Monday, May 31, 2010

One Fish Left

Only the googly-eyed goldfish remains out of the seven fish that used to occupy our aquarium, the two plecos being the last to die. We put the last goldfish in a small tank and have cleaned out the thirty gallon tank to return to Mark. The fish tank was fun to look at, but it is a nasty mess to clean up.

Ferrelli Men Fly to Naples, Italy

My stepsons, Jake and Joey, and their dad, Mark, are supposed to be boarding their flight to Naples, Italy, about an hour from now in Nashville. Mark's sister and her family live in Naples, and the boys have two cousins there waiting to show them around. It is the most exciting trip they've ever been on, and it is very cool that they have family to visit. Naturally, their mother is worrying them there and will be worrying them home. I hope they send us some photographs during their trip.

Memorial Day


Today is Memorial Day, when citizens of the United States honor our military dead. The holiday has its roots in the aftermath of the American Civil War, and was known as Decoration Day because people decorated the cemetaries in which the soldiers were buried. This still occurs in many communities, most notably Arlington, Virginia.

She's So Little!

Here are a few of the pictures Ms. Waddell sent home from school with Sarah. I can tell these were from early in the year. It is amazing how much a child grows in a year!
Fort Craig School has a wonderful garden as part of its playground.

Sarah holds her beloved Kitty Leeter.

Coulter Grove School Going Up

The Daily Times reports that buildings are starting to be raised on the site of Coulter Grove Intermediate School, which is just down the street and is probably where Sarah will attend middle school, or whatever they'll be calling junior high school by the time she enters it. The school is on track to open in October 2011, when Sarah will be in second grade.

Praise Wally

I'm a bit surprised I have never explained Praise Wally here before, since it is a seasoning I use in almost everything I cook. If I put salt and pepper in it, I also put Praise Wally in it. "Wally" is a friend of mine named Wayne. Wayne and I went to grade school together, and he grew up to be a chef. Early in his career, when he cooked for local restaurants in Knoxville as a grill cook, Wayne started using a locally produced seasoning that was then known as Praise Allah. This was twenty years or so before September 11, 2001. The seasoning is now marketed as Tiger Seasoning, but it is the same stuff. Since "Wally" was Wayne's nickname, particularly in the kitchen, and Wayne used the seasoning on everything he cooked, it became known as "Praise Wally." Many of Wayne's friends imitated him, and I can think of several of my friends who would admit to using it in everything they cook, too. I usually do not list it when I post a recipe to this blog, but if it isn't sweet, I'm probably adding Praise Wally to it.

Barbecued Chicken and Potato Salad

Yesterday, we decided to go for a meal more in the Memorial Day weekend tradition here in the South with some barbecued chicken and Grandmother Ogle's potato salad. It will not surprise anyone who knows me to learn that I put too much salt, pepper and Praise Wally in the potato salad.

Alias Boonga

Sarah got in a little trouble. She calls this picture "Alias Boonga." I'm impressed she's got "alias" figured out already. Her kindergarten teacher sent this photo, along with a bunch more from throughout the school year, home with her on the last day of class.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Quick Trip to the Mountains

Our friend Angelyn camped up at Look Rock Campground this weekend. We drove up there this morning to look for her, but we didn't see her car. The campground was pretty full, though, and I don't think I've ever seen so many RV's up there.

We came back by way of Chilhowee Dam and took a couple of pictures. The top one was taken on the canoe launch on the upstream side of the dam, and the bottom one shows the downstream side. It was a pretty day in the mountains.

Paul McCartney to Play Nashville in July

Paul McCartney will play the entertainment center formerly known as Gaylord and Sommet, now known as Bridgestone Center, in Nashville on Monday, July 26, 2010. This is his first concert in Nashville, though he and Linda visited in 1974. I learned from the Tennessean that "Junior's Farm," one of my favorite McCartney songs, was inspired by that visit. Tickets go on sale June 7 at 10:00 a.m..

