Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Turning the Town Teal

Last week, I began noticing posts popping up in my Facebook newsfeed about The Teal Pumpkin Project. It is an awareness campaign aimed at encouraging families to offer non-food treats to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  Our local news channel in Louisville was promoting it heavily on their Facebook page and it was in turn being shared by many of my friends. And I thought, "really? Is this really a thing?" So I emailed Shana and asked her if it was a thing up there, too. She had not yet heard of it. However, just in doing a quick Google images search for the above photo, I noticed it was a topic of conversation for bloggers across the country. 

Yes, it's a thing. 

Now, here's the part where I come across as a total jerk-face. Having been a mom for 2 years, I'm rather annoyed with all of the parenting fads. Limit screen-time. Let your children play educational games on the iPad. Limit your child to a gluten-free, nut-free diet. Give your child a Wonder bread sandwich, slathered with Jiffy and send them out to play in the creek behind the house because that's what we did when we were kids and we turned out just fine. And the super-fun vaccinate or not to vaccinate (and the one I struggle with - do I let my vaccinated child play with your unvaccinated one? Polio, Rubella, Measles...none of these are welcome in our house). So, I'm sure you can imagine the amount of eye-rolling on my face when I learned of the teal pumpkins. Really? Really we can't just let Halloween be Halloween? Do we have to be all Mr. Sensitive Ponytail Man about this, too? 
The answer is, of course, yes. Although scores of children with Type 1 Diabetes (like my childhood best friend, Monica) and food allergies (like my husband, although his oddly developed during a deployment) and children with swallowing difficulties (like my friend's 4-year old daughter, who has had a trach from day 1) have had to contend with the challenges of Halloween in years past, don't we always want better for our children? When we were growing up, the parents of these kids had to find alternate ways to make the night special. Some would prearrange with neighbors and family to have non-food or approved foods available. Often, these pre-approved foods were home-baked, which would now send off alarm bells for any parent. Monica's parents developed an exchange system; 1 full-size Snickers bar = 1 board game or 5 mini-bags of M&Ms = a book. Although they let her choose 4 or 5 pieces to enjoy throughout the coming months, the bulk of her haul was exchanged for non-food items. (By the way, I think this is total genius and I give them boatloads of credit for being so creative in a non-Facebook, non-Pinterest world. I also reserve the right to implement this in our house, even though food allergies are not an issue.)
I started to think, "Wouldn't I be more than happy to have non-food items on hand for the kids I knew personally who couldn't have the candy? Why wouldn't I extend that courtesy to anyone trick-or-treating in our neighborhood? Does it matter why the parents would prefer their children to have non-food items? Wouldn't I prefer Blue to have stickers over Snickers?" Yes, yes, yes, yes to all of that. No, I'm not a jerkface, I had just never stopped to think about how to make an event like Halloween better, more accessible to all children because my own child had not been challenged with it. Although I dread the inevitable power struggles that come with buckets of candy in the house everyday, it's something I was just willing to accept because it's part of "the Halloween experience." It's tradition. It's how it has always been. The end.

It's not the end. I have only been a mom for 2 years and I have volumes to learn about teaching our son sensitivity and understanding and inclusion. Halloween is about give and take. He instinctively knows how to take. I want him to find joy in being generous, but also in giving what others need; not what you want them to have. With The Teal Pumpkin Project, parents are saying, "this is what we want for our children. We are asking that you help us provide it to them." And I will joyfully cooperate. We are a more sensitive nation than 36 years ago and I think Monica would agree as she prepares her own children for the upcoming day...thank goodness for that!

Possible non-food treats:
pencil-toppers and fancy erasers
mini decks of cards
play money
coloring tablets
mini notebooks
costume jewelry
small toys and pocket-sized games
*Basically, just clean out your Dollar Store's party aisle. When you consider that multiple bags of the "good candy" is about $8.00-$10.00 bag, you may actually end up saving some money. 
*Some non-food items are not appropriate for children under 3. However, I would not consider allowing Blue to approach anyone's house without us until he is at least 3. If we are with him, we can help him choose a treat that is best-suited for his age. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's a Wrap

We rounded out our getaway with 2 more delicious dining spots and a tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as a stroll through the Nashville-Davidson County Public Library (one of us is a librarian but a good time was had by all).

