the wonderful world of veena.

30 June 2014

25 of 52: early birthday celebrations with my parents.

Since my birthday falls on a Tuesday this year, my parents and I decided to celebrate over the weekend. When they asked where I would like to eat, I mulled the question and came up with two responses: India Palace and The Arcade [two separate restaurants, not a really awesome band name]. And so we went to both.

India Palace has long been my favourite Indian restaurant in Memphis. The guys there have known me since I was about 8, it's two blocks from where I went to uni, and I almost always receive something on the house, whether it be samosas or pakodas or kulfi. It's like an extra Memphis home, and it is usually my last meal before I leave for India and one of my first upon my return.

[this beautiful sign has signified "home" for nearly 20 years]
So last Friday, we went to India Palace for lunch. Although we partake in the buffet during lunch, we still received an order of chicken tikka masala - my favourite - almost immediately after I arrived. Although I go fairly often for dinner with my friends, my parents had not been in a long time, and it was nice for the three of us to be back there to enjoy a meal. And enjoy it, we did. Because India Palace is delicious.

[dinner spread from our first tuesday night ladies night gathering]
The Arcade is the oldest restaurant in Memphis. Founded in 1919 by a Greek immigrant, it has survived the ups-and-downs of South Main for nearly a century. Known for their breakfast, their coffee, and their burgers, it's a staple of Memphians and visitors alike. I had not been in a number of years, and my parents had never been there, so I chose to go there for an early lunch on Saturday. And it did not disappoint.

[the oldest restaurant in memphis and one of its most iconic buildings]
Everything about The Arcade, from the ambience to the food to the hustle, is exactly the same as I remember it from when I was in college. My father loved the breakfast options, and my mother loved the coffee, so I think I succeeded in recruiting two new fans. And I promise to not go 10 years before my next visit.

[exterior of the orpheum, one of my favourite buildings in memphis]
And to wrap up our Saturday, my mother and I saw The Book of Mormon at The Orpheum. I have been wanting to see it for years, so as soon as I heard that the production would be coming to Memphis, I bought my tickets. My mother is a great sport and agreed to tag along with me, knowing nothing about the show or the subject or the songs. But she loved it, and so did I. I still laugh from time-to-time remembering bits from the show, and it was great to share that experience with my mother.

[love the interior]
other highlights included: finalized some plans for my upcoming road trip; finished reading And the Mountains Echoed; the USMNT qualified for the knockout round at the World Cup; Rafa advanced to the second week of Wimbledon; the Braves swept the Phillies [are you sensing a sports theme to my week?].

Last week in town until I hit the road for 5 weeks! Here's hoping it's a great one.

27 June 2014

memphis eats: babalu tacos & tapas.

Babalu Tacos & Tapas, a Jackson, MS staple, just opened on Overton Square a few weeks ago, and last week I checked it out with Katie Walsh and her friend Meghan.

[part of the babalu interior]
There was about a 45-minute wait when we arrived, but we found some space at the bar on the patio and camped out to wait. Meghan ordered a cocktail, but it took a while for her to get someone's attention and place her order -- being the first week, the staff all seemed a bit overwhelmed.

We eventually got seated inside and settled down with our menus. Since Walshie had been to their soft opening, she had a few suggestions for us, particularly the Mexican street corn - off the cob, of course - and the chocolate truffles for dessert. We decided to share some queso and the vegetable of the day - fried Mississippi okra - as well. For main dishes I ordered the garlic shrimp & grits, Walshie opted for the shrimp tacos, and Meghan went with the lamb tacos.

[prepare yourself for the yummy goodness contained within these pages]
Babalu's main policy is that they will bring food as it is ready, so the Mexican street corn was the first thing to arrive, followed quickly by the shrimp tacos. Meghan and I encouraged Walshie to eat, since we had the corn to snack on, but it was still a bit weird. Mine arrived next, and Meghan's last, partly because they mixed up her order and brought lamb sliders first, so they had to change her order. Luckily the okra arrived in between, and her tacos came not long after. Unfortunately, we never received our queso and eventually had to cancel the order.

Even though we had a few snags with the ordering, the food was awesome. The fried okra was probably my favourite, followed by Walshie's shrimp tacos. My shrimp & grits were really good - especially once I added some hot sauce - and the street corn was fantastic, although I would have liked it with some chili powder mixed in there.

[shrimp + grits = yummy in my tummy]
And then there was dessert.

Walshie had been waxing poetic about these chocolate truffles, so obviously we had to order them. And they were amazing. A little rich, but that did not stop me from inhaling two of them in short order. Possibly worth the trip on their own.

[photographs cannot do these justice. go try them out for yourself]
And as an added highlight, black-and-white episodes of I Love Lucy were being projected onto one of the interior walls. I love any place that does that in general, but Lucy is one of my faves. Two thumbs up for that detail.

It seemed to me the staff were just a bit overwhelmed with the crowd - Thursday night on the Square and all that - and since it was the first week, there were obviously some snags to be worked out. But overall I really liked it, from the space to the friendliness of the staff to the delicious food. And I will definitely be back.

If you're interested:
2115 Madison Ave
Memphis, TN 38104

A great addition to Overton Square, and I can't wait to go back!

