Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Kudzu Recipes

In close quarters conflict is inevitable. Unless you're Quaker. I hear they do a good job at avoiding arguments. And while I went to a Quaker school for a bit, I am not a Quaker. That's the entire explanation for why I upset my wife today.

On our way up the mountainside I did apologize. The landscape and the moment was too beautiful to waste on feeling anything but grateful to be where we were and who we were with.

It was a mile and a half walk up to the waterfall. Up. Up hill. Up really wasn't all that bad considering the temperature had dropped to about 85 degrees and we weren't sweating like we did after our first hiking experience on this trip. And if we started feeling as if this trek was arduous, the people pushing babies in strollers down the path made us realize we didn't require llamas or a Sherpa.

There were quite a few signs posted that reminded hikers that several people die on the path each season. The shear drop off the side of the path made it clear that the signs were no joke. I'll be honest, I hate heights but it's never stopped me from gliding, skydiving or cleaning the top of the refrigerator. This meant that I went, but my sphincter was clenched for a large portion of our stroll up the mountain. The people balancing children on their shoulders or getting near the edge apparently didn't have sphincters.

Same thing when we made it to the falls. Deb and Julia were leaning over the edges watching the water rush down the jagged rocks. Visions of them writhing in pain from their compound fractures caused by impact made me try to use my eyes to get them away from the edge. My glares are worthless.

No bears. But we did see a scary millipede. Those suckers are creepy as shit.

We had a really good lunch in Cherokee at Sassy Sunflowers. Afterward we became lost so we were able to see more of the reservation than if we had been able to make it straight to our destination. This trip and this area of the country has provoked a number of serious conversations. Maybe those conversations will pop up in another post someday. For now I'll stick to letting you know about things like how our car smells like hot garbage after living in it for six days.

As soon as I close the lid on this laptop (which as been a valuable tool in researching things like kudzu and booking activities) the hotel room will go dark and we'll rest up for another day.

P.S. Go ahead and look up kudzu. Maybe we'll try some recipes when we get back - or not.

Wet Wallet

Parkway in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is a street clogged with desperation. People desperate to make the next turn so they won't miss the Lumberjack Feud dinner show. People desperate to get back to their hotels and watch cable channel 192 that will tell them they can't miss the Lumberjack Feud dinner show. People desperate to get out of stop and go traffic that only allows twenty minute miles.

But we're having a good time!

Seriously, we are having fun. We own every flavor of Moon Pie that they make and we went down a coaster that speeds down a mountain. That ride was awesome. Julia didn't want to ride it on her own so she went down with her mother. I'm glad because I'm sure if she went with me we'd be torn from the track and flung into a gorge.

I had my first Five Guys burger. They've been hyped for years so I was eager to see what the fuss was about. It was good. But the fries are the remarkable thing. The woman behind the counter asked us if the four of us wanted to share a large order of fries. I assumed the order would be ample so I went ahead with the recommendation. Holy cow did they give us some fries. They were in a huge, brown paper bag and enough to feed thousands (almost).

I'm sure the highlight for everyone on this day was whitewater rafting. The process is long but essentially you get to the place, they put a helmet, life vest and paddle in your hand. They put you on a school bus and drive you up river. You get in a boat and you try to stay in the boat as the guide attempts to knock you out of the boat by steering you toward huge waves of river water.

It rocked. Our guide, Luthor did things with our boat that I don't think he was supposed to do. We did maneuvers reserved for people who paid more for an "extreme" experience. He taught us how to lock our feet into the raft but at a few points it wasn't enough to keep my legs from flying up in the air. Allie and I were at the front of the craft so rowing in sync was our job. She did it well. I have to say, watching the looks of horror cross her face as we hit some of the rougher water was a highlight for me.

Each rapid had a name except for one. Julia recommended that our guide name it "U-Turn". Luthor thought it was a good idea and said, "From this point forward, it will be called, 'U-Turn'!" Julia was pleased to have left her mark.

At one point Luthor told us we could flop out of the raft for a swim. We were shocked when Julia was one of the first to drop into the water. She usually requires a half an hour of coaxing to do anything that seems dangerous but this time she was the adventurer. That meant I had to follow her. I thought I could get back into the raft fairly easily. Nope. Luthor had to grab me and lug my 260 lbs. back into the safety of the boat. I had my wallet in my pocket and it's still damp and it still smells of river water.

When we returned we found a place to do some wash. Deb and I sat and watched our clothes tumble while the girls were alone in the hotel room partying down. They were so drunk by the time we got back to the room. Shameful.

Today, we head through the mountains in search of waterfalls.

Monday, July 20, 2015

It's All Recorded in the Expense Notebook

I sat down to blog and Allie reminded me that if I forgot about anything we did today it's all in her notebook. Handing her receipts after each purchase has become automatic and honestly, I wish I had her to take care of our day-to-day finances.

So let's take a look at her notebook:

-Two Brothers Italian: $42.01 w/$8.00 tip. Deb guided us to this place that had fantastic pizza and a good staff. Allie said, "I really like our waiter's energy." The freakin' garlic knots were freakin' good and our breath could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon after we ate them.

