Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Great visit with the Wolf

Great Wolf Lodge. Have you seen the commercials? I love the snappy tune, and when I hear it, I automatically think of the wonderful resort in Williamsburg that my family has visited several times now.
A week ago Sunday, we ventured there again. This time, we had four teenagers in tow. Yes, four, and only two of them were ours. You never know what will happen when you put teenagers together with rather boring adults, but our results were fabulous. Everyone seemed to have a blast. I don't know when I've seen such happy faces!
It had been three years, I guess, since my family was at the resort, and a number of changes had been made both in and outside the waterpark. Howling Tornado and Wolf Rider Wipeout were hits with our kids, especially Wipeout. The attraction is a surf simulator. One rider at a time gets a turn at the fast waves. Reggie and I sat at this attraction for a long time both days we were there. We watched little kids get tossed about and old folks like us get tossed about. But what we really enjoyed were the resort visitors who could ride the waves. I especially got a kick out of watching the teenagers with us as they jostled about in the fast-moving water. All four managed to stay on their surfboard (some longer than others!) What a great ride for those adventurous enough to try it!
While the teenagers were busy on water slides, the wave pool, lazy river or hot tub, Reggie and I most people-watched. The park was packed Sunday, so we had plenty of people to watch. Moms and dads with babies were joined by grandparents who also got in the swing of things. Kids ran from attraction to attraction, in a safe environment overseen by a herd of lifeguards. We especially liked watching the lifeguard assigned to the lazy river who constantly walked back and forth over the same area, scanning the water for bodies, I guess.
My family also enjoys the amenities outside the water. The kids spent a lot of time (and money!) in the arcade. Arcades aren't easy to come by these days, so they enjoyed a variety of games from Dance Dance Revolution to Deal or No Deal. Two of them played miniature golf, which they enjoyed.
We also had meals and treats from the water park snack bar. We tried to eat dinner at the poolside bar and grill, but a monstrous thunderstorm ran us inside. Next time we visit, we will try again. They actually cook the food on an outdoor grill, and my crowd was looking forward to some grilled burgers and chicken and pineapple skewers.
Our kids were too old to participate in another new-to-us attraction at Great Wolf, MagiQuest. For a fee, kids use a wand that activates challenges throughout the lodge. Little kids ran up and down the hallways with their wands, working on challenges and making things light up or open and close. They were having so much fun that we were tempted to participate!
My family loves Great Wolf Lodge, and I don't hesitate to suggest it to families. We love the laid-back atmosphere and the fun environment.
Williamsburg is such a quick drive — less than 3 hours — and is such a wonderful place to visit after the family grows weary of the chlorine and water!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A taste of Savannah

