Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Skillet Cookies

The only way to run a marathon is to do so with four friends. Not in a training group so you can encourage one another through the arduous miles. Literally. Like splitting up the race into five pieces.

Jon and I recently ran in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon Relay, the first time this particular event was held. Due to our involvement in a weekly running group, we heard that a relay was to be added to the wildly popular full marathon, half-marathon, and 5K distances. I instantly wanted in. Jon and I had tried unsuccessfully to sign up for the half-marathon for the past two years, as the race filled up before we could register (mere days prior in 2011). The relay seemed like the perfect alternative to run in a race whose starting line is a short walk from our apartment. Plus, it seemed like a heck of a lot more fun than running 26.2 or even 13.1 miles.

Since 2012 was the inaugural relay, it took a bit longer for logistics to be worked out for the race, delaying the registration period. But we were ready. (It didn't hurt that one of the teammates we recruited works for St. Jude on the fundraising side and had insider information about when sign-ups would officially begin.) We were able to convince some friends to run with us, and once they were on board, the most important decision became our team name.

Due to our mutual love of a dessert served at a near-by restaurant, we decided to call ourselves the Skillet Cookies (the skillet cookie is exactly what it sounds like: a chocolate chip cookie baked in a cast iron skillet topped with vanilla ice cream). Since we signed up in the summer for a race run at the beginning of December, once this crucial decision was made, our preparations relaxed a bit until the fall.

It just so happened that our St. Jude fundraiser teammate also knows the owner of the skillet cookie establishment and was able to convince the owner to sponsor our team. Thus, we had shirts made with our nicknames, as well as the name of the restaurant, of course, on the back. Oh, and a picture of a skillet and some cookies.

But choosing those nicknames was not as easy as determining a team name. After some intense e-mailing, each member of our team--including our "team mom"/#1 cheerleader--was christened with a new name. You can't pick our your own nickname, you know. Most nicknames ended up being portmanteaus (two or more blended words) related to our own names, personal interests, college affiliations, favorite foods, ethnicities, etc.

Owleyesonu, Recovering Eataholic, Kornhustler, Hoppsenjoggin, and Flantastic (not pictured: Naganseemi--no pun intended)

As we neared race day, the flurry of e-mails picked up once again as we established our relay order. Rather than split the 26.2 mile distance evenly amongst five runners, the race director divided the legs into different distances. In order, the distances were as follows: 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), 6K (3.8 miles), and two halves of a half-marathon (6.55 miles a piece).

I was chosen to lead off with the 5K distance due to my present "condition." This was fine by me as I didn't want the pregnant lady slowing the team down either. Jon ran the 4th leg for a 6.55 mile distance. Even though my pace has slowed a bit lately, I still felt confident in my ability to run 3.1 miles without a lot of additional training, although Jon definitely tried to push himself a bit harder in the weeks leading up to race day.

On the morning of the race, we gathered with our team prior to going to our respective relay exchange areas. The weather was warm and the mood was light. We hung out and chatted for a bit until it was time for me to head to the starting line. In a race the size of St. Jude, start times are staggered based on each individual's pace. Race experience has taught me that runners are an optimistic bunch, so it's always a good idea to begin with a group that is a bit faster than you expect to run. I chose the approrpriate group, as my overall pace was spot-on with the specified time, although if I were to start the relay again, I would choose a faster group since I didn't actually start the race until about ten minutes after the elite runners took off.

Prior to the race, the consensus attitude on our team was that we were all just running for fun. However, when I was in the crush of other runners at the starting line, my competitiveness kicked in. It was definitely "go time." Everyone else on our team echoed a similar sentiment once we reunited. And it paid off.

I was lucky enough to have the "fun" part of the course, mostly taking me through downtown and throngs of cheering fans. I was feeling good; it was nice to push myself (within reason, of course) again. I did feel kind of like a jerk, however, when I neared the end of my 3.1 mile distance because I had the luxury of stopping. Most of the people around me had 10-23.1 more miles to go and probably resented the runner who was trying desperately to pass them. I didn't feel too guilty, though, and definitely ran the final stretch with my elbows out.

I passed our belt and team number (the marathon relay equivalent of a baton) to Runner #2 who went on to run her 6.2 miles in an excellent time. In fact, everyone on our team ran really well. Thanks to technology, we were able to keep up with our team's progress via the Internet. After I finished my portion of the race, I had a lot of waiting to do. I hung out with the various members of our team who had either finished or were yet to run and got to cheer along with our "team mom" (the wife of Runner #3).

The four of us who were finished were able to cheer on our anchor--a last-minute substitute--as he crossed the finish line. We were bummed that our original anchor wasn't able to run with us; he "deployed" to New Jersey for Hurricane Sandy. However, his replacement did a fine job, and we are so grateful for his willingness to run with us. In fact, his effort (along with everyone else's, of course) earned us a 3rd place finish! Not too shabby for a group of people fond of cookie desserts who were just running for fun.

Marathon relays: the only way to conquer 26.2 miles.

We're Having a Baby!

This post is admittedly a bit anti-climactic considering how the few people who read this blog have known for a while that Jon and I are expecting. That being said, however, now that we have reached the halfway point (it's all downhill from here, right?), it's time for some reflection.

In no particular order...Things I Have Learned From Being Pregnant (So Far):

1. Much to my disappointment, not drinking and not feeling like eating big meals did not equate into any sort of initial weight loss. A permanent feeling of bloat took care of that pipe dream. I am, however, liking what is happening to my body. As a natural "spoon" shape, I have always had somewhat of a pregnant physique. Now, it's to be celebrated. That being said, I feel weird sharing our weekly "baby bump" photos (in fact, Jon has pretty much banned that term), so if you want to know how things are progressing, you'll just have to come visit...or wait for us to visit you.

2. This baby has a sense of irony already. We live in the #2 BBQ city in the country (following Kansas City, of course), and barbecue is one of the few foods I can't stomach. My eating habits have changed, and I feel like a person who just had gastric by-pass surgery. I'm hungry more often, but my stomach can't seem to hold as much, meaning I feel full much faster. Also, I am not craving foods that I expected to, like guacamole and Mexican food in general, although I did eat Fruit Roll-ups for the first time in about 15 years. However, I've never wanted to eat sushi more than I do right now. Or a turkey sandwich. Or stinky cheese. Or a hot dog...

