Archive for November, 2009

Tom feels his testosterone draining away.

Tom feels his testosterone draining away.

Tom was a good sport and accompanied me on a fact-finding trip for a story—the kind of hard-hitting news I’m known for: We went to Granbury’s historic courthouse square to take in the holiday trimmings.

What you see in this photo is Tom’s manly bits receding for shelter. This was full-throttle vanilla candles, ruffled gingham cat aprons, scary bisque dolls, ye-olde-fudge-shoppey Christmas consumerism. No place for men, though they sat patiently on benches all over town. Tom suggested that a sports bar might do well on the square. For all those good sports.

Hood County’s Victorian courthouse presides over a square lined with shops that mix high-end Texana, antiques, and cinnamon-scented schlock. Boutiques sell mostly blinding cowgirl blingwear, but some of it’s not bad once your eyes adjust. For my fellow crafty types, there’s a nice yarn shop upstairs at Artefactz and Houston Street Mercantile is nice little fabric store (mostly cotton prints). I was unfortunately unable to get a decent shot of the scary small-town museum mannequin in the Hood County Old Jail Museum, but the cells are worth the $2 it cost to see them. The town also has a collection of buff Victorian homes (candlelight tour Dec. 5 and 6, 2009).

The 1890 Hood County courthouse in Granbury, Texas.

The 1890 Hood County courthouse in Granbury.

In 1974, Granbury became Texas’ first courthouse square on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998 the rest of Texas courthouses made it onto the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Properties list, but the following year, Governor W signed in a bill establishing the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.

In ambitious young Texas, county seats displayed prosperity and pride with large, elaborate courthouses. There are more than 230 historic courthouses in Texas surrounded by squares in various states of restoration and with varying vibes.

Waxahachie, about 30 minutes from my home, has one of my favorite courthouse squares. The Neo Renaissance Ellis County courthouse lowers in the center of a low-key square where antiques stores still yield reasonably priced finds. The Webb Gallery, which specializes in outsider art, attracts lots of Dallas’ hipster artists and bands to its openings.

The Presido County Courthouse in Marfa, Texas.

The Presido County Courthouse in Marfa.

Icy-cool Marfa (Presidio County)  has a Second Empire courthouse overlooking nearly silent square, but galleries hide in plain sight. San Marcos (Hays County, Classical Revival) was named a National Main Street City for 2010, which sounds good and translates into funding. It has the fortune or misfortune of being on the road to Wimberley, which means lots of cars pass through, but usually in a hurry to be somewhere else. Last I was there, the square had a few shops and restaurants scattered among law offices and an inexplicable number of hair salons. But maybe an investment option for the future, eh?

Speaking of investments, and digressing from courthouses and county seats, a story is unfolding in Mineral Wells, Texas, where an investment group has purchased the glorious corpse of the historic Baker Hotel. Here’s hoping they make good with it.

Oh yes, Tom has recovered. Football helped.


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Is it Godzilla stalking Broadway? No, it's just Barney celebrating Thanksgiving.

Is it Godzilla stalking Broadway? No, it's just Barney celebrating Thanksgiving.

Of all Thanksgiving traditions, I am most loyal to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  No, I’m not on Macy’s payroll, but back in the day, it was a hometown thing. I went to it many times as a child. Bundled up against the November chill, I’d park my little bottom on a curb, usually on Central Park West because that was walking distance from home, and thrill to it all: The marching bands, the floats and especially, of course, the balloons.

The big coup was to nab a night-before invitation from someone with an apartment on the Upper West Side that overlooked the streets where the balloons were inflated, transforming, slowly and ponderously, from enormous amorphous blobs to Underdog, Garfield, or (to date myself) Felix the Cat. (I’m not this old, but check out these cool photos, of the parade in 1932 purchased, coincidentally, in Texas.)

A few years ago, I was invited to a friend’s office on the parade route where we watched the balloons pass at approximately eye level. It was a thrilling view but a tradition for this friend that must come to an end; after 82 years, the parade route has been changed this year.

Now, though I live far from Central Park West, the parade remains the necessary background to my Thanksgiving morning. It is nostalgic both for the event itself and for the glimpses it gives me of home. And as big as the parade is, it’s the big-city version of small-town America. It’s New York City’s contribution to Flyover America.

Happy Thanksgiving, Flyover Americans! We’re taking a Thanksgiving break from Three-fer Friday this week, but we’ll be back on schedule next week.

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A Fresh Take on U.S. Travel

planeSome days, it feels like we’re all overthinking travel. So, with my nieces in town for Thanksgiving, I decided to get nine-year-old S.’s fresher-than-most (in several different yet usually charming ways) and back-to-basics take on travel in the U.S. Her sister, six-year-old J., was kind enough to  contribute the artwork. She was paid in pretzels.

So, S., where have you been in the United States over the last nine years?