In one week's time, Reggie and I made two quick trips to Savannah: one to deliver our daughter to a weeklong workshop at Savannah College of Art and Design and one to pick her up.
I could tell you all about the historic buildings we saw, the shaded squares, the Spanish moss, the wonderful shopping, the beautiful silver ring Reggie bought for me, the view of the Savannah River from our hotel room. But instead, I want to talk about the food we ate.
Before our trip, Reggie and I read about dining and shopping and activities in Savannah. We both knew we wanted to eat at Paula Deen's Lady and Sons on our return trip, but we had to carefully choose what we wanted to eat during the few hours we were in Savannah the Sunday we dropped off our daughter. We chose Leopold's Ice Cream on Broughton, which turned out to be the street with wonderful shopping as well!
Leopold's was established in 1919 and was made famous for its homemade ice cream. The business closed at some point but was reopened in 2004 by a descendant of the original Leopold brothers. The current business uses the original ice cream recipe and some of the same fixtures from the original store, including the black marble soda fountain. In addition to ice cream, the restaurant serves sandwiches and salads.
The restaurant sounded like the perfect plan for the three of us, who were hot and hungry after driving five hours. Reggie and I each ordered a club sandwich with a side order of pasta salad, and Anna got a turkey sandwich with chips. We all three enjoyed our meal so much and still had room for some ice cream. I chose chocolate swirl; Reggie got his favorite butter pecan, and I think Anna got vanilla or maybe chocolate. The ice cream was truly delicious and was a good indication of the special homemade food we would sample in Savannah.
After eating, we drove around Savannah, taking in the sites and getting acquainted with the city. We made several stops at fashionable shops such as Marc Jacobs and Urban Outfitters before stumbling across City Market. We wandered in and out of shops and galleries and found Savannah's Candy Kitchen, where a worker was making taffy by the front door. The aromas from this business were heavenly! I literally felt like a kid in the candy store as I admired the chocolate covered pretzels (which I bought), pralines, caramel apples and other delights. I picked out some favorite taffy flavors and filled up a bag to take home.
That was it for our first quick trip. Reggie and I were in Savannah for less than four hours that day, but we did return!
Lady and Sons was certainly the culinary highlight of our second quick visit. For years I had wanted to eat at Paula Deen's famous restaurant and sample the fried chicken! It was worth the wait.
Reggie and I were quite surprised at the size of the restaurant. Lady and Sons is located in the 200-year-old White Hardware Building on Congress Street, a narrow street that's always crowded with tourists. The restaurant is three stories with dining on the first and third floors. We ate on the third story. Another diner told us the kitchen is on the second floor.
Doiles were set at each place of our antique table, which overlooked the streets below. We chose the buffet, which that day featured fried chicken, baked chicken and fried fish. The side dishes included lima beans, creamed corn, green beans, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, grits, black-eyed peas and brunswick stew, which Reggie said was delicious.
I filled my plate with a little bit of a lot of things and wasn't disappointed. My favorites were the creamed corn and candied yams — and the two kind of chicken, of course. Instead of eating dessert, Reggie and I went back for seconds, and I ate both the cheese biscuit and hoecake that were delivered to our table. The breads were a highlight of the meal.
Our meal cost around $30, and it was worth every cent, not only for the tasty food but also for the atmosphere. We also loved it when we asked our waiter about the beautiful dining tables, and he said, "Miss Paula loves antiques."
If you plan to visit Lady and Sons, you must know that it's not as easy as walking in and asking for a table. People line up early in the morning to secure a seat for later in the day. The photo on this post was taken by my daughter early one morning on her way to class. Check out the Web site for details on getting reservations:
Reggie and I didn't get hungry again for hours after our buffet lunch, as we roamed the streets of Savannah. One of our favorite stops Friday was River Street, which is lined with many stores and restaurant, and another Savannah Candy Kitchen location. There was much more activity at this candy shop location, where workers were making gophers (think chocolate, caramel and pecan turtles) and more taffy. The guy making taffy was throwing out samples of the tangerine flavor he was making. I caught one; it was so good! Before we left, I got a cup of lemon gelato. Oh my! It was so delicious. I wish I could have tried every flavor.
Neither one of us was very hungry at suppertime, but when we did need to eat something before heading to our daughter's art reception. We chose a spot on River Street, Wet Willie's. Now Reggie and I are not drinkers, but we chose a restaurant famous for its alcholic drinks. The bar side of the restaurant features a wall of swirling drink machines (think Icee). We each got a sandwich and a Weak Willie, a nonalcoholic frozen lemonade, which we really enjoyed. We ate our meal at a table that overlooked the river. We enjoyed watching the tourist riverboats come in and out. If you ever eat at Wet Willie's, make sure you have cash; they don't take checks or credit cards.
Savannah was a lot of fun. There's so much to see and do, and we only got a glimpse, really. Anna loved SCAD, so I imagine we'll be back in town. Next time, we'll take a trolley tour and visit Tybee Island, I hope, and certainly try some new restaurants.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Road trip

First of all, I'd like to thank Margaret Maron, who saved my sanity Sunday on an I-95 road trip. Reggie and I listened intently for 7 hours and 15 minutes of our 12 hours in the car to Maron's book on CD "Shooting at Loons." Thank you for keeping me entertained and alert on our long day driving to and from Savannah, Ga. And thanks to the Wilson County Public Library for its wonderful collection of books on CD.
It had been a number of years since Reggie and I spent so much time in the car, and I have some observations from the road.
First off, why is the South Carolina stretch of I-95 in such awful condition? There were ruts and holes and potholes and more ruts and holes and potholes. The pavement was uneven and made the trip bumpy and loud. We had to keep the volume of CD player turned up high to hear over the road noise. Also, the roadside isn't as well maintained as the N.C. stretch we were on. The medians are overgrown. I imagine money is the blame for both problems, but I wish they could get the road repaired. On the way back last night, we noticed southbound traffic was reduced to one lane, and workers were putting out orange cones on one stretch of the road. Perhaps part of the road is being paved or at least repaired.
My next point might just refer back to the last paragraph. I promise you I'm not exaggerating when I say we saw at least 15 to 20 cars beside the road, mostly in S.C., with flat tires. Mile after mile, there were families huddled beside the road or in a ditch while someone changed a tire. There must be a reason for this. I've never seen so many disabled vehicles on a trip. We were so thankful our new tires held up well.
And why are there no Steak 'N Shake restaurants along I-95 in S.C., or N.C. for that matter? I really wanted a burger with fries for supper last night, but no luck. Just the same old boring fast food offerings we have at home. And why did I not see a single road sign for Starbucks while driving to Georgia? We did, however, see our share of South of the Border signs.
Yesterday, we also saw a rather large police presence. There were many patrol cars parked in the median or driving along with traffic. We saw several cars pulled. On some trips Reggie and I take, we don't see a single patrol car.
We were also alarmed at the number of roadside memorials on the interstate. I feel sure we saw more than a dozen crosses and flowers that marked where someone was killed on I-95. It's a sobering thought when you're going 70 mph and cars are flying past you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cleaning out Daddy's closets

