The Best of 2014

Wednesday, 31 December 2014
Best thing someone did for me in 2014: James took me to Africa. We went on an almost three week trip to Botswana and Mozambique. While in Botswana, I was able to watch the sun rise and set over the African landscape for the first time and it was a life-changing experience. The sun is so central to life in that part of the world and without Wifi, buildings to obstruct the landscape, and lots of time spent outdoors, I started to grasp how inconsequential humans are. I hope to go back to share a short part of time again with the majestic creatures that live there: lions, elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, impalas, leopards, and the list goes on.

Best thing I did for someone else in 2014: Upped my annual contribution to public radio (WUOT-FM) and volunteered to help with a new charity event for Friends of Literacy. These are two of my favorite entities to help out. Both have a strong educational element and it makes me feel worthwhile to know that because of my small contribution adults in Knoxville might earn their GED and others are learning about events in the world through public radio. Please consider finding one charity in your community to contribute to in 2015. Even if you don’t have extra funds, please volunteer.

Best thing I did for myself in 2014: Embracing and exploring my love of camping. I have always loved the outdoors. This year I purchased a vintage travel trailer and worked on it a few hours a day until it was renovated. While I worked on it, I dreamed of camping in national parks in the United States. I didn’t have an opportunity to camp in the travel trailer before I sold it but I began booking spots in state and national parks where I would pitch a tent, observe nature, and enjoy falling asleep to a stream flowing or leaves rustling. I’m upgrading some of my camping gear this winter and can’t wait to explore more of the protected outdoors in our beautiful country.

Best non-fiction books of 2014: Wild, Tracks, and Lean In. I’ve previously blogged about Wild and Tracks (just click on the titles for the reviews) but I started reading Lean In at the end of this year. In this easy-read book, Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg confronts gender bias head on. I call this an “easy-read book” because it is designed so that the reader can take in one subject in one chapter, hit the high points, and put the book down as needed until the next opportunity. I was most impressed with the amount of research presented that supports the theory that sexism is alive and well in the work force. My biggest take away: men are more confident than women when it comes to their careers and we have to work on this. Rather than thinking, “I’m just not ready to take on this new opportunity. I don’t have enough experience,” we should be thinking, “I am smart, educated, and capable of doing an excellent job in this opportunity even while learning new things.” All women should read this book.

Best meal of 2014: I’ve written about Mario Batali’s Babbo in NYC before so I’ll pick another favorite: Three course lunch at Elephant Hill winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand. Oh wow! I’m the type of person who appreciates the creative presentation of a dish especially if it is delicious and the chef here certainly gets that right. Elephant Hill Restaurant earned the distinction of 2014 “Best Winery Restaurant” by Cuisine Good Food Guide and I feel it is very deserving. They use locally sourced, seasonal, fresh food from growers and suppliers who are passionate about their products. I ordered the dish of cauliflower parfait, chilled prawns, pickles, smoked tomato crème to start, paired with 2013 Elephant Hill Sauvignon Blanc. My second course (just as wonderful as the first) was the entrée of smoked ricotta, duck tortellini, road beans, mint, confit onion dressing, paired with 2013 Elephant Hill Chardonnay. Elephant Hill’s website says the staff wishes to leave a lasting impression of fine food. Success!

Best thing to look forward to in 2015: Building a stronger body. James religiously goes to the gym and works out with a trainer. Like clockwork, he’s up and out the door at least three times a week. He has inspired me to get fit! I’m going to need a strong body in the New Year if I want to hike, kayak, and explore this great earth. He purchased a gym membership for me (don’t worry it was my idea) and we’ve been going together. We don’t work out together; we just ride together. I’ve been doing 35 minutes of cardio and stretching for 10 minutes on each visit. Now that my endurance is up slightly, I’m going to add core exercises such as abdominal work and yoga poses. It feels good to recognize the flow of adrenaline that comes from pushing oneself physically. I’m also paying particular attention again to regularly drinking green tea, eating probiotics such as Greek yogurt, and adding super foods like spinach, parsley, and kale to most dishes.