Originally, I had mentioned The Pancake Pantry as a possible breakfast spot on Sunday morning. It's God's day in the south. Surely, the popular and famous breakfast joint would be deserted, right? Oh, wait...there's a Tennessee Titans football game about 5 miles away that starts at noon. Also, there are a fair amount of heathens living in the south. So, after several minutes of reading Trip Advisor reviews and travel bloggers lamenting the hours spent in line waiting for a breakfast food that I make at least once a month, we decided maybe a plan B was appropriate here. We asked the concierge at the hotel. And the bartender. And Siri. Ultimately, we decided to try Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant, which has 2 location - one in downtown Franklin. I love it when breakfast is less than 8 miles away.

I realize that any dining establishment with the word "grocery" in the name conjures up images of 7-11 or Wawa (shout out to my VA crew) or Pic-Pac (holla back to my Frankfort posse). But I assure you it delivers on the "restaurant" side of things just as well.
I was in such a starved state by this point that I didn't even realize my menu had sprouted a forehead at the top when I snapped this.
My many thanks to everyone for looking perfectly normal and not at all annoyed by having your picture taken by a tourist. Also, please don't sue me for posting this on my blog. I tried not to include anyone who was shoving grits down their pie hole. (See? Cute grocery/market-like atmosphere with great attention still paid to the dining aspect. I didn't peruse the shelves for fear of coming home with more food items.)

Our server was decently attentive considering the Sunday morning masses and this being her first morning shift. As a regular during the dinner crowd, she could tell us all we wished to know about baby back ribs or shrimp and grits but not a single thing about the omelets. That was slightly less than helpful but we muddled through. First, the coffee, water, chocolate milk.
Then the harder decisions.
The Pancake Pantry is most notable for their sweet potato pancakes so I ordered them at Puckett's as a kind of consolation prize. But after I shoveled these down in a record 4 minutes, I declared them even better (with a 99% less wait time). Also, I realize that frying bacon rarely requires a degree in Chemical Engineering, but I wish my bacon tasted like that. It was crispy with a perfect meat-to-fat ratio. And it wasn't drowning in its own grease. Clearly, I'm doing it wrong. With breakfast down and a quick stop at the restroom (word to the wise: the bathrooms are in the kitchen and it's a 1-seater so you get a glimpse into what's going on at the grill there but you also feel a bit underfoot while you're waiting in the inevitable 4-woman bathroom line), we stepped outside to discuss the day's game plan.
I was now driving separately since we were checked out of our hotel and moving in a northern direction. Five girls piled in a Rogue now became 3, plus 2 in a Prius. After getting all the way into Nashville together, the Rogue GPS took the girls to the left and mine peeled us off to the right. Fortunately, I was with the most experienced Nashville traveler. After cutting off a Nashville police officer, nearly T-boning a Titans fan and driving all 4 lanes of a traffic circle somewhat simultaneously, I managed to swerve into the convention center parking garage...where we found the others 2 floors down.

Dear Country Music Hall of Fame,
When you decided to include the words hall of fame in your museum name, perhaps you should have also included dedicated parking. It's just a thought. I would rather not be at the whim of local parking lots during an event like an NFL game. Although I only took 1 business class in college, I still understand the concept of supply and demand.
The girl who drove the girl who is out $10 because of the whole thing

Anyway, we made it.
Part of our reason for going was to see the Kenny Rogers and Alan Jackson special exhibitions. There was also one for Miranda Lambert, but that was not a deciding factor. Upon entering the front doors, we were greeted by a lady who explained the ticket packages available. The basic ticket was for the museum only. Add-ons included an audio tour of the Hall of Fame, a bus ride over to the historic RCA Studio B where you would receive another tour and a tour of Hatch Show Print ("one of the oldest letterprint print shops in America and a true Nashville icon") all for the bargain basement price of $54. Actually, when you consider that the Hall of Fame alone costs $25, that isn't a bad deal for an all-day visit. I would like to go back and do the other 2 at some point, but on this given Sunday, we were a little crunched for time. Husbands to relieve and children to hug and all that.

