Friday, February 26, 2010

Dirty Dancing at My Best Friend's Wedding

Scoff if you'd like, but one of my dreams in life is to be part of a seemingly spontaneous song and dance routine in a public place. You know, like in the teen movies where everyone at prom happens to know the same dance (and also look, in their couture dresses, like they are 25 - I, in my dark purple Dillard's Cinderella dress, did, on the other hand, look 17. And really cool.)? Although I can't dance all that well, and have singing abilities that make my dance moves look impressive, I think this would simply be one of the highlights of my life.

An intriguing and thoughtful young man once wrote in his own pillow book: "Recipe for a smile: going for a drive on a beautiful day, eating jellybeans, listening to outlaw country."
My recipe for a smile: these websites...

There are, and will be, unnecessary wars, social and political injustices, environmental degradations, and seemingly irreparable religious conflicts. But, there's also dance and laughter and foolishness. Choose to see the humanity.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forget Playstations, We Had Napkin Pigs to Draw

You know that "this isn't gonna be good" feeling? I experienced that one blustery Tuesday morning as I nonchalantly smiled and carefully maneuvered past the old men gathered in the seating area at Jax's convenience store in Russell Springs. This is the same gas station where I stop every Tuesday and Thursday around 6:00 am to pay tribute to my diet dr. pepper addiction, and on those days when Lucy and Willie plan to patron puppy day care, their own sausage biscuit affinities. There hasn't been one morning that the jolly gentleman who sits in front of the DDP cooler with his coffee (black; my 1/2 coffee, 1/2 vanilla spiced rum or pumpkin spiced coffeemate would likely invite scoffing) or tenderloin biscuit in hand, has offered to move his chair while saying something along the lines of, "excuse me, little lady." He isn't rude at all, I think just probably preoccupied with the duties at hand: eat, converse, piddle.

Okay, back to that funny feeling. As I weaved through the maze of storytellers and pretend listeners who were in fact only waiting for that brief break in conversation so they could start their own tale, I quickly glanced out the glass front and noticed that Lucy was in the front seat. It was a cold morning so I had left my car running, planning to simply hop back in, turn the volume up (a mix CD I believe - Avett Brothers, November Blue playing), resume the dancing that makes the 3 hours seem less boring, and continue my journey to UK. Well, I did hop back in...15 minutes, and a visit from a local police officer, later. My "funny feeling" was validated. Lucy is a special dog.

This story, though, really has nothing to do with my dog locking me out of my car. As I stood outside Jax's on a 32 degree morning in my mom's grey sweater dress and knee-high black boots waiting for the officer (who, by the way, was incredibly helpful without being condescending), I intently kept my eyes on the parking lot. For I knew that a quarter turn to the left would mean staring into 12 pairs of eyes, eyes becoming more almond-shaped by the minute (let the snickering commence). I couldn't blame them, though. This was ridiculousness at its finest. I did not expect any of them to have door unlocking kits in their mid-to-late 90s Chevrolets or more importantly, the desire to fight off Willie, who by this point, had realized that we were at the biscuit shop. I needed neither pity nor help. Go ahead, old men, laugh.

When I think about this particular day, the collection of years, stories, adventures, and knowledge - embodied in what I would put money on being good, honest men - is the part of the story that intrigues me. What do men do at gas stations for hours? What is the spectrum of conversation on any given day? What is the appeal of sitting in uncomfortable chairs and eating crap? Why are women rarely seen in glass front gas station windows laughing at 30-ish year old women who get locked out of their cars by an animal?

Now, I will say that to some extent, I do personally understand the lure of the convenience store. Growing up in rural, southern Kentucky (and being a tom boy to boot), I vividly remember going with my dad to various country stores in the area. He'd get us (my older sister and I) healthy treats that mom refused to keep at our house - cokes, candy bars and/or Little Debbie cakes, ham & cheese loaf sandwiches. I remember sitting down at a table in Marrowbone (beside the post office, across from where the Feed Shed used to be - by the way, why doesn't someone restore these?) and giggling as Pearl showed Leigh and me how to use letters - M, E, W, W, and S - to draw a pig (on a napkin of course). Therefore, while I may not remember the conversations that Dad would have or really the reason we had even gone there in the first place, I sit here right now, some 25 years later, and continue to feel a sense of simplicity and comfort and happiness. That's probably a good sign.

