Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Magical Food Eating Tour - Nashville

Rule #37 – Everything is better with friends and family

Load uuuuuppppp!

Load up for the Food Eating Tour!

The Magical Food Eating Tour is ready to take you away… ready to take you away, take you today.
                                     (apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney)

     This may sound insensitive and criminal – to talk about food so close to the New Year and all those weight loss resolutions. We see commercial after commercial for diet products and gym memberships at this time of the year. Like it’s our time of atonement for the food sins of the past year… sorry, I don’t think so.
     Fact – Eating nourishes the body – and the soul and the interpersonal relationships and the mind and – well, I could go on.
     Last May, I got a chance to experience a total foodie experience aboard the General Jackson Steamboat in Nashville. It was during my pilgrimage to Music City with my daughter and my aunt. We decided to try something totally different on this trip. Now, I’ve been to big dinners before; been to dinner theaters and wine tasting parties, too. This was a trip back into time, back to a simpler era of travel.
General Jackson Steamboat Cruise
     The General Jackson moors on the Cumberland River, just outside of the Opryland Hotel. As we queued up, we listened to local musicians playing some hard-core country music. Some potential passengers even started dancing. That’s when I knew I was attending a spontaneous party.
Top deck party central
     As we boarded the boat for our evening cruise, we were greeted by a few costumed hosts. They encouraged us to move freely around the boat. We could head to the upper deck, where we found a bar – and another band. It was cocktail time, and, yes, we did indulge even though alcohol was not part of the event price. Soon the paddle wheel started turning, we slipped our mooring, and we were rollin’ (rollin’), rollin’ (rollin’), rollin’ on the river. Ah, a sunset cruise on the Cumberland!
Admission covers cruise, food and entertainment
      We were seated in the dining room shortly after we left the dock. There’s nothing like the feeling you just stepped onto the set of “Gone With The Wind” or “Showboat”. The master of ceremonies soon arrived on stage to greet us all, announce birthdays and anniversaries, recognize tour groups, and get us in the mood for a fun-filled, foodie experience.
Ready to go
      Our waiter and his assistant introduced themselves to our table and checked for food allergies. I made sure that my daughter’s onion allergy was noted when I booked the tickets. Our waiter discussed the particulars with her and took the information back to the kitchen. He showed us where the cash bar was located, in case anyone at our table wanted adult beverages. Then the feast began.
Salad for starters
      Course number one was your basic salad. Here we served ourselves the dressing of choice, in the amount we wanted. Breads were already available, as was water, tea and coffee, and soft drinks.
Main course of beef tenderloin and shrimp
Our main course was beef tenderloin in a red wine reduction, spiced shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes, and green beans.  The proteins were cooked to perfection. The beans were crisp, and not mushy at all. The potatoes – well- Yo Chef, how about sharing the recipe? The timing was perfect between the salad course and the main course. We had enough time as a table group to get to know each other. It also gave us time to swap tourist stories and get suggestions on what else to see in Nashville. No one felt rushed during the meal.
Sunset over Nashville in May

Home of the Tennessee Titans

Recycled roller coaster parts make interesting art
      After the main course, we had a long break in the food action. We all got a chance to get up and walk around the boat again. The sun was setting by then and we sailed into Nashville’s downtown area. We stood on the deck and got a glimpse of the Clubs at the waterfront. Yes, we found Coyote Ugly. We sailed past LG Stadium, home to the Tennessee Titans NFL team. We steamed on past a unique sculpture made from discarded amusement park rides. Along the way, we passed under a number of the bridges linking downtown with the eastern suburbs of the city. Lots of people stood on the bridges and waved as we went by.
Dessert - before
      After that half hour break, and adult beverage refills, we sat down to the ultimate comfort dessert – cheesecake, with chocolate and strawberries. The add-ons were a choice each diner had – one, the other or both. Decisions… decisions…
Dessert - after.... happy tummy

