Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trip to Tennessee

When I was about nine years old my dad bought Paul Simon's Graceland album on CD. He played it frequently throughout the next couple years and me and my siblings became pretty fond of the music. The title track (click on the video player below to hear it) talks about Graceland, stating that it is in Memphis, Tennessee, so ever since my dad first played this catchy number, I have had in my head the same thought Simon expresses in the lyric "for reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me that wants to see Graceland."

So, flash forward to 2009, and I'm looking at a map of the eastern half of the US and thinking, since we live here now, about which places we could go visit. Turns out Memphis is only nine hours from Columbus, and Nashville, which is supposedly a pretty cool place as well, is on the way. So, as a celebration for finishing the fence and Spring Break, we took a three-day trip to Tennessee to see what all the fuss is about.

Turns out, it is a pretty cool place.

We left Thursday morning, driving away about 9 a.m. in a pouring rain and closing our newly finished driveway gates behind us. Then, we drove south, through Cincinnati and then through Louisville, Kentucky (we'll have to actually stop there some day to see Churchill Downs and the Slugger factory) and on to Nashville. The drive is quite pretty, and the farther south we got the greener it was. We pulled into Goodletsville, Tenn. (10 minutes north of Nashville) about 3 p.m. local time and checked into our motel. Then, we dropped off our stuff and headed out into the city.

We spent a couple hours in the Opryland Hotel, which seems like a funny place to go at first, until you find out the hotel houses more than 20 acres of indoor tropical gardens and that it is free to walk around and enjoy them. Parking at the hotel is $18, but Crystal was quick to point out that we could park in a mall parking lot next door for free and only have to walk about 5 minutes to the hotel, so that is what we did. We really enjoyed seeing all the gardens, trees, waterfalls, etc., as well as exploring the New Orleans-inspired architecture on an island inside a river in one area.

Here we are in the gardens, and with one of the waterfalls.

After the Opryland gardens, we were quite hungry, so we consulted one of the three guidebooks Crystal checked out at the library and headed to the nearby Cock of the Walk restaurant for some true Southern cooking. Crystal had fried shrimp and I had fried catfish, and we also got french fries (Clara's favorite!), hush puppies, corn bread, amazing cole slaw, fried pickles and pickled onions (which were wonderful). Our waiter even came over and flipped our cornbread out of the cast iron skillet it was cooked in about 10 feet in the air before catching it and serving it up. The restaurant was really cool, appointed in all rough-hewn wood, with everything being served in battered tin dishes. We ate most of it with our hands and had a really good time.

Here's our meal.

After dinner, we stopped at Cooter's Place, which is owned by Ben Jones, who played Cooter the Mechanic in the Dukes of Hazzard television show. It has a small museum with tons of Dukes merchandise, news clippings, kitsch, etc. on display, as well as lots of Dukes of Hazzard souvenirs. The coolest things, though, were original cars from the series (one small display had a few arm rests and handles ... all that was left of one of the General Lee cars after a crash), including a sheriff's car and Daisy Duke's jeep.

Clara (and her dad) also wanted a picture with the General Lee on display there.
We also got some good views of downtown Nashville, which is pretty and clean. There is a lot to do here that we didn't get to, so we might have to drive back down some day. Here is a shot of the most prominent building in the skyline, the AT&T building, which is sometimes called the "Bat Building," for obvious reasons.

We rested really well on Thursday night and then struck off bright and early for Memphis Friday morning. Again, it rained on us as we left, but was sunny and nice by the time we arrived at our destination. Graceland was the first place we went. Here is the front of the home, which Elvis purchased in 1957 when he was 22 years old.

A lot has been said about how Elvis decorated the home, and it is certainly eclectic, with some rooms having a very normal appearance and others reflecting glaringly the fact that they were last decorated in the mid 1970s. Here is a picture of his yellow and blue television room (which had three TVs because he liked to watch all three network news broadcasts simultaneously), and the famed Jungle Room, which is actually really cool, especially with the indoor waterfall.
It was also impressive to see displays of all of Elvis' gold and platinum records. He had hundreds, something no other artist will probably ever do. There were also displays of his cars, his airplanes, and his one-piece suits from his later career. Below is one of the record displays, as well as suit with the Aztec calendar on it.
Another interesting part of the Graceland tour was the section about his time in Germany while he was in the Army. It was interesting to learn more about him as a person and how hard it was for him to give up his amazing music career and growing movie career to serve the country. To top it all off, his mother died while he was in training. Once he got to Germany, though, things weren't exactly like a normal G.I.; he still had KP duty and regular jobs as a driver and at a security post, but he was allowed to live off base in a luxury hotel with his father and close friends.