But, I want to go back to the questions. Why do all of my memories involve my dad taking me? Why are gas stations, seemingly much more commercial and less authentic to a local setting, the modern gathering place country store? Why won't the overalls guy move when I'm trying to reach into the soda cooler?

I have some ideas. First and foremost, I've come to learn (and I understand that I am inviting critiques from those with academic backgrounds in gender and womens studies - heck, I am that person) that men are better (or at least more carefree) piddlers than women. The idea of spending and hour or two in the morning - when household responsibilities loom large - to drink coffee and chat is a foreign concept. Guilt gets the best of women; don't think CLT ever feels this as he eats his nabs at the Marrowbone Marathon. This isn't to suggest that women somehow are above such foolishness or that we don't waste time. I am a pretty phenomenal piddler in fact. But I digress. Secondly, (and continuing with the politically incorrect gender characterizations), it has been my experience that the men in my family are the storytellers. They are the ones who like to entertain via reflection and the occasional exaggeration. Admirable, quite funny, and honest, yet not above spotlight cravings. Maybe the gas station is the most accessible and inviting stage in those instances when no one at home is listening? Thirdly, and I think most intriguingly, in an age of technology, standardization, and macrosociety, particular gas stations can be the place of community, the local, the familiar. While the notion of "community" seemed to be inadvertently built in past decades (and this may be a romanticized assumption), maybe the gas station breakfast area, even with its mass marketing and standardized product lines, is the equivalent of urban farmers' markets - a conscious attempt to build or rekindle community. While few "country stores" remain (even in those rural communities where they were once a staple), gas stations, particularly those that employ local workers, can potentially create or foster those emotions that I had as I drew pigs on napkins many years ago - simplicity, comfort, happiness.

Or, maybe as the gentlemen told me today when I went to the Marrowbone Marathon to informally interview and take pictures, gas stations are simply a place to "get the morning news" and "lie.":)


I am so happy to be home.

p.s. When out for a drive, you might want to consider stopping in Hunley's Grocery in Metcalfe County. Formerly owned by my great grandparents and now owned and operated by my great uncle, it is one of the few shops in the surrounding area that I would still consider a "country store." You can also become a fan on facebook (kind of an oxymoron I know; nonetheless, it has 723 fans - a testament to the kindness, honesty, and humor you can find there).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Picture of the day (Would love to see your favorite pet photos):

Website of the day: Mother Earth News - It's almost time to start garden preparation. Please share any tips/suggestions. For those in Cumberland County, Melissa Brown and I are planning an award-winning garden where the former Turner Farm sausage plant is located. We welcome competition.

Musing of the Day:
Yes, people do get paid to do jobs that aren't a whole lot of fun. However, this should not entitle the rest of us to be rude and irresponsible. Put your carts in the parking lot collection racks, organize your restaurant table so the waiter/ress can easily remove the plates, say "thank you" even if some would argue that the task being done is simply "part of their job."

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Hear Ya, Willie Nelson

I drove 11 hours yesterday. No really, 11 hours. And I type this under the carefully folded over covers (I like crisp sheet and comforter creases) in the bedroom where the journey started; I neither own a new car purchased in rural, western Kansas off ebay nor return to my humble bedroom with sunkissed hair and Jimmy Buffet songs regrettably stuck in my head. And, believe what you will, but only about 45 minutes of that 11 hours was due to misdirection (yet, on a positive note, missing both I-65 north and I-40 east meant that we got a convenience store in Smryna, TN all to ourselves: no one standing in front of the DDP cooler, no waiting in line behind someone buying lottery tickets, no hold-up at the register as another driver attempts to describe which pump he actually parked beside). Just a few more reasons why driving in an unfamiliar, secluded area of Tennessee around midnight and with very little cell phone service is a super idea.

My best friend and I started talking about where I could have ended up if I had driven 11 hours straight and actually in one direction; we discussed specifics like "the coast" or "I bet some area of Canada." I awoke, far too early this morning, with that conversation in my mind (I am one of those people who can go to bed at 9, at 11, at 1 or at 3 and wake up at the same time each morning following). Here are a few places within an 11 hour drive that I would like to visit (and I tend to favor rural towns on the outskirts of cities more than the city itself - give me some ideas). If you have any suggestions on comfortable lodging, quaint coffeeshops, vintage bookstores,"must-see" sights/events/activities, or fantastic restaurants, please pass along:
- Savannah, GA
- Ashville, NC
- Philadephia, PA
- Upstate New York
- Baton Rouge, LA
- Traverse City, MI

