This is Nuts

Sunday, 30 September 2012
Some tasks are easier than others. I'm sure this is true in your life as well. For instance, unloading the dishwasher, on a scale of 1-10 is probably a 3. No big deal. Caring for two cats, however, presents some challenges from time to time. Take earlier this week...

Lily and Violet are outside while I clean the kitchen and I keep an eye on them through the kitchen window. I'm sipping a cup of coffee and making mental notes on what I need to get done when I look out on the deck. I can only see Lily's back end and her tail is swishing wildly from side to side. I walk to the mud room and open the back door. Since I don't see Lily, I crouch to call her. "Lilllyyyyy!" Horrible move.

She races up the deck stairs (out of view) and turns the run right toward me. I scream. She has a SQUIRREL in her mouth. I stand up and shut the door in a quick, silent, ninja-like move. Lily screeches to a halt on the welcome mat and looks at me through the class like I'm crazy. Can I not see her brilliant work? Do her incredible hunting skills mean nothing to me?

Clearly employing a psychological splitting technique (I know these things now), I think of anything other than the dead squirrel and walk into my living room. Before sitting down, I spin on my heel,  go back to the kitchen and wash my hands in scalding hot water and soap for five minutes even though I didn't touch Lily's gift. What to do?

I take a deep breath and decide I can do this! I will be brave! I will call my father at work, interrupt his day and fake cry until he pumps me up enough to ask the neighbor to take care of the prey. Dad is as usual, incredibly calm and gracious. He listens patiently, makes a compassionate noise and suggests that I lay a used rag over the animal and gently use a stick or tool to push it onto a shovel so I don't have to look at it or touch it. I breathe, thank him and hang up.

Looking at the clock, I give up on the project for now and get ready for class. Why do today what can be put off 'til tomorrow? The cats run around to the front door when I call them and come inside.

Later that evening, while it is still light outside, I conjure the brave spirits of all successful women who have come before me and open the back door. To my surprise, the little creature is gone. I sigh and go back to homework.

The next morning I let the cats out while I pour a cup of coffee. I can see Violet crouched beside my lounge chairs on the deck. She is sniffing something and not moving. I venture to the back door and see  a couple of lazy flies near the chairs. Oh NO. After quickly putting on clothes that will ensure my neighbors aren't horrified when they see me outdoors, I move with a purpose.

With gloves and old rags, I step onto the deck and from a distant corner of the deck, bend down to look under the chairs. I see a fuzzy grey tail. In my mind I scream, "O-M-G, O-M-G" (not the words, just "O-M-G") and stride to the disposal site. I throw rags over the carcass and yank it out. I didn't cover it well enough, however, because I immediately notice that its head is no longer there. This throws me into such a shock that I look at the sky as in a trance and start marching the item to the back lot. I'm almost humming Justin Bieber's song "Boyfriend" (things are clearly bad) while I fling the poor thing into the woods.

When I get back to the house I wash my hands three times and then shower. Funny that I think I might be able to deal with having children. I can barely handle small gifts from a cat. 

Temps are Falling

Wednesday, 26 September 2012
I hope you had a wonderful summer full of lasting memories, sunshine, laughter and fresh produce (my tomatoes didn't do too well this year but those that did ripen were delicious!). While I adore summer for muggy nights at the lake and fireflies that dance on dusk, fall and spring are my favorite seasons. To me, heaven is mid-70s and sunny. We are in that lovely period right now in Knoxville and the leaves have begun to change. Since my brain is tightly wrapped up in two qualitative content analysis research studies, I have to make this blog post fairly simple.

Why Fall is Beautiful to Me:

Crisp mornings that get the heart going in the race to pull on a sweater and brew a hot cuppa

Texas chili simmering in the slow cooker with sweet, moist corn bread for dinner

Collective energy of a community that rallies behind a college or NFL team

Promise of rest for nature and people during the quiet winter

Brilliant colors from the sacrifice of many trees

The smell of smoke from chimneys as the sun sets, casting purple shadows over another year

DIY Fireplace Reno

Saturday, 22 September 2012

I take breaks from studying to do projects around the house. I decided to redo my fireplace and I SO wish I had a full-on "before" picture. It was painted a reddish brown and had a black tile surround (you can kind of see that above). First, I painted the mantel a semi-gloss white. Then, I added the sandy, multi-color mosaic stone.

