Perseid Meteor Shower

When I was little, my mom would take me outside to lie in the driveway and stare at the stars. But, as kids tend to do, eventually I would get bored and want to go inside. Recently we got to experience the beauty of the Perseid Meteor Shower which was lauded as one of the best of the year. I used this as an excuse to throw a blanket and snacks in the car and head out to the country to watch some shooting stars.

Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

We drove about 30 miles outside of Nashville, down the Natchez Trace Parkway, to an open grassy area. Team Green Adventures, a local outdoor group, planned an outing so fortunately there were a lot of people there camped out star gazing as well. This was comforting because having others there generally reduced my fear of being murdered on the side of the road in the middle of the night.

Milky Way

It really struck me just how bright the stars are when you get away from the city lights. I grew up away from town in an area that was half farm land and half rural neighborhoods, so I was always able to see a lot more twinkling lights in the sky than you could downtown. However, it was not until this experience that i actually got to see the Milky Way! I was blown away. The band of stars across the sky was phenomenal and incapable of being put into words. I can only imagine just how amazing it must look out in the desert, far away from civilization.

Perseus Stars

Back to the meteors. The shower gets its name from their galactic origin, the constellation Perseus. (See the outline above, which of course screams “dude carrying a sword, a shield, and Medusa’s head,” as depicted below.). We got to see some really beautiful meteors streak across the sky. However, I admit I missed several because I was busy running my mouth or looking in the wrong direction. The frequency of the meteors picked up as it got later, but we couldn’t stay as it was a Wednesday night and the law does not stop for celestial events.

Perseus Constellation

Even though I failed to dress appropriately for the cool evening air, and thus spent most of the night attempting to wrap myself in the blanket I brought to lie on, it was a wonderful experience. I hope that this is just the beginning of my nocternal outdoor adventures. I’d love to really see the stars (with or without meteors) surrounded by nothingness or even one day even see the Aurora Borealis. I guess I should add that to the list.

Vintage Base Ball (A Day in 1864)

Across the country vintage base ball teams (yes, base ball, not baseball) play using the rules, terms, customs, and uniforms that players used in 1864. Little did I know, Nashville is home to its very own vintage base ball league. So, much to my surprise, somehow baseball (however you want to spell it) now makes its third appearance on this blog after chronicling my first MLB game and my first time hitting a baseball.

Vintage Baseball Pitch

The game was between the Phoenix of East Nashville and the Lightfoot Club of Chattanooga. We showed up a few minutes after it began and the festivities were in full swing. People were walking around in period costumes, the fans were lined up behind the home team, music was playing, and, most importantly, there was a guy there selling popcorn and snow cones. Ok, the snow cones were not historically accurate, but they were delicious.

Vintage Base Ball Hit

While 1864 base ball looked similar to today’s version of the game, there were a few notable differences. First, the terms are quite different from today. For example, a batter was a striker, a player was a ballist, an umpire was an arbiter, and the outfield was the garden. There were also shouts of “Huzzah” for particularly good plays and “striker to the line” instead of “batter up.”

Vintage Base Ball Run

The rules and atmosphere were different too. Instead of the manicured lawn of the iconic fields we have today, the games were played in yard or cleared farm land. The match (not game) we watched was at the Sam Davis home, a plantation south of Nashville.

Vintage Base Ball Team

The differences in the rules made it more of an every-man’s game. For example, in modern baseball a ball, has to be caught before it hits the ground in order for the batter to be out. However, under the 1864 rules, it may bounce once. This apparently was due to the fact that there were no gloves in use until 1870. Additionally, there were no balls used to advance the batter, there were only strikes. Therefore, if a pitcher (also called a bowler then) continuously threw outside of the strike zone, the batter would have to wait it out until the pitcher got his act together.

Vintage Base Ball Teams

I was told that women even played co-ed base ball until they had their own teams in 1866 and eventually a league of their own (pun intended). I was both impressed and shocked by this. I didn’t think women would have been allowed to participate in sports back then, so I definitely had my perspective changed. Plenty of women play in the vintage leagues and there are even several women’s vintage teams.

Vintage Baseball Music

The entire experience was pretty unique. There was even period music being played. The Travellin’ Caudells provided lively entertainment between innings and performed music from the 1700s and 1800s.

Vintage Base Ball Crowd

I was really surprised just now many people turned out for the game. Since I had never heard of vintage base ball, I mistakenly assumed that only a few people would attend. I was definitely wrong, the field was lined with spectators cheering for their favorite team or just enjoying a historic afternoon. I see why baseball became America’s pastime. We had a great afternoon of just hanging out and watching the game.

