Did you know this was a thing? The International Biscuit Festival

Biscuits will save your soulLast year during my “Great Dolly Parton Adventure” in Knoxville, Tennessee, I learned that I had just missed an event of monumental proportions: The International Biscuit Festival.

This festival spans a jam-packed weekend each May and celebrates the Southern biscuit making tradition with a juried art exhibition, a songwriting competition music, dance and a Mr. and Miss Biscuit pageant. I was also interested to learn than the Southern Food Writing Conference is held concurrently with the festival, making me disappointed my schedule did not allow me to make a trip to Knoxville this year.

To soothe my disappointment, I’ll read these biscuit making tips from the Tupelo Honey Cafe and watch an excerpt from Alton Brown’s former Food Network show, “Good Eats.” (Specifically, this clip where Alton Brown makes biscuits with his meemaw.)

How about you? Do you looooove a good biscuit? Have you ever been to the festival?

8 tips for surviving the outdoor handmade marketplace and flea market shopping experience

Outdoor market shopping? 8 survival tipsIf you’re like me, one of the best parts of summer for you is attending outdoor handmade markets and junking at a good flea market.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot of survival strategies (and observed a lot of poor behavior by my fellow shoppers). To help you be prepared for the upcoming season (come out and see us at the Hudson Flea in Hudson, Ohio!), I thought I’d share some of my tips.

  1. Set a budget & pay with cash. Before you head out, figure out how much you’re prepared to spend at the event. Then, go to the bank and withdraw that amount. If you leave your credit cards at home, you’ll curb impulse buying (and you’ll save the vendors, who are cost-conscious small business  owners, credit card vendor fees).
  2. Scope out vendors before you go. Many handmade marketplaces and flea markets promote the heck out of their events and the products the vendors will bring with them. This will help you prioritize your “must buy” items and help you stick to your budget. If you’re lucky, the event host will provide a map of where each vendor will be located prior to the event date. If so, take some time to take a look at it; doing so will help you plan your trip and make the best use of your time (which is super important when the event is large or your time is limited).
  3. Bring a notebook and pen. (And get a printed vendor location map, if one is available.) If you want to think about an item before buying it, you’ll think you’ll remember where the vendor is located. You won’t. After seeing your fifth Steampunk jewelry artist, fourteenth typography booth and your twelfth upcycler, you just won’t. Trust me, you won’t regret having a method for note taking.
  4. Social media sharing is fun… but make sure the vendor is okay with it. Most vendors welcome social media sharing so others can learn about their products (as long as you tag their business in your posts). However, a lot of vendors at handmade marketplaces are artists who carefully control how their work and ideas are shared with the world, so ask before taking pictures or sharing on social media. If they are okay with it, help promote them effectively by asking how they prefer to be tagged in social media.
  5. Apply (and reapply) sunscreen. Sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer suck. Do what you can to avoid these conditions.
  6. Pack a lunch and a water bottle. This is good advice for many reasons. You want to save your cash for buying new lovelies. Market food and drink is pricey ($5 bottles of tap water, I’m looking at you) and if there is a super-hip food truck at the event, the lines will be looooong. Avoid the risk of hassle and getting hangry; bring your own provisions.
  7. Bring your own bags. Once you start acquiring your loot, you’ll want something more comfortable to carry around than a plastic grocery bag (I recommend a sturdy canvas tote). If you’re planning to bring home a lot of stuff, bring a granny cart along, too.
  8. Do NOT bring a wagon. Your (well-behaved) kids are welcome but if they can’t handle walking around for a long period of time, please find a sitter. Handmade marketplaces and flea markets are crowded. Wagons take up a lot of room and are difficult to move around, to the annoyance of many. Don’t be that annoying person.

What about you? Do have any other tips to share with your fellow outdoor shopping aficionados?


Hello, Knoxville! A Cleveland gal’s tourist experience

Knoxville tourism muralMural in downtown Knoxville; Photo credit: Taken by me

This past May, I had the opportunity to take a road trip from Cleveland to Knoxville, Tenn. to see Ms. Dolly Parton perform a benefit concert at the University of Tennessee’s (UT) Thompson Boling Arena.