I've grouted what I have so far and need to finish with caulking today. My only hold-up at this point is the tiles that need to be cut. I have a tile cutter in my basement but I need help carrying it up. Thankfully my friend Steve is coming over to help me with huge downed limbs in the back yard and hopefully he can help me with that too. Bonus! 

Scarecrow Foundation Fashion Show

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

I was asked to be part of the Knoxville Scarecrow Foundation's Fashion Show at Latitude 35 last week. The funds raised go to benefit the Love Kitchen which feeds people who cannot feed their families for one reason or another. 

Our outfits came from Crass Couture located in Market Square - which has an amazing selection of eclectic, stylish and vintage inspired clothing. Frank Murphy (Star 102.1 morning host), Lauren Davis (WVLT anchor and reporter), Nick Zacheretti and I posed for a photo in our first outfits (above). 

WVLT's Dino Cartwright announced the models which included ladies from Channel 8 and Channel 10 as well as some men from different industries in town such as radio. Beth Haynes and Kristen Budden (below) anchor at WBIR-TV.

Everyone was a little nervous lining up and we knew we were going to have to move quickly because the show only lasted 30 minutes and we each had two outfits to show.

I like this dress (looks so 70s) from Crass Couture and paired it with my own light-colored suede boots. The event was fun - although I haven't been a part of anything like this for at least a year (I'm a student and teacher now) but was happy to help out a friend and a good cause.

Three Things

Sunday, 16 September 2012
1. I went to the Goodwill store on Broadway to drop off a donation. Inside, there was an older man with a nice smile who was using a walker to get around. He stopped in front of a treadmill, looked at it for a moment, looked at me with a straight face and asked, "How am I supposed to get that on the bus?" Ha!

2. At Home Depot today, I picked out tile for my fireplace renovation and asked a salesperson where I could find jute twine (for a backyard project). Rather than answering my question, he asked, "You aren't going to smoke it are you?" .... .... .... Really?

3. A friend dropped off a little gift on my front porch on Saturday, cherry white lightnin'. The message with it: "A little help with tail gating. It's football time in Tennessee!!" I'm not making this up. Sadly, however, the Vols lost. :(

Bliss on the Little River

Monday, 10 September 2012
East Tennessee has its faults, many of them, but it is hard to find a more beautiful area in the United States for outdoor fun in a forest/mountainous region.

Here's why: temperatures are rarely, if ever, extreme in the lower elevations. It is unlikely that you will die unless you're camping in the dead of winter and by a fluke, it is 10 below zero. Since the Appalachians are so old, there are relatively few mountain peaks that humans cannot conquer, and my goodness, the waterways here are pristine, numerous and full of gorgeous coves, rapids, natural bends and deep, crisp pools.

The view from my tent

I almost hate to blog about River John's Island in Maryville, Tennessee because more people are going to find out about it and book the few remaining weekends for 2013. Alas, as a writer, I just cannot shut up (to the dismay of close friends and family).

This is how it works: John owns a lovely island in the Little River in Maryville. It is wooded, beautiful and surrounded by rushing water that is not too deep but certainly deep enough for canoes and kayaks. There is short bridge leading to the island and John's home is on the bank of the river so he is always around if he is needed. People will reserve an entire weekend for just $400 for the entire island and invite as many friends as they want. We all showed up around 4pm Friday and had such a nice time.

I went with a fun group made up of folks that have been visiting River John's for quite some time. Their rules are simple: everyone pitches their own tent or pop-up, packs their own food and beverages and cleans up after themselves, taking their own trash when they leave on Sunday. There are no showers or bathroom facilities but John has a couple of portable toilets if needed. So yes, in a way, we were certainly roughing it.

My campsite

I'll admit, in a million years I never would have dreamed that I would enjoy camping. Certainly in my 20s, I would have lifted my nose at the idea of sleeping on the ground and not having electricity for a hair straightener. However, after living in Eugene, Oregon for two years and camping in the gorgeous national parks there, I have gained an appreciation for the outdoors. I enjoy building a fire, putting up a tent and listening to nature while sitting with friends and for those that enjoy adult bevies, camping is a good way to ensure that no one drives after drinking. 