26 June 2014

book review: and the mountains echoes [khaled hosseini]

This is one that I have been excited about for longer than I can remember. Whenever I hear that Khaled Hosseini is releasing a new book, I get nearly giddy with the anticipation of it. His writing and his story-telling won me over with The Kite Runner and then took it to a whole new level with the 2007 release of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Finally, after years of waiting, he was writing another book! And it was getting even better reviews than the previous two! How was that possible?

When And the Mountains Echoed finally released last year, I made myself wait for the paperback release [paperbacks are cheaper, lighter, and generally just more convenient]. When I checked online at the beginning of this year, June seemed sooooo far away, but eventually I found myself at the end of May and decided it was time to pre-order it, ensuring that it would arrive at my house on the same day it released into stores. Win-win.

I began reading it almost as soon as it arrived, and I couldn't put it down. Hosseini knows how to weave intricate, heartbreaking tales, and this one is no different. Sweeping through generations and across continents and countries, And the Mountains Echoed tells the story of two inseparable siblings and how one single decision tore them apart forever and consequently changed the lives of countless others along the way.

With each book, Hosseini's abilities as a storyteller continue to emerge, and this one had me turning the pages faster than my brain could process the words I was reading. I had to stop often to jot down a line or a quote into my book, knowing that although I was interrupting my rhythm, it was worth it to have those words to return to even after I turned the last page.

As per usual with Hosseini's books, I shed a few tears and I shook my head and I had my heart broken just a little, but he somehow always manages to bring it back around and not make you feel like life is bleak and empty. He's got such a way with words, and it is evidenced yet again in this novel.

One of my favourite aspects came after the book was over -- at the end of the book, there is an Author's Note from Hosseini highlighting the refugee crisis in Afghanistan and calling for readers to learn more about the problem and to take action. Hosseini and his wife have started the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help with the situation, focusing mostly on helping women and children in the area.

So read the book, cry a little, and then visit the Foundation's website to learn how you can help make a difference.

currently reading: The Giver by Lois Lowry
eternally reading: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
next from the list: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

24 June 2014

marvelous memphis: slave haven underground railroad museum.

Did you know that Memphis has an Underground Railroad museum?

Neither did I, until about 2 weeks ago. But once I heard about it, I could not get it out of my head, so while I was living on Mud Island last week, I decided to check it out for myself.

I am so glad I did.

The Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum, also referred to as the Burkle Estate, is the former home of Jacob Burkle, a German immigrant who used his home to provide a safe haven for slaves escaping to Canada. Burkle and his wife had left an oppressive Germany because they did not agree with conscription, and they landed in an America that had its own form of oppression, so they worked to help slaves find their way to freedom.

[background on the house and the man who built it]
During the tour, which lasts about an hour, you hear a brief history of the slave trade and the Middle Passage, learn about abolitionists as well as how slaves helped each other along the Underground Railroad, and tour the Burkle home and hear about their family and the role they played in helping slaves. All the information about the Burkle family's involvement with the Underground Railroad comes from oral history that was passed down from Jacob Burkle's granddaughter in the mid-twentieth century.

[the home that served as a safe haven for slaves seeking freedom and a better life]
I learned a number of things during the tour that I did not previously know. I learned about the significance of magnolia trees outside a Southern home [they often indicated a safe haven for slaves on the run]. I learned about how steamboat operators were complicit in hiding slaves on their vessels as they traveled upriver. I learned that slaves used songs like "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Wade in the Water" to share knowledge about escaping. I learned about the secret signs that were embedded in the quilts slaves made; often the quilts signaled routes for escaping slaves to follow or indicated safe passage. And I learned that the highest reward ever offered for a runaway slave was for Harriet Tubman; slave owners got together and offered a reward of $40,000 for her return. In today's economy, that equates to just under $350,000.

[keep an eye out for this sign. blink and you might miss it!]
It's a pretty simple tour, but I loved it. It was informative without being overwhelming, and I really liked the casual feel of it. Since the house is small, only one tour can run at a time, so depending on when you arrive, you might be added on to the middle of an ongoing tour and then looped back around. Since the tour is split into three distinct categories rather than following a specific chronological order, it's fine to join in the middle, which I did when I arrived.

[a fountain in the garden; the plaque reads, "In memory of those slaves who traveled through here on the road to freedom"]
Although the museum has been in existence since 1991, the Director told me that it has really been in the last 10 years or so that it has been operating as it is currently. It is a licensed non-profit, so all the proceeds from admission prices and gift shop sales go directly back into the maintenance and upkeep of the house and tour.

All three women who lead the tour are extremely nice and knowledgeable, and they were all happy to answer questions or just to chat about the Underground Railroad in general and the house and family in particular. I ended up spending about 1.5 hours in the house, but I could easily have hung around for another half hour; I'd say an average visit would take at least an hour.

There is a small gift shop with items for sale. You can purchase t-shirts, bags and jewelry that are made in Africa, and handmade dolls. Currently they don't have postcards, but I am hopeful those will be on deck soon.

If you're interested:
826 N Second St, about 4 blocks north of A W Willis / 901.527.3427
Open 10am-4pm Monday-Saturday / Closed Sunday
Admission $10 / Students age 3-17 $8

If you are interested in history, the abolitionist movement, or just learning about an interesting piece of Memphis history, definitely check out this museum.

