and blacks), Eternal Passing (which showcased a sunset through headstones), Westerly Turn, Rainbow Sunset - just beautiful, beautiful to look at.

Golden notes in the exhibit literature that he'd spent several years working on Katrina-related art. When he couldn't keep doing that because of its emotional weight, he turned to the river for inspiration. How true that nature often seems to calm our souls. I found the resulting work to be like a cool hand on a fevered face. I wonder if he felt that way as he painted it.

In addition to these wonderful offerings, the museum also has its permanent collection on display and the Bethlehem Tree, both of which are free! The Bethlehem Tree is particularly notable, featuring more than 150 authentic eighteenth-century figures. You'll notice Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child at center, huddled at the base of an evergreen. In the branches of the tree, brightly colored angels hover, celebrating Jesus' birth. Scattered all around the holy family are the Three Magi, a host of townspeople, and various travelers. You'll notice that the angels are so bright and clean that they almost seem to glow, and that the townspeople are rendered in more earth tones. They are also pictured with fruit, vegetables, animals, and other things that tie them to Earth, as the angels twirl gloriously above. There's a lot to see and notice here. Definitely worth checking out.

A note: Even if you don't visit for the paid exhibits, you could enjoy the tree, the permanent collection, and grab lunch in the museum cafe. It would make for a wonderful morning, and you'd only have to pay for lunch! What a deal!

It's Christmas all over the place!

More holiday fun! On Friday night, Clay and I loaded up and headed to the Christmas celebration at Winners Circle Park. Every year, the city of Flowood decorates the park with thousands of twinkling lights. On select nights during the holiday season, they sweeten the deal with train rides through the park, appearances by Santa, and hot cocoa.

We picked the perfect night to go! It was cold enough to feel Christmasy, but not cold enough to necesitate lots of bundling up and Kleenex. Clay marched right up to Santa, said hello, and told him what a good boy he'd been this year. Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and Clay replied that he'd love a teddy bear. After accepting his free candy cane, we headed to the train! A quick $1 ride later, we were exploring all of the lit-up paths of the park. We swang on the swings for a while, then sipped some hot chocolate before hopping back into the car to see lights in some of the neighborhoods near the reservoir.


Last night, the whole family showed up at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum for their annual Christmas event. We enjoyed a free hayride through the decorated Small Town, Mississippi, before heading to the Children's Barnyard to check on our favorite animal friends. (The pig was particularly active last night.) Before it started to rain, we ducked into the General Store to get a few little treats, then went back to the indoor part of the museum for the Christmas show. (It's a largely ad-libbed affair featuring Santa, Rudolph, and the Pearl River Redneck. No joke. Funny, though!)

After that, it was a fun tour through the museum, with the toy trains being a star attraction. (Though Clay always loves the antique planes, too!)

Hmmmm . . . what'll we do next?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Babalu

Wanted to weigh in on a new restaurant I tried out this week. Babalu Tacos and Tapas has opened up at the Duling Street complex in Fondren. It's in some of the space the old Auditorium used to occupy. I'd been following them on Facebook prior to opening, and I was excited to try them out when they began serving lunch last week. Here's the skinny:

First of all, park down near the sign for the restaurant. If you park up where you used to park to get into The Auditorium, you'll be too far down. The entrance is right where you see the pretty outdoor tables and green umbrellas.

The inside of the place has a Cuban feel, with washed-out blues on the walls and a spare aesthetic. They had a noiseless episode of The I Love Lucy Show projected onto the wall, showing off Ricky Ricardo at about 15 feet tall! The restaurant specializes in small plates, so you'll have the opportunity to try several things when you visit. I chose the calamari (very very good, with a masa flour coating), the Mexican corn (delicious roasted on the cob, with a cheesy, buttery sauce. I would have preferred, though, for lunch, if they'd cut the corn OFF the cob after roasting and then added the mix-ins, serving in a bowl with a fork. Corn on the cob is a bit messy for lunch on a weekday.), and the chicken empanadas (which were tasty enough, but lacked the zip of chili, lime, cilantro, etc. that I was expecting).

As I watched the other tables receive their orders, I began wishing we had gotten some of the dips on the menu as well. The guacamole is made table side with a stone mortar and pestle (much like Dos Caminos in Las Vegas), and the quesos and salsas looked really really good. In addition, the drink menu looked fun.

Verdict - This would be a perfect place for drinks and appetizers after work with friends. (Or a place to duck into during Fondren After 5 or Fondren Unwrapped.) If you're starving, though, don't go, because it will take several small plates to fill you up.

Holiday happenings

Last night, hubs, my dad, and I took Clay to the Clinton Christmas parade! What fun!

I hadn't been to a small-town Christmas parade in YEARS. I realized with a start this year that we hadn't taken Clay to a single parade his whole little life. So, we called my dad, picked him up, and headed to Old Town Clinton. The weather was really mild, and since we got there about 20 minutes early, we found a great spot to watch from, right near First Baptist Church. We threw a blanket from the car down on the grass and prepared for the festivities.

It was so cute to watch Daddy and Clay together. After we got there, they took off to explore before the parade got started. They walked all over downtown Clinton, scooting right back to our blanket just as the parade began. We saw tons of lit-up floats, caught candy and treats, and clapped our hands to the music of the marching bands before Santa and Mrs. Claus came by in a horse-drawn carriage. "I've been very good this year!! Very good!!" Clay shouted out, letting Santa know that he was extremely deserving of any special toys that might be on the wish list.

After the parade, mom came to meet us all at The Irish Frog for dinner. After a very filling meal (I had the grilled shrimp, AFTER I downed nearly an entire order of queso and chips.) and lots of kisses, it was home and to bed. It was a really great night!

Clay and I also spent some time this weekend making a gingerbread train from a kit I bought at Target. It was awesome! All the gingerbread pieces are already baked and ready to go inside, as well as the icing and the candy. The kit came with a handy tray to mount your creation on. All we had to do was glue the pieces together with the icing and decorate! So fun! Clay insisted that we use EVERY PIECE of candy that came in the kit, so our train is quite encrusted! Heh.

Also this weekend, I got the chance to go to the Preview Party for the Chimneyville Crafts Festival. So nice! I invited a good friend of mine, and we headed out on Friday night to check out all the handmade items on offer.

While sipping drinks and nibbling on spinach dip, little roast beef sandwiches, chocolates, and other delights, I bought a beautiful piece of yard art from Pearl River Glass Studio, a gorgeous dogwood bracelet, two lovely handmade pottery items (a jar for honey and a pretty teal berry bowl), and a hilarious clock for Brian made from a piece of computer motherboard. I also found some delightful little pottery Christmas trees that Clay has loved rearranging into different formations on the TV console.

I really enjoyed the show this year! There were tons of gorgeous things for sale, and I took lots of cards to refer back to one our bathroom remodel gets under way. (Yikes. Pray for me.)

Christmas pics

We got our holiday photos made a few weeks ago for our Christmas cards. Since I've sent them out now, I can give you the big reveal! Look at my sweet little angels!



And I love this one. The way Clay is looking back at the camera over his shoulder is so him.



And then one of all three of us. Brian doesn't like this one (He thinks he looks goofy.), but I think it's sweet!



Lastly, me and hubs. I always love to get pics of just the two of us together. It reminds me that when we started out, we were just two, and now we are three.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hark! Hear the bells!

We've spent the past few days bringing Christmas to the Bradshaw house! On Friday, Clay and I packed up all of the fall decorations and started pulling the Christmas bins out. We've got garlands draped over the top of the piano and the mantel, and we put the Advent calendar up. Everything looks so festive! Clay has been running around, chattering about Christmas and decorations ever since!

I love the holiday season - the hot cider and cocoa, the cookie baking and cards, the decorations and the music. The only thing I'm not too excited about these days is the present shopping, which is why I'm doing most of that online this year. (I just tire of crowds and lines. I can get the same deal online, shipping is often free, and the item is delivered right to my door. Plus, I can shop in my pajamas at 10 p.m., and no one is the wiser. What's not to love?) I went to www.Hearthsong.com and got some perfect gifts for booger - a little chef's set with an apron and some cooking tools, a play mat that looks like a little town with roads running through it, some building toys, and some fun animals masks that make sounds.

