Saturday, November 10, 2012

Halloween!

We love Halloween at the Bradshaw house! We decorate the house every year, and now that Clay is older, we have other celebrating to do!

This was little man's first Halloween in kindergarten, and I signed up to help with the school party. Clay and I sneaked into the classroom the afternoon before and decorated. We put up streamers and paper lanterns, and another mom brought centerpieces for the tables. The day of the party, a big group of fun moms met up at the school with crafts and treats! We had arts and crafts tables, face painting, music, themed book readings, cookie decorating, and entirely too much sugar.

For the past several years, our family has also coordinated our Halloween costumes. Clay has been on a superhero kick, and I was soooo glad that he decided instead to be a policeman this year. Hubs and I dressed as convicts, and I have a secret to tell you. A convict costume is the most comfortable thing ever. It's like wearing pajamas or a gown. I may be a convict every year. (On Halloween, I mean. Not for every day, I hope.)

So, we suited and went out trick or treating. What fun! It was a gorgeous night, and the moon was up. It seemed like our whole neighborhood was out trick or treating (lots of "take one" bowls), and the families that did stay home came out onto their porches to hand out candy and enjoy the scene.

We went up to one house, and we saw a spooky fake man tied to the basketball goal. You know, stuffed overall and boots, ugly mask for a head? Well, there was another fake man on the porch, lumpy suit, scary mask, sitting in a chair with the candy bowl in his lap. As we approached (along with a tiny Captain America and a princess who happened to be going to the house at the same time we did), Clay was wary.

I walked up to the "man" and poked his shoulder. It was inflated, like a pool float.

"See?" I told Clay. "He's fake. He won't get you."

All three kids moved in closer, slowly. Clay poked the knee of the "man."

"Mom, he's real," Clay said.

"No, sweetie, he's fake. See?" I said, poking the balloon-like shoulder again to assure him.

Then the fake man moved. Captain America screamed like a little girl and went running back to the curb, where his parents were waiting. ("So much for the first Avenger," said hubs later.) Clay and the princess jumped back.

It was a very small pre-teen boy under all of that mess, with an inflated set of shoulders and his real hands tucked under his legs. It was completely genius, and hubs and I burst out laughing. I told the boy that he had probably given Captain America nightmares, but that it was a very powerful illusion.

We made sure to walk by the house a few more times that night, just to see the free show!

After we did our trick or treating, we sat on the front porch swing and handed out the last of our candy. Next year's gonna have to be pretty awesome to beat this!

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Diving into SanDestin

In early October, I had the opportunity to spend a few days at the SanDestin Golf and Beach Resort. I very much enjoyed my stay. I had a studio-style room in the Pilot House building. Though not large, it was perfectly lovely and adequate for a couple with a child. (I had a queen bad, and the couch folded out. In addition, there was a small kitchenette (sink, coffee maker, microwave, mini-fridge) and balcony.

On one of the upper floors of the building, there is a beautiful rooftop garden, pool area, and fitness center exclusive to guests of the Pilot House. Additionally, the Pilot House abuts the Baytowne Wharf area, where the resort offers robust choices for shopping, dining (Acme Oyster House, Grafitti's, a fun little wine bar, seafood restaurants, pizza joints, you name it), and other activities. Rooms at the Pilot House don't have a bay view, but other than that, they are ideal.

I really enjoyed my time at the SanDestin. The property is large and beautifully maintained. One can spend time lounging by the pool, walking on some of the trails and boardwalks, admiring the bay, golfing, or renting boats and the like to actually get out in the water. Though prices are higher than normal at Baytowne Wharf, there is something to be said for the convenience of strolling to dinner and then ambling back to one's room.

Also, if you're wanting to get to the beach, no worries. The resort has a shuttle service that picks up throughout the property and delivers one right to the beach. They didn't even mind that we brought our daiquiris with us!

To consider: the property was not crowded in early October, and the weather was gorgeous. I would imagine, however, that visiting here in the summers would be more of a trick. I bet that lines at Baytowne Wharf come mid-June are rather heinous.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Witches' Brew

I have this amazing group of friends. One night a month, we get together for dinner. We laugh and talk and eat good food. Once in a while, we'll try a new restaurant or see a movie or a play together.

This October, it was my turn to host. I thought I'd take my new kitchen for a spin and cook a fall dinner for everyone. Since it was so close to Halloween, I also thought a photo booth with some crazy costume options might be appropriate.

I sent out an evite invitation, threw some decorations up (See my spooky table at left.), and got ready for fun!

Here's what we ATE!

Appetizers: This was a mix of purchased items. We had cambezola, comte, and goat cheese; sliced red pear; almonds and pralines; prosciutto; red grapes; and whole wheat crackers. Nice nibbles.

Entree: We had a roast pork shoulder (I bought the really big, fatty kind and just sliced off a big enough chunk for eight people.) with a mix of roasted autumn vegetables - rutabaga, carrot, fennel, onion. Sprinkled everything with olive oil, chopped sage from the garden, and tons of salt and pepper. Chicken broth and white wine in the bottom of the pan kept everything from drying out.

Dessert: A big apple crisp with maple syrup and walnuts, served with indulgent scoops of vanilla ice cream, topped off the meal.

What was great about this menu was that it was easy and relaxed for me. I put together most of the crisp the night before, threw the roast in the oven before everyone arrived, and laid out my assembled appetizer platter. Then, I just had to remember to put the crisp in the oven before we sat down to dinner, and that was it. It really allowed me to have fun with everybody instead of cooking the whole time.

We served everything with two bottles of pinot and a bottle of chardonnay.

The company was absolutely epic, and we all yukked it up in the photo booth. I so love this group of women. We are all different, but we totally click. I admire each one of them and really look forward to the time we spend together. I am one blessed lady!

Marvelous McComb!