Glen Aros in Hawkes Bay

Sunday, 21 December 2014

The accommodation in New Zealand is different than other places in the world. Cities are smaller and far between so there are not large chain hotels. Many of the luxury properties are actually called lodges instead of hotels and are run like what we would call a bed and breakfast.

By far our favorite lodge was Glen Aros in Hawkes Bay. The country estate was built in 1914 and is located in a breathtakingly beautiful setting with all of the luxuries: billiards room, pool, hot tub, impressive gardens, a wonderful hostess, and a personal chef (with Michelin star connections).

While this property is a bit farther out than others (drive 10k past the nearest lodge to get there), the only neighbors you'll hear in the evenings are sheep on the green hills around the estate. I took a 30 minute power walk both days we were there and had to stop to admire the roses, Golden Finches flying in and out of the fruit trees, and beautiful, fragrant herbs. 

Nigel (the chef) estimates that the Rosemary bush above has been in the garden for perhaps 100 years. He doesn't clip from this one but just lets it grow. We were in New Zealand in the early Summer this year and all of the roses were beautifully in bloom! I definitely stopped to smell the them...

I'm kicking myself for not taking photos of the lovely food served but the chef was highly talented. He baked his own bread, made the type of sauces and herbal vinaigrettes that make you close your eyes and savor, and prepared jellies and jams using fruit from the property for toast in the mornings. On of my favorite dishes used fresh peas and a mint vinaigrette. I should have begged for a cooking class but alas... someday.

Food was sourced from Glen Aros' own garden and yes - that's rhubarb in the photo. One morning we had rhubarb compost with fresh croissants! Certainly worth a stay if you ever plan on wine tasting in the Hawkes Bay area.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Friday, 19 December 2014
One of the wineries we especially loved is located in the North island called Marsden Estate. Our guide for the day, Diane, picked us up at Eagle's Nest in the Bay of Islands (one of my favorite spots in New Zealand) and we had a lovely half day tour.

Marsden Estate is located just outside of the village of Kerikeri on the way to the airport. Quirkier is an area in the North island of New Zealand that is very "Northern" and has a different climate and soil makeup than places in the South island. The Marlborough region is very popular for New Zealand wines but this part of the country is also on the map. 

Marsden, while more of a boutique winery, has won international awards for its wine and our wine expert there, Trevor, was a fantastic guide through the tasting! (I even found a picture of him on the Marsden Winery website.) He was passionate about the product and knowledgeable about its properties. James and I learned quite a bit about the wine making process and the lovely Marsden wines.

Our tasting was quick but informative and we especially loved the 2013 Pinot Gris. It was light in flavor with hints of apple. The best part was the spicy, dry finish that left an amazing watering in our mouths. The winery is sustainable and grows some uncommon varietals for the area such as Tempranillo, Chambourcin, and Pinotage.

Eagle's Nest, by the way, (where we were staying while in the Bay of Islands) is a fantastic property with sweeping views and spectacular service. I would LOVE to go back. They even put up a little Christmas tree in the corner for us!

The properties are unique in that they are "self-cater." If you would like to go out to dinner, the hosts will arrange transportation for you down to the village of Russell. Or, if you would like to shop for fresh ingredients and cook your own meal, that is also an option. James and I opted to do that one evening. 

We purchased an amazing cut of lamb, new potatoes, corn on the cob, "Living Lettuce," fresh onion, and a beautiful avocado - all from New Zealand. I cooked the meal, made a mint, blackberry sauce for the meat, and James poured the sparkling wine that he also sourced from this great country. 

Some of the villas have their own lap pools and on the afternoon that we arrived, the weather was gorgeous so I had a nice swim. The weather was warm (it is summer now in New Zealand) but not hot so I was lucky that the pools are heated. 

The views certainly are beautiful from Eagle's Nest. The property is very private - located on a peninsula - and up on the peak of the mountain. When we arrived, there was a cruise ship in the harbor but it sailed out peacefully that afternoon.

