Blueberry Fields Forever

Yesterday morning I woke up to a beautiful sunny day.  For anyone who has visited Tennessee in the late Spring or early Summer, you know that the humidity will kill you before the heat does, and the humidity has been super low this week. With an unforeseen decrease in humidity I had been grasping at straws on how to take advantage of the pleasant temperatures, but lucky for me I woke up to a message from a friend who had a plan to pick blueberries.  I have yet to take the littles to a "pick your own" anything, but it was for sure on my Summer Bucket List.  There is nothing I enjoy more than a spur of the moment idea, and my dear friend always delivers.  "When do you want to go?" I ask, "Now", she replies.  No time to overthink it.  Sunscreen, adequate clothing, gas in the tank, bottled water, brushed teeth, hair... Well, it'll have to be good enough.  Thank god for spontaneity of a good friend with low standards for appearances right? Off we go!

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The biggest question is, where are we going exactly?  With no address in hand, we are equipped with a phone number to a blueberry farm with over 300 bushes to pick from.  This is one of those friends that I trust with navigation; however, she is also a friend who loves to ride around and explore alternate routes and doesn't mind getting lost.  Getting lost on a back road is a fantastic adventure until you have children.  The middle root is constantly afraid we are getting lost.  No matter how many times I try and tell him that getting lost makes for the most memorable adventures, he’s not buying it.  The tiny root is the one that asks all the questions.  She and the middle have always needed a play by play of what exactly it is that we are doing, but she is a next level planner.  I'm not sure how you break children of this, but even my own deep seeded desire to plan things out can be overthrown by a sudden desire to go against the grain. Not these two. Despite the myriad of questions and a long-winded middle root with his mind on pop sockets (If you don't know, google it), we made our way to Lauderdale County, Alabama to the Reynolds Blueberry Farm.

 A framed newspaper article featuring Reynolds Blueberry Farm sat beside the weighing scale.  Reynolds still uses the honor system allowing patrons to pick when he is away.  

A framed newspaper article featuring Reynolds Blueberry Farm sat beside the weighing scale.  Reynolds still uses the honor system allowing patrons to pick when he is away.  

When we arrived, we were greeted by the owner, who was more than happy to show us where to grab a bucket and which direction to go to find the blueberry bushes.  He was kind enough to give us a little bit of history of the place, as well as what type of blueberries were out there to be picked.  It didn't take long to start filling our buckets with berries.  Despite the climbing temps, the children absolutely loved picking berries.  Taking them into a field of organically grown blueberry bushes meant they were able to taste test the product while filling their baskets and it made my heart happy to watch them experience it all.  I have always been fascinated with everything that goes into organic farming and gardening.  Being able to eat something straight off the vine, from a tree, or off the ground and not have to do anything more than wipe away the dirt that helped to create it is magical.

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It took us about an hour or so for the littles and me to pick almost 4 lbs of berries and for my berry picking compadre to pick a solid 4. Definitely worth the drive, and as always, the conversation paid off in spades. Everyone needs that one person in their life that says "Let's go.  Like NOW," and she is that person for me.  There is an unspoken rule between us that when it comes to over-planning, there is a very fine line between going somewhere and finding reasons not to go. It was an adventure and a Summertime memory as sweet as blueberry syrup on blueberry pancakes. 

Here Comes The Sun

As soon as Spring started approaching, I started planning all of the fun things we would do as a family.  To be completely honest with you, we don't take vacations very often.  I suppose we could, but I stay home to homeschool my children, so I budget very closely. So instead of doing big vacays, we will go camping a few times, go to water parks nearby, or venture to a new park for a day trip.  This Spring I wanted to do something that I had been dreaming about for a while now.  We are baseball lovers in my family, and with the Atlanta Braves being our favorite team, I knew I wanted not only myself, but my middle root to experience what it's like to go to a major league baseball game.  Lucky for me, I have a sister who lives not too far from Atlanta, and we would also be able to go to a baseball game, visit her family, and as luck would have it, celebrate the 4th birthday of my beautiful niece Jane, making it a trifecta of winning-ness.  I have to admit, we are a family of plans that typically fall through and I wasn't 100% sure that we would be able to make it happen on that perfect weekend, but when my brother in law says he will make it happen, trust that it will.  

