Archive | February 2014

Paleo Brownie Bites

Wednesday night I got the cooking bug, which is something that I need to get more often.  And although I might cheat on my healthy eating when I eat out (or am on the road), my Paleo experience did change one thing: the way I grocery shop, meaning that cooking at home is my best bet if I want to be healthy.  First, I whipped up a batch of my Squashed Banana Muffins, with two extra bananas instead of zucchini.  It was a delicious variation and I loved having a muffin for breakfast this morning with zero guilt!  Next, I made a beef stew that I’ll post next week.  And then….I made a tasty treat to satisfy my sweet cravings.

Keith had actually found this amazing recipe on the internet the night before and when I saw how simple it was, I decided I needed to give it a try, and was so glad I did.  Normally I alter recipes that I find online, but this one was just so good as it was that there was just no improving it, (although I did shorten the title a bit.)  So all the credit goes to Rebecca Bohl of ( for this recipe…I just bring you notes (italicized) and photos, and a high high recommendation that this is a recipe you need to make.  Now.  And while I don’t have kids, it’s for sure a kid-friendly recipe as it doesn’t involve knives or the oven!  Kids will love dumping all the ingredients into the food processor and watching it all whir around together and then what’s better than rolling things in little balls like play-dough?

Paleo Brownie Bites

  1. 1 1/2 cups walnuts
  2. Pinch of salt
  3. 1 cup pitted dates
  4. 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  5. 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  1. Add walnuts and salt to a blender or food processor. (*I have a fantastic food processor, but I actually chose to use my Ninja blender for this recipe and it worked great!) Mix until the walnuts are finely ground.
  2. Add the dates, vanilla, and cocoa powder to the blender. Mix well until everything is combined. With the blender still running, add a couple drops of water at a time to make the mixture stick together. (*I did about 10 drops of water, and I think it could have used a little more.)
  3. Using a spatula, transfer the mixture into a bowl. Using your hands, form small round balls, rolling in your palm. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. (*I let the balls sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes before I ate one, and I’d recommend doing it as they taste really great lightly chilled.)
Rolling out brownie bites.  So so easy and yummy.

Rolling out brownie bites. So so easy and yummy.

Finished and ready to eat!  They may be called "Brownie" Bites, but they are almost more of a truffle!  Delicious!

Finished and ready to eat! They may be called “Brownie” Bites, but they are almost more of a truffle! Delicious!

Paint Color Selection

I know everybody has been dying to know which color of gray paint we went with, after trying 8 or so different options all over the living room walls.  And we have made a selection, I believe.

Its practically the neutral-est neutral there ever was, I guess.  No risk taking here – this is the Switzerland of paint colors.

Its so neutral that although I liked the looks of the paint chip in the store, I hesitated to try it for fear of being too boring.

The paint is named…

you’ll be shocked by this.

Dragon’s Mist.





Nope I’m kidding.




Its called “Off white”.


In our wacky house with all the fluorescent tube lighting, ‘off white’ does in fact look like a pale gray.  Its certainly an upgrade from the current ‘butter’ color.  And best of all, it doesn’t clash with the 51 cabinets that are already painted a green/gray/khaki color.  And since there are 51 of them, and the paint is in perfect condition, THEY will not be repainted.  They will be worked around.

But agh, is ‘off white’ too bland for all 57,000 square feet of wall space in this room?  Maybe.  But perhaps we have enough going on between the brick and the wood trim and the wood floors.  A little ‘Blah’ may be just the ticket.  Sure hope so.

Here’s a shot of the ‘off white’ right next to some cabinets.


What we have here is a partially constructed kitchen desk area, which just one step in the plan for the baby nursery.  Hopefully we’ll finish this little project this week, and move on to stuff like putting the crib together.

Oh side note, the reason why I know we have 51 cabinets is because I just ordered new hardware for them.  NOW for the risk taking.

martha_brassBRASS!  Goodbye brushed nickel.  The knobs will go on the cabinet doors, which means I’ll have to fill 51 now-extraneous holes and paint over them.   Sounds like a perfect maternity leave project, doesn’t it?

