Florida Road Trip

For folks in middle Tennessee and north and central Alabama, a summer road trip to Florida means driving south on Interstate 65. And that means a stop at Priester’s Pecans in Fort Deposit, Alabama, at exit No. 142 about 35 miles of Montgomery. A gift shop and rest stop and restaurant, Priester’s is best known for its free-sample bowls of its famous flavored pecans. Now, I never get up in the morning dreaming about pecans — I’m not even a big fan of pecan pie — but if we’re anywhere near Priester’s, I have to stop and nibble on such taste treats as Key Lime, Peach and Honey Glazed pecans. This truly is marketing genius, because you can’t sample without thinking, “You know, the one thing that would make the rest of my vacation complete is a bag of Cinnamon Pecans.” There also are all sorts of Priester’s-made candy and even plain ol’ unflavored pecans there, plus a cooler stocked with homemade frozen casseroles to make the first night at your beach rental much more convenient and plenty of souvenirs and gifts for when you’re headed back home and you’ve forgotten to get something for the grandkids. These Priester’s folks think of everything! Go yourself and you’ll see: http://www.priesters.com/

Family Vacations

You know how when you go on a vacation that involves sharing a space with a bunch of other people who are mostly related to you and there’s always a point when you declare that you absolutely positively never ever will go to the beach or anywhere else again with your cousin Michelle? The key is to be prepared. Look, you plan the food and you organize the packing and you get the car ready for the trip so do the same thing for family dynamics. You know somebody will be the Worrier and somebody will be the Worker and somebody will be the Fun-Lover, so proceed accordingly. Just make sure the Organizer does her job. Read more at my weekly newspaper column, http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20100716/ARTICLES/307169994.

Travel

Fellow fans have begged me to not say this, but as a journalist I’ve sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so I have to be honest and tell you all that you’ve got to to go to Apalachicola and St. George Island, Florida, for your next vacation. Here are the things these towns are not: Big. Crowded. Noisy. Full of high-rise condos. Here are the things these towns are: Small. Quiet. Peaceful. I have to admit that there can be a crowd at the Seafood Grill in downtown Apalach if you time it wrong, but you can sit outside and watch the world go by while you wait for your table, so no worries. And with only one tiny grocery store and a handful of eateries, St. George Island is even smaller than its across-two-bridges sister town. Slow-paced and easy-going, SGI offers casual beach houses with no roof-line higher than three or four stories. If you want total relaxation with the only stressful decision having to decide between shrimp and oysters for supper, then this is your place. Visit http://www.apalachicolabay.org/ and http://www.resortvacationproperties.com/ to learn more. We were there just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m ready to go back.

Vacations

This looks like we had our car all packed up and ready for family vacation, doesn’t it? And we did … although we really hadn’t started packing yet. Fourteen folks in my family were headed to the beach in various cars and at various times and turned out Dear Husband and I had the fewest people and the most room in our car. So of course when we were all in the pre-packing stage, I told everybody, “Sure, we’ll take those chairs/boxes/bags for you if you don’t have room. No problem.” I was happy to help out and it wasn’t a problem — until I realized I’d almost offered out all available space and left only a few square inches for Husband’s and my bags. But some creative shifting freed up the necessary room. And, as usual, I overpacked, anyway. Anytime I’m lucky enough to go to the beach, I end up being totally minimalist and pulling on whatever’s easiest — T-shirts and shorts over swimsuits most of the time  — and not even caring if I’m wearing the correct white top-with-black-capris combo accented with appropriate jewelry and handbags I usually do during Real Life. (Hey, I’m a Southern girl. Appropriate handbags are in our DNA, you know.) Sadly, I forget that and always persist in carefully packing coordinated outfits that end up unworn in favor of the wrinkled three-days-in-a-row tank top. And I bet there are lots of you all who suffer from Vacation Overpacking Disorder, too. We should band together and start a support group. And of course the only cure for our afflication is — more vacation packing! Who’s with me???