23 June 2014

24 of 52: my life on the island.

To which island am I referring? Why, Mud Island, of course!

My friend Christina has been in Richmond, Virginia, for the last 10 days for her sister's wedding festivities, so I have been hanging out in her apartment on Mud Island and keeping an eye on her sweet dog, Millie.

[that's the look millie gives me when i start talking like a crazy woman. so pretty much all the time]
Millie is pretty low-maintenance, only requiring food and water in her bowl, a few walks a day, and some general company and attention. As a result, I took full advantage of a change in location to enjoy daily views of my favourite Mighty Mississippi, get a lot of work done, and generally enjoy being within the Memphis city limits.

[it's a tough life this girl has carved out for herself]
We all know I am not the biggest fan of living in Cordova, so it was nice to be able to get out and enjoy this great city again. It only took me 10-15 minutes to get to places in Midtown, and I was able to do some things in this area that I normally would not have done. And of course getting to go for daily walks along the river made me eternally happy.

[we stumbled upon a 7-man cricket match one day]
This last week gave me a newfound appreciation for being a part of the Memphis community, and it's made me give serious thought to finding a long-term job here and sticking around for a few more years. Hmmm.

other highlights included: catching up on some Modern Family and Parks & Rec episodes; visiting the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum [full post coming soon]; trying out the recently-opened Babalu; lunch at Kwik Chek with my mother; lunch at Curry Bowl with the parents; lots of World Cup watching.

[great memphis find, especially for history buffs]
[always fun to try out new restaurants]
I need weeks like this one every now and again to keep my batteries charged. Christina, let me know next time you need someone to hang out with Millie :)

20 June 2014

[audio] book review: neverwhere [neil gaiman].

Yes, yet another audiobook written and read by Neil Gaiman. I can't get enough of his stories or his voice, and Neverwherewas no exception.

Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, an ordinary man living an ordinary life in London. He works at a job that doesn't challenge him, is engaged to a woman who completely controls his life, and generally lives an unremarkable life until the night he sees an injured young woman on the side of the street and is moved to help her. He loses his fiance as a result, but in meeting Door, he learns of the magical world of London Below.

London Below is an entire universe that exists alternately to and underground from London Above. It's primarily filled with people who have fallen through the cracks, but there is still a hierarchy that exists. Door is the eldest daughter of a prominent man who was killed, and she has escaped to London Above to elude the people who are hunting her. In coming to her aid, Richard ties himself to Door and inadvertently finds himself amongst the people of London Below, fighting to keep Door alive and save the entire society from falling into the hands of evil.

Through a series of heart-pounding adventures, and with help from the Marquis de Carabas - and occasionally Old Bailey, who I admit to having a soft spot for - Richard and Door make their way through the underworld, traveling to open-air Markets, meeting blind monks and angels, and hunting for the key that will alleviate their situation and ensure Door's safety. There are twists and turns around every corner, people who are secretly helping Richard and Door as well as those only pretending to help, and it isn't until the end that everyone's true motivations are revealed.

As per usual with Neil Gaiman's audiobooks, I couldn't get enough of this one. I had an unexpected snafu with my phone in mid-April and the book got deleted from my phone, but I eventually got it back and finished it up this week. At just over 12 hours, this was the longest of his audiobooks that I've listened to, and I will admit to losing the plot a few times, but I don't think that would have happened had I not had that break. I thought the story was great, and while I found Richard to be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud at times - as I imagine he was intended to be - I really enjoyed all the characters from London Below. I found them to be well-developed, and although some turned out to not be good, I enjoyed how Gaiman revealed each character's inner workings. If you're taking a road trip and are looking for an audiobook to keep you company, this would be a good one.

And I've made a decision. I want Neil Gaiman to follow me around and narrate my life for me.

I really don't think it's too much to ask.

18 June 2014

marvelous memphis: a new series highlighting the things that make memphis grand.

I stopped into Barnes & Noble recently to grab a few maps and a road atlas for my upcoming road trip to eastern Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. While perusing the travel section, I picked up a copy of Lonely Planet's Eastern US guide to thumb through. I always enjoy seeing what the LP has to say about the cities I've lived in, and I found myself getting sucked into the Memphis section.

There were the obvious selections, like Graceland and the Civil Rights Museum, that I've visited before. There were other staples, like Sun Studio and the Stax Museum, that I am ashamed to say I've not been to yet. And then there were others, like an Underground Railroad museum just north of downtown, that I didn't even know existed.

It all made me remember my pledge at the beginning of the year to explore more of Memphis, to see all the awesome things this city has to offer. I've done fairly well with trying new [to me] restaurants, but I've not really explored sights the way I wanted to or should have.

And so I am launching a new series: Marvelous Memphis. It will be my attempt, in however many months I have remaining here, to visit and talk about awesome places in Memphis. I will revisit a few, like the Civil Rights Museum [gotta check out their renovations], but I'm going to try my best, at least in the beginning, to hit up places I've never been before. To explore this marvelous city of ours and share it with all of you, wherever you may be.

I'm going to be basing my initial wanders off a number of sources, primarily the aforementioned LP page, the ILoveMemphisBlog, and TripAdvisor, but I am always open to suggestions, advice, and helpful hints.