Seeing Rock City and Ruby Falls

If you have ever been on a road trip in the Southeast, there is a good chance you have seen the painted barns inviting you to “See Rock City” or “See Ruby Falls” on Lookout Mountain. Well, they were as enticing to me as they have been to millions of others over the last 80 years. So, after 12 years of living in Tennessee, I finally made it to Chattanooga to take in the sights. Although I visited Lookout Mountain last year for hang gliding, there was sadly no sightseeing on that trip. For a little weekend getaway, I hopped in the car with a friend and trekked down to see Ruby Falls, see Rock City, and ride the Incline Railway

Photo by Scott & Sherry Moore

Photo by Scott & Sherry Moore

Ruby Falls

Our first stop was at Ruby Falls. We showed up at 9:00am after a failed attempt the day before (as in we showed up too late in the first day and didn’t want to wait 90 minutes in 100 degree heat). Luckily, at Ruby Falls the early bird gets to walk right on to the tour.

The tour started with a 260-foot elevator ride down into Lookout Mountain. Despite it being a hot Tennessee summer outside, it was only about 60 degrees inside the cave. Luckily, I brought a sweater. I remembered visiting Luray Caverns in Virginia as a child and that caves stay cool year round. I might be the only person who carries a sweater everywhere in the summer, but I am always prepared.

Ruby Falls Stalagtite

The tour lasted a little over an hour and winded about a mile through the cavern. There were your typical stalactites and stalagmites, but also other formations that looked like fish, a leaning towner, chandeliers, and steak and eggs. Of course, there where other parts that just looked like a cave.

Ruby Falls Cave

The main attraction, and where Ruby Falls gets its name, a 145-foot underground waterfall located more than 1,120 feet beneath the mountain’s surface. The exact origin of the waterfall is apparently a bit of a mystery, but it is fed both by rainwater and natural springs. In fact, if it rains too much, it can flood the cave.

It was absolutely beautiful and definitely worth the trip and the tour. When I saw it, all I could think about was what Leo Lambert, the guy who discovered it, thought the first time he saw the waterfall. I tried to imagine what it sounded like as he got closer and closer to the falls during his first trip into the cave. I tried to picture what it was like to see America’s largest underground waterfall by lantern light. I might not be able to put myself into his shoes, but I could definitely appreciate it as a modern day tourist.

Ruby Falls Waterfall

When we emerged from the cave, we climbed to the top of the Ruby Falls Castle to see the view of Chattanooga. It really made me miss the hills of East Tennessee. There are no mountains in Nashville.

View from Ruby Falls

Rock City Gardens

Our next stop was at Rock City. I’m really glad we made this our second stop because your tour is self-guided which meant, again, no lines! However, the heat made me long for the coolness of the cave.

Rock City See Seven States

The journey winds though the Rock City Gardens, comprised of unique rock formations and local flora, up to Lovers Leap for beautiful scenic views of the valley below. Supposedly you are able to see 7 states, though the veracity of that is questionable. (Regardless, it was a good excuse to use the iPhone panorama feature. You can click the pictures to enlarge them.)

Rock City Panorama

Rock City also has a large waterfall which gives the view a little life. I imagine it is absolutely gorgeous in autumn.

Rock City Lovers Leap

There are also a few narrow passages on the trip which have very fitting names like “fat man’s squeeze” and “needle’s eye.”

Rock City Narrow Passage

During our tour of Ruby Falls a woman in front of us said that she didn’t take her young son to Rock City because they have “creepy gnomes” there. Frankly, at the time, I thought her son looked too old be scared of gnomes . . . until i saw them. At the end of the Rock City trial is Fairyland Caverns. It was like Walt Disney on acid. It is filled with disturbing blacklight gnomes and scenes from classic fairytales. Perhaps her description tainted my view of the experience, but I have to say that she was spot on.

Rock City Fairyland

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

Our last stop was the Incline Railway. It is one of the steepest incline railways in the world (it has a 73% grade) and takes you a mile up and down the mountain.

Lookout Mountain Incline Railway

The ride lasts about 15 minutes each way, though it feels much faster than that (in a good way). There is an audio track played on the trip up an down. One direction plays the history of the incline and the area, and in the other direction you learn about the incline itself. The Incline opened in 1895. Which seems like a miraculous feat of engineering. At least to me.

Lookout Mountain Incline Look Down

The bottom of the incline had cute little stores and restaurants, including an ice-cream shop. But, due to the heat, we basically just turned around and when right back up the hill.