Travel Guide: 6 Tips To Travel Like A Pro

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As you can tell by the fact that we have an entire post category devoted to it, Mary Hall and I both love to travel.  Alot.  Of course, there was the epic United Kingdom trip that we took together as teenagers, but we’ve both made our way around the world and the country individually on many occasions.  Since I currently work as a road manager and freelance musician, I’m on the road almost every weekend and even though my destinations aren’t always exotic, I’ve discovered that there is certainly an art to traveling no matter if you are going across town or across the world.  While I know that there are plenty of folks that travel way more than I do, I thought I’d bring you what wisdom I do have to you kind folks.  I hope to see you on the road.

1. Loyalty Isn’t Just For The Dogs. – The most important thing I can think of in travel is to choose a chain and stick with it.  It doesn’t so much matter which brand you choose, only that you choose one!  Most programs are created fairly equal, so pick whichever one is most convenient for you based on places you travel frequently.  Choose what program works for you, and then stick with it.  Besides earning points or miles for free travel, most programs have different tiers that provide different benefits such as free upgrades or waived luggage fees that you can qualify for based on your amount of travel, and if you travel alot, those perks can make an exhausting day a little bit better.

2. Join The Club: ALL of Them. – I know, you’re thinking, “but you just gave us this sermon on brand loyalty!”  I know, I did.  And I’m not being a hypocrite.  See here’s the deal.  Sometimes you can’t control every aspect of your travel.  Maybe your boss is in charge of booking rooms or your favorite airline doesn’t fly to the airport where that big meeting is.  But this doesn’t mean you have to miss out.  Not only are most loyalty programs free to join with no annual fee so you can join them all with no worries, but most programs have partnerships with other programs.  Simply log on to your online account and set your earning preference to earn what you want.  I have about 8 hotel loyalty memberships….I’ve chosen one as my “main” hotel chain and that account is set to earn hotel points.  All the other ones are set to earn airline miles on my “main” airline chain.  If I only stay at a specific type of hotel once a year, it would take forever to earn a free night.  But having a few extra airline miles on my favorite airline will go much further to earning a free ticket!

3. Be A Card-Carrying Promotion Hunter. – Another great way to earn free travel or perks for more comfortable travel is to get the credit card.  I have a major credit card (one Visa and one AmEx) for my favorite hotel brand and favorite airline.  Not only do I get bonus points on purchases made at those chains, but I get luggage and onboard discounts as well as enough bonus nights to almost have status right off the bat with my hotel card.  If credit cards aren’t your thing, that’s ok.  There are still lots of promotions out there that you can take advantage of that won’t affect your credit score.  Many programs will send out emails advertising promotions, and if you don’t want any more traffic flooding your inbox, then you can still take advantage of most of these by just logging on to your online account and checking the “promotions” tab.  Marriott for example has a particularly awesome promotion that they have been running 2 or 3 times a year called the “MegaBonus.”  Just register and then for every two nights you stay within a certain period of time, you get one free night.  Pretty awesome deal.

4. Attitude Is Everything: The Golden Rule Still Counts.  – If you’re a frequent traveler it’s not so much a question of IF something will go wrong, it’s more like WHEN.  Flights will be delayed, or cancelled.  You’ll get to the rental car place only to find out that they JUST gave away that SUV you’d reserved.  Your hotel room won’t be ready at check in, and when it is, you’ll quickly realize that someone smoked in the non-smoking room or that your towels aren’t exactly what you’d call clean.  But here’s the thing.  You’re not the first person this has happened to that day and you won’t be the last.  But you can be the NICEST.  Think about it.  If you are a customer service rep and you have a line of angry people with messed up travel plans, and in the middle of it all, up steps a kind, even-tempered person who treats you with respect and understanding, who are you most going to want to help?

