Archive for October, 2010

Excuse me while I kiss the snow.

Yesterday, it was nearly 90 degrees here in Dallas. But things change. Quickly. I just had to put on socks because my feet were cold. Cold! It’s been a long time since I’ve been cold!

And this has me thinking of winter. Specifically last winter and the amazing, freak snowstorm we had here in Dallas. Sure, we’re still cleaning up branches and battered trees, but it was a wonderful day nonetheless. And no one enjoyed it more than Jack, our shepherd-chow mix, who drags ass through summer but comes back to life as soon as the temperature drops. He was pure puppy in that snowstorm. Maybe he’s a displaced Yankee too?

I know: posting pictures of your dog is like posting pictures of your kids–there’s a big risk that nobody but you cares. Eyes may be rolling. But I can’t see you so what the hell.

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Twin Lakes Cabin. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

Winter’s arrived in Alaska but, once it passes by again, wouldn’t it be wonderful to go hang out in this U.S. Forest Service cabin on the Stikine River for a few days?

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My Local "National" Park

Pfister's Pond. Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

The noise was more dog’s squeak toy than bird or mammal. Every time it blasted my way, I laughed. Though I was in a wooded area bordered by suburban streets and a busy highway, I couldn’t hear any cars or, for that matter, people. My only companions on the trail were chipmunks that made a mad dash away from me each time I put up my camera—the stinkers!—and the squeak toy bird. Or, whatever it was.

Though it’s just minutes from the NJ town where I grew up (and live now), the squeak toy hike was my first introduction to the Tenafly Nature Center and Lost Brook Preserve. I learned about it when, thanks to a suddenly-free Saturday, I decided to find a close-to-home hike. I pulled up the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference site. As I scanned down the list of hikes, I figured anything truly interesting would be a real drive away. A page down, I saw the listing for Tenafly. How had I not heard of this?

The description made it sound like a good fit for my day (and time frame). The center’s site promised 380 acres and seven miles of trails. No reason not to give it a look. Besides, I could always hightail it up nearby Route 9W to a real trail.

There was to be no hasty retreat that day.

After a quick stop into the center’s office to pick up a map—I specialize in losing trails—I started down the path toward the yellow trail. It didn’t take long to see things that hooked me on the area: a pond that was, most likely, put in by a man named Pfister who once farmed the land and, soon after, a stone house built by a Civil War muckety muck for his daughters. The squeak toy bird, thick brilliant green mosses, and the possibility of seeing a black bear that had been spotted in the area kept kept me glowing.

I stayed on the trails for hours that day, snapping photos and listening. I kept hoping to spot the squeak toy bird but…it never happened. Even though, of course, I managed to lose the trail at one point and ended up the lone walker amidst cyclists on the shoulder of 9W, I was already trying to figure out when I could come back for another visit. It felt like I had discovered—if, indeed, one can discover a 50-year-old nature center and preserve—the area’s miniature version of a National Park. Fifty years ago, some smarty realized it was time to sock away a little land, to keep it as it was.

It took just one week for me to go back. The leaves were turning and I wanted more time on the trails. I wanted to hear the squeak toy bird again. That didn’t happen. Instead, while hopping from rock to rock along the section where the orange and yellow trails meet, I heard something that sounded like a creaky door being closed. I think it was the wind having its way with a tired tree. Recent storms had tumbled some massive trees in the area. On the purple trail, I had scrambled over a few that blocked the trail. I wouldn’t be surprised if the yellow-orange trail needs to be cleared soon, too.

As I hopped from rock to rock, I felt happy (and lucky) to live in the area and, at the same time, also happily, a million miles away.

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Arrivederci, Big Tex

It's just a cell phone pic, but it says State Fair to me.

As we say good-bye to the State Fair of Texas, which winds down Sunday, I present this photo of our first moment on the first day of the fair: a Fletcher’s corny dog by Big Tex, of course.

It’s been a fine year for the fair. The weather has been grand. We went opening day, and then again yesterday. We saw Amazing Dobermans jump through flaming hoops and Billy Roy’s One Man Band. We saw African acrobats and people in dentists’ chairs, their mouths glowing as they had their teeth whitened. We saw a $25,000 player piano with video, and a nifty thingamabob for grilling jalapenos.

Of course, we never miss the Birds of the World show, though I do miss Victoria, the African fish eagle who for more than a decade has swooped down over the crowd from the top of the Texas Star ferris wheel. RIP Victoria, and thank you. But the show went on, with the same old jokes and some excellent unscripted moments. It nearly got colorful, when a bird of prey was almost released from the ferris wheel while a prey bird was playing games, refusing to leave the stage.

