My Coffeepot is in the Bathroom

My pots and pans are in boxes spread between the dining room and den. My dishwasher is in the middle of the floor in the “eat in” part of the kitchen. The microwave is in the laundry room. The only thing I can put my finger on without any hesitation is my Bota Box of pinot grigio–that’s on the kitchen table next to some unidentifiable pipes and plumbing fixtures.

We’re remodeling the kitchen.

It’s something we’ve been talking about doing ever since we moved to this house about 10 years ago. At first we were just going to replace the counters, sink and stove. That grew to include cabinets as well. When it’s all done, it will be wonderful, but for now, we’re camping out in our own home.

Have you ever done this? If so, give me some tips.

I’m about the farthest thing you can find from an A type personality, but these people are driving me crazy. They either don’t show up at all, or when you least expect it. Yesterday the guy came to measure for the granite just as I was leaving for work. Five minutes later and I would’ve missed him completely–and who knows how much of a setback that would’ve been.

The cabinet guy started working Wednesday. I was under the impression that the cabinets were mostly already assembled and just had to be nailed into place. Instead, my front yard is a wood-working shop complete with power tools and an air compressor. So far he’s nailed wood over the a/c vent, created a new space for the dishwasher (but neglected to drill holes or leave room for the needed pipes) and one electrical outlet is missing.

(Fast forward a few days.)

After a week without a kitchen we’re still…without a kitchen. But we’re getting closer. The cabinets are done and they’re great. The granite is 90% done–it’ll be finished tomorrow. There’s a plumber here now hooking up the dishwasher and putting in the new kitchen faucet and the disposal. He’ll also install the microwave.

The old oven is being hauled away by Habitat for Humanity tomorrow, but the new one can’t be delivered until Monday. So something I bought Memorial Day won’t be used until after July 4th. There’s still tile work above the counters to be scheduled. But, with any luck, tomorrow will be the last day for this:


Filed under At Home

Genetic Memory, Huguenots and the Richard LeNoir Market

Have you ever heard of genetic memory? According to Wikipedia, it’s:

…memory present at birth that exists in the absence of sensory experience, and is incorporated into the genome over long spans of time.It is based on the idea that common experiences of a species become incorporated into its genetic code.

I’m sure there’s only a tiny little speck of DNA in me that’s left over from my French ancestors, but I do believe it completely dominates over all the English, Scottish and whatever else is traveling through my veins.

The French part of the family were Huguenots–protestants who rebelled against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. They were persecuted and even massacred in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many fled, including my ancestors who ended up in Manakin Town, Virginia, in 1699.

Like I said, that’s just one vague ancestor centuries ago, but I’m convinced that genetic memory is why I love France so much–especially the markets.

In April, we spent a morning at the huge Richard LeNoir Market just off the Place de la Bastille. I had collected a few Euro from each of my companions and was buying picnic provisions.

Like bread…Cheese, of course…Some fruit…

Maybe just a little more cheese…

We also had pate, charcuterie and some sweets…

Not the most elegant table I’ve ever set, but when you consider that this was just a few feet away, you really can’t complain.


Filed under Food/Cooking, Travel

So Just How Clean Is Your Organic Girl Lettuce?

I’ve never been a big fan of lettuce in a bag–especially those cellophane bags of sad, brown iceberg lettuce with a few shavings of carrot thrown in for good measure. You could practically see the germs floating around in the scummy brown water that always seemed to accumulate in the bottom of the bag.

I remember being at more than one gathering when the hostess pulled a similar bag out of the fridge, opened it and poured it right into a salad bowl.

No thank you.

But recently, I’ve been lured in by the Organic Girl brand sold at Whole Foods.

50/50! - 50% spring mix & 50% baby spinachThe products are touted as being triple-washed. And, as their website states:

Fabulous–you’ve found organicgirl! these are no ordinary greens. these are organicgirl® good clean greens. introducing the next generation of organic produce, grown in harmony with the earth usda certified organic and cultivated with a keen eye for superior quality. each leaf is nourished with love from mother earth, and packed in a 100% recycled plastic clamshell 100% Plastic Packaging . we have it on good authority that mother nature is an organicgirl, and we’re confident that you’ll agree – mother always knows best.