Friday morning we loaded up early.  Honestly, I was pretty much mentally packed for 2 weeks prior, but as with any situation that requires me to pull myself together and actually organize and pack, I was tying up the loose ends as we were walking out the door.  My idea of packing consists of ample underwear, bottled water, debit card, and sandals.  Unfortunately, when traveling with tiny roots who aren't into being in the car, we had to plan a bit more carefully. Thank goodness for the family patriarch/hoarder/over-packer extraordinaire.  One thing I did take care of were the carefully crafted kits for each root to keep them entertained.  Books, crayons, puzzles, snacks, Benadryl.  What?  I'm totally kidding.  Certainly, you don't think I would try and make my children sleep just so I could have 5 hours of peace and quiet in the car and actually have a bit of uninterrupted conversation with my handsome hubs rather than hear the lovely sound of two roots aggravating one another.  Nevermind that, we were overcome with excitement and packed up to start our adventure South.   Cue National Lampoon's Vacation music.

For those of you that know me well, you know that if you smashed together the best working parts of every vehicle the husband and I have ever owned since marriage, you know that the culmination would result in a 1999 piece of shit.  When I pull into a service station,  I do so to check the gas and fill it up with oil.  Our options here were to borrow my oldest roots car (she's the first grandchild, enough said) or to rent a reliable vehicle to get us to our ultimate destination.  Lucky for me, my parents are the absolute best and craziest parents on the planet. My dad, who would give you the shirt off his back but might curse you a blue streak the next moment, was able to convince my mother, who would give you anything as long as it isn't hers, to let us take their Nissan Pathfinder.  Can you say "third-row seat"?  I'm not even sure why I bothered to mention the third-row seat because we didn't even make it to Birmingham before the middle root could not stand the less than two feet distance between him and the one person on the planet that enjoys inflicting pain on him.  Whatever, let's do the seat switcharoo, grab lunch (tiny root’s first Happy Meal), and get back on the road, shall we?

We finally arrive in McDonough (pronounced Muck-Don-Uh, not Mick-Done-Uh) and to the lovely home of my sister, bro-in-law, and my sweet niece Alabama Jane.  I'm not going to lie, you guys, I have spent the better part of my married life with a child that, upon leaving the home, would almost always forget they were human, so traveling to Georgia to visit my sister has only happened 4 times since the birth of the middle root.  My children are fantastically fun and funny and loving, but will cry if you let them. When I say cry, I mean, "wrap it up we are leaving the restaurant" kind of upset.  No sooner than the middle root grew out of tantrums, along came the redheaded root, and she is a force to be reckoned with, to say the least.  “The Red Tornado” as she is lovingly referred to is 50% comedian, 25% mean as hell, 25% smother you in your sleep, and 100% beautiful.  Wait, that's...nevermind, you get the idea.  What I'm getting at is that traveling ain't easy and I made it to the home of my beloved sister in one piece.  I absolutely LOVE my sister's home.  It's super clean and she has a fantastic decorating hand.  There is always amazing scents flowing through the air which has a hint of Gardenia and there is ALWAYS a room temperature bottle water within a short distance to the pantry.  When I say their outdoor space is divine, I mean, I wanted to sit in the grass because it looked far comfier than my sofa, and I'm certain it has been peed on fewer times (Whatever! I steam cleaned it!) despite her proclamation that there are rogue cats on the premises. The Fig tree and the Magnolia are pretty much life, not to mention all the Jasmine wrapping the front porch columns and the beautiful roses.  It's my happy place.  