Ashamedly, I’ve not always been kind in every single situation of travel-gone wrong, so I understand that sometimes its hard to keep it together.  But I’ve also noticed that the times I have been patient and kind, the folks behind the counter have, in turn, been nicer to me, and I’ve walked away having been helped, but also feeling like a decent human.  Winning, all around.

5. The Only Dumb Question Is One You Don’t Ask. –  Some situations are how they are, and you won’t be able to change them.  But sometimes, customer service reps are able to help you out in ways you wouldn’t have thought of if you didn’t ask.Just today, this particular rule proved itself again.  I’d paid for Early Bird boarding on Southwest for two people, roundtrip which totals $50….and is a fee that Southwest advertises as being “un-refundable” no matter the circumstances.  However, in between the time I purchased the early bird and the actual flight, both passengers earned “A-List” status on Southwest thus getting free-early bird.  So I called Southwest and asked about a refund even though I was aware of their advertised policy.  And you know what?  The customer service rep was super nice and told me that she couldn’t refund my $50, but she COULD send me a $50 Southwest voucher valid on any future Southwest travel and transferable to anyone I chose to use it on.

6. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Then Call, Call Again. – This one is one that I learned from watching my husband, and I’ve used it to my own advantage on a few occasions. For some reason, not all phone customer service reps will tell you the same thing.  I don’t know why this is, but I know it’s true.  So what do you do when the first customer service rep you get isn’t helpful or doesn’t tell you what you want to hear?  You politely thank them and you hang up.  And then you call back.  And you repeat this until you find someone who gives you then answer you want (or realize that your request is unreasonable….you be the judge.)  This usually works the best if you’re trying to change a flight or get a seat upgrade.  And rule #3 totally applies here too.  The nicer you are, the more likely you are to get what you want.


In November of 2012, my dad turned 70.  Since it’s not often that one turns 70, I decided to throw him a big birthday bash and collect as many members of the family as I could.  About twenty of us gathered to eat and celebrate and generally have a good time.  Because my dad loves to fish, I decided I’d loosely theme the party around fishing.  For party snacks, I set out large bowls of Swedish fish candy and goldfish crackers and for the birthday cake, Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin (who also did my wedding cake) did the most amazing fishing cake ever complete with realistic looking waves, fishing pole, bobber and lures.  We added a few extra guests at the last minute, so I grabbed a half dozen cupcakes while I was at the bakery and added Swedish fish as toppers.

Dad's fishing cake by Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin.

Dad’s fishing cake by Elizabeth at the Puffy Muffin.  Call her for all your cake needs, big or small.  seriously.

However, finding fishing themed party items that didn’t revolve around Finding Nemo or other characters only suitable for preschoolers, proved to be quite a challenge. (side note, if you ARE planning a kid party, here’s a great party snack from Mary-Hall from our archives).  I ended up going simple and making a happy birthday banner out of burlap and aqua colored felt, serving drinks in Mason jars (my dad’s name is Mason…..clever, huh?) and making two giant fluffy blue tissue paper flowers/orbs/decorative things to put on the food table.

Dad surveys all his Birthday decor and treats.

Dad surveys all his Birthday decor and treats.

And THEN…..I took a cue from Mary-Hall, or actually from her mom, from long ago.  1996, to be exact. Remember our crazy high-school social club experience?  Well, since I wasn’t inducted as a member until 10th grade, but Mary-Hall had been “kidnapped” in 8th grade, she got to participate in the 9th grade “presentation” while I sat at her “table” as a guest.  The “tables” were a big deal and many a Mama spent hours (and no doubt serious dollars!) decorating their daughters’ tables.  Mary-Hall’s craftiness was directly inherited from her Mom, who had put together a lovely table for MH….complete with vases of water containing live goldfish.  Well, they were live when the program started, anyway.  Apparently the event was more than the poor fish could handle and by the time the program ended, a few of them had gone-belly up.  Sadly, I can’t find the glorious photo of us, at this blessed event, but here’s a photo of Mary-Hall for your viewing pleasure.  I was so sad I didn’t get one of those green dresses.  Seriously.  So sad.  Now…….notsomuch.

