40th Anniversary Dinner

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

We planned an anniversary dinner for my parents while we were in Barbados. My grandmother provided flowers (lovely tropical arrangements that my mom and I picked out).

To help set the mood, we hired Eric Corbin to play steel drums. He is very talented and even took some time to show us how the drums work. Depending on how the pans are designed, the musician will get different notes from each one and each note has a specific place on the drum.

We enjoyed the music so much (the Mount Gay rum punch was nice too) and decided to dance. The photo below shows my cousin Amanda, her husband Vic, my mom and dad and my Uncle Stacey and Aunt Judy cutting a rug. I performed an interpretive solo number that was not photographed. 

Chef Michael Hinds cooked traditional Bajan cuisine and served it buffet style. Chef Shane Clarke was also on hand to assist and he cooked for us all week. These men are very good at their job.

The night was truly magical. We toasted mom and dad's anniversary with champagne and a few special quotes that I selected and read. 

Barbady Baby

Sunday, 29 July 2012
My parents have been married for 40 years. (Wow, right?) To celebrate, my mother decided she would like to research and plan a trip to Barbados for my family and some of our extended family. The villa we stayed in was amazing, recently renovated with marble, travertine, light colors and open sea breezes.

We were not directly on the ocean but we had a lovely private pool and we could see the ocean on the horizon. My favorite part of the villa (besides having someone to clean, do laundry and cook for us - are you kidding ??) was the garden surrounding the home that contained amazing tropical flowers and palms.

Almost every morning I would grab of cuppa and take a walk around the grounds to see if I could identify orchids, hibiscus and frangipani.

The Plantation House villa is recently open to rentals by the public and our housekeeper told us that Rihanna stayed there in December (!). The decorating style is uber luxury but comfortable and we all loved lounging on the back terrace.

The designers also added some whimsical pieces such as fish and seahorses created from drift wood. I'd also like to someday copy the use of buttons, beads and cording to make artistic forms of palm leaves and coral.

Enough pics for now but I must share some of the green monkeys we'd see every day in another post... Okay, how about a picture of the view from the top terrace? We really had a lovely time.

On the Summer Shelf

Saturday, 21 July 2012
Oh the reading one can do. The reading... I don't read for pleasure anymore (there's no time with the PhD thing) but stuck in an airport for eight hours last week, I got through a great book.

If you love true crime at all, go for "No Angel" by ATF special agent Jay Dobyns. This is certainly a page-turner but not for the faint of heart. You can imagine what a life inside the Hells Angles circle is made up of: guns, drugs, strippers, violence and hate. 

Dobyns claims he fooled the Angles into letting him into their elusive club. In this shocking book he details the undercover investigation and paints an almost unbelievable picture of some of the main characters. 

While reading, it struck me again and again how stupid some of the Angels members were. True, the book isn't written to make them look intelligent but the level of drugs they allegedly deal and take would create cloudy situations leading to bad decisions. They believed Dobyns was who he said he was almost without question. They bought the act of "Bird," hook, line and sinker. 

The bikers are racist and sexist and two were convicted of beating a woman for insulting a member and then driving her to the desert and decapitating her. Jay plays "Bird" in the two years of undercover work getting too close for comfort physically, mentally and emotionally. After the case was finished he received death threats from the Angels for years. 

Another excellent but highly disturbing read is "If I Did It" by O.J. Simpson and published by the Goldman family. Simpson writes the book but of course wasn't allowed to publish it himself and make money from sales. The Goldmans published it to show what a monster Simpson is.

In a creepy narrative, he tells the story of his life with Nicole and gives intimate details of how he would have killed her if he killed her. I literally shuddered while reading what he says "could have happened" the night of the murder in the courtyard where the victims were found. He clearly committed the murder and has no remorse. The details are shocking so don't read this one unless you are immune to PTSD. (Okay, I shouldn't joke about that...)

This book reminded me to challenge my naiveté when it comes to believing people are mostly good and innocent unless proven guilty. Some folks, like Simpson, have no soul. He'll get his.

Santa Barbara

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

My mother and I wanted see a bit of the California coastline while we were near L.A. so we decided to go to Santa Barbara after stopping off to see my friend Brad (another Carson-Newman alumni). 

We followed him North to Santa Barbara to try out inventive cuisine, walk along the wharf and check into Canary Hotel, a luxury boutique Kimpton property. The rooms are amazing, decorated in rich textiles and designed around the view of the hills. 

Each room includes a small pair of binoculars, compliments of Canary so guests can gaze at the view, look at the ocean and bird watch from the amazing roof top deck which offers a 360 degree view of Santa Barbara.