We liked this year’s prizewinning Fried Frito Pie, and spent 30 minutes looking for the 2008 prizewinner, Fried S’mores–worth every calorie. We saw Roger Staubach, the Marine Corps Marching Band, Shriners with guitars, and a sock monkey wearing a dress. We ate Hans Mueller bratwursts and Jack’s French Fries and bought smoked Bucksticks (fancy Slim Jims) to take home. We pet a baby buffalo, squealed at an enormous hog, listened to the Western swing of Shoot Low Sheriff. I spilled a pile of powdered sugar from my Fernie’s funnel cake on the steps of the Coca Cola Food Court, and we got talked into buying something that may or may not turn out to be stupid, as happens some years. (This year, it was a couple of nights at a resort. A few years ago, it was what turned out to be the world’s most uncomfortable pillows.) We sat in a new Hyundai and a new Scion and we ended the day with the fireballs and fireworks spectacle of the Illumination Sensation show.

In a couple of days, the carnies will pack up their giant stuffed Scooby Doos and inflated guitars, the grease traps will be emptied, Big Tex will be disassembled,, and the Texas Star will stop spinning.

Until we eat again, Big Tex.

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I don’t know why I started thinking about them but, out of nowhere, they were on my mind: the sharp shooters of the Monroe County Marble Club Super Dome. Too much time has passed since I trucked down to Tompkinsville, Kentucky to hang out with them. Though I spent just four days with the guys, I really do miss them. Some people just stick with you. I hope they’re doing well.

When I pulled up this photo, it instantly cheered me to look on their smiling faces (and remember what it was like to feel like I was a part of the club). Even if you’ve never had the good fortune to play a game of Rolley-Hole Marbles at the Super Dome, may they brighten your day, too.

Photo by Jenna Schnuer.

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Barbara Mandrell 'n' Me

A portrait of the Mandrell Sisters--Louise, Irline, and Barbara--in the formal dining room.

One more Nashville/country music post, OK?

Last week, on my Huffington Post blog, I reminisced about visiting long-gone Barbara Mandrell Country, dedicated to the woman who was a star in 1970s, when I discovered country music. Among the exhibits was a replica of Barbara’s bedroom, complete with crackers on the nightstand. (Because, of course, “You Can Eat Crackers in My Bed Anytime.”)

Coincidentally, a trip to Nashville last week included a visit to the Mansion at Fontanel, the house Barbara Mandrell (and husband) built. It’s now owned by Dale Morris and Marc Oswald, who manage Alabama, Kenny Chesney, Gretchen Wilson and others. The 136-acre complex, opened to the public in June, also includes a cheery  Southern cooking restaurant, an amphitheater, and a gift shop, but I was all about the mansion, because Babs and I were country when country wasn’t cool.

After Barbara’s last performance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1997, she sold all her instruments, and hasn’t performed since—even declining to sing when she was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

So what’s she up to these days?

“This week she cleaned out the garage and all the closets in the house,” said her daughter Jaime Dudney, who greeted my group with her mother’s smile. “This summer, they took an RV trip, stayed at KOAs.”

It was  “devastating” for Jaime when her parents sold her childhood home in 2002, and then the reality show “Gone Country” was filmed there. “It was really weird—Bobby Brown sleeping in my bedroom,” Jaime said. But she gave herself a stern talking to and got over it, and now she and the mansion’s owners let tourists poke around the place.

“We want you to sit on the furniture and touch the instruments and jump on the beds,” Marc said. The instruments include guitars owned by Gretchen Wilson, Alabama, Brooks & Dunn and others, and one autographed by the Eagles.  There are more autographs, from Barbara’s day, on some of the pillars in the Great Room. (They’re hard to read, but I did spot Sheena Easton’s. I wonder where she is now. Check your local KOA….) The rest of the house also mixes Mandrell’s memorabilia with the new owners’.

The real thing!

Barbara furnished the place in one weekend trip with a girlfriend to High Point, NC. The log exterior of the mansion is rugged but much of the interior is gilded 1970s glitz. Barbara clearly did not fear mirrors. There’s an indoor pool and a soda fountain and her closet is enormous (I snooped in drawers and cabinets but found nothing). And in her bedroom, next to the bed (a mirror on the underside of the canopy made me blush), was the nightstand—the very nightstand replicated in Barbara Mandrell Country. No crackers, but I got a geeky thrill nonetheless.

The passage of time hasn’t yet elevated the 1970s Nashville sound much above schlocky —no more than it has ‘70s disco. But I retain a passion for it, and if loving it is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

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