Sunday, May 31, 2015

Parties!

Chili with all the fixings!
One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to make time CELEBRATE more! (It's a tough gig, but somebody's gotta do it.)

We started out with a New Year's Eve celebration. Hubs made juicy steaks, we invited my family over, and we shot fireworks! (I absolutely LOVE shooting fireworks with my Dad. He loves them so much that it makes me love them more.) Clay and Dad were both driving everyone crazy with those poppy firecrackers that you throw at people's feet! They are both big kids!

Then, we hosted a fun Super Bowl party. I made a giant pot of chili, a big bowl of guacamole, some cornbread muffins, and a pitcher of margaritas. We polished it off with chewy, nut-studded brownies. I invited some of my best buds over,
Clay's celebration dinner
and we watched the game (in the cases of some) and the commercials (in the cases of others).

Also in January, I had a bunch of people over for my birthday. I was turning (coughcough) years old, and I thought I should mark it by making the most decadent chocolate Nutella berry concoction I could find on Pinterest. (Needless to say, the cake was a hit.)

Then, there was Valentine's Day. Hubs and I usually don't go out on the actual Valentine's Day, mainly because every restaurant is crazy-crowded. But this year, Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday, and there was a swanky restaurant I'd been wanting to go to with him. Seafood R'evolution has opened a branch in Ridgeland. I've eaten at their New Orleans location before, and I knew hubs would love it! So, I made a reservation and pulled out my red dress.

Hilariously, about three days before Valentine's Day, I got an abrasion on my eye. So I had to wear an eye patch out on my Valentine's Day dinner. And just let me say this - if you want to set all the Jackson suburbanites talking, roll into Seafood R'evolution on Valentine's Day all gussied up and wearing a black eye patch. (Bonus points if you go with your husband but forget to wear your own wedding ring!! Heee heeee!!)

Happy birthday to three of my favorite guys!
In March, hubs and I took little man out for a special dinner in recognition of his AWESOME report card. We told him he could pick any restaurant he liked, and he chose Table 100. We gussied up for the occasion. (He wore his sweet little vest, tie, and hat - ADORABLE!) It was such a fun night, and he felt so special!

In April, I celebrated the birthdays of three of my favorite guys! Both of my nephews and my daddy have early birthdays, and I thought it was the perfect occasion for another get-together. I made a big, beautiful leg of lamb, with crispy roasted potatoes and asparagus. We bought a rich chocolate torte from Broad Street, put some candles in it, and broke out the party hats and noisemakers! It was so much fun that I'm thinking of making this a tradition!

Sweet Erin Kate and our Kentucky Derby table
In early May, one of my best friends hosted a Kentucky Derby party! We all threw on big hats and brought covered dishes. We drank mint juleps, gabbed, ate delicious food, and cheered like longshoremen for our chosen horses. I bet on American Pharoah!

And lastly, to celebrate our anniversary, hubs and I went to Washington D.C. for a week! (More about that trip later.)

But so far this year, I'm thrilled to be actually keeping one of my resolutions! Maybe the trick is to make resolutions that you really WANT to keep? ;-)

Between the sheets

(Of paper, that is.) Been reading some interesting books lately. A few three-sentence reviews:

  1. Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand. This is the almost unbelievable true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned-WWII-airman-turned-POW. Zamperini showed incredible resilience in the face of soul-crushing circumstances. This book shows us just how awful and just how wonderful humanity can really be.
  2. Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit. In this book, we hear the nameless, faceless voices of all of the wives who came to Los Alamos under the cloak of not knowing. These women left everything and everyone they knew at the veiled behests of their husbands, living their lives and raising their children in secret. While I did enjoy the book, the "we" convention the author uses grated on me after a while, and I found myself wishing Nesbit had focused on three or four key characters.
  3. The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud. I wanted to like this book, but I couldn't love any of the characters. Messud's NYC society is vain, selfish and often senseless, and I found it difficult to root for any of them. Though the writing is good, and the situations believable, I didn't want to spend time with any of these folks.
  4. After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman. The lives of the Brewer family (all women) are defined by the absence of patriarch Felix. Having skipped town to avoid jail time, Felix has left decades of questions in his wake. By the end of this stirring novel, Lippman has provided necessary closure, but not pat satisfaction.
  5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This book totally slayed me. I loved the device of it, and I loved the characters. Flynn surprised me, kept me thinking and, in the end, completely got in my head.

Rockin' a little (cont.)

Little Rock Central High School
The next morning, I was up and at 'em and ready for breakfast. I was in luck! Less than a block down the street from my hotel, I found Boulevard Bread, a great little shop with fresh baked goodies and delicious coffee (exactly what one needs in the morning). Once I got a pastry, a fruit cup, and some caffeine in me, I was ready to face the day!

I'd decided to start off at Little Rock Central High School, the site of a protracted desegregation in 1957. The building itself is still a functioning high school. However, the National Park Service maintains visitors' center across the street.

I found this attraction to be so moving. There are many multimedia elements inside the center - video clips of much of the news coverage at the time, heartfelt interviews with some students involved in the desegregation, just some profound history. The center provides an in-depth look at what the experience of those African-American students was like, and how important what they did was to the whole racial fabric of the United States (and, particularly, the South).

After spending some time in the visitors' center, I walked across the street to the high school itself. It's still a gorgeous building with amazing architecture. Because it was a weekend, I was able to get some up-close shots of the front facade, sit on a bench outside, and just ponder it all for a while.