You want me to tell you all the states?


OK, Wisconsin. Indiana. Ohio. Pennsylvania. New Jersey. Florida. New York. Illinois. Uh, I don’t know if I’ve been to Michigan. Do you think I’ve been to Michigan?

I don’t know. Do you think it’s a hole in your life that you haven’t been to Michigan?

I want to go to Michigan. I want to go to [my friend’s] lake house. I think she’s inviting me over the summer.

Do you enjoy the drive you guys do from Illinois to New Jersey every summer?

Yeah. I like spending time with family and stopping at gas stations to get food.

What’s so good about gas station food?

It’s junk and good food, chips and snacks for along the drive. And [at gas stations] bathroom breaks.

I hope I recorded everything. I haven’t been typing because I’ve been listening to you. We may have to redo parts of this.


So what’s your favorite thing you’ve flown over? And what’s your favorite from driving?

I like seeing all the baseball stadiums when flying over. I like seeing the Statue of Liberty. It looked so small on Saturday. And we saw like the little ferry going out. And [when driving] I like seeing all the tall cliff things somewhere…Pennsylvania or Ohio. I can remember everything.

What’s your favorite place to visit in the U.S.–besides, of course, here and me?

Wisconsin. I don’t know. Not Wisconsin. Illinois. Chicago. It’s busy and there’s the Sears, blech, Willis Tower. It took forever in line. It took a hundred days to wait.

Was it worth it?



Cause you’re like standing on top of the buildings.

What does travel do for you that you don’t get out of your regular life?

It makes my life more interesting.


I don’t know.

What does it do?

I see stuff.

And, at this point, the conversation spun out of control when the interview subject started reading my notes and telling me what I was allowed to write. I decided to explain the term “off the record” for future interviews. The subject knocked me on my head twice and, interview now clearly over, we went to McDonald’s.

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What is everyone thinking about these days?  Food. Of course. Holiday traditions, laden tables, houses redolent with sautéed and simmered love.

There’s something cooking in every kitchen in America this time of year, but it’s likely to vary a little from place to place. After all, in those early Thanksgiving days, people pretty much ate what was at hand. They weren’t shipping  kiwis in from Australia and whatnot. So traditions developed and that’s what we’re talking ’bout.

Our guest writer is my favorite iconoclast and editor, David Bailey. He writes, he edits, he’s a line cook and serious eater. He writes about barbecue and other stuff—like going from editor to dishwasher to cook—on his blog, My Pie Hole. Oh yeah, he’s also a scholar in ancient Latin and Greek. He does all this in Greensboro, North Carolina and with a southern drawl like honeyed molasses.


Corned ham as a North Carolina Thanksgiving essential. Photo by David Bailey.

Corned ham as a Thanksgiving essential. Photo by David Bailey.

In pork-loving Piedmont North Carolina where it’s common to have bacon for breakfast, barbecue for lunch and ham for dinner, serving roast pork for Thanksgiving is a hallowed tradition.

For the past several years, I’ve corned a ham for Thanksgiving using a recipe from Chapel Hill’s Crook’s Corner.

It couldn’t be simpler. Ten days before Thanksgiving, buy the largest fresh ham you can find. Salt the outside and slipping a filet knife along the bone, cut slits at the ends of the ham and press in salt. Refrigerate it and recoat with salt every day. On Thanksgiving morning, bright and early, brush off the excess salt and put the ham in the oven at about 325 degrees. It’s ready when your house smells good enough to eat.

The first year, my folks quite literally ate every smidgeon. I even spied my littlest nephew out in the back yard sucking on a ham bone. —David

Heron with a side of cranberry bog. Photo courtesy of Harmonica Pete via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

Heron with a side of cranberry bog. Photo courtesy of Harmonica Pete via Flickr (Creative Commons license).

I refuse to get bogged down in a debate about it: I like canned jellied cranberry sauce. I always thought it was a holdover from my 1970s suburban upbringing but, really, it’s probably something in my home state’s water. (Could there be a market for filtered bog water?) While Wisconsin is responsible for most of the cranberries that sit around jellied or cooked down or tarted up or whatever on most Thanksgiving tables around America, I’m proud to say that the Garden State contributes its fair share to the feast. They are the “Jewel of the Pine Barrens.”–Jenna

The dog gets a walk, I get pecans. Photo by Sophia Dembling

The dog gets a walk, I get pecans. Photo by Sophia Dembling

I’ve decided that as the second largest pecan-producing state (after Georgia), Texas  may dictate the proper pronunciation of the buttery nut: It’s pah-KAHNS, not PEE-cans, as I said in my Yankee days, when I was more of a walnut girl. Pecan trees bear fruit roughly every other year, and on good years like this one, the trees spill forth bounty and I can fill my pockets while walking the dog ‘round the neighborhood. (I don’t steal from people’s yards, I just filch from the sidewalk.) Here in Texas, it ain’t Thanksgiving without pecan pie. Tom and I like ‘em in our stuffing, too. And they’re real good snackin’.–Sophia