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The first night we were at the Phillips home, we kept it low key.  My sister had put together an amazing cheese board and to say it was divine is an understatement to say the very least.  Of course, there was fig jam, I mean, with a fig tree in your backyard, why wouldn't there be right? My brother in law is a beer enthusiast, meat enthusiast, and has a bit of a gift for teaching the middle how to do lots of fun stuff, which during our first evening would to my surprise included teaching him to cook a smoked sausage pasta that was amazing!  The best part of the evening was getting to watch my sweet niece Jane open her birthday gifts.  This sweet puppy has a piece of my heart. We talked and sipped until everyone started falling asleep one by one and we all finally decided to call it a night.  Our cups, plates, and hearts runneth over.

Saturday we got up early and my brother in law, true to form, loaded the middle root up into his Jeep and off they went to obtain breakfast.  I think this has become a bit of a ritual of theirs when they are able to hang out together.  It's so funny how this small little outing creates such amazing memories for the middle.  It usually takes a few weeks, but over time Charlie will share with me tidbits of conversations that he has had with his Uncle Justin, and we will laugh for days.  My sister and I sat outside enjoying the cool Spring air and our morning coffee while we waited for the boys to bring provisions. When they finally arrived, they had managed to obtain a game day baseball hat for the boy, a pink baseball glove for the tiny root,  and thank goodness, some pretty tasty biscuits.  Spoiled, I tell ya.  We all scrambled around to get ready for the game.  No game day is complete without gear to show your support for your favorite team.  I'm not going to lie, I was prepared for this aspect of the trip, far sooner than I care to admit.  We found our adult fan gear on a super cool Etsy shop by the name of Ninety5Prints.  The tiny root was also in need of last-minute fan gear when her shirt didn't arrive in time, and thank goodness it didn't because Hot Mess Designs came in and fixed us up with a much better design than I had originally purchased and at an amazing price.  

By the time we were ready to pile into the vehicle and head to Suntrust Park, I almost couldn't contain myself.  One thing the middle and I have in common is that we both talk non stop when we are excited.  Charlie would proceed to spend the 45 minute drive asking everyone 1 million questions about the baseball game.  You see, my brother in law had purchased batting practice tickets for the boys, and there were so many things he wanted to know.   Where would they stand?  How close would they be? Who would they see? Would he get any autographs? Whose autograph would he get? The husband played it cool, but I know he was possibly more excited than anyone and probably had the same questions swirling around in his mind.  When we entered the Battery, my sister and I let the boys go about their merry way while we walked the tiny root around, listened to music, and sipped our beverages.  If you are an only child or you have siblings but not a sister, you can't know the love I have for this gal.  We are different in the biggest ways but when I'm around her, she is literally the most beautiful woman I know and makes me laugh harder than anyone I've ever met.  To my children, the sun rises and falls on her advice and opinions, and what she bring to the table of my life is invaluable.  We don't get the luxury of spending much sister time together and I was soaking up every single moment.  She let me be the total fangirl tourist I wanted to be, and believe me, I have no shame.  The tiny root was completely smitten with all the music and people, and most of all the Home Depot bucket, drill, and Chick Fil-A cow. Watching her dance around and beg for hugs from a big cow with large, visible, and by all accounts milkable udders was too good for words.  Batting practice lasted about an hour and when we met back up with the boys we decided to grab some pizza at Antico.  The smile on the middle root's face was so big that I had no doubt that he would be able to fit a big slice of pizza in there, but whether or not he would be able to stop talking about his amazing experience was another thing altogether.  By the time we finished dinner, it was time to grab a beer and head to our seats.  Keep in mind, the entire time this trip had been in the works, I had no idea where our seats were going to be.  I'm not even sure that I cared at the time.  My brother in law was in charge of obtaining tickets for the game and I had all the faith in the world that he would handle it. I wanted my family to experience a major league baseball game and the placement of our seats was of minimal importance, that was, until I saw our seats. Let me say, if there's ever a time that you can go to a baseball game at Suntrust park, and you have the means to splurge on amazing seats... DO IT!  Our seats were on the first base side of the dugout and the view was incredible.  When the Braves came out onto the field, the boys were in a prime spot to get more autographs, and that's exactly what they did.  The tiny root had spotted a Dippin Dots vendor just outside the park, so while she was making a mess the color and size of the rainbow, the rest of my brood were fanning the shit out of everything in sight. 