Incline Railway Base

Once again, the sights were utterly breathtaking. There does not seem to be a bad view from the mountain.

Incline Railway View

I’m glad I finally gave in to the beckoning roadsigns and barns and went to see the attractions on Lookout Mountain. They definitely out lived the hype. One piece of advice though: Get there early, it will made a big difference in your day.

Zorbing

Recently I got to take advantage of a business trip to Knoxville to spend some time catching up with my friend Amy. The last time I got to see her (or Knoxville for that matter) was back in October when we went on a camel safari. Since then, Amy got engaged to a wonderful guy named Adam, who, because of my work schedule over the past few months, I had not been able to meet yet. So, to rectify these transgressions I suggested we have a little adventure together, and fortunately Adam was able to join us.

The three of us drove down to Pigeon Forge to go zorbing at Outdoor Gravity Park. Zorbing involves getting in a giant inflatable double-layered orbs that are rolled down hills or across water.  Or as my sister appropriately phrased it, “rolling down a hill in a giant hamster ball.” The riders can either be strapped in a harness or slide around freely, and the rides can be either wet or dry.

You start with a Superman-like dive into ball, splashing into the mini pool of water inside. Once we were situated, and given a handy little GoPro, we were pushed down the 1,000-foot-long straight hill. The ride was just as much fun as it looks, and definitely exceeded my expectations. It felt like a giant waterslide.

For the second ride, I decided to go solo so I could experience the zigzag hill. When I sent my friend Jill a video of the zorb rolling down the hill (above), she exclaimed, “I thought you were at a water park, not at Stonehenge where you come out of nowhere like you’re in battle or something!” I’m not sure what Jill thinks happened at Stonehenge, but apparently there was a super fun battle with vastly superior military armament.

The second ride was bumpier and more exciting than the first, but I think they were equally fun. I loved that you could share the experience with friends as well as have a solo ride.

Zorbing Track

This was definitely an experience I’d like to repeat, in fact, I wish we could have stayed there all day. Moreover, it was the perfect opportunity to get to know Adam, who I hope will join Amy and me on our many adventures in years to come.

Zorbing

 

A Trip to the Driving Range

After years of saying that I wanted to learn how to play golf, I thought I’d finally take the first step towards doing something about it. On Saturday I made a trip to my first driving range. It was, like every other July day in Tennessee, approximately 100 degrees. However, it was only 50% humidity, which, believe it or not, made the heat pretty bearable compared to the rest of the summer.

A friend took me to the McCabe Golf Course in Nashville to hit a few buckets of balls. It was my first time swinging a club, so the morning started out a little slow. I would take a swing and, if I came into contact with the ball at all, it would only skip a few feet. However, I tried to pay attention to what the golfers were doing successfully and then adjust my swing accordingly. The first improvement came when I aimed my club slightly below the ball rather than directly at the center of it. On my first attempt with my new technique, I actually got the ball in the air and to move a decent distance. The instant improvement was extremely gratifying.

Driving Range 1

There were a few occurrences throughout the day that gave me good perspective that, (1) everyone was once a beginner, and (2) even experienced golfers have occasional issues. First, about halfway through the morning I sliced my ball toward a woman two hitting stations over. I gave her a “I’m sorry” look, to which she responded, “The first time I ever played I chipped the ball and it popped up and hit the guy next to me in the butt.” Her husband chimed in, “we call that a butt shot.” Second, a gentleman at the other end of the tee somehow managed to not only to send his ball down the range, but threw his club along with it. He called out “fore” as he trotted out 50 yards to retrieve his driver. I’m not sure if that was the result of a really good hit or a really bad one. Individual stories aside, there were just as many balls within 20 feet of the tee as there were further down the range, a good lesson that nobody has a perfect day.

Driving Range 2

My other big improvement came when I loosened up my grip a bit after trying to replicate another nearby golfer. Looking at images online of the proper golf stance afterward, I am nearly certain that I was pretty far off of what I was supposed to be doing, but it had a very positive affect on the length of my drive. Suddenly, I was consistently hitting the ball 100-120 yards down the range. I was thrilled. I couldn’t jump up and down and scream like the first time I hit a baseball, so we silently celebrated instead. (See photographic evidence below of me actually hitting a ball.)

Driving Range Close Up

We spent an hour at the driving range going through buckets of balls. I had such a good time that later that evening we went to a sporting goods store to check out Sara-sized sets of golf clubs and I already have plans to head back to the driving range this weekend. Hopefully I’ll stay interested and can learn the proper techniques to really improve my swing. While I definitely want to take lessons and work up to playing a round of golf, I loved that the only person I was competing with on the driving range was myself. When that is the case, I can never lose.

