Presidential Sightings on Vacation


Sometimes life seems like a continuous presidential election, especially this year when we do actually vote on one.

Because of that fact and an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. , I’m reminiscing about spotting candidates or former presidents while on vacation.

I didn’t see President Reagan when I went on the White House tour 32 years ago, but I did see former President Jimmy Carter at a church service. It was at the First Baptist Church of Washington, a place where Harry Truman also worshiped.

I went carrying camera bag as I was taking a bike tour just after the service. As the service began, my eyes were wandering all around as I was paying little attention to the announcements, hearing something about a baby being born. Then the pastor said something like, “And we are glad to have the grandparents Jimmy and Rosalynn and Aunt Amy with us today.”

So, with camera in tow, I looked like part of the paparazzi as I snapped photos while the former president shook hands after the service.

A few years before that, I was traveling to Asheville, North Carolina. Walking through a farmer’s market, former President Ford was there campaigning for Ronald Reagan.

And this presidential cycle, we planned a trip to the Iowa State Fair last August – not really mindful that it was the state’s biggest event before January’s  Iowa Caucus. We were there on the same day with Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Rick Santorum (Remember him?  The former senator from Pennsylvania who dropped out early). We actually only saw the latter two. I was more excited to see Fox News reporter Carl Cameron.

Carl Cameron talking to Rick Santorum (center) and an unknown person.
Carl Cameron talking to Rick Santorum (center) and an unknown person.

Next week, we’re off to D.C. Wonder if we will run into any presidents—past, present or future?

North Mississippi’s Amish Community

The pictures are limited because (a) it was getting late on a Saturday, (b) I was tired and, (c) I wanted to honor their resistance to being photographed. But, we enjoyed a jaunt to the Amish community on a recent trip to North Mississippi.

Yes, Mississippi has an Amish community, the only one in the state and one of a few in the Deep South. It is located near the Randolph settlement, about 19 miles west of Pontotoc, which is 22 miles west of Tupelo and a little over a 100 miles southeast of Memphis.

It is a bit of a rambling drive to get there, but this article in Tupelo’s Daily Journal gives precise directions and a little information on the Mississippi Amish.

Amish homestead


Amish sign
Amish sign

You’ll know you are close when you see highway signs warning you to slow down for horse and buggy. You are really close when you see handmade signs near mailboxes listing items for sale. This strict Amish group does not use automobiles, electricity or modern technology.

Then, as you drive up to a home, women — the men are usually out doing manual labor — will shyly come out and direct you to a nearby shed or their front porch where the handmade items are.

Having last been there more than 15 years ago, I was glad to know they were still selling handmade baskets at affordable prices, and I picked up a couple of nice ones for $30 total. I also got some kudzu soap, and, if we had not already planted our vegetable garden, I would have gotten tomato plants for $3.50 for a six-pack.

They were also selling jams, straw hats, rag rugs, quilts, bread and other goods. My sister has even left some chairs for them to cane. When the work was refinished, she received notification — by snail mail, of course.



Memphis: Where Buffalo, Barbecue & Bicycles Roam

Memphis is known for barbecue and blues but bicycling and buffaloes — not so much. In fact, the city is repeatedly on “least bike-friendly” lists.

Memphis is doing something about it starting with its Shelby Farms Greenline, a 6.5-mile trail that goes from the massive Shelby Farms park on the east side to Midtown. More bike trails are in the works (including one that will cross the Mississippi River) as the city tries to encourage healthy lifestyles (which I’m sure have been long thwarted by the aforementioned barbecue).

Shelby Farms is one of the Top 20 urban parks in the United States in size — 4,500 acres or more than five times the size of Central Park. That brings me to the buffalo–the Shelby County superintendent brought a herd of them over from the Tennessee Safari Park in 1989, and they have been a major attraction at Shelby Farms ever since. There are hiking/biking trails throughout the park as well. When we were there last week, it was blustery (wind gusts upwards of 25 mph). So we only got to ride for a few miles.

Buffalo at Shelby Farms: photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development
Buffalo at Shelby Farms: photo courtesy of Tennessee Department of Tourist Development

That just gave us an excuse to enjoy a couple of meals in Memphis. We had brunch at a place called Hog & Hominy. (Where else but Memphis would you name a place Hog & Hominy when it specializes in Italian pizzas?). Our brunch was really good, and we later discovered that it had been on many national Top New Restaurants lists. Then, dinner with our Memphis friends, who self identify as barbecue snobs, at Memphis Barbecue Co. — located, not in Memphis, but across the state line in Horn Lake, Miss!

Shelby Farms Park

Shelby Greenline

Hog and Hominy

Memphis Barbecue Co.


Bicycling and Eating Caramel Cake in North Mississippi

I enjoyed an early birthday doing two things I have long loved — bicycling and eating caramel cake.

We spent the weekend in New Albany, Mississippi to ride along the Tangelfoot Trail, now Mississippi’s longest rails-to-trails project. We celebrated finishing 36 miles with cake from the renown Sugaree’s Bakery.

When I was growing up, I always requested that my mother make a caramel cake  for my birthday.  She would oblige provided it wasn’t too humid to make the icing. (Southerners never called it frosting).

Caramel cake making has waned even in the South, and the few cooks who bake seem to opt for red velvet or Italian cream. So it was nice to find,  not one,  but at least two bakeries based in New Albany cranking out  caramel cakes among other tasty sweets.

I had heard of Sugaree’s supplying caramel cake for the Mississippi Picnic in New York’s Central Park. I even spotted it in a Seaside, Florida grocery store. So I was glad to finally try it for myself after completing the ride just a few feet away from the bakery’s headquarters in downtown New Albany.

On Friday, we had eaten barbecue at New Albany’s Westside Barbecue, where we later discovered that the homemade caramel cake is more legendary than the ‘que. We didn’t know that going in or we would have pushed back from the ribs and ordered one.

So it was a sweet retro birthday–riding a bicycle in a town we used to visit on “away” football games and enjoying the favorite cake of my childhood.

Sugaree’s ships cakes all over the country.

Check out the bike trail.


Being the Change in Water Valley, Mississippi

A couple of years ago, I picked up a cookbook with a big tomato on the cover and found out it was from a grocery store in Water Valley, Mississippi. B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery is named for the famous “Be The Change You Wish to See in the World” quote attributed to Mahatma Ghandi.  It’s a very urban feeling store plopped down in the middle of small town Mississippi.

I got to check it out today, even passing on an opportunity to drive through the campus of my alma mater Ole Miss.

B.T.C. Old Fashioned Grocery in Water Valley

We missed the lunch, considered buying some orzo and radish salads for a picnic but didn’t regret deciding on MS Mary’s pound cake gelato from Mississippi’s Sweet Magnolia creamery. BTC prides itself in supporting local producers. We found pork sausage from Pontotoc, milk from Brown’s Dairy right outside Oxford and sweet potatoes from Mike Williamson, who must live nearby. Although not local, the fair trade coffee had a personal connection to the owner.

Fair Trade coffee at BTC

You can bag your own spices and walk to the back of the store and buy some repurposed furniture. The rest of Water Valley looked more like the small towns of my 1960s childhood,  although we spotted a local microbrewery and a trio of grad students who looked more Berkeley than Ole Miss.