Northern Girl in Nashville

Earlier this month I drove to Tennessee for a high school reunion. It was one of those x0th reunions. I won’t say which number. It was great to see friends, take in a few sights, and enjoy some southern cooking. I was nostalgic even before I hit the road.

Being born in Chicago, Illinois and living there until the age of 12 meant my tastebuds experienced childhood and early puberty in the up-north-and-Midwest then took an abrupt dive south as teen angst and adulthood hit me in the heart of Tennessee (and later the Carolinas and Virginia). 

Part Chicagoan and part Nashvillian, I am now 100% mishmash of north and south.

The flavors of the south sunk their roots deep in my soul and regularly give a little wiggle to make sure I’m paying attention. So when I crave comfort food, it is usually southern or country dishes. (Though, I will gladly accept pizza or sushi or tacos too.)

I love fried catfish and okra. Corn bread. And more recently pimento cheese spread (but it better be the good stuff). Tree-ripened peaches and homegrown strawberries…

While in the Nashville area (Lafayette, Mount Juliet, and Cookeville), I ate delicious, genuine southern biscuits and garden-grown corn-on-the-cob picked a few steps from the door and grown surrounded by a century farm (one in operation for over 100 years). I got to enjoy good food with dear friends. 

I drove a long way in a short amount of time (1300 miles crammed in to three days). But driving had its advantages.

Along the way there, I went through Sevierville, Tennessee. Sevier County is the original home of Dolly Parton. It has some beautiful land and views and is now filled with tourist attractions and outlet stores too. The one that caught my eye and pulled me off the interstate was the factory outlet store for Lodge Cast Iron.

I have long loved a good, well-seasoned cast iron skillet, and a cast iron Dutch Oven has been on my wish list for some time. The factory outlet store was filled with all these and more. I felt like a kid in a candy store with really heavy candy. I got a lid for my skillet at home and a very small Dutch oven. Just think of all the yummy food these heavy treasures can cook! 

I have a specific fondness for southern beverages too.

Iced tea is one of those. If you’re from the south you know that I mean sweet tea. Because in the south, if it isn’t sweet then it’s just a hot beverage gone cold.

So I’ve been on a mission this summer to make perfect ice tea and peach tea. Be in the lookout for a new Tea for Tuesday! 

My dialect is perhaps a bit more north than south, but it can jump almost all over the place. A little twang will pop out when I’m not expecting it (especially if I’ve talked to any southern friends recently).

It’s not just the drawl. In the south, for example, grown women can call each other “girl.” 

“Hey, girl!” “How y’all been, girl?” All sprinkled with a dash of twang that makes it seem perfectly okay to call somebody “honey” or “sweetheart” even if you just met and don’t even know their name.

Y’all are probably familiar with the term, “y’all.” In Chicago we said, “you guys.” It was unisex and if you had a strong Chicago accent it was pronounced, “youse guys.” Singular is “you” or “youse.”

I can say, “you,” or, “you guys,” just fine. And I occasionally say or write, “y’all,” too. (Maybe more times than I care to admit.)

But I have a hard time calling any grown woman, “girl.” Picture Arnold Schwarzenegger (as the terminator) saying, “hey, girl,” with a little southern twang. (Look at me! I’m trying to do slang!) Yep, that’s how I feel, and I’m pretty sure that’s how I sound too. It’s best if I just step away from the expression. 

But food is free game! My game. My tastebuds speak many languages.

My gracious hosts sent me on my way with an ample supply of yellow squash, tomatoes, pears, cucumbers, and corn too. 

Recipes ensued and there was much yummyness. 

There were happy memories too. I might have to go back again soon. (Or at the very least visit a Cracker Barrel.)

Cucumber and Tomato Salad (a mix of genuine southern-grown cucumbers and tomatoes with northern-Virginia, balcony-grown tomatoes, red peppers, and fresh herbs) – totally refreshing yummyness on a hot day.

Happy 4th of July!