I close, however, not with dreams of travel or exploration, but with something much more fulfilling: reality. I drove 11 hours yesterday because I went to work in Lexington, returned home, and then picked up my best friend at the Nashville airport (she decided to spend her birthday weekend in KY/TN). She lives in Chicago and although I get to see her more often than most friends who live 7 hours apart, I still miss her dearly. She is just one of those "doing nothing is still fun" friends - I like to think that one day we will spend our Saturday mornings going to yoga class, then to our favorite coffeeshop to talk and read, and then, without agenda or a schedule, walk home together (because we'll live next door to one another). Even better, I get to share her with my two best friends from Kindergarten-present for the next two days. And, I actually see sun coming through my bedroom curtains as I type. It's the little things...
Just a little something Caroline had waiting for her when we arrived. Professional posters like this are why she chose to spend her weekend with me.

* If you notice, this post falls under the obvious label: "Adventures of Fatlip." Based on an inside joke between myself and an absolutely hilarious college friend (this inside joke, along with the Tom Green megaphone incident and LEG, collectively confirm that Centre is in fact the Harvard of the South), this section will contain postings grounded in misadventure, spontaneous trips and/or sojourns of whimsy, and just general stories of life in the hyundai elantra (the car is three years old; it has over 105,000 miles on it - oh the stories it has to tell).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My stomach waved a white flag. The pancakes were having none of it.

I love it when I accidentally stumble across something that makes me so happy. Now, I will state up front, I am neither picky, nor snobby, when it comes to food. I love diet dr. peppers (my "water cancels out DDP philosophy" will undoubtedly pop up soon...I've actually made myself believe this) and oatmeal pies from Speedway (it makes me happy to earn "Speedy points") just as much as a glass of red wine and any beautiful dish at some downtown, hipster restaurant. With that being said, however, I honestly think that I, along with a dear friend of mine, found a gem in south central Kentucky.

Little Debbies just weren't calling our names on this particular morning. We needed fried potatoes, pancakes, bacon, eggs (and real eggs, not the stuff poured from a cardboard container). As fans of piddling (which I'm pretty sure will be another upcoming post - "The Art of Piddling"), we decided to just explore until we found something that looked inviting. Leaving from Bowling Green, we made our way north on 31E (or is it 31W?) and ended up in Cave City. Steering clear of the interstate area of CC, we ventured to what I am assuming is the downtown. We passed a local fruit and vegetable stand, stopped in Chaser's Kentucky Chocolates (if you're feeling spunky, try the bourbon balls), and then turned left onto Broadway (I've decided there's usually neat stuff on most streets named Broadway). Across from the post office, we noticed a red awning that covered two bay windows, both of which had in crisp and classy white letters "Cream and Sugar Cafe." Yep, this was it.

You know how sometimes you can just walk into a place and know you'll like it? That it just has a sense of "home" about it? This was my experience at Cream and Sugar. The hardwood floors, exposed brick, cheerful, yet muted yellow walls, and the alluring smell of maple syrup made a great first impression. Impeccably clean and tastefully decorated (some local artwork, but not overly busy; a small bookshelf with reads like: French Women Don't Get Fat and various travel books; a bulletin board with community events), this cafe simply looks like a place I would like to own.

We sat along the brick-wall side, one in the booth part, the other in the chair (there is a nice mix of booths, table/chair, booth/chair combinations - none of which are too crowded or close to one another) and anxiously awaited the menus that were being rather slowly, but not lazily, strolled our way. An older gentleman approached the table, adorned with both the anticipated menus and a fresh pot of coffee. His first words set a precedent that we have since come to look forward to: "Welcome to Cream and Sugar, where the food's alright and the staff's a bit grumpy." We had his number, though. Contrarian he tried to be, yet a gentle spirit and a playfulness oozed through his Jack Lemmon facade. He said little else that particular meeting, but when he did, oh what a treat. (I am inclined to share the jokes he walked over and whispered and then gingerly walked away as though he had just topped off our coffee, but perhaps they are better saved for another time). In subsequent visits, we discovered that we had in fact been served by "Grumpy Denny Doyle" (or something along those lines), a local Cave City resident who comes in from 6:30-7:30 (before the wait staff can get there) and just volunteers. I have a feeling that this is one of the many interesting characters that enliven Cream and Sugar Cafe.