Today, we put up our big Christmas tree. Clay helped us hang the ornaments, and he was so excited! (He only broke one!) Later, I made a quick run to the crafts store for a few extra things. I got some special candy for the Advent calendar, and kit for a gingerbread train (which I think booger will LOVE), and a tiny, metallic retro tree that will look GREAT in my kitchen with a few ornaments and some tinsel.

Hurrah for Christmas! Now, what on earth am I going to cook this year? Two years ago, it was rib roast (divine). Last year, it was crown pork roast (good, but not as divine as the rib roast). Any ideas, people in the computer? I'm thinking maybe seafood? Or game?

Thanksgiving!


Oy vey. We have had a busy Thanksgiving!

For about two months now, hubs has been having trouble with his back. He has a large herniated disc, and pressure from said disc has been tampering with his sciatic nerve and giving him all sorts of pain. After physical therapy, pain meds, wait-and-see, etc., his doc finally recommended back surgery, which we rolled into on Tuesday. (The Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Aaack!)

At any rate, it was an out-patient procedure, and he has been recovering very well. It's just been one more ball to juggle as the holiday season begins. (And on the up side, I addressed all of our Christmas cards in the hospital waiting room. Expect your glad tidings early this year!)

So, for Thanksgiving, I spread my work load out over the week, which served me very well on Thursday. Tuesday night, I made hubs' favorite cranberry sauce. (I thought for half a minute about switching to a recipe with port and oranges in it this year, but hubs begged me not to. Ah, me. NEXT year then!) I also went ahead and made my pie dough on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday night, I made a delicious pumpkin almond amaretto pie. Found the recipe at epicurious.com. I whipped up some amaretto vanilla whipped cream to top it with (which was VERY well received).

Then, on Thursday, I just had turkey and gravy duty. I chose another epicurious.com recipe, with an herb butter and lots of shallots. The gravy had a delicious cup of white wine in it, and I pureed the shallots in, too, so the gravy would be smooth. OMG. Delish. The gravy? Good on everything. Dressing, turkey, rolls split in half. I've even ladled it over some plain brown rice. Dear Lord, it's good.

My sweet sister made some amazing savory sweet potatoes, sliced into rounds and baked with bits of red onion and bacon on top, as well as some roated asparagus with red bell pepper and a lemony dressing and some yummy green beans. (And let's not forget the traditional cornbread stuffing! Yum!) Mom handled rolls, appetizers (Her spinach dip was soooo good.), and drinks. (Ballatore Gran Spumante, anyone?)

Booger and my sweet nephew sat at the "kids' table," which we decorated with a HUGE turkey Clay, hubs, and I made. (See little man above, putting the finishing touches on the brown body with craft paint.) I also bought little silk autumn leaves and wrote each person's name on them to use as place cards. Festive, without being the least bit fussy. I've tucked them away for next year!

Hope you and yours had a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

My 101

Well, I kinda fell off the wagon on this in 2010, didn't I? The challenge officially ended Sept. 28, and here it is, six weeks later, and I'm just getting back around to the final tally! See below for how far I came!

101 things to do in 1001 days

Record family history (Create a family tree with my grandmother? Photos? Stories?)
Take Clay’s picture professionally at least once every 6 months
Make a will
Make a living will
Talk with Laura about Clay
Send a Christmas card to an estranged family member

Write to my grandmother
Attend services at three local churches
Volunteer in a way that’s meaningful to me
Go back to the gym – at least 3 times a week
Lose 10 pounds

Keep it off for 6 months
Train to run 3 miles without stopping
Try a yoga or pilates class
Go to the International Museum of Muslim Cultures
Go to the Smith Robertson Museum
Go to the Lauren Rogers Museum
Take an art class (pottery, painting, etc.)
Paint a picture
Learn to play at least one song on the guitar
Write a food article and get it published
Write at least one poem or short story
Paint the front porch swing
Tile the master bathroom
Plant some flowering shrubs in the back yard and DON’T let them die
Plant an herb garden
Fix the patio table
Get a window shade for the baby’s bedroom
Have an energy audit done on the house
Paint the shed in the back yard

Paint the inside of the garage
Take Clay swimming
Drink wine in California
Ride in a helicopter - Got this one done in Orlando.
Ride in a hot air balloon - Got this one done in Orlando, too!

Go to Graceland
Go to New York City
Create a “great books list” and start reading (at least 5 books)

Create a “great movies list” and start watching (at least 5 movies)
Treasure hunt on Highway 49
Host a New Year’s open house party
Host a “dinner among the leaves” party
Host an Easter brunch
Throw a Kentucky Derby party

Celebrate the Chinese New Year
Pay off the last of my student loan
Buy some sexy new underwear
Attend at least one live concert

Go the fall flower show/festival in Crystal Springs
Visit a botanic garden
Learn more about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict
Watch a meteor shower
Give blood
See snow
See the ocean
Adopt an Angel at Christmas

Go bowling
Pay for the person behind me in line
Do an anonymous good deed
Learn to bake a good loaf of bread
Go on a day hike
Write a letter to the editor of my local newspaper
Go on a vacation sans baby
Let Clay ride in the convertible with the top down
Perform in at least one stage production
Attend at least one Mensa meeting
Attend at least one college alumni event
Get back in touch with some of my college professors
Learn how to play poker
Learn how to shoot a decent game of pool
Make a real paella
Make a real sangria
Get a facial
Start taking vitamins again
Take mom to have her makeup done
Discover 5 new recording artists I really like and buy their CDs
Find a pair of sunglasses that will change my life

Find my signature fragrance
Take some pictures of leaves turning color in the fall
Set up and take some faux-tography shots of the baby
Write to Grace
Visit Grace in Oregon

Go on a picnic and eat food that I MADE, not food that I bought
Visit a dermatologist
Book a session with a personal trainer
Buy sheet music for a song I like and learn to play it on the piano
Learn to do a passable waltz
Bring the baby to visit my dad at work
Take a bubble bath
Light some candles just for us, when we DON’T have someone coming over
Make mint juleps and drink them on the front porch swing

Go ice skating
Preserve Clay’s foot and hand prints
Attain APR accreditation
Buy or make Clay a kick-ass Halloween costume
Give a gift that I made.

Send someone flowers for no reason
Begin using my wine notebook again and identify at least three new wines that I like
Buy a birdfeeder and set it up in the back yard
Fix the broken window pane on the porch
Spend an afternoon lying in the hammock


First day of the challenge: January 1, 2008
Last day of the challenge: September 28, 2010


Now, even though I didn't finish all the items on my list, I found this to be a very rewarding exercise. I'm going to reassess the items I didn't get to this go round. Look for a fresh list on January 1, 2011!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Megamind!

Last weekend, hubs and I took little man to see his second movie in the theatre. We found ourselves with nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon (Gasp!), so, on a whim, we decided to see Megamind, the new computer-animated film voiced by Will Ferrell, Brad Pitt and Tina Fey.

What fun! The movie was fine for children, but there was plenty in it for adults, too. Here's the plot: Megamind (whose head is unnaturally large and whose skin is a bright shade of blue) and Metro Man (who looks deceivingly human) are sent to Earth from dying planets when they are just babies. Metro Man (voiced by Pitt) has to good fortune to land in a mansion, where he's adopted by a wealthy family. Megamind (voiced by Ferrell) lands in the yard of a prison.

As the two grow up, they find themselves at odds. Metro Man is always receiving praise and saving people. Megamind, unfortunately, undertakes several science experiments that go wrong, bringing scolding and punishment from the same teachers that dote on lucky Metro Man. In exasperation, Megamind finally decides being bad is the only thing he's good at, so he chooses a life of crime.

For the next decade or so, the two aliens battle it out against the backdrop of Metro City, their epic struggle covered in detail by local news reporter Roxanne Ritchi (Fey). In a fluke plan, Megamind apparently kills poor Metro Man. Suddenly, the outcast has achieved his dream - a city he can rule with impunity. But all the stolen loot and fancy paintings in the world don't satisfy him now that his archenemy is gone. Purposeless, Megamind finally has to come to terms with who he is and what he really wants in life.

I thought this movie was a hoot. I laughed out loud several times and found myself smiling throughout. The scripts is smart and funny, with quick pacing and an especially lovable protagonist. Voice work was excellent, and the animation was fun, too!

If you're smart, you'll go see it!