Show - The Heart of Tennessee
      Once dessert was cleared, our show began. The cast took us on a musical tour through the Heart of Tennessee. The presentation divided the state into three sections, grouped around the three major cities. We visited the eastern part of the state, around Knoxville and the Appalachians, where we learned about the origins of bluegrass music. Next we musically stopped on the western side, around Memphis. Here we caught up with early rock and roll, rockabilly, and the blues. Lastly, we focused on the central part of the state, around Nashville, the center of country music. Audience members got involved with the cast on stage, dancing. Many of us (like me) didn’t wait for the invitation. We just danced near our tables. There’s some YouTube video floating somewhere of all of us free lance dancers.
Music from Memphis
      We left the dock at 6 pm and returned around 10 pm. None of us were ready to call an end to the evening.
      Next time you head to Nashville, check out the General Jackson Showboat. Shows change depending on the season, and so does the menu. Tickets can be purchased before your trip at http://www.generaljackson.com/ and prices vary depending on the boat and the meal you choose. Vegetarian and gluten free menus are also available, but you need to note any dietary issues when you book your tickets.
      Step back in time, set a spell, and relax with an evening on the General Jackson. You’ll make lots of new friends and enjoy the company you bring.
      And – like we were told as we left the showboat - y’all come back now, hear?

All photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or copying without written permission.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Another year older...

Rule #44 – Avoid acting your age

     I am torn between this Rule 44 and Rule 56, which is “It is what it is”. Rule 44 seems more appropriate for my musings at this time. Yet, why do I hear Tennessee Ernie Ford singing "Sixteen Tons" in my head right around now?
     Well, Happy New Year, Self - and to everyone else, too. Today is a day when everyone looks back at the year that was and generally says “Damn! Where did that year go? Who hit the fast forward button on Mr. Peabody’s time machine?” 
Follow me, Sherman...
     Most people use a variety of other words to describe the swift passage of time. I won’t use those words here. I will look at the past year and see how things have changed for me personally. The year of 2013 is, after all, the unplanned first year of a new me.
      Let’s see… what HAS changed…
      I am now a season ticket holder with the Baltimore Orioles. It is one of the best moves I made for my own sanity.
      I am – for this year anyway – a subscription holder at the Baltimore Hippodrome Theater. They bring Broadway tour productions to our town. And I finally saw “Jersey Boys”.
     I have my own investment portfolio… not that it means anything in this economy. But I plan on living through the next economic bubble when gains grow exponentially, not the losses.
     I am collecting my teacher pension.
     I vacationed in some great places and did the things I wanted to do while on vacation. Yes, those things included spending cash. But really, have you ever seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse to the cemetery? No, neither have I. So I am having some fun.
      I saw two great concerts this past year. In July, Paul McCartney played at Nationals Stadium. I was there and have the tee shirt to prove it. Ahhhhh…. My first love!!!! I remember sitting in front of the TV, watching Ed Sullivan introduce the Beatles… oh, crap… was it really FIFTY years ago? All of a sudden I feel “old”.
     Two nights ago I saw Jeff Dunham live in Baltimore. He had his buddies with him – Achmed, Walter, Jose, Peanut – and he brought in Little Jeff and a new character, Coffee Guy. I related to Coffee Guy, because I also drink too much caffeine. But to say I enjoyed a live comic show… well, is the Pope a cool Catholic? Of course!
     Last night I spent New Year’s Eve at church. Now don’t freak… I haven’t gone Holy Roller or anything. My parish hosted a New Year’s Party for adults. I decided to go. Dinner, dancing, champagne at midnight… it was all there. I sat at the singles table and all nine of us agreed we weren’t “singles”; we were Lone Foxes. If you check YouTube, there’s probably some great video of the goofy dance moves we all made. But I did have fun. I danced like I haven’t danced in years. And I came home and iced my knee… feeling a bit more “old”.
     Looks like I did a lot of things in 2013 that I normally wouldn’t have done for one reason or another. I tried a lot of things I wouldn’t have considered before now. Like auditioning for a female Barbershop Chorus… and I made it. I sing baritone in the chorus. I’ll work on feeling comfortable in a quartet set-up for the future.
     The biggest thing that has changed is my attitude toward myself. Yes, I still want to lose weight (like, who doesn’t?). But I’ve stopped even considering myself as “old”. I remember that Hub used to say, “Now we are getting older...” I always wanted to smack him after that phrase came out of his mouth. Chronologically, he was right; we all are getting older. But we don’t have to get “old”. I am not going to focus on what I don’t have or what I'm missing. It’s time to focus on what I CAN do. It’s time to respect the experiences I’ve had… time to feel wise enough to know better, but brave enough to do things and act foolishly anyway.
     Guess I have changed in a year. But I am so NOT old. I am full-bodied… well-seasoned… vintage. Yes, that’s it… I’m vintage.
Great stuff... with more to come
     Now it’s time for Rule #56 – It is what it is.
      So true.