3. It was fun to keep the pregnancy a secret for a while, yet coming up with (what we think are creative) ways to share the news has been enjoyable as well. The two most popular questions are "Do you know/are you going to find out the gender?" (no--we love surprises and can't think of a better one) and "Have you thought of any names?" (no--but something short to go with our ridiculously long last name). We do, however, have a name for Baby in utero, thanks to my grandpa: Luigi. Where he came up with that, I have no idea, as it's a far cry from his usual suggestion of Smedley Hoover.

4. A former night owl, I have now officially become a morning person, much to my chagrin. I have a lot more energy to accomplish things in the morning, often waking up before the alarm, while I'm pretty much useless in the evenings.

5. Creepy, alien-baby sonogram pictures carry much more meaning when they are of your child...although s/he still looks like a prehistoric bird.

6. Maternity pants are extremely comfortable. I may never go back to regular pants again. Nonetheless, many of my shirts and dresses will most likely work throughout my pregnancy, which is a bit revealing about my sense of fashion. And all of the padded bras I had to buy for dance costumes are coming in handy since they're really the only ones that fit now.

7. Not drinking has not been as difficult as I thought it might be, although having a husband who brews his own beer is a bit tempting. Watered-down Sprite is a poor--albeit acceptable--substitute at Happy Hour.

8. It is possible to run a half-marathon when 11 weeks pregnant (especially when the race was registered and paid for months in advance), although said pregnancy is an excellent excuse reason to skip speed training. I'm going to keep jogging as long as I can, although it's hard not to be competitive at our running group. I have to keep telling myself that it's okay to go slower than normal.

9. For some reason, I continue to be surprised at how many textbook symptoms I have experienced; it's like going down a checklist. Runny nose? Check. Bleeding gums? Yup. Heartburn? You betcha. I have been very fortunate, however, and really can't complain. I've felt mostly good most of the time. I'm not surprised that I haven't really had any morning sickness, as throwing up has always been a rare occurrence for me...although there have been lots of times that I'd wished I could have just vomited, as the frequent evening nausea seemed just as bad.

10. Even though I'm about to embark on what I imagine to be the most selfless endeavor of my life, I have never felt more selfish. Since I haven't felt any (definitive) movements from Baby, it's still really hard to believe that there is a human being growing inside of me. Right now, I'm mostly focused on how I feel and how I look. I recently read a quote in a pregnancy book that made me feel less guilty about that (just as hearing the heartbeat at my last doctor's appointment made me feel more reassured that indeed there is something going on in there): "I feel like my body is preparing me for motherhood by reminding me what it's like to be a child. I eat every three hours, want things I don't need, cry because I'm tired, and I've become a bit of a narcissist."

So, that's where we're at. I'm excited and nervous and anxious for all of the changes that the next 20 weeks (and beyond) will bring, particularly as this whole baby thing becomes increasingly more real.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Weekend in the Wilderness

Serendipity is discussing Moldovan farming with Mark Twain until 2am.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last weekend, Jon and I decided to head out of town for a fall getaway. It had been weeks since we'd left the greater Memphis area (tragedy of all tragedies!), and we had Jon's birthday on October 24th and our 5th first anniversary on November 3rd to celebrate.

When discussing where to go, we quickly realized that we didn't necessarily want to do anything--we just wanted to relax. We thought about rural Arkansas, but we went there a couple of years ago. Northwest Kentucky was a possibility, but not too serious of one. The Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee/western North Carolina were too far away. So, when Jon suggested a lodge in Lesterville, Missouri, I was all ears.

Jon had mentioned Wilderness Lodge when he first heard of it several months ago from one of the farmers in southeast Missouri affected by the 2011 Mississippi River flood. This farmer, who Jon has gotten to know through his work in the Birds Point/New Madrid Floodway, owns it, along with his family, and of course, highly recommended it.

I didn't want to get my hopes too high because by the time the decision was made to check it out, it was already Wednesday and we wanted to leave that Friday. Luckily for us, however, there was a cabin available, so after work on Friday, we hit the road for Lesterville.

Four hours in a car isn't bad, although it isn't exactly fun, either. Nevertheless, our stay started off on a great note as the staff packed up the dinner we had missed earlier in the evening so we could still eat a delicious home-cooked meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and salad. We snuggled into bed shortly thereafter without worrying about an alarm clock on the other end.

The next morning we awoke with the sun streaming through our window, along with the promise of breakfast. We bundled up for the walk to the dining lodge--fall had finally decided to show up--and made it just in time for fruit, french toast, and bacon. Despite the chill in the air, we took advantage of the nice weather and took a walk down to the Black River and along one of the hiking trails.

Obviously, this was very taxing, so we decided to head back to our cabin. No TV, no Wifi, and no cell reception resulted in the perfect conditions for catching up on some reading. We sat out on the screened-in deck of our cabin for a bit, until even that was too strenuous, at which point we took a nap. Our jam-packed afternoon alternated between these two activities: reading and dozing. Not too shabby of a Saturday.

When dinnertime rolled around, we headed back to the dining lodge, with a detour at the bar in the adjoining room. The aforementioned owner/farmer is known to tend bar on the weekends, and Jon had hoped to see him and say hi. But, alas, he wasn't there. Fortunately, this did not distract us from beverages and the bar's "stinky cheese night."

After a drink, we wandered next door for another delicious dinner, this time consisting of pork steak, grilled vegetables, and chocolate pie. Oh, and the evening's entertainment of voting in the pumpkin-carving contest on pumpkins created during the afternoon activity.

Just as we were finishing up, an older man with crazy white walked through the dining room with a sense of authority. Jon quickly identified him as the owner. What happened next was a site to behold. When Jon caught his attention, he spun around and gave Jon a great, big bear hug. I liked him instantly.

Lester was indeed on bar duty, although he was just getting into town and starting a bit later than normal. It turns out that he had stayed in Cape Girardeau, where he lived during the week, an extra night for an event at Southeast Missouri State University where he portrayed Mark Twain. It was not difficult to imagine him in this role. Just like the legendary Missouri author, Lester turned out to be quite the storyteller.

Not forgetting the importance of his job, Lester brought us some drinks and launched into the story of how a farmer became owner of Wilderness Lodge. To sum up, his wife is both a) extremely hard-working and b) very persuasive. While Lester was initially resistant to the idea, even he acknowledged the significance of a man named Lester owning a lodge in Lesterville. Talk about fate.

This topic was one of many discussed sitting cozily by the fire until the wee hours of the morning. Jon and Lester talked a lot of shop: floods, levees, and the river. Just as it was clear that each man greatly respected the other (even though Jon blew up the levy that flooded Lester's farm), it was also clear how important the Mississippi River is to Lester. He poetically described it as being part of his soul. Mark Twain, remember?

