Friday, March 10, 2017

Discoveries During a March Day in Tennessee

         Several years ago while touring Tennessee I experienced a series of serendipitous discoveries that kept me smiling all day long.

        My day began at the Highland Place Bed & Breakfast in Jackson where my less-than-enthusiastic hosts didn’t exude the graciousness I had come to expect in Tennessee. 
        Does southern hospitality end in Jackson? 

        A few minutes after leaving the B&B I made the first of my four “Best Ever” discoveries for the day.  Here’s the list:

1)  If you’re a Catfish Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Restaurant.
2)  If you’re a Chocolate Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Candy Store.
3)  If you’re a Horse Lover (and who isn’t?) I found the Best-Ever Campground.
4)  If you’re a Fast Food Lover (and I found the Best-Ever McDonald’s.

It's Back to the Future at this busy McDonald's in Jackson.

         First, the McDonald’s on Highland Drive in Jackson.  I never stop at McDonald’s but this one was different.  The gleaming white building, shining golden arches and parking lot full of cars—they called to me.  I pulled in.
        This McDonald’s was abuzz with business.  Cars pulled into and out of the parking lot; customers filed into and out of the doors.  A friendly patron held the door open for me and greeted me with a hello.
        Inside I noticed a cross-section of Jacksonites—black and white, young and old, fat and thin—all there and all smiling.  
        I stepped up to the counter.  The employee greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin and said:
       “Welcome to McDonald’s!  How can I help you?”  She literally beamed as I ordered my coffee to go.
        Wow, maybe southern hospitality doesn’t end in Jackson.  
         I grabbed my coffee, joined the line of people parading out of the establishment and was on my way, smiling.  

        This could have been a scene from 1955 when McDonald’s was brand new, when fast food was a novelty and not a disgrace—decades before Fast Food Nation soured me on the McDonald’s experience.  
        As I left I noticed the drive-through lanes, also filled with lines of cars. 
        Across the street sat a sad old Wendy’s with one car in the parking lot.  I felt almost sorry for it. 


         I traveled east on Interstate 40, my hot cup of McDonald’s coffee nestled in the cup holder.  Twenty minutes later I saw an exit for Natchez Trace State Park.  This led to my second best-ever find of the day—Wrangler’s Campground.

       Wrangler’s is a campground designed exclusively for equestrians.  Every site was filled with horses and their people.  People currying, saddling and riding their steeds, tying bags of hay from tree branches, shoveling manure.  Horse trailers parked alongside tents and recreational vehicles.  I’d never seen anything like it.   
        Imagine a campground with horses whinnying and nickering instead of ATV engines revving (as is the case in many Utah state park campgrounds).  I left the carefree campground and passed a sign proclaiming:  “Happy Trails!”  

Contented horses at The Wrangler's Campground.


        I returned to I-40 and exited at the town of Paris for my third best-ever find of the day—Sally Lane’s Candy Farm.
        I entered the old building with its peeling pink paint, unsure of what I’d find. But oh, the confections within!  Every sort of chocolate bar and candy you could imagine, including Sally’s original pink and green mints.  
       Sally Lane’s was started in 1958 and has had several owners since then.  New owner Rob Freeman and his sister Pam greeted me, ready to hand out samples and answer my candy questions.
       Rob makes all the bar candy, his Mom handles the hard-to-make confections like frogs and bunnies and filled-chocolates, and his niece creates specialty items like chocolate-dipped Twinkies.  I bought one of those tantalizing Twinkies.
       A specialty item like a chocolate-dipped Twinkie deserves a special setting and I found it at Boswell Landing Campground in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  I chose an unoccupied campsite and watched whitecaps form on blue-green Kentucky Lake while enjoying the delectable Twinkie.

"I need some candy over here—STAT!"