More fall traditions

Since we've got TONS of pine cones lying around the yard these days, Clay and I decided to make pine cone bird feeders last week. First, we smeared the pine cones with crunchy peanut butter. (No one in my house ever eats the crunchy kind. I'd bought it for a recipe a while back, so it was nice to have an excuse to use it for something!) Then, we rolled the gooey pine cones in bird seed, tied a string around one end, and hung them in the trees near the birdbath. So far, one has been totally picked clean, one has been discovered, and a third lurks, undetected.

Also, since we've been reading a lot about leaves changing color with the seasons, we decided to go on a leaf walk. Little man and I headed down the trail near the old Mississippi Craftsmen's Guild, on the Natchez Trace, with a plastic zip-top bag to collect interesting specimens. It was a gorgeous day, and we found tons of stuff - feathery leaves that had turned deep red, some yellow heart-shaped leaves, and lots of acorns. When we got back home, we made a little booklet out of construction paper, decorated the front of it with colored leaf stamps, and glued our specimens inside. (They have slowly been turning brown ever since, but he loves his leaf book. I don't have the heart to take it from him!)

We stopped at a farmer's market to get some new pumpkins for the front porch. They had the white ghost pumpkins, the pretty gray Cinderella variety, and those cute jack be little pumpkins that Clay loves. We also got a couple of turban squash. (I adore their distinctive shape and mottled colors.) The front porch looks very festive!

We've also been slipping pureed pumpkin into everything - especially pancakes and waffles on weekend mornings. We've decided we like both topped with blackstrap molasses, rather than traditional maple syrup. It just tastes more like the season to me, for some reason. (Must be the association with the molasses cookies I make each fall. STILL haven't gotten to that recipe yet this year!)

We planted about 45 iris bulbs in the back yard, and I'm hoping they grow well in the springtime! I'm really excited about how the back yard is coming along. My plants are filling out a bit and becoming further established, and it's really starting to look nice out there.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Curtain up!

Finally got back to New Stage recently to see The Miracle Worker. I'd never seen this show live, and I knew some of the cast members, so I was excited to settle into my comfortable new theatre seat and take in the show.

First and foremost, I thought this show was cast and directed very well. Absolutely no weak links in the main players. Sharon Miles (as Viney) and Larry Wells (as Captain Keller) gave me particular joy, and of course Jessica Wilkinson (as Annie Sullivan) was a major pillar of the production. Blocking was obviously carefully thought-out, as in many scenes, quite a few actors on stage could result in a cluttered appearance and/or nonsensical crosses.

Though the play was written in the late 50s, it being a period piece protects it from seeming dated. The set and lighting were beautiful and served the production well. Costuming by Angelle Mundia was wonderful, save for one odd-shaped bustle on Mrs. Keller that I found a bit distracting.

All in all, I thought this was a wonderful production, and I'm glad I had the chance to go see it! Next up at New Stage: The 39 Steps, a thriller/comedy, Jan. 25-Feb. 6.

Food as art

I grabbed a friend and ran off to Parlor Market last week to indulge. The restaurant's been open for about six weeks, and I'd heard great things about it.

We parked less than a block away, then made our way inside. It's a cozy, slightly dim space. The restaurant is located in an old downtown building, and it's been beautifully refurbished. Some of the walls look like old, historic brick, and there is gorgeous stained wood everywhere. An L-shaped bar and an open kitchen add to the ambiance.

We started off with cocktails and appetizers. I had the Front Porch cocktail, a mix of iced tea, lemonade, vodka, and mint. So delicious I had to get a second one. To start, we chose the mussels, which were cooked just until done and served in a spicy, tomato-based broth inspired by South Carolinian cuisine. Excellent portion size, and the crispy shoestring potatoes on top gave the dish nice texture. (We didn't leave a single mussel, in case you were wondering. No appetizers left behind!) Then, we had the soup special, a rich celeriac and truffle bisque, with lots of cream and butter. A few vinegary mushrooms awaited at the bottom of the bowl, and a crispy sage leaf garnished the top. I found it delightful to eat this dish with a bit of the tiny cornbread muffins that are served table side.

For the main event, we got the boar special - a braised cut of wild boar, served atop herbed speatzle and dressed with an amazing chimichuri sauce. The meat was very tender; you didn't even need a knife to cut it. And the chimichuri sauce made the dish - lots of complex flavors in there. We also chose the beef short ribs with homemade pasta. OMG. Tender pasta, creamy mushroom sauce, beef like butter, and maybe a few fried capers thrown in. We were in heaven.

After all that, it's no wonder we didn't go for dessert. Next time . . . ;-)

Final salvo

I had the chance to read The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, recently. If you aren't already aware, Pausch was a professor in the computer sciences department at Carnegie Mellon. He was in his early 40s, his career was cooking, and he was married and had three very young children. Everything was going great.

Then, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His physician gave him 3-6 months to live.

While Randy beat the odds for something like 10 months, he eventually succumbed to his disease. But fighting cancer for nearly a year gave him time to put his affairs in order, make some plans for his family, and give one final lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

He decided to talk about how to live well and achieve your dreams. The lecture was an instant phenomenon, and the book grew out of that presentation.

Though the book is slim, it can be difficult to read sometimes. Not because the writing is, in any way, clunky or tiresome, but because as you read, you feel sorry that a person like this didn't beat cancer. The book shares stories of some of the people who impacted Pausch's life, taught him things, made him a better person. Several stories illustrate the importance of following one's heart and going about one's life work with passion. Still more vignettes teach us how to get out of our own way and keep trying, even when things seem hopeless.

There is a lot of good advice in this book. Pausch noted in the final pages that part of his motivation for giving the last lecture, and for writing the book, was so that his children would have something tangible to remember him by once he was gone. Though some books an recordings are certainly cold comfort in place of a living, breathing father, I admire Pausch for all he did to try and be a presence in his children's lives, even after he was gone.

Recommended.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween tricks and treats: a photo journal


Our spooky skeleton pumpkin!



Cupcakes!! We ate some, and I gave some away at work.



Our fun sugar cookies!



Yummy spiced pumpkin seeds (recipe here)



The Bradshaws: a family of crime-fighters!!




My heroes!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall frolic

Have I mentioned lately how I love fall? Well, I do. We've been reveling in the season lately at the Bradshaw household. Here's the skinny:

We made our traditional two loaves of pumpkin bread. One's already been devoured, the second one awaits us in the freezer. We also whipped up two batches of fun Halloween cookies shaped like ghosts and pumpkins. (Neither batch lasted very long. Clay put an end to the last ghost tonight after supper.) Luckily, we still have enough ammunition to make at least one batch of molasses cookies and an awesome tray of Halloween cupcakes.

We carved our first pumpkin last night before dinner. Clay chose a fun owl pattern that we found on the Internet, and he looks pretty good, if I do say so myself! We toasted and spiced the pumpkin seeds this morning, because I absolutely LOVE spiced pumpkin seeds. (We'll probably carve another pumpkin mid-week, just so I can keep the high going. I remember one time, when I went to a pumpkin-carving party, I collected all the seeds from everyone's pumpkin and had spiced pumpkin seeds for about a month. Good times.)

Clay and I are all set with our Halloween costumes, too. He's going as Spiderman this year. (His strategy for fighting crime? Disarm the bad guys with his unbelievable cuteness.) And dude, he has got the Spiderman costume, Spiderman shoes, Spiderman gloves, even a Spiderman treat bucket. He knows no overboard. (One of my friends has gently pointed out to me that he might take after his mother in this regard.) I'll be Batgirl. Hubs hasn't decided what he'll be, but it's looking like either Ironman or Superman. Can't wait for trick or treating this year!

This morning, we spent a little time gardening. We raked a bit of pine straw and used it to mulch the flower beds, watered (AGAIN. Some rain would be VERY appreciated.), and planted a row of daffodil bulbs along the edge of a flower bed. Still have some iris bulbs to get in the ground, plus plans of some butterfly bush, forsythia, and Lady Banks Rose once we get a few drops of water to loosen up the dirt. Shoveling today was tough going.

I really love planting daffodils. Planting any bulb in the fall is such an act of faith. You plant, hoping you'll be around to enjoy the bulbs when they pop out of the ground six months later. And daffodils are such cheery little scouts of spring, peeping their heads up before all the other flowers and sending back the word that all is ready for the blooms to follow.

