High school class reunion, or why doesn’t anybody listen to John Denver anymore?

This is what 1975 looks like today. Pretty damn good, I think.

class pic         Thanks to the patience and perseverance of a few dedicated folks, the Coffee County Central High School (Manchester, Tennessee) class of ’75 gathers for an official reunion weekend every five years. Saturday night we gathered at the fanciest place in town to eat, to spill my glass of red wine all over my purse to drink, to catch up and to lose at to play charades. We had a blast — as long as we studiously ignored the fact that we all are way older now than our own parents were when we graduated. That’s a little scary. And it made me remember that the whole time we were going through school, people kept telling us that we were the future of our country and America’s success and welfare were up to us. I’ll just let that thought sit there for contemplation.

But here are some other, more cheerful thoughts:

  • BFF Debbie Stepp Ball was my date since husband John Lewis Pitt
    s
    , sports editor at the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, had this little thing called THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEKEND going on. usAs usual, Debbie Stepp and I both wore pretty much the same thing, both worried about our shoes and both could barely stay awake past 9 p.m. Because that’s how we roll. Also please ignore the senior picture on my name tag. I have no knowledge of who that person is. None at all. Nope, it’s not me. Debbie Stepp, also as usual, got tons of compliments and people said things to her such as “Oh, Debbie, you haven’t aged a bit!” People said things to me such as “Uh, hello? Were you in my Spanish class?” But it is true that she has not aged a bit and is a beautiful person inside and out and I’m just glad she still lets me hang out with her.
  • The much-anticipated charades team made up of the class Cathys/Kathys — we think there were eight of us at one time — lost because WE FOLLOWED THE RULES and didn’t talk. The Cathys/Kathys ALWAYS follow the rules. It’s what makes us who we are. Fingers pointing at you, team of Gordon Smith. Fingers pointing at you.
  • The generation that graduated in 1975 got kind of stuck, history-wise. We missed out on the Beatles, the Sixties and Elvis. In the months before
    we graduated, Watergate conspirators were convicted and the Vietnam War ended. Our male teachers were a mix of World War II veterans and young guys with bell-bottom pants and hair touching their collars. Our female teachers were a mix of ruler-slapping take-no-prisoners ladies who’d been teaching for about a hundred years and young women trying out this new idea that they could have careers AND have families at the same time. Is it any wonder we were confused?     10888636_10156002401545626_5285635509432103484_nIs it any wonder that when the photographer at the reunion told us we could do anything we wanted for a “silly” picture, we couldn’t handle it? We panicked. We froze. This picture is as silly and free as we could get. But it’s not our fault. We were raised to do what we’re told. We need rules and regulations! Parameters and limitations! It’s how we do our best work.
  • And one final thought — these folks are all fun and friendly and delightful to talk to. Why didn’t I know that 40 years ago? Why was I so insecure that I didn’t venture beyond my own circle of friends? Wish I’d embraced all the quirks and differences and strengths that made us our wonderful different selves. But maybe that’s what reunions are for … that, and getting to hear your mother tell you, as you head out the door, “You’ll knock all those boys off their feet!” (my mom) and “Don’t drink and drive!” (Debbie’s mom). So glad some things never change.

A Sweet Valentine’s Day

I love my husband. I love endless chocolate. I love Valentine’s Day, road Valentine's dessertstrips and the great state of Tennessee. Not to mention literacy and newspapers. So you know where husband JP and I had our Valentine’s Day date this year: at the “For the Love of Literacy” dessert tasting in Selmer, Tenn., where all of these favorite things converge into one can’t-miss extravaganza. The Independent Appeal newspaper, in Selmer, hosts this wildly popular annual Valentine’s event to benefit the McNairy County Literacy Council. It’s sugar & chocolate & all-things-yummy beyond your wildest high-fat-content Valentine's cakedreams. Businesses, churches, book clubs, other non-profits and both professional and amateur bakers bring out their best recipes to woo the judges for best-of titles and sway the crowd for people’s choice votes. It’s all chocolate, all evening and you’d better start slow or you’ll regret it later. JP and I have learned to be discriminating — Valentine cookiestwo cake pops instead of three, three pieces of fudge instead of four and only one trip back for more Strawberry Surprise or double-mocha espresso brownies. But it’s all for a good cause. I mean, that’s the ONLY reason I ate all those mini peanut-butter cupcakes and had to sample the tiramisu twice. I’m passionate about literacy like that. Also, I did pick up on some dessert trends, because I had to have some excuse for circling the room eight times I always am on the food-reporting beat for you. For example, classics such as the no-bake chocolate-oatmeal cookies seem to be making a comeback, items with organic and natural ingredients are on the rise and, as always, appearance and decorations are key. The things I do just to keep you all updated …

You Say “Tomato Head,” I say “Let’s Go!”