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There was not a single solitary part of that night that wasn't perfect.  Now, was Frances the most well-behaved child at the park?  No.  She had the typical 3-year-old behaviors and, as with any first-time event, she was overly excited and a bit manic over it all.  She would have spent the entire night in front of Blooper the mascot and the Home Depot crew and been completely content.  For most of the game, there weren't any points on the scoreboard, but when the Mets took their last at-bat, it wasn't looking good for ours.  Then, when things were looking bleak, the Braves showed up and showed out for my bunch (I like to think they did it just for us) and won the game.  Suntrust Park lit up with fireworks, the crowd was going wild, and my little Charlie who was starting to pout a bit when he thought the Braves were not going to win, jumped to his feet and cheered until he was completely exhausted.  While walking back to the car, the chaos was evident but the happiness of the entire experience outweighed the enormous crowds and the parking garage fiasco. I wasn't behind the wheel and lucky for us, we had experienced Atlanta drivers to navigate through the traffic, otherwise, I may still be there.

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The next morning we started packing things up. Everyone was still on cloud nine from the amazing experience the night before.  Chatty Kathy aka Charlie was still feeling the after-effects of getting to meet some of his baseball heroes and Frances just wanted to capture the remaining moments of the soft backyard grass.  I was anticipating the goodbyes that were about to happen and I wanted to rip it off like a band-aid and try not to cry, which is never successful.  I gave my Jane a few more post birthday kisses and gave all the hugs I could give before we buckled up and drove away.  For the first couple of hours of our journey home, I thought about our trip.  I thought about how the tiny root was a little hard to deal with and how I accidentally spilled beer on my sister's handbag but acted like it came from the sky. I thought about how my sister let me borrow an old broken in pair of Tretorns because I couldn't find the exact shoe I wanted to wear and those fit the bill perfectly. I thought about how I wish I had more late nights filled with conversation and wine with one of my very own genetically linked dime piece.  I even gave at least 30 seconds of thought to the fact that I attempted to eat leftover pasta directly from the container but was caught red-handed, and how I didn't regret it at all.  There is no way to cover all of the memories that I made with my family on our trip but I can tell you that it far surpasses good pizza and baseball.  It was a reminder that 5 hours isn't a lifetime away and that some bonds surpass space and time.  See you next time BeBe and Justin.  We had a blast.

 

 

 

Getting Wild

As many of you know, my oldest root is in college.  Having a college student that isn't attending school close by can often be difficult and even with just a few hours between us, coordinating a time when no one has a sporting event or work to take care of can be tricky.  Luckily for us, one of the more important events that we wanted to attend and show support for was the annual  Beast Feast put on by The Wildlife Society of Tennessee Tech University.  This year is my oldest root's first year as a transfer student to Tennessee Tech, and she has become the Communications Officer for The Wildlife Society. This was one of her goals when joining the club just one semester earlier.  The passion she has for our wildlife truly gives me the proud momma bear warm and fuzzies. With more than 2 years under her belt working for our Tennessee State Parks system, she has helped to rehabilitate injured animals as well as educate others on caring for wildlife indirectly.  When she asked us to attend this fundraiser for something near and dear to her heart, we cleared schedules and made arrangments.  

Beast Feast not only offered the general public an opportunity to sample different types of wild game prepared in a variety of ways but also a chance to purchase or bid on goods that had been donated by both local businesses and online retailers.  When the root told me months before the event they would be doing silent auctions as well as giveaways to try and raise money for an upcoming convention, I was all in.  I love to see motivated young people try and make a difference and do something positive, and I wanted to do my best to help. I began contacting online retailers of handmade goods to see if they would be interested in contributing to the event, and the response was beyond generous and heartwarming. Many of the artists and crafters had in one way or another been involved with their local wildlife organizations and were more than willing to do what they could to make sure that this group of young adults would be able to attend the 2018 Tennessee Wildlife Society Southeastern Student Conclave, a 4-day convention filled with hands-on instruction and workshops on wildlife management and conservation.  This year's Conclave would be held in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and for many college students, this is a big opportunity to learn and grow in their field.