I've had the occasion to be in McComb, Miss., a few days here and there lately, and I have been so impressed! If you have the chance to visit, here are a few things I've enjoyed:


1.)  The McComb Railroad Museum. Just adjacent to the McComb train depot is a delightful one-room railroad museum. You can operate a train whistle, fold down a sleeper car sink from the wall, and snoop through old railroad china and other artifacts. They have lots of photos, a model train, and even uniforms on display. This is an adorable exhibit and a quick stop. Outside, they have an old train engine and some cars on display, as well as a small train-themed playground for little ones.

2.) Once you're done visiting the museum, walk a block or two into downtown McComb to eat at The Caboose! It's a nice white tablecloth restaurant with a variety of food at reasonable prices. We had delicious oyster po boys (They bring their french bread in from New Orleans. Mmmmmm!), and their smoked chicken salad is also yummy.

3.) Another legendary dining spot in McComb is The Dinner Bell. Everything wonderful you've heard about this restaurant is true. You are seated at large, round tables with massive lazy susans in the middle. The kitchen just keeps bringing out scrumptious food for your table, and you serve yourselves, family-style. (We went on a Sunday afternoon and had ham, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings, green beans, dressing, fried eggplant, sweet potatoes, rolls, deserts, the list just went on and on and on) Oh. My. Goodness. Pure deliciousness. I have had quite a bit of fried chicken in my life, and what they are serving at The Dinner Bell ranks right up at the top.

So if you find yourself south of Jackson with a free afternoon, stop on by! McComb also has a traditional shopping mall and other things to see and do, but I was completely charmed by the old downtown area and the depot district. Enjoy!

Friday, October 05, 2012

Louisiana lagniappe

What fun!
For a long time, I'd been wanting to take Clay down to the Global Wildlife Center. Trouble was, Folsom, La., isn't exactly on the way to New Orleans, and I rarely find myself driving in Louisiana when that's not where I'm headed.

But, the final weekend of September, a dear friend was getting married in Lafayette on Saturday night. So I thought to myself, "Self, we could drive to Folsom, love on some wildlife, then putter over to Lafayette with plenty of time to make the wedding." Not only that, but I could brunch the next morning with another dear friend who happens to call Lafayette home.

Clay got up close and personal with the giraffes.One Comfort Suites reservation later, it was a date.

One thing to remember about the Global Wildlife Center: FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THEIR WEBSITE. Our GPS was sending us via what looked to be a shorter route. Wrong. We ended up taking a rather scenic drive through the Folsom area. It may LOOK like the directions on the website tack an additional 20 miles onto the trip. No matter. Just follow them, and you'll be all right.

Once we got there, we felt like our brief detour was worth it. The Center is about 1,000 acres, and they house between 4,500 and 5,000 gorgeous (non-predatory) animals. We saw the sweetest little Asian deer, camels, zebras, giraffes, llamas, and more. We bought a bucket of corn so we could feed them, and the llamas and the giraffes would eat right out of your hand! They were adorable and so soft!
My and one of my dates at Marcello's
We'd booked the private jeep tour, which meant it was just the three of us. Our guide could drive us right up to the animals. It was just a magical visit. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and I'd recommend it to anyone.

After that, we drove over to Lafayette and checked into our hotel. After freshening up a bit (You never realize how desireable a shower can be until you smell like camel slobber!), we headed out for dinner at a place highly recommended by one of my friends. Marcello's is an Italian restaurant and wine bar, and we fell totally in love with it. We started with the macaroni and cheese appetizer (flavored with truffle butter). Then while Clay and I moved on to half orders of the spaghetti and meatballs and the pasta tritone, hubs got the veal marsala. Every single thing we ordered was absolutely delicious, and I was completely charmed by the half-orders. (What a great idea. You can have an appetizer and a meal and not feel like you are going to pop when you leave.) We washed it down with two glasses of pinot.

The French Press' amazing breakfast sandwichThen, I gussied up a bit and went to see my beautiful freind get married. Both the ceremony and the reception were hosted at Vermillionville, an attraction featuring historic houses and other buildings. It was a beautiful night, with a truly beautiful bride.

The next morning, the Bradshaw clan met up with another one of my sweet friends for brunch. Per her suggestion, we chose The French Press. It's an amazing little place, with a casual, neighborhood vibe and fantastic food. I had the stuffed french toast (strawberries and bananas - yum!), Clay had pancakes, and hubs got a giant breakfast sandwich with potatoes. We sipped our coffee, caught up, and filled our bellies!

Playing in the fountains!As we were leaving, the fountains on the square began to play. Clay couldn't resist playing in them, and he ended up completely soaked! Luckily for him, I had a complete change of dry clothing in the car for him. (This is not my first rodeo, people.)

We had such a great time in Folsom and Lafayette! I can't wait for our next trip!

Fun for the small (and the big)!

Butterbeers!Oh, we have had such fun the past few weeks with little man!
First of all, hubs and I decided that he might be old enough to watch the first Harry Potter movie. We'd caught a few snippets of it on television, and Clay had seemed really interested. So, we recorded it off a movie channel and set aside a Saturday night. Since it was such a momentous occasion, I decided that we really needed appropriate refreshments. After a little hunting online, I found some buuterbeer recipes. We whipped up both hot and cold versions to taste test along with our pretzels! Little man loved the movie, by the way, though he did get a bit wary at the scary parts near the end.

For over a year now, I'd been hearing wonderful things about Livingston Farmers Market. They are open seasonally, on Thursday nights, and they are WAY OUT in Canton, which is why I'd never been. But one week in September, hubs took a trip with some of his college buddies, leaving Clay and I to our own pursuits, so we decided to check it out.

Livingston Farmers MarketWhat a party! It's all set up outside, and it was a gorgeous night. In addition to all the vendors, selling everything from homemade bread to vegetables to artisan soaps and candles, they had a brick pizza oven (The pizzas were delicious!), an inflatable water slide, an ice cream truck, and live music! We ran into some old friends, and Clay spent the night running around with other kids, eating kettle corn, and dancing to the music of the band. It's a hoof to get there, I'll grant you that, but it is also pretty amazing!