Well, we did it.
Susan and I went through all of Daddy's clothes this week, packed them up and took them to Hope Station.
I've attempted to do it several times since he died March 13. I'd set aside some time to go to the house, but then I couldn't bring myself to actually start the process. But Susan was in town this week, and we both were eager to get the job done. It had to be done, and we needed to do it. It's all part of the grieving process, right?
Daddy's old clothes were divided between three closets. The ones he wore in the last year or so of his life were stacked neatly on the twin bed in Susan's old room.
The front closet held mostly trousers and windbreakers. Lots of trousers and lots of windbreakers. Some of the pants still had tags on them. Others bore stains and signs of wear from days working in the garden, cutting grass, cleaning out the gutters, painting the house.
Daddy had lots of nylon jackets: nylon windbreakers in a variety of colors from yellow to pale blue, dark brown and navy. By the time we found all of them in the various colors, we had counted more than 20!
The closet in his bedroom held the shirts Daddy wore to work and for dress occasions. A few new ones were still in their original package on the closet shelf. Some of my favorite shirts were in this closet. I always loved it when Daddy wore his cheerful shirts: colorful plaids he bought at Rose's. (Why I remember this, I do not know.) It was at this point that Susan and I began holding out clothes. There were several shirts we could not part with.
We didn't keep any of the suits Daddy wore to church, to piano recitals, concerts, graduations and funerals. But I did think of the many times I saw him wear one light blue suit in particular, and how handsome he looked in it. We also gave away the dark brown corduroy jacket he wore so often in the 1970s. Susan remembered he was still wearing heavy, plastic eyeglasses at the time he bought that suit.
As we worked, we saved a few things for Daddy's brother Fred. A jacket, some ties, some baseball caps, a wool American Legion jacket that Daddy never wore to my knowledge. We also set aside a new jacket for a special neighbor.
My son, husband and brother-in-law had already chosen some of Daddy's ties. Robert wore his to his senior banquet; I was so proud.
We didn't get too sentimental or upset until we got to Susan's old bed. It was what I had been dreading. There, in front of us, were the pajamas, the flannel shirts, the sweat pants that Daddy wore these last few years. The sad memories. I didn't cry until I picked up one of the faded light gray cotton jackets Daddy wore around the house so often. I saw the stain on the sleeve where one of the many skin tears on Daddy's elbow had leaked blood. I tried so many times to get that stain out. I hugged the jacket to my chest and cried.
"I thought Daddy was crazy the first time he put this jacket on backwards," I told Susan.
Daddy would sometimes put the jacket on so that the zippered part would be towards the back. He did it on purpose. He said it kept him warmer that way. During Daddy's illness, we used those three remaining gray jackets to keep him warm. Sometimes he preferred that over a blanket. We'd just place the jacket stretched out over his chest when he complained of being cold, which was often. And we NEVER left the house without one of those jackets in case Daddy got cold in the car or the doctor's office or on a visit to my aunt and uncle's house.
We tossed the blood-stained jacket. I put one of the others in a small plastic storage bin with my name on it, joining a pretty plaid shirt I had chosen to save earlier. Susan did the same.
As I sorted through the flannel shirts, I pictured him in each one. He never would have considered wearing flannel before his illness. But in the last few years of his life, he loved the extra warmth the shirts gave him.
Picking up the sweatpants, I thought back to the Saturday morning Reggie and I bought them. The caregivers had suggested them. They'd be easier to work with than the too-big pants and belt we were using. Daddy lost so much weight in the last year of his life. I kept buying smaller size trousers, but they'd quickly get droopy, too. The sweatpants with an elastic waist were the perfect solution.
The plaid pajamas reminded me of the awful days when Daddy was too sick to get out of bed, so we kept his pajamas on him.
Mixed in with everything else were some of his handkerchiefs. Daddy always carried a handkerchief. Mama taught me how to iron by having me get the wrinkles out of Daddy's handkerchiefs when I was a child. When he was so sick, we always tried to keep his shirt pocket filled with tissues or a handkerchief because he was always needing one or the other.
As we neared the end of our task, I picked up ball cap after ball cap. You almost never saw Daddy without a cap on. He even wore them in the house when his head got cold, which was often these last years. His trademark cap was burgundy with Heritage Bank printed in white. We buried him with one of those caps tucked inside the casket.
As I sorted through those caps, deciding which one I wanted to put in my keepsake box, I pulled one up to my nose, then another, and another. I desperately needed to "smell" my daddy. In one, I immediately got a whiff of the scent I associate with Daddy. It was reassuring, comforting somehow. I called Susan back to the room; I wanted her to smell it, too. But it was already gone. We cried some more. I think this was the time we both broke down and sobbed in each other's arms.
But it was done.
We loaded the five or six garbage bags of clothes and the stack of suits into our cars and drove to Hope Station. When we got there, Susan walked to my car. She had gotten sentimental again on the drove over, she said, adding we needed to find a few more of those pretty plaid shirts to keep. I was glad to oblige. I didn't want it to end. We pulled two more shirts from one of the bags before turning over our beloved Daddy's clothes to men who, we hope, will put them to good use.
It's strange how your clothes can tell your life's story. In Daddy's closets we found evidence of his working life (a lab coat and green overalls); his church life with many suits and ties; his family life reflected in casual clothes including a pair of shorts he only wore when we went on vacation or maybe to cut grass; well-worn gardening trousers and long-sleeve shirts for pulling corn; and shirts with American Legion or Wilson County Fair logos. There was even a World's Best Grandpa ball cap among the mix.
I'm glad Susan was able to help me clean out Daddy's closets. It was good having someone with me to share the memories, someone to encourage me to keep going, someone to hold me when I cried.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My own luna hibiscus!