Join me as I explore Marvelous Memphis!

17 June 2014

tv binge-a-thon: psych.

For years my brother has been working to convince me to watch the show Psych. I caught a few episodes every now-and-then in India, and I liked it, but I never got a chance to properly watch it. It's always been on my list of things to do, and finally when I was in Little Rock last month, I started watching.

I started slow, but pretty soon I couldn't stop. It's quite an addicting show, and with the slow-down in my work, I found myself watching 4-7 episodes in a given day. I would finish a run and watch. I would watch while I ate lunch. I would watch while working, and I would watch while responding to emails or working on blog posts. In short, it kind of took over my life.

And now, 6 weeks and 8 seasons* later, I finally finished it.

To give you a brief background on the show itself: Shawn and Gus are the two main characters, and they have been best friends their entire lives. Gus is the serious one, the functioning adult with a job as a pharmaceutical sales rep. Shawn is the free spirit, the rebellious son of a police detective who roams the world and has never held a proper job for longer than three days. But Shawn has a gift for being hyper-observational, having called in a number of tips to the police to help them close cases. After one such tip, the police begin to question him as a suspect, insisting that only someone responsible for the crime could know the details he knows. In an effort to save his own skin, Shawn professes himself to be a psychic. When he ends up helping solve the case, he decides that he's found his calling. He and Gus launch a psychic detective agency, contracting out to the police as well as to private clients who come across their doorstep and solving cases ranging from murder and kidnapping to art heists and werewolves and beyond. The show tells the story of their detective antics as well as the oddball characters who pass through their door.

I loved watching this show for a number of reasons. Number 1 on the list was definitely the relationship between Shawn and Gus. They're such great foils for each other, and no matter how much they might bicker or argue or disagree, there is no doubt in anyone's mind that they always have each other's back. In many ways, they are each other's "person", and you learn a lot about being a good friend - and also being not a good friend - from watching them.

Another is watching the relationship between James Roday and Maggie Lawson blossom. Roday, who plays Shawn, and Lawson, who portrays Detective Juliet O'Hara, are dating in real life, and it's great to see that relationship develop and deepen on the screen. I found myself, multiple times, blurring the line between virtual and reality, but I think that's because of how great their on-screen chemistry is.

The recurring gags tie the show together so well. The pineapple in every episode. Gus using the same pickup line - "You heard about Pluto? That's messed up" - on every pretty girl he meets. Shawn's constant "I've heard it both ways". Making fun of Gus' car, the Blueberry. The ridiculous dancing. The guys' obsession with Billy Zane and Val Kilmer. The changes in the theme song depending on the episode [in Hindi for the Bollywood episode, in Spanish for the Mexico episode, the a cappella version when Gus' college a cappella group guest stars, etc]. They all add to the show in intangible ways.

And then there are the guest stars. Guest stars can make or break a show, and Psych chose theirs beautifully. From Cary Elwes as a dashing international art thief to Ally Sheedy as a not-quite-right-in-the-head serial killer, from Kurt Fuller as the hilariously weird coroner to Kristy Swanson as Lassiter's convict love interest to Curt Smith from Tears for Fears as himself, the show has a rotating cast of hilarity in every episode.

In some ways I can't believe it took me so long to finally watch the show, and in others I'm glad I waited until it was over so I could watch it all at once, because I'm not sure I would have been able to wait for new episodes. And it was great to be able to message my brother with my every reaction and have him know exactly what I was talking about [his knowledge of the show is downright scary].

For those of you interested in watching, the first 7 seasons are available to stream on Netflix, and all 8 seasons are available for purchase on Amazon.

I'm so glad I finally watched Psych, and I can't wait to enjoy the reruns for years to come.

You know that's right.

*Since the show was on USA, each season ran 16 episodes rather than the normal 24 from the major networks.

16 June 2014

23 of 52: a memphis saturday.

Last week was one of those weeks. I felt like a chicken running around with my head cut off, but I'm also not sure how much I actually accomplished. There were a lot of drives between my house and Midtown / downtown, there were various animals to be checked on, and there were traffic jams seemingly everywhere in the city, so it felt like it took longer to get anywhere. By the time Friday night rolled around, I was wiped.

And then Saturday happened.

To begin with, I finally managed to get my hairs cut, since I'd missed my appointment on Thursday due to the aforementioned traffic. I'd been needing a trim for about a month, and I finally managed to make it happen. Bonus points to Stephanie, the girl who cut it and who made me feel pretty glamorous by the end of it.

[this is what my hair can look like, so long as someone else is in charge of it]
Late afternoon found me at the opening of High Cotton's taproom over on Monroe. HCB has been distributing their beer around the city for a few months, but the grand opening of the taproom was over the weekend. While it was a bit intimidatingly crowded, I really liked the vintage setup, and I even tried a glass of the ESB and didn't cringe while drinking it [reminder: I am not a beer drinker]. The patio section was pretty nice, and I wouldn't mind returning to partake in another glass and some yummy from the food trucks parked outside.

[the requisite picture of the "beer!" sign behind the bar at high cotton's taproom]
From there Jane, Greta, and I grabbed a quick bite at Kwik Chek [Greta's first visit! unbelievable] and then headed over to the Levitt Shell to listen to Rosanne Cash. It was packed full, but we managed to find our friends and settled in for the show. It was great to sit back and listen to some music, enjoy the weather, and catch up with friends for a few hours, and it was a great cap to my Saturday.