I tried Anchor Steam Beer from San Francisco while living in Oregon but I haven't seen it East of the Mississippi. It is a great choice for people who are interested in trying something a little darker than a lager but less hoppy than an IPA. You can order Anchor Steam from the bar at Coast, the amazing restaurant at Canary.

Mom and I walked toward the ocean along State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, checking out bistros, coffee shops and clothing stores. We also rode the waterfront electric shuttle (just $.50 per ride) and enjoyed the gorgeous weather. 

One day we had lunch on the patio of the Union Ale Brewing Company (known for craft ale, gourmet burgers and salad wraps) and enjoyed people watching and listening to reggae. I truly did not want to leave and would have loved to continue North to check out Napa and Sanoma. 

Truly the best thing about Northern California is the weather. We enjoyed 75F every day and when the marine layer of clouds lifted, the sky was as blue as the sea. 

Laguna Beach

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Mom and I took her mother (my grandmother Jackie) to California to visit her brother, Charles for her 85th birthday. He is her only living sibling and we have quite a bit of family residing on the West coast - people I've never met! Charles and Annette have a lovely home in Laguna Nigel and their garden is to die for. They have orange trees, tomatoes, sage, zucchini, peppers and a lemon tree that produces lemons like the one pictured above - larger than an orange! Unbelievable.

We rented a car and one day mom and I ventured to Laguna Beach from Laguna Nigel. There was an opening at the Ritz Carlton so we splurged for an evening and admired gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific. 

Mom researched places for lunch and the next day we went to Big Fish in Laguna Beach for fresh, inventive seafood dishes. It was such a fun spot with an amazing selection of cold beer on tap and in bottles. 

There's no doubt that part of the allure of coastal California is the weather. While we were strolling around the Laguna Beach area, it was 74F and sunny. I did not want to leave. 

As much as we enjoyed Laguna Beach, our time in Santa Barbara (North of LA) was even more impressive. If you've never been there to see the Spanish Colonial architecture and walk along the wharf, it is worth a trip.

Making Up is Hard to Do

Friday, 13 July 2012
I'm sitting in the Springfield, Missouri airport waiting on my parents to pick me up. They are about two hours away, driving from Columbus, Ohio with my brother. We are headed to Monett, Missouri for visitation and the funeral of my father's mother, my grandma, Ruth. I'm not ready to blog about her so I'll deal with the sadness as I attempt to deal with everything: with humor.

If you haven't noticed, I have eyes that are the size of tennis balls. As a premature baby, weighing less than five pounds, I'm sure my parents were convinced they'd produced an alien. The only other thing people would notice about me as a newborn (besides the eyes) was a tuft of hair the color of corn silks that curled to the fluorescent hospital lights in the style of Marge Simpson. Nice.

Anyway, if you have large eyes and allergies (I do), applying makeup upon first waking is a bad idea. Without makeup in the morning, I appear to have been using a belt sander, leaning towards the wood, without blinking or donning safety glasses. People have said:

"Wow, Denae. Did you just rub sand in your eyes?"

"Oh my goodness. Have you been crying for the last three weeks?"

"Why do your eyes look like that? Accidentally sprinkle cayenne pepper in them?"

No. I just have big eyes and they can be red and swollen in the morning due to my masochistic decision to own cats even when I am highly allergic. I digress...

Because of the eyes, I do not apply makeup first thing in the morning. I have coffee, listen to NPR, feed the birds, pick out my clothing, fix my hair and LATER I will do my face AFTER my eyes have normalized to just look goggle-like again, rather than goggle-like after smoking a doob (which I do not do by the way).

I would put my makeup on after I arrived at work for TV news. It would be a running joke with out Senior Assignment Editor, Joe. He'd watch the clock to see how fast I could apply full, on-air makeup (I had it down to 4 minutes and 20 seconds) and if the meeting was about to start and I was running late, he'd say, "Get your mascara and get in here."

This morning, my Delta flight was supposed to leave at 7:25am. I woke up at 5:30am. That's not that early but it is if you have the giant eyes/allergy combo thing going on. So... I took myself and my swollen, red eyes to the airport and arrived by 6:30am without makeup on. No one ran out screaming (which I took to be a good sign) and I decided I'd do the application on my flight from Memphis to Springfield.

After reading through a new Real Simple magazine (my favorite but some of the best jokes out there right now are about how complicated some Real Simple suggestions are) and working on a research paper, it was getting close to landing time. I whipped out my makeup bag and prepared for application.

The man sitting next to me was not memorable. He was nicely but blandly dressed, quiet and smelled like he applied one too many squirts of cologne. I didn't mind though because he didn't attempt to talk to me. I am so very thankful when the person next to me does not expect me to engage in small talk on an airplane. (I once contemplated feigning deafness to get out of talking to someone.) He also did not move much. When he got on the plane, the gentleman sat down, put his arms on both armrests and either went to sleep or descended into a deep state of meditation. Imagine my surprise then when he started flopping around like a fish out of water.