At any rate, that's some of the celebratory fall frolic we've been up to. Still hoping to do a quick picnic along the Trace somewhere to see the pretty leaves turning! What a great time of year!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Reader.

Wanted to jot down some of my thoughts about books I've read recently.

I read Bella Tuscany, by Frances Mayes (she of Under the Tuscan Sun fame), while on vacation. This is the kind of armchair traveling that I love. Mayes writes of Tuscany in language dripping with both adoration and vibrant description. She writes of food, of gardens, of little side trips she and her husband take. It's an easy, quick read, with some recipes sprinkled in here and there that I will probably try. Worth looking in to.

And now I feel that I have to go to Italy in the spring. Heh.

I also finally got around to reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I'd been meaning to pick it up for a while now, and the filming of the movie adaptation here in Jackson finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed. I thought it was a wonderful book. The movie chronicles the lives and relationship of three women living in 1960s Jackson, Miss.: Abilene, a black maid raising her seventeenth white baby; Minny, a sassy black maid who is widely recognized as the best cook in town; and Skeeter, a young, unmarried white woman.

I recognized many of the places in the tome (and some of the character names are alarmingly close to old Jackson names), and I thought the book was even-handed. I loved the characters, and I felt that Stockett's explanation about why she wrote the book was an understandable one.

What interested me about this book was that most stories about racism involve men and violence. This story about racism was about women, and about all the subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways that the race question played itself out amongst them. There were stories that affirmed our faith in people, and stories that called that faith into doubt. All in all, I really enjoyed reading this book. Highly recommended.

Lastly, I picked up The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. I bought this book on a whim, and the cover proclaimed it a New York Times bestseller. Hmmm . . . It was an okay book, but nothing really special. It tells the story of Quentin Coldwater, a smart but melancholy young man who is recruited to go to a magical college called Brakebills. At Brakebills, Quentin learns how to do real magic, makes new friends, even meets a girl and falls in love. He later gets the chance to visit the fantasy world of his dreams.

But here's the thing - none of it makes him happy. He's still the same old depressed, whiny dude we meet on page one. And that became quite tiresome. If someone is going to learn magic and have grand adventures, he should at least appreciate it. But not our Quentin.

The end of the book got too convoluted and dragged on a bit, too. Needless to say, I won't be reading the sequel - The Magician King. (If Quentin became a king, he'd probably still be just as mealy-mouthed as he was before. Sigh.) Skip this one.

Fall Fun!!

Our little tribe has been having lots of fun lately! In addition to our Orlando adventure, we've been yukking it up with some of our traditional fall activities.

Right before we left for Florida, we went to the circus! We took little man to see the circus two years ago, but we missed it last year because they didn't travel to our town. (Shame on you, Ringling Brothers!) When we heard it was coming in late September, we bought some seats right up front. Clay absolutely loved the elephants and the lion tamer act. (Though it struck me that the lion tamer act was more of a "don't get eaten by the lions" act. Those lions definitely did NOT look happy to be there.) I was completely amazed by the trained house cats act. Seriously. I have cats. I can't even convince them not to hork on the floor, much less persuade them to jump through hoops and crawl along tightropes. We got a big box of popcorn, and little man was sticking his arm in it up to the shoulder by the end of the show, just to get the laaaast little bit of popcorn in there. So much fun!

Shortly after we came back from Florida, Clay's daycare took a group trip to Nichols Boyd pumpkin patch. We rode the hayride with his class, swung on the tree swings, saw all the animals and chose a pumpkin before eating a picnic lunch under the trees. The weather was absolutely perfect, and we really enjoyed this day. (And OMG if you haven't bought some of Gran's homemade peanut brittle from the shop, you are completely missing out. I inhaled it in less than 24 hours.)

Then, before we knew it, the state fair was in town! Hubs and I were so excited to take booger to the fair this year. It's the first year he's been tall enough to ride anything! He adored the rides and (as usual) showed no fear. We rode the carousel a couple of times, then the bumblebee ride, the swing ride, the hot air balloon ride, and the miniature roller coaster. Then, we hit the big ferris wheel, and we rode in that ski-lift-type ride up and down the midway. We enjoyed one of those tasty (and free!) biscuits and petted lots of animals at the petting zoo (again, free!). Lastly, I couldn't leave without taking little man down the big yellow slide at the fairgrounds. I have been whooshing down this thing since I was a kid, and I still love it. I sincerely wish they'd open it up for EVERY event they hold at the fairgrounds. I would pay to get on it every time. We practically flew down it, and then we headed back to the Trademart to look at the shiny antique cars before calling it a day. Loved, loved, loved it.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Orlando Trip Report, cont.

Day five dawned ominously cloudy. For about half a second, I thought about skipping GatorLand again. But we forged ahead, and I'm so glad we did! It was cloudy during the morning, which kept temperatures cool, and it never rained.

Our resort was less than 10 minutes from GatorLand, but you'd never guess it. The park feels miles away from everything. We found the place easily, parked in the free lot, and headed towards the queue to get in. $80 or so later, we were looking at little and medium-sized gators sunning themselves in the entryway pools. We hooked a left to see the giant tortoises and HUGE snakes. Then, we headed past the train station (The train wasn't running yet.) and into the "jungle," where pens with individual types of gators were located. We saw Cuban gators, Australian gators, some "celebrity" gators and more. This part of the park was really beautiful. Think long, winding paths through dense foliage, with areas here and there where you could peer into gator habitats. Then, the path turns into a boardwalk that goes out over the water. You can get REALLY close to some huge gators. There were tons of beautiful birds out there, too. We climbed all the way up to the top of the lookout tower - three stories. You could see most of the park from there. Then, we looped back around to train station, where we hopped the first train of the day.

After our ten-minute ride, it was lunchtime. We let Clay play in the playground and on the splash pad while we got lunch from the snack bar. The brats with peppers and onions, chips, and drinks Brian and I got, as well as Clay's hot dog kid's meal with Goldfish crackers and Oreos, cost about $20.

After we'd had our fill of lunch, we headed for the petting zoo. On the way, we stopped to take goofy pictures with the huge fake gator they had set up. So fun! Clay loved the petting zoo. They had goats, cows and chickens. The goats and cows would come right up to you to be petted. (And hoping for food. If you tried to buy a little corn from the machine there, the goats would eat it out of the machine before you could even get your hand in there to retrieve it! Wily little critters.)

We tore Clay away from the barnyard long enough to see the Gator Jumparoo show. They ran raw chickens out on a wire, and those big gators jumped totally out of the water to eat them! Yikes!

We walked further down the right side of the park to see the snake exhibits, the albino alligators, some beautiful tropical birds, some deer and two turkeys. You could even feed some of the birds. If you waled into the aviary with some purchased bird food, they'd light all over you while they at it. Then, we found ourselves in the right place to see the Up Close Encounters show. We sat in a small, shaded stadium, and the park trainers brought out tarantulas, snakes and other animals for us to see and touch. Clay and I even got to hold a BIG snake at the end of the show. He wasn't scared at all!

By this time, we were getting pooped. After some cold drinks and a trip through the gift shop (Clay had to have a stuffed alligator; Brian and I got fudge.), we headed home.

I so enjoyed my trip to this park. It's almost like the anti-theme park of Orlando. It wasn't crowded, it's easily do-able (at a leisurely pace) in one day, and being out among the water and the trees is just relaxing. It didn't hurt that most of the park is shaded, either.

You'll still drop some dollars here, but it's nothing compared to what you'd spend at most of the other Orlando theme parks. It's just an easier, less rushed day.

After we finished up at GatorLand, we came back to the condo to take a nap before dinner. Refreshed, we set our sights on Downtown Disney again. We ate at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, where I had the pumpkin ravioli (with sage and nuts), hubs got the barbecue chicken pizza, and Clay had a cheese pizza with fries and fresh fruit. Yum! This place is loud, but the food was really good, and the location is super-convenient.

We were hoping to go up in the "Characters in Flight" balloon, but due to wind, it was grounded. We contented ourselves with walking around Downtown Disney for a bit and stopping for a second time at The Candy Cauldron for more chocolate coins. We ate our treats on a bench by the river before a trip back to the condo.