Mary-Hall looking classy.

Mary-Hall looking classy.

Fast-forward 16 years and the possibility of decor-going-dead-in-the-water did not deter me from copying this brilliant decoration at my dad’s party.  My friend Amy and I headed over to the “PetSupermarket” (not making that up) about 20 minutes away and for a grand total of $2.14, purchased 20 goldfish.  “Such a Deal!” as my Mom would say.  (In fact, I’m pretty sure she did actually say those very words in conjunction with said goldfish later on that afternoon.)  I filled up several jars with water and goldfish and arranged them festively on the table as centerpieces.  It looked adorable.  People loved it.  At the end of the day, the fish no longer had a purpose, but I didn’t have the heart to just flush them, so my niece’s then-boyfriend took half home in one of the mason jars, and I took the other half, fully expecting them to all be lifeless by the time we arrived home.

Over the next few days, they went on to that great goldfish-pond in the sky at the rate of about one every 12 hours until it was down to one, lone fish.  But he made it through a whole day alone, and then another and another….in fact he sat in the mason jar on the counter for about a week before I moved him to a larger vase.  And then after about two months, I figured I might as well buy him some goldfish flakes and a real bowl and those little rocks you put in the bottom of the bowl.  Keith laughed at my investment, but since the whole deal only cost $5 at WalMart, I figured might as well.  I gave the fishbowl a home on the piano in my office.  We went out of town for a week and I forgot to tell the housesitter to feed the fish.  To my amazement, he was still kicking, er, swimming when we came home.  I gave him a generous helping of flakes and promised to be a better fish mom.  Finally, on when he turned a year old, I decided to name the darn thing.  Since I’m pretty sure no 11 cent goldfish has EVER lasted this long, I dubbed him Methuselah, after all, I think a year and a half (his current age) is probably equal to 969 goldfish years.

The cat occasionally will hop up on the piano and sniff the bowl and Methuselah always swims over to check him out, as he does when anyone approaches him, but no incident has ever occurred.  I think I’m actually going to be sad when the little guy does pass on.  He brings a smile to my face every time I glance over and see him hanging out in his bowl.  Just taking it all in.

Methuselah, the world's oldest goldfish (maybenot, but close).

Methuselah, the world’s oldest goldfish (maybenot, but close).

New Orleans With Kids

Happy Valentine’s Day (if that’s your thing).  If its not, well I hear ya and this post is totally not Valentine’s related.

Bethany posted about a trip to New Orleans once before. Its a fabulously unique destination, so I thought I’d add a few pointers here for making a kid-friendly visit.  New Orleans is a quick trip from where we live, so Mississippians tend to head down there with some regularity.  Although, I personally only go about once every three years or so.  There is something for everyone, depending on what kind of experience you want to have – history, architecture, gambling, 24/7 bars, jazz clubs, a dazzling variety of unbelievable restaurants.  And, if you are under 5 years old, there’s actually a fair variety for the preschool set as well.  Here is what we did, and what we wished we could’ve done, with our 3 year old.


1.  Book a hotel with a heated pool.

The train station dropped us off right down town.  Indoor pools are not very common down there, since its a generally warm climate, relatively speaking.  I had to do a good bit of scouring the internet to find at least a heated outdoor pool.  In Ransom’s mind, hotel = pool, end of story.  I used this website to determine pool information, and good ole Orbitz to find the best price.  Over night temperatures were in the low 60s and we adults fairly well froze in the pool.  It was heated but not to hot tub level.  Next time I think we’ll just go later in the year.

We stayed at the Bienville House, and I do recommend it.  Continental breakfast included, and the people are all very nice.


2. Ride the streetcar.

Ransom LOVED the streetcar.  We only got to ride it once unfortunately, from the train station to the hotel. There was some major disappointment about not getting to ride it back to the train station.  We tried but it was apparently running at least 35 minutes late, and we had a actual scheduled train to catch.  So we took a cab.  Moral – use the streetcar for leisure travel, not necessarily when you actually have to be somewhere at a certain time.  If we’d had more time, I think Ransom would have loved to just ride the trolley out to the end of the line, get off, and then ride it back again.