Wineries in Hawkes Bay

Sunday, 14 December 2014
*Note: There are many discrepancies on the spelling of Hawkes Bay. Is it Hawke's Bay (possessive of Hawke) or Hawkes Bay? I'm still not sure so please excuse the mistake if it is one...

There are 72 wineries in the area of Hawkes Bay on the Northern island of New Zealand. On our trip we visited several of them: Elephant Hill, Craggy Range, The Mission, Clearview, and Vidal.

James and I have only been wine tasting together once before in Uruguay so we were looking forward to trying some amazing wine. New Zealand has an excellent climate for many varieties of grapes and you’ve probably seen some of the options on wine menus in the states. I would encourage you to try them!

We bought a few bottles to take home with us and now our suitcases are pretty heavy. At Clearview, we loved the red dessert wine Sea Red. There are hardly any red dessert wines in the world so we had to take one home. It is sweet, as to be expected, but at 17% alcohol, once opened, the bottle will last a month. Our tasting expert suggested that we pour a bit in a flute, add a strawberry, and top it with sparkling wine. Yum!

Elephant Hill was also a great winery with spectacular views. We ate lunch here one day and the menu is creative and fantastic. (That will have to be a separate post). 

Sydney, Australia

Saturday, 13 December 2014
James enjoys traveling and plans some amazing trips for us. We are traveling to Australia and New Zealand for the Christmas break (finals have been given and grades posted). The flight was 15 hours from L.A. but in business class (thank you Delta miles!) it doesn't seem so long.

Because Delta flies to Sydney and we like to use miles, we stopped over to see James' cousin and his wife (and also get over the jet lag a bit). 

We took a fun bus ride to Bondi Beach one morning and walked along the ocean. The surfers were amazing and the weather was to die for. 

Australians are very laid back and friendly. We were surprised at how raucous they can be, however. Haha! They love life and we saw tons of people walking around in bare feet. 

I've read about the Icebergs Club at Bondi Beach and have always wanted to eat there. James thought it was pretentious but I loved the atmosphere. We were able to get a lunch reservation and sipped champagne while overlooking the water! 

“Baby It’s Cold” Needs to Warm Up

Monday, 8 December 2014

In the spirit of Happy Holidays, I feel the need to post about the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” The song has been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton (love them) to Michael Buble. The premise of the tune (as you likely know) is that the singers are innocent lovers at his place and she is ready to go home. Although she tells him it is time for her to go, he wants her to stay. They go back and forth in a cute dialogue until he convinces her that it is too cold for her to go home. You know the chorus (sing if if you know it), “But babyyyyy it’s cooolddddd outsiiiiiide!”

After so many sexual assaults reported on campuses across the U.S. but not prosecuted by the alleged victims (usually on advice from the District Attorney), I have been thinking about the now popular Twitter hashtag: #nomeansno. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” is one of those songs that may need to warm up to modern times (so to speak).

Look, I’m not completely unreasonable. The song is about snow and cold and romance. I understand that in the day and age when this song was written there was probably no way that a woman was going to stay over at a man’s house that she wasn’t married to anyway and maybe (possibly) he would force her to. I’m just a bit troubled that this is a song that we still hear in the grocery stores, at parties, on the radio, and our children and teens also hear it throughout every Christmas season.

Let’s consider the overall message. Imagine this exchange between your daughter and her boyfriend or a college Freshmen and her Junior holiday party date.

Her: I really can't stay.
Him: But it's cold outside.
Her: I've got to go.
Him: But it's cold outside.

Her: My mom is going to worry.
Him: Beautiful, what's your hurry?
Her: My dad is going to worry.
Him: Check out my awesome fireplace.

Her: Well maybe I’ll stay for one more.
Him: Play some Pandora and I’ll get the drinks.  

Her: Our classmates that live next door are going to gossip.
Him: Who cares? It’s bad out.
Her: What is in this drink?
Him: You aren’t going to be able to get a cab.

Her: I need to say no. No. No.
Him: Come here, a little closer.
Her: I said no.
Him: Why are you trying to hurt my pride?
Her: I really can’t stay.