I’ve never been to Tennessee. I only had two frames of reference: the country glitz of Nashville and the country grit of the Smoky Mountains. My people on my mom’s side of the family are from Kentucky, so I expected Tennesseans to be just as friendly as most of my kin are, but other than that (and possibly finding some good cooking) I had no idea what awaited me.

We had a quick trip to Knoxville planned, with just a day and a half to explore before we moved on to our next destination, but we sure made the most of it.

Touring Knoxville

After we checked into our hotel, we decided to walk to downtown Knoxville, have a little dinner and check out what was going on in Market Square, since I read there would be some free live music in the evening. (If you don’t want to walk, Knoxville Area Transit offers free trolleys that run around the downtown and UT area. Check out their website for current trolley routes and times.)

Sunsphere Knoxville World's Fair ParkThe Sunsphere at the World’s Fair Park; Photo credit: Taken by me

The first notable site we came across was the World’s Fair Park, which was hard to miss with a glittering gold orb, dubbed the Sunsphere looming overhead. Not much was going on while we were there, but there is an amphitheater and convention center within the 52-acre park. When there aren’t events scheduled, there are walking paths, green space and a children’s playground for people to enjoy.

Tennessee Woman's Suffrage MemorialTennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial; Photo credit: Taken by me

We continued our walk around downtown, seeing the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial, honoring those who campaigned for the passage of an amendment to the United States Constitution (it took 72 years, but eventually Congress came around…)

Tennessee TheatreThe historic Tennessee Theatre; Photo credit: Taken by me

Eventually, we stumbled upon the Tennessee Theatre, where we learned B.B. King was playing that night. I considered seeing if there were still tickets for the show available, since I know he’s still killing it at age 89 (I saw him a couple of years ago at Cleveland tour stop). But, our desire for a good meal after our day-long car ride won out.

We ambled back to Market Square and found the Tupelo Honey Cafe beckoning to us. Reviews of the Tupelo Honey Cafe say to expect a wait; it was busy, but the restaurant gods were working in our favor and we were seated right away.

Venerated Veggie Bowl at Tupelo Honey CafeVeggie heaven in a bowl at the Tupelo Honey Cafe; Photo credit: Taken by me

Oh my stars, I can see why this place is hoppin’! I ordered the Venerated Veggie Bowl. You can’t see it in the picture, but beneath a heaping helping of fried okra and sauteed greens, there are black-eyed peas and the creamiest cheesy grits I’ve ever had (the goat cheese is the key)! Everything was expertly prepared (from scratch) and that, paired with my tasty bourbon cocktail, left me very happy, indeed.

After the meal, we headed back to our hotel to sleep off our food comas, which was a bit of a shame because it looked like the square was starting to get lively as the band was setting up.

The next day, we returned to check out some of the shopping opportunities that looked interesting, but were closed by the time we arrived the previous day. We spent a long time browsing Mast General Store. Too much time, because we ran out of time to go to the East Tennessee Historical Society, which we had hoped to have time to visit.

I found Knoxville to be rich in music and art and highly active in preserving the area’s historical heritage. A day and a half is definitely not enough time to take it all in. Next visit, I’ll plan better and check the City of Knoxville Things to Do website for more must-dos!

Seeing the Dolly Lama

Dolly Parton Knoxville TN 2014Dolly Parton performing in Knoxville, 5/28/14; Photo credit: Taken by me

Finally, it was time for the main event: The Dolly concert! We had been looking forward to this event since we bought our tickets six months earlier.

The concert was sold out, and I was happy to learn it was a benefit for two charities Dolly is very involved with: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation.

I had read that Dolly has a very devoted following, but it didn’t really hit home until we got there and started talking to people while we were waiting for the show to start.

There was a group of people sitting near us that followed her from concert to concert and they had gotten to know other Dolly superfans. When they saw each other, they greeted each other warmly; the atmosphere felt more like a family reunion than an arena concert.