Our mosaics!Also in September, the whole Bradshaw clan went out to The Mosaic Shop on County Line Raod to try our hand at artistic tile work. While I don't think headhunters for any Italian restoration companies will be calling us any time soon, it was a very fun afternoon. (And, as per usual, Clay's psychedelic guitar mosaic was the best of all three of them! When will Brian and I ever learn?!)

The weekend of September 15, there was a special traveling show at the Jackson Convention Complex - Discover the Dinosaurs. It was a big animatronic dinosaur exhibit coupled with a dino-carnival. The minute I found out you could actually ride an animatronic T-Rex at this thing, I knew little man and I HAD to go.

This was not a cheap morning, but it was so much fun! We paid our admission and spent quite a while ogling mechanical dinosaurs. And they had them all - T-Rex, allosaurus, triceratops, stegosaurus, pteradactyl, on and on and on. And after you were finished with THAT part of the attraction, you could buy tickets in the carnival section for more fun. Clay rode a T-Rex, played dino mini-golf, jumped in the inflatables, and got a fierce-looking "dino brow" painted on his face.

The week after that offered even more fun - Symphony at Sunset at The Cedars! I took Clay to this last year, and he loved it. This year, we all went back for more live music in a relaxed outdoor setting. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and the grounds of the Cedars were lovely, lite with cafe lights and spotted with patrons enjoying the music and one another. It was a magical evening.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

The House of Mouse!

When Clay was 3 years old, we took him to Orlando. But since we didn't feel he was really old enough to go to Disney World yet, we stayed at a fun condo with a great pool and took him to Sea World, Gator Land, the Wonder Works Museum, and other Orlando attractions.

However, now that little man is FIVE, we figure he's ready for the House of Mouse! After doing some travel book reading, web surfing, and general polling of my peeps on Facebook, we booked a week on property at Coronado Springs, with park tickets and one of the Disney dining plans. We won't go until next year (It'll take us that long to PAY for it. Apparently, childhood wonder doesn't come cheap.), but we are so excited! I've made some dining reservations (though I feel it is completely ridiculous to have to reserve meals SIX MONTHS in advance!), and everyone is looking forward to this new adventure.

Neither hubs nor I have ever been to Disney World ourselves, so this will be a first-time trip for ALL of us! Here we come, Mickey!!

All grown up!

About four weeks ago, little man went to his first day of kindergarten! I held it together, and so did he. So far, so good. Due to the HEINOUS school lunch menu they sent home, I've packed his lunch every day. (They DO have a healthy choice every day. But if your standard offering of entree is, say, chef salad or pizza, which do YOU think most 5-year-olds are going to choose? And they offer at least one junk food choice four days out of five. Fail.)

The only corrections he's gotten on behavior involve talking too much (no surprise) and not listening (which we are working on).

My little man's growing up!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book eater

I've been a rather voracious reader lately. Some thoughts on what I've been digesting:

I read Ann Patchett's State of Wonder on airplanes on my way to Oregon a while back. I picked it up in the airport because I am a HUGE fan of Bel Canto, one of her earlier novels. In State of Wonder, researcher Marina Singh finds herself traveling to a remote Amazonian jungle to find out more about the untimely death of one of her colleagues. Anders Eckman had visited the jungle to check on a secretive company drug development project, one that has been conitnuing for two years with very little news on progress. When Singh finally arrives at the satellite laboratory, she discovers that the project (led by chilly, uncompromising Dr. Annick Swenson, one of her professors in college) is much more interesting than anyone at the company truly realizes.

This book begs a lot of questions about relationships and relative morality. If we can do something, scientifically speaking, does that mean we should? Descriptive writing about the jungle and the flora and fauna there is gorgeous, and characterization is strong. Worth reading.

I also read White Shirts, a non-fiction book about the shootings at the Jackson Fire Department in 1996. Penned by a survivor and the widow of one of the men who was lost (Noraine Moree and Dave Berry), it is a moving account of how leadership decisions impacted morale at the department, and how the shooter (himself a Jackson firefighter) may have been motivated by his work situation to commit a heinous crime.

I have often walked by the memorial to those who didn't survive this attack. The Fallen Firefighters Memorial, a large statue of a firefighter holding a limp child, sits a mere stone's throw from my office building. Though the writing in the book can be rather plodding and amateurish, it is a raw, moving account of this tragedy straight from the pens of those who lived it.

I moved on to The Woods, a suspense thriller by Harlean Coben. This book revolves around Paul Copeland, an up-and-coming county prosecutor with a dark past. His sister (along with three other individuals) was murdered at a summer camp that they both attended during their youth, and her body was never found. Years later, Paul is a widower (His wife, tragically, died of cancer.) raising a young daughter and seeing some of his political ambitions fall into place.

But then, clues seem to appear from thin air regarding the long-ago murder, drawing Paul into a fresh investigation of the case. As he pieces the puzzle together, attempts on his own life are made, and he rediscovers a long lost love.

If I had to note anything about this book, it's that Coben does a mighty job of keeping the reader guessing. There are so many twists and turns in the plot that you'll be surprised right up until the last page. A great quick read for vacation or the beach.

The last book I delved into was Life, the autobiography by Rolling Stones guitarist and songwriter Keith Richards. I listened to this in the car, as an audio book, and I highly recommend it.

First of all, Richards has lived a crazy, amazing life. And boy does he have stories to tell. By turns, I was impressed, fascinated, and horrified. I loved hearing about how he grew up in post-war England and of the impacts that his family made on him. The early days of the band getting together and eking out an existence on the London club scene were completely interesting.

Then, the Stones hit it big. And things began to change. Richards relays incredibly detailed tales of their exploits - drugs, traveling, shows, songwriting, recording, producing. He talks at length about how he became addicted to heroin, what it was like taking all those drugs, and how hard it was to kick them.

If you can get past his profanity-laced language, you will find an undeniably intriguing tale of a true pop-culture legend. Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grace Gets Hitched! (cont.)

