West Coast Bound June 13, 2011Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: California, vacation
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The fridge is nearly empty, the house is relatively clean, the bags are mostly packed, and I’m starting to run out of adverbs. Yes, it is vacation time.
Tomorrow morning we fly out of Memphis, to Houston, and then on to Southern California for a week long stay with relatives in Huntington Beach.
I’ll try to check in occasionally on here throughout the week, but I can’t make any promises. I mean, I’m on vacation, right?
West Coast Playlist June 8, 2011Posted by Matt in music, vacation.
Tags: 2Pac, Billy Bragg & Wilco, California, Everclear, Jamey Johnson, josh ritter, Kings of Leon, L.A., Led Zeppelin, Merle Haggard, Motley Crue, playlist, The Doors, vacation
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Over the years we’ve taken a few small vacations – St. Louis, Atlanta, and visiting friends in Mobile – but never anything particularly far away. This year, though, we found ourselves with a small windfall and decided to splurge, planning the trip for which Diana has been yearning for some ten years.
In case you didn’t know, when she and her family moved to the south back in the 90’s, they came from a town on the central coast of the Golden State, leaving behind a host of relatives and friends, all of which she has only seen a handful of times in the intervening years. She has an uncle and aunt who live in Huntington Beach, so when we were debating the idea, she called them and secured us a place to stay in their house, thus cementing our plans.
So, now that you know the basics of our trip, surely there is one big question that comes to mind: What should be on the playlist for our trip to Southern California? To answer that, I’ve spent a few minutes of my lunch break scouring through the thousands of songs on my iPod for those that mention California or Los Angeles in their titles and I found a fairly hefty list. Check out the ten below and give me ideas for others to add.
10. Billy Bragg & Wilco – California Stars
A nice folk music tune from the kings of alt-country that I’ve liked for some time.
9. The Doors – L.A. Woman
I’m not a huge fan of The Doors, but how can you make a list of L.A. songs and not include this one?
8. Kings of Leon – California Waiting
This closer from their first album shows that great time before KoL became one of the hottest acts on the market.
7. Motley Crue – Saints of Los Angeles
Sure, pretty much every song the Crue did was about the trashy side of L.A., but this title track from their most recent release was an easy choice.
6. Josh Ritter – California
I’ve been saying for years that Josh Ritter may be the best singer-songwriter of my generation, so it’s only natural that he have an entry on the list.
5. Jamey Johnson – Playing the Part
Country music’s current outlaw once had a foray into reality television several years ago. This is the story of a man out of his element, lamenting a time when, “the only L.A. I knew was lower Alabama.”
4. Everclear – Santa Monica
Sure, it’s not a great song, but it always brings back those great memories of playing in a crappy band in a garage.
3. Merle Haggard – A Friend in California
Haggard sang a good deal about California, but often it had an almost hopeless, John Steinbeck type of vibe. That being the case, this upbeat number gets the nod over those.
2. 2Pac – California
Why? Because “California, knows how to party!”
1. Led Zeppelin – Going to California
For some reason this is the song that always pops into my head first when I think of our upcoming trip. It’s one of Zeppelin’s folksier works and I’ve always liked it a great deal, dating all the way back to when I first started listening to them as a teenager.
So, what else should be added to the list?
The Great Outdoors October 11, 2010Posted by Matt in family, vacation.
Tags: camping trip, family time, fishing, Sardis Lake
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Truth be told, I’m not a terribly “outdoorsy” type of person. Sure, I enjoy the occasional fishing trip and I love summer garden work, but I’m generally not the person constantly looking for outside activities to occupy my increasingly scarce free time. But, regardless of that fact, when the topic arises I suddenly become a man akin to Thoreau, wishing to go “to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” or consumed with some innate desire to live Chris McCandless-like in the wilderness. Does the desire come from some inner, testosterone-fueled dream of self independence, of breaking from the ties that bind us in the civilized world and discover a meaning outside the humdrum life of traffic and cubicles and small talk?
Regardless, we’ve been talking about taking our kids camping since our last trip before JD was even born, so we decided to take the plunge for the girls’ Fall Break (hey, why didn’t we ever get a Fall Break?!) and go on a two night excursion into the wild. We looked around the area online before finally settling on a campground on Sardis Lake.
My intention was originally to use the tent we bought before our last camping expedition, but I soon found that desire overruled by other powers within our house and we instead found a decently priced cabin next to lake.