       From the Land Between the Lakes I continued on to my destination of Clarksville which led to my fourth and final best-ever find of the day—dinner at The Catfish House.
       The Catfish House however, with its heart attack inducing menu, should come with this warning:  “If you suspect your arteries of being even a teensy bit blocked, DO NOT EAT HERE!”  
       My dinner began with fried okra, instead of traditional rolls.  And it was good.  Then I ordered the fried catfish platter which came with fried hush puppies and two sides.  I chose white beans (not fried), and fried corn-on-the-cob.  Yes, you heard me.  Fried. Corn. On. The. Cob.  Here’s how it’s made:  An ear of corn is cooked, then rolled in egg and flour and deep-fried.  And guess what?  It was good.  Oh, and how was the fried catfish?  Tender, flaky, outstanding.
       After that, time for dessert.  I chose the homemade chocolate chiffon pie.  My slice of pie came to the table with a foot of meringue on top.  I kid you not.  And it was great. 
       I rolled out of The Catfish House, vowing not to eat anything for a week.  I broke that vow the very next day.    
       But as for this day?  It was the Best Ever!  

Warning:  Dining here could damage your arteries, and your waistline,
and your blood sugar levels, and...
(But the food?  Um, um good.)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Roadside Pullout Ahead: Winter Wildlife Viewing in Yellowstone

          Yellowstone National Park has five entrances and 251 miles of roadways, but only one stretch of highway is plowed and open to vehicles from November until May—the 52 miles between the Montana towns of Gardiner and Cooke City.
          While traveling this road you may notice several vehicles parked in the plowed pull-out areas.  If you also see people outside in temperatures barely topping zero degrees, gazing through spotting scopes and long-lens cameras—pull over!  You're guaranteed to catch sight of amazing wildlife nearby.

Wildlife alert!  What did these people see?
Two wolves and a mountain lion on the far hillside.
We saw them too, through our spotting scope.
          Roadside pullouts are the places for photographing wildlife during the winter months in Yellowstone.  On a frigid January day Tim and I pulled into one of these parking spots near the Lamar River where we observed and photographed the following species.
          Click on any photo to enlarge.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep.  Notice how well
he blends in with the rock and snow.

This coyote was on her way to feast on a dead animal carcass,
uphill to the left.

Cow Moose browsing willows on the river bank.

This pair of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks is enjoying
their swim in the Lamar River.

As we drove away from the pullout we noticed
a badger following in bison tracks near the road.

         And the reward for getting up early and braving the cold by dressing in layers of long underwear, fleece tops and pants, neck warmers, wool gloves and wind-stopper parkas?
         A stop at 'The Bistro' in Cooke City for steaming mugs of hot chocolate.

The Bistro, on left, serves bone-warming hot chocolate.

         View more photos of Yellowstone's winter wildlife by visiting this previous post:

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cross-country Travel Opportunity with Cotopaxi, the 'Gear for Good' Company

Can you see yourself traveling this open road?
If so the job opportunity (below) might be for you!

"Get Your Kicks...on Route 66." 
"See the USA in Your Chevrolet."
          These slogans from the mid-20th century represent America's love affair with the open road.

          Road trips are synonymous with independence, discovery and adventure.  Because of my blog's focus on adventure travel and exploration in the United States, I was encouraged by the Cotopaxi online community to share their "Road Warrior" position.

          Who is Cotopaxi?  Founded in 2013 in Salt Lake City, Utah, Cotopaxi designs, makes and sells outdoor gear, like these travel backpacks. Their stated goal is to make great gear, and to help alleviate poverty in the developing world by donating 2% of their revenue to promote health, education, and job skills training.

          A brief description of the employment opportunity:

          We’re on a mission to hire someone for the open road. He or she will travel around the country and visit every major U.S. city, living the ultimate adventure from coast to coast all while sharing their experience. They’ll travel around the country, encouraging people to find adventure and do good.
          Wow.  At one point in my life I would have jumped at the chance to apply for this job.  Which is why I agreed to write this post and spread the word about this exciting cross-country travel opportunity.


          Readers, are you interesting in applying for the Field Marketing Specialist job below?  And if not, do you know of friends or family who are looking for a unique position with a dynamic, socially conscious outdoor gear company?  If so, please forward the following information to them.