It’s full of stars … Somewhere. Near us it was fairly full of raindrops and unusually cool. The temperature was actually really pleasant. Could have used a little less rain, but the plants are happy! We celebrated with hot dogs, corn on the cob, yummy pimento cheese spread, and lots & lots of flags as the neighborhood was dotted with them. We heard a bit about Juno and Jupiter and generally relaxed. Have a happy 5th of July, folks!
(Breaking the adverb rule with gusto! And added pimento cheese! That makes everything better I think.)

Happy Labor Day! 

This fine Labor Day we’re traveling back from South Carolina where we were visiting my dad. Visits like these invariably involve lots of yummy food, fun, and a good bit of driving. 

We bowled, saw a movie, relaxed with my dad and ate a lot of yummy food.

Southern food like real barbecue, chicken, and cornbread is a guilty pleasure I’ve learned to relish on trips like these. My years of living near Nashville primed my taste buds. Why oh why does grease, sugar, and salt taste so good?. 

My dad manages a stellar pulled pork, some of which we have frozen in a cooler in the back if the car. We’ll enjoy that at home. Yesterday we ate rotissery chicken that he cooked on the grill. Tender, juicy, and that awesome  browned crispy skin. I love the brown crispy skin!

Now I’m munching on fried catfish at the Cracker Barrel. I love those crispy edges! Second verse same as the first. Cracker Barrel actually manages an excellent fried catfish. My daughter had fried chicken salad which is like a hybrid of southern and contemporary eats.

We finished with pumpkin custard n’ ginger snaps. Also yummy and kind of an excellent way to welcome in the fall days ahead.

Summer’s Tail – Kicking and Screaming

It’s still hot like summer, but in many places kids have already gone back to school. Some as early as August 1. Summer is over for them. It’s the tail end for us, and I want to grab on to these last few weeks kicking and screaming as I lick the last bit of salt off my fingers before summer goes away again. My daughter can’t wait for school to start back up. She’s excited to experience her new classes and see more of her friends. I still have unfinished plans and goals and more tomatoes to grow!

We did some fun things this summer. We took a trip to Pittsburgh where I participated in Pinburgh, a pinball tournament. Pinburgh has been around a few years, but this year it was held at a huge new classic video game festival called Replay FX. I brought my daughter because, hello, video games and pinball! And they had other kids’ activities like a velcro wall, giant inflatable obstacle course, and slides. For a video game festival my daughter actually got a lot of exercise!

While Pittsburgh may not bring to mind the typical image of summer vacation paradise, there was much fun and our hotel room had extra niceties that kept us saying, “wow, cool!” This made for a fairly complete vacationy experience.

Our room had a motion sensor foot light (like a night light at the floor that turned on when we stepped out of bed), pull-down individual book lights on each headboard, and in the evening, when we returned exhausted from a full day of game play and activities, the hotel supplied milk and cookies (free of charge for kids 12 and under). It was great!

We had another very mini vacation this past Friday night when we slept over at the National Museum of American History as a Smithsonian Sleepover. Last summer we did this at the Natural History Museum and loved it. There are scads of activities and crafts centered around various exhibitions in the museum. Then folks get to roll out their sleeping bags and camp out under a whale or antique machinery as museum lights are dimmed. Continental breakfast is served in the morning. And it is all so way cool!

Next year my daughter will be too old to do either of these sleepovers (there’s an age limit), and we’re super glad to have done them. I’ve always loved the Natural History Museum with animals and minerals, but I forgot how much fun the American History Museum can be. I feel like we made the kind of memories that can last a lifetime, and I think (I hope) my daughter feels that way too.

Earlier this summer my daughter had camp, so most weeks I had to drop her off in the morning and then run out on my lunch hour to pick her up and drop her off either at home or somewhere else like another camp (from which I’d have to pick her up again later). Most of the camps have been wonderful! She’s learned more music and dance and even cooking.

For me, one or two days of driving at lunchtime isn’t a problem, but week after week gets tiring. Exhausting even. I need some down time, or I start to shut down. On top of it, I fell and injured my knee last March (for crying out loud) and it has been slowly healing. At the beginning of summer it was much better but still painful on a regular basis. Pain is exhausting. (I have much more empathy for folks who live with chronic pain.) I’ve been trying to fit physical therapy exercises into my daily schedule to help my knee heal. Here at the end of summer I finally feel like I can squat to take care of our balcony plants without groaning in pain at the same time.  Long and short of it, instead of writing and blogging more this summer I remained rather unproductive.