Old habits die hard, and the first time I bought these greens I put them in my trusted salad spinner/washer. What washed out was pure dirt–almost enough to make mud pies from.

Now don’t get me wrong–I know full well that lettuce grows in the dirt. When I buy greens from my local farmer’s market, there’s always dirt attached. No biggie.

But when something purports to be clean, there shouldn’t be that much dirt attached. If their triple-washing leaves this much dirt behind, it makes you wonder about the rest of their process.

Nevertheless, I tried again with a different mixture–a lettuce/spinach blend. Once again I washed it myself. Only this time, instead of dirt, there were soap suds in the bottom of my washing bowl.

Frankly, I’d rather see dirt than suds of an unknown origin.

After two or three rinses, the suds went away.

But not before I learned a lesson–no more “prewashed” greens.

I’ll save the money and wash my lettuce myself.


Filed under Food/Cooking

Tennessee Walking Horses

Tennessee Walking Horses have always been part of the fabric of life in Franklin. When I was growing up, horses were all around. And not just walkers, but hunter/jumpers, draft horses and ponies of all varieties were common sights. My aunt had two walking horses–Beulah and Polly. She’d breed them once a year to one of the local studs and the money she got from selling the foals always came in handy.

One of the most famous walking worse barns in the world was just a few blocks from the square. Harlinsdale Farm was home to Midnight Sun, a legendary horse and quite literally the foundation bloodline for most champions today. From a website about the horse:

He was the first stallion to become world champion of his kind.  That was in 1945 and 1946 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at Shelbyville, Tennessee.   Then he sired horses that were grand champions there seven times; grand-sired the supreme winner five times;  and was the great-grandsire of nearly EVERY year’s champion since that time. On only FOUR occasions since 1949,  have horses NOT descended from Midnight Sun, in a straight male line, been world champions of this breed.

Walking Horses were first bred by Southern planters looking for an easy-going horse with enough stamina to cover large tracts of land in a day. Variations with pacers, thoroughbred and Morgans eventually led to the breed we know today. The prized gait of the walking horse is its running walk. Here’s Midnight Sun several decades ago performing the gait that made him champion. Notice how his head bobs and how the rider doesn’t even move–he’s just gliding along.

Over the years, the running walk became more and more prized and more and more outlandish. It’s known as the “Big Lick” and truly, the bigger the better. Bigger prize money. Bigger stud fees.

And, unfortunately, a bigger temptation to abuse these animals. In past couple of weeks, a video has surfaced of a top trainer abusing his horses. Harsh chemicals are put on their feet to make them lift their legs higher. Weighted shoes and chains add to the pain. Even sadder, the horses are beaten when they can’t even stand.

I hope that once and for all the abusers are disgraced. It’s easy to say that everyone connected with walking horses is part of the problem, but I just don’t believe that. I’ve been at the shows and I’ve been in the barns.

As a lifelong horse-lover, and someone who grew up around Tennessee Walking Horses, this abuse makes sick and sad. Because you want to know what else walkers are known for other than their stamina and naturally flashy gait–they’re known for their sweet temperaments.

Like all gentle souls, they’re easily taken advantage of.



Filed under At Home, Nostalgia

The Labyrinth at Chartres

Until a few years ago, I only knew labyrinths from my high school studies of Greek mythology. King Minos of Crete built an elaborate labyrinth to keep the frightful Minotaur at bay. But when I went on my first pilgrimage with the youth from my church, I learned that the practice of walking a labyrinth while saying a breath prayer was alive and well today–and, in fact, that it had been a part of the Christian tradition for centuries.

(An aside–did you ever read J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey? If all you know of Salinger is Catcher in the Rye, I implore you to read his short stories about the fictional Glass family of New York, circa 1955. In the story, Franny is obsessed with a book called The Way of the Pilgrim in which the main character, a Russian peasant, practices prayer without ceasing–that is, he has a breath prayer that he says to himself at all times…with every inhale and exhale. Franny tries to emulate this practice and, in the process, gives herself a nervous breakdown.)