The conversation took lots of twists and turns, though throughout remained lively (glasses just kept getting refilled). At one point we were discussing politics, whereas a few minutes prior, Lester had been telling us about his Peace Corps service. Later, we were comparing college alma maters. Teaching came up, as did family. And of course, Lester's time in the former Soviet state of Moldova advising farmers. Normally, I would have found a conversation about Moldova interesting in and of itself, but since I had just read an entire chapter on Moldova in the book I had read all afternoon, The Geography of Bliss (spoiler: Moldova is not exactly happy), I recognized this story as the cosmic connection that it was. Maybe I was just really tired.

But it was totally worth the late night for some fascinating company. What a wonderfully unexpected surprise. Our lazy afternoon suddenly seemed like the perfect preparation for staying up until 2am.

Needless to say, we went to bed immediately upon returning to our cabin. We made it back to the dining lodge just in time for breakfast casserole the next morning, and then sadly had to leave our cabin.

All in all, it was a wonderfully relaxing weekend, and one that we would like to repeat. We wholeheartedly recommend Wilderness Lodge to all, but particularly those in Missouri (especially St. Louis since it's only a couple of hours away). Great accomodations, great food, great personality.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Visiting a Swiss Miss

Since we have family and friends all over the place, we like to maximize each and every travel opportunity to see as many people as humanly possible. So, when I learned that a good college friend had recently re-located to Zurich, we included Switzerland in our European travel plans.

It was so nice to see my friend, her husband, and brand-new baby girl, and it was also very nice to not have to stay in a hotel after nearly two weeks of traveling. Our hosts graciously opened their home to us, sharing their adventures of the past several months living in a new country (as well as having a new baby!).

Seeing a familiar face was the perfect way to conclude our trip, particularly when our train arrived in Zurich slightly later than expected. After dropping off our belongings at the apartment, we headed back into town for a brief tour of Zurich.

Old Town Zurich across Zurichsee
As much as we had enjoyed all of the restaurants we'd experienced throughout our travels, it was nice to be able to stay in for dinner. Our hosts prepared some traditional Swiss food, including raclette (special grilled cheese) and fondue. I was so proud of Jon for eating--and enjoying--fondue; he even admitted that it didn't smell like burning hair as he always claims.

After swapping travel stories and catching up on Olympics action, it was time for bed. The following morning was leisurely as well, as we waited for my friend's husband to return from work so we could all go hiking. The guys had chosen our hiking route the night before (I was engrossed in Team USA's exploits and had no idea where we were going), so once our lunch was packed and hiking boots were on, we caught the train toward Felsenegg.

We were more interested in an enjoyable hike than a work-out, so we rode the cable car to the top before hiking, where we encountered the infamous lone tree.

As promised, it looks like a computer background
The hike to Uetliberg wound through the woods and afforded some incredible views of both Zurich and the countryside. The panorama was even more expansive once we reached the top of the look-out tower.

After breathing in the clear Swiss air for a while (and enjoying the fact that it was way cooler than Italy), we took the train back down and returned to the apartment to clean up for dinner. Since we'd already had fondue, I was content with my Swiss eating experience, although Jon's ears perked up when he heard that hot stone cooking was fairly common in Switzerland. Luckily we found a place that wasn't too crowded for a weekend night (and not any more expensive than everything in Switzerland seems to be) and each selected a different kind of meat to cook on a stone. Most of us stuck with safe choices, like beef, pork, and lamb. Jon, on the other hand, opted for horse (which we all had to try). It wasn't bad, although a bit gamier like venison.

I was actually quite thankful for the bib as hot stones cause splatter
No reason to stop the eating there, so we walked through town on a quest for ice cream before turning in for the night. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who didn't want the trip to end, so I was all for another excursion. However, we had an early flight to catch, so after indulging in dessert, it was time for just a couple of hours of sleep prior to the long trip back to Memphis.

I am incredibly thankful for all aspects of our trip. I am thankful for the opportunity to visit (and stay with) good friends, the opportunity to see new places, and the opportunity to eat and drink my way through Europe. I'm also very thankful for uneventful travels with mostly on-time transportation and all of our luggage intact and with us (no risk of jinxing it now). Most of all, I'm thankful for a pretty incredible husband to share it all with. Barf.

Five Times the Fun

When Jon was in high school, he came across an article in the travel section of The Seattle Times. He was intrigued by the Italian locale described, and as he clipped the article, vowed to one day visit.

Fast-forward to 2005. One of his good friends--who pretty much knows everything there is to know about food and wine--asked if Jon would like to accompany him on a trip to Italy (important side-note: said friend is Italian-American). Jon wisely jumped at the chance and his dream of visiting the Cinque Terre was realized.

The Cinque Terre consists of five coastal towns on the Italian Riviera. Due to the rugged landscape, buildings have been constructed very creatively and carefully into the hills.

The area is not very accessible by automobile, instead relying on boats, trains, and good old hiking boots for transportation. Despite this (and thanks to Rick Steves), the area is very popular for tourists. For good reason. Not only is it beautiful, it is also home to some amazing white wines and is the birthplace of both pesto and sciacchetrà dessert wine. We indulged extensively in all three.

Because I missed the 2005 trip (I was invited but instead went to Paris with a dear friend--totally a first-world problem), I knew that I wanted to visit someday. And someday was this summer.

Jon did an excellent job planning our time in Cinque Terre, both relying on his memories from last time and some additional research. We stayed in the town of Manarola, which is the second-most southern town. If for no other reason than because it was "our town," it quickly became our favorite.

After checking into our hotel, we walked around town (which took an entire five minutes) and climbed up into the vineyards a bit before heading to a sunset dinner. I am definitely a fan of the three-hour dinner tradition, and since the wine kept flowing, we ate pesto through sunset and well after dark. At which point taking a dip in the Mediterranean seemed like an excellent idea.

The next day, we settled into a comfortable routine of hiking, eating, hiking, drinking, hiking, swimming, eating, and drinking. What else do you really need?

We first walked the leisurely Via del' Amore to the southernmost town, Riomaggiore. After strolling through town, we caught a boat that took us past Manarola, past the center town Corniglia, and into Vernazza. We were, of course, famished by this time, so stopped for lunch before hiking for real.

Jon was so excited to see the Mediterranean again that he walked into the water, only to quickly realize that his rash decision led to soaked shoes that had no intention of drying. A true problem-solver, he remedied the situation by becoming "that guy" who hiked from Vernazza down to Corniglia barefoot.