Making Tiramisu

This week I attempted to make another dish that looks more complicated than it is (see pies 1 and 2). Tiramisu seems deliciously complicated, but it is really made with 6 simple ingredients: mascarpone, eggs, sugar, coffee/espresso, cocoa powder, and lady fingers. (Some recipes also call for rum or marsala, but skipped it this time.)

Tiramisu Ingredients

Tiramisu, which means “pick me up,” was supposedly invented in Italy in 1969. If you haven’t had it, well, then you just haven’t been living. It is a scrumptious creamy dessert, and one of my favorites.

Tiramisu Egg Yolks

This recipe contains a lot of room temperature raw eggs. This, of course, did not stop me from licking my fingers throughout the process. We’ll just call it quality control. First, I mixed 6 egg yolks with 1/4 cup of sugar. This took several minutes to get it thick enough. A consistent complaint I saw while searching for a recipie was that the custard came out too runny. Apparently, the eggs are the culprit. Once it seemed thick enough I added in the mascarpone (basically an Italian cream cheese).

Tiramisu Egg Whites

Some recipes skip egg whites. However, this helps give the custard its thickness. The recipe said to beat 4 egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff, glossy peaks formed. I had never beaten eggs for a dessert before so I was surprised just how fluffy they got. This took a while to accomplish. Although my recipe didn’t explain this, the egg whites should be at room temperature and the sugar should be added in gradually. I probably should have beaten them longer, but I was concerned about over-beating them and having to start over.

Lady Fingers

Once the eggs, mascarpone, and sugar were combined, it was time to prepare the pastry portion of the dessert. The recipe called for 36-48 lady fingers, but it took 60 for me to do two full layers in my dish.

Tiramisu Lady Fingers

The lady fingers (make sure you get the hard rather than spongy ones) are dipped (very quickly) in coffee or espresso, just long enough to cover them. If you let them soak they will get too soggy.

Tiramisu Lady Finger Layer

Then it was just a matter of building the layers. Two of the coffee-soaked lady fingers and two of the custard.

Tiramisu Layers

I’m really glad I got an extra box of the lady fingers “just in case,” though I was hoping to have extras to snack on. No such luck.

Tiramisu Finished

Finally, it was time to put tiramisu in the refrigerator for 8 hours and try to pretend it wasn’t there.

Tiramisu Unsweatned Chocolate

When it was ready, I added a healthy layer of unsweetened chocolate to  finish it off. I may have gotten a little overzealous with it, but you can’t blame a girl, can you? While I definitely do not have a career ahead of me as a dessert photographer, it was rich, creamy, and delightful.

Homemade Tiramisu

If you want to try this at home, you can find the recipe I used here.

Kickboxing

To kick off my return to blogging I wanted my first post to be about something active. I have been pretty sedentary the past few months and it has made me antsy. To counteract my restlessness, I signed up for my first kickboxing class with Title Boxing Club.

Title Boxing

My friend Lilas (who joined me on my juice cleanse and taught me how to make pumpkin pie) accompanied me so I would not have to go alone. When we got there we were greeted by an adorable white pug named Maui. I firmly believe every business should have a resident dog mascot.

Before we got started, the manager, Kathryn, helped me get ready for class. She wrapped my hands with 15 foot long fabric wraps. The bands hook on your thumbs and go around your hands and between your fingers until the knuckles, hands, and wrists are completely protected. They were surprisingly comfortable, despite looking otherwise. The class started with a 20-minute warm-up, which in itself was a workout. I knew I was going to be sore before I ever hit anything.

Gym

We were taught the basic hits: jab, cross, hook, uppercut, and of course some kicking. Finally being able to unleash on the bag was invigorating. All of the tension I had been feeling slowly lifted with each punch. I was exactly the release I both wanted and needed. The class consisted of 8 “rounds” alternating between hitting and active rests. During the rests all I could think about was that I just wanted to get back to hitting, and with each round I hit harder and became more focused.

I am pretty sure Lilas, who is in a lot better shape than I am, did not break a sweat the entire time. I, however, looked like I’d just run a marathon. I could already feel the muscle soreness kick in on the way home. My legs, shoulders, and core ache (but in a good way) and I am sure the rest of the body will join in shortly.

Boxing Lesson

The class left me with an absolute endorphin high; it was utterly blissful. Despite the pain, I can’t wait to go back for my next lesson. But I suppose I wouldn’t be a litigator if I didn’t like sparring.