These last few morsels of summer I have no plans of driving anywhere at lunchtime — at least nothing major. I may still run occasional shopping errands or drop my daughter off at a friends house and such. But mainly I plan to eat lunch.  I plan to write.

I’ve set goals for myself.  I want more summer fun. Maybe a quick trip to the beach! Maybe tubing. Definitely more swimming. I want more tomatoes to grow! More peppers! I want to write regularly and am setting daily and weekly goals. Really, I want more summer!

Vacation, yummy stuff and Amtrak

On vacation and eating yummy food here in the Carolinas as is tradition here.

Took Amtrak ’cause sometimes I just don’t want to drive that far. Amtrak has wi-fi so we can play some games. We can stretch legs and snooze. Much better than the painful bottom and cramped legs I get from the long drive. We had a delay on our train ride in when our train hit a motorcycle as we neared the Durham Amtrak station. Supposedly the motorcycle exploded on impact and no body was injured. When I asked they said the guy let go/jumped off the bike before it collided with the train. Not much to see, hear or feel as far as we were concerned. The train is huge compared to a motorcycle. The only thing I noticed that was even remotely different was a slight strange smell like a little burning rubber mixed with gasoline fumes. We were delayed about 45 minutes as the police made a report and the conductors checked the train for damage. I’m not even sure who hit whom — did the train hit the motorcycle or did the motorcycle hit the train? Either way, it seems like it was one of those crossings that only have lights to indicate an oncoming train. Or something who knows. Just another weird thing while on Amtrak. Go figure.

Yesterday, we visited the Museum of York County which was pretty cool for a small Caroline museum. Maybe I’ll post some photos. There are lots of “stuffed” animals. Binks was worried about whether they were animals that were killed some other way or if they were killed and stuffed specifically for the museum. That would make her sad. Other fun exhibits there though and I think we’d definitely visit again.

Been eating yummy chicken, ribs and BBQ here which means I’m officially in a meat coma. Yum! But I don’t normally eat this much meat. Binks and I made yummy chocolate cake which we doctored a bit by adding an extra egg to the mix. We made homemade chocolate frosting (I’ll see if I can post that recipe). It was totally delish!

Lovely weather.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good day!

I seriously don’t know how the first 3/4 of December whizzed by so fast, but as it’s been increasing in speed each year, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I know. I know. It’s probably an age thing. When I was eight years old like my daughter is now, it took FOREVER for Christmas to arrive. Now I feel like I have about 30 seconds to get everything done between Thanksgiving and today. (Or for that matter two weeks between last Christmas and today.)

But. That said. Today was a rather nice Christmas morning. My little family is together. We got a cute picture with our favorite Santa. The tree is up. It looks lovely, and is in no danger of hitting anything too important if one of the cats should try to climb it again. My daughter loved all her gifts. Which makes me happy! I like one of her gifts, Club Penguin Air Hockey, more than I thought I would. I thought it was going to be another something that doesn’t work very well and takes up lots of space, but my daughter wanted it soooo much that Santa brought it. It’s actually somewhat functional and MUCH smaller than a standard-size air hockey table. So aside from bonking our knuckles into one another, we had a lot of fun! Adding to the plusses for today, I am surprised and thrilled with my goodies!

Now I just have to hope that the rest of the family likes their gifts and that our friends and family have a wonderful Christmas and happy 2011. That would be pretty much perfect. Happy Holidays!

Weekend Begins

Today is the first day of the long weekend before school starts for my daughter. It is also the weekend before her birthday, her birthday party and before her first Brownie meeting of the year. I’ll repeat the age-old parental lament of, “I don’t know where the time goes,” ’cause while part of me knows darn well where it goes, the rest of me is shaking my head in disbelief.