As interesting as the Kenny Rogers exhibit was (I had no idea he was a photographer who studied under an assistant for Ansel Adams), I felt it was a bit squeezed into the space it was allotted. Perhaps the worst mistake a museum curator can do when setting up an exhibit, I think, is to put it in a room with doors....that close. There was a film about Kenny's life that was playing on a loop so a fair amount of people were standing around watching that, plus the artifacts on display and his photos hanging and all of the people standing, reading, looking and then walking - usually right into the person in front of them who is doing the same thing. There was a lot of "excuse me" and bumping of purses and small children. I think he deserves a Dixie Chicks-sized wide open space to display all of his accomplishments and service to others. And perhaps more on the whole roasted chicken thing...because HELLO, random...
Somehow this is the only photo I took in the Kenny Rogers room but I had to get it as a constant reminder of what plastic surgery can do for a it or hate it, Dolly Parton has an impossibly tiny waist with great big knockers. She got a variety of tomato named after her. They are apparently voluptuous orbs of juiciness. I personally think her figure would also lend itself well to the creation of some kind of double-mounded cake pop, seeing as it's on a stick and all.

Alan Jackson's exhibit was a bit more spread out, stretching along a wall behind a long glass panel. I had forgotten the bucketloads of amazing hits he had and vowed I would rock out to 90's country all the way home. I did and it was wonderful.

I am now going to show you a bunch of outfits worn by country music stars. These are only the ones I found most entertaining...for an assortment of reasons.
 In case you accidentally mistook him for a coal miner or something...
As hot as I'm sure this made Jerry Lee Lewis look, I think if Neal ever tried to leave the house in ruffles, I would make him change immediately.
 Patsy Cline was one classy lady. And the only person I know who could pull off fringe, my father included.
 Is anyone going to be heartbroken if this style fails to make a resurgence?
I think if I had feathers trailing down from my sleeves, it would make my batwing arms far less noticeable.
 Trisha Yearwood's boots - proof that she truly is Garth Brooks' soulmate.
Do you go to your costumer designer one day and say "I would really like something that says God bless you and kiss my ass" and this is the result?

There were also some perfectly normal ones.
 I actually have shoes fancier than those red heels owned by Crystal Gale. And I would like to someday have my own flight suit.
 I remember Dwight Yokum wearing this outfit. Shortly thereafter I bought my first pair of pre-ripped jeans, which my grandfather questioned me about constantly. He kept trying to buy me new ones...without the holes and rips.
 A little something from the McGraw-Hill closet. Wait a minute, isn't that a textbook publisher?
 I actually bought a shirt similar to the one on the left for Neal to wear. I think it might still have the tags on it. We call this look Rascal Flatts-sexy.
Dixie Chicks keepin it classy in black. I'm so sad they made one political statement at the height of their fame and now they are nowhere to be found. Come back, Dixie Chicks! We are out of Iraq now. Keep your trap shut about Syria and you can have the mic. 
As I mentioned, there was much ado about Miranda which was mildly annoying. I feel like you should put in your time before an entire wall is dedicated to your blossoming career. But your rhinestone-studded Mrs. Shelton belt was pretty fabulous. And I've always wondered what those award show cards look like on the inside. 

But there was also this. Elvis Presley's solid gold Cadillac, complete with installed TV and storage.
It is good to be the king.
Webb Pierce's gun and money mobile. I couldn't even get all the awesome in one picture on my phone. Pearl-handled revolvers as door handles, a silver rifle mounted on the trunk, horse heads protruding from the gas cap, a saddle covered in half-dollar coins instead of an arm rest...yes, I think you should see this in person. I could show you more but, in this case, seeing is believing. This alone is worth the trip to Nashville. I don't care where you live.

