Sweet Home Alabama

When I saw that I was scheduled to work in Alabama this week, I was pretty excited. I had driven from Destin, Florida to New Orleans about 20 years ago, and we had crossed through the bottom of the state near Mobile. We were in and out of Alabama so quickly though, that I really couldn’t get a sense of it as a place.

On Sunday, I flew to Atlanta and then drove to my training location, which is located about an hour and twenty-five minutes west of the city. When I crossed over the state line into Alabama, I saw a welcome sign that read, “Sweet Home Alabama.” The image stirred up long ago memories and instantly brought a smile to my face. When I was a teenager, my boyfriend introduced me to the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Their songs were different from anything that I had ever heard before, and Freebird, Gimme Three Steps, and Sweet Home Alabama (among several others) were songs that I had played over and over in my bedroom.

As I drove past the sign, I sang the song at the top of my lungs…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

I wanted to pull over and get a picture, but I hesitated, because it seemed like such a touristy thing to do. As the sign disappeared behind me, I instantly regretted my decision. Later in the week I told my participants about seeing the sign and wishing that I had stopped. They immediately encouraged me to drive back to the sign after class to get my picture. I hesitated for a moment, before realizing that they were right…every day should be an adventure!

Alabama is beautiful, and I’m here at the perfect time. The autumn leaves are in mid-change, and the rolling hills were illuminated with the color of the setting sun as I drove back to snap my picture. Once again, I found myself singing the familiar tune…

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet home Alabama
Lord, I’m coming home to you

Did I have to drive back and get the picture? No…but I’m glad I did. The words on the sign reminded me of being young, falling in love, and feeling free. Sometimes we take ourselves too seriously. I enjoyed an old memory, and it was fun creating a new one!

Who Dat’s Cajun Restaurant— Bald Knob, Arkansas

During class on Friday one of my participants told me that there was a local restaurant that I “HAD” to try before leaving the area. I wasn’t flying out until the morning, so I took his recommendation and went to ‘Who Dat’s’ in the nearby town of Bald Knob.

The restaurant was decorated with a wide variety of taxidermy (an Elk was staring down at me) and an assortment of funny signs and pictures—think southern kitsch, and you’ll probably be able to conjure up an accurate image.

To better understand the restaurant and the food it serves, a quote on the menu reads, “All of our recipes are created by a “Real” Cajun Chef. You don’t have to go to Louisiana to get the real deal.” Doug Stelly, the owner and chef, hails from Louisiana. He’s self-taught and has over fifty years of cooking experience.

The menu was huge with many offerings, but I opted for the ‘Bayou Platter’ which included a bit of a everything—gumbo, crawfish étouffée, fried catfish, fried shrimp, frog legs, boiled shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, snow crab legs, AND hush puppies. Even for a Northern girl like me—you ‘gotta’ have hush puppies!

I opted for this platter because of the frog’s legs and the crawfish étouffée. I tried frog leg’s years ago and I wanted to try them again, but I’d never had étouffée, even though I have heard of it.

When my meal was brought to the table, I looked at it in stunned silence. There was enough food on the plate for three people! The woman at the next table laughed and said, “It looks good!”

I agreed, “Yes—it does, but I don’t even know where to start!

My meal was excellent and I especially enjoyed the frog’s legs and the hush puppies.

Would I go back? Absolutely!

Surprise—surprise…I couldn’t finish!

Chicken and Dressing

As a northern girl, one of the traits that I’ve found most delightful when I’ve travel in the the south is the concept of southern hospitality

I trained in Searcy, Arkansas this week, and the participants went out of their way to make sure that I felt welcomed. Several of them gave me ideas for things to do or see after work, and many wrote down local restaurants for me to try. All-in-all, they made an effort to make sure that I was okay, and feeling comfortable while visiting their town. 

I’ve had people do similar things for me at other trainings, so I can only describe this as a different feeling. There was an overall feeling of hospitality, rather than hospitality from one or two individuals. 

About mid-week, one of my participants asked me if I knew what dressing was, and if I’d ever had it before.