The conversation goes on and on. He finally manipulates her into staying even though she didn’t want to. The other HIGHLY troubling part of this song is the line, “Say, what’s in this drink?” Did he drug her? That is what's implied here. It’s a bit too creepy for me to still think that it is just a cute song.

Maybe you think I’m overreacting. No problem. You are certainly entitled to your opinion and you are welcome to share it here. But please allow me one last parting thought: if you are with children or teens and this song comes on, why not create a teaching moment? “Have you listened to the words of this song? It might seem silly because it is just a holiday song but - she says she wants to go home and rather than convince her to stay, the right thing to do would be invite her back on another day. If she wants to go home, she should say goodnight and leave. No means no.”

In my younger years, I worked to please other people to an unhealthy extent. Our young ladies need to be confident in standing up for themselves when they are ready to go home (literally and figuratively).  

Solo Tent Camping - An Idea

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Have I told you about my strange obsession with solo tent camping? I love to camp (in my Coleman tent - a gift from my brother years ago) at state or national parks and I'm just fine with doing it by myself. There's something invigorating about pulling up to a camp site and setting up a tent and building a fire to the soundtrack of nature. 

Most recently I camped at Big Ridge State Park just North of Knoxville. It was one of the last warm days of the year and I reserved a lovely spot by the lake. Of course I failed to take pictures until after the sun went down so they didn't turn out perfectly but I was able to capture some of the serenity of the campground. 

Camping in the late fall is wonderful (at least in East Tennessee) because the weather is still sort of mild but most people have gone back to school and work after the summer break. 

I have an idea for a book, actually. It springs from reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Tracks by Robyn Davidson. Although I'm going to need a full-time job come May when I finish my dissertation, I would love to spend part of the year camping in national parks on the Eastern side of the U.S. and write about it. The idea would be for me to mostly solo camp but when friends and family wanted to join me, they'd be more than welcome. I'd also give myself some time in hotel rooms just to heal. Sleeping on the ground is not that easy. 

What would be the point of the book? I think sleeping in the wilderness, cooking on a fire, and remaining somewhat unplugged for a bit might give a person some quiet time. Quiet time can be useful for reflection, writing, reading, planning, and just being. 

While the book idea isn't that feasible, I hope to spend some time camping next season and will blog about it along the way.

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, 27 November 2014

James decided that he wanted to host both sets of parents as well as my brother (and his girlfriend Haylee) for Thanksgiving. I thought that was a lovely idea so we started preparing last week. My mother helped me set the table and created a gorgeous centerpiece of peach and ivory roses with greenery and berries. 

I set up our buffet as a bar with adult beverages, smoked almonds, salted cashews, and dill pickles. I added pickled okra as a nod to our time in the south. They are delicious.

Mom and dad came over early to help get the sides started. I put the turkey into the oven around 9 a.m. so we could eat at 1 p.m. It was a 16 lb turkey and I cooked it in a Reynold's oven bag with celery, fresh rosemary (that I grow at home), and onion slices. When you use an oven bag, don't forget to put one tablespoon of flour in before the bird and shake it around. This prevents the bag from bursting. The instructions also ask you to brush oil on the bird before putting it into the bag (I added onions, celery, and fresh rosemary to the cavity as well).

Mom snapped this shot of James and I in the dining area. Our dining and living areas join as one large space so our fireplace helps to heat up the room. It was cozy. 

At parties and holidays, I like to put out raw vegetables for people to snack on before the meal. This is so just in case people only go for gravy and dressing, at least they get a bit of fat-free, crisp nutrition (Who am I kidding?). The ranch dip is great and can be made in a healthy manner: non-fat, plain Greek yogurt with a packet of dry ranch powder dressing.

Thank goodness that my mom knows how to make delicious pies (including the crust)! She uses the finest ingredients and somehow she always gets them to come out of the oven perfectly. Mom brought a pecan pie and a pumpkin pie. 

She ALSO baked chocolate crinkle cookies. Amazing. They are topped with a bit of powdered sugar. James loves cookies so mom was quite popular today.