3. The Aquarium

This was our big planned excursion, and it was a hit with Ransom for sure.  We only had two hours and we assumed that we wouldn’t have time to see everything.  However, its actually not very big.  Two hours is plenty of time to see everything, and since we were going preschooler speed (which is pretty fast in places like museums and zoos), we could’ve easily been out in an hour.  We even made a return to the play boat section, of course.  The down side is, the ticket prices are steep – $60 for the three of us.  I kinda feel like something so expensive shouldn’t be viewable in two hours, know what I mean?  But it did make an impression on Ransom.  We’ve had lots of discussion about sharks and jelly fish ever since.


4. The Cafe du Monde

This place is a New Orleans classic, and its great for kids.  You sit outdoors and all they serve are beignets which are essentially powdered donuts.  (Really really good ones.)  Doesn’t get much better, does it?  My advice – skip the coffee.  Its disgusting!  Who would drink that?  Okay try it once just so you can learn for yourself how disgusting the mysterious ‘chicory’ ingredient is.  Gag.  Order chocolate milk instead.  Also, the wait line for the restaurant was a little bit long, so we went to the ‘To Go’ window.  There’s a nice park right next door.


That is basically all we packed into our 17 hours in New Orleans.  Our train was a whopping 5 hours late arriving in NOLA, so that kind of took a bite out of an already quick trip.  We did find two kid-friendly restaurants –  Daisy Duke’s Restaurant.  They serve breakfast 24/7 and some typical New Orleans fare (gumbo, po boys).  All was good but not life changing.  But hey, this was at 9 pm on Saturday night, right by our hotel, and not a bar.  So basically perfect for us.  And then we also ate at Arby’s.  ha.

Next time, we’ll plan a three-day weekend so that we have a little more flexibility.  A few more kid friendly options that are on my list for next time:

Swamp tour

These are probably overpriced and super touristy, but if there’s an airboat and/or an alligator involved, I know it would be a hit with our kiddo.  I saw these being offered from several ‘tourist information’ stands, as well as in the hotel lobby, visitors center, etc.

The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium

I’ve heard its good.  Kids love bugs. Its newer than the aquarium so it probably doesn’t have that “We built this in the 80s’ feel going on.

The City Park

We didn’t get to go here because their winter hours are kind of slim, but I’ve heard its awesome.  There is a small amusement park section, a storybook garden, a train garden, and a lot of huge live oak trees.  I bet you could get some fantastic instagrams of your kiddos riding the antique carousel, etc.  Seriously Ransom loves all rides, from the mall food court up, so I know he’d love this.  Definitely on our list for the next trip.  (And you can take the streetcar to get there.)

Let There Be Light

Well it seems like living room upgrades have become a theme around the blog lately as Mary-Hall is painting hers grey and I recently added a new chair to mine.  Although Keith and I gutted our entire 1920’s home about 3 years ago, we still have a few minor things that we’d like to do, mostly in the decor department.  Things like a comfy sectional to replace our couches and built-ins on one of our living room walls.  Another big thing on my list was replacing the fan in the living room with a lightfixture.  The fan that we had there was really nice, but we never used it and it didn’t have a light fixture on it, so it was this big dark looming object hanging on the ceiling.

Our living room ceiling with fan.

Our living room ceiling with fan.

When we were in West Elm looking at the chair a few weeks ago, we saw a particular light fixture that fit the bill of what we were looking for: something bright…simple, but with some sort of pattern or feature, soft light, and preferably a drum style.  At $299+ tax, it was a little over what I was willing to spend on something that we didn’t NEED, just wanted.  But because I knew it was what I wanted, I began to employ all of my furniture-for-less tactics.