On our last day in Orlando, we decided to laze around instead of pack in more activity. We lolled around the condo in the morning, eating breakfast in. A little before lunch, we headed back to Downtown Disney. We had our sights set on the T-Rex Cafe. We'd seen the restaurant on our jaunts through Downtown Disney before, and Clay was dying to get in there. We breezed right in at about 11:30 a.m. (no wait) and took our seats in the ice cave. We could barely restrain Clay from running wild all through the restaurant until we could order our food.

After we ordered, our waitress held our table for us while we examined all the dinosaurs in the restaurant. They had a big T-Rex skeleton embedded in the ice cave, plus some wooly mammoths. We saw a pachycephalosuarus, some pteradactyls, stegosaurus, triceratops, a giant squid, and, of course, a few Tyrannasaurus Rexes. Clay loved this place, and there were more animatronic dinosaurs there than in the whole exhibit that came to the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science during the dino exhibit.

And the food was really good. Brian got the ribs and a lava flow, and I had the roast chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The chicken was tender and well-seasoned, the mashed potatoes were nice and fIavorful, and, after a week of carb-rich meals, the roasted vegetables were just what the doctor ordered. I ordered Clay the roast chicken with mashed potatoes, and his apple juice came in a fun red cup that lit up. He thought it was awesome.

After we ate, we (of course) made a trip through the gift shop. I bought Clay a little collection of 8 dinosaur toys. They'll be great toys for the plane ride back.

From afar, we noticed that the "Characters in Flight" balloon was flying!! We hurried over, walked right up to the ticket window, and paid for a ride up. We got right on the balloon (no waiting!), and up we went! The views were great from the top of the balloon. You could see Epcot and some of the other Disney landmarks. There was also a nice breeze blowing. Wonderful. We took some pictures and headed back to the condo for a nap.

We spent the evening in, too. We ordered room service and lazed around, reading, packing, doing a little bit of laundry. Clay played with his dinosaurs, and we looked back over all of our pictures, talking about all the fun we had on our trip.

Conclusions - the condo was a clear winner. Having a full kitchen, two bedrooms, and a washer dryer is just unbeatable. We flew home with two suitcases full of clean laundry. I also came away thinking that GatorLand was one of the funnest things we did on our trip. Even though we spent quite a bit of money there, the pace was slower and the park was easier to cover in a day than, say, Sea World. The next time we take the bit on vacation, we may only go for 5 days instead of 7. I could tell that little man was getting a little tired on the last couple of days, due to the non-stop activity. Plus, then we'd have a few days of down time once we got back home.

All in all, we had a blast in Orlando! We'll definitely be back!

Orlando Trip Report, cont.

Looking for a slightly more relaxed day, we decided to hit the WonderWorks Museum, then grab some lunch. The WonderWorks Museum really is a wonder. It's basically an interactive science museum. Every exhibit offers something for little people to do and experience, not just look at. We felt the force of 70-mph winds as we learned about hurricanes, heard the different roars lions make depending on what they are communicating, froze our shadows on the wall, played music with our feet on a huge piano, got to see what the inside of the space shuttle would be like, and landed a plane in the flight simulator. I even got to lie down on a bed of nails and take a ride in the rollercoaster simulator! Clay loved seeing himself dance to techno music on a colorful screen, push the "wonder wall" and see his handprint appear on the other side, and climb up into the life-sized spacesuit to peer out of the face shield.

He had a blast, and he's already asked if he can go back to the "upside down museum." It's not cheap to get in, but you can come and go all day (It's open from 9 a.m. until midnight.), PLUS you have the next three days to return and enjoy the theatre and ropes course in the basement. And all of it will cost you about a third of what you'd pay to get into Sea World. And it's air conditioned. (Did I mention it's air conditioned?) Highly recommended.

By noon, we were starved. Adamant that I wouldn't eat another sad lunch of theme park pizza, we headed to Cafe Tu Tu Tango, which I'd read about on chowhound.com. It's a locally-owned tapas place with tons of original art all over the walls. We ordered something for Clay off the kids' menu, then set about deciding what we'd have. We chose the carne asada (a mild steak served with guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, lime and tortillas), the dynamite shrimp (which were DELICIOUS with some kind of amazing Asian sauce and lots of toasted sesame seeds), the vegetable skewers (cherry tomatoes, onions, patty pan squash, and baby zucchini, grilled and served with a delicious tahini dipping sauce) and (my favorite) a plate of sliced pears over arugula, drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinegar reduction and topped with decadent crumbles of really good blue cheese. This was served with the most delightful pecan crisps - like little crunchy crackers of pecans. The complementary flavors of sweet, musky, and peppery were amazing, and the pecans gave the dish great crunch.

We finished off with the banana pizza, and thin-crust pizza topped with strudel, roasted banana, cinnamon sugar, a big scoop of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, and caramel sauce. (OMG.) We washed it all down with mango tea.

Everything we had came to about $50. Not a cheap lunch by any means, but we paid $30 only one day before to eat crappy pizza in the heat, kwim? (Perspective, people.) I would go back there in a heart beat. It was completely worth it.

We lazed around at the condo pool the rest of the day.

Day four was supposed to be our GatorLand day. Unfortunately, it started raining (hard) the night before, and the morning dawned gray and forbidding. Not wanting to chance it, we decided to plan a day of indoor activities and shift GatorLand to Thursday.

After a big pancake breakfast (Gotta love Bob Evans. Our waitress even remembered us from a few days before.), we originally thought we'd go to the Orlando Science Center. However, there is ONE day a week that the center is closed. You guessed it. It's Wednesday. We were looking for something impromptu, and we spotted a model train exhibit off International Drive. We pulled in to discover that this location also offered quick helicopter rides. Sounded like a morning!

We started off with a short helicopter ride around Orlando. The whole thing last about 5 minutes. We hopped into the helicopter, donned our headsets, and took off. Riding in a helicopter is probably the closest I'll ever come to feeling like a bird. Unlike flying in a commercial plane (or even one of those small 7-seaters), you feel that precious little exists between you and the air. Views are great. We rode up and down International Drive, seeing some of the attractions we'd already been to (Sea World, the WonderWorks Museum) from above. Take-off was almost a bit of a shock, feeling how easily the helicopter ascended. Again, Clay was a little trooper. He didn't flinch or ask to hold my hand or even act scared.

After our flight, we toured the small model train exhibit. The exhibit is about 2,000 square feet, but the more you look, the more you see. The folks who put it together also have a sense of humor, tucking in characters from the major theme parks here and there throughout the scenes. Shrek peeked out at us from behind a tree. Shamu floated in one of the lakes. We saw two young wizards on their brooms, flying amidst some mountain tops. We enjoyed the train exhibit for a while until some little people in our travel party started acting out - running away from parents, yelling, and HITTING their daddies. Unfortunately, such behavior cut our model train trip short. Little people had to be hauled out to the car, screaming, while ignoring explanations that bad behavior meant going back to the hotel instead of staying out and having fun.

On the drive back, we were treated to the dulcet sounds of crying and loud begging to go back to the train exhibit, which we blithely ignored. Sigh.

Once back at the hotel, we enjoyed a nice nap before the evening's festivities. We'd planned dinner at the House of Blues and an evening Cirque du Soleil show to round out our rain day, and we wanted everyone to be well-rested and READY TO BEHAVE before we ventured out again.

Refreshed and ready for some good eats and an evening of entertainment, we loaded into the car and headed for Downtown Disney West. Our mission: to pick up our Cirque tickets and find some grub.

Picking up the tickets was easy. Our GPS system led us right to the Cirque theatre, and parking was free! Tickets in hand, we strolled right over to The House of Blues for an early dinner. We happened to hit the restaurant right during happy hour, so I had a $3 margarita and ordered my dinner from the half priced appetizer menu. I had a bowl of gumbo and the rosemary flatbread. Yum. Hubs chose the cheeseburger with fries and a beer, and little man had a pizza. The food was really good, and with drinks, our tab came to around $45.

We still had about 30 minutes before we needed to head to the theater, so we poked around Downtown Disney for a while. We bought Clay some brightly-wrapped chocolate coins at The Candy Cauldron, then perched on a bench overlooking the lake while he sampled some. Nearby, some musicians started playing music with a synthesizer and a steel drum, and Clay had to go over and dance for a bit. We leisurely made our way back to the theatre and settled in for the show.

It was great show, too. There's not a bad seat in the house, and I had no regrets about buying the cheapest tickets. They even have boosters for the kids, so little people can see all the action, no matter where they are seated.