Our fire - tended to by almost everyone

Speaking of the sounds of nature, though, I'm clearly still a city girl. Each night, I bedded down on my little mattress in my tent around 11pm. I could hear the river rushing all around and the occasional owl in the distance. With the cool temperatures and peaceful surroundings, sleep came easily. Nature can be very peaceful. So, you can imagine my absolute terror when I was jolted out of a deep sleep early Saturday morning by three powerful gun shots. 

Eyes wide open in the darkness, I somehow willed my heart to start beating again. The shooting seemed to be coming from just across the river. I reached for my cell phone trying not to make a sound while my mind systematically constructed an escape plan. My phone showed that it was 6am but there was no glow yet signifying the rising of the sun. Steve (a good friend) had pitched his tent nearby and I texted him, not caring about the hour. "Omg someone just shot someone nearby. Should we make a run for our cars or call 911?" A few minutes later (felt like hours), I actually heard him laugh from his tent. What the HECK? How could someone laugh when a person was likely just killed in cold blood? The answer came back via text. "I think someone is just out looking for breakfast." Slowly it dawned on me. Hunters. 

My heart rate eventually returned to normal but every time I was about to drift off again... pow! pow! pow! Apparently it is dove season. Do NOT go camping during dove season unless you are in a protected national or state park. :)

A Canine

Thursday, 6 September 2012
I love animals. Why I didn't enroll in Vet school out of undergrad, I'll never know. I have two cats but I'd really like to have a dog. And chickens. And a goat. And a horse. And a mini pig. And a parrot... I could go on... Problem is, I enjoy dashing around the country when I get a chance (for research) and it isn't fair to animals (especially those that need a lot of attention) for their caretakers to be gone all of the time. Violet and Lily seem to like it when Mommy is away for a weekend because they can systematically and methodically sleep on every surface in the house, depositing cat hair for me to clean up as punishment. 

However, I now have a new reason to adopt a canine. My sweet next door neighbor messaged me to say there had been a day-time break-in at a house in our tight knit neighborhood. Although it isn't next to where we live, we are concerned. 

Currently, this fierce beast protects my homestead: 

You see the problem.

When I was in North Carolina recently, I fell in love with Casey and Ryan's dogs. They have four: Bella, Prince, Layla and Luca. Luca is a ginormous 140 pound lab/German Shepard mix. I wish I would have snapped a picture of him! He is sweet but his bark is very scary. Bonus!

Bella is such a doll. She is a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel. Casey adopted her along with her boyfriend, Prince from a neighbor who could no longer care for them. She is a Ruby with a sweet disposition but she is also not afraid to bark!

There is also lovely little Layla. I remember Layla as a puppy in our days as undergraduate student at Carson-Newman College. Even though Layla is now getting to be an older darling, she still acts like a puppy, giving lots of love, wagging her tail non-stop and she will also make quite a bit of noise if strangers come around the house. 

One of our local animal shelters, Young Williams Animal Center has a 100k challenge this year to find homes for 100 thousand animals. I am soooo tempted and now have another reason for adopting a dog  filed away. However, if I bring home a new family member, I'm afraid the cats would move on from leaving cat hair everywhere to scratching all fabric inside the house to shreds. Let's face it, that might be worse than a break-in.

On the September book shelf

Tuesday, 4 September 2012
Guilty pleasure read: "Amy My Daughter" by Mitch Winehouse. If you are an Amy Winehouse fan or just had a hard time looking away from the train wreck the end of her life became, you'll love this book. However, poor Mr. Winehouse just cannot get past Blake. He believes that all of Amy's demise happened because of her ex. He just won't accept that Amy chose a destructive life style and even after dozens of rehab attempts, she would not or could not let go of hard drugs.

"The Craft of Research" by Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb and Joseph Williams. This is not for a class assignment but was recommended by Dr. Greg Button to our Ethnography class. This book is a must for green (read: ignorant), young scholars. I've already learned about role of researcher, connecting with the reader, knowing the audience and now we're on to planning projects. Even though I have a year of research experience under my belt, this book is easy to understand and gives a great blueprint for successful articles.

