Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's so hot in Arkansas...

We're in the New York Times!

See story from today's paper on the triple-digit heat. This is one of several pieces in the NYT today focusing on extreme temps around the country.

Here's the link:

Hope, Ark., famous for its enormous watermelons (and Bill Clinton...and...ok...Mike Huckabee), has a prominent role in the piece. The town's annual watermelon festival takes place August 14:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

WordsWorth Books Summer Sale!

WordsWorth Books & Co., the greatest locally-owned bookstore in Little Rock, is now having a summer sale. The whole store is 20 % off through Friday, July 30.

This is a great incentive to go buy books (and any of the other cute reading- and writing-related things they have)! I know how hard it can be these days to visit an independent bookstore and pay full price (even a wonderful one like this one), when Barnes and Noble or even Wal-Mart might sell the same book for significantly less money. Here's your chance to patronize this great little store and Little Rock establishment.

WordsWorth also offers one of the best greeting card selections in this city. It's my go-to.

The store is at 5920 R Street, in the Heights.
More info here:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Cupcakes are heaven

This is what I'm consuming right now:

The cupcake trend is sweetening dessert options throughout the nation. It probably took longer than usual to make it to Little Rock -- most things do -- but it has taken a firm hold since the first gourmet "cupcakery" opened here in spring 2008. Cupcakes on Kavanaugh is a delightful little shop in the Heights, an upscale neighborhood lined with locally owned boutiques and cafes. The owner aka cupcake master, Christy Milligan, has found such success with her pastry niche that just recently, she opened a second shop in a newish shopping center in west Little Rock.

Red Velvet and Cookies and Cream are my favorite flavors, but pretty much anything will do.
I have to restrain myself from making frequent pilgrimages.

As one fellow cupcake lover recently described the sensation after uttering sounds of sugar and icing generated euphoria, "I look like a one-year-old at a birthday party eating my first piece of cake."

Buttercream frosting. I mean, really, need I say more? It's enough to induce a coma.

You can see all the delicious options for yourself here:

Baby animal pics

This is not at all related to Little Rock. However, I am obsessed with baby animal pics, and therefore am posting anyway:

(Thank you, Washington Post and your consistently awesome slide shows.) I love the National Zoo in D.C. and often went for the sole purpose of observing baby Tai Shan (slide 16) and his mom. (You can do that when zoo entry is free!) Tai Shan was born in 2005 at the zoo. I was rather devastated to learn that he had to go back to China, but alas, he is a panda. And China is his native land.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Winter's Bone"

Forever drawn by an interest in the region that has become my own, I went to see the film "Winter's Bone" today, which takes place somewhere in rural Missouri not far from the Arkansas line. It may have been the saddest movie I've ever seen. No matter how much you try to walk out of a movie telling yourself it's just fiction, just a story, that's just not possible here.

This movie, which tells the story of a 17-year-old girl intent on keeping her family together as they fight a life of profound poverty deep in the Ozarks, is unquestionably somebody's reality. For that, it can't -- and shouldn't -- easily be forgotten. This was the same impression with which I left "Precious." I hadn't wanted to see it, told myself it'd be too much pain and heartbreak to watch, but in the end, endured it because somebody needs to bring these things to light. We can't shield ourselves from the world's bitter realities, just because we don't see these things in our own daily existence.

At the heart of "Winter's Bone" is a man who can't answer for his own misdeeds, so his child must do so for him. Though the rest of the extended family seems shrouded in secrets and unafraid of using violence to keep them, Ree, the main character, has grown hard and tough enough to repeatedly put her own life in danger as she searches for the truth. Her mother seems lost in her own depression, her sister and brother are too young to fend for themselves, and her only confidant is a girl close to her age, with a baby and recently married to a man she's at least somewhat afraid of. There are undertones of gender inequalities throughout the movie -- and I'm not talking about women angry they don't earn the same pay as their male counterparts -- a reminder that even today, there are places not too far from our own homes where women fear the men in their midst, and men consider women to be weak and defenseless.

This movie's going to be a hard one to shake.

More info can be found here:

The Eastern Shore

I recently returned from a week at the beach with my family. Having grown up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, what we call "the beach," has its southern start in Ocean City, Md., and goes north up Route 1, extending to Rehoboth Beach, Del.

As I tend to write about Arkansas culture, I'm dedicating an entry to the Delaware beach culture, something I hold near and dear to my heart.

I have visited this beach every summer for as long as I can remember. And while my mother winning giant stuffed animals for my brothers and me at the Wac-A-Mole game at Funland on the Rehoboth boardwalk is no longer the highlight of the trip, this part of the world has evolved into somewhat of a haven to me. It's about 150 miles from Washington, usually a three-hour drive -- close enough for a single night away, but just far enough to be an escape.

Over the years, it's grown significantly. There are multi-million-dollar houses with ocean views, and there are inland developments lined with identical homes that are more fitting for Any Given Suburb, U.S.A. As the valuable real estate is increasingly built upon, developers are now building up, instead of out, with pastel-colored townhouses so tall they have elevators. Then there are the trailers that have always laid claim to pretty desirable plots of land, and it will probably stay that way until some developer buys out the owners and starts from scratch.