If these costumes look familiar, then you grew up watching Hee-Haw. It was a Sunday night staple for us. The skits and songs were always a favorite in our house (I've been known to sing "where oh where are you tonight" to Neal during deployments) and my cousin played one of the nurses for awhile. That's pretty much my only link to fame. Hee-Haw. Try to conceal your jealousy.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the museum for me was the display of original manuscripts for famous songs. So often I think of a country music star grabbing a piece of hotel stationary or a bar napkin and jotting down a chart topper when most of the time it seems to be a piece of legal pad paper
The best and worst of country music...a little achy breaky heart by fellow Kentuckian (and unfortunate father of Miley) Billy Ray Cyrus.
or just some good ole fashioned single ruled white notebook paper. Nothing too fancy or romantic about that.
I took a picture of this because someday I'm going to have to explain telegrams to Blue and it will help to have a visual aid.
And there's an entire Curious George episode about homemade instruments so I'll have a chance to whip out this picture.
After we wandered through all of the halls, slid down the gigantic blow-up guitar slide and questioned the complete absence of many famous country musicians (i.e. Montgomery Gentry, Shania Twain, Kenny Chesney, etc, etc, etc), we bid farewell to the Hall of Fame and went in search of the Nashville Public Library for a quick stroll through their children's section.

It was recently featured on NBC for their children's puppet shows but the entire floor is rich with creativity and inspiration. In addition to making their own puppets, they are often gifted unique puppets, which they display inside glass cases near the back of the department.

And they showcase art by children in the community.

This is how a children's library should be.
So, with the renewed energy of a thousand toddlers and the appetite of a thousand more, we went in search of lunch and our last meal in Nashville.

Upon our arrival Friday night, one of the girls suggested a place called Merchant's in downtown Nashville. She said something about duck fried tater tots and then I quit listening because I was imagining myself backstroking through a pool of aforementioned tots. But Merchant's was booked until 9:30 PM (10:30 our time) on Friday night. So, we bid farewell to any thoughts of tots. But then Sunday afternoon rolled around. The game was still on and the early birds had eaten their fill. We rolled into Merchant's at 3 PM with duck fat on the mind. (Somewhat related, "duck fat" is one of those tricky phrases if you are the least bit dyslexic.)
We were immediately seated on the patio and handed a menu of awesome from which to choose.
Why yes, girls...I do believe this calls for duck fat tater tots and baked cheese. In fact, bring one of everything!
OK, while not quite everything, we put a major dent in the appetizer menu.

And while you're at it, I'll have the fish tacos. Because I have a long drive ahead of me and something must get me through the next 120 miles.
I have managed to avoid saying this through the entire post, but....FOODGASM. There. I said it. I did it. And now I'm freaking starving and it's 1:45 AM and the entire house is sleeping. Gah.

As a sidenote, those tater tots are also delicious warmed up several days later. Even better if they are devoured in the pantry after you've distracted your toddler with Rio 2.

Merchant's and Puckett's definitely lived up to the hype and I'm thrilled I didn't have to stand in a 2-hour line for a pancake. The Hall of Fame was fascinating and I wish I could have seen more about the musicians that I adore but I understand that they must rotate their collection due to the sheer volume of it so I'll just have to plan a return trip.

Thank you for re-living this little music city getaway with me. I don't think I'll be able to wait another 8 years but maybe these posts will get me through until the next one.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Loveless and Lawless

OK, let's see...where were we?