On Friday, we started with a big breakfast at the cabin: cheesey slow-cooked eggs, a pound of bacon, and big cups of hot coffee. Sooo good!

After breakfast, hubs, Clay, and I decided to take a walk around Trillium Lake. It was so, so beautiful. The last time I was there, a cloud hovered over the top of Mt. Hood. On this day, though, it was clear as a bell. We walked all around the lake trail and decided that camping there is on our "to-do" list for our next trip. I think kayaks might be in order, as well.

By this time, Ski Bowl had opened. We were dying to try the Alpine Slide. We pulled in, bought our tickets, and headed out. The way it works is this: you ride the ski lift AAAALLLL the way up the mountain. This part is super-fun in itself. You have great views from your little dangling chair. Then, at the top, they give you a toboggan and send you on your way. The ride is about a half a mile, and you can go really fast if you get a good toboggan and forget about the brake! We rode it four or five times, with everyone trying to beat everyone else to the bottom, before deciding we needed a quick lunch and a nap before the rehearsal dinner that night.

For some grub, we headed to the Zig Zag Inn. We couldn't resist their macaroni and cheese with bacon, and boy was it good! They serve it in a gratin dish, and the cheese is light (maybe Parmesan or Fontina?). There's tons of bacon on it, and you can get a fruit cup on the side if you are feeling virtuous. (Which we were.) After that, we headed home for a quick rest.

Grace's rehearsal dinner was held at The Resort on the Mountain, and it was lovely! There was a great, fun crowd, and we had a beautiful space in the Foliage Room. (You could see a very green ravine, with a waterfall at one end, out of the large picture windows.) And the food was scrumptious: soup, then a menu of favorites to choose from, then ice cream! Afterwards, some of the party went out to the Skyway Bar and Grill for drinks. Though I LOVE their macaroni and cheese and barbecue, we were completely full as well as pooped! It was off to bed for us.

The next day was Grace's wedding!! That morning, I took Dad, hubs, Clay, and Caleb for a late breakfast at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse. They say this place is historic, and it looks it. The walls are composed of giant logs, and the food inside is equally BIG. I chose the two-egg breakfast with country potatoes and sausage. (So did dad.) Clay got pancakes and sausage, and Caleb chose french toast. Hubs had eggs, biscuits, and gravy. For all five of us, the bill was around $40, and it was a TON of food! (Which was good, because it had to last us until 3 p.m., when the reception started.)

After we ate, we headed back to the cabin to start showering and otherwise getting ready. Then, we set our sights on Timberline Lodge. The lodge, built as part of the Works Progress Administration (as an arts project), is a lovely building. Expansive, it's full of hand-woven textiles, hand made furniture, and beautifully crafted hardware.

Grace and Ryan got married on the back patio, with majestic Mt. Hood behind them. Grace's friends played parts in the ceremony, reading poems, singing songs, taking photos, and otherwise making it a special day that I'm sure she'll never forget.

I cried like a baby.

Once the ceremony was complete, we gathered in a windowed upper room at the lodge for the reception. We feasted on salmon, fresh corn, green salad, and biscuits drenched in honey and butter as we admired the amazing views. As I sipped my Oregon wine, I thought to myself that such a room was made for eating salmon. It was just perfect.

After toasts, cake, and the dubke, the Bradshaw clan begged off a little early so Clay could play in the snow on Mt. Hood. We went on a short hike up the mountain, and we found ourselves slipping and sliding and feeling like real explorers! Since Clay hadn't eaten much of his fish at the reception, we capped off our visit with a PB&J and a hot cocoa at the Lodge's restaurant.

After that, it was packing, bed, and the return flights home the next morning! What a magical trip, and a magical day for our family. I will remember it always!

Grace Gets Hitched!!

After college, my little sister Grace moved up to the Portland, Oregon, area. Of course, she met a boy. And she decided to marry said boy, setting the date for July 14.

Naturally, the Saad clan had to represent. We scheduled several days in Mt. Hood country to have fun and celebrate the joining of two families.

First of all, we decided to rent a big house that we could all stay in, instead of holing up in separate hotel rooms. This ended up being a GREAT idea. My older sister, Laura, found an AWESOME cabin in Brightwood Loop (off Hwy 26). Three bedrooms, plus a futon for the boys, two baths, gorgeous outdoor space (think water gardens, a hot tub, etc.), and mere steps from the banks of the Sandy River (above). Wonderful.

We arrived late Wednesday, picked up our rental car at the airport, and made the drive. We stopped at Burgerville on the way in (We were starving.), treating ourselves to cheeseburgers with Tillamook cheddar, giant Walla Walla onion rings, and raspberry lemonade. Burgerville is a chain restaurant, but they use a lot of local ingredients. Yum!

We found the cabin without any trouble, unpacked, and settled in for an early night. We were up bright and early the next morning, though. Clay and I sneaked out for secret breakfast at Cafe Aria. They make tasty stuffed waffles there. Clay chose the one with nutella and strawberries inside. I picked a savory version filled with eggs, bacon, and cheese. They also have a small shop, and I took the opportunity to load up on Stumptown Roasters coffee and gourmet sea salt to bring back home.

After breakfast, we all decided to head out to the Columbia River Gorge. Along the way, we stopped at Packer's Fruit Stand. LOVE! First of all, you have great views from this little spot. Then, you've got delicious fresh fruit. (Cherries!) THEN, you've got all the marvelous goodies they make: ice cream, tons of varieties of cookies, jams, jellies, pies, the list goes on. We spent about 45 minutes here, admiring the views, sampling treats, and choosing jams to take home. (I chose a raspberry pear variety and a cherry. Delicious!)