Always the person who will go out of her way to not visibly notice anything out of the ordinary for fear of making someone feel uncomfortable, I patted powder on my nose while gazing out of the window. Sitting on my left, he put his hands to his face, rubbed once and adjusted in his seat. I got out my bronzer and blush and brushed them on. The poor guy crossed his legs then uncrossed them and nervously exhaled. Then it dawned on me: he was freaked out because I was applying makeup!

Here's part of the problem (besides the ginormous eyes): being in TV news for 11 years destroyed some levels of modesty for me. I've had to put makeup on in public so many times that I can almost do it without a mirror. Sound technicians have taped cords to my back and neck under my jacket so many times and clipped IFB boxes on my pants/skirt so often that I have lost the concept of personal space when it comes to being touched (in non-sexual ways, of course). I didn't even consider that the guy next to me would be bugged out by makeup. When I realized what (I think) was going on, I slopped it on and put it away. After I did, he seemed to chill a bit.

On our way off the plane I heard him telling another passenger that he was a farmer. Perhaps he's never even seen makeup before! I suppose this is the benefit of marrying a woman, having a mom/sister/daughter... it isn't intimidating when you get an inside look at what the other gender has to deal with when it comes to everyday living. This poor guy may not have even noticed becoming restless when my makeup was on display. For him, it was a natural reaction. At the same time, he may have just been afraid of the size of my eyes... Can you blame him?

Fourth of July

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Fourth of July was one HOT day in Knoxville. The fountains were going on Gay Street and we met with friends downtown to have a beverage to cool off before the fireworks. 

Katie, Hillary, me, Sheena

Speaking of fire, a Knoxville City fire crew rolled down the street in front of Sapphire (where we were hanging out on the patio) and my friend Sheena jumped up to tell them we liked their truck. Ha! So, they pulled over and we took pictures with the firefighters. The best part was when parents started coming over with wide-eyed kiddos. They loved it.

Knoxville hosts a fireworks show over Labor Day weekend called Boomsday that's supposed to be the "largest fireworks show in the nation" but they still put on a bit of a display for the 4th. People were packed into downtown Knoxville and Market Square. We walked over to Preservation Pub and listened to live music in the Speakeasy and talked with more friends. 

The fireworks went off around 9:30pm and we dilly-dallied around trying to decide on the best view so we missed the first blasts but we didn't have to go all the way to the river to watch. 

We stopped at the historic James Park House (circa 1812) and sat in the yard on the hill. It was a great spot and the view was beautiful.

Melissa, Hillary and I even commented on how interesting parts of downtown Knoxville are. The architecture in places dates to the 1800s (relatively young, I know) and of course the Tennessee River flowing through the city adds a vibrant energy to the area. We enjoyed celebrating the birth of our nation. Hope you did too.

Help, Not Just Anybody...

Friday, 6 July 2012

This post is related to my pride. I fully admit it. There's just something that I can't quite understand about the sexes. Perhaps men have an ingrained instinct to help women. Now don't get me wrong, I do appreciate help - maybe I don't know how to accept help but people really love help - when it is needed.

Here's what I'm talking about:

I have a large back lot behind my back yard. Last summer I spent hours and hours clearing it. Cutting down brush, dragging it to the yard... it looked beautiful. I haven't had the time this year to keep it trimmed back. So, before my birthday party, I used my Black and Decker battery operated weed eater to take care of any overgrowth.

It took two days of work to get it into shape. I'm on the last corner of the lot, working in 95+ heat when I hear someone shouting my name. Weed-eaters are loud. The work is not easy (I do it myself because it is great exercise). I want to be finished with the job as soon as possible so I can lounge at the pool... go to the lake... work on research... you get the idea. Again with the shouting. I kill the weed eater and look around. A younger man is yelling at me from the neighbor's property (he's in charge of major work). He says, "Denae! What are you trying to do, cut those down?" I look around, a little surprised, thinking, "Is it too early to be weed eating or something?" I don't know what to say so he says, "What you need is a sawzall. That's what will work to cut those down. I have one. You can borrow it."

I know what you're thinking, "Wow. Denae. Yeah, that's terrible. Someone is offering their tools. How can you even stand it?" (Refer to the top of this post - I know I have pride issues.)

"Thank you so much for your suggestion but I'm almost through here." He starts to talk again (with a look of - are you sure?) and I do something that is just not nice. I put my safety glasses back on (Audrey Hepburn type non-designer shades) and fire the machine back up.