I'm so proud of the newest addition to our carport garden. It's a luna hibiscus or a luna bush.
The last several years, I've noticed these incredibly large and colorful blooms on bushes throughout my neighborhood. I didn't know what the blooms were, but I knew I wanted one of those plants. Last week, my friend Ginny Tarleton mentioned her luna hibiscus in her garden blog and posted a photograph. It was the flower I had seen throughout my neighborhood.
Finally, a name for the beautiful plant! Ginny's plant is a beautiful pastel pink/ lavender color. The ones I saw on N.C. 42 on our way to Rock Ridge last week were a deep fuchsia.
With a name to this mysterious plant (mysterious to me anyway!) I was able to purchase my own luna hibiscus at Ace Hardware. My blooms are very deep red. I'll be reading up on how to keep my plant alive all year. And Ginny has promised to save me some seeds from her plant so maybe I can have a second one next summer. I'd love to have different colors. The pale pink like Ginny's is my favorite.
Most of the plants I purchased for our carport have been a disappointment this summer, especially the topiary rose bush. I'm so glad to have something that's finally blooming! Just this morning, I saw the second bloom had popped out. Can't wait to examine it up close this afternoon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Squash and more squash

My brother-in-law, Billy, brought us some squash this week. Not just a few, mind you, but a bushel basket full of yellow summer squash and brilliant green zucchini. I was quite overwhelmed!
I brought some to work to share with my co-workers, I froze some and a made a most delicious squash casserole for Tuesday night's summer.
Have you noticed how many different recipes there are for squash casserole? I looked through some church cookbooks here at the office and browsed online recipes on allrecipes.com and myrecipes.com, where you'll find Southern Living recipes. Some are very similar, using sour cream, mayonnaise or cream of chicken soup as a binder. Some mix in crushed Ritz crackers and also use them as a topping. Many recipes use eggs, including the one I almost made at allrecipes. But I decided to improvise, remembering how I had made squash casseroles before. In the end, I think most of them taste the same.
I mixed the yellow squash and zucchini and opted not to use carrots as I've done many times before.
Reggie and I loved the casserole last night; I can't wait to get home for my lunch leftovers.
Here's my recipe if you want to try it. And, yes, I've written it down this time so when I pull out the squash we froze last night, I'll know just how to prepare my casserole.

Squash Casserole
6 medium yellow squash
2 medium zucchinis
Chopped onion (to taste)
1 can low-fat, low-sodium cream of chicken soup
1 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 cup cheddar cheese or a cheddar blend
Salt to taste
About a handful of Pepperidge Farm stuffing
Cook squash and onion in lightly salted water until tender. Drain, but don't mash. Mix squash with soup, sour cream, cheese and salt. Top with stuffing.
Bake at 350 degrees for around 30 minutes.