Next, we got to talking to the family sitting in front of us, they told us they had come from North Carolina and had bought their tickets as a 15th birthday present for their daughter (they said Dolly was playing a show closer to home, but it was at a casino which had a 21-and-over age restriction). It was awesome to get to see the girl experience the concert. When Dolly walked on stage, the girl was so overcome with excitement, she burst into tears. It was touching and I was so happy for her that her parents were able to give her the opportunity to come to the show.

Dolly Parton performing in Knoxville Tennessee May 28 2014Dolly Parton performing in Knoxville, 5/28/14; Photo credit: Taken by me.

As expected, Dolly cranked her performance up to 11. For over two hours, she performed old favorites, tunes from her new album, told stories and joked and flirted with the crowd. When the show was over, I definitely wanted more Dolly. Good thing I planned a trip to Dollywood the next day!

Welcome to Dollywood!

Dollywood sign at Dollywood amusement parkDollywood sign; Photo credit: Taken by me.

Since Knoxville is so close to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and we were still basking in the glow of the Dolly Parton concert, of course we had to take a trip to Dollywood.

I had learned a cool tip before we arrived: If you come to the park after 3 PM, you can use your ticket for entrance the next day, too. (If you’re planning a trip, check the ticketing website or call the park to make sure this policy is still in effect.) This is an excellent option, whether you plan to ride the rides (I wasn’t) or you just want to take in the shows and bask in all things Dolly.

The park is very family friendly and there is something there for nearly everyone to enjoy–whether you’re a fan of Dolly or not. Nearly every employee was very friendly, most notably this sweet older lady who was working in a little store that wasn’t attracting much business. She gave us her pitch about the store’s products and then chatted us up for nearly a half hour. I felt like gained an adopted Meemaw and she gave me a lot of good information about the park.

But, really, I was just there to see the Chasing Rainbows museum, which is described on the Dollywood website as a place Dolly created “To share the results of her decades of dreaming, and to inspire others to follow their own.” Plus, it includes tons of memorabilia from Dolly’s life and career.

Dollywood Chasing Rainbows MuseumThe Chasing Rainbows museum, full of all things Dolly; Photo credit: Taken by me

When you enter, you go through a gallery of photos of Dolly with celebrities she met (or worked with) over the years. You’re then led to a place that’s described as Dolly’s Attic, and you’re welcomed by Dolly herself, in the form of a “Dollygram.”

Dollygram at the Chasing Rainbows museumDolly welcomes you to her museum; Photo credit: Taken by me

After your welcome, you continue through an exhibit detailing her youth living in the Smoky Mountains, you see bits of memorabilia (like love letters from her childhood beaus, audio and video of a 12-year-old Dolly performing, her high school band uniform) and the piece de resistance, the famous Coat of Many Colors:

Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors at DollywoodThe Coat of Many Colors; Photo credit: Taken by me

I have to admit I’m skeptical this is the coat, since kids are usually hard on clothes (and since Dolly was number four of eleven children, I assume other siblings would have worn it, too), but the song lyrics–written on the back of two dry cleaner’s receipts–look legit. It was an interesting peek at her songwriting process.

Next you’re led into the shrine of Dolly’s celebrity years. You see examples of her stage costumes from the 60s to the present, the robe she wore when she was awarded an honorary PhD by the University of Tennessee and gave a wildly popular commencement speech, and you get to see Dolly Parton’s other awards, so, so many awards.

Dolly Parton's Awards at Dollywood's Chasing Rainbows museumKennedy Center Honors, American Music Awards & Grammys–oh my!; Photo credit: Taken by me

You could spend days looking at everything in this museum (and I tried), there is so much to see! For me, it accomplished its mission–I left feeling I could achieve anything I set my mind to and worked hard at. There’s no better feeling than that.

Paul Simon exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

I’m not at all shy about my love of Paul Simon. If he asked me to marry him tomorrow I’d give Matt a hug, say “Nice to know ya!” and whiz off with Paul.

Paul Simon has been a part of my life since I can remember, begrudgingly at first, I admit. During my youth, I despised all of the music my parents listened to. My mother had a trio of artists she listened to while we cleaned house every Saturday morning: Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, and Simon and Garfunkel. (There were probably others but these are the three that I remember most vividly.) She favored Neil Diamond and, to this day, I can’t hear “Forever in Blue Jeans” without getting a phantom scent of lemon Pledge in my nose. Invite me over, put on a Neil Diamond album and I’ll probably dust your house.