Upon our arrival, we discovered that the weeks of dry weather had forced the area to enact a burn ban, meaning that our rustic stay in the wild would now have to be done without a campfire. We instead relied on the campsite grill for the majority of our cooking, but it worked out fine, even for roasting marshmallows.
We did get the chance to do a little fishing, but had no luck at actually catching any of the slippery little critters.
The kids had fun at the campsite playground.
Later that day we even took a short nature walk that we all greatly enjoyed.
Even though we weren’t exactly roughing it, we had a great trip and it was nice to be able to spend so much time together, especially considering how little we are able to do that at home. It was such a nice time that it even got us talking about the possibility of buying our own pop-up camper later on when a few bills are paid off, so that we can take short trips like this a little more often. We’ll see.
Cruisin’ in the ATL – Part 3 June 28, 2010Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: antebellum homes, Columbus, Mississippi, Mississippi University for Women, Proffitt's Porch, vacation
Friday morning, after three full days of activities in the city, we bid a tired goodbye to Hotlanta, and the five of us again hit the road, this time heading in the general direction of home.
I say general because, after discovering that our expenses were coming in below budget, we made the decision to take a detour and spend one more night on the road – this time in Columbus, Mississippi. Columbus is the home of my mom’s alma mater, the Mississippi University for Women, and she had long told us of the town’s beauty, a reputation that is well-deserved.
Knowing nothing about the town, I emailed a Facebook friend who grew up in the area, Jeff Baker, to find out where to go for dinner. He promptly responded with his favorite spot – an out of the way joint called Proffitt’s Porch. We unloaded our things at a local Day’s Inn and soon set off for our dinnertime destination, which we found way out on a gravel road adjacent to a small lake. What we found inside, though, were friendly people and excellent gumbo and red beans and rice.
Later on that evening and again the next morning we explored the town and the college a bit more and we were thoroughly taken with just how beautiful it was. The town is full of antebellum homes that are incredibly and impressively well kept.
The university also had some lovely old buildings that we were able to take some pictures of as we toured the campus.
And I have to include this picture of the girls underneath some crepe myrtles adorning the campus.
After that, our tired family loaded back into the van and made our way back home to the Memphis suburbs. It was a great trip …and, truthfully, I didn’t even miss going to the beach.
Cruisin’ in the ATL – Part 2 June 27, 2010Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: Atlanta, CNN Studios, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Georgia Aquarium, Olympic Centennial Park, PittyPat's Porch, The Varsity, vacation, World of Coca-Cola
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We arrived in Atlanta on Monday afternoon and quickly found our way to the hotel, a nice Hampton on, get this, Bobby Brown Boulevard. We had a suite, with our bed in one room and a sofa bed for the girls in the other, so that was nice. The pool wasn’t anything special, but it was probably the girls’ favorite thing about the entire trip. Every afternoon I would take them down to the pool while JD had his daily nap and they would play and play. The only thing I was not happy about with our hotel was it’s location by the airport, which is a bit out of the way and has no interesting restaurants whatsoever, but that really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Upon visiting our first attraction, The Georgia Aquarium, we purchased four CityPASSes which gave us tickets to six of the major museums in town for a much lower price. The aquarium was awesome and completely lived up to all of the hype. If you’ve never been there, you should definitely make a point to visit it sometime. The girls especially liked the exhibits where you could touch live animals like rays and shrimp,
while I was taken with the beluga whales and the assortment of sharks. The girls were even able to get a little close and personal with some of the fish.
But we did have one not-so-good thing happen while we perusing the marine life at the aquarium. Our budding photographer, 5 year-old Bekah, convinced me to let her use the digital camera and she took several shots, including some that were actually intelligible. The joy of photographic art would be short-lived, though, because as she handed the camera to me, it came loose from her grip and hit the floor. So, from that point on, our memories would have to be captured on disposable cameras.
The next day we decided to go for a two-fer and hit both the World of Coca-Cola and the CNN studio. We got a bit of a late start, but we still made it to the Coke museum around 10:00 that morning. Little did we realize at the time what sort of obstacle this would create for us later in the day.
Generally speaking, the World of Coca-Cola is like being inside a giant Coke commercial. Sure, it has sections where you learn about how the beverage is made and its history, but these are small potatoes compared to the exhibits dealing with advertisements and, of course, the tasting room.