James' mother Cathe (pictured below with James) is also a great cook. She brought potatoes that she fried in the oven in cast iron skillets as well as two types of delicious cranberry relish. Cathe was also our entertainment. She is so funny and very complimentary which makes the chef(s) feel fabulous! 

Of course about the time that the food started coming out of the oven and off of the stove, I stopped taking pictures. Such a bummer because my brother and his lovely girlfriend as well as James' father were all there and I didn't get any shots of them. This was certainly a fun day filled with family, food, and football. Much love to you and yours! 

Professional website

I've designed a space for posts regarding my profession including media research, journalism college courses, and happenings in news. Please visit the site D'Arcy on News

The Next Step

Saturday, 15 November 2014
It is time for me to take my own advice and start a blog/website that is professionally oriented and discusses my research, teaching strategies, and media thoughts. I would also like to open my own social media accounts to coincide with a professional stance regarding media.

The teachers of the Media Writing labs at the University of Tennessee had a recent meeting with Dr. Jim Stovall and he reminded us that people in the academic industry are working specifically on blogs or websites designed to showcase research, teaching styles, or a topic of some sort. For instance: Am I trying to get a job? Am I trying to highlight my research? My website should center on that.

I've recently applied to several academic jobs and went through a couple of initial interviews. I'm just wondering who we know that has constructed a sort of online resume/CV that works in the academic job application process. If you have examples, please post here. The greenhorns need to know.

Holiday Wreath DIY

Friday, 14 November 2014
My grandmother and mother have always been amazing flower arrangers. It is a fun hobby for them and through the years, my mother has taught me how to arrange flowers. We create fun arrangements for our holiday dinners and the occasional birthday. For a gathering this week I decided to try my hand at putting together a a "live" wreath. I wired two grapevine wreaths together to begin the project.

I then went around my neighborhood and scavenged grasses, pinecones, greenery, and also found cat tails! The next step was to add them, piece by piece, into the wreath. Some of the items easily slipped into twigs of the grapevine and I wired the pinecones on using floral wire. This all worked nicely and gave the wreath different textures. 

I left this out on the porch overnight so that the greenery would stay cool. The day of the gathering, I added sunflowers, mums, and red pears. These were attached using floral picks. 

As a finishing touch, I added orange berries and I think that helped finish the look. I paid approximately $12 for the flowers, $5 for the pears, $20 for the wreath (it can be reused) and $5 in supplies. I gathered the other materials from nature! It was approximately $40 for the wreath but I'm sure if I were to buy this from a florist it would cost a fortune. Plus, I had fun putting it together. 

Pantanal Birds

Friday, 31 October 2014

There are so many birds in this part of Brazil that is hard to wrap the mind around it. 

Approximately 3,000 species of birds are found in South America. Researchers estimate that 1,600 of the species are found in Brazil and more than 650 of them are specifically found in the Pantanal. This place is a bird watchers’ paradise!

I have my favorites, of course. The kingfisher (we saw Amazon, Green, and Ringed) is an amazing bird that likes to be around water and goes fishing for its food. The blue-fronted parrot has a call that (to me) sounds like a cat. I was never able to snap a photo of it because they are usually flying or hiding behind leaves.

The larger birds in the Pantanal are impressive. These include the Jabaru Stork, Roadside Hawk, Black-Collared Hawk, Bare-faced Carrasow, Southern Screamer, and the Cara Cara.

We were able to snap shots of the rare Common Potoo and the Spotted Puffbird. The Common Potoo is nocturnal and has grey and brownish feathers that allow it to blend perfectly into a tree. The bird stands still in the fork of a tree with its eyes closed during the day, resembling a branch. If someone or something comes around the Potoo during the day, it will not move to take a look, instead, it will look out of the very corner of its eyes to see what’s there. Every time we came back to look for the Potoo, it was in the same position as the day before. Our guide thinks it has a nest in the tree with eggs or little ones. Common Potoos hunt insects at night and are often mistaken for owls. No one knows if the Potoo is actually a rare bird or if it is just so hard to see that people believe that it is rare. Can you find it in the photo below?

*Photos were taken by me.