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!