Step one was to search for a knock-off fixture that looked like the Metal Honeycomb Drum Pendant, but cost less.  Unfortunately, that was a total bust.  Anything I found either was cheaper, but LOOKED cheaper, or was even more expensive than the original fixture.   Step two was to check out Craigslist to see if anyone was selling one used….which they weren’t.  Step three was to just start watching the prices at West Elm to see if it went on sale.  This past Sunday, my sale-watching paid off.  West Elm was running a sale on lighting…20% off on all fixtures (online AND in-store) bringing the pendant light of my dreams down to $239.  Much closer to the “under $200” category that I was willing to spend.

gotta love a good sale.

gotta love a good sale.

my lamp with the discount!

my lamp with the discount!

It seemed like a good price, plus I had a $50 gift card in my wallet that I’d been given for Christmas (thanks to my awesome in-laws!), but with shipping, it still wasn’t quite the bargain I’d been hoping for.  Fortunately, there is a West Elm store in Nashville, so I picked up the phone to see if they had the lamp in stock.  They didn’t, nor was it on the list of things they would be getting in anytime soon, NOR was it on the ship-to-store list.  (Tip: sometimes retailers that have both online and in-store sales will have a “ship to store” list of items that the stores don’t carry in-stock, but that you can pay for in-store, and have shipped to your house or at least to the store for free).  This was where I played the ace up my sleeve.  I mentioned that I’d seen the lamp in the store a few months ago and asked if buying the floor model would be an option.  Cha-ching.   Not only did they let me buy the store model (which meant no shipping fee), but they also gave me an additional 10% off meaning that my final price after taxes and discounts was $185.  I could not have been more thrilled.  When you consider no shipping, 20% off, the additional 10% off and the gift card, I ended up getting the lamp at over a 40% discount.  And it was even easy for us to install ourselves which was a huge perk.

finished light fixture hanging in our living room!  we love it!

finished light fixture hanging in our living room! we love it!

And we couldn’t be more thrilled with how stylish it looks and the soft lighted glow it emits.  We love our can-lights, but it’s nice to have an alternative lighting solution, especially one that just looks so awesome.

Now if I can just figure out how to get a bargain on the Pearce Sectional that we’re lusting after at Pottery Barn (it’s on sale now, but not in the upholstry that I want, of course), and settle on a design for some built-ins, our living room will be 100% complete.  Well, mostly, anyway.  I’m thinking that nothing will ever be “complete” as I kind of have the decorating bug.

Taking that Train Ride

This weekend we finally took that train ride I’d had on my “To Do” list for a couple of years. We all had a great time, and I think we’ll definitely do it again sometime.  Its such an easy and relaxing experience – I highly recommend it.

IMG_2733The City of New Orleans train is actually a double-decker.

We are located near the Amtrak line that runs from Chicago to New Orleans – the song-inspiring ‘City of New Orleans’ line.  This train just runs once per day, in each direction, so obviously there’s not a lot of flexibility in the schedule.  But, the connection times between Jackson and New Orleans are pretty decent.

On arriving at the station, the general lack of regulation is a little disconcerting to most first-time rider adults.  Compared to say, air travel, its all just so relaxed.  We weren’t the only ones looking around going ‘uh am I doing this right?’ ‘Where is the TSA agent?’ Ha ha.  No one even checks your ID.  You can bring as much liquid as you want on there.  I saw a soft-sided cooler or two.  They sort of generally assign seats (when the train is busy) but you can sit pretty much wherever no one else is already sitting.  And you can move around as much as you want.

IMG_2649We’re working on Ransom’s photography skills here.

IMG_2659Sit three people in two seats if you like, no problem.

Besides all that, the seats are approximately 300% larger than an airplane seat.  They have electrical outlets everywhere, even in the restroom. (? for shaving I guess ?) The seats recline pretty far, and when not reclined, there’s plenty of room for a kid to play in the floor.

Want a change of scenery?  There’s a dining car, a snack bar, and our favorite, the observation car.  You can go straight from your seat up to that observation car and sit there for the entire trip.  Its sort of like a rolling lounge.  The more social groups from the train were found hanging out here, as well as some couples playing dominos.