Tunica

We went to Tunica and all I got was some chocolate cake. My husband was luckier, however — he picked up two first-place awards from the Mississippi Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest for headlines and sports columns. We were in Tunica recently for the MPA annual get-together and awards luncheon. It was my first glimpse of the famous gambling town and only my second time ever to go to a casino. And in fact we didn’t even go to the casino so my record still stands at once … and I don’t think I got the full experience even then since I only sat at a nickel machine for a few minutes and watched my dollar bill dribble away. Sigh. Anyway, our Tunica adventure was on a Saturday and my sports-editor husband could only take enough time out of a work day to drive over (Down? Up?) to the luncheon, so we only saw the inside of the Harrah’s conference-center room. I had a blast sitting with friends from my husband’s newspaper, and although we were all less than impressed with the food and the service — Seriously, no tea or water refills and only one carafe of coffee for 200 people? — our dessert of chocolate cake certainly looked intriguing. The cake itself was on the dry side, but the berry puree and the chocolate ganache were divine. I also can report that I saw beautifully landscaped grounds and a sign advertising the Paula Deen Buffet, but that’s about it for my Tunica Harrah’s experience. Husband and I agreed we needed to come back and stay longer. See for yourself at http://www.harrahstunica.com/casinos/grand-casino-resort-tunica/hotel-casino/property-home.shtml.

Helen Keller and Tuscumbia, Alabama

I always forget that people come from all over the world to our little corner of northwest Alabama to see Helen Keller’s birthplace, Ivy Green, in Tuscumbia. I drive past the historic site practically every day and love seeing school buses and tour buses and license tags from All Those Other Places That Are Not Alabama.  If you’ve never been, you’ve got to schedule a visit. The birthplace is down-home and low-key and you will learn so much. Everyone’s always amazed to see how small the cabin is where Anne Sullivan took her wild-child charge for some intense one-on-one training — and how close the building is to the Keller’s actual house. And the famous water pump is there, too. Now is a good time to come. It’s the Helen Keller Festival, a week of music, art, history, Southern culture and deaf/blind awareness. You also can watch an outdoor performance of “The Miracle Worker” on the Ivy Green grounds — essentially watching the story unfold on the very spot where it happened. Learn more at http://www.helenkellerfestival.com and http://www.helenkellerbirthplace.org/. And while you’re there, be sure to wander around downtown Tuscumbia. You’ll find a cozy local bookstore with real nooks and crannies and comfortable reading spots, a chic women’s boutique, an authentic drugstore where you can get actual old-fashioned milkshakes and malts and my favorite spot of all: A prom- and wedding-dress shop smack dab next to a feed store. I didn’t realize how incongruous this was until one day I saw some Folks Not From Around Here taking a photo. I personally don’t see anything weird about it, but then I’m someone who knows that when you order “tea” in a restaurant, it’s supposed to come in a long tall icy glass and be sweet enough that the spoon stands by itself. So there you go.

Lynchburg, Tennessee

For years I have driven past Lynchburg, Tennessee — home of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey — several times a month on the way to my hometown of Manchester, Tennessee. Lynchburg famously is the tiny little town that Jack built. It’s an old-fashioned town square tucked into the Tennessee hills and surrounded by all things Jack Daniel. So far, so good. The thing is, lately Husband and I have noticed that  every time we drive by, the square is full of motorcycles. It’s true. Apparently Lynchburg has become a motorcycle destination. And I want to know why. Also: How? I mean, what is it about Lynchburg that attracts so many bikers? And how does the word get out? Is it some sort of motorcycle flashmob? Simple coincidence? Inquiring minds … But motorcycles are not the only intriguing visitors to Lynchburg. On a recent walk around town, I spotted: 1) A stretch limo so long it took up practically one whole side of the square; 2) two guys with backpacks who talked like Bret and Jemaine from the Flight of the Concherds; 3) two barefoot guys literally running around taking digital camera shots of every building; 4) a young dreadlocked couple who wanted their picture taken with a sculpture of an elderly man playing checkers; and 5) a man with a Minnesota car tag who was asking the tourism-bureau volunteer about a route to Nashville that was both scenic and quick — and who argued with her when she told him it couldn’t be done. In Tennessee, you can be quick. Or you can be scenic. You have to choose — unless, maybe, you’re riding a motorcycle. Learn more about Lynchburg at http://www.lynchburgtn.com/ — y’all come!