Petunias and Pastitso

We worked harder yesterday than any of us meant to. We bought a lot of flowers and other plants yesterday morning before doing our grocery shopping. Each year that we've lived in this house, we've put vincas in the window boxes. I've been wanting to put petunias in them, so we bought a flat of red petunias and filled up the window boxes yesterday morning. We also bought twelve impatiens plants, and Sherry and Sarah made what Sarah called the Girls' Garden with some of them and the leftover petunias under the peach tree in the front yard. We also bought a big purple celosia plant, a funky dianthas plant, a daisy (one of Sherry's favorites) and another little white flower that didn't have a label so we don't know what it is. I also potted two tomato plants, a Big Boy and a Better Boy, a yellow squash plant and some sweet basil, and I repotted the bean plant Sarah brought home from kindergarten.

I've been meaning to try to make pastitso, which is sort of a Greek lasagna, ever since I had a dish of it at Greekfest in Knoxville last year. The finished product is pictured above, and I made it from this recipe, although like lasagna there are many different versions. I changed the way the meat layer was done by browning the hamburger and onions, then draining and then adding the other ingredients for simmering. I followed the recipe's recommendation to use freshly grated Parmesan, and was amazed at how much better the freshly grated stuff is compared to the product I buy in the green plastic container at the grocery store. I only used a few shakes of nutmeg, and rather than using milk I used heavy cream. I liked the finished product, though Sherry and I both agreed that it could use a bit more tomato, and I might add some mozzarella next time.

Finally, note the box of Quisp cereal on the counter to the left of the stove. It was one of my favorite cereals as a child, and I found it last weekend at the Food Lion in Brown's Creek Shopping Center on East Lamar Alexander Avenue. The cereal is a lot like Cap'n Crunch, and Sarah seems to like it as much as I did.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dead Fish

We have had four of our five goldfish die in the past week or so. The googly-eyed fish is the only survivor of the goldfish, and the two plecostomuses seem to be doing fine. I suspect we overloaded the tank with fish, and that the environment just couldn't sustain all of them.

Long Weekend

It is nice to be at the beginning of a long holiday weekend. Since I started out this work week with three hours in the car both Monday and Tuesday going to and from Nashville, it has seemed like a very long week. We really don't have any major plans for the weekend, and we are looking forward to having some down time. We need to go grocery shopping, and we will certainly do some cooking. I enjoyed grilling on my portable gas grill at the campground last weekend, and so we'll probably buy some chicken to throw on the grill. Also, Sherry saw my post about Grandmother's potato salad and thought we should make a batch of it, which seems pretty appropriate for Memorial Day weekend.

I suspect we'll also make a trip to buy some plants and flowers for our gardening this season. I usually buy a couple of tomato plants, and we'll at least buy flowers for our window boxes. I'll have to see what other vegetables are on sale before I decide what else to grow. The only other item on our agenda is a viewing by Sherry and Sarah of the new Shrek movie. I figure I'll see it at least half a million times after it comes out on DVD, so I'm going to pass on watching it in the theater.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Kicking Kitty Leeter to the Curb?

Sarah recently made the pictured teddy bear at the Build-A-Bear store in Knoxville, and for a week or so the bear was her constant companion, which led me to wonder if she was going to kick Kitty Leeter, her favorie stuffed animal, to the curb. Then, last week, she bought two new stuffed animals, both cats, at the zoo, and they started getting most of her attention. I have a soft spot for abandoned toys, so I asked her if she was indeed kicking Kitty Leeter to the curb. She denied it vehemently, and Kitty Leeter is getting more attention these days.

My family will be pleased to know that I can still use my Spencer guilt-giving ability when it is needed.

Jake and Joey's Graduation Photos

Here are some of the photographs Sherry took of Joey and Jake's graduation earlier this week. It is hard to believe those boys will be freshmen in high school this fall. I feel myself aging as I type.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Audiobook Review -- A Magnificent Catastrophe

I just finished an audiobook, A Magnificent Catastrophe: The Tumultuous Election of 1800, America's First Presidential Campaign, by Edward J. Larson. Virginian George Washington was elected to two terms as President, and historians generally agree that there was broad consensus among the founding generation of Americans that Washington would be the first President of the United States. Washington's Vice President, John Adams of Massachusetts, was elected President in 1796, and Thomas Jefferson defeated Adams in the election of 1800.