"The Chicken Chronicles" by Alice Walker. I listened to this on the drive back from Columbus this weekend. The memoir is about more than just the author's love for her chickens. She takes the reader through a journey of awareness when it comes to nature, renewal and death. This is an encouraging book and pretty funny.

What are your recommendations for the fall? (Not that I have time for leisure reading but I can make a list for later!)

A Visit to Durham

Sunday, 2 September 2012

My best friend, Casey lives in Durham and works as a top oncologist radiologist for Duke, running a rural clinic for women with Cancer. She is brilliant, beautiful and witty and it is difficult to keep up with this woman! We have been best friends for 15 YEARS (we met as freshman undergrads at Carson-Newman College) and celebrated last week. 

Casey took me to the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill on Friday evening for Friday On The Porch. The atmosphere was fun and patrons certainly get a feel for the colonial and antebellum South. We sipped cocktails outdoors and listened to a hip blue grass band. 

The kids really loved the music and twirled and twirled. Casey finally had to ask me to stop but I was busting a move too. (Kidding.)

Ryan (Casey's beau) met us later for a drink and then we went to Lantern in Chapel Hill for dinner. It is an asian fusion restaurant and amazing. We had so much fun. I wish I lived closer to Casey but we've all decided we'll have to meet in Asheville once in a while (another beautiful Southern city) to catch up which is about half way between Knoxville and Durham. 

Toque! in Montreal

By far the best dining experience I have had in quite some time happened at Toque! in Montreal. I read about the French restaurant before even going to Canada and I had a hunch that it would be a lovely place. When James and I arrived, we were led to a lovely corner table by window framed with sumptuous orange silk drapes. 

James tried the Sangria cocktail and I ordered the champagne sampler to start. The wine steward, Samuel Chevalier-Savaria, came to the table and explained the characteristics of two types. Our favorite was the Extra-Brut, Fidele, Vouette et Sorbee, Champagne (on the right). The rose champagne was interesting but not as smooth. Still - it was so much fun to learn about the grapes and sample! The experience was a great way to prepare for amazing food and service.

The champagne sample was served with a gorgeous oyster. It was very fresh, of course, and you can see the size of it here. Lovely herb relish on top... 

The chef prepared a dish for the house, complimentary, and we thoroughly enjoyed the peaches-and-cream corn puree. It was simple with only a bit of butter and sea salt but we loved it. 

For first course, James ordered the vegetable salad with fruit glaze. The presentation was beyond impressive. The colors of beets, tomatoes, raspberries and curled zucchini meshed to form a beautiful palate. 

On recommendation by our waiter, I ordered the foie gras terrine. It was served with corn puree and glaze, fried quinoa and yogurt. Get this - the yogurt was frozen and the tiny orange flecks that you see in the picture are flower petals!! The taste was rich and deep and I had to stop eating at one point to just savor the experience. The champagne went very well with this dish.

For our main courses, James opted for the beef tenderloin. It was served with beets, potatoes, fried leek, garlic confit, beet glaze and bordelaise sauce. He said it was amazing and even enjoyed the beets. At one point I looked over at his plate and there was nothing left. Ha! That's compliments to the chef... 

I ordered the duck magret which I had read was one of Chef Normand Laprise's signature dishes. It was served with coco beans, basil, cauliflower puree, wild mushrooms and Madera sauce. Words fail to capture the flavors. The duck was prepared perfectly and I really enjoyed the addition of basil and little raspberries! I too almost cleaned my plate. 

We each ordered a glass of wine with dinner and I asked that the wine steward choose one for my entree. Because we still had a few sips left, we decided to go ahead with a cheese platter instead of dessert. The choices were creamy and full of flavor, served with candied walnuts and apricots in honey.

Beyond inventive and delicious food, Toque! presents a luxurious dining experience. The service is top notch and the ambiance in the dining room is lively but intimate. Even though there were other diners seated at tables around us, we almost felt like we were in a private space. Toque! is romantic and would also work well for special occasions with family.