When we arrived in Cookeville, our first stop was our Air BNB.  This was our first experience using Air BnB, so I was a bit nervous. When we pulled in and were greeted by the amazing host, we knew it was a far better decision than a boring hotel.  It was located just beside the host's main residence but was a completely separate cabin style getaway. The deck overlooked their lovely farm, and despite the forecast telling us that we were in for rain, we were more than happy to take advantage of the swing on the porch and the cozy interior.  I'm glad that we gave this place a go because we now know exactly where we want to stay now when visiting the university in the future.

After checking in, we immediately drove to the Tennessee Tech University campus.  The two little roots were so anxious to see their big sister, we wasted no time getting there for a visit.  It was so nice for the tiny roots to see where she attends college for the first time and to also get a glimpse into the life of a hard-working college student. We took a brief tour of the campus and she showed us where she attends her classes.  As the weather started to get slightly questionable, we decided to head over to the location of the event and see what Beast Feast had to offer. As we arrived at the event location, it was buzzing with excitement as members of the Wildlife Society prepared for a big crowd. There were tables of yummy smelling dishes prepared by club members, family, friends, and of course, yours truly.  Each dish had to be prepared using wild game.  I made a venison and wild boar chili prepared with meat that was donated by my husband's good friend and boss at Brentwood Plumbing. Now, I'm not a wild game eater myself, but if I were going to jump head first into something based solely on how amazing it all smelled, I would have done a major swan dive into my chili.  TOOT TOOT!  It was amazing if I do say so myself, and apparently the guests thought so, as well, because the pot was empty by the end of the evening.  Attendance was fantastic.  I was so thrilled to see the local community be so supportive of what these young adults were doing.  

The silent auction was a complete success.  I want to thank all of the wonderful vendors that helped out by donating some amazing products. I am humbled by the outpouring of support shown to us and to the Wildlife Society of TTU.  A huge thank you to the following artists for the donated items. The photographs do not do these lovelies justice:

In the end, the hard-working members of Tennessee Tech University's Wildlife Society were able to attend the 2018 TWS Southeastern Student Conclave. They were able to expand their knowledge in their fields of study while establishing relationships that will enrich their lives beyond measure.  Again, thank you to all those who participated and made a difference. 

 

 

 

 

In The Mitten Without A Coat

Over this past weekend, I embarked on an amazing little weekend journey Thelma and Louise style.  My great friend of 20 years and I, for one reason or another, hadn't yet made a big road trip together, and with my nephew Benjamin having a big recital coming up at Central Michigan University, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Leaving all of the roots behind, I was packed and ready to rock on Friday morning at 5 am.  Michigan here we come!  When we left good ole Tennessee, the temperature was hovering at a decent 50.  I felt pretty prepared with a couple of cute scarves, sweatshirts, a cute cardigan, and boots, but as the temperature started to drop as we drove further North (I know this because Thelma would inform me of each and every degree we were dropping), I began to realize that if we were dealing with 25 degrees and we were only halfway there, we were in for a BIG surprise.  No big deal.  There are Target stores everywhere and Thelma and I were fully prepared to buy any essentials we may need to brave the mitten.  No coats, no socks, NO PROBLEM!  