One of the highlights of my recent journey to Paris was a day trip to the Medieval town of Chartres and its famous cathedral.

The cathedral was built in the 1200s and its stained glass is some of Europe’s finest.

But what really sets this cathedral apart is its labyrinth–an elaborate, circular path that’s only available for walking a days during the year. Happily, that coincided with our visit there.

The day we were there, the cathedral had quite a few visitors–many bearing the familiar backpack of the modern-day pilgrims, some with the shells that signify those who have walked Spain’s Compostela route. After wandering though the cathedral for a while, I started in on the labyrinth, trying to concentrate on matching my pace with my breath prayer.

But there was  a problem–an unpleasant-looking woman was speed walking her way through the maze.




Squeak. Every time she pivoted, her tennis shoes made a disagreeable sound. She was going as fast as she could, passing people who were in her way. Determined to set a record for how fast she could walk the famed labyrinth at Chartres. No doubt she was on one of those “17 countries in 14 days” types of package tours–speed walking her way through Europe without seeing a single thing on the way.

Done properly, this labyrinth takes about 30 minutes. I doubt she took 10. But at least she was gone soon and I could finally find my own rhythm without being distracted by her squeaky shoes.

(Pictures  courtesy on my traveling companion J9. Follow her on Instagram at j9win)


Filed under Travel

A Parisian Rendevouz

Last week I was in Paris, and while I was there I met up with an old friend. I had never met her in person. Never heard the sound of her voice. But we managed to cross a few borders and time zones to spend a day together. Let me tell you how we met…

When I first started blogging, I became enamored of a website called Ask and Yes Shall Receive. It was a site that reviewed blogs. The reviewers were tough and had a collection of rankings ranging from flaming fingers making rude gestures to the rare and prized “I @#$% Love You.” The reviews themselves were hysterical, and the comments that followed were equally scathing. The site had a huge following, and it wasn’t uncommon for a review to garner hundreds of comments.

I think it was through this blog that I first became aware of Ellie and her blog, The Daily Smoke. Back then, Ellie, an American, was living in London. Her blog was elegant–artful black and white photos of London scenes. Black type on a white background with a little red thrown in for emphasis. Content ranged from the ultra-casual–what she saw on the bus that morning–to the deeply poignant–sexual abuse at the hands of an adopted brother.

There was always something about Ellie’s blog and writing that connected with me, and vice versa.

She’s now living in Madrid. I told her I was coming to Paris and that if she’d come see me, I’d buy dinner. And she took me up on it.

We started talking at 11. We talked as we walked. We talked through coffee. Through a bottle of wine with lunch. As we walked through Le Marais and crossed the Seine to the left bank so I could retrieve my sunglasses at my hotel. We talked as we walked up the hill to the Pantheon and down the other side to have a beer at a small cafe. We talked as we walked through Jardin du Luxembourg and through the Latin Quarter before stopping for one last beer.

Seven hours (or was it eight) of nonstop talking.

I suppose what we did is a little risky. We could’ve taken an instant dislike to each other, but instead the opposite happened.

Thank you, Ellie, for a great day. It’s nice to finally have a face and a voice to go with the name.


Filed under Travel

Can I Go Back Now?

Florida is home to some pretty swanky resorts, and Islamorada–on Matecumbe Key–is home to one of the very swankiest. At the Checca Lodge you can be swathed in luxury with minions ready to fulfill your every whim. You can wine. You can dine. You can be massaged, mani-ed and pedi-ed. You can revel in the privacy of the 27-acre grounds, gated to keep the riff raff out.

We just got back from Islamorada. And I guess you could best describe our lodgings as the anti-Cheeca.

Many of the plastic chairs had broken slats. One of our windows had to be propped open with a shoe. The refrigerator in our room made strange clicking noises all night long.

But when this is the view from your private deck, a noisy refrigerator doesn’t really matter.

We stayed at a funky old place called the Sands of Islamorada. We had a queen-size bed, a little kitchen and a bathroom.

And a private patio.

The building was perpendicular to the water, so there were only two waterfront units. That’s ours on the bottom. There was a constant breeze and an ever-changing view.