Clowns, acrobats, some amazing bicycle tricks, trapeze artists, jugglers, and a crazy trampoline act (Clay's favorite) were all on the agenda. A troupe of four little Asian girls moved with such quickness and precision that they almost appeared animatronic. The only thing that gave me pause - I had thought, based on the advertisements for the show and the fact that it's hosted by Disney, that the staging and lighting would be lighter, more fanciful. In truth, the stage, set, and lighting (even the music) are much more somber that I would have expected. Nothing scary, but not as lighthearted as I thought it would be.

After the show, we headed back to the condo for sleep. After I put little man to bed, I filled up the amazing jetted soaking tub, poured myself a glass of wine, and settled in for an hour or two. Sigh. I need more vacations.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Orlando Trip Report!

We returned last weekend from a week in Orlando with little man! Since he's still too little for most of the offerings at Disney, we decided to stay at a resort and dip our toes into several different types of activities. Here's the skinny:

We left Saturday on a 3:15 p.m. direct flight from Jackson to Orlando. We flew Southwest because they were the only airline offering direct flights, and it paid off! Our flight left on time, and it was blissfully uneventful.

I worried that Clay might be nervous or scared (It's been two years since he's flown.), but no such thing. We buckled him up with his CARES 5-point harness, and he settled into his seat. We had to taxi for awhile on the runways, and I think he had a moment there where he thought we weren't going to fly at all. He turned to me and said, "This airplane isn't flying." But pretty soon, we started zooming down the runway, and he got excited when we took flight.

I think it really helped that we checked out all those books from the library ahead of time about going on vacation and riding a plane. Numerous times, he repeated lines from the books about buckling up, showing the agent his ticket, and taking a trip. It was really cute!

I worried, too, that he might get sick. Nope. In fact, once we were airborne and the newness wore off, he laid his head in my lap and went to sleep for about an hour. Can't ask for much more than that, can I?

When we landed in Orlando, we were starving, so we stopped at Oishi, a little sushi/teppanyaki place, for some food before checking into our hotel. I felt like I could eat a horse, so I ordered edamame as an appetizer (hubs got the gyoza), then shrimp tempura (which came with miso soup, salad, and rice). Brian got a sirloin and chicken hibachi dish, and we got chicken and rice for the baby. The food was soooo good, and it came out quickly.

After we'd filled our tummies, we hit the road for Lake Buena Vista Resort Village and Spa. We found it without too much trouble. It's a stone's throw from Sea World and Disney, and it's adjacent to a HUGE outlet mall! (Woo hoo!!)

I was extremely pleased with out unit. We got a two-bedroom, two-bath condo with a full kitchen, sitting room, and washer/dryer. We found a fabulous deal on it at the Orlando Convention and Visitors' Bureau site. The resort has a spa, a business center, a couple of restaurants, and a gorgeous pool with a huge pirate ship/slide in it. Our master bath had a roomy jetted soaking tub in it, and I made use of it shortly after we checked in. We got little man to bed and turned in early.

The next morning, we hit the road in search of pancakes. We found them at Bob Evans, which is apparently a chain restaurant, just not one we have here in the metro area. And, boy, was it good. Lots of delicious food, quick, and not very expensive. Hubs loaded up on eggs, sausage, and blueberry crepes, and I had waffles and bacon. Little man amused himself with pancakes topped with blueberries and a few bites of our food. YUM.

We swung by Publix on the way back to the resort to stock up on fruit and other snacks (plus a bottle of wine) for the unit, then hit the pool.

Clay loved it down there. The children's side of the pool is a zero-grade entry pool, so I just pulled my beach chair into the water a little bit and relaxed while Clay splashed around. He found some other children to play with, and we also climbed up the pirate ship a little bit and swung in some of the poolside hammocks.

By 4:30, we were hungry again, so we made our way to Ming Court, purportedly one of the best Chinese restaurants in Orlando. It did not disappoint. First of all, the restaurant is beautiful. Winding dragons, stone elephants, and lions decorate the entrance, along with beautiful koi ponds. They even had a machine that dispensed fish food for 25 cents. We let Clay feed the fish for a bit before going in to our table. Decor inside is as delightful as out. Clay absolutely loved the giant, colorful dragon suspended form the ceiling. We ordered pineapple juice and a chicken bento box for him, and hubs and I both splurged on the Enchantment Wok. (It's was $25 per person, which is much more than our usual fare. We'd skipped lunch, though, and we were starving. Plus, the waitress recommended it.)

We were thrilled with the result. Dinner began with a flavorful wonton soup, and then out came a heaping plate of fried rice and a large platter of crispy scallops, meat with peppers and onions, and sweet shrimp. OMG. It was sooooo good. Looking at all the food, I was afraid we'd be wasting most of it. Nope. We ate ALL of the meat and the veggies, and most of the rice! Clay loved his food, too. Of course, the french fries were his favorite, but then he hopped on the chicken, the noodles, and bites of what we'd ordered. He finished up with a small dish of ice cream with strawberries liberally strewn around it.

Seated in the dining room, one is surrounded by windows showcasing landscaped pools, waterfalls, and statuary. Calming music and the sounds of birds play over the restaurant's sound system. The whole thing is a wonderful experience. And though we chose one of the more expensive things on the menu, there were many entrees in the $10 to $15 range, plus a wide variety of appetizers and a la carte items for as little as $4 or $5. I highly recommend this place. It is a nice restaurant, which I would normally not suggest for those dining with little kids. However, because we were they very early (4:30 p.m.), we had the place almost entirely to ourselves. Nice!

On day two, we girded our loins with a healthy breakfast at the condo and set out for Sea World. We'd bought our tickets online ahead of time, and we arrived at the park right at 9 a.m., when they opened. We breezed through parking and check-in, and then we were off to see the park. We started our day with a trip to the top of the Skytower, a rotating ride that gives you a bird's eye view of the entire park. Because it was early, we were the only people on the ride! Clay scooched his bootie around on the seats, craning for more views.

Then, we checked out the Dolphin nursery, which we had completely to ourselves. According to the trainer stationed there, they had calves as young as two week's old in the pool! We sat Clay on a perch atop the hand rail, and he got a great look at the mothers and babies. This was almost magical.

After that, we headed for the Shark Encounter. This was a great exhibit. You tunnel through an aquarium, so sharks are on either side of you, and above you as well. I thought Clay might be scared, but he wouldn't even let me hold him! It was in this exhibit that I really started to feel like we were at Sea World. We almost made lunch reservations at Sharks Underwater Grill, but they didn't open until noon! (We had plans to go to the Shamu show at 12:30 p.m.) We contented ourselves with an up-close look at some of the rays and smaller sharks in the pool in front of the restaurant.

We also checked out Penguin Encounter, which had soooo many penguins in it that I feared they might be crowded. Tons of different varieties of birds, with shaved ice dropping in slowly from the ceiling! There was even a big, viewable tank where you could see the birds swimming. I was surprised by how graceful they were in the water.

After that, we were in just the right place to see Clyde and Seymour Take Pirate Island, a show featuring sea lions, otters, and a HUGE walrus. I thought the story line was pretty dismal, but Clay loved seeing the animals, and out of all the shows we saw at Sea World that day (a total of four), this has seriously been the one he has talked about most.

After that show, Clay was so enamored of the sea lions that we headed straight to Pacific Point Preserve. At this attraction, you can see the sea lions as they bask in the sun and swim in the pool. You can also buy small fish and actually feed a sea lion yourself! We couldn't resist, and the sea lions were expert beggars. Clay threw a fish RIGHT into a sea lion's mouth! (A bird got another, but we were on such an animal high by this time that we hardly cared.)

By now, it was about 11:30 a.m., and we were getting hungry. We had an hour to grab a bite before we had to be at Shamu Stadium for the 12:30 p.m. show. We decided to stop at the closest place - Seaport Pizza - and get lunch. Yuck. The pizza was awful, and you weren't even able to eat in an air-conditioned space. We should have forged ahead, despite our rumbling stomachs, to find something better in the park. This was a waste of $30. I would gladly have paid a good deal more to sit somewhere nice and cool and eat decent food.

After lunch, we joined nearly everyone in the park that day at Shamu Stadium to see Believe, one of the park's signature shows. They were only offering it twice that day, at 12:30 and again at 5:30 p.m. We had a feeling Clay wouldn't make it to the evening show, so we wanted to be there for the afternoon viewing. The killer whales were amazingly beautiful. Clay's jaw completely dropped the first time he saw one, and he loved this show.