IMG_2728Here we’re playing a rousing game of ‘Spot a green tractor’.

The snacks for sale are fairly pricey – in the range of $3 for a gatorade – so wise train passengers bring their own.  I even saw some bringing their own alcohol, although you may need to be discreet about consuming it in public.  The official rules say you can only drink your own alcohol in the sleeping cars.  Still, the lack of regulation is just so luxurious.

Ransom’s favorite part was reportedly, the doors between the cars.  Push that button and they open with a real ‘woosh’ so obviously a kid favorite.  He fabricated several excuses to move around on the train – potty breaks, snack breaks, etc – which was pretty amusing.  He would’ve gladly run up and down the train for the entire trip, but that’s actually not so fun for adults so we kept it to a minimum.

IMG_2731One more trip between cars

 The trip from Jackson to New Orleans is scheduled for about 4 hours, although we made it in closer to 3 each time.  By car the trip is more like 2.5 hours, so there is some delay.  I don’t think the trains go much faster than 40 or 50mph.  But they also don’t stop at red lights.

The only downside is, as with any mode of transportation I guess, there is a risk of delay.  Our train was actually nearly 5 hours late leaving on Saturday.  We were able to find that out first thing in the morning, so we didn’t have to sit at the station that entire time or anything.  But, it did throw a wrench in an already tight trip schedule.  In our case, the delay was at departure from Chicago, so it may have been weather related.  Obviously a train has to deal with hundreds of miles of weather conditions, so it may be wiser to travel by train in the summer.  And, I’ve also heard reports of mechanical delays that can take many hours to resolve.  Its not like there are extra trains nearby that can be used in case of a breakdown, especially mid-route.

On our return, the train left right on time from New Orleans and arrived back to Jackson about 45 minutes ahead of schedule.

IMG_2713   Big smiles at the station

So, if you live near an Amtrak line, you should definitely check your options for trips.  Its obviously great for kids, but it could also make for a pretty awesome ‘girls weekend’ or something like that.  Next time I’ll follow up with what we actually did in our approximately 20 hours in New Orleans.  Happy Monday folks!

Fifty Shades of Gray Paint

This could’ve been a blog post where I explain how to pick the perfect gray paint color and show how grand it looks in our living room, but ahem… Our paint color selection process is not yet over.  Currently we have 5 shades of gray paint doing tryouts in the living room.  (Only 45 more to go.)


Turns out that picking a gray paint is quite difficult.  I should’ve hired an interior decorator or color expert or whatnot but instead, I’m just going the usual DIY brute force route by staring at paint strips for hours and buying tons of little sample pots (5 so far).  Here is my collection of paint strips, very helpful indeed.

paintchipsI’ll let you guess which one was Ransom’s suggestion. 

Our living room has a lot going on already: pine trim, khaki-ish cabinets, several walls of exposed brick.. i.e. red with gray mortar.  Combine all that with decent daylight but very dim lighting at night (which we plan to replace).  So a nice light shade of neutral is in order, right?  Gray seems like the obvious choice.  Its kind of ‘a thing’ these days, just ask pinterest or google.  It can be ‘neutral’ and ‘interesting’ and ‘unobtrusive’ all at the same time.

But what I’ve learned thus far is, gray paint (grey? greige?) can actually completely transform, right before your very eyes – to pink, blue, green, even purple.  Which direction each paint sample will lean on my walls is totally different from how it looks on the paint strip, so we’re sort of in a guessing game at this point.  And, the colors that look half decent during the day look a lot worse at night, or look at lot worse right next to the cabinetry.

Also there’s the added pressure that this one room is literally 50% of our house, with vaulted ceilings.  i.e. painting will require extension ladders (or scaffolding?) and many gallons of paints..  I.e. lots of both time and money.  OH THE PRESSURE.