[out at the shell to see rosanne cash. along with the rest of the city of memphis]
Even though it was a long week, there were quite a few positive happenings, but Saturday definitely capped it off.

other highlights included: getting The Wandering Samaritan blog up and running; saw The Fault in Our Stars; TNLN dinner at Gus's; hung out with Frankie the Cat for a night; had my orientation to be a Regional Ambassador for Girl Rising; helped Walshie clear all the bricks from her back patio; long overdue phone call with the third-born; finally got to experience the Orpheum's Summer Movie Series and finally saw Bridesmaids; moved into Christina's for the week; Father's Day feast with the parents; picked up my bridesmaid dress!

Here's to a less stressful, more relaxing week ahead for all of us.

10 June 2014

movie review: the fault in our stars.

[a favourite book and now a phenomenal movie]
Earlier this year I mentioned reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and anxiously awaiting the release of the movie. Well, it finally came out last Friday, and this afternoon I took myself on a little trip to the cinema to see it.

And talk about an emotional roller coaster.

Having read the book, I knew I was in for a lot of ups-and-downs. The story of Hazel and Augustus, teenagers who meet in their Kids with Cancer support group, is at turns funny and heart-wrenching, and often both at the same time. But it's also beautiful, and being able to see it unfold on screen was wonderful to watch.

I am generally a book purist and therefore am often critical of movies based on books, but I have to say, this was one of the best I've seen. The film remained more true to the book than most others, and it never tried to be more than what it was intended to be. I found myself, on more than one occasion, quoting along with the movie, since much of the dialogue was lifted directly from the book.

The performances of both leads, Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort, were simple and subtle, and I thought they made a really great onscreen couple. Having seen them as siblings in the movie version of Divergent, I was hesitant about them playing romantic roles opposite one another, but they were pretty great. I have to admit, I have quite the little crush on ol' Ansel after seeing him play Augustus. He brought a lot of understated charm to the role, and he really nailed it.

And above all, I loved seeing Laura Dern as Hazel's mother. I'm a pretty big fan of hers, and it's been far too long since I've seen her in anything. I would have liked her character - and Hazel's father, too - to have had a bit more depth, but ultimately this is the story of Hazel and Augustus, so it wasn't possible.

In short, I loved the movie. I cried through most of it, as I knew I would, but it was a combination tears of joy and tears of sorrow. Such is the story of Hazel and Augustus' infinity that the two are intertwined.

Take a small infinity out of your day and go see this movie. I promise you won't regret it.

Just remember to take some tissues.

ps - if you want to read the book first, it's available for $10 on Amazon. well worth it!

08 June 2014

22 of 52: britney finally comes to memphis.

Even though Britney has stayed at my house many times in the last 3 years on her way to and from Knoxville, she's never really gotten a chance to see Memphis. She stayed at Dylan's a few years ago and at least went to Earnestine and Hazel's, but she's never been to Graceland, to Sun Studios, to my favourite bbq haunts, or generally to any of the many awesome places around the city.

Never, that is, until this weekend.

Finally, after months of trying to figure out a weekend for her to come visit, it finally worked out [and only a month before she moves to Knoxville! talk about a close call]. She was free. I was free. Neither of us had prior commitments or trips planned. And so, finally, Britney came to Memphis.

We didn't make any concrete plans, since we weren't sure what the weather would do. It's been raining on-and-off pretty much every day for the last two weeks, but it's been weirdly intermittent, so it's difficult to plan anything outdoors since you never know what's going to happen. So because of all that, we just decided to play it by ear and see where we ended up.

We started with lunch at the Bar-B-Q Shop in Midtown so Britney could try a sandwich on Texas toast. Lunch was lovely, and we stuffed ourselves silly.

From there we found ourselves in Sweet Noshings at Overton Square. We have been going through bags of their popcorn like nobody's business in our house and I needed to restock, and I knew Britney would enjoy sampling their offerings. I picked up a bag of Memphis Mix and a bag of BCR [bacon cheddar ranch] for us, and Bee got a mixed bag to take back to Little Rock. side note: in addition to all the other goodies, Sweet Noshings also serves ice cream now!

[and the selection changes every day!]
Following that we took a little tour of Rhodes so I could show Bee where I spent my crazy undergraduate days. We took a stroll around campus, and I got to brush off my tour guide skills -- I even walked backward for about 100 meters. I'm pretty sure we also got mistaken for college students / recent graduates, which made both of us feel pretty good about ourselves.

[the paul barret jr library. it was a giant hole in the ground during my days at rhodes, but it sure is pretty to look at now]
We had some time to kill before I needed to take my bridesmaid dress for alteration, so of course we stopped at Muddy's for a cupcake. We split a Strawberry Fields Forever cupcake, and it was delicious. I generally go with chocolate cupcakes, and the strawberry icing was a nice change.

Once we dropped off my dress, we decided to head downtown to wander around Beale St for a bit. I love Beale during the day, before it gets overtaken by college kids and tourists and bachelor / bachelorette parties. During the day it's low-key and chilled out, and you also don't have to pay covers at any of the places. Beale is a great part of Memphis, and I enjoy being able to share the nice parts of it with non-Memphians.