The tasting room contained over 60 coke products from around the world – some that were quite interesting and good and some that defied all explanation for why anyone in their right mind would choose to drink them. Probably the foremost of these is known as the “Beverly,” a soda that tastes like grapefruit rind. Yeah, it was just as nasty as you imagine. As you can see, Bekah loved tasting all of the types of Coke.
Following the tour, we had a quick snack and decided to walk across Olympic Centennial Park to the CNN studios – this despite the overbearing heat. We made it, but everyone was a bit tired from the exertion when it came time to descend 8 flights of stairs for the CNN tour.
We weren’t allowed to take any pictures on the CNN tour, but this is a photo of the 8 story escalator we rode at the beginning.
Once we finished the studio tour, we again walked across the park in the heat – this time with a tired and hot Bekah riding on my shoulders. That day marked the last time we tried to push everyone to make it through two attractions in a day. After the adventures of that morning and early afternoon, we drove over to The Varsity, a famous drive-in style restaurant adjacent to Georgia Tech, where we chowed down on chili dogs, fries, and, of course, Coke.
On Thursday, our last full day in Atlanta, we visited the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, a science-lovers dream. Inside the museum we read our way through a long exhibit detailing everything from the Big Bang and the origin of life, through millions of years of evolution, all the way to today. It was a fascinating journey, one which even captured the interest of the girls as we tried to explain the processes to them. Of course, their minds were preoccupied with another section of the museum – dinosaurs.
There are few things that can capture the wonder of a person, whether they be children or adults, like dinosaurs. These powerful, majestic creatures seem so otherworldly to us today that it is hard to believe that they could have existed.
They also had a very interesting temporary exhibit on geckos, that included several of the fascinating creatures. I think I learned more about those lizards during that short time than I have ever known in my life!
That evening, the girls and Diana had time for one last dip in the pool,
, but Jackson was exhausted…
That night we had the best meal of our entire trip – at a downtown joint called Pittypat’s Porch. Let me tell you, this was Southern dining at its finest. At the restaurant we dined on fried chicken and potatoes and gravy, with never-ending black-eyed peas and collard greens on the side as well as a basket of sweet potato rolls and cornbread and a mason jar full of sweet tea. We also were able to partake of the salad bar which included Southern favorites like Hoppin’ John, pickled okra, and a host of others. Then for dessert we dined on some of the best peach cobbler to be found and a wonderful chocolate cake called The Southern Belle. The meal was a bit pricey, but the food was wonderful and the workers were beyond friendly, finding time to visit with us and the kids. If that isn’t enough, they also played a nonstop stream of Widespread Panic over the loudspeakers. I thought for a moment I had died and gone to heaven. It was a great experience.
To be continued…
Cruisin’ in the ATL – Part 1 June 27, 2010Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: Alabama, Atlanta, drive-by truckers, Google Maps, Mike the Eyeguy, Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Salem Church of Christ, U.S. Space and Rocket Center, vacation, zip city
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FYI: I did not forget my mom’s birthday on Friday, but since we were on the road there was no chance for me to post about it. I did call her that day from one of her favorite places, Columbus, Mississippi, but I’ll get to that later. For now consider this a belated Happy Birthday blog post. We love you mom!
As you are probably all aware, our planned vacation to the Gulf Coast was, ummm, shall we say disrupted, so with vacation time already in the books, Diana and I worked quickly to find a new destination for our family. We soon settled on one of the larger locations in the South, one with plenty of family-friendly entertainment options – Atlanta. I poured over websites and came up with a rough itinerary, which we would summarily toss to the side, but which, in the meantime, at least gave me some peace of mind, an idea that I could have at least some control over the situation.
So, on Sunday morning, June 20, the five of us loaded up in the van and hit the road – Highway 72, to be exact – heading for our first overnight stay with some of Diana’s family in Huntsville, Alabama.
When I first checked map, I quickly found a stop that we would have to make, a small detour that would be unavoidable for me as a huge music fan – specifically that of the Drive-By Truckers. Our first stop occurred at lunch time of that day, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Even the fact that we had Pizza Hut for a Father’s Day lunch did nothing to deter my spirits. Soon we found the first landmark for which I had been searching – a smallish, nondescript building along a two lane highway, but one whose reputation and influence stretched far beyond the drab, gray brick walls. This is the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studios where artists like the Staples Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson, the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, The Black Keys, and the aforementioned Drive-By Truckers, all recorded.