Here’s sunrise:

I’m not really an ocean person. If I had to choose between ocean or mountains, I’d take mountains every time. I like changing seasons, fireplaces and thick socks. But in January–when spring is months away from Middle Tennessee–the Keys are hard to beat.

Travel is about change–change of scenery, change of habit, change of routine. We only had a few days there, but they were worth their weight in gold.

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the Keys.

I hope it isn’t the last.

Oh–the guy in the header visited us one day and then scurried up a nearby palm. Not sure if he ever came down.


Filed under Travel

Slice of Life

We had a fancy dinner party last night. Lots of silver, crystal and china. Linen on the table. Fully stocked bar. Fussy (but delicious) little canapes. Lots of wine followed by tawny port.

About two hours before the guests arrived I was peeling potatoes. Midway through the second one I managed to peel off part of the nail of the little finger of my right hand. I would like to say that the blood spurted across the room, decorating the shiny fridge with artful splatter.

But instead it just welled up and out in a steady stream. For a couple of seconds I just looked at the blood dripping in the sink. I was hoping that there was just a bit of skin missing and not part of the nail. I held it under running water. It hurt like the devil and I was afraid to look.

You see, losing a nail is one of those things I’ve always dreaded. The thought of that exposed skin just makes my toes curl up under my feet. I have this image of exposed nerves just dangling there…waving in the breeze. Ready to latch onto whatever germ comes its way.

It didn’t stop bleeding for a while and I went through several bandages before my company came.

I managed to finish cooking. I was telling my guests about the mishap and explained that because of the accident their potatoes would be served with the skins.

“Whose skin?” one asked.

I’ll never tell.




Filed under At Home, Food/Cooking

New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Peas

One New Year’s tradition in the South is eating black-eyed peas for good luck.

Many decades ago I vacationed in San Antonio with my parents and younger sister. Our family vacations were all about food. I remember going to New Orleans for upscale seafood–we dined at Antoine’s one evening with a family friend who had his own waiter there. The gulf coast was for shrimp. And Texas was for then-exotic Mexican food.

One night at the Little Rhein Steakhhouse in San Antonio we were served an amuse-bouche of black-eyed peas. The whole family loved them and they were the highlight of the night. After we returned to Franklin, my mother wrote to the steakhouse for the recipe.

They responded with the following:

5 lb dried black-eyed peas

1.5 gallons water

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 tablespoon cumin

1 lb butter

1/2 cup Lowery’s seasonall

2 1/2 tablespoon salt

3/4 tablespoon garlic

1 tablespoon pepper

Soak peas for two hours. Place in ovenproof dish with all other ingredients. Cook at 325  for 2 hours.

So–you probably don’t want to cook five pounds of peas. I cook one or two and cut the recipe accordingly. Be warned–sometimes two hours isn’t enough.And I add a country ham hock.

My parents used to make this for New Year’s–they’d have an open house-type party where people could come have a drink, some peas and watch some football. Cumin was a foreign commodity and had to be purchased in Nashville.

So–if you’re in the mood for a New Year’s good luck charm, try the black-eyed peas.

And best to you in 2012.


Filed under At Home, Food/Cooking, Nostalgia

Carol of the Bells

Most people I know go to church on Christmas Eve. Our tiny historic church has 3 services–each guaranteed to be overflowing. Instead of physically going to church on December 24, we listen to the Lessons and Carols broadcast by BBC from Kings College in Cambridge.

Tonight I took a walk around the neighborhood. “Carol of the Bells” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came on the iPod. I put it on repeat and listened for the entire walk. I don’t know the first thing about music, but I directed the choir on my walk. I’m sure my gesticulations would’ve made no sense to the choir, but they felt good to me.

A few days ago, an atheist friend told me that she was sorry that Christmas had been taken over by Christians. I had nothing to say to that.

Christmas morning is when we go to church. There’s not nearly as many people. Instead of tired children, everyone will be filled with the joy of the season. It’s a happy service.

Then we’ll make the family rounds…home by 3 or 4 to relax and read by the fire.

Merry Christmas to you all. Thanks for reading and best wishes for an extraordinary new year.


Filed under At Home