What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Recently my whole family — all 15 of us — got together for a beach week on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. Pensacola Beach is one of my favorite places: The sand is beautiful and it’s the perfect vacation mix of fun-things-to-do versus nothing-to-d0-but-sit-on-the-sand-in-peace-and-quiet. My daughters and I spent many summer weeks here when they were younger, and in recent years we’ve dragged coerced brought Husband JP and Older Daughter’s Husband along, too. We loved introducing “our” spot to other folks in our family — Pensacola‘s blend of history, architecture, shopping, food, music and sports (baseball, surfing, paddleboarding, disc golf)  as well as all things Blue Angels meant everybody in our group found something intriguing to explore. Of course, our three younger members — age 4, 2 and 8 months — were content to stay at Family HQ and  chase crabs, dig sand and throw shells back in the surf (okay, our 8-month-old grandson wasn’t too impressed with the surf and really only wanted to eat the sand, but still). We did all the Pensacola things — ate at Peg Leg Pete’s Oyster Bar (where our 4-year-old grandson was slightly disappointed to find out that the pirates there were good pirates), McGuire’s Irish Pub (home of the best fried potatoes anywhere. Anywhere.) and Native Cafe (which we feel paternal towards since we ate there when it first opened and have stuck with it through slow service, lackadaisical service and no service because the food is that good); visited the Naval Air Museum; watched the Blue Angels perform practically in our backyard; shopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood; wandered through Fort Pickens and browsed up and down the happening Palafox Street and Palafox Market. But, of course, as with any family vacation, the highlights involved people more than places: Taking my mom to the World War II exhibit at the Naval Air Museum to see the full-sized recreated Pacific-theater camp similar to one her Seabee father lived in during the war; making sand cities with our 4-year-old grandson;  teaching our 2-year-old nephew how to “dibble, dibble, shot,” although since his parents are skilled and accomplished soccer players, he’s much better than me; playing disc golf with-our nephew watching my 13-year-old nephew and his dad zip through a disc-golf course; learning how to-stand-up paddle board watching our two daughters conquer the surf on stand-up paddle boards; getting drenched in the rain at the outdoors Palafox Market with Younger Daughter yet still eating soggy almond croissants baked by an actual French person; and riding around in a golf cart with my husband and the king of Santa Rosa Island — Santa Rosa Island Authority executive director Buck Lee. Good times, good times.

Why I’m a Writer, Not a Photographer

You know that we are a newspaper family. My husband is the sports editor at the Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., and even though I’m a former practitioner of an escapee from daily-newspaper writing, I still love it when he needs my help. He’ll say, “Sweetie, what are you doing on such-and-such a day? I really could use an extra hand,” which I’m pretty sure is not how he makes assignments to DailyJournal sportswriters. But I’ll take it. Some of the things I help him with are 10K runs, such as the annual Coca-Cola Classic Corinth 10K. Even the most organized runs — which the Coke Classic is — tend toward managed chaos at the finish line. This is especially true for sports reporters as they try to identify and interview winners whose top priority is to find shade and a shower and why-are-these-folks-following-me-and-sticking-cameras-in-my-face-when-I-really-can’t-breathe? Very tricky stuff. So when my husband covers one of these races, he hires me as his assistant. And while secretly I consider it my job to keep an eye on him as he interviews attractive young women as he runs around in the Mississippi heat and humidity, at the Coke Classic he wanted me to 1) photograph winners as they crossed the finish line and 2) keep up with where they were in the finish-line crowd so he could get quotes.  For this past Saturday’s Coke Classic I managed the second assignment perfectly and helped my husband get a good story. The first, as you can see, not so much.

Beer and Peanuts

Where to eat in Starkville, Miss., home of Mississippi State University, bulldogs and cowbells? For the best college-town experience — and some great beer and burgers — head to Mugshots Grill and Bar, in a restored brick house on a downtown historic-district corner. Husband JP and I headed here recently after a basketball game, based on several recommendations that all mentioned the good food and the iffy service. We agree on both counts. Love the decor and atmosphere — exposed brick, gorgeous woodwork, fireplaces and authentically worn floors. And then there’s the menu. You’ve got all the usual suspects, but with a twist. The fried cheese wedges are made of actual real cheese lightly breaded in maybe panko crumbs so you get more of a cheese flavor than a greasy taste. Sandwiches are on fresh-tasting sourdough buns and come with crunchy and potato-y beer-battered fries. (Why is this the first time I’ve ever eaten beer-battered fries?) Burgers come in all your favorite variations: blue cheese,  sauteed mushrooms, barbecue sauce, hickory-smoked bacon … and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. Stop laughing. I now will never eat a good real-meat grilled hamburger again without spreading on some rich and creamy peanut butter and maybe some sweet berry-filled jam.  Also, plenty of decent draft choices. Was all this worth waiting more than an hour for and listening to two — TWO! — stories of kitchen woes from our waitress to explain our missing food. Since the end result was beer-battered french fries and a peanut-buttered hamburger, the answer is “yes.”