Oh yes...5 girls getting hangry. We headed toward The Pineapple Room inside the Cheekwood Botanical Garden gift shop. But we missed lunch by about 30 minutes. Closed for the day. But I had a plan B. (As a side note, this is something that pretty much only Shana and Neal know about me...I HATE searching for a place to eat when I'm starving. Just driving around and hoping that I'll stumble onto something that looks good is basically my personal Hell. So, I always have plans A-F, at least.) Plan B was The Picnic Cafe and Catering in Nashville, just a few blocks up from Belle Meade Plantation, where we were stopping for a wine tasting after lunch. I had chosen it for the menu, their commitment to locally sourced ingredients and the proximity to our before lunch and after lunch plans. And we drove right by it on the first try because it sits back off the road. And I mean back off the road. Someone with better eyesight than I said, "There it is!" Hallelujah.

The first word that comes to mind when describing this restaurant is quaint. Second word would probably be tea room...except that it's not a tea room. But everything is mis-matchy with tablecloths and wicker baskets and wallpaper. Although it's basically in a strip mall, I think if you closed the blinds, you would actually forget that Publix sits on the other side. 
Also, there's a picket fence. On the inside. For real.
I'm not entirely sure what they do with people when there are more than 2 waiting on to-go orders. Perhaps put them inside the fence?

Anyway, the lady working the counter was super-helpful and friendly and suggested the chicken salad because that's what they are known for. You can mix and match the sandwiches, soups and salads allowing for a pretty fabulous customized meal. I had 1/2 pimento cheese (although I swear I said cold cucumber - which was supposed to be like benedictine...which I love...but was actually slices of cucumber on bread with cream cheese. Um...OK. Well at least they didn't call it benedictine.) and 1/2 chicken salad, with a bowl of lemon artichoke soup. Also a lemon bar and some kind of picnic punch. Because...why not?
Everything was tasty although not really the best I had ever eaten. I still vow my allegiance to the chicken salad sandwich at Hiram Haines in Petersburg, VA and I am equally committed to the pimento cheese at the Mousetrap in Lexington, KY. Both of those are worth a very long side trip. But it was a good and filling lunch. I didn't think much about it until later.

There is a book that Blue adores called Dragons Love Tacos. If you have or know someone who has a toddler, it's an excellent book that I don't mind reading a bajillion times. Basically, dragons looooove tacos but they hate spicy salsa because it makes them breathe fire and it gives them the tummy troubles. Spoiler alert: the kid has a taco party and forgets to bury all of the spicy salsa in the backyard and they accidentally burn his house to the ground. But the dragons rebuild the house because they are promised lots of taco breaks. About 3 hours after lunch, this book came to mind as I, too, had the tummy troubles. Maybe it was the dairy in the soup. Maybe it was dairy in the sandwiches. Maybe too much sugar in my tea. Basically....ouch. So, I don't know....perhaps it was me or perhaps you should proceed with caution.

Anyway, after lunch we piled back in the car and headed to Belle Meade Plantation for a wine tasting. We were all pretty much toured out and simply wanted to sit and sip on some grapes in a glass.
Unfortunately, this is as close as we got to Belle Meade wine. The wine tasting room was apparently part of the tour package. To taste wine, you had to buy the ticket to tour the mansion and the plantation and finish with wine. No thank you soverymuch. On the way out, one of the girls grabbed a brochure that talked about the plantation and about how they considered themselves to be the premier thoroughbred horse farm because so many of the Kentucky Derby favorites could trace their lineage back to Belle Meade. Perhaps it's better that we didn't buy the tour tickets. I would hate to see 5 Kentucky girls end up on the front page of a Nashville newspaper for beating up a Belle Meade tour guide who was spouting lies for 2 hours. Kentucky is the thoroughbred capital of the world. The. End.

As we meandered back down to Franklin, with relaxation and wine on the mind, we talked a bit about dinner but decided to make some final decisions later. Some of us went upstairs to the hotel room and some hung out downstairs in the bar where the wi-fi was free and the wine was $7/glass. As it turned out, all of the moms in the group laid down for 10 minutes and ended up taking a 2-hour nap. When I finally rolled over and looked out the window, the sun was just beginning to set and it occurred to me that it's been about 2 1/2 years since I woke up to a setting sun. What bliss. Sometimes I'm afraid that if I stop, if I relax, I won't get back up. Strolling down to the bar to grab a glass of pinot grigio, I realized that I can and I will get back up. Maybe a 2-hour nap in the late afternoon is exactly what I need. Now to convince my 2-year old.