Most Americans think about the founding fathers as demigods, and this is in large part because they were public relations masters of their day, particularly Washington. In truth they were human beings and politicians motivated by the same sorts of things that motivate human beings and politicians today. Larson argues that the election of 1800, in which Jefferson and his Republican party defeated Adams and the Federalists, was the first truly contested Presidential election in our republic, and his book has delightful details of the political machinations, or in the language of the day "intriguing," that took place during the election.

I, like most Americans, have the founding fathers up on a pedestal, but learning about all of the plotting and scheming that took place in the election of 1800 did not lessen my respect for the politicians that took part in it. It was a hotly contested election, even though Adams and Jefferson, in the style of the era, tried to act like they really weren't campaigning, and everyone involved counted votes and tabulated results in a fashion that would make Tim Russert proud. The election was the first decided in the House of Representatives after the Electoral College deadlocked, and the "intriguing" continued there until the matter was decided.

I really enjoyed this audiobook!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Grahams Gone West

I have neglected to report that Laura, Stew and Grace flew to Alberta, Canada, last weekend to visit with Stewart's family this week. Although I'm not sure of their itinerary, I suspect that they are headquartered in Edmonton, which is Stew's hometown. Laura thrives on cool weather, and it is muggy and hot here in East Tennessee this afternoon. In Edmonton it is 63, so she should be a happy camper.

Grandmother Ogle's Potato Salad

Before our Grandmother Ogle died, my sister Laura talked her out of her potato salad recipe. I recently ran across this post about boiled eggs in potato salad and I recall Grandmother using eggs in her recipe from time to time, as well as celery. Grandmother was a child of the Great Depression, and tried to work whatever she had on hand into her meals. I may try throwing a boiled egg or two in the next batch of potato salad I make.

Laura shared Grandmother's recipe in an e-mail dated June 20, 2003, and I kept a copy of it in my recipe file. Laura had just been to see Grandmother at Wellington Place, a local assisted living facility where Grandmother spent the last year or so of her life, and interviewed her about some of her recipes.

Grandmother Ogle's Potato Salad

Dice potatoes small - about the size of the end of your thumb
Boil potatoes until done
One or two boiled eggs - according to how many you have
Dice celery small - a bit smaller that the potatoes
Dice onions - a bit smaller than the celery
Use Miracle Whip or Kraft Mayonnaise
Salt and peper
Parsley for decoration

Laura's e-mail says Grandmother demonstrated "the size of the end of your thumb," and I can imagine it exactly as she would have done it using her index finger to show how much thumb she meant.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back From Nashville

We hit the road from Nashville at about 6:30 a.m. eastern time this morning, and we were able to get to Maryville and to school and work by 10:30 a.m. Sarah had a gymnastics performance this evening, and we've just settled in for the evening after that event. It has already been a busy week for us. We'll be ready for the long holiday weekend by the time we get to it. It also occurred to me today that we're about a month away from our beach trip, which is a cheerful thought.

Class of 2014

We attended Joey and Jake's graduation yesterday evening, and it was quite an event. Metro councilman Charlie Tygard, whose daughter teaches at Bellevue Middle School, was the keynote speaker, and he gave a good speech, which started off mentioning the boys' friend, Graham, who also graduated yesterday. After all of the kids received their diplomas and shook hands with their teachers, the audience gave them a standing ovation. During the ovation, in a nice display of class pride, the Class of 2014 chanted "Eighth Grade! Eighth Grade! Eighth Grade!" Afterward there were a lot of hugs and photographs. It was a lot of fun.

More From the Zoo

Here are a few more photos Sherry shot at the Knoxville Zoo.
Sarah wore her safari dress.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Joey and Jake Graduate from Middle School

We will celebrate Jake and Joey's graduation from Bellevue Middle School tonight in Nashville. (The photograph was taken at their graduation from Harpeth Valley Elementary School.) I will pick up Sarah after work this afternoon to make the trip to Nashville, and Sherry, Sarah and I will make the trip back to Maryville tomorrow morning. The boys were about Sarah's age when I married their mother in 2002, and they have grown up a lot in the intervening eight years. As their stepfather, I am very proud of their accomplishments.