[beale st by day]
First we went to Silky's and had a few drinks at the bar in the courtyard. There was a band playing, so we listened to them and chatted for a bit. And then we wandered over to Alfred's and had a drink up on their patio. Since it wasn't crowded, we got a table up against the rail and enjoyed looking out over the street and observing the happenings.

[the view from the patio at alfred's]
We were beginning to feel a bit peckish, so we walked our way over to Gus's for some fried chicken. You can never go wrong with Gus's, and we loved it. I also tried fried green tomatoes for the first time, and they were pretty good. But nothing can beat that fried chicken. Nothing. [also, my entire dinner cost $7. that's amazing]

[one of my many happy places in memphis]
And when we walked out of Gus', we spotted a beautiful horizon down by the river. With the crazy clouds and the sun going down, it was an absolutely gorgeous sight, so we crossed over the railroad tracks and walked over to Vance Park to take some pictures overlooking the bluffs. [and the pictures don't even do it justice]

[sunset down by the river]
[view of the new bridge at sunset]
Our last stop for the day was Slider Inn. Jane, Regina, and Dillard went there after listening to Will Hoge at the Moon River Festival, so we joined them for a drink before heading home. It was a long but fun day, and even though we didn't see Graceland or Sun Studios or any of the other main stops, I think we did pretty well.

And today we joined a group at Local on the Square for a fabulous farewell brunch for Regina. She just accepted a job at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina and is leaving at the beginning of July, so Meg and Jane organized a brunch on Local's patio for her. It was good fun, and the food was awesome, and it was a nice way to wrap up Bee's visit to town.

Now let's just hope it doesn't take her so long to come back again.

other highlights included: a relaxing weekend at home; dinner at Slider Inn; hung out on the Island for a few days and enjoyed walking along the Mighty Mississippi; got in a few long runs; Regina's farewell brunch; summer plans coming together.

[wandered around rhodes and wound up in fisher garden. 10 years ago i walked across that stage and received my undergraduate degree]
[got to take a few strolls along my favourite water body when i stayed down on the island]
[bee and i decided to straighten my hair to see how long it is. i think this might be the longest i've ever had it]
Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful week ahead.

06 June 2014

the only race i'm running is against myself.

I have been upping my running in the last few weeks [I use this term loosely]. I have vaguely been following one of the "Coach" options on the Nike+ running app, but it's really been more that I've been setting new challenges for myself and then pushing myself to meet them. Going 5 miles instead of 4. Picking up my pace. Running more difficult routes. And finally, during this morning's run, it occurred to me why I've been doing that.

It's because I've been running a race this whole time. And it's been against myself.

In the past, my motivation to keep running has run hand-in-hand with having a race to train for. Last summer it was to get ready for October's Nike Women's Half in San Francisco [had to get ready for those hills!]. Over the winter it was to prepare for that blustery Little Rock Half in early March. And both times, after I completed the race, I took time off from running. After SF I took about 3 weeks off, and that became a month after Little Rock. I was burned out, my muscles needed rest, and my heart wasn't in it anymore.

Fast forward to early April, when one fine day I laced up my shoes and went for a run. It was short, only a mile, but it was a start. Since then I have tried to run about 3 times a week, depending on the weather and if I'm in town or not. I've been slowly building my distance and endurance while also pushing myself to quicken my pace. Farther and faster, that was my goal.

But why? I guess it's the competitor in me. Running is an individual sport for me - the only person I am competing against is my former self. So I've been running to beat my records, to lower my average pace, and to test my limits. Because I know I can do it, I have to do it.

And then this morning I began to question it. I was running up an incline, right around Mile 4 of 5.5, and pushing myself unnecessarily. And that's when I wondered why I was pushing myself so hard. Why was it so necessary I do this? I don't have a race coming up anytime soon. But really I've been running that race all along.

It's the race against myself. The race against the thoughts in my head. The race against my physical and mental limitations. The race against every external factor in my life, so that it's only me and my body going as far and as fast as we can.

Perhaps one day I will win that race. But regardless of whether or not I do, at least it will be one hell of a journey.

03 June 2014

the paradise pack.

I follow a number of travel bloggers and subscribe to many of their newsletters. It's partly because I like their writing and their pictures, but it's mostly because I am always dreaming of being somewhere other than where I am - no matter where I am - and this is a free and easy way to travel the world from my own computer. Currently the bloggers I follow are in central Asia, Greece, Sikkim, Goa, Ghana, Ireland, and Colombia, and others are just returned to the States from Prague, Canada, and Italy. If I can't get there myself, at least I can live vicariously through others.

Another bonus to following these travelers and bloggers is they often have tie-ins with companies for discounts on airfare, accommodation, books, and other great products. And if they don't have codes for discounts, then they have advice on how to get good deals, where to stay, places to visit, things to do, etc. in locales all over the world. I may not get to all those places - or even most of them - but if I do, I have great information on all of them right at my fingertips.

Today one of those follows paid off big-time. I received a newsletter update from Lauren at Never Ending Footsteps this afternoon with information on where she has recently been and where she is heading to next. And at the end of her update was information about The Paradise Pack -- I was intrigued, so I clicked on the link she provided.