If you, a friend or family member are interested in applying for this position visit and click on Field Marketing Specialist under "Current Openings".

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Scenes from the Big Island of Hawaii

          I love winter.  Really, I do. 

          Right this minute, from where I sit behind my computer in the living room I count: 

14 snowmen figurines
  6 “Let It Snow” signs
  3 cross-country skier/snowflake throws
  2  “Let It Snow” votive candle lamps
  2 stuffed moose on skis  
 1 stuffed bear on skis
 1 wooden snowman on skis and,
 1 snowman pillow.

          All strategically and lovingly placed atop a mantel, a desk, a glider, and several bookcases.

          But... I just spent an hour shoveling snow and chiseling ice from around my chicken coop and so, as a distraction from winter’s many pleasures, I present these photos from a November snorkeling adventure on the Big Island of Hawaii.


Tim takes the fish photos.  Here he's holding his
camera, flash and snorkel fins.

Ornate Butterflyfish

School of Raccoon Butterflyfish

Left to Right:  Yellowtail Coris, Blackspot Sergeant, Moorish Idols

Yellowtail Coris (top), Lagoon Triggerfish (bottom).

School of Yellow Tang

Achilles Tang

Four-spot Butterflyfish


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Walking in a Winter Wonderland—Lake City, Colorado

Obsessing over planning a holiday menu to appease your vegan brother-in-law?  Wondering how to keep the egg nog away from Uncle Bill?  Fretting about picking the perfect gift for your spoiled niece?


Grab a pair of snowshoes and a companion—furry or otherwise—and head for the hills.
It's the perfect antidote for those holiday headaches.

Wishing you joy and wonder this holiday season!

Merry Christmas from Annie, Rita and Tim.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Eating Across America: From Bakeries to Barbecues

         In this era of divisiveness let's celebrate something that unites us:  Food.

         Since the year 2006 I have been traveling solo to a different state each year.  At roadside stands I've munched caramel apples in Rhode Island, pepperoni roll-ups in West Virginia and boiled peanuts in Florida.  In coffee shops, cafes and restaurants I've feasted on maple-bacon donuts in Maine, fried okra in Tennessee and sopapilla burgers in New Mexico.  I've enjoyed craft brewery beers in Vermont and fresh-baked pies in Iowa.

         America's great multi-cultural heritage is reflected in our food.  We love growing it, creating culinary delights, and even fusing one ethnicity to another—think Asian/Tex-Mex.

         Brew a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine, then travel along with me to discover the eateries and food which make America great, and strong.


After driving 40 miles from the nearest town, the chili and milkshakes
at The Chugwater Soda Fountain were most welcoming.


Cypress Corner Market, Apalachicola, Florida.
I can vouch for the Tupelo honey.  The boiled peanuts?  Not so much.


This Ponchatoula eatery is THE place for strawberry beignets.
Never had a beignet?  Read all about it here.


The Dinky Diner—yes, that's it's name—in Decatur City.
The turkey melt sandwich and the ginger bar dessert (for $8.00)
offered comfort food on a rainy evening.

You just know by looking at the crowd outside that this is going to be good.
I had a slice of peanut butter pie (heavenly) at this Amish bakery.


Pepperoni cheese roll-ups are a West Virginia specialty.
The roll-ups I had at Ken Dee's Hot Dog stand were out-of-this-world good.

The Ferguson Tea Room in Hurricane offers afternoon High Tea.

My High Tea luncheon consisted of a pot of raspberry tea, with
tomato basil mini sandwiches, lemon scones with poppy seed icing
and a pecan tassie (pecan pie in a small cup).


Breakfast tray delivered to my room at The Harmony House Farm B&B
in Little Compton.

This Pleasant View Orchards farm stand near Spragueville
provided me with the best caramel apple I've ever eaten.


A sopapilla burger and killer hot sauce at
Casa de Benavidez in Albuquerque.

Breakfast at the Gold Street Caffee in Albuquerque.
A three-egg omelet filled with salsa, cheese and red-chili bacon.