I remember when their mother and I told them that they would soon have a new brother or sister. I told them that when the baby was born, they would be eight. To give them perspective, I told them that when the baby was eight, they would be sixteen and driving, which caused both of their jaws to drop open. That's only a year and a half away!
Next year, the boys will attend Hillwood High School, and like all high school freshmen, they will have gone from being big kids on campus to the smallest, which is an adjustment. Hillwood's mascot is the Hilltopper, and the school color, from its website, appears to be green.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Camping on Abrams Creek

Sherry drove to Nashville yesterday morning to stay for a long weekend with her mom and Jake and Joey. Sarah and I will join her Monday afternoon for the boys' graduation from Bellevue Middle School that evening, more about which later.

I've been craving a camping trip, so Sarah and I went camping yesterday at Abrams Creek Campground. As we drove down Happy Valley Road on the way to the campground we saw two baby deer, and when we got to the campground, we were lucky enough to get the only unoccupied campsite that was actually on the river. It was coincidentally the same site we camped on last summer, and Sarah recognized it and the spot on the creek where she likes to play. She likes to play in the sand by the creek creating what she calls Mud Town, and she occupied herself with that for quite a while before summoning the courage to actually get wet.

I somehow neglected to bring her swimsuit, though I took it out of the drawer and put it with her other clothes that I packed for the trip. I'm not quite sure how I managed not to bring the swimsuit, but she made do with her dress. Her proudest accomplishment of this trip, and a milestone in the life of a young camper, was skipping her first rocks on the river. There's no better place to learn than Abrams Creek, unless perhaps on Taylor Creek at Grandmother's cabin in Estill Springs, Tennessee, where the child will no doubt practice her new skill later this season.

We had fairly typical campers' fare on this trip. I took my little propane grill, and I cooked hot dogs for our lunch. For supper I cooked pork chops and corn, and dessert was, of course, s'mores. We were both pretty tired by sundown and went to sleep fairly early. As usual, I was up before dawn, and we got up and loaded out to come home as dawn was breaking. We returned to civilization and had a hot breakfast at Hot Rod's 50's Diner on the patio.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Zoo Photos

Here is the first installment of photographs from yesterday's field trip to the Knoxville Zoo with Sarah's kindergarten class. Coincidentally, the News Sentinel has an article today about disposal of the animal waste, known in the trade as Zoo Doo. Apparently, they haul the stuff out to Solway. One of the neighbors of the disposal company decided to sue over the Zoo Doo. Who knew?

Last Day of Kindergarten

Sherry and I are in a state of disbelief that today is Sarah's last day of kindergarten. She turned six and a half this week, and has really made a lot of progress this year, especially with her reading and writing. We were surprised at the amount of homework she brought home, but I think it has benefited her greatly. Her teacher sent home some homework materials to work on over the summer vacation, which will help keep her sharp until first grade starts in July. Sarah gets to visit her first grade classroom before school is dismissed this afternoon.

Thackston School Branch Closes

My niece Grace was a student at Thackston School Branch, which operated in a little red schoolhouse on edge of the University of Tennessee Campus until February 2009, when arsonists burned it down. The school has continued to operate at the Knoxville Convention Center, but today is the last day of classes. The school had a graduation ceremony last night, and today is the last day of classes. Many of the students, including Grace, will move to Thackston School, or "Big Thackston" as they've been calling it. It is the end of a Knoxville institution that has existed for over eighty years.

Monte Python Duck

Sorry I'm on about ducks so this week. Here's a duck from Monte Python and the Holy Grail:

So, logically
If she weighs the same as a duck
She's made of wood.
And therefore?
A witch!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Restaurant Review: Smoky Junction Restaurant, Townsend, Tennessee

Last week on the way back from my clerks' conference I stopped by Smoky Junction Restaurant in Townsend. I had their club sandwich, and it was the best club I've had in a while. I regard the club sandwich as sort of a barometer of a good restaurant, and a restaurant gains my respect by serving up a good club. The cost was $5.99, plus $1.99 for iced tea, plus a tip, which is a bit steep, but you find that as you go up into the mountains. (I apoligize for the pun. It was unintended, but now that I've written it I like it.)

