Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Highlight Reel

What have I been doing lately? Nothing huge, but lots of little things that make life a lot more interesting!

I saw one of my favorite friends as Glenda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz in our local community theater.

And went to Sushi Train with her for my first mobile dining experience. I have no idea if mobile dining is a term, but our food was moving!

I ate crawfish at a crawfish boil for the first time… and liked it! And ate a lot of it!

I joined the Y. It’s about time.

It’s the middle of summer but you would never know it by looking at my recently played music. Some people don’t play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I never stop. Be Born in Me by Francesca Battistelli and Unspeakable Joy by Chris Tomlin are two of my all time favorites. I listen to them on repeat constantly. Take that, Christmas Music Sticklers.

I found three one hundred dollar bills tossed in the mud in front of my condo one and returned it to its rightful owner – my neighbor – and got a $50 gift card in return the next morning.

It’s amazing how doing the right thing and having $50 can make you feel richer than having $300.

My awesome sister just finished Nashville Teaching Fellows and is going to be a teacher now! This also means that she does things like carry around a puppet and wear a bird on her shirt. It suits her.

I made my first pillow case dress for a sweet little girl’s first birthday with a matching dress for her baby doll.

The Birthday Girl

I have gotten to spend a good bit of time with my nephews this summer – playing outside and dress up of course!

I perfected my hobby of scaring my nephews. I was asleep on my parent’s couch and when they came to wake me up one morning I slipped on the mask that I had stashed under my pillow and pulled the covers up over my face. They ran in, pulled the covers down, and saw me lying there with the mask on. They had the best shocked faces ever! Big eyes, gasped breath. And then I got hesitated ramblings of, “You didn’t scare me…. You did not scare me…. No, you didn’t scare me.” As if trying to convince themselves more than me.

I mean, I kind of scare me.

My parents have wild blackberries growing down the fence rows of our farm, and this is prime blackberry picking time! These blackberries are on my list of top five favorite foods ever (which at the moment includes blackberries, pomegranates, peanut butter, salmon, and chips & salsa in no particular order.) I picked twice this weekend for several hours at a time. Once with my mom and sister – who yelled “Black Gold” every time she found a good briar. And once with my dad who took me back into a secret place he had bush-hogged in the woods. Berries galore! He and I were so excited about picking that we picked right through a rain shower. A little rain never hurt anyone! And my motto is “No berry left behind.” If it’s ripe, I’m picking it.  Keep in mind that these are wild berries on briars with very sharp thorns. This is quite the production – big rubber boots, jeans tucked into boots, long sleeved shirt tucked into pants, gloves tucked under sleeves. Basically covered as much as possible to avoid thorns and ticks. And, oh, how I will wade through some high weeds and thorny briars to get to the berries. I just can’t pass them up! And no, I didn’t see any snakes, but I did see plenty of crazy looking bugs that would normally cause a freak-out. But I was too focused to let them deter me. Although one time there was a large commotion in some grass – either a snake or a small animal - and I ran away, careful not to spill my pail of berries. I’d say we picked about 12 quarts this weekend to put up in the freezer. Going back next weekend for more!

 Black Gold!

Mom's hands were stained from all of the berry picking and washing!

While we were picking berries we spotted some great wildflowers around the property, including this Purple Passion Flower.

And I’ve been planning my trip out West for the end of the summer. I’m going to Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah. I can’t wait!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Spelunking Adventure

My sister: “Do you want to go spelunking this weekend?”

Me: “Sure.”

Commence googling of “spelunking” and "The Rocky Topper Spelunking Adventure at Cumberland Caverns".

Cumberland Caverns, McMinnville, TN

When a website says things like “extreme-adventure”, I generally think that it is hype. Yeah, yeah. “Strenuous”. I mean, that’s just a nice way of saying, “Don’t come if you can’t handle basic everyday tasks”, right?

We signed our waiver and were issued helmets with head lamps. Helmets? I guess these are just for liability reasons for the company. I mean, this is basically like a nature trail through a cave, right?

Then we had to belly crawl through a tiny crate – about 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide – to prove that we could go on the tour. I mean, this is just to intimidate the weak tourists, right?

Nope. I’d say strenuous is accurate. It was the most challenging outdoor activity I’ve ever done. And that helmets are necessary – I hit my head about 19 million times. And that the box was actually generous. Many spaces in the cave were tighter than that little box.

This wasn’t like any other caves I’ve been in (i.e. Mammoth Cave) with large, expansive spaces. This was a crawling, climbing, scooting, squeezing, squishing tour through tiny, winding corridors. For 3 hours!

And of course, I loved it. I would do it every day, but my, my, my, I am exhausted. I have sore muscles in places that I didn’t even know existed. For example, the muscle on the outside of my right hand keeps cramping. I guess from all of the gripping? And 17. That’s the number of bruises I have spotted so far.