Next, we decided to tour Pheasant Valley Vineyards. What fun! It's a self-guided tour. You get a small booklet, and you use it to guide yourself through the markers in the vienyard. We saw the vines, hiked out to the overlook, and learned about how fruit in the field turns into liquid poetry in your glass. After our hike, we got to return to the tasting room and sample all 12 wines bottled at the winery. I absolutely LOVED their whites, and I'm usually a strictly red-wine drinker. They even have a pear wine, sweet and with a low alcohol content, that slips down the throat like the breath of August. I couldn't resist picking up a bottle for later!

By then, it was time for lunch! We stopped at Full Sail, a restaurant and microbrewery by the river. Hubs had a big glass of their pale ale and a giant burger, while I chose the steak sandwich. Service was quick, food was tasty, and prices were reasonable. They even had a kids' menu! From the windows (and the outdoor deck), you could see the kite surfers down on the water.

By this time, we were figuring that we needed to get out to the Gorge. We started with Multnomah Falls. The last time I'd taken Clay there, he'd been too little to hike. We checked out the falls from the observation area, but that was it. This time, hubs, Clay, and I all hiked up to the bridge. It was so beautiful! And at Horse Tail Falls, little man even took his shoes off to dip his toes in the (COLD) water!

Later, we hiked up to the bridge at Wahkeena Falls, and this might have been my favorite. The hike is short, and few people make it, because Wahkeena doesn't look that impressive from the road. But once you're up there, the bridge is REALLY close to the falls. You get tons of spray, and you feel like you have the whole place to yourself. Don't miss it!

Latourelle Falls was closed for construction, but we did get out and explore Vista House at Crown Point. Amazing views. Clay and Caleb loved running around Vista House, and we took lots of pictures.

After that, Laura, Mom, and I were supposed to go out with Grace and her friends, but we were completely exhausted. We contented ourselves with a grand tour of her new house, then headed back up the mountain to the cabin. As we drove, we worried. See, there was a big mountain festival scheduled for that weekend in Sandy, about 20 minutes down the mountain from where we were staying. And the festival kicked off with a giant parade on Thursday night on Hwy 26, which is the road you use to get EVERYWHERE on the mountain. This parade was supposed to start at 7 p.m. As we approached Sandy, it was 6:55 p.m.

"Dangit, we are going to get caught by this parade!" I wailed. "It'll take us forever to get through here! Maybe we should just open the sun roof and let Mom stand up and wave a little?"

The streets were lined with people stacked 4 or 5 deep. Tons of stadium chairs were everywhere. As we puttered through, we passed just in front of the entire parade. Fire trucks. Beauty queens. The whole she-bang. We barely beat them through town. We had a good laugh over it, then gratefully headed home for bed.

More to come . . .

Party Animal!

A couple of weeks ago, mere DAYS after we put the finishing touches on the kitchen, we celebrated little man's FIFTH birthday!

He wanted a pirate party, so we did up the house in swashbuckling style, rented a slip and dip for the back yard, and got a cake with a ship on top. We did our usual hokey invitations ("Shiver me timbers! Cap'n Clay be turnin' FIVE!" We are such goobs.)

I put out fruit and cheese plates (two different versions - adults and kids), hubs grilled chicken, and we served up sauteed corn and roasted cherry tomatoes. Very delicious, very summery!

I can hardly believe how big he's gotten! He starts school in TWO WEEKS! We've got him all registered, he's had his round of vaccinations, and we went and got all of his school supplies today.

Little man is growing up!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Something's been cooking . . .

For a while, we'd been wanting to remodel our kitchen. We'd decided to re-face the cabinet doors, install new countertops (The old laminate ones were chipping.), add/update some lighting, and tile the backsplash. After a lot of thought, we decided on a transitional style with nods to the American farmhouse look. We found an awesome apron-front sink at a local store, hunted up a bridge faucet online, and we were off!

In early June, the project began. Here's what we started with:




I've had a blue and yellow kitchen for as long as I've been an adult. I still love the color combination, but I was ready for a change. In addition, the old kitchen was skimpy on lighting (and what we did have was very dated).

Five weeks later, here's where we ended up:




The wall color is a pale olive, the countertops are angola silver granite, and we chose a simple white subway tile for the backsplash. We also added two custom open cabinets to hold extra stuff and faced the peninsula in beadboard to reinforce the farmhouse look.

My favorite thing, though, is the lighting. We replaced the dated central flourescent fixture with five pot lights, added two pendants over the peninsula, replaced the fixture over the eat-in portion of the kitchen, and added under cabinet lighting. (The under cabinet lighting is AMAZING. If you are considering remodeling, PLEASE think about adding under cabinet lighting. I can't tell you how much I love it.)

I won't lie to you. There were times during the five-week process that I wondered if we'd ever finish. But we stuck it out, and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. I LOVE cooking in this new space!

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Memphis getaway

Well, it was late June. The kitchen renovation had dragged on for four weeks, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit it was getting to me.

So when some of my girlfriends started talking about a weekend in Memphis, I was all ears.

We drove up together early one Saturday morning, heading straight to Neely's Barbecue in downtown for lunch. We got there right before a big tour group, so we were able to enjoy our ribs (OMG.) and mac and cheese pretty quickly. I also had coleslaw on the side. I'm not a big closeslaw fan and, alas, Neely's slaw didn't make a convert out of me. But the ribs were amazing, and the mac and cheese is some of the best I've had at a restaurant. They also served those soft, white schoolhouse rolls. Yum!

Feeling refreshed, we moseyed over to Sun Studios. I'd never toured the small facility, and I was interested in a closer look. After browsing the gift shop a while, our tour guide led us upstairs to a room filled with music memorabilia. He explained all of the artifacts to us in an entertaining and informative way. He also played music clips from some of the artists and songs he was telling us about, and I thought that dimension added so much to the tour. I wish they'd do something similar at Graceland.

Then, it was downstairs to the actual old studio. Everything has remained intact, and it's thrilling to stand in the same room where famous songs were recorded and hear them playing over the speakers. Our tour guide even let us grab an old microphone and have our pictures taken.

This facility is small, and the tour is short. However, it's well worth your while to take a look! We loved it! (I even got Clay and I Sun Studios T-shirts in the gift shop afterwards.)