-Foxfire Mountain Adventures: $87.80. This place had some of the highest zip lines we've ever seen. Scary stuff compared to our past zip line experience. Fortunately we were there just to check out their trails and maybe take advantage of the rope course.

We wound up marching up the mountain and crossing what they claim to be the America's largest swinging bridge. Allie was a little hesitant, especially with me and my weight bouncing on the thing. Julia says, "I loved it, even though I hate heights." By the time we made it to the top of the trail we were drenched in sweat. The sights, sounds and smells (maybe even the money) made it all worth it, particularly the waterfall. That said Deb doesn't like to sweat. She prefers to glow. If she claims that she was "glowing" on this hike then I'm sure they could have seen her from space.

-Smoky Mountains Knife Works: $35.00. For some reason it was important to me that the girls get a knife on this trip. I know. I'm scared shitless that they'll wind up opening a vein and bleed out on a remote trail later in the week. But I had a knife when I was even younger than them and it just seems like a rite of passage. I get the strangest impulses sometimes.

This knife store is enormous. A little unsettling, too. There's a portion that seems devoted to stabbing and gouging and dismembering with bright, neon-colored weapons. I'm sure that if you pulled one of these things out to open a package, people would call the authorities. There were also confederate flags available for purchase. This prompted discussions about racism that revealed just how little I can offer to explain why it exists.

The girls wound up with single-bladed Swiss-Army knives with pink and purple handles. They can take solace in the knowledge that the object that will rob them of their index fingers fits in nicely with their sense of fashion.

How Deb knows so much about Dolly Parton I'm not sure. During our drive thought the area, Deb walked us through the significant economic impact that Ms. Parton has had on this area. The kind of growth Dolly has spurred was evident when it took us 45 minutes to travel a mile and a half to get to our hotel.

Now we're here and we've rinsed off the mountain in our room's shower. Deb asked the girls if they were sore from the hike. They gave her a nice, slow blink and assured her that it would take a great deal more to knock the wind out of their sails.

We'll see. . .

Sunday, July 19, 2015

$15 a Pound

Belle Meade Plantation is beautiful. I'm happy the Tennessee Historical Society decided that tourists don't need to have an immersive experience and put AC in the big house. 99 degrees would have meant spending a lot less time staring at portraits of dead horse breeders.

The plantation did reveal that Julia has a better bocce ball game than I expected. 

They wouldn't let us take pictures in the house but if they would have allowed it I would have taken a shot of the fake squab and beef tongue they had on the dining room table. The tongue was grey and garnished with a single mushroom. It wasn't appetizing and I wouldn't be into eating anything that could taste me back.

Fake beef tongue aside, dining in Nashville was a treat. Monell's serves soul food family style. Each table seats about twelve people and you pass each bowl of food to the left. That's not the only rule. No cell phones (they'll take them away from you) and you eat what you take. I'm not sure what the consequences of that last one would be but considering how good the food is I'm sure it's never a problem.

They brought twenty dishes to our table (we counted). Sweet corn pudding and collard green casserole were my favorite. I pointed to the collard greens and told our server that it was incredible. She giggled back at me, "You know, you're about the 55th person to tell me that this weekend."

There was pulled pork, beef in gravy, fried chicken, BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, cheese grits - I know there was much more, but I can't remember.

The family who shared our table with was from Oklahoma on their way to Washington D.C. The dad had an undisclosed project in the area. His little boy whispered in his mom's ear and she told me, "He wants me to tell you that he's six years-old and he likes computers." I asked him, "Do you code?" He got a puzzled look on his face so I asked, "Do you play Minecraft?" His mom smiled and said, "He plays two games on the computer." Then the kid yelled, "SKYLANDERS!"

After lunch we wanted to walk off a portion of the huge amount of food we ate so we headed to the Tennessee State Museum. Cool place. Really - it's air conditioned. The exhibits were incredibly interesting, but not having a collar of dark sweat stain my orange T-Shirt was a big treat.

After the museum, Deb wanted to surprised the girls with a trip to a candy store on Broadway St. in Nashville. We turned on the GPS in the parking garage and discovered it was just three blocks away so we walked. The dark collar around my shirt I mentioned appeared. We found the store on Broadway among tons of other interesting, touristy places to duck into. At the store we loaded a bag full of candy and discovered at the register that it was $15 a pound. The result was the most expensive Zotz I've ever eaten.

Speaking of money, that's an issue that has kind of bowled us over so far. Okay, when I say "us" I mean "me". Our accountant, Allie, let us know our total spend so far on this trip. We've ventured into four figures in just two days. Meals are the expenses that are "eating" the majority of our budget. The plan was to avoid eating anywhere we could eat at home. Now that we've examined our budget we've decided a few trips to Subway this trip wouldn't be an unforgivable offense.