The tour started with belly crawls through tight spaces – sometimes as small at 11 inches – for lengths that seemed to be about 100 yards at a time. Followed by ladder climbs over taller rocks and winding through tiny, narrow corridors. Most of the time I could only see the person directly in front of me. Occasionally we would get to a space wide enough to see about three people ahead, but most of the time we were in spaces too narrow or tight to do anything other than follow the person directly in front of us. We went through one spot called The Lemon Squeezer. The vertical spaces were so tight that we basically just had to find a spot that our helmet could fit through, breathe in really deep, and squeeze our way through – for several hundred yards. The Devil’s Backbone? A formation in the cave that is like a balance beam on a three foot drop off that we had to walk across while holding onto the rocks above our head. Bubble Gum Alley? A long trail of the stickiest mud that I have ever encountered. We were instructed to tie our shoes extra tight before venturing through, but even then some people still slipped right out of their shoes.  It took strength to even just pick up my feet, all while still maneuvering through the winding corridors.

Three hours and three miles later when we came out of the cave, exhausted and covered from head to toe with mud, we passed a group tour going in for “the walking tour” – basically they were actually doing the regular “nature trail through the cave” kind of tour that I had imagined. They saw us and panicked, each with wide eyes and comments like “I’ve got on my good pants!” or “You said I wouldn’t get dirty!” or “No way am I getting down on my knees and crawling!” We didn’t correct their assumptions. We just smiled and said, “Have fun!”. Those poor people looked so scared!

We only have pictures outside of the cave. Because of the tight spaces, you can’t really take anything with you inside of the cave. An iphone definitely would have gotten cracked at some point. So you’ll have to settle for some vague descriptions and the website pictures.

Exhausted and Excited

Spelunking is not for the faint of heart. Or the claustrophobic. Thankfully I am neither. My sister and I both proclaimed later that we feel like we should have trained for that. But we didn’t. And it was so incredible. It felt like a big accomplishment once we were finished. I really, really loved it!

If you like adventure, you have to go check this out. We did the Rocky Top Adventure at Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tennessee. When I saw on their website that there are more difficult adventures, I was shocked! I’d definitely start with this one and then decide if you want to go tougher! And a major plus, the weather doesn't affect the cave tours! The cave temperature is always in the upper 50s no matter what the temperature is outside and rain does not affect the underground tours at all. It was pouring when we went! What a great rainy day activity! They also have overnight trips in the cave (which I am dying to do) and a monthly concert in the underground amphitheater called Bluegrass Underground (aired on PBS). Check it out – and when you do, let me know. I’ll probably join you!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

A Birthday Person

I’m a birthday person. I really, really love birthdays. Honestly, not so much my own. I mean, I do like it. A lot. But I love celebrating other people’s birthdays because I love celebrating people close to my heart. So when a group of my girl friends got together recently to paint pottery, I knew what I wanted to paint: A birthday plate! I take a dessert to work on all of my coworker’s birthdays, so I knew I’d get a lot of use out of it! 

 In the Studio

Fired and Glazed

My pottery painting experience also reminded me of why I don’t typically paint. I am not an artist! My friends were free handing monograms and chevrons… I was just trying to avoid looking like a kindergarten craft project.

Independence Day
My mom was the first to use my birthday plate!

A Key Lime Cookie with Toasted Almonds and Coconut courtesy of my sis... It kind of looks like mashed potatoes with bacon in the picture. I promise it's not! Although I do love mashed potatoes with bacon.

A 4th of July baby. What a great birthday to have! In fact, my grandparents were married on Christmas Eve and had two daughters – my aunt born on Thanksgiving Day and my mom on Independence Day! No wonder I love holidays!

This year our 4th of July in Tennessee was extremely rainy, but we all kind of loved it. The rain is just so beautiful and instantly makes the farm greener. And shiny, I think. We also kind of loved it because we didn’t have outdoor plans. For everyone else, it was a bummer. My sister and I took my mom to Jackson’s Orchard in Kentucky to get some fresh peaches…

And then to Chaney’s for some ice cream…

My mom is sweet and thoughtful and patient and practically just plain perfect. It was wonderful spending a whole day celebrating her!

And judging by some recent photos, I am turning into her after all…

Could we be posing any more alike???

Happy birthday, momma! And America!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Wedding Gowns and Warrants

The Perfect Gown
Remember last spring when I did the marketing for a Dream Dress Campaign for Olia Zavozina Couture Designs? Well, my friend who manages their shop called me last week and asked me to wear one of their gowns in a tv spot on Nashville’s Fox 17 morning show: The Perfect Gown!

I went to Olia’s Edgehill Village shop and tried on several absolutely gorgeous wedding gowns.

Here I am trying on The Britt!