Next up, we'd planned to tour the Center for Southern Folklore. Their website said they were open on Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. After a little trouble we found it, but we were disappointed. We'd misread the site. The center's SHOP is open on Saturdays, but the center itself is only open Monday through Fridays. Sigh.

Undaunted, we felt we ought to be checking into our hotel, so it was off to the downtown Marriott. After freshening up a bit, we headed down for drinks in the hotel bar before making our dinner plans. On the advice of our concierge, we gussied up, hopped the trolley and headed to Spindini's for Italian food.

Mamma mia! This place was great! The trolley car driver let us off right in front of the restaurant (which was good, because we had our high heels on!). I had a gorgeous plate of shrimp carbonara (full of shrimp and smoky bacon), some of the gals got pizzas, and another friend had a steak. A bottle of wine for the table, and we were in heaven!

Only one tiny incident marred our visit. About halfway through dinner, the friend sitting next to me began choking. It was a tense few seconds before we could get her standing up and administer a quick Heimlich maneuver. Thankfully, it worked. But it scared the heck out of all of us for about a minute there. It's weird. They tell you what to do when someone is choking, and you listen to that information, but you don't really get the chance to test it out. I remember thinking, "Man, I hope this Heimlich thing works!"

After dinner, we decided to hit Beale Street. And I learned something. I am too old to be walking up and down Beale Street late at night! First of all, they have barriers and police officers at each end. You have to show them your ID and be wanded down (for weapons, I presume) before they'll even let you on the street. And then, it's just the drunks and the smell and the crowds. Some guys barked at us. BARKED. No lie. I have grown too cantankerous to put up with it all, I think!

After making the loop, we headed to a place where we'd blend in much better - the Peabody Hotel, for drinks at their lobby bar. Aaaahhhh! I opted for a nice decaf coffee and their bourbon pecan pie. Afterwards, we caught the trolley back to the hotel and sunk into grateful sleep.

The next morning, we slept in and took our breakfast at Gibson's Donuts. I'd seen this place profiled on Cheap Bites (on the Cooking Channel), and it looked DIVINE! I ordered the New Orleans Buttermilk donut, an old-fashioned donut, and a cream cake donut. They were all delicious (I think the cream cake was my favorite!!), and coffee and juice washed them right down!

Then, we had to get our shop on. We went to Macy's first, then perused the Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma outlets. I found tons of great stuff for our new kitchen at amazing prices!! WHY haven't I been hitting these outlets regularly whenever I get close to Memphis?! I will be sure and plan for shop time in the future!

Then, it was off for home. What a great way to avoid the remodel for the weekend!

Fun with little people

Clay and I stayed busy in June! We saw perhaps the best circus we've ever seen with Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey came to town with Barnum Bash. What fun!

Part of the program focused on the rich history of the circus sideshow, with a fire eater, contortionists, and a strong man who they ran over with a Hummer full of people! They also had an AMAZING act called Duo Fusion, where a woman (in a sparkly bikini and high heels, no less) did all sorts of strength and balancing tricks. That woman was throwing that man around, lifting him up into the air, all kinds of stuff. Very impressive! The elephant act, featuring three elephants, was also really well done. We've been to the circus three or four time now with little man, but we all agreed that Barnum Bash was the best show we'd seen!

There's also a new dinosaurs exhibit at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. In the facility's first-floor, glassed-in exhibit space, they have a animatronic T-Rex that you can get REALLY close to! At first, little man was afraid. But right next to it, they have a stripped-down animatron that you can control with a console. That helped him realize that the big, scary dinosaur was actually just a machine. He then spent some time teaching that machine how to really roar!

The two of us sneaked out early on Father's Day weekend to eat donuts and get hubs his present - a new grill! Hus and I bought our old grill the year we got married, and it's seen 12 years of hard use! He asked for a new one this year, and we rewarded him with a shiny Char-Broil Infrared. Clay "helped" him put it together, and hubs has already grill steaks, veggie kabobs, BBQ chicken, and other treats for us on it!

Friday, June 08, 2012

The Big Easy, part II

On Sunday morning, we awoke and headed out in search of beignets. Clay had never had a beignet before, so we knew we had to go to Cafe du Monde. We got there early enough that there wasn't much of a line, so we were seated and munching on our beignets in no time.

After a sugar-packed breakfast, it was off to the Aquarium of the Americas for us. Again, we got there right at opening time. And again, as everyone headed to the left for the coral reef exhibit, we veered right. We had the whole jellyfish exhibit entirely to ourselves, a big plus because little man is fascinated by them. We took the steps up to the Louisiana exhibit, which was deserted except for us. The albino alligator hopped down off his fake pier and swam right up to the glass for a heart-to-heart with Clay. Magical. After that, we had a complete monopoly on the stingray touch pool, where Clay touched two stingrays. (They are so soft and velvety!) It wasn't until this part of the aquarium that we started seeing other people.


We went through some more tanks (eels, frogs, and more!) before ending up at Parakeet Point, where we bought feed sticks. The birds perched on nearby branches (and on our hands) while we fed them. They weren't as aggressive as the birds at Gatorland (plus, little man was a little bit older), so Clay was completely cool with it. This ended up being one of his favorite parts of the aquarium visit.

After feeding the birds, we stopped in the upstairs cafe for a nice cold drink before heading back downstairs to explore the coral reef exhibit. Beautiful!

When we finished up at the aquarium, we weren't hungry enough for lunch yet. Since we'd bought the Audubon Experience tickets (admission to the zoo, the aquarium, the insectarium, and an IMAX show), we figured we'd catch a quick IMAX movie and then hunt up some grub.

By unbelievable luck, we were able to see the 3D version of The Last Reef, an amazing 40-minute film about coral reefs, their importance to the ocean's ecosystem, and their fight for survival. I have NEVER seen a 3D movie where the effects were so startling. Nearly everyone in the theater was holding their hands out, trying to touch schools of fish, delicately floating jellyfish and swaying sea plants. This was money and time well spent.