Dinner at the Resort at Cloudcroft.
I started with roasted jalapeƱo acorn squash soup
accompanied by a pomegranate margarita.
Need I say more?


The Capitol Grounds Cafe in Montpelier celebrates "The Lone Ranger" with Johnny Depp.
I had the egg and sausage sandwich on Red Hen bread—a white/wheat mix from
a local bakery.   The delectable sausage is also locally sourced from Tangletown
Farm where they "ethically raise meats".

The Tulsi Tea Room in Montpelier.  Mint iced tea, curry bowl-of-the-day,
matchstick carrots in an olive oil, cilantro masala sauce.
Oh, and a molasses-ginger cookie for dessert.

In Vermont there's a maple syrup stand on every highway and byway.
At this stand I ordered not maple syrup but, wait for it...a cup of
maple lemonade.

These crazy Russian girls were, indeed, crazy.
They would have to be to offer the cookie, below.

What's a "Better than Brad Pitt" cookie?  It's a double chocolate delight.
I had to eat one.  And you know what?  I agree.
Sorry Brad, I'd rather have this cookie!
.  Yes, it was that good.


If you suspect your arteries of being even a teensy bit clogged,
DO NOT EAT at this restaurant!
My dinner:  fried okra, fried catfish, fried hush puppies,
and, yes, fried corn-on-the-cob.

I wasn't going to stop at this lonely shack in the town of Moscow in south-central Tennessee.
I drove right by but then turned around.
A tiny, weathered, silver-haired lady took my order for a barbecue sandwich.
Want cole slaw on that?  Sure.  Hot sauce?  Sure.
And four dollars and a few minutes later I had a barbecue sandwich to die for.


Orchard Valley Farms in Paonia.  This tidy little stand offered a few great finds:
artisinal farmstead cheese, local honey and wine.


Congdon's Donuts in Wells.
A maple cream and a powdered donut, a butter-crunch donut hole
and fresh hot coffee.  What's not to like?

The lazy lobster (already picked from the shell) meal at
Billy's Chowder House in Wells.
Delicious.  The lobster tasted fresh-caught, the potato tasted fresh-dug,
and the green beans tasted fresh-picked.  Can't beat that.

To my American readers (and maybe my international readers as well)—are you dismayed by the events of last week?  Overjoyed?  I don't believe we can count on politicians to "fix" things for us.
But remember this:  We'll always have pie.

Pie is served all day at the Little Switzerland Bakery in McGregor, Iowa.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Mainely Murders Bookstore, Kennebunk, Maine

         Searching for tales of mystery, murder and mayhem this Halloween?  Then check out Mainely Murders bookstore in Kennebunk, Maine.

         I discovered Mainely Murders while touring Maine on a warm August day.  Open doors and an employee reading under a shade canopy enticed me to stop in.  
         "Welcome," said the employee.  "I'll describe our store to you."  

         "Outside we have garden-themed murders and culinary mysteries.  And here's a section devoted to murders involving or solved by cats and dogs.  And, in case you're wondering, the cats and dogs are NEVER the victims," she said.

          I entered the small clapboard building and Ann, the bookstore's owner, took over the narrative:

         "Here's a section devoted to murders written by Maine authors, or taking place in Maine.  We have New England murders, classic American and classic British Isles murder mysteries, Agatha Christie's works, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, European mysteries, South American murder mysteries, Medieval murders, Contemporary American mysteries, Alphabetized-by-author-not-any-particular-genre murders."

         All categorized, all organized.

        "We have over 10,000 books in our inventory," Ann said.  "But we only display about 3500.  So, if you don't see something, ask!"

         After my Mainely Murders tutorial I had to buy at least one book.  I browsed the shop for awhile and then did indeed by a book (or three).    

         What better way to spend Halloween than by curling up with a good mystery while awaiting little goblins and ghouls.

         Happy Haunting!

Here's the perfect gift for a Halloween/World Series celebration—
baseball-themed murder mysteries.