Following that, we continued the pilgrimage north of 72, passing through Florence as we inched closer to the state line and the next stop on our agenda, the small community of Zip City. In case you aren’t familiar with the town (and I reckon most of you are not), it is the subject of my favorite song by DBT and one of my favorites of all-time. It’s location is quite remote and the community does not even have a city limit sign. Truth be told, we did not even realize we were there until we saw these two landmarks – the Salem Church of Christ (mentioned twice by name in the song) and the Zip City volunteer fire department. I didn’t get to see the carpet inside the church, which according to the song is “blood red,” but I did get a picture by the sign.
I guess I haven’t spent much time in northern Alabama before, but it seemed as though there was a Church of Christ on every single rural corner. We ended up taking a bunch of backroads from Zip City to get back to 72 and it was like living in Searcy all over again. Nevertheless, we eventually made our way back to the highway and continued on our journey.
I can’t remember for certain if this happened before or after our stay in Huntsville, but there was another funny happening that took place along the highway and it was following this that I became convinced that the people running Google Maps are using some sort of illicit substance. By this time I had relinquished the driving duties to Diana, making me the de facto navigator for a time. Now, I have a tendency to be somewhat preoccupied and to not read ahead in the directions, so, when it said to turn off the highway onto another road, I thought nothing of it. She did so and, like a good map reader, I looked at the next instruction, supposedly taking place after only 0.8 miles – make a U-turn. So, I told Diana that the directions said to pull a Uwee. She did as I said, and I looked at the next instruction – Continue East on Highway 72. Seriously, the directions had us turn off the main road for a short time, do a U-turn, and rejoin the highway, all for no apparent reason. That was only the first in a series of times where we learned that Google Maps is far from infalliable.
We arrived at the Huntsville home of Diana’s Uncle Dan and Aunt Barbara that afternoon and they greeted us with open arms. I have spent very little time around them over the nearly 12 years of our marriage, but in their home we were all like old friends. The only regret I have is that we only took one picture during our brief stay at their home (this one of their middle daughter playing with Jackson), but, believe me, they are wonderful people.
Monday morning we hit the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, where we got to read about many of the past and future exploits of the American space program. The girls were not nearly as fascinated by the exhibits as Diana and I were, but they still got to enjoy themselves and posed for a few pictures.
Before continuing our journey to Atlanta there was one more stop to make – lunch with my online friend and fellow blogger, Michael Brown a.k.a Mike the Eyeguy. It’s been an interesting and great experience meeting people who you only know through their words and perhaps a Facebook picture. He is a very pleasant man and I greatly enjoyed getting to spend a short time visiting with him during his lunch break. Hopefully we will be able to do so again – whether it be in Huntsville, here in Memphis, or somewhere in between.
To be continued…
Vacation Plan B June 14, 2010Posted by Matt in family, vacation.
Tags: Atlanta, family vacation
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So, last week we officially cancelled our plans to visit the Gulf Coast for our vacation and instead made plans for four nights in Atlanta. I’m sure it will still be an enjoyable time and the kids will love it, but it is a bit disappointing nevertheless.
We will purchase four relatively inexpensive CityPASSes for our family, which will grant us entry into many of the major attractions in the city, including Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Zoo Atlanta, CNN Studios, our choice of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History or the Atlanta Botanical Garden, and our choice of the High Museum of Art or the Atlanta History Center. Though those things will certainly keep us busy, I am still open to suggestions from those of you more familiar with the city. What do you suggest we take time to do or see?
The Plans are A-Changin’, Part 2 June 9, 2010Posted by Matt in vacation.
Tags: Atlanta, changing plans, Gulf Coast, vacation
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Well, our vacation plans are no longer in flux. As of yesterday, we were able to cancel our reservations in Gulf Shores, receive a full refund, and book a hotel for our next destination: Atlanta.
I think it will still be a nice trip, despite the fact that it is a last minute change, and I’m sure the kids will enjoy it as much as anything. Using Priceline (Thank you, William Shatner), we were able to find a nice hotel for a reasonable rate. We are also going to purchase a CityPASS, which covers entry fees to several tourist destinations – Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca-Cola, Atlanta Zoo, Fernbank Museum of Natural History, etc. – at a discounted price. Along the way, we are going to stop for a night with some of Diana’s family in Huntsville and spend some time at the Space museum.