“You mean stuffing?”

She gave me a ‘bless your heart look,’ and replied in a heavy southern accent, that I swear appeared out of nowhere, “Southern dressing is similar, but it’s not the same thing as stuffing.”


“A few of us are going to order take-out for lunch tomorrow, would you like to try it? You really should—it’s good.”

Never one to turn down the opportunity to try something new, I accepted her offer of chicken and dressing with a side of beans and cornbread.

The next day, four of us sat down to eat lunch together.  I looked down at my plate and I saw a big scoop of what looked like stuffing. However, I learned yesterday, that here, at least, it’s called dressing. 

I could have sworn that she has called it chicken and dressing, but I certainly didn’t see any chicken on my plate. 

“Did you say that this was called chicken and dressing?”

“Yes, that’s what we call it,” she said looking over at me with a slight grin.

“Where’s the chicken?”

The ‘bless your heart,’ look washed over her face(again) as she explained, “The chicken is IN the dressing.”


I enjoyed my meal, but I do have to say that it tasted just like stuffing with chicken in it! Shhh—don’t tell! ?

Downtown Searcy, Arkansas

I’m teaching in Searcy, Arkansas this week and one of my participants suggested that I should go to the downtown area to see ‘Art Alley’… so I did! I was told that the alley is constantly being re-painted, which in essence, creates an ever-changing art display for the public to admire. My favorite painting (pictured below) features a tired-looking woman who just happens to be rocking bright red lipstick and fingernails! The pink background screams of cotton candy and Pepto-Bismol, but yet, it somehow works!

Art Alley…
This is my favorite painting in the alley…
I love the colors…

A few more pictures from the downtown area…

After walking around downtown Searcy, and being totally captivated by its charm, I found out that the town will be featured on an upcoming reality show called, ‘Small Business Revolution.’ The show hosted by Ty Pennington and Amanda Brinkman will air this fall on Hulu. In addition to being featured on the show, the town won $500,000.00, which is earmarked toward the revitalization effort that has already been going on here (Just look at the movie theater pictured above!). Six small businesses have won a $25,000 each (from the total earnings), and they will given marketing advice to help grow their businesses. I feel proud of the town and I’ve only been here a week!

Check out: Small Business Revolution Video featuring the town of Searcy, Arkansas!

Moonstruck, Asbury Park, NJ

The lighting was perfect—
Wesley Lake

Moonstruck is located along Wesley Lake in Asbury Park. This three-story restaurant has outdoor seating on multiple wrap-around porches that overlook the water. The food and ambiance were terrific. It was expensive, for sure, but well worth it. I had seafood stew which was their special for the day, and it was SO flavorful. For dessert, I had a pear crumble with ice cream—yum! I would definitely go back!

“Snoop Dogg” & “Martha Stewart”

A few months ago, I read an article about the unlikely friendship between Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart. They first met when he was a guest on her show in 2008, and their friendship has grown ever since. The article said that in 2016 they started a show together called, ‘Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, which premiered on VH1.

I searched for an episode on YouTube, and I have to admit that it was entertaining. They almost seem to balance each other, and it’s obvious by their back and forth banter, that they admire each other. Their show is now called, ‘Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Party Challenge.

This week I was teaching in Atlanta Public Schools. Out of 26 participants, I only had one guy in my group. As the week passed, I could tell that he appreciated my humor, and I definitely appreciated his. In other words, he was a good banter partner!

On the last day of the course, he approached me and asked if I had heard some of the participants laughing earlier in the day. I hadn’t heard them, or maybe I just didn’t notice. He told me that they were laughing about the two of us—they thought that we should hit the road and do an educational version of Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart!

I laughed SO hard! It might just work, but if not, maybe Martha & Snoop will want to invite us to their show!

Soul Pig, Decatur, IN—

If you ever find yourself in Decatur, Indiana—okay, you probably won’t, but incase you do…head to the Soul Pig for a BBQ Dinner. I had heard it was good, but wasn’t told much else. The menu is sizeable with lots of choices, so it took me awhile to figure out what I wanted. I finally decided on the Mixed BBQ Platter w/two meats (Carolina Pulled Pork & St. Louis Spare Ribs). I also had to pick two sides, and I opted for bacon mac-n-cheese & jalapeño cheddar cornbread.