One day during my college years, I got out my mom’s Simon and Garfunkel album and gave it a listen. I heard something in the music I had never heard before. In the song, “The Boxer,” there is a bass harmonica played in the background of the second and final verse. When listening to the vinyl album through enormous headphones, that bass harmonica tickled my eardrums in a way that made me stop and pay attention.

When the song was over, I lifted the needle and carefully put it back in the groove at the beginning of the song and I listened again. This time I listened to the words. And I wept.

I listened again and again and I knew I had fallen. I made it my life’s mission to listen to every song ever written or performed by Paul Simon. Around that time, Graceland had just come out so that was my first choice. I bought it on cassette tape and I listened to it so many times I wore out the cassette. Since then, I’ve compiled an extensive library of Paul’s music and seen him several times in concert.

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum opened a Paul Simon exhibit called, “Paul Simon: Words and Music,” I jumped in the car and drove to downtown Cleveland. When I got there I realized it was Sunday and the Browns were playing at home and finding parking was impossible. So I drove by the Rock Hall and went birding instead.

The next weekend, I made the trek back downtown. The wait was worth it. The exhibit was exactly what I hope Heaven is like: Me surrounded by all things Paul. Paul talking, Paul singing, Paul’s guitars and memorabilia strewn about the place. There are several videos of Paul talking about his career and I watched every second. A large screen showed clips from live performances and music videos. (My only criticism is that the clips were too short.)

They even had a video that showed several of Paul’s Saturday Night Live appearances, including the full version of the Thanksgiving Turkey Suit skit, which is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. (Sadly, the turkey suit was destroyed and does not appear in the exhibit.)

For the serious Paul Simon fan, and even for the casual listener, this exhibit is time well spent.

Flash photography is a big “no-no” at the Rock Hall so some of my pictures didn’t turn out, but here are a few of my favorites.

Paul Simon's hand written lyrics from Boy in the BubblePaul’s hand written set list from the Graceland tour 

Print of Paul Simon and Chevy Chase staring in the video for "Proof"Paul and Chevy Chase from the video, “Proof.” I never knew this video existed and looked it up as soon as I got home.

Paul Simon's guitar and strapPaul’s guitar and strap from the “Rhythm of the Saints” tour and the “Concert in the Park.” Want. To. Touch. 

If you don’t live in the Cleveland area, you can get a taste of the experience on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum website.

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There’s nothing worse than a good book

 There's nothing worse than a good book!Image credit: Mr. Potato Head Has His Nose in a Good Book by Enokson on Flickr. CC by 2.0.

Recently I mourned the passing of autumn and declared I had started a mental list of the books I plan to read while I’m hunkered down indoors this winter.

Despite my love of libraries and books, I have a confession to make: I hate reading fiction.

More precisely, I hate reading engaging fiction. When I’m immersed in a good tale, I can think of nothing else until the book is done.

The best feeling in the world is sitting on the couch or in a comfy chair, tucked into a snuggly blanket with a warm beverage nearby and getting lost in the world before me on the printed page. I feel warm inside and out; all my woes melt away.

Immersed in the story, I AM the adventurer, the solver of mysteries, the seductress. I fly through the pages, ravenous to see how it turns out.

Then I get to the last chapters.

A feeling of dread comes over me. “Is it really almost over?” I ask myself. I slow down, reluctant to read the last word, on the last page. When I get there, I suffer a feeling of loss. I’ve gotten to know and love the characters. They’ve become real to me. Is this really the end? It’s not fair. I want to see your love grow, your children grow, your achievements to get achieveier, your mysteries to get mysterier. I’ve stuck by your side this whole time and now you’re leaving me?

Then I come to my senses, remind myself it’s just a book and I have a huge backlog of others I need to get to. And so it begins anew…

What about you? Am I the only one with these obsessive tendencies? (Please validate that I’m not!) What was the last book you read that took over your life like this?