Start Your Engines and Eat Some Cake — Happy Daytona 500 Day!

You know that when Wal-Mart makes cakes in its honor, you’ve got a holiday on your hands. Today is the day for  “The Great American Race” — NASCAR‘s Daytona 500 (which for some strange reason I always thought was in Ohio). I have to go on record here: I know absolutely nothing about racing and never ever watch it on TV or in person. But to be honest, that’s probably because I secretly like the thrill of watching high-speed collisions and just don’t have the guts to admit it.

Men at Work

My husband, John Pitts, at work. We're at the Tad Pad -- the Tad Smith Coliseum on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Miss. He's the one in the tie. Because he believes that as the sports editor of his newspaper, he should look professional. But, thankfully, the wife of the sports editor doesn't have to.

Bowling for Fashion

We’re making our way through college football’s bowl season leading up to Monday’s Bowl Championship Series once-in-a-century twice-in-a-century showdown between SEC West powerhouses LSU and Alabama. And the most pressing question is not “What? Them again?? When is ‘Dancing with the Stars’ coming back on???” but rather “How can I look stylish and exhibit team spirit while squashed between screaming drunk people while it’s 35 degrees outside?” At the recent Music City Bowl, Mississippi State fans pretty much took over the downtown area of host city Nashville, Tenn., and swamped the LP Stadium at game time with maroon and white. But opponent and eventual loser Wake Forest showed up with a few fans who braved the freezing temps in black and gold.

 

In Which We Demonstrate How Everything Leads to Football This Week

When it comes to bookstores, we all have our favorites. Some folks like small and cozy. Some folks like bright and airy. Some want chairs and tables for group chatting. Some want soft curl-up-by-yourself chairs. Some want a full menu of coffee, tea and munchables. Some think cups and crumbs should be banned. But no matter what your bookstore preferences, you can’t help falling in love with Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. This is the mecca of book lovers everywhere.  For more than 30 years, Square Books is where you go for that quintessential bookstore experience. It’s where unknown indies and multi-million bestsellers mingle happily. It’s where you can find the titles everybody’s talking about and the ones nobody’s even noticed … yet. It’s where you can blow the budget on rare editions or fill your basket with bargains  Plus, the folks at Square Books so kindly painted their stairs with practically all of my favorite things — except for “Survivor,” chocolate-covered cream-filled doughnuts and (this week) LSU. Geaux, Tigers!

More Random Thoughts, or This Is What Happens When I Break My Computer

Well, okay, I haven’t actually broken my computer. The universe broke my computer — that’s my story, anyway. What happened is that a week or so ago, I noticed it was ssssllllloooowwwwiiinnnggg down to an excruciatingly painful crawl and with my computer savvy born of years of unwittingly inviting viruses to take up residence I correctly deduced that I had acquired a bug. Took it to a computer place, they cleaned it up in a few days and gave it back. And in my eternal quest to save money, I vetoed the security package upgrade the computer guy offered me and simply said — and I quote — “Oh, just go with the basic free one and I’ll buy the upgrade later.” Yes, I actually said those words. Learn from my mistake, friends: NEVER do that.  Because, in the karmic way of the universe, three days after I got my computer back and before I could hand over extra money for extra protection, I got hit with an even more vicious bug that effectively blocked me out of everything but endless games of Spider Solitaire. So my long-suffering beloved laptop is at another computer place for thorough cleaning — and I’ve already told the guy to load it up with every piece of security he can.  And although I believe in the mantra of “never explain, never complain” — – No, really, I do — I wanted you all to know what I haven’t posted lately. My equally long-suffering husband is graciously sharing his laptop with me, but it’s just not the same. So, what’s been happening around here the past few days?