It’s not exactly what we had in mind when we started planning our first big family vacation, but I think it will work out just fine.
The Plans are A-Changin’ June 7, 2010Posted by Matt in family, vacation.
Tags: Atlanta, BP, family vacation, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Shores, oil spill, vacation alternatives
Over the years we’ve taken very few family vacations. This is due to multiple factors – lack of funds, lack of vacation days, the difficulties of traveling with young children – but, despite those plausible explanations, it has still been disappointing that we have not been able to do more. Since our children have reached an age in which they would enjoy a trip, we’ve taken two of them – three years ago we spent a long weekend in St. Louis and two years ago we visited and stayed with some good friends in Mobile, Alabama. This year, though, we reached a point where we could finally splurge a bit and do something a bit bigger, so about two months ago I hit the internet to find a spot for our trip. After some searching, we decided on a beachfront condo in Gulf Shores and set the date for our trip in mid-June.
Then, the day before the final date for receiving a refund for the trip, the oil disaster began. At the time we reckoned that things were under control as BP and the government said and that the mess would quickly be cleared, so our vacation hopes were still high. As the days and weeks stretched on, and both the scope of the disaster and the incompetence of BP became much more glaring, our concern grew.
Of course I care deeply about the health and well-being of the environment and I want things to be cleared up for its sake, but selfishly I’m a bit perturbed that this has disturbed our first real family vacation.
The real estate company that owns our condo has pledged to return all money paid if the beaches are closed within 48 hours of your scheduled arrival, but I can’t help being concerned. I don’t trust businesses to do the right thing, particularly when they are being faced with major financial losses. Secondly, only having a 48 hour window will make it very difficult for us to change plans within the week of vacation time we have already requested off from work.
I’ve begun looking at alternative vacation ideas in the likely event that we will be forced to change plans. At this point I think our top choice is spending a few nights in Atlanta, where we can visit the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, and a host of other spots using the relatively inexpensive CityPASS.
Of course everything hinges on whether or not they decide to close the beaches in Gulf Shores. If they don’t, I fear our first family trip will be tainted with the smell of oil…
Literary Field Trips July 8, 2009Posted by Matt in books, vacation.
Tags: American literature, Ernest Hemingway, Harper Lee, Monroeville, Oxford, pilgrimage, Truman Capote, William Faulkner
Continuing the book theme from yesterday…
Being an avid reader, particularly of the American classics, I have long been interested in the origins of the novels that I have read. One way that I have found to learn more about the authors I enjoy and their works is to visit their homes to try and glean a bit about what may have inspired them. Thus far, I have had the opportunity to see three such places, but I hope in the future to see several more.
It all started several years ago when my friend Andy and I, whom were both huge fans of Ernest Hemingway, learned of a spot in Northeast Arkansas, the town of Piggot to be exact, where this great author kept a home for a time. His second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, hailed from that small town and the two of them lived on her family’s 600 acres in the family house. A barn sitting next to the home was converted into a writing studio and it was here that Hemingway penned several short stories and parts of one of his greatest novels, A Farewell to Arms. For the two of us, it was an awe-inspiring visit into the home and studio where Hemingway himself had once resided.
We moved to the Memphis area over 5 years ago and it was soon after we arrived that we decided to make the short drive down to Oxford, Mississippi, where a second great American writer, William Faulkner, had once resided. This literary giant’s estate, also known as Rowan Oak, is a veritable feast for a lover of the written word. In his office you can even see where Faulkner wrote on the walls as the muse inspired. Again, this was an interesting trip into the environment that brought us such a plethora of Southern classics.
Last summer, our family traveled to Mobile, Alabama, to visit an old friend of mine and his wife, and while there I had the opportunity to pay homage to two more giants of American literature in the small Alabama town of Monroeville. For those of you unaware, Monroeville is the hometown of Harper Lee (or “Nelle” as she is known to locals) and the part-time childhood home of Truman Capote. It was an enlightening trip through this small Southern town as we toured the courthouse where the Mockingbird movie was filmed and walked the streets where Lee and Capote spent their childhoods.
So, now the question must be asked, where do we go next? There is the obvious choice of Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain lived. I’d like to visit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s home in Montgomery, Alabama, Margaret Mitchell’s residence in Atlanta, and Thomas Wolfe’s house in Asheville, NC.
Do you know of any other destinations we should add to the list?