This evening we're in Lenoir City, Tennessee. The pool was refreshing in the 90 degree heat. We horsed around, giggled, splashed and Marco Polo'd under the moon and the few stars we could see. Deb and I were soaking in the warm water and looked at each other when we listened to the girls cackle at the other end of the pool. It was clear that by the second day we had accomplished what the entire trip was about.

Tomorrow we buy some knives.

I Heart Electricity

A man in a gold Honda civic camped in the corner of the parking lot of the hotel we stayed at in Louisville. I had to return to the car to get shoes and the girls watched me from the window because they assumed he was on crack and that he was going to attack me and steal our shoes. By the time I made it to our car he had all of his doors and the trunk of his Civic open and had changed clothes. He was toweling himself off as he watched me dig around for our shoes. I made it back to the room unscathed.

No one slept in Louisville because the power didn't come back on until about 3:00 a.m. The temperature in the room and my CPAP wasn't operational and the people running around the halls as if they had to forage for supplies to survive the Armageddon. They had dropped light sticks in the hall. I'm guessing that must have attracted the idiots. Later in the day, we were talking about our favorite parts of the day and Deb said it was leaving our electricity-free hotel room. Fortunately she also had plans that provided better memories of Louisville.

The Louisville Slugger factory/museum was more fun for me than anyone else. I'm not that huge of a baseball fan but we do like to go to games when we can. My favorite player was Cal Ripken and because of that the Orioles are my team. So when I had the opportunity to pick up Cal's bat and pose for a pic it was kind of a thrill. The girls enjoyed the Batman and Superman uniforms they had on display and watching them make the custom bats for major league players was a trip. 

It was the glass flaming we did after the bat museum that thrilled the girls. Mark showed the girls how to create works of art. He was engaging and immersed all of us in the experience. Allie made a flower and Julia made a "kiss". They will ship the objet d'art back to Wisconsin (they need to sit in a kiln for 24 hours). Julia says, "FIRE" was the best part of flaming glass. Allie says, "Making the petals," was the highlight for her.

Deb found a wonderful restaurant. I had a pimento/cheese spread sandwich. Allie had a chicken sandwich with apples on it. This place seemed to like to put apples in everything and that wasn't a bad thing. The food was truly memorable - especially the huge slab of strawberry cake we all shared. The guy in the parking lot said he was two dollars short for a twenty dollar bus ticket. We got him half way there with a buck. 

The hotel in Franklin, Kentucky is nice. I almost knocked out my front teeth in the pool but other than that it's good to be in a place that has a constant flow of electricity. 

I don't know what we're going to do when we hit Nashville later this morning but it doesn't matter, we'll have fun spending money here in the south. 

Did I mention the heat index will be 105 degrees today? I'd better wear a white T-Shirt. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Landing in Louisville

As soon as we hit Indiana the rain began. We always plan vacations around monsoon season because we enjoy the thrill of almost dying on the highway because of zero visibility.

David Letterman is the only good thing that came out of Indiana. Is that too harsh? Maybe, but the welcome center didn't have enough pamphlets about sites and activities to fill the literature racks. They fanned out the few that they did have to make the space look full. Those brochures were mostly about underground zip lines and underground bike tours. What makes both activities more exciting because they're underground escapes me. 

Do I sound cranky? I am. I spent hours driving in the dark and impenetrable rain. It was nerve racking.

The girls have been great. So far cheesecake is at the top of the list of what is good. They also enjoy the southern accents. Julia giggled at her first, "y'all" when we checked into the hotel. She'll adopt the second person plural before the end of this trip. I'm sure. 

Now I'm thumb typing this in the dark because the storms we escaped in Indiana have found us and the power is out. 

Power is back on. Oops, now it's off again. No. It's back. . . 

Screw it. Goodnight, y'all.

101 Degrees

We leave for the Smoky Mountains in about an hour. I told Deb that I was going to check out the weather there and she told me not to do it. When I saw three digits instead of just two I understood why.

I can handle the heat. It's the gallons of fluid that runs out of my pores that makes life inconvenient. I'm glad because after this vacation Deb will have no argument about enduring the temperatures of a beach-related getaway. Sun and sand next year - it's sealed.

We scrambled at the office to get projects finished. We worked hard to made things ready so our car will run smoothly and our house will be welcoming when we return. We cleared our phones so there will be space for pics. We packed. We have a house sitter to take care of the cats and the aging fruit in the fridge is headed to a landfill (sad).

We're all being pleasant to one another because we know we're going to share close quarters (there will be plenty of time for meltdowns later).

Of course Deb's itinerary is detailed, color-coded (I sort of wish that was a joke) and incredible. She's a fount of good bananas. Regardless of how things go, it won't be for a lack of serious thought and skilled, inspired planning.

I'm going to try and post from the phone and record this road trip. I did a crappy job last year and I didn't capture as much as I would have/should have. The rate of change in the girls is scary and I'm in a panic to take advantage of any time with them I can get.

We're ready.

Saturday, July 04, 2015


We're watching tennis because, as Allie and Julia say, "Daddy watches tennis like men watch football."

During a break they advertised that you can buy the ball boy outfits. I guessed $50, Allie guessed $75 for a shirt.