I think he did it just as much for the reaction as anything else
Very thirsty after our hike, it was imperative that we find some wine. This was not a difficult task.

It was lovely to sit on a bench overlooking the Mediterranean, drinking wine from the bottle (we're classy people). Being too soon for dinner, we decided to go swimming, so we headed back to Manarola. When I say swimming, I really mean float around. While I can swim just fine, I was content to float in the bay watching people jump from one of the rocks jutting out of the sea.

By the time we rinsed all the salt off, it was time for dinner, so we caught a train to Monterosso (if you're keeping track, we visited all five towns in the first day) for a delicious dinner of risotto del mare. If you've known me long, you would be shocked to see all the fishy (double entendre) things I ate, and even more shocked to know I enjoyed them.

The following day was a much more serious hiking adventure. We once again began in Vernazza but this time headed north into Monterosso. I am so thankful that our luggage arrived with us (as opposed to last year's vacation) so I was well-equipped with my hiking boots and Italian-tourist-cliché floppy hat. The sun was hot and the climbs were at times steep, but with views like this, it was totally worth it.

Added bonus: stopping for pictures allowed us time to rest
Once we arrived in the next town, we stopped for some much-needed (and deserved) lunch. We needed to fuel up for an even more challenging hike in the afternoon. Thus far, we had hiked on the picturesque seaside trails. It was time to take it into the mountains.

I felt like I was either justifying or making amends for all of the delicious food and drink I had enjoyed by hiking up some pretty steep hills. As we hiked through the hillside vineyards, we got to meet close up some of what would become that amazing wine.

We finally returned to Manarola sweaty and tired, yet triumphant. We rewarded ourselves with yet another swim in the Mediterranean before dinner in Riomaggiore.

On our final day in the Cinque Terre, we skipped the hiking to take care of some travel business. We had one leg of the trip remaining, so we headed into the larger town of La Spezia to purchase tickets for Switzerland on the following day. After all of our errands were completed, we returned to Corniglia for lunch, which was pesto, of course.

We knew that we wanted to take some Cinque Terre wine home with us, so while in Corniglia, we went to do some wine tasting at an enoteca we had stopped at earlier in our stay. The proprietor was so kind as to not only describe what wines we were tasting in English, but she also wrote everything down so we would have a record to take home. It should come as no surprise that a bottle from her shop came home with us. In fact, we purchased two, one of which was the incredible dessert wine sciacchetrà that the region is known for.

We capped off our trip to the Cinque Terre with an amazing multi-course dinner event, reflecting on the lovely time we'd had. Several glasses of wine will have anyone waxing poetic. It truly is a beautiful place, and I'm glad that Jon not only fulfilled his dream of visiting the Cinque Terre but also fulfilled mine by returning.

Veni, Vidi, Vici...Venice and Verona

I love the efficiency of overnight travel. Even if the quality of sleep is hit or miss, I really like going to bed in one location and waking up in a totally different one. After our visit to Munich and Garmisch, we hopped on an overnight train bound for Venice.

Venice was purely a stop-over location for us. I had spent several days there in 2005, and while Jon had never been, he was content with our half-day visit. Rather than try to cram in as many sights as possible, we spent the morning through early afternoon strolling through the city.

It was in Venice that we got our first taste of an Italian summer. Yes, we live in Memphis now, but we had spent nearly a week in Germany and were just getting used to a more temperate climate. That party ended in Venice.

We joined throngs of other sweaty tourists as we walked over canals and through tiny side streets. Too cheap for a gondola, we rode a water bus instead and traveled to the Venetian island of Murano, known for its glasswork.

Look but don't ride

Glass shops are an excellent way to escape the heat and bum some air conditioning. When we weren't wandering in and out of shops, we walked around the island admiring the many pieces of public art.

After some lunch and our return boat ride, it was time to return to the train station. We caught a train to Verona, Italy, where I promptly began to geek out in a big way.

When Jon and a friend went to Italy in 2005, they drove through Verona en route to the Cinque Terre. As Jon was excitedly telling me about the trip, he made the mistake of asking me, "Did you know Romeo & Juliet takes place in Verona?"

Do I know Romeo & Juliet takes place in Verona? What a ridiculous question.

Of course, I know that! For pete's sake, Shakespeare made sure you do when he writes in the prologue:

"Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene..."

When Jon asked his silly question in 2005, I was in the middle of teaching this play to 9th graders. Since then, I have probably read the play an additional twelve times, plus watched numerous film and stage versions. So, yes, I was and am very aware of the connection between Romeo & Juliet and Verona.

However, unlike many (particularly young) people, I do NOT think Romeo & Juliet is a love story. I think it is a tragic story of hasty decisions, miscommunication, and the danger of hatred and revenge. Therefore, while I was interested in seeing all things R&J, I did not get caught up in the foolish romance. (That fanaticism was reserved for Anne of Green Gables and Prince Edward Island, Canada.)

Like Venice, we had a limited time in Verona, so I made a short agenda of R&J sights, including both Juliet's balcony and tomb. For a more or less made-up story, there sure were a lot of "authentic" locations.

One thing I hadn't planned to see was the opera. As we walked past the Arena di Verona (the Roman coliseum in the center of town), we noticed lots of people streaming through the gates. We knew from our guide book that, unlike the Coliseum in Rome, this Arena was still in use for shows and special events. Upon investigation, we discovered that the opera Turandot was being performed that very night. Always keen to seize each and every opportunity, we snagged some tickets in the upper deck and headed to the opera.

We do not know opera or any of the stories. We do not speak Italian. We were not prepared for the stone bleachers to be as hot as they were. But despite all of these things, we had a lovely time, recognizing that we were participating in a very cool thing. The production was glorious with elaborate sets and costumes and the music was incredible. When the lead male sang what we later learned was one of the most famous tenor solos in opera, the audience went crazy and demanded an encore, right in the middle of the show. And when we also later learned what was happening in the storyline (thanks to Wikipedia), we were even more impressed with the experience.

What a wonderful welcome to Italy.

A Little Taste of...America?

After several glorious days in Bamberg, we were headed to the Cinque Terre in Italy (see subsequent post). However, rather than go straight there, we decided to take advantage of our travel schedule to hit a few more hot spots. In order to leave the country, we had to go through Munich, so we left a little earlier than we needed to and spent some time in the English Garden.