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From the Overpass

View from the Overpass

It really doesn’t matter where this photo was shot*. Looking down on the tracks from an overpass, it struck me that this view is so quintessentially American. It’s a stretch of wild running alongside industry and can-do. It also just makes me want to go, to see what’s out there. While I’ve looked down from overpasses onto train tracks in other countries, they never, to my eye, look quite like this. It’s something you can see from coast to coast here in the U.S. When I catch this view, it always feels like a personal little indie flick. (Though I didn’t love the movie, Wendy and Lucy is a perfect example of train tracks moodiness.) And, aside from the moments the trains blow through or when you can hear teens carousing under the overpass (as they should), looking down on the train tracks always feels so incredibly quiet–no matter how many cars are speeding by behind my back.

*Just in case you must know: it’s in Teaneck, NJ. It’s something sort of special to walk through a town you usually drive around. A car doesn’t allow you to consider the view from the overpass.

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While looking for something else this weekend (which remains unfound), I came across a travel magazine published by Greyhound in 1955, which I bought somewhere sometime and forgot all about. As is often the case with vintage magazines, the best part of the pub is the ads.

Here’s one for Wisconsin, starring Dad in a coma, his squirrely friend, and Bucky the Lucky Badger. (It is the Badger state, after all.)
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I’m not sure what’s happened to King Dad in Florida, but he too has clearly reached some sort of addled vacation nirvana.
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Michigan decided to sell itself with sex. Certainly when I think of Michigan, I think of booty, don’t you? And note the caution to Drive safely! As in, what are you lookin’ at, Bub?
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Kentucky, however, sniffs at the prurient interests of Hawaiian vacationers and instead invites the whole family to hang with the Colonel instead. Hm. A bold and counterintuitive campaign.
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Once the holidays hit, finding a quiet moment can be–let’s call it–challenging. So, before we all get swept away, let’s take a trip to some extreme quiet. This week’s Three-fer Friday celebrates, to borrow Björk’s words, places that are “oh, so quiet [and] oh, so still.” Please take them along–or, of course, call up one of your own–during your Thanksgiving morning I forgot cranberry sauce! run to the market or the Ugh, I didn’t get a gift for Aunt Martha! trip to the mall the day before [insert whatever gift-giving holiday you celebrate here].

Joining us on our trip to shhh is Jim Morrison. Our kind of writer, Jim doesn’t put limits on the topics he covers. From Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail to Bruce Springsteen and wiffleball, it’s all fair game for Jim. He has written for magazines including–but certainly not limited to–Smithsonian, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Wildlife, and American Way. He’s also been known to post some Semi-Regular Raves ‘n’ Rants.

"...we walk slowly, silently, stopping often, awed by nature's eternal artistry." Photo by Jim Morrison.

"...we walk slowly, silently, stopping often, awed by nature's eternal artistry." Photo by Jim Morrison.

After an hour of hiking through a stream bed and scrambling over slick rock, we turn the corner and the walls close in. Thanks to a drought, Lake Powell has fallen 150 feet unveiling this slot canyon, submerged for decades by a dam feeding the West’s unquenchable thirst. John Wesley Powell led the first expedition to Glen Canyon in 1869. My small group is the first in probably 50 years to reach this spot. Twin walls rise 60, 70 feet above us, the Navajo sandstone dramatically streaked with desert varnish. I’m reverent. There are no words so we walk slowly, silently, stopping often, awed by nature’s eternal artistry. It’s a chance to savor what writer John McPhee calls “the stillness of original time.”–Jim

A quiet that stays with her. Photo by Sophia Dembling.

A quiet that stays with her. Photo by Sophia Dembling.

My home is Dallas, Texas, my former home is New York City, and my heart home is Sebago Lake, Maine. I spent girlhood summers on Sebago Lake in the 1970s, at Camp Sunningdale (RIP). And in the mid 1980s, I rented a cottage there for a month-long writing retreat. That’s when I took this photo one morning. The only sounds were the gentle lap of water and rustling autumn leaves and the crisp air smelled of lake and pines. When Tom and I married in the early ‘90s, we rented the same cottage for our honeymoon. I haven’t been back since, except—often—in my heart, when I need peace.–Sophia

Going about their business. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Going about their business. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

There are faster ways to get from Yellowstone National Park to Salt Lake City International Airport than an off-season drive through Grand Teton National Park but I doubt there are any as rewarding. Though there were a few other cars driving through, I was on my own when I stopped to shoot the jagged peaks. And I didn’t have to worry that anybody was going to start hollering away hoping to see the animals go for a run. Instead, at a river-side stop, the bison took drinks from the water and grazed on the grasses–and I just watched them, completely at peace.–Jenna

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