Sarah and I also ate up there when we visited the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center during her spring break. I had meatloaf, mashed potatoes and fried okra, which was a special of the day, and all of which was delicious. Sarah made quick work of the pizza she ordered as well.

A Few More Blowing Rock Snapshots

Here are a few more photographs from our walk around downtown Blowing Rock, North Carolina, last Saturday.

One spring, when I lived out on Louisville Lake, I bought three white Pekin ducks, like this one Sarah made friends with in the mountains. An owl or something got one of them within half an hour of my getting the ducklings home. Only one lived to adulthood, and I liberated it out on one of the islands on the lake.

Bear Bite on Laurel Falls Trail

A guy got bitten by a black bear cub on the Laurel Falls Trail last week when he allowed the bear to approach him while he took its picture. The human got a minor puncture wound in the foot. The bear will probably have to be euthanized, though someone has already set up a Facebook page to try to save the animal. The park rangers hypothesize that the bear became habituated to humans, who probably fed it while hiking the popular trail, which is just outside of Gatlinburg.

I grew up here in East Tennessee, and the locals here will be quick to remind you that a black bear, however cute, cuddly and loveable it might look, is a wild animal and can kill you. Especially dangerous is a mother bear separated from her cub. For tips on what to do if you see a black bear in the woods, click here. Stay away from them, and any other wild animal for that matter.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Rather Large Butterfly Upon Everett Hill

Today was a special book swap day at Sarah's school, and the children were invited to come to school dressed as their favorite character from a story. Everyone, myself included, expected Sarah to dress as Tinkerbell, but she went with her butterfly outfit from Halloween. The kids brought in their used books and got to choose a used book to take home. Tomorrow her class has a field trip to the Knoxville Zoo, and Sherry and I have both arranged to chaperon her last kindergarten field trip. After we visit the zoo, we plan to meet Mom for a late lunch.

Water Wheel

Sarah and I found a nice place to sit near this water wheel in Blowing Rock last weekend. They also have pink rhododendron up there.

Restaurant Review: The Village Cafe, Blowing Rock, North Carolina

I have fond memories of breakfasts at The Village Cafe, which is just down the street from Mom's old place in Blowing Rock, though I'm sad to say I've never had any other meal but breakfast there. A Village breakfast, however, is a wonderful thing, and the restaurant persuaded this East Tennessee country boy to like Eggs Benedict long ago. Sunday morning we had breakfast there, and the experience was everything I wanted it to be. The place has a lovely garden, though it was a little chilly for outdoor dining. I had the special, which was Eggs Charleston, a Benedict featuring crab, along with their breakfast potatoes. Sherry had Eggs Stratford, which was Eggs Benedict with tomatoes, and Sarah had French toast. Our total was a little over $45.00, and it was well worth it.

Oil in the Gulf

I periodically check the website of the Destin Log, which is one of the local newspapers on the panhandle of Florida, where we vacation. They are understandably concerned about the oil spill down there, though the City of Destin says all is well on the beaches so far. They've already found an oily pelican, and oil litigation attorneys have arrived with bleak prognostications about the future of the gulf. Our vacation in nearby Seagrove Beach is at the end of next month. I'm afraid BP may have ruined our favorite vacation spot, and it may get worse from there.

Duck Sandwich

I may haul off and cook a duck, and if I do, I found a recipe to try on the Al Dente blog.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Purchase Knob

Here's the view at this hour from the webcam at Purchase Knob in North Carolina.

Feeding the Ducks

Among the ducks we encountered this weekend were these denizens of the ponds at the Meadowbrook Inn, where we stayed. Sarah had fun feeding them upon our arrival in Blowing Rock.