Let me explain. I have one million pounds of determination and tenacity pulsing through my veins. I do not however, have a lot of upper-body strength. I know my limitations when it comes to power tools. I usually cannot effectively operate anything that is gas-powered or relatively heavy. That's why I use the B and D Alligator and the B and D weed eater. I realize sawzalls aren't large tools but they usually need power and my heavy-duty extension cord wasn't going to reach the back lot.

The same thing happened to me after some idiot drove down the hill, into my yard, knocked my mailbox off the stand and destroyed my neighbors' mailboxes as well. I brought my drill, toolbox, extension cord, pieces of wood, screws, bits, etc. to the curb one afternoon to repair it. I had spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to reattach it. The way it was broken, the repair was not going to be simple but I had an idea. The second I start working on it, my neighbor from across the street gets off his front porch and ambles over. "Whatcha doin'?" "Oh....trying to fix my mailbox." And he launches into a dissertation about the manner in which I need to fix it. Again, this is a 100F+ day and I really did not need the advice. Maybe I did actually... but I wanted to fix it and move on. I finally did. It is still standing and does not wobble when the mailperson delivers the mail.

My question is, if I were a man out weed eating my back lot or fixing my mailbox, would these men stop me in the midst of the job to tell me how I need to do it? I don't think so and it bothers me. Perhaps I just wear a vibe of, "Please help me. I'm incapable,"  but I doubt it. I also don't know how to respond to these situations without being rude. I am polite to a fault so with the mailbox thing, I just stood there, sweating, smiling and nodding stupidly while he went on and on about how he would fix it. Why did I do that? Because, as women, we're taught to smile and nod when men give advice - they know better than we do, don't they?

It's Going Down

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Two days before my birthday party, I was awake at 6:30 a.m. and heard a tree come crashing down. This is not the first time a tree has fallen in the "woods" in my back lot. I tensed up, hoping that the tree was not falling on the house. Thankfully, it didn't.

Lily, Violet and I went outside to find two large branches fallen across the back lot and back yard. They don't look too large in the pictures but I could not even get them to budge on my own.

After teaching class, I found my battery operated Black and Decker Alligator (clippers plus small chain saw) and stared cutting small pieces from the branches. The tool stopped working. I took it to Home Depot and they didn't have any of the Alligators in stock. It was up to me to repair it. Actual chain saws are too large for me and the electric models don't work well.

I added oil and managed to loosen the bolts to reattach the Alligator's chain. The process was tiring and frustrating but after working hard for two days, I was able to clear enough of the branches to swivel them completely onto the back lot. Eventually, I'll have to hire a crew to cut up the big branches and move them to the curb. Knoxville has an amazing brush pick-up service.

It seemed like a gazillion little limbs were down all over the yard. There were plenty for kindling and firewood (old pieces) so I started a fire in my fire pit in the yard and in the stone fire ring I built last year in the back lot. Thank goodness it was all cleaned up for my party but wow I probably lost about 10 pounds in the process. It was at least 98 degrees on both of the clean-up days. NOT cool! (See what I did there?)

"Still 29" Birthday Bash

Monday, 2 July 2012
I'm just vain enough to throw my own birthday party. This is the third year I've hosted a keg party for friends and family.

Last year, we returned the keg and Chris from the Bearden Beer Market shook his head and said I was weak because it was still almost full. This year, we triumphed and floated the keg. I chose Blue Moon because it is my favorite of course and even though it was record heat on Saturday, we kept it ice cold - using six, 16 lb. bags of ice.

I'm an amateur foodie so I love cooking (especially with fresh herbs) and eating. I tried a couple of inventive finger foods that work in hot weather and it went okay. First, we had cherry tomatoes, mozz cheese, fresh basil and balsamic vinaigrette drizzle (bottom left corner). 

I also made pimento cheese sandwiches with oregano and garlic chives. Cucumbers are in season and lovely this time of year so I made little cuke sammies with fresh mint and a mayo/sour cream spread. People seemed to really like them.

I made pretzel necklaces for kids (big and little), popcorn, black grape skewers...

I also rolled up smoked turkey, added green olives and fresh Rosemary. The dressing was homemade and super easy: t horseradish, T fat free mayo, T yellow mustard with Rosemary.

Melissa and Trish brought amazingly sweet watermelon and a great black-eyed pea dip. Even though there were tons of people, we somehow kept everyone fed and they certainly had enough to drink. Ha! People bring their children as well and they played with water guns, bubbles, jump ropes and corn hole!

I so wish I would've taken more pictures of individual guests because I love to remember who attended. At least we were able to grab a shot of some of the ladies before it got too dark.

Literally three people passed out (guest bedroom, sofas) before all of the guests left. That was pretty surprising to me but I got a kick out of it. We certainly did party like I'm still in my 20s. Too bad this year is 33 but I have a feeling it will be a good one.