The two previous times I have been to Munich were in the winter and early spring, so I was never able to experience the park. It's a great public space and people were out in droves to enjoy the warm summertime weather. If we had known, we would have brought bathing suits to float down the canal, although even if we had been so prepared, we still would have been content to merely watch the surfers.

Who would have thought we'd see surfing in Germany?
We finally dragged ourselves away from the park and headed south toward the Alps. Since we were in the area, we booked a night at the Edelweiss American resort in Garmisch. Honestly, it felt a little like cheating to be surrounded by English-speaking Americans, but we quickly got over it and embraced all the benefits they had to offer, such as group outings to breweries and massages in the spa.

While traveling, it's important for us to have as authentic an experience as possible (which is sometimes tough when we don't speak the language and visit primarily tourist locations). In particular, we really try to eat local food. Being in an American resort presented an interesting challenge. But, when in Rome, do as the Romans do, so we didn't feel too bad about eating hamburgers in the resort bar and grill to the "ear-pleasing" sounds of karaoke (a girl was actually singing "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music when we walked in).

Despite being very close to Germany's highest point the Zugspitze, the cloudy weather dictated that we visit the Partnach Gorge the following day instead. It was extremely beautiful, and I'm glad I had my rain jacket with me from the spray from the rushing water.

We had a schedule to keep and weren't able to enjoy nature's bounty all day, though, and prepared to head back to the resort. However, as we walked to the bus stop, a sign stopped us in our tracks.

Anyone who has ever lived or traveled near mountains in Europe is probably familiar with rodelbahn. Basically, it's a summer luge with go-karts that travel on a metal track and is pretty much the coolest thing ever. We made time for a quick trip down the hill, which was just as awesome as I remember rodelbahn to be. Serendipity.

After our turn down the hill, we caught a slightly later bus back to the resort and arrived in plenty of time for our couples' massage (happy birthday to me!) and for the group outing to a local brewery where we were treated to a tour from the braumeister himself.

Now, we've toured many a brewery, albeit never one in Germany. It was interesting to compare, and we discovered that it really wasn't that different from most American craft breweries after all. Wolfgang, the braumeister, shared lots of information about his brewing process and beer-making in general (we had to take a quiz at the end), which he interspersed with several tastings.

"Beer shots" at Braueri Griesbrau
We enjoyed a traditional German meal and took notes for the brewery we are going to open someday when we retire. Jon even got to talk shop with Wolfgang, who was impressed with Jon's beer knowledge and experience. It was a perfect way to end our time in Germany. Next stop: Italy.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Back in Bamberg

A 1000th birthday is kind of a big deal.

For someone who considers each and every birthday to be a milestone event worthy of celebration ("the best day of the year"), it did not take me much effort to get excited about the Bamberger Dom turning 1000 in 2012. Bamberg, Germany is a magical place for us--where Jon and I met, fell in love, and eventually got married. We met some of our best friends there and created memories to last a lifetime. Needless to say, we jump on any opportunity to go back. Thus, a 1000th birthday was a perfect, reason.

We learned several years ago that the Dom (Cathedral) would reach the ripe old age of 1000 in 2012 and immediately made plans to go see it. Several friends were on board, and we actually began planning over a year ago. But then, life happened, and unfortunately our friends decided they could no longer make the trip. We still wanted to go, however, and kept our plans on the back burner...not actually making any because that would be silly.

We ultimately decided that we wanted to combine the Bamberg return trip with a couple of other choice locations: the Cinque Terre--where Jon had traveled with a friend in 2005 and continues to talk about--and Zurich--where a college friend recently moved (see subsequent posts). We hemmed and hawed about when the ideal time to travel would be, and as we are wont to do, made our final travel arrangements for the end of July/beginning of August at the last minute.

But as usual, our last-minute plans had very little effect on the awesomeness of the trip. When the only thing you have to complain about is the fact that you were unable to sit on your couch glued to the Olympics for two weeks, you know you're doing pretty well. (And besides, we were able to catch the BBC occasionally, so we didn't miss too much.)

We kicked off the trip in the only way we know how: a beer fest. Within hours of landing in Germany, we were whisked off to Annafest by some good friends (who we knew in Washington and currently live in Germany). And then, we ran into some more good friends (who also live in Germany again) in the parking lot. It was wonderful catching up with these aforementioned friends while enjoying German beer at a fest in the woods.

Beer and rides in the woods? Yes, please!

Starting to feel a bit tired from our travels (or was it the beer?), we headed into Bamberg, where we had the opportunity to show off one of our favorite places to our "Washington friends." Since it was still summer vacation for their daughters, they were able to stay the next day--Monday--so we were in full-on tour guide mode (once we got some much needed sleep).

Our first stop in Bamberg was Altenburg Schloss (castle), which allows for some of the best views in Bamberg.

While I'm pretty sure we already have taken "this" picture several times, it's still quite an impressive sight

As our friends have a similarly good taste in beer (and since they had a car), we next headed to a brewery that Jon claims to have a mystical connection to: Braueri Kundmuller. I cannot claim a similar connection, but I do know they have delicious beer and a really cool playground for kids.

So happy
We headed back to Bamberg for lunch and rauchbier at Schlenkerla and a bit of souvenir shopping. At that time, it was important to actually go to the Dom since we'd traveled all that way. Just as majestic as ever, although there seemed to be more tourists hanging about (have people found out about Bamberg?). Despite being the end of the July, the roses in the nearby rose garden were still fragrant, prompting yet another repeat photo.

Christmas card preview?
Our friends had to head home after the Dom, so we were on our own. It should come as no surprise that our first stop was a brewery.

Mahr's Brau: Jon's favorite Bamberg brewery, home of his all-time favorite beer (besides his own)
And what did we do after that? Go to another brewery.

My favorite Bamberg brewery--Spezial--and my favorite German meal, jaegerschnitzel (there's pork under all that gravy somewhere)
The next morning was the official launch of our "Best of Bamberg" tour. We borrowed bikes from our hotel and rode all over town. Our first stop was a return to the Dom and a visit to the museum. While we couldn't understand what exactly we were looking at (due to the language barrier and all), it was still cool--and important--to be there.

Happy Birthday, Dom!
All of those artifacts and religious history made us hungry, so it was time for our "Doner-Off." For the uninitiated, doner kebab is basically the most delicious street food ever. Similar to gyros, doners are a variation of meat shaved from a rostisserie (typically lamb) with lettuce, tomatoes, and yogurt sauce on a pita. So good. What we've discovered is that people get very territorial when it comes to the best doner. Everyone has their favorite spot. Jon prefers some inferior place called City Snaxx (guess what I call it), while I will forever favor Marmaris Imbiss, where I had my first doner ever. I will publicly acknowledge that Jon's doner was good, delicious even, but in a head-to-head competition, Marmaris was far superior. Jon may disagree, but really, everybody wins.