And wow. The Paradise Pack is a downloadable collection of travel resources worth over $800, all available for purchase for $97 for the next 72 hours [slightly less by the time I post this]. There are books on nearly every possible travel topic you can think of -- flying cheap, living for free, maintaining relationships, keeping your data safe on public wifi networks, setting up an online business, etc. You name it, there's a book about it. They are all books written by people who have been traveling and working from the road for years, and it's all their best information and advice collected into one giant package.

I went back-and-forth for about 5 minutes on whether or not I really needed to purchase this. And the answer is simple: I don't need any of it. But is it all information that could come in handy in the next few years as I figure out what it is I'm doing with my life? Absolutely. And with a few of the books retailing over $40, I realized I needed to bite the bullet and do it; even if I use only 2 of the books, it'll still be worth it.

So I did it. I made the purchase and downloaded the books. I don't need them immediately, that's for sure, but they'll be great resources to keep coming back to whenever I need them. And as an added bonus, you can download the items up to 5 times, meaning that you could even split the cost between you and up to 4 friends and each download it once. That sounds like a pretty good deal right there.

And did I mention that along with providing you with resources to help you plan your travels, The Paradise Pack is also giving back? That's right, $10 from every purchase will be donated to Pencils of Promise to build a school in Guatemala. You may remember that I got to meet Adam Braun, founder of PoP, when I was in New York a few months ago, so I was excited about the opportunity to also be able to support his organization in the process.

So if any of you out there are planning trips now or in the distant future, or if any of you - like me - are itching to hit the road but don't know how you can sustain yourself along the way, purchasing The Paradise Pack could be a great investment for you. But remember, the sale is only on until Thursday night, so act fast before it's too late.

Happy and safe travels, to all of us.

01 June 2014

21 of 52: new orleans.

New Orleans has long been a favourite travel destination for my family. My brother and I used to tag along with my parents for their meetings in the city, my mother and I made a long weekend out of my brother's visit to Tulane University, and my father and I used to make a trip whenever New Orleans hosted the SEC basketball tournaments. In short, we love New Orleans.

I'm not really sure how, but I have not made it back to New Orleans since I think 1996. I somehow missed making a trip down while I was in college - that's what happens when you're a joiner and have something happening on campus nearly every weekend - and other than a brief 3-hour visit in 2008 from Baton Rouge, I kept missing New Orleans.

I have been saying for a few months that I would love to make a trip and revisit some of our old staples, so when my father mentioned taking a family road trip down for Memorial Day weekend, my mother and I jumped at the chance. I solicited suggestions for restaurants and things to do, my father booked the hotel, and off we went.

We were in town from Friday night to Monday morning, so we really only had two full days to partake, but I think we did well with the time we had allotted. I definitely ate way more than I should have, but that's really what holidays are for, aren't they?

And now, on to our recap...

[scenes from a trolley ride to the french quarter]
where we ate...

On Saturday, we headed to Court of Two Sisters on Royal Street for their Jazz Brunch buffet. Named after the two sisters who used to operate a notions shop from the property, Two Sisters is now one of the most popular restaurants in the French Quarter. On the weekends they have a famous Jazz Brunch buffet: for $25 you have access to a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet - including a pancake, omelette, and Eggs Benedict station - that comes equipped with a live jazz trio. There is both an expansive dining room as well as a gorgeous outdoor courtyard, both of which offer easy access to the food. I tried: Eggs Benedict, roast beef, garlic potatoes, shrimp étouffée, something with crawfish, jambalaya, pecan pie with ice cream, king cake, and a Bloody Mary. And it was all excellent. Oh, and although they initially told us our wait would be 45 minutes, we actually got seated almost immediately. Awesome.

[yummy goodness]
[our jazz trio]
[exterior of the restaurant]
[my cute parents]
[sign outside the entrance]
Our dinner stop for Saturday night was the famous Cafe du Monde. This historic stop on Decatur Street overlooking Jackson Square gets more business than I can even fathom, and every time I'm there, I swear it gets better and better. The only food available is their world-renowned beignets, steaming fried dough covered in powdered sugar that take my breath away each time I bite into one. With the open seating, it can be a battle to snag a table before others also waiting, but I don't think I've ever had to wait longer than 20 or 30 minutes. And the prices! We ordered 3 beignet plates and a cafe au lait for my mother, and our bill was only $10. You can't beat that.

[my mouth waters just looking at this picture. oh, beignetsssss]
Based on more recommendations from friends, we hit up The Gumbo Shop on St Peters Street for lunch on Sunday. The restaurant is in a building that dates back to 1795, and it has both an adorable dining room and a cute little courtyard. It's not as large as Two Sisters, but it's definitely cozy, and since we went pretty early on Sunday, there was no wait. I ordered the Creole Combination Platter which consisted of small-ish portions of Shrimp Creole, Jambalaya, and either Red Beans and Rice or Crawfish étouffée [I opted for the latter]. All were great, as was the Seafood Okra Gumbo that my father and I each had as a starter. Oh, and that BBQ shrimp! We ordered it as a starter, and it was delicious. My father had the blackened catfish as his entree, and it must have been great, because he finished it off in about 5 minutes flat. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had licked his plate. My mother - still being on a soft-food diet from her wisdom teeth extraction the previous week - went with the Vegetarian dish of the day, which was black beans and rice with corn salsa and something else that I can't remember. I had a taste of hers, and it was really good, but the portion size was huge. And of course she and I split a pecan pie with ice cream for dessert, while my father went with his favourite bread pudding. Overall, an awesome lunch.