After Graceland, we were going to go to an interpretive center about the Mississippi River, but found out it doesn't open until April (a week too soon, blast), so instead we drove to Arkansas and Mississippi (which are really close) so that Crystal and Clara could say they've been in more states.

All our Memphis adventures left us feeling hungry, so we went to Jim Neely's Interstate Barbecue and had some amazing meat. The beef ribs and pulled beef were good, but the pulled pork and the pork ribs were amazing. If you are ever in Memphis, you must eat at this restaurant. Here is a picture of our spread, with Clara in the background eating, too, of course.
After barbecue, we drove back to Nashville and that was Friday. Saturday morning we got up, ate and checked out of the hotel, and then went to The Hermitage, which was home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the US. It is a beautiful home on 1,000 acres outside Nashville. Here is a cool picture of Clara and I outside the home.
Also on the estate is Tulip Grove, a home Jackson built for his nephew. Crystal and I decided it would be cool to have a house with a name some day.

Finally, there is a beautiful garden at The Hermitage, and while I'm not showing you a lot of it, here is great shot Crystal got of one of the beautiful spring flowers in bloom right now.

After The Hermitage, we decided we liked Friday's barbecue so much that we ate some more. This time we went to Bar-B-Cutie, which is really good, but not as good as Interstate. This one offers franchise opportunities, though, and there is one in Ohio, so we might have another trip coming up soon...
To get your mouth watering, here is a list of all the Southern-style sides you can get with your meat at Bar-B-Cutie. So yummy!

It was a wonderful trip and great way to celebrate the fence and Spring Break.

Finally a Fence!

Since this last week was Spring Break for me, we took some time (and tax money) and built a fence for our backyard. It is a six-feet-tall wood privacy fence and is designed to keep critters and people out of our yard, and to keep Clara in assuming she ever gets past the not-quite-crawling stage she is currently in.* Thanks to a friend from the ward who knew what he was doing and a four-hour rental of a two-man power auger from Home Depot, we got all the post holes dug (through roots, rocks, bricks, asphalt, and even some dirt, believe it or not) relatively quickly and were able to cement in 13 4x4 pine posts and two 6x6 posts (for the two six foot wide swinging driveway gates). All in all, we put in three gates and about 140 feet of fence. Crystal was a genius, as usual, and figured out a way to use mostly pre-fabricated eight foot long sections of fence, so we mostly only had to put up the posts, let the cement dry for a bit and then screw the panels on. It turned out really, nice, as you can see in the above picture. We are hoping to have less cats, dogs, raccoons, possums and wandering humans in our yard now, as well as have a secure area in which to build a garden.

We are also very grateful that the weather was nice for the four days we spent on the fence, with sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s and 60s. It was perfect weather for working outside, not too hot and not too cold. I should also thank my brother, David, for letting us use his tools, just as he did when we took out all the trees 7 months ago in preparation for this fence. The fence line you see in the picture above is right in the spot where there were about six large trees. We luckily didn't have to dig a fence post through any of the stump bases we had ground down, but we did have to saw through a pair of 4-inch roots, which took some thought and muscle, for sure.

Now, we have a closed-in yard and interestingly our property looks bigger now that it is enclosed; it kind of feels like we have a whole new yard. I can't wait to start cooking on my barbecue pit again!

*Clara's newest mobility trick is to roll over onto her tummy whenever I am changing her diaper, and then she tries to scoot away, laughing because she doesn't have any pants on. She thinks it is a hoot; I think it is incredibly cute and kind of frustrating.

Finally, this last picture shows the rear fence before the gates were put on. I think Crystal did a good job of capturing me while I'm working. I really like this picture.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Finger Painting

Yesterday, Megan and I got together to let the kids finger paint. I thought they would love it, by boy was I wrong. Clara's cousin, Harry, SCREAMED the entire time. Being a boy, I thought he would love to get dirty, but he was a little grumpy when they came over and it just went downhill from there. Clara actually liked the finger painting, but Harry being upset made her upset too. I think it scared her. After painting and a much needed bath, we gave the kids a treat. Harry had a doughnut (from the previous post) and was a happy camper after that. If we do this again, I think we will try the treats first!

Me and Clara, nice and dirty!
Harry, boy was he sad!
Here is their very first cousins bath. Harry and Clara still weren't too thrilled about it.

Here is a video of them. It was really funny how upset they both were.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Making Doughnuts

Tonight for Family Home Evening, we made Brigham Young's Buttermilk Doughnuts. It is a slightly altered version of the original one from the 1800's. It was really fun, and they are really good! Here are some pictures of the fun!

Here is the dough, before the middles are gone!

Frying up!
Jordan manning the frying
The Finished Product. YUMMY!!

Do you think Clara liked them?

I think she does! She was trying to grab one so hard while we took this picture!