You may have noticed a common theme, that we spent the entire trip eating and drinking. This is true. But we also biked a lot. In fact, we biked to our next food location, Braueri Hoh. Of course, we couldn't go there until we stopped at another brewery, but that's just a technicality.

We left a little souvenir at the brewery where we met 7 1/2 years ago
We made the huge mistake of talking up the Hoh when we brought our families to Germany for our wedding in 2008. After making everyone salivate over pfefferhaenchen (pepper chicken), we showed up at the brewery only to discover it was closed. We didn't take any chances this time and did our research, learning that they were only open for dinner. After biking for several kilometers outside of Bamberg, we were richly rewarded.

Literally half a chicken
We had one more stop on our Bamberg pilgrimage that night: Spezi Keller, a beer garden on a hill overlooking the city.

How to order another beer in Bavaria
We had done a lot of repeat things that day, so the next day was adventure day. Once again, we borrowed the hotel's bikes and hit the road. The day was beautiful and the biking easy (at first).  Jon has recently gotten more interested in cycling. While I enjoy it--particularly when I can ride to work--I'm still very much an amateur. For that reason, I'm glad that I didn't know that Jon had planned what turned into a 36-40 mile bike ride. But it was beautiful (even the giant hill that I pushed the bike up). We rode all through Franconia and up and over Frankischer Schweiz (Little Swiss).

Everyone bikes in Germany
One of the coolest parts of the ride was that it was something new that neither of us had ever done in Bamberg before. Since we'd seen and eaten our way through Bamberg proper, we got to go places that the average tourist would never see.

However, like all good things, our time in Bamberg had come to an end. We woke up early on our last morning to run through town one last time and get some pictures of our favorite places.

Thanks, little tripod!
Is it bad that we're already planning our next trip?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm Published!

Creative name for a post, huh? It's just that I'm so excited to share that I have an article published in the July 2012 issue of English Journal. For non-English-teacher-types, EJ is a well-known professional journal about all things English instruction. Super-nerdy.

At the middle school last year, the eighth graders worked on a year-long project about bullying, so when I saw the topic of "Preventing Bullying Behaviors" in EJ's Call for Manuscripts, I thought I might have something to say. (A special thank you to my editor!)

So, without further ado, "Using Warriors Don't Cry in a Capstone Project to Combat Bullying":

*Typically you have to subscribe to the journal in order to get more than an abstract. However, for good or bad, my article has free access. So enjoy. For free.

Also, I wanted to share the video that is referenced at the end of the article. Due to our partnership with Facing History, a short film was made by the Working Group featuring our darlings:

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Cue the Deer!"

I have a photographic memory.

Jon doesn't believe me, but he will admit that I have a very good memory. Such a good memory that I remember obscure lines from movies I haven't seen in maybe 10+ years.

Over the 4th of July holiday, Jon was able to take a couple of extra days off that allowed us to finally get to Seattle to meet our new nephew who was born in mid-May. Memphis in July is a less-than-desirable location, due to the same heat and humidity suffered all over the Midwest, South, and (made-up) Midsouth. Summer to me means hot weather, but I was definitely ready to spend some time in 70-degree temperatures.

The Pacific Northwest did not disappoint. From the moment we arrived on Wednesday until the moment we left on Sunday morning, the weather was amazing. The sun was shining, there was no humidity, and the mountain was out the entire time, all of which prompted my incessant movie quoting.

I have probably seen the movie Funny Farm starring Chevy Chase 50 times since its release in 1988 (forgive the hyperbole). If you haven't seen it (shame on you), here is a brief synopsis: Chase and his wife are city slickers who decide to move to the country so Chase's character can write the next great American novel. Like any Chase movie, nothing goes right and hilarity ensues. Things get so bad that the couple decides to divorce and sell the house. In order to entice some other suckers to buy their home, they convince the townspeople to dress up like subjects in a Norman Rockwell painting and pretend like their town is just as idyllic. When the prospective homebuyers arrive at the property on a wintry morning, a neighbor hiding in the woods shouts through a walkie-talkie, "Cue the deer!" Immediately a fawn is released from a cage, prompting the homebuyers to squeal with delight at what they think is their new dream home.

I wonder who was hiding in the proverbial bushes in Seattle because throughout our entire weekend, all I could think was, "Cue the deer!"

Summertime in the Northwest is clearly the time to convince people to move to that part of the world. I have heard that there hasn't been very much summer this year, but while we were there, it was absolutely beautiful, making the memories of rain and clouds bearable. In addition to the fabulous weather we enjoyed, we crammed in as much visiting--and eating--as we could.

We were able to visit briefly with a few friends in the South Sound area and saw lots of family members. We met our new nephew and celebrated a first birthday (just a few days early) for our other nephew, both of whom are incredibly smart and adorable.

We also ate. A lot. Specifically cherries. Everywhere we went there was delicious fruit, including our all-time favorite Rainier cherries. We ate them as if we were storing up for the rest of the year...which we kind of were.

A metaphor for life?
Just when our weekend couldn't have been any more enjoyable, we capped off the trip by going to a Seattle Sounders soccer game. I know very little about soccer, but I must say that it was so cool to be in the midst of a packed stadium of crazy soccer hooligans. There were cheers, there were songs, there was even a parade with a marching band before the game. I don't think I've stood for the entire game of anything since high school football (and that includes Nebraska games because in the seats we usually have, folks sit down during the time-outs).

Our seats, directly behind the "super-fans"
Maybe it was our delirium from several days of non-stop travel on top of sleeping at airports and on planes, but we concluded our whirlwind Seattle trip with visions of Norman Rockwell paintings swimming in our heads.

Hop on the Bus, Gus

I "don't need to discuss much" (Paul Simon, anyone?) but I would be remiss if I didn't briefly share my recent Megabus trip. I didn't have the amazing experience Megabus worshippers rave about, but it was a very cheap, fairly reliable way to get to Chicago.

Jon and I had tried to take the Megabus over Christmas vacation, but were stymied by the internet. For whatever reason, our reservation didn't go through...which we didn't realize until the week before the trip when all of the seats were taken. Hence, our very first Greyhound trip. While we joked about sleeping on the overnight bus with one eye open and packing a shiv in our carry-on, it was a perfectly uneventful trip, one that I slept through, actually. In all seriousness, everyone should travel by Greyhound at least once in their lives.