And on Friday morning I wore one of the gowns – The Delia - in a live tv segment on the morning news.

The segment featured designer Olia Zavozina and three of her most popular gown designs.

 Getting Ready

 With Designer Olia Zavozina

A “Ride Along”
One of my best friends from my hometown has been a police officer in Metro Nashville for several years. On Saturday night I was able to do a ride along with him on his 10pm-6am shift in East Nashville. Oh, how I loved it! I rode with him for the entire shift and never even got tired! It was a fast paced, thrilling night! (Well, for me it was. I heard several of the officers say that it was a ‘slow night’.) I stayed in the car on most of the calls, but was able to get out a few times to observe. I saw everything from traffic stops to domestic disputes to DUIs to prostitution to arrests for outstanding warrants. I was amazed at how many of the people that we encountered wanted to tell their life’s story. I spent about twenty minutes with two different transvestite prostitutes who told me everything I ever (and never) wanted to know about their careers. And they let me ask them anything. Any question, they were transparent. I listened a lot… and learned a lot! And let me just tell you, I was in a part of Nashville that I never even knew existed and will likely never be again. Except, of course, when I do another ride along because I am hooked.

I love doing new, fun things… so this weekend was perfect!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It's Not Just That...

It's not just a dinosaur...
"What's on your cake?"

I patiently waited for my nephew to answer, assuming he would say "Dinosaur". When you are turning four, your cake is not just chocolate or vanilla. It's not a flavor at all. It's a character. The better the character, the better the cake! A little boy I babysat years ago once asked me if a princess cake would taste gross, never mind that his tonka truck cake likely came from the same bakery. So I waited for the answer, knowing that there was a lot of thought behind the selection - maybe even a whole year of preparation and decision making. 

"It's a Mapusaurus, Aunt Em."

"A what?" I looked to my sister for clarification.

Yes, it was a Mapusaurus. Not just a dinosaur. Not even something like a T-Rex. No, he had gone deep inside the pages of his Dinopedia and carefully selected this obscure, unknown (to me) creature for my sister to draw on his cake. And bless her heart, it did look just like a Mapusaurus. What a great mommy.

Blowing out his candles (with Dalmatian ears on)

 His new toy! A Big Wheel! He loved riding it down the hill into the grass. (I did too... I couldn't resist!)


 Big Brother staying out of the way!

 Blowing out his breakfast birthday candles (with a mask  and cape on... he is very in to dress-up now that he's four)

It's not just summer vacation...
When people ask me how my summer vacation is going, I always have to think before I respond. Because, honestly, I usually forget that it's summer. And it's definitely not a vacation. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love it (it comes second to fall). But it's not a break. When you work, the joys of summer include less traffic on the way in to the office and a little more sunlight when you get home. 

I love it for hometown traffic jams...

And a best friend's wedding...

 The Groom!

The three graduates from the Class of 05 and the bride!

This little baby doll has been my wedding buddy this spring.

And my first rock climb...

And Strawberry Picking Time...

 Two Gallons to Freeze for the Season!

On a Nutella Cream Cheese birthday cake for a friend (plain yellow cake topped with a blend of a jar of nutella, a block of cream cheese softened, and a half cup of powdered sugar)

And backyard cookouts complete with cornhole, croquet, and kabobs...

Oh, but not for the bugs. One morning I picked up a plastic cup of water that I had left sitting in my living room over night. As I was putting it to my mouth to take a drink I notice this guy down in the cup! He was about four inches long! Oh, can you only imagine the therapy I would have to go through if I had actually taken a drink!

You are probably judging me for two things right now. First, this grossness was in my home. Second, I took a picture of it in my toilet. At least it was clean...

It's not just a lullaby...
I have been volunteering at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital every Thursday night for almost two years now. Oh, how I love that place. A few weeks ago I got to spend my two hours with a precious little baby boy. As I walked in the room, the nurse was thrilled to see me. "You are coming to rock him? I'm so glad. I wish I could stay in here all night and hold him. He's such a sweet cuddler." At that, I knew that I was going to have a great night with the little guy. And, oh, how precious he was. The nurse laid him in my arms - there were too many wires and gadgets for me to try to pick him up on my own. And I started humming. I never sing when the nurses are around because I have a terrible singing voice. But I hummed Twinkle Twinkle Little Star until she finished her charts and left the room. Then my humming turned into soft singing. And as I rocked him I looked down at his tiny little alabaster hand in mine. His precious, pure skin has likely never seen the sun while mine was sun kissed from a recent visit to the beach. My heart went out to him, and he, well, he was likely waiting on a new heart. I held him close, this precious little baby balancing between great strength and great fragility, and I sang the song that always comes to mind when I'm in the hospital - Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross. But it wasn't just a lullaby, it was a prayer over him. Oh how I prayed for that healing stream from Calvary's mountain.