After it was over, we stopped by the Garden of Discovery for some animal interactions (parrots, a falcon, and some other animals) before arriving back at the Nautilus Theatre (Ahhhh, air conditioning!) for the 1:30 p.m. showing of A'Lure: The Call of the Ocean. This was one of my favorite shows of the day. It was Cirque-style, with tons of fun effects: two giant seahorses that came out into the audience, bubbles that fell from the ceiling, jets of water spewing out, acrobatics, aerialists, amazing costumes, and dance. We all loved this show, and it gave us a chance to sip some water and get cool.

When this show let out, we realized there was nearly a whole side of the park we hadn't seen! We made our way to the Jewel of the Sea Aquarium, which Clay absolutely loved. It's aptly named, a little jewel-box of a space adjoining a gift shop. The fish swim in tanks under your feet and above your head, in addition to tanks positioned all around the room, The jellyfish were beautiful (and the only ones we saw in the whole park), as were the coral and tropical fish.

We left this aquarium and stopped by the Manatee Rescue and alligator exhibits. The underwater viewing at the manatee exhibit was the BEST. It was almost as if a couple of the big animals were doing underwater tricks for us! They swam straight up to the glass to have a look at us, showed us their big tummies, and did slow turns in the water.

We realized now that little man was starting to flag. We decided to sit a bit and have a cold drink while we watched Blue Horizon, the dolphin show. This was another favorite. The dolphins were so social, and they did some fabulous tricks with the trainers. Again, not the best of storylines, but all you really want is to see the animals. There were some colorful costumes and some neat gymnastics in this show as well. The trainers dove into the water from impossible high perches, hardly making a splash when they entered the water.

We cruised on by Dolphin Cove, but we didn't stop to feed the animals this time. We headed for Stingray Lagoon, where Clay and I were both brave enough to put our hands in the touch pool. The stingrays have learned how to splash people, and a big group of them will come over to the side of the water and splash their fins on the surface, sending water everywhere!

It was nearly 4 p.m. by this time, so we stopped in the gift shop to pick out a memento (Clay chose a big stuffed killer whale), and headed back to the condo. We sacked out for about an hour before heading afield to find dinner. We wound up down International Drive at Maggiano's Little Italy. It appeared to be a chain, but it's one we don't have back in Jackson. (Plus, I was jonesing for some Italian.). I got the Rigatoni "D," a delicious blend of rigatoni pasta, chicken, whole sauteed mushrooms, onions, and cream sauce. Brian had the lasagna special, and Clay had spaghetti and a giant meatball. Add some salads and a glass of wine (for mom), and you've got dinner. We came back to the condo and tumbled, exhausted, into bed.

More to come!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chowhound

Hubs and I went to two new (to us) places this weekend.

Friday night, we packed up little man and headed to Giovanni's in Brandon for some pasta. The restaurant is small and tucked into a strip mall on Lakeland Drive.

I think one waitress was handling the entire restaurant, so service, while very friendly, was slow. Also, I think that she was on duty busing tables. As a result, there were quite a few dirty tables around.

I got the cheese ravioli, and hubs and little man both got spaghetti and meatballs. Both dishes were very good, with lots of tangy tomato sauce and tons of cheese. Both entrees also came with a dinner salad, and the house dressing was a tangy vinaigrette. Both hubs and I got iced tea, which tasted like it had been sitting in a pitcher for a few days.

Prices were reasonable, and the turtle cheesecake was gooey, creamy and delicious.

Verdict: I probably wouldn't return to dine-in at this restaurant. However, take-out would be a possibility.

I heard through the grapevine that Ding How, which has relocated to Old Canton Road in Ridgeland, serves dim sum on Saturdays and Sundays. You may be aware of how I love dim sum. In every city I travel to that has a Chinatown, I head over there and track down a restaurant that serves it. Now, I have a local fix!

The restaurant opens at 12 noon on Sundays to serve dim sum. However, I recommend that you show up at 11:45 a.m. or so, because when we showed up at noon, the restaurant was already filling up, and we had to wait for a table.

We loved the crab dumplings (delicious dressed with a bit of soy sauce), the edamame dumplings (something I'd never had before), the jasmine dumplings (with lots of garlic - YUM!), and, of course, the PORK dumplings. (Nom nom nom!) We also tried a shrimp and eggplant dish, as well as a chicken and sticky rice concoction wrapped in lotus leaves. We finished up with a coconut dumpling, so Clay could have a little something sweet. (Incidentally, I wasn't sure if he'd like dim sum, but that little rascal was scarfing down dumplings right and left! That kid makes me proud!)

Again, the staff seemed a little thin for the number of people that were in the restaurant. I'd also note that this was some of the most expensive dim sum I've ever had. For hubs, myself and little man, we spent about $35. (For a similar meal in a large city, we probably would have spent at least $10 less.) However, since Ding How is (to my knowledge) the only dim sum game in town, they can probably get away with it.

Verdict: I will most likely be back, but EARLY this time!

Fall yumminess

Clay is learning about apples and the letter "A" at daycare. I try to mirror classroom activities at home, so we've been reading Johnny Appleseed and getting ready for fall. We decided to make apple pies, and it was so much fun!

I got a little heart-shaped pie mold at Williams Sonoma, and We made four delicious hand pies. They lasted less than an hour at the house. Here's how we did it.

Crust
(This is the crust recipe that came on the pie-mold box. We halved it to make four pies instead of eight.)
2.5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. sugar, plus more for sprinkling
2 sticks butter, cut into small dice
6-8 Tbs. ice water
1/2-1 cup pie filling (We made our own; see below.)
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp. water
In a food processor, combine flour, salt, and 2 Tbs. sugar. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ice water and pulse just until a dough ball forms. Refrigerate at least two hours.

Pie Filling
We peeled and finely chopped three apples, added cinnamon, a little sugar, some allspice, a dash of vanilla extract and a few handfuls of dried cherries. Mixed well, then threw in a bit of flour (for thickening) and cooked in a small saucepan until the apples were getting soft. We ended up with way more pie filling than we needed for four hand pies, but we've been topping waffles with it and eating is up in a variety of ways. (It is soooooo gooooood!!)

After rolling out the dough and making the hand pies (a couple of spoonfuls of filling go in each one), we baked for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Voila!! They were absolutely delicious, and I love that the portion size is reasonable. We will definitely be making these again!!

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Streak

Over the past couple of months, I've picked my running back up. I go really early in the morning, because it's the only time the temps aren't sky high. Even so, it's pretty muggy out some days.

I remain insanely jealous of the male runners, who can throw on just a teeny pair of shorts and jog along to their heart's content. We women have to wear sports bras, and they literally go over the HOTTEST part of your body, where all the blood flow is concentrated.

I mentioned to hubs the other day that it wasn't fair how guys could run around in almost nothing and enjoy the cool breeze, while women had to layer up just so they wouldn't get locked in jail.

He asked me if I'd like to run topless.

I told him that it wouldn't really be practical for women to run without sports bras, because they are functional athletic clothing.

There was a pause.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. Women should be allowed to run bottomless.

That way, everyone's dangly parts are secured, and everyone gets to enjoy the morning breeze. Now THAT would be equality.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Local eats

Finally had the chance to swing by Mimi's Family and Friends in Fondren last week. I'd been hearing good things about it, so I decided to treat one of our sweet (and talented) contractors to lunch there.

The cafe is in a fun, funky space right near Butterfly Yoga on State Street. Original art hangs on the walls, and seating is provided by an eclectic mix of cafe tables and patio furniture. Both I and my companion chose the lunch special - a delightfully gooey chicken enchilada, served with black beans and a peppy tomatillo salsa.

Service is quick and friendly, prices are very reasonable, and the cafe also offers a selection of sweet treats to finish off the meal - everything from cookies to cupcakes to pastries.

I will definitely be returning there to sample more lunch fare, and I hear they serve a great breakfast, too! Drop by if you get the chance!

Out and about

We've been busy lately!