By this time, we were getting hungry. A few blocks down Canal Street from the aquarium is one of my favorite places to eat in New Orleans. And neither Clay nor Brian had ever been there. That's how we ended up at a prime table at The Palace Cafe. Yum! I got a mimosa and the oyster pan roast (my fave), hubs had the redfish, and Clay had perhaps his fanciest plate of chicken nuggets and homemade potato chips ever. (His ketchup came in a silver gravy boat. I'm telling you, he felt like a king!) As always, the food was DELICIOUS! And I always love the three piece band. Towards the end of our meal, they came down and played requests tableside. For us, they played "Audubon Zoo!" It was a moment that I will remember for a long time. Very special.

Fortified, we headed to our last attraction before the trip home - the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium. Unlike all of the other places I'd taken Clay, I'd never been to the Insectarium before. It is a blast! We saw all types of bugs, spiders, and crickets. There's a whole exhibit on termites! They have bug-themed video games you can play, and a gorgeous butterfly garden where the beautiful creatures fly all around you. In the back, there's a cafe where you can try tasty treats made with bugs. I had mealworm salsa and a chocolate chip cookie made with crickets. The verdict? Not bad, but man, you REALLY wanted to floss later . . .

After that, we were tuckered out! We trundled back to the car for a blessedly uneventful trip home.

We had a complete blast! We're already planning our next trip! I'm thinking swamp tour . . . :)

The Big Easy

Soooo, the kitchen was a mess. Looking at it all was beginning to give me hives. Then, I got a TravelZoo email with a great deal on a small hotel in New Orleans. The Maison St. Charles, right on the streetcar line between the Quarter and the Lower Garden District. A room, breakfast, and parking for $60.

I'd been wanting to take little man on his first trip to The Big Easy. It seemed as though the universe was speaking to me. One phone call later, we were booked for Friday and Saturday night.

We packed a bag, loaded up on some car snacks, and hit the road. Then, the road hit us. In Amite, La., we got a flat tire. Cut to two hours of "browsing" at the Amite Wal-Mart while they replaced the tire. (Yuck. I hate going to Wal-Mart, even at home. Even on a good day. Not how I envisioned starting our trip, but I suppose it could have been worse. We could have gotten a flat tire 20 miles onto the bridge.)

So that was the downside. The upside? It put us in Manchac right at suppertime. You know what that means - fried thin catfish at Middendorf's! I never even KNEW they had a back deck on the water, but as soon as I saw it, I knew that's where we'd eat.

Covered, out over the water, replete with ceiling fans and misters. They even had live music and a sand area (with a water fountain and sand toys) where the kids could play. The sun was setting, the music was good, and it was heavenly out there. I ordered two mojitos for us, and you could smell the mint on the wind as they made them at the bar. We had oysters, catfish, fries, and hushpuppies as we watched boaters gliding up to the dock, tying up, and hopping off for some serious dinner. It sure felt like a vacation.

After that, it was a quick hop to our hotel, which we found without much trouble, even in the dark. (God bless smartphones and their mapping functions!) We bedded down for the night in anticipation of a busy Saturday.

We decided to eat breakfast close to home the next morning. Finding the continental breakfast rather uninspiring at the hotel, we turned to Urbanspoon for some ideas. A few screens later, we'd settled on The Blue Plate Cafe, which was easily walkable from our location. What a great find! Prices are a little on the spendy side for breakfast, but portions are HUGE, and the food is amazing. I had a big cup of hot coffee and Sue's Special, a split biscuit topped with ham, creamed spinach, and poached egg, served with a side of browns. Hubs had a giant breakfast burrito, and little man contented himself with pancakes, bacon, and pineapple juice.

The whimsical decor and great service (and I mean great - fast, friendly, lots of personality) made it all the better. And they serve lunch and dinner, too! A nice new spot to add to our New Orleans rotation.

After breakfast, we got into the car and headed for Audubon Park. We were still a bit early for the zoo (Why on EARTH they wait until 10 a.m. to open, in the HEAT of SUMMER, is completely beyond me. They should open at 8 a.m. and save patrons from the heat of the day. I'll bet the animals are a lot more active then, too, before the heat has sucked the life out of them.), so we explored the park a bit. At the stroke of 10 a.m., we were in front of the gates of the Audubon Zoo. After renting a stroller and grabbing a glass of lemonade, we were off!

Since most of the crowd appeared to be heading straight or to the right, we headed left. Good call. We explored the Komodo Dragons, the reptile house, and the sea lions in relative peace. We did a little tree climbing, got a great view of the rhinos, and peeked at the gazelles. Clay LOVED the play area around the bronze lion statues - climbing, wading, secret trails, a giant web, and a shady tree house.

We chatted with the giraffes, got a fabulous view of the leopards, and had a little bit of lunch at the Zoofari Cafe on site. A few rides on the carousel, and we were pooped! We headed back to the hotel for a bit of a rest before meeting up with one of my college buddies and his sweet family for dinner.

Dinner was at Reginelli's, where I had a delicious Shrimp Forrest - tortellini with shrimp, pancetta, and cheese in a red pepper cream sauce. Hubs had an excellent pizza, and Clay got the Tortellini Pomodoro. It was so great to catch up with an old friend and meet his sweet family. He has four gorgeous girls. After dinner, we went back to their house for a bit, where the girls showered me with pretend food from their kitchen, strung Mardi Gras beads around my neck, and let me try on all of their sparky butterfly rings. I was in HEAVEN!

More to come . . .

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Water for Elephants

I FINALLY got around to watching the movie adaptation of Water for Elephants, starring Robert Pattinson (Jacob) and Reese Witherspoon (Marlena). I'd absolutely loved the book when I read it, and I was excited to see the production values and the performances in the film.