I’m also enjoying that bright happy feeling that is plentiful at the start of a long weekend, but my to-do list is filling quickly. I have high hopes of getting a lot done today, tomorrow and Monday. At the top of my list sits plans to get more organized at home. This is going to help with everything else that happens this week and possibly into the school year, so it’s a biggie. Also high on the list is having some fun. Because this is the last weekend for water parks and we so need another infusion of water park fun.

Soon it will be Tuesday, the weekend will be done and part of how I feel will be determined by those things I get done now… I will also be feeling overwhelmed at sending my daughter off to school because it won’t only be her first day of third grade, but will also be her first day at a new school and I have a zillion conflicting feelings about that. She will have more homework not just because it’s third grade, but also because the new school gives more homework. It should be more of a challenge for her, but I also don’t want it to be too much of a challenge. I want her to be a kid and have fun! I also have another strange feeling about the new school that I can’t put my finger on. I don’t know if I’m just getting old and less amicable to change or if there is something which genuinely bothers me about the new school. I guess I’ll find out.

Weekend begin! Time to get something done besides blog.

Testy Little Thing

Dammit Jim, I’m a graphic designer, not a doctor!

But, I’m mostly just curious to see if I can type stuff on my Pod while not on any wi-fi networks, and then upload later when I am connected. I probably could have achieved the same result, by writing something else and then posting it without mentioning the testing aspect. None might have been the wiser.

So for your amusment, I’ll share a spectacularly misquoted quote which I uttered earlier today. (Today being 07/20/10.*)

Me: “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a geologist!”

(Shudder. I put my geek to shame.) I am SO turning into my mom who is widely known to say the mixed-up, backwards wrong words, almost right meaning, at a dazzling rate.

The correct quote from “Devil in the Dark” regarding the silicon-based Horta is this.

Bones: “I’m a doctor, not a bricklayer.”

I guess I should thank my lucky stars I didn’t say, “geographer.”

Dear Brain,

BRICKLAYER! The correct word would be, “bricklayer.” Not that you did’t already know that, but please make a note of it so there will be less fail in the future. Thanks for playing. Please come again.


Missing Vacation

I’m missing my vacation. You haven’t seen it have you? No, ’cause I haven’t posted any photos yet. [snort] Working on it! More than that though, I miss being on vacation. I’d like it if my vacation lasted all week or even two instead of a partial week, but I’ll deal.

I feel like blogging vacation memories may be a bit like the verbal equivalent of old family vacation slide shows. So if you start to drift off to sleep I’ll try to give you a nudge.

After wrangling a few car (and other) issues, we hit the road putting a hefty chunk of miles behind us before we stopped at a Cracker Barrel where we all indulged in dessert–me, blackberry cobbler; Dave, double chocolate Coca-Cola Cake; and the mini-me had a kid’s ice cream sundae. Yummo on all three counts. (Hey, don’t fall asleep yet.)

Like the time warp that it is, the Old Country Store side of CB sucked a bit too much of our time, but we scored a peg game for my dad and some other goodies including a wire-twisting-beaded-shape-making bracelet thing which some call Magic Loops and others call a Flexi-Sphere. I had one as a kid. We also picked up Nik-L-Nips and Razzles which Dave and I both enjoyed in our childhood. Our daughter has been officially introduced to the joys of candy that turns into gum in your mouth. Not much else to do while driving, so I’d snack on fried pork rinds (a strange favorite for long drives) and a 5-Hour Energy drink to help keep me on the road and avoid stopping at a hotel or planting the car into a tree.

The stay with Dad was great! My Dad makes some seriously awesome pulled-pork BBQ. And he’s pretty much been making it every time we visit for a while now ’cause we like it so gosh darn much. There’s a local place where we can get pulled pork BBQ and it’s good, but my dad’s is AWESOME! He also made us his super-delicious ribs and we got to enjoy copious leftovers of all. While we don’t normally eat much meat, we completely enjoy loading up on any nutritional requirements bestowed by meatiness while we’re with Dad. To top it all off he made Bananas Foster which is also totally awesome in a meatless bananas and ice cream sort of way.

We played with the dog, boated on and swam in the lake. Dad’s black lab thinks it’s pure heaven to jump into the lake to fetch a tennis ball and she will do it until her 10-year-old body is about to drop from pure exhaustion. Good dog!