When we first arrived in Michigan, we made our way to Pohl Bison Bed & Breakfast.  Having never stayed at a Bed & Breakfast, Thelma and I were wondering what to expect.  I can tell you that I was unprepared for what I would find.  We pulled up after dark and weren't even sure where to go first.  Do we just walk in?  This is someone's house, right?  Do we knock?  That worry quickly dissipated as the owner and operator of the Pohl Bison who I would from then on refer to as Miss Krista, made her way to greet us.  She was a lovely lady with a fantastically peaceful and soft-spoken demeanor.  I'm not at all sure that she was prepared for my loud Southern mouth, but I was able to dial it back a bit to meet her in the middle.  As Miss Krista showed us around the main floor of Pohl Bison, I couldn't take my eyes off of the woodworking.  The room was riddled with amazing pelts and taxidermy and had an incredible warmth that swirled around the entire place.  Right in the middle of the main floor was a beautiful wooden spiral staircase that led up to a cozy loft landing with a sitting space to relax before bed.  Krista continued to show us to our room and when we walked in I'm pretty sure Thelma and I both became immediately sleepy because it was such a warm inviting space that begged you to jammy up and hop into bed with a good book and a cup of warm cocoa.  In the fridge outside, the room was a plate full of delicious bison summer sausage and cheeses. It was at this point that I realized that they truly spoke my love language here.  Now I'm not sure if it was due to the fact that it was so quiet, or maybe part of it was that I didn't have a bed full of children, perhaps it was the trio of Sangrias I drake at dinner, but whatever the reason, I slept so well the first night we were there.  I was awakened by the smell of breakfast and the sound of happy conversation from the main level.  I tried to make myself presentable and Thelma did the same because we weren't going to miss out on a breakfast that smelled that amazing.  Before I made the spiral staircase decent, I looked out of the loft window and noticed it had snowed a tiny bit. I smiled because I could see the bison from the window and along with a dusting of snow; it was simply amazing.  The couple staying in the other room was also having breakfast, and we were able to sit and talk with them and the Pohl's over coffee and a lovely breakfast.  

After breakfast, we needed to get in gear because the recital was rapidly approaching and we needed to prepare for a small reception following the event, and we had some shenanigans up our sleeve as well.  You see, Thelma and I are particular fans of a show called The Incredible Dr. Pol, and as luck would have it, it is filmed only a few minutes down the road.  We planned to try out best to meet Dr. Pol and have our photo taken with him.  Well, when we arrived, we were met by a sign on the door instructing us otherwise.  We relented but not before I called and asked if the doc was in.  Even Southern charm didn't get the job done this time.  For now, we would have to settle for a photo of the sign.  What do you do? We had places to go and receptions to plan so we didn't have time to pout.  

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To say that the recital was fantastic is an understatement.  I couldn't have been more proud to have been able to make the trip to see Benjamin play.  You see, that boy isn't my nephew by relation, but my nephew because his mother and I raised our two oldest children together and we both played a big role in the brightly driven young adults that each of them has become.  So, he IS my nephew and the fact that his aunts by relation include me with their rightfully earned title makes my soul happy.   After all, it does take a village.  After the recital, we had dinner at a lovely little restaurant and soaked up as many laughs and good times as we could before we made our way back to the bed & breakfast to relax and prepare for an early departure.

The next morning we packed up and headed downstairs at 6 a.m. to tell the Pohl's goodbye.  We sat for a moment before Miss Krista handed us a bag of fresh fruit and freshly baked blueberry muffins to take with us on the road.  Though we had told them not to cook for us because of our early start to the day, she insisted on giving us a few goodies to take with us.  I'm so glad she did, because a few hours into our drive, I was getting peckish.  What I took away from this trip was far more than I expected.  I realized that it's okay to separate from the roots sometimes and that my village is capable of holding down the fort when I'm gone.  I learned that I need more road trips with Thelma.  Sure, I had a few laughter induced headaches, but aren't those the best kind to have?  Lastly, I learned that being outside your comfort zone actually pushes it back further and further until the comfort zone is not so present in your mind as it once was.  The Pohl Bison Bed & Breakfast was the perfect balance of the comradery you get with camping but in the comfort of a rustic peaceful retreat.  I'm certain I will return, and if you are ever in need of a place to rest your head in and around Central Michigan University area, add them to your list. Grow your roots with new people and find out how they grow theirs. There is something to be gained in the establishment of new relationships and the extending of your comfort zone.  Live, Love, and Grow Roots!