But, anyway, the food (and for those of you who don't HATE texting acronyms as much as I, please put an "OMG" after that). The menu is fairly simple; you won't be able to order a vegetarian frittata or smoked salmon eggs benedict. The choices are nonetheless aplenty: bacon, sausage, city or country ham, biscuits/toasts, eggs cooked to order, make-your-own-omelets, waffles (well, in theory, they haven't had waffles the three times I've been), french toast, and pancakes. Breakfast is probably my favorite meal of the day, and let me tell you, this is truly one of the best breakfast places I have ever patroned. The bacon is always perfectly crisp, the pancakes are huge (please, go with two, not the 3 stack) and fluffy and utterly irresistible, the eggs are "real" eggs, the potatoes are fried like my dad does on Christmas morning, and the homemade blueberry muffins look like they should be on the cover of Bon Appetit (the only thing I would not recommend is the gravy; it isn't sausage gravy and thus does not have enough grease and fat content for my liking). Furthermore, the coffee is freshly brewed, each individual gets their own syrup container (for some reason, this made me so happy), and the prices are incredibly reasonable (two people can get out of there - and utterly stuffed - for under $15).

If you're in the area between 6:30 and 2:00 (I haven't had lunch there, but the menu looks great), you should definitely stop in. Trust me, you will leave a little heavier, but a whole lot happier.
* Visit the website or become a fan of Cream and Sugar on facebook:)*

I love finding local diners, drive-ins, and dives (I wish Guy Fieri would come finish my dissertation and I take his job for a while). If you have suggestions, please pass along!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Homemade Dog Treats

My two dogs, Lucy (beagle mix)and Willie (part basset hound, part tiger we've decided), admittedly will eat anything; thus, these may not actually be that great. Nonetheless, making homemade dog treats (that while not exactly "organic" have to be better for them than most packaged treats) makes me feel a little better about feeding them far too often. To see them gobble them up as though they are in fact quite good is also fulfilling in a odd (some might suggest "sad") way. It is something I can put on one of my many "to-do" lists that is easy, takes little time, and produces an immediate and uncontroversial response - I never wonder if they really do like them or if they're just being polite; I don't have to worry about odd facial expressions or curious sighs; I don't have to question the sincerity of a verbal response. For at least a few minutes of the day, I actually, with no hesitation, tell myself that I am a fantastic cook. Homemade dog treats are also my apology for occasionally dressing them up in holiday costumes.

I have played with the original recipe so much that I have reached a point where I honestly have no idea how much of each thing I put in them. It really is a matter of looking for the "right" consistency (shoot for something along the lines of "no-bake" cookies). The amounts below are estimates of what I think I put in (definitely the start of a great recipe, I know...)

1/2 c. all purpose flour
3 c. quick-cooking oats
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. apple cider spice
2-3 tbsp. brown sugar
1 egg
1 - 1 1/2 c. pumpkin
1/2 apple finely chopped
1 c. peanut butter
2-3 tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 325. Mix all ingredients and spoon onto greased cookie sheet (think no-bake cookie size). Bake for 25-30 minutes (I typically take a fork and flatten down at 15 minutes).
* If push comes to shove, these really aren't that bad if you can't find any other snack for yourself.

"Pillow Book"?

I fell in love with Vivian Swift's intriguing "travel" journal, When Wanderers Cease to Roam. Given to me over Christmas by someone who understands my proclivity toward the quirky, the beautiful, and the everyday, this "journal of staying put" genuinely inspired me to "reconnect to the beauty I've been missing" (Avett Brothers reference - these will be aplenty). The book is an art journal of Swift's travels as well as her everyday realities - the afternoon teas she enjoys, the way in which a pretty dress can make one happy, the love of a stray pet, even if you already own one too many. It is joy and comfort, the occasional bittersweet, wit and sarcasm; reflections on those moments and things that perhaps aren't as insignificant as initial impressions might otherwise suggest. That's what I hope this blog becomes - a personal journey through the little things, those bits and pieces that make me laugh or smile or cry, a journey I think it would be fun to share.

As the above suggests, tangents are my friend. Back to "Pillow Book," a concept Swift references in her blog, "How I Make Mountains out of my Molehill Life" (definitely check this out). Based on The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (translated by Ivan Morris, 1991), Swift describes a pillow book as "a generic term for a kind of diary that women in ancient Japan kept, a loose collection of everyday notes and unsent letters that they kept in the drawer of their wooden pillows." "One day soon, books might be obsolete. But Pillows? Never!" "What's in your pillow book?" 2/3/2010