Each beach town has an identity. Ocean City is packed with condo buildings with beach views, along with a boardwalk and amusement park. Fenwick Island and Bethany Beach are traditional family-friendly beaches, populated mostly by unique and often breathtaking single-family homes either on the beach or on canals that give boats access to the Assawoman Bay, which goes out to the Atlantic. These towns have cute, family-owned shops full of things you can't help but buy to decorate your beach house. For example:

Looking out from the Bethany boardwalk:

Bethany Beach is also home to my father and stepmother's house:
Our dogs are the welcoming party:
The live version:

Dewey Beach is a small strip featuring mostly bars and motels, perfect for the college-aged crowd...or for those who wish they were still in college. Next comes Silver Lake, which I have always considered one of the most scenic areas. It's this placid stretch of water surrounded by homes with gazebos. Furthest north is Rehoboth, with the fancy restaurants and another boardwalk.

My mother and stepfather's house is on the bay. I spent the great majority of my week at the beach sitting here, reading and/or having a cocktail:
Our view at dawn:
At sunset from a nearby restaurant, which happens to specialize in crabs:
Hardshell crabs are any true Marylander's heaven. All kosher rules go out the window when served such deliciousness as these, smothered in Old Bay seasoning:
Below is a soft-shell crab sandwich. Soft-shells happen at a certain point in a crab's life, when it loses its hard shell. You eat the crunchy crab, shell and all:
The sign outside the restaurant told the truth, though I can't comprehend why this place wouldn't capitalize on its Chesapeake Bay crab heritage:

When I managed to tear myself away from the deck, other activities included:

Our old stand-by, Nicola's Pizza in Rehoboth, specializing in nicoboli goodness (ground beef, melted cheese, and the veggies of your choice wrapped up in a doughy calzone):

Spotting the wild horses on Assateague Island:

Parsons Farms Fresh Produce:

My first reaction to a farmers market being open on a Sunday, was, "But wait! Farmers markets are always open on Saturdays, not Sundays!" Why did I think this, dear reader? Because in Arkansas, this is the only way I've seen it done. Buy your fruits and vegetables on Saturdays, head to church Sunday.

See, it goes both ways -- I bring my Yankee ways to Arkansas, and the Arkie ways go with me when I leave.

The Bible Belt does not traditionally go as far north as Delaware, but...
A waitress at the Bluewater Grill in Millsboro, Del., said to my mother and me: "You want to hear something funny? I thought you were both saying grace but you were just texting."
Wrong crowd.

On a related note, the liquor store we frequent is called the Bayville Package Store. I thought it sold stamps or packing materials or something. My family's best guess on the reason behind its name is that alcohol is intended to be sold -- and hidden? -- in brown paper packages.

And perhaps the greatest juxtaposition of all? The quirky Roxana Country Corner adjacent to the Intimate Pleasures Boutique -- on Zion Church Road (of course):

Back in the swollen heat of Arkansas, I leave you with this lovely thought:

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kevin Brockmeier's words

I don't just love Kevin Brockmeier's work because he spins stories so recognizable to Little Rock residents, sometimes it's like we're reading about our own lives. There is a delicate rhythm to his words, and I can't get enough of his writing. If you ever get a chance to hear him do a reading, which he does often at events like the Arkansas Literary Festival, go. You'll never forget his soft voice as it wraps around you and brings each line to life. A good introduction to his work is The Brief History of the Dead. More info here:

This month, he has a piece in Arkansas Life magazine, published by my alma mater, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "[July, Little Rock, 1983]" seems autobiographical, but I don't know for sure.

Here's a teaser:
"The air is so damp and sticky that everything you say seems to emerge in its own heavy syrup, like sap from a tree, each sentence falling splat against the pavement. As a rule, the weather in Little Rock has this effect on people until mid-September, when the first cool rains arrive and all the old conversations dissolve and wash away."

I just want to roll his metaphors over and over on my tongue and process them slowly in my mind.

The rest can be found here:

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Plumb blown, full faded

Part of my lingo repertoire as of last night. I love this one!! Now taking guesses on meaning...

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book officially has made my list of favorite books.
It's nonfiction, but it reads like fiction. It's so good, the language so rich, but so easy to soak up and consume -- and it's funny and quirky too -- that it's like candy. But not like light, silly, beach-reading candy, like candy so sweet it rolls around in your mouth as you savor each taste, then it hits the spot, every time you turn a page.

It's thought-provoking, forcing you to think inward about your own life, priorities and the ways you choose to lead your life, interact with the people in your life, and even just do the daily things in your life.

It's also full of lessons in so many religions, which don't come across as indoctrinating or preachy, but just provide extra insight you almost didn't know you were getting.

Plus, for anyone who likes travel reading, this book could probably just as easily be found in the bookstore's travel section as in the memoirs section. It's a cultural, culinary, self-exploratory trip that begins in New York, goes through months each in Italy, India, and Bali, Indonesia, and ends up with...well I won't tell you where it ends up. But it's good, trust me.