[my creole combination platter]
[my father's blackened catfish]
[the mother's vegetarian dish of the day]
[yummy gumbo shop]
[they really like posing under signs]
[i wanted in on the "posing under a sign" game, too]
And for our final meal in town, we headed to the world-famous Mother's for dinner. I had gotten a few recommendations for it, and it was walking distance to our hotel, so it was kind of a no-brainer. It's a cafeteria-style set-up, where you stand in line and order at the counter and then find yourself a table. After perusing the menu for a while, I chose the Famous Ferdi Special Po' Boy that comes with Mother's Best Baked Ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy. If you're unfamiliar with "debris", it is the bits of roast beef that fall off into the gravy while it's cooking, and it has long been my favourite part of roast beef, so I was sold. And it was fantastic. The bread was a bit heavy, so I ended up just eating the meat at the end and forgoing the bread, but I highly recommend it. My father's eyes lit up when he saw that they serve breakfast all day and chose the 2-eggs, any style, with toast. And some ham. And some smoked sausages. AND a homemade buttermilk biscuit. It all looked good, but it was definitely too much food for him. My mother, being slightly more cautious, went with an omelette [which automatically comes with grits] and finished the whole thing, so that is praise for it right there. Definitely check it out if you get the chance. It's on the corner of Poydras and Tchoupitoulas [hands down my favourite street name, by the way] and generally has lines out the door at both lunch and dinner, so be prepared to wait for a bit.

[a famous ferdi special. order it]
[go here. you won't regret it]
what we did...

Admittedly, we mostly just wandered around Jackson Square, chatting with the local artists and admiring their work. You can spend hours just strolling, which is pretty much what we did. We also spent some time just chilling on the river for a while on Saturday evening, enjoying the weather and watching the ships sail by.

[sunset over jackson square]
[great speech by moon landriel, for whom moon landing is named] 
[panorama of the river]
I had some time on Sunday afternoon, so I decided to check out the National WW2 Museum. Located at the corner of Magazine and Andrew Higgins Streets, the Museum was walking distance to our hotel, so my mother and I stopped by while my father went to the casino. For a history nerd such as myself, it was quite an interesting visit. The exhibit focused on the military strategy that both sides employed during the course of the war and had a lot of the weapons and uniforms on display.

[display of what the d-day landing at normandy looked like. really appealed to me for some reason]
It was a pretty interesting visit, and I learned some interesting new facts. For example, Andrew Higgins was a guy from New Orleans who designed the landing boats that were used in D-Day. And also that I would have been disqualified from serving in the Army because of my flat feet. Luckily I still have more than half of my original teeth, but I fear many NHL players would not have made the cut.

[exterior of the museum]
Overall I really liked the museum, but it was super crowded, and I tend to get overly frustrated when people keep stopping and taking pictures of every little thing when they're in a museum. With it being the Sunday before Memorial Day, it was particularly crowded, and with people continually stopping, it really messed up the crowd flow through the exhibit. Otherwise, though, I found the museum to be very interesting, and I'm glad we decided to go.

There is currently some construction underway across the street in a new building that will eventually house even more exhibits on the War. Two big ones in particular are opening this year, so if you were to visit in the fall, you would get an even better experience.

where we stayed...

We set up stakes at the Hyatt Place on Convention Center Drive. It's about a 15ish minute walk / 7ish minute trolley ride from the French Quarter, which is great because it's convenient without being right in the middle of the noise and the crowd.

The room itself was really nice and comfortable, the wifi was both free and fast, and although I did not partake in the complimentary breakfast, my father said it was good.

Our only complaint from the weekend would have to be the teenagers who were also staying on our floor who were making a ruckus on Sunday night. At one point I stepped out to tell them to be quiet, and then I called the front desk to complain. I must not have been the first one, because the lady knew exactly who I was talking about and immediately came upstairs and sent them back to their room. The staff were all great about dealing with them, and when we checked out on Monday morning, they didn't charge us for the previous night's stay. So although it was inconvenient for a little while, the staff handled it all quickly and courteously. It's definitely a hotel we would stay at again on a future visit to the city.

other highlights included: a return to Tuesday Night Ladies' Night; finally got to check out Cafe Keough downtown; JB Bernstein - the real one - retweeted one of my tweets [it was a big deal for me]; back onto the running train; Grizzlies Open House on Saturday - got to sit in the expensive seats and take a tour of the locker room; lunch at Rum Boogie Cafe.

[taking a tour of the grizz locker room]
[and the training room]
[this is what your view would be if you forked over nearly 7 grand a year]
[and this could be your view for the low low price of $15k per season. no biggie]
[tiptoeing onto the court before being told we technically weren't supposed to be down there...]
[the view from the club boxes. those were pretty legit]
[the memphis platter at rum boogie cafe. yum]
I have to say, those trips to Nashville, Little Rock, and New Orleans were great, but it was nice to be home for a week.