Last weekend, my husband's boss was being honored the by local Goodwill chapter for her volunteer work. We turned up on Thursday night at the Jackson Country Club to celebrate her giving spirit and enjoy a delicious dinner. The Jackson Country Club really is a gracious space, with rooms that flow into one another and a roomy banquet hall. The food and service has been wonderful for every event I've ever attended there. Plus, you usually see lots of people you know at these types of events, which is always fun! I left the function that night determined to do more volunteering and more informed about some opportunities that would be a good fit for me!

Saturday night found me at the Old Capitol Inn for "Dance with the Stars," a benefit for the Mississippi Opera. I happened to know a few of the stars dancing, which made the evening all the more fun! Firstly, the event planning was flawless. There were plenty of people there, but the space wasn't too crowded. (The event was a total sell-out.) We enjoyed dinner (delicious hot food, as well as sushi - YUM!), drinks and fun entertainment, all the while raising money for a great cause. Plus, live music by the Capital City Band - old, big band standards, with some great vocals.

On Sunday, hubs and I attended the Chocolate Ball at the University Club. The event was a fundraiser for The Ronald McDonald House, which provides lodging and food for families near major children's medical centers. More delicious food, drinks and an incredible chocolate buffet. (And I finally got to try some of Gigi's cupcakes! Divine!) But that was not the highlight of the evening. Not only did I get to meet Ronald McDonald, but WE DANCED. You read that right. I danced with Ronald McDonald. I would be lying if I didn't acknowledge that it was one of the highlights of my year! Now, to track down those photos everyone was snapping . . . !

Last Friday night, I turned out at the Mississippi Braves game. Me and a bunch of work buddies took the place over for an employee appreciation night. I got great pics and video footage, and I think a good time was had by all. Once the sun went down, a nice breeze picked up. It was positively lovely out there! Plus, one of our employees sang the national anthem, and another group of my work peeps led the stadium in "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at the 7th inning stretch. Fun, fun, fun!

Here's to more adventures!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Movie hound

Watched a couple of movies lately that I thought I'd weigh in on (briefly).

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was completely panned when it came out, so I avoided it in the theatres. I caught it on HBO recently, and I must say, I didn't think all the vitriol was well-deserved. It's cast well, and though the basic premise is a bit cringe-worthy, I thought it was executed smoothly.

Here's the skinny: Connor Mead (Matt McConaughey) is an insecure teenager who finds the girl that he loves kissing another boy at a school dance. Humiliated, he vents his frustration to his Uncle Wayne (Michael Douglas). The consummate ladies' man, Uncle Wayne steps in and teaches Connor all the tricks he needs to get what he wants out of women - without ever getting too close. The vestiges of these lessons keep Connor from ever truly connecting to Jenny (Jennifer Garner), the true love of his life.

Years later, when Connor's little brother, Paul (Breckin Meyer), is getting married, Connor travels to the wedding only to be haunted by ghosts of his past girlfriends, who vow to change him for the better.

I thought performances were solid. Though the storyline is trite, the actors did a good job with it. I also thought there was good chemistry between Garner and McConaughey, and Michael Douglas' oily Uncle Wayne gave me some gleeful moments. Go in expecting the standard rom-com, and you won't be disappointed.

I had higher expectations for The Soloist, considering that Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx served as leads. While I thought the storyline and the performances were great, I considered the script a bit heavy-handed and preachy for my taste.

In this film, L.A. Times writer Steve Lopez (Downey) meets a street musician named Nathaniel Ayers (Foxx). Lopez is surprised by Ayers' talent, and by his claim that he studied at Julliard. Upon checking on the claim, Lopez discovers that Ayers did, indeed, study at Julliard before dropping out due to mental health reasons.

What evolves is an unlikely friendship between the two men, with Ayers demanding more commitment than Lopez feels comfortable giving. Eventually, both men learn a little something about friendship, dependence, and independence.

This movie is based on a fascinating true story, but I did feel at times that the filmmakers were looking more to produce a social comment than a compelling narrative. The film dwells on the idea of rehabilitating those living on the streets and questions the validity (and wisdom) of such a thing. I would have rather had more story and less pontificating.

On the trail . . .

I recently finished reading Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller. I'd read his Blue Like Jazz a while back and loved it, so I'd been meaning to get back around to him.

I really like this book. I really like Miller, actually. I like it that he seems to think about his faith himself, rather than letting others tell him what God wants for him. In this book, Miller dwells on the human relationship with God, and he draws some parallels and some conclusions that I'd never thought of before. He quite accurately paints ways in which our organized faith might have gone a bit wayward, but he appears to do it without malice. There are lots of historical references, tidbits of quotes and songs, and parables in here, and the book reads easily, as if one were talking these things over with a good friend.

I recommend both this book and Blue Like Jazz if you are interested in thinking more about the nature of faith and love.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Master of His Domain

I am unbelievably thrilled to report that my child is potty trained. Though he does still wear a diaper at night, that's it. No more pull-ups and precious few accidents. Little man has taken ownership of the big boy underwear.

It only took me three years.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

I Was Told There'd Be Cake . . .

I picked up this book of short essays because I fell in love with the title - I Was Told There'd Be Cake. Though I don't think the book quite lived up to my delight at the label, I did enjoy this quick book of essays by Sloane Crosley. I imagine that the book would be more relative to me had I been Jewish or if I lived in New York, but there's enough universality to make a satisfying read for nearly anyone.

Crosley's essays cover all kinds of topics, from the dating scene in New York to her experiences at some of her early jobs to the summer camp she attended as a child. She definitely has a knack for words and an uncanny ability to draw comparisons/contrasts from the past to the present.

A quick, fun read. This book would be great beach/vacation reading. Though I didn't laugh out loud (a la David Sedaris), I did find myself smiling throughout.

Memoirs

When I read The Liar's Club, by Mary Karr, I remember thinking to myself, "This woman is a genius." That said, I can't believe it's taken me this long to get back around to reading more of her books. I've just finished two more of her memoirs - cherry and lit.

cherry, as you might suspect, details her first awakenings to love and sexuality, picking up somewhere around when The Liar's Club left off. Karr discusses her first love, some misadventures in dating and her decision to leave Texas as a young adult. What I really liked about this book was that Karr doesn't trivialize her first crushes, even with the perspective of time. She realizes that those early flutterings of romantic love aren't unreal just because they are new, or just because she was a teenager.

lit covers Karr's later life, particularly her experiences of motherhood. Indeed, this book is framed as a letter of sorts to her son, to whom she explains the journey of her alcoholism and recovery. Also playing a major role in this book (as in every Karr memoir I've read so far) is Karr's mother, whose presence is, by turns, cathartic and malignant.

Of the two, I preferred lit, perhaps because I myself am a mother now, and I understood Karr's desire to explain things to her son. To help him understand major events she was going through during her growing-up years and put his childhood memories into context.

But the real treasures in both books are Karr's voice and writing style. She clearly understands that all events she's recounting are filtered through herself and her own recollection, and she admits that this filter may be faulty and/or flawed. She is unflinchingly honest about her own failings, and there are times that her laser-like perception of human nature is almost uncomfortable.

I highly recommend both books. I have a feeling I'll be reading more of Karr's work in the future.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Oy vey.

How I have neglected this blog lately. But I have an excuse. Really I do.

My mother has been in the hospital for nearly three weeks now. First of all, do ALL of you remember the 2010 Eye Incident? Mmmm hmmmm. Before all of that was said and done, we put eye drops into mom's eyes on a vigorous schedule for WEEKS.

Well, you would think that would have taught mom a little lesson about going straight to the doctor at the first sign of illness. You would be wrong. Mom had a cough for a week or so, but did not make a doctor's appointment. She told all of us she already HAD an appointment scheduled for the following week, and that she'd have the issue taken care of then.

Well, her doctor's appointment was with her rheumatologist, who of course said he had no expertise in coughing and wheezing. He sent her straight to the hospital emergency room, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and immediately admitted.

After a few days of antibiotics and rest, mom was feeling better. However, an unusually high white blood cell count prompted the doctors to run some tests, including a CT scan. They found a softball-sized abscess in her lung. Yuck.

That, of course, led to a chest tube to drain the abscess, as well as talk of surgery to remove any growths in the area and clean out the tissue. Thankfully, we ended up sidestepping any major surgery. The abscess is now gone, and mom's condition has greatly improved.

They are planning on switching her from IV antibiotics to oral antibiotics soon (YAY!), and now she just has to do some PT rehab so she can build her strength back up. Then, she can come home.

So, how has your late July/early August been?