I didn’t have to wait long, and before I knew it, a large tray was placed in front of me. I looked down and said, “Wow!”

The waiter laughed.

“That’s a lot of food!”

I felt like I ate a lot, but when I finally asked the waiter for a to-go-box, it looked like I hadn’t even made a dent in it. Saying that the portions were huge, is a gross understatement. Everything was delicious and the setting was great, too. The waitress told me that they also have live bands on the weekend—sounds fun!

The restaurant is right across the street from the town hall, so it’s easy to find. Go! It was really good!

Skyline Chili

Skyline Hot Sauce

One of the things that I love about traveling is going to local restaurants and trying regional foods. I’m training near Dayton, Ohio this week, and a local favorite is called, ‘Skyline Chili.’

The restaurant was established in 1949 by a man named Nicholas Lambrinides. Nicholas grew up in the small village of Kastoria in Greece. His family moved to America when he was young, and he dreamed of opening a restaurant with one of his mother’s recipes—chili. It’s different from any chili that you’ve ever tasted before, and the secret ingredient is a closely guarded family secret. People have guessed—nutmeg? Cinnamon? Chocolate?

He opened the restaurant on Price Hill, located on the west side of Cincinnati, and the restaurant’s name pays tribute to the city’s skyline.

The concept is bizarre—spaghetti topped with chili, and cheese. When Served this way, it’s referred to as a 3-Way. A 4-Way is a 3-Way topped with chopped onions or red beans. A 5-Way is 3-Way with chopped onions and red beans.

You’re probably scanning back over the last paragraph wondering if you read it correctly. Yes—yes you did! A 5-Way is spaghetti topped with the secret-recipe chili, cheese, chopped onions, and red beans. Oh, but that’s not it…I’m not finished. This concoction is served with oyster crackers and hot sauce on the side. Both are supposed to be liberally sprinkled over the top, based on the diner’s preferences.

I’ve been told that there’s quite a divide with the locals—either they love Skyline, or they hate it. No middle ground here!

My opinion? Surprisingly, it works! It’s a delicious carb fest, with ingredients that I would never have thought to put together.

P.S. They also serve chili and cheese on a hotdog—their version of a Coney Island Dog.

A 5-Way!


I’m heading to Boston today, and I’m finally back on a plane again! I had a rental car for the last three weeks, and I drove to NY, VA, and NJ for my trainings.

New Jersey has increasingly become the recipient of unfair press over the years and has earned the moniker, ‘The Armpit of the Nation,’ as well as several other unsavory barbs. I grew up in New Jersey, so I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the ‘Garden State.’ My hotel room had a beautiful view. I recently learned a new word from a friend of mine—bucolic. Have you ever heard this word before?

Here’s my challenge—use the word bucolic to describe the view from my room last week. Armpit? I should say not!

Can you do it?

Here were some of the responses from when I originally posted this on my Facebook feed—

Debbie—The farm in the distance surrounded by the bucolic fields and clear blue skies gave me a sense of peace amidst all the crazy things going on in the world.

Cathy—This peaceful tableau takes me back to childhood memories of my grandparent’s bucolic farm.

Lisa—The bucolic setting in this photo makes me think of our farm and how much we enjoy our peaceful space and privacy.

Tom—The scene at Cunningham Falls Lake is resplendent in its bucolic regalia.

And the bucaholic is addicted to bucolic surroundings.

Mary—Is this the same Tom that is also the fellow traveler addicted to bucolic experiences in Spain?

Raquel—If one seeks a bucolic state, one need look no further than the beautiful Garden state!

Please keep the bucolic qualities of NJ under your hat.

New Jersey Haiku
Splitting sky from fields,
Silos on the horizon;
Bucolic Jersey.

Haiku Wars—
The view from my room-
A bucolic dream come true,
Bathed in warm sunlight.