Restaurant Review: Gamekeeper Restaurant, Boone, North Carolina

Rat made reservations for our group last Saturday night at Gamekeeper Restaurant on Shulls Mill Road off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Blowing Rock and Boone, North Carolina. The restaurant sits on the side of the mountain among the rhododendron, and it has a lodge decor. We had the mixed grill appetizer, which featured snake and rabbit sausage, which was interesting. There was also ostrich and a couple of other meats, all of which were good, which it should be at $20.00. Sherry and I ordered a salad, which was good, and the duck, which was disappointing at $27.95. Our tab, having split an entree and a salad, was $71.00 including the tip. We were all disappointed, especially Rat, who said that the place was his favorite restaurant until last Saturday's meal.

Walking in the Rain

We had some rain showers yesterday, and Sarah explored our yard in the rain using her Dora the Explorer umbrella.

Galactic Hoss

This is the Horse Head Nebula, from NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Old Robbins Place

We're back home in Maryville after spending the night in Blowing Rock Saturday. We had a nice drive, both to and fro, and I was surprised at how well I remembered the winding drive on Highway 321 from Elizabethton, Tennessee, to Blowing Rock, North Carolina. After having lunch at Woodlands Barbecue and a swim at the inn, we walked through town to Art in the Park, which is held in the city park across the street from Mom's former residence, the Old Robbins Place. Here are some photographs of the home where my family celebrated many Christmases and other family events.
We were invited on this trip by a friend of mine I've known since my freshman year in college. His given name is Ken, but I know him as Rat. Rat, in yellow, has recently become engaged to Renee, in blue, and he introduced us to her this weekend. I was surprised, almost horrified, to learn that she calls him Ken, and I did my best to encourage her to adopt the use of his college nickname. We'll see how that works out over time.

The Old Robbins Place is vacant, so we were able to peer in the windows. This is a photograph of the living room. I can still imagine it the way it was when Mom and my stepfather Ron lived there, with a snowstorm raging outside and a warm fire blazing in that fireplace. We had some good times in that old house!

The rhododendron bushes were out in all their glory this weekend, and I've always loved this purple variety that thrives in the North Carolina High Country. This plant grows in Mom's erstwhile front yard.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Final Mission for Atlantis

This image, from NASA, shows space shuttle Atlantis blasting off yesterday on its final mission. After this flight, she will be retired.

Trip to Blowing Rock, North Carolina

We're driving over the mountain to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, to meet a friend of mine from college, who is bringing his fiancee to introduce to us. My mom lived in Blowing Rock for several years in a house locals refer to as "The Old Robbins Place." It is right downtown and across from the city park where a festival, Art in the Park, is held in the spring. Though I used to be in Blowing Rock at least once a month to visit Mom when she lived there, I have not been back since I talked her into moving back to East Tennessee. I would say it has been ten years since I've been to Blowing Rock I'm looking forward to visiting our old stomping grounds and to sharing the place with Sherry and Sarah, neither of whom have been there.

We're going to meet my friend and his fiancee at Woodlands Barbecue, a local favorite that has been there forever, and we're staying at the Meadowbrook Inn, which is a place I'm not familiar with. The room we're staying in is a pool suite, and I know Sarah will like that. I suspect we'll pay a visit to The Village Cafe for breakfast tomorrow morning, and I will lobby for supper at The Best Cellar this evening. If successful, I shall dine on raspberry duck. Quack!

The Flood and the Davidson County Juvenile Center

Much of my practice in Nashville was in the Davidson County Juvenile Court, which operates in the Davidson County Juvenile Center on Woodland Avenue, right next door to the Titans' stadium. The Nashville NBC affiliate, WSMV, has a story about the damage the flood did to the bottom level of the building, where the clerk's office is. The website at the link has an image, and video, of the interface window at the clerk's office, where I have stood on countless occasions filing documents with the court. The water appears to be about two feet deep there. I keep seeing pictures from Nashville showing places I've been underwater. It's creepy.

Some 15, 000 court files were soaked, and about 75 computers were ruined. Juvenile Court is being held in various places throughout the city, which has got to be difficult for everyone involved. I still have a lot of friends in the juvenile court community there, and my heart goes out to them, and the rest of Nashville, as they continue to deal with the aftermath of the Flood of 2010.

Friday, May 14, 2010

We Are of the Stars

There is a star somewhere up there that has my name. It is OGLE-TR-122b, discovered by the OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Equipment) survey. As far as I know, I am not kin to this OGLE.