But back to Megabus. Due to my recent involvement with the Board of Directors of an honor service organization I belonged to in college, Cardinal Key, I was invited to attend the annual board meeting in Chicago. However, Memphis is a bit of a challenge to fly out of (ie, expensive), so in order to save money, I volunteered to take the Megabus.

I was intrigued, really. I'd heard wonderful reports of people snagging seats for just a couple of dollars and then having ample room to stretch out and sleep/read/type. Since I wasn't able to book my ticket until just a couple weeks prior to the trip, I missed the unbelievable fares, but I was hoping for spacious accomodations. I thought that leaving on a Wednesday night for an overnight trip would ensure me plenty of space...but I was wrong.

Unbeknownst to me, there was an optometry conference in Chicago the same weekend as my board meeting. When Jon took me to the designated bus stop 30 minutes early, the line was already quite long and it was full of optometry students. I must say, though, that I have never seen so many pairs of trendy glasses in one place.

Needless to say, every seat on the bus was taken. In hopes of having the seat next to me free, I had brought both of my bags on the bus instead of putting one in the cargo hold, so I spent the night a little cramped. I was worried when the optometry students couldn't seem to contain their excitement about the weekend's "eye-tinerary" (first and last eye pun, I promise), but they quickly quieted down.

We arrived in Chicago at Union Station right on time and I spent the weekend discussing all things Cardinal Key. After a successful meeting, it was time to return to the Megabus. While I prefer traveling long distances overnight because it's just so efficient, I opted for the mid-morning bus that would get me back to Memphis at around 9pm. I was proud of myself for navigating Chicago's transportation system, and I returned to Union Station with extra time, even though I had to walk several extra blocks due to track construction.

Once again there was a long line for the Megabus. Actually, there were long lines for several Megabusses, all traveling to various spots in the Midwest (Megabus is based out of Chicago). I found myself toward the back of the throng of people, which proved to be good because right before I stepped onto the bus, the driver stopped me and told everyone to evacuate the bus. The gaseous fumes everyone was choking on were not an indication that we were hanging out around half a dozen busses, but rather of a mechanical problem.

So, everyone "de-bussed" in an orderly fashion and we began to wait. We really only had to wait for about 30 minutes, but the hot sun definitely made it feel longer. I did my good deed for the day, however, when I volunteered to help translate for a passenger who only spoke Spanish. Finally, my Spanish minor was good for something!

Once the new bus arrived, we piled back on again. Of course, I had selected the same bus as several of the optometry students, so no empty seats again. I put my larger bag under the bus this time, though, so I was much more comfortable. I had set myself up with snacks, books, and my iPad and was ready to travel the ten hours back to Memphis. I shouldn't have been surprised that wifi on a bus is not that reliable. I also wasn't surprised that I chose the one seat without a functioning electrical outlet. Other than that, though, it was a smooth trip. Our driver was a bit of a ham and played his personal playlist for our enjoyment, and in between all of the reading I did, I had a nice conversation with the wise-beyond-his-years man sitting next to me.

My final assessment of the Megabus is that it is definitely an affordable way to travel, and I would probably do it again. I prefer the romance of train travel, certainly, but when it comes to bus travel, I'm pretty satisfied.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Meet Me in St. Louis

While there was no Worlds Fair in St. Louis this summer, it did prove to be a good place to meet my family from Kansas City. Since my brother and sister-in-law were not interested in driving the eight hours to Memphis for a visit with a 2 1/2 year-old in the backseat, we all decided meeting halfway would be a great way to get together. My mom and younger brother also decided to join us, which led to a mini family reunion in Missouri's inferior east side.

It has been years since I have been to St. Louis and stayed in the city and not on the couch/spare bed of a college friend. We splurged a little on the hotel because we figured it would be a good idea to have a nice homebase, particularly when planning around naps and such. We stayed right downtown and were able to walk to all of the destinations we were interested in seeing.

Jon and I got into town earlier than expected on Friday afternoon, which is impressive considering we didn't leave as soon as we had wanted to (not surprising) and I had spent that morning and the previous afternoon at the mechanic's getting new tires (very surprising--having a flat on the side of the interstate in 90+ weather is not something I had on my agenda). At any rate, we arrived just in time to enjoy the hotel's complimentary happy hour before heading out in search of dinner.

We knew we were up against the clock as far as bedtime went, so we quickly found a place to eat and then took a chance on an evening stroll. We were so close to the Arch at this point that we had to check it out. Jon helped our niece get some of her energy out by teaching her how to roll down a hill...which resulted in her comical attempt to roll up the hill. It quickly became apparent that we needed to get back to the hotel, so we called it a night, although not until we watched the Royals defeat the Cardinals (or rather watched the Cardinals lose, since we had it on a St. Louis station).

Gateway to the West

The next morning Jon and I got up and ran to Illinois (which only sounds impressive until you take into consideration that Illinois is only a couple of miles from where we were staying). The rest of the family accompanied our niece at the children's museum, an unbalanced four-adults-to-one-kid ratio. Once we reunited, we headed back to the Arch in hopes of riding the rickety elevator to the top. Unfortunately we were not able to find out if the elevator is as rickety as it was when I was 5 because the line was way too long and we didn't have the time to wait--we had a baseball game to catch!

Anyone who knows us well will not be surprised to read that we found a brewery in an area known as The Landing, which was only a slight detour on our way to Busch Stadium (good beer, by the way). We had not planned on going to St. Louis specifically to see the Royals play in the Cardinals in the annual I-70 series, but it proved to be a nice coincidence. We opted for the cheap seats, which actually worked out okay because we were in the shade the entire game. While it wasn't as hot as it is currently in the Midwest, it was still pretty warm in mid-June.

View from the cheap seats
Unfortunately the Royals didn't win, although they did make it interesting at times. The highlight for me, however, was hearing a sweet little 2 year-old voice shouting "Go Royals!" over and over, right in the middle of a bunch of Cardinals fans.

After the game, it was back to the hotel for happy hour and a quick dip in the pool. With the exception of our sister-in-law and niece, we all went to the Schlafly tap room for more delicious beer and food. It was a nice time, although I'm sad to report that both of my brothers were unsuccessful in their quest to crash the wedding reception upstairs.