  • Younger Daughter turned 25. This seems extremely unbelievable to me –that my baby girl is 25. I’m beginning to understand why my parents look at me and say, “We cannot believe you are 54.”
  • As a result of being too enthusiastic and optimistic stupid, I agreed to write press releases for several non-profit events within the span of one week. Luckily, none of them got shorted — I procrastinated equally on each of them.
  • Husband and I were scheduled for health screenings at his workplace, and as we were getting ready that morning and he caught me weighing my clothes, I had to explain to him the fine art of dressing for the scales. He was impressed horrified.
  • Here in Mississippi, we’re watching the disintegration of our two SEC football seasons while in neighboring Alabama the Tide rolls on. I am not happy.
  • With the arrival of our second grandson — 3 1/2-year-old Capt. Adorable’s younger brother — a mere month away, I keep a packed ready-to-go bag in my car at all times and am in constant Grandma Alert mode. Every time Older Daughter calls, she says, “It’s not time yet” before she even says “hello.”
I’ve taken some awesome photos with my new camera that actually works and doesn’t eat batteries, so as soon as I get my laptop back, I’ll share. Thank you all for your patience. I now am going back to playing Spider Solitaire and sending disruptive mental messages to N. Saban.

Random Thoughts …

… from a cluttered mind:

  • This TV season is so full of gems that our DVR can’t catch a break. If you’re not watching “Community,” “Modern Family,” “Parks and Rec,” “Castle” and “Prime Suspect,” then you are missing out. Not to mention perennial favorites such as “The Office,” “Survivor” and “Amazing Race.” And this is even before “Cougar Town” and “30 Rock” come back. On the other hand, perhaps this is why I never can find the time to finish start the great American novel.
  • Saving money doesn’t always save money. For instance, my debit-card-pinching Scrooge-like sensible and financially-savvy husband instituted a crazy and unworkable spending ban thought that we should perhaps maybe reign in the spending for a while. “I’ll show him,” I snarled to myself. Fair enough. However, saving money is relative. Take Worcestershire sauce. In our house, fall signals the arrival of Chex-Mix Season and it was time to make that all-important first test batch. Mindful of my husband’s Draconian desire to save money the budget, I carefully collected the necessary ingredients. And since you can’t scrimp on the stars of the show — you know you always can tell when somebody uses generics — I made up the difference on the supporting cast. That’s how I ended up with a huge bottle of store-brand Worcestershire sauce that was 2.3 cents cheaper per serving than the small bottle big-name brand I usually buy — until I got home and dropped the bottle on the kitchen floor and tons of watery salty fishy liquid went everywhere and the bargain buy turned out to cost me $9.46 to make up for the lost first bottle, the small-but-expensive replacement bottle, the half-roll of paper towels used in clean-up and the emotional toll on our four cats who spent the remainder of the evening frantically trying to find the anchovies they knew had been there.
  • A Grove-going Ole Miss fan confirmed my suspicions that most Grove-going Ole Miss fans are more interested in the Grove-going than the actual football game. And given their season so far this year, you can’t really blame them.
  • Do people actually wear this stuff? In a T.J. Maxx checkout line,  (Note to Husband: I was there to return things. Really. That is all. Promise. Could I help it if that black Kenneth Cole jacket literally jumped into my cart and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer?), I noticed  posters of outfits that were supposed, I guess, to inspire us style-wise. One look was a pair of bright pink tights, a black satin ruffled micro-mini skirt and an off-the-shoulder gray jersey sweatshirt. The other look was short red-plaid shorts, a patterned sleeveless blouse and a big furry vest — reminiscent of what got Anthony Ryan booted from “Project Runway.” What I really think happened is that the editors and marketing folks got together and said, “Let’s test our power by convincing our customers to buy and wear the most god-awful things we can think of.” (Maniacal evil laugh.) But guess what, people? IT DIDN’T WORK!!!! I thwarted your dastardly plan by buying the Kenneth Cole jacket instead, plus two dresses, a pair of shoes and this really great saucepan I think I probably will need sometime. See???? You cannot influence my spending at all. Take that!!!!!!!
  • My husband and I failed our house’s intelligence test the other day when we had to call the builder for instructions on how to access the windows so we could clean them. Which means I’m embarrassed about not being able to figure out how our windows work as well as living in the house for almost a year before getting around to washing them.