Who doesn’t love a quirky hometown pizza place, especially if you value creative menus, local flavors and non-corporate atmospheres? Husband JP and I have several favorites scattered around, although we still mourn the loss of Tomato Tomato in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where we first encountered the trend of naming pizzas for streets and thus enjoyed eating our way through the downtown ‘Boro. Luckily, Younger Daughter introduced us to another Tennessee pizza place that quickly moved toward the top of our list: The Tomato Head, in downtown Knoxville. Of course you’ve got yummy pizza (and appetizers and burittos and salads and sandwiches and …) and good local beer in a funky and hip (without that annoying “-ster” addition) setting. Those things are required. But The Tomato Head goes further — it’s created its own Tomato Head culture. The owner and staff support local art, music and poetry. They recycle. They use as many responsibly grown local and/or organic ingredients as possible. They make their own dressings, desserts and breads. They opened their own bakery, The Flour Head, which supplies a local school with fresh and nutritious baked goods for lunch. This is local pizza at its best.

Happy Birthday to Grommy

Happy Birthday to my mom, also known in our family as “Grommy” — although I’ve forgotten which grand- or great-grandchild named her that. We gathered to celebrate her day along with other fall family birthdays a couple of weeks ago, and I started the thing I’ve been threatening to do for years: Wrap all presents in plain brown paper and then decorate accordingly. I have to admit that my mom’s birthday present was my first effort, and I think worked pretty well. It was fun, anyway. Her present was a wooden plaque making fun of celebrating her preference to have a little coffee with her cream and sugar. I wrapped it up and then my 4 1/2-year-old grandson, Nolan, and I collected fall leaves from the yard — he liked the crackly brown ones best while I went for the pretty red and orange ones. We then carefully and meticulously taped the leaves to the top of the wrapped package and wrote our birthday message directly on the brown paper. Okay, that’s a big fat lie. The “careful and meticulous” part was purely Nolan, who scorned my haphazard design approach and spent several minutes A) planning a template for the leaves (“No, Kacky. The little red one should go HERE.”) and B) unrolling the tape edges that had folded back on themselves so we would have smooth and wrinkle-free strips. Plus, his handwriting on the “happy birthday” was better than mine. Obviously, one of us has artists for parents, and it’s not me. But I have a beautiful, talented, strong, loving, kind and smart mom — who always A) makes detailed plans before attempting a project and B) reuses and repairs things instead of throwing them out. Happy Birthday, Grommy! We love you!

Paris, France, by way of Knoxville, Tennessee

I never have been to France and have no knowledge of French-ness whatsoever, but a recent visit to the French Market Créperie in downtown Knoxville, Tenn., seemed like a European-Parisian-non-American sort of experience — albeit slightly tarnished by discovering the guy behind the counter was from our non-French town of Tupelo, Miss. But, still. The menu features crepes, salads and baguette and croissant sandwiches, but  the star attractions are the crepes. So yummy! So fun! My buckwheat crepes with goat cheese and walnuts were unbelievably delicious. (I’d never had a buckwheat crepe, but you get a substantial and slightly sweet and nutty flavor which holds up well to most fillings.) My cappuccino was prepared perfectly, and we all practically licked our plates to get every last crepe crumb. The decor was rockin’ a French vibe, too, with all sorts of fleur-de-lis, Eiffel Tower and bicycle references. Again, I have no idea what a real French cafe in the real France is like, but the French Market’s adorable bistro chairs and sidewalk tables combined with French honey, petit fours and macaroons for sale will make you start throwing “s’il vous plait”s around and talking about Victor Hugo just for the heck of it. Actually, all I know about Victor Hugo comes from seeing “Les Misérables” on stage about a dozen times — which is to say that I know nothing about Victor Hugo and France equally. But I do know good food and good times — and you can find both at Knoxville’s French Market. Dites-leur que Catherine de “Café avec Cathy” que vous avez envoyé. (Thank you, Google Translate!)

Coffee Treasures in Chattanooga

We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at,  have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.

Sidewalks in Chattanooga, Tenn. — Metal Dresses and Magic Doors

Chattanooga, Tenn., is a town that loves its art. (And its doughnuts, but that’s a different post.) Art is everywhere here. It oozes out of museums and galleries and spills out onto walls, buses and anywhere there’s an inspiring blank space. Such as sidewalks. In the emerging Southside Art District, for example, simply walking along immerses you in all sorts of innovative artistic minds. Sculptor John Petrey, for instance, is known for his dress series, and one of his astonishing works is just standing right there. You can walk up to it and inspect it and touch it all you want. Yea, art for the people!!! And then there was this wooden door propped up against a lamp post on a sidewalk in Northside, Chattanooga’s cool hipster alter ego. Younger Daughter and I were walking to Greenlife Grocery (which we all know is actually a Whole Foods, although everybody in Northside tries to deny it) when we spotted the door and tried to figure it out. Was it art? Apartment renovation? A magic door that would lead to an alternate universe? We resisted the urge to draw on it since all we had were ink pens and lipstick and, besides, if it did happen to be a magic door leading to an alternate universe, we felt that non-engagement was the proper response.