And a final tip to anyone else buying paint samples.  You can paint those samples on to white posterboard which can then be moved around, switched in an out, and then conveniently placed in the garbage when you finish.  Thus avoiding the permanent patchwork look in your home.  Here’s an example from the internet:

from here

I knew that trick, but was too lazy to implement since I didn’t have any posterboard on hand…

Later today I’m heading back to Home Depot to gather a few more options.  Maybe ditch gray entirely and go with ‘white’.  Oh but there are so many shades of white too.

Hipster Transportation

I absolutely adore my town.  Nashville has been making a bit of a splash lately as the next “it” city, even getting some attention from the Huffington Post and other media.  And I love that almost every single place on their list is somewhere that I either frequently dine or, well, frequent, or it’s at least within a few miles of my house.  Lots of good stuff here.

And Nashvillians don’t like to just go fun places, we like to go there in unusual ways.  When I first moved to town, it wasn’t unusual to get stuck in traffic behind a hipster on a giant bicycle.  Sometimes a gang of hipsters on large bicycles.  Something like this:

blg wheelman

And of course during the warmer months, lots of folks in our neighborhood zip around town on one of these.  I admit, I have lots of Vespa-envy.  Some day.


Also a favorite around town, the classic truck.  There’s one that parks in front of my house quite frequently and I’m often tempted to leave them a note asking if they are interested in selling.  I would LOVE to roll around town in a classic truck.  Think:


But never….never….in my life have I witnessed anything quite as unusual as this.  Well, not until last Wednesday anyway when I was driving down 10th Ave on my way from a friends house back to my house, and I passed the following:

Sorry the clip is so short, but yes….that was, infact, a man on a razor scooter being towed by a pair of huskies.  Maybe he’s training for the Iditarod?  Or maybe……maybe…..I honestly can’t come up with a second scenario.

Here’s to you, hipster on a scooter with huskies.  May your shirts always be plaid, your records indie, and your dogs mush.

January Goals and Eating Weird Vegetables

So, January 2014 is over and done with obviously.  I set three not-so-lofty goals for the month and here’s were we ended up.

  • Goal #1.  Don’t freeze.

Is this like the coldest winter on record or what?  Our huge propane tank is running low and we’re going to have to buy more in the next week or two.  {Sad face}.  Propane is not really a cheap heating fuel.  However, you know what is?  Fire wood.  We kept our home quite a bit toastier than usual during the January’s polar blasts by FINALLY firing up the wood burning stove.  I had been giving that thing the side eye ever since we moved in here because it takes up A LOT of floor space, and its just kinda ugly.  But you know what?  It works very very well.  Its easy to start and it can warm almost the entire house.

So I guess we have to keep it.  And purchase chain saw to replenish the wood pile.

photo 2(1)

  • Goal #3.  Visit a foreign country.  Did that.  Disclaimer: obviously the trip was plan well in advance of the goal setting effort.
  • Goal #2.  Cook four new vegetables or vegetable recipes.

This needs to be a perma-goal for the Johnsons.  We’re forever stuck in a rut called ‘canned green beans’ and I’m determined to broaden our vegetable horizons.  So the four recipes I tried in January were:

Kenyan Collard Greens and Ground Beef This was really good and super easy. Will definitely make again.

Georgian Lobio This recipe is from Georgia the country (not the state).  I had it in Russia and it was wonderful.  Something in the vein of refried red beans with an interesting spice mix, and pomegranate seeds on top. However, my version did not turn out so well.  On the upside, I did get to use the morter and pestle my grandma gave me for Christmas.

photo 1(1)

  • Sauteed Swiss Chard with Parmesan I definitely felt like a mad culinary scientist cooking this weird red-stemmed plant.  And shocker – it was really good.  Approved by husband and even somewhat approved by preschooler.

photo 3

  • Baked Kale Chips I majorly oversalted these, but there is hope here. I’ll have to give this one another go.

So all in all, 3 of the 4 were “greens”.  I guess I should switch to root vegetables or squashes for February.  You guys got any suggestions?  What’s the weirdest vegetable you cook these days?

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