I was not disappointed. First, the costumes! As Marlena, the star of the circus, Witherspoon's costumes were amazing. They had a vintage look, almost as if her character had made them/adapted them from evening dresses of the period. And all of the trappings of the circus itself maintained that wonderful period feel. I loved watching the big tent go up, seeing how the circus turned itself into a mobile city, marveling along with the characters at the different acts in the traveling show. Overall, I thought production values were very high here, with great attention to detail on what must have been a very challenging shoot. (Especially considering all the animals they captured on film.)

Performances were solid, with Pattinson and Witherspoon serving as the glue that held the film together. Cristoph Waltz gave a convincing turn as Witherspoon's dark husband, August, and Hal Holbrook was an absolute delight as an older Jacob.

If you haven't gotten around to seeing this movie, and especially if you loved the book, make some time. The movie is a sensory delight, and a very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Bon appetit!

A couple of weeks ago, I went out with a group of my girl friends to try a new restaurant in Ridgeland - Anjou. An upscale French spot, the restaurant is located off Highland Colony Parkway. The cozy interior makes group dining a pleasure, and I could also see how this place would make a nice special occasion spot.

We started with wine. (I can highly recommend Laboure-Roi Les Sangliers Pinot Noir. Yum!) Then, since so many in the party were watching their waistlines, we ordered a mix of salad Nicoise, the salmon with ratatouille entree (DELICIOUS!), and the seafood crepes. The bread and butter were appropriately chewy/creamy (respectively), and our server was precious. (Service was a bit slow, but they'd only been open for about a month at that point. I feel certain they will work any service snags out post-haste.)

Prices are upper- to mid-range, but I felt Anjou offered good value for the price paid. You can check out their website at http://www.anjourestaurant.net/. Happy eating!

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Rocky Springs!

For about a year now, I've wanted to take little man down to Rocky Springs. I have many fond childhood memories of the place. We'd either go camping there with Girl Scouts, or mom would just load us and some of our friends into the car to make the short trip. We would tour the site of the old town, listen to the echo of our voices in the little church, and make rubbings of some of the beautiful old headstones in the cemetery.

Then, we'd go exploring in the water. Mom was always telling us not to get completely wet. We were supposed to JUST WADE. But, inevitably, we'd "slip" and fall in! I remember golden days of laughter and picnics out there, and I couldn't wait to show Clay!

A couple of weekends ago, hubs and I packed a cooler, extra clothing, towels, and little man into the car. We found it pretty easily. The little church is still there, though they no longer hold regular services. Clay peeked inside the town's old rusty safe and examined all the tree roots that have been exposed due to erosion.

Before too long, we were in the water. A pair of Crocs protected little man's feet, leaving him free to search for neat-looking rocks, keep and eye out for minnows, and pretend that he was Lewis and/or Clark. He was all smiles as we poked along the creek. We stopped at lunchtime for PB&J sandwiches, oniony chicken salad with pita chips, fresh summer peaches, and squares of dark chocolate.

We also swung by Owen's Falls before leaving the area. I hadn't been there in years, and it's still as magical as ever. We walked along some of the trails there before packing up and heading home. Little man fell asleep in the car, and when he woke up, he asked me when we'd be going back.

Life is some kinda good.

Too many cooks in the kitchen

A while back, we began thinking about having our kitchen remodeled. The cabinet doors and drawers were old and battered (and one hanging cabinet had even started to separate a bit from the wall), the lighting was atrocious, and we had glued a few pieces of the laminate countertop that had chipped after years of use back into place.

And though a younger version of me would have delighted in such a project - choosing finishes, obssessing over hardware, giving serious thought to paint color - the older version of me mainly dreaded it. Dreaded the expense, the mess, the hassle.

BUT here we are. Something had to be done about the space, so we began talking with a contractor a couple of months ago. We decided on a transitional kitchen with a nod to the American farmhouse style. I found a good deal on a gorgeous apron-front sink, scoured the Internet for a brushed nickle bridge faucet, and chose a nice dark granite for the countertops. We decided on a plain white subway tile for the backsplash. The plan is to keep the cabinet houses, but re-face with new doors. We're also converting some of the cabinets on the bottom to handy pull-out drawers so that we can acess the contents more easily.

Over Memorial Day weekend, hubs and I cleaned everything out of the kitchen. Let me repeat that, so you understand the full magnitude of what I am telling you. Every. Single. Thing. It now sits unceremoniously in a bunch of cardboard boxes in the den. (We purged a bit, too, dropping a few boxes of items off at the Salvation Army.) So far, the sink has been dry fit, most of the new lighting has been installed, and they've measured for the new countertops. They also removed all the cabinet doors and filled/sanded the hinge holes to prep the cabinets for painting.

It's been about a week, and though clear progress has been made, it will like be another three weeks until I am back in my kitchen. We set up a makeshift food prep area in the den, and we are using ALOT of paper plates!

They say kitchen remodels are the hardest to endure, and I believe them. Wish me luck . . .

Feet of Fury

While I was ferrying my groceries to my car in the Kroger parking lot a few weeks ago, I was approached by a young woman recruiting for summer session at her martial arts studio. I signed little man right up. It was a happy coincidence, as I decided a while ago that karate or tae kwon do would be the perfect extracurricular activity for him.

Why? A few reasons:
1.) It's INSIDE. When I was dating hubs in high school, his brother played soccer. The whole clan routinely attended game after game in the stifling heat. Um, no.
2.) The schedule is sane. Right now, he's going to class twice a week, and we can pick from a variety of sessions that fit our family schedule. I love the flexibility of it.
3.) It's solitary. Though the class is a group affair, one participates in tournaments only if one wants to, competing as an individual. So you're not letting the whole team down if a big tournament happens to be scheduled right during your very expensive trip to DisneyWorld.
4.) Clay thinks he is a complete super hero. The punching and kicking play into his fantasy world, in which he defends America (and me) against bad guys.

At first, hubs asked me (incredulously), "So you're teaching him how to hit us?!" But even he has to admit that little man loves it. He's been to four classes so far, and the kid's in heaven.

Just call him Bruce!