Afterwards, I headed back to the River Market district. It was a bright, sunny day, and I wanted to explore Riverfront Park. What a good idea! Paths run between the River Market district and the water, and along the way are all sorts of interesting things: public art, placards that tell you about the history of the area, a series of beautiful pedestrian bridges (I crossed a couple of them.), and even some outdoor performance spaces. I was completely enchanted with this place, and it was mere steps from my hotel! I grabbed a sandwich to go at a nearby spot, decamped to a bench, and took it all in.
Public art at Riverfront Park!

After a quick rest at my hotel, it was back out for a bit. I'd heard that I MUST have dinner at Capital Bar and Grill, so off I went. I started with a glass of wine and the bar's trademark fried black eyed peas. My appetite whetted, I moved on to the roasted chicken, which came with crispy Brussels sprouts and a butternut squash puree. Delightful! The food was delicious, and the environment was dim and welcoming. The next time I come to Little Rock, I'll have to stay a night or two in their hotel!

After dinner, I had a little time to kill before my curtain time in North Little Rock. For funsies, I decided to walk, crossing one of the pedestrian bridges and getting GREAT views of the city as I went. I took my time, snapping lots of pics, and easily found my next destination - The Joint. A friend of mine who lives in Little Rock had suggested I swing by this fun comedy club/coffee bar, and it didn't disappoint! I saw their Frost Bite Me!, a fun sketch/improv show that's both written and performed by locals. I got a cup of coffee and a BIG chocolate chip cookie, leaned back in my chair, and laughed my head off. The cafe also serves some light food and alcoholic beverages, so there are lots of options.

After the show was over, I caught the trolley back over the river. It dropped me within a few blocks of my hotel, just in time for me to catch the lights show on the pedestrian bridges! So gorgeous! I watched the whole thing, snapped a few pics, and ambled the last few blocks back to my hotel.

What a view!
Before I left town the next morning, I did a little shopping. I found my heart's desire at The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. The Butler Center operates a retail art gallery featuring the work of Arkansas artists. For a while, I'd been looking for an ornate wooden box for our foyer, a place to put stamps, odds and ends, etc. I found JUST the thing (and reasonably priced, too) here. Needless to say, it came home with me!

I so enjoyed my time in Little Rock, and I'm looking forward to going back! What a fun town!

Rockin' a little

Clinton's Cabinet Room
Earlier this year, I got the chance to spend a few days in Little Rock, Ark. I was in town for business, and I just took the weekend and poked around. What fun!

I stayed in the River Market district, at the CourtYard by Marriott downtown. Well-located, clean and quiet, it made a perfect home base to explore the area!

My first morning in town, I was jonesing for some breakfast. I met up with a local friend at The Root Cafe. What a find! This tiny local restaurant serves up heaping plates of breakfast food in a fun, funky atmosphere. They source as much of their ingredients as possible from small Arkansas producers. We ordered at the counter (pancakes!), found a corner table, and settled in.

The food was delicious, and the company was even better! As we ate breakfast, we could smell other goodies baking in the kitchen. Every once in a while, a server would come out with a hot pan of cookies or brownies and set them on a nearby shelf to cool. OMG. It was really hard not to reach out and snag one!

After breakfast, the FIRST place I headed was the Clinton Presidential Center. I had never been to a presidential library before, and I'd heard really good things about this attraction!

It was so cool! I got to snoop through a replica of the Oval Office, check out menus and table settings from various state dinners, and see all kinds of memorabilia from Clinton's eight years in office. They also have a replica of the presidential cabinet room. You can choose a chair to sit in and scroll through an interactive program about members of the cabinet. (I chose the "Secretary of Energy"
One of the exhibits at Heifer Village
chair! Heh.)

The library hosts rotating exhibits, too. When I was there, they had a fun exhibit about Charles Schultz's The Peanuts on display. Parts of the building also have sweeping views of the river and the bridges that arch over it. Just a lovely space.

I easily spent a couple of hours here before my stomach started rumbling! I decided to stop at the on site restaurant, Forty-Two. It was a good choice! Again, a wall of glass provides beautiful views of the river. I chose a big, beautiful steak sandwich with a cup of soup. Very satisfying.

Afterwards, since I was close by, I decided to head over to Heifer Village. You may or may not know about Heifer International. They are a global aid organization that aims to lift families out of poverty by helping them become self-sufficient. You can donate money to buy a needy family a goat, or a cow, or chickens, or even honey bee hives. (Little man and I love to do this for his teachers as a Thanksgiving present. We give a gift in their name.)

Anyway, at Heifer Village, which is the headquarters of Heifer International, you can tour some cool hands-on exhibits about world hunger, poverty, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, the importance of technology, and more. It's a really cool, free stop. You can also browse their shop, which features international goods made by craftsmen (and women!) from around the globe. (I picked up a scented candle and a few other pretties!)

An AMAZING performance by Arkansas Rep
After a day of touring, I headed back to my hotel to freshen up. I had tickets to see the opening night performance of The Whipping Man at Arkansas Repertory Theatre that night, and I didn't want to be late! I arrived a bit early, got a quick snack from the pre-show concession vendor, and perused the original art on display in the lobby area. Then, I settled into my (awesome) seat for the show.

What a powerful script. Ironically, my local professional theatre, New Stage, had done The Whipping Man last season, but I'd missed it! I was glad to catch it in Little Rock. The cast was fantastic (and they need to be, because three actors carry the whole show), and the plot is, by turns, uplifting and hopeless. I really enjoyed this show.

I drove my little rented Prius back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

More to come . . .