On Sunday morning, our niece was re-charged and ready to play, so we took her to Grant's Farm on our way back to our respective homes. Grant's Farm is the Busch family (as in Anheuser-Busch) ancestral home and is named after Ulysses S. Grant, who once farmed part of the land. Now, it is a wildlife preserve of sorts, featuring the legendary Clydesdale horses. We got in free because one of Jon's relatives once was handicapped when he was trampled by one of the Clydesdales. (Okay, so everyone gets in free, but the part about Jon's great-uncle is true.)

After checking out the horses, we rode the tram to the other part of the farm, where we saw lots of different types of animals, all desperately trying to keep cool. The folks at Grant's Farm certainly know what they're doing because as soon as we got off the tram, there were several employees selling the ultimate in kids entertainment. For one low price (it actually was pretty affordable), you could ride the carousel, feed the baby goats, and eat a sno-cone. Of course, our niece had to do all that. I'm sure you can imagine her paparazzi.

Beware the ferocious guinea pig
It was a pretty nice way to conclude our St. Louis getaway. I'm a big proponent of vacationing with family. No one is responsible for hosting, everyone has to travel somewhere, and it's always a good time. All in all, it was a great trip...especially since we heard the Royals game on the radio on the way home, in which the boys in blue beat the Cardinals (in extra innings) to win the series.

Monday, June 25, 2012

"You Are Not Your Job"

When I began teaching middle school immediately upon moving to Memphis--and contemplated quitting on a daily basis--a wise friend told me, "you are not your job," reminding me not to let my personal self-worth be based on this work. A job is a job is a job. Not my life.

I've been calling upon this wisdom quite often lately. For the past year (since leaving the aforementioned middle school), I have been working as an adjunct instructor at a community college, adjunct being a fancy word for part-time. I have appreciated the break from full-time secondary teaching, as I was nearing the dreaded burnt-out phase, and I'm thankful for the time and opportunity to do volunteer work. However, I can't seem to shake the feeling that I am an unproductive member of my family and society in general.

This feeling became more accute this summer. The class I was scheduled to teach was cancelled, due to low numbers. I was devastated, surprisingly so. I was upset about my lack of funds, but more so, I was upset about my lack of purpose.

Why is it, upon meeting someone new, that the first question after exchanging names is inevitably, "What do you do"? I have come to dread this question. I always answer "teacher," but I usually feel like I'm not being completely forthcoming and often explain my current situation in more detail than necessary.

This question is often just a formality, a pleasantry we're accustomed to, like discussing the weather. Normally, I enjoy talking about my work, feeling proud of what I do. But these days, as an un-/under-employed educator, I feel like a slacker.

I thrive on being busy, so I've found plenty to do this summer (in fact, writing this post has been on my to-do list for weeks), but I think I still would have gotten just as much done if I were teaching a class. It's frustrating...particularly because I'm aware of the irony that if I were teaching full-time right now, I would be pining away for such a lack of responsibility.

But therein lies part of the problem. While I struggle daily to recognize it, I have plenty of responsibilites and lots of irons in the proverbial fire. Even so, I need to heed my wise friend's advice and realize that I am more than a (lack of a) paycheck. I am not my job. Like Popeye says, "I yam who I yam."   

Friday, May 11, 2012

Hostess with the Most-est

I honestly believe that teaching is my calling, not just what I decided to-be-when-I-grew-up. (And for that reason, I don't feel too guilty complaining about it. For the record, I don't trust people who say they can't wait to get out of bed in the morning to go to work. Yeah, right.) That being said, I have realized--even more accutely in the past several weeks--how much I enjoy playing the hostess. I'm only half kidding when I say that our "retirement job" is going to be running a bed & breakfast over a brewery.

I actually get a thrill out of preparing the guest room and doing the necessary last-minute de-cluttering. I like fluffing the pillows and setting out extra toothpaste in the hall bathroom, and it's fun to plan special weekend breakfasts and lists of things-to-do.

Lately, I've had several opportunities to indulge in such activities as we are smack in the middle of "visiting season." A few weeks ago, we hosted one of Jon's college roommates and her friend, who were in town for an archaeology conference. While they were busy with various conference and networking activities, we still had the pleasure of showing them around our adopted home. And last weekend, my college roommate and her boyfriend came to Memphis for the Beale Street Music Festival. The fun doesn't end there, as my little brother will be driving from Kansas City over Memorial Day, and Jon's dad and wife will be making the trek from Seattle in early June.

I can't contain my excitement!

Not only do we get to welcome visitors into our home, but we also get to play tour guide in a pretty cool place. While we had zero expectations upon moving to Memphis, we've been pleasantly surprised by all the city has to offer, and we're so glad we chose to live right in the middle of it (well, technically not the middle of the city, but the middle of the action). We hardly leave town--which is rare for us--because it's almost like we're constantly on vacation here. I suppose that means we're on a "stay-cation" (one of the very few portmanteaus we're comfortable with).

For instance, on a recent Saturday, we went to the Farmer's Market and after dropping off our loot, strolled by the Hot Wing Festival en route to a Corvette Show on Beale Street, which led us to the Africa in April bazaar where we took in the sights, sounds, and smells before spending the rest of the afternoon at a beer fest where Jon served his delicious homemade beer for enthusiastic strangers. Whew.

Our favorite car at the Corvette Show
Jon working the tap...and the crowd

And yet, that was not an unusual weekend. We had a real "first-world" dilemma the week before when we had to leave a crawdad (crawfish in these parts) festival early to make it to the ballet, which was being performed just down the street.

We are doing our darnedest to keep up with what's going on around town--from Wine Races (a relay featuring servers from local restaurants running down the street balancing trays of red wine) to the christening ceremony of the American Queen Steamboat to "grinding" with the Grizzlies NBA team. We have season tickets to see Broadway shows at the Orpheum and Shakespeare in the Park. We've been to every local museum at least once, and a few--such as the National Civil Rights Museum and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music--twice. We participate in a running group that meets weekly at a bar, and I'm getting ready to kick off my roller derby season with the Angels of Death. And to top it off, I think we've impressed our guests with our knowledge of Memphis and its history (which is of course due to the fact that neither of us is actually from here).

Guests boarding the American Queen in the middle of a quintessential Memphis shot

The Lorraine Motel (where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated), home of the National Civil Rights Museum

The Stax Museum was commemorating Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns
Lest you accuse me of bragging, I'll fill you in on my ulterior motive with this post: COME TO MEMPHIS!!! You already have a place to stay with some folks who are more than happy to show you around. We'd love to share any of the above activities with you and fill you up with the world's 2nd best BBQ (I will forever be loyal to Kansas City). Just say the word, and I'll have some fresh sheets and towels waiting for you.


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