Sara played imaginative games. She was a dolphin, a baby octopus (on the run from an Inkasuarus), a mermaid and a puppy. Lately, Sara has been assigning me the role of “bad guy” with most of her imaginative play. For example when playing Harry Potter, she’ll be Hermione, Dave will be Harry, a guest friend will often be Ron, and I get to be Voldemort. I’m not sure what exactly it means that she likes to make me the bad guy. But play at the lake was no different. She made me the octopus mom for a while and then decided I was the Inkosaurus “Ink-o-saurus(?)” which is apparently a giant, evil, dinosaur-octopus hybrid borne from Sara’s imagination. It shoots its victims with a foul ink and is generally monstrous so that other creatures run away. My cutie-pie still seems to like me fine for the most part in real life, though, so that’s good.

After playing mermaid as well as puppy and dolphin with Sara, Dave eventually discovered the joys of playing inanimate floating raft. He floated in his life vest in the warm lake water and did nothing at all (aside from getting too much sun). Ah vacation!

A couple of dragonflies seemed to find my shoulder a particularly attractive landing spot for their special kind of dragonfly love dance and I expect quite a little population explosion. The amorous couple left and returned several times. Sara was highly amused. We also saw a large green and black dragonfly as well as a red and black one. Dragonflies are such a work of art and we wish those too would have stopped long enough for closer examination.

Fireworks were spectacular! This was our first year boating out to the “bridge that does the fireworks” show near my dad’s. We’ve heard about it for years, and I have to say that it, indeed, ROCKED! The boats are allowed to get close enough so as to be under the umbrella of sparks as they rain down in pops and crackles. You can feel the sounds in your body. The glittery blossoms can be so enormous as to take up well more than half of the sky. My camera couldn’t zoom out far to capture the whole thing–that’s how up-close and personal this show can be. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and I’m a pretty big fireworks fan. This was the first year in many that we didn’t light a single firework of our own despite being in a state where nearly all consumer-class fireworks are totally legal. But the show was so good that it didn’t feel 100% legal, so there was plenty of explosion satisfaction.

The days passed quickly and it was time for the long drive home. We topped off the tank with gas from a convenience mart which not only had pumps with mechanical numbers that flip as you fill your tank, but signs which read, “Our Gasoline is Ethanol Free.” I’m not sure how they manage that these days… We also picked up a few Cheerwines to last the ride home. (Cheerwine is sort of cherry-flavored soda pop completely free of wine.)

Many miles further up the road, we stopped for more gas at a mini mart where I noticed the clerk was packing heat. I just don’t see that very often. Not sure how I feel about it in this case. I’m sure the clerk sees it as a way to discourage crime in his shop. It would definitely discourage me in case I was thinking of making any life-changing, spur-of-the-moment decisions to turn to a life of crime and rob this particular gas station right then and there. (But I probably wasn’t going to do that anyway.) I’m a little freaked out that the clerk (or owner) feels that the threat of robbery in broad daylight is so intense that he must wear a sidearm before dinnertime. Maybe he knows something I don’t. So, I’m thinking, I really don’t want to spend any extra time there, and I didn’t.

A few sore bottoms, a slightly car-sick child, then one more rest stop and we were home. It felt very good.

Copyright © 2010 Deb L. Kapke

Pretty much sums up most of my day

My daughter: “Mom, we’ve been driving so long, I think I forgot how to walk.”

Me: “We’ve been driving so long I think my butt forgot how to not hurt.”

My daughter: [moaning] “I’m carsick.”

But, thankfully, it ended well.  I cannot say the same about all past driving experiences.

Daughter held on to her cookies–literally and figuratively.  She remembered how to walk just fine.

My butt remembered what it was like not to hurt from sitting in the car–it’s still a tad bit sore from a long weekend of fun and activity in contrast to the normal atrophy.  We had a great time.  Thanks Dad!

Aside from a few Simpsons quotes, Dave was quiet–just trying to survive the drive.  He did.  We’re home. We’re happy.

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