A long, windy and dark road lead us to The Loveless Cafe in Nashville.
This is one of those local legend kind of places where you feel you must eat at some point during your trip. Plus, the sign reminded me of the one outside our wigwam village last spring. It looked promising. When we arrived, it was 7:30 and the wait was an hour. They closed at 9. So, we would be last to be served, but we had made it in time. An hour seemed like an eternity to wait for fried chicken and grits but Loveless is accommodating with both a market and a retail clothing store. I do believe we stumbled upon the original Cracker Barrel.
In here I purchased 2 bars of Nashville chocolate for Neal, a chef's apron, hat and oven mit for Blue (he is warming up to the new attire. If I remember to wear my apron, he gets much more excited about his. I wish I had a matching chef's hat...a really tall poofy one. I need to check Amazon.) and some Dandelion jelly for me. By the way, Dandelion jelly is delicious. It's a little bit citrus-y and a little bit rock-n-roll. Perfect on an English muffin or, y'know, on a spoon.

The retail store across the parking lot had clothing, jewelry and toys.
They also had this...
It says "Pasture Bedtime"! Freaking genius. And although Blue can't say the word "horse," again, he has perfected the neigh...after much repetition. Yay for living in horse country where he gets to practice his neigh every time he sees a horse. Every. Time. I totally wanted these but I was afraid Neal would give me the look. And I was already going to get it over the chef's apron and hat. So, I left it there. Pasture bedtime. Hehe. Hehehe. Hehehehehehe.

The shops were closing up for the night so we strolled back to the cafe and waited for them to clean our table. We were hungry.
Actually, I take that back...we were starving.
I tried to distract myself with taking pictures of the interior. Photos of the rich and famous Loveless patrons lined the walls reminding me of Sardi's in NYC.

  And there was a case of pie staring back at us. I may have made eyes at the chess.

Finally, we were ushered back to our 6-top, right beside the bustling kitchen door.
 The Loveless Cafe offers breakfast all day long, even to the last diners of the evening. Biscuits and fried chicken with a side of cheese grits and some mashed caramel sweet potatoes. Yes please and thank you!
Under my plate is an activity sheet given to every customer, even the over-5 crowd. While searching in the black hole of my purse for a pen, I found one of Blue's plastic animals which resulted in one of my favorite pictures from the trip.
We know you were sad without him, Blue, but we took great care of him. Although he did eat some table scraps. As it turns out, tiny plastic wolves love fried chicken and grits.

We pretty much had to be rolled out of there. There was discussion of live music and downtown Nashville but it faded away to talk of a quick walk through the bar scene in Franklin. Franklin was closer to our hotel and our hotel is where our pj's were. Yep...thirty-something and rockin' it.

I grabbed a few more pictures on our way out the door. It's so rare that I get a good restaurant photo without worrying about offending someone as they shove a chicken biscuit down their pie hole.

I highly recommend this restaurant. It's bubbling over with charm, personality and mouth-smackin' good food!

We drove through Franklin after dinner. Actually, we drove through the downtown area about 5 different times, looking for a bar or an ice cream shop or a coffee shop open. It was a ghost town and that was at 9:30 on a Saturday night. We drove back and forth. We found ourselves in the traffic circle twice. Technically, we were cruising downtown Franklin...which, as it turns out, was illegal. There was a sign that no one noticed until the next morning on our way to breakfast. We were breaking the law. Badass. I would have paid to see the face on the cop that pulled over an out-of-town Rogue with 5 girls stuffed to the gills with Southern cookin' squeezed inside. Don't make me roll up the sleeves on my mom cardigan, mister! Yep. Breaking. The. Law. Watch us go.

And we went. Right back to our hotel and our pj's and HGTV until someone finally hit the lights about 20 minutes later.