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When we moved out of the house in Huntsville, I left my “china cabinet” behind. An IKEA shelf-turned-cabinet via the addition of a few doors, it was still in great shape (although mysteriously unphotographed), but entirely too heavy to move. Taking apart IKEA products seems inadvisable, especially products with hinges because, man, those things are hard to get right the FIRST time.

Thus, my favorite sunflower-patterned plates and bowls have been trapped in storage for the past year because buying furniture is THE WORST. Last month’s storage room flood destroyed one of my boxes, however, so the need to unload everything became a little more urgent.

Another trip to IKEA, another shelf-turned cabinet. This time we went for wide instead of tall, and chose a design that required six tiny doors instead of two or four larger ones. The hinge installation actually went pretty smoothly after we got a rhythm going – we almost went for eight doors, but figured out the liquor bottles were pretty attractive on their own.

Is it going to be too heavy to move? Oh yeah. But at a price of around $150, I can afford to pass it on in a couple of years if necessary. Our building has a healthy IKEA-reselling network, and not feeling obligated to move heavy furniture all over the place makes me extremely portable.

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So I’m back in Huntsville. Long story short, the Atlanta move just didn’t work out. Short story long, I still can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up.

The problem is that I’ve already been what I wanted to be when I grew up, and that career barely exists anymore.

I had known I wanted to work at a newspaper since I was 10 years old.

When I was in the fifth-grade gifted program, our teacher was determined to expand our little minds beyond the standardized tests that had, presumably, placed us in her class. (I want to think that her name was Mrs. Wilkinson, but let me assure you that if you think you’ll ALWAYS remember the name of everyone in your life who has been important to you at one time or another, you are WRONG. Write it down. Let’s just call her Mrs. W.)

Mrs. W. wanted us to understand practical things, like how banks and the stock market worked. She also allowed us to conduct a deeper exploration of subjects like geology – I spent hours wearing safety goggles and breaking up rocks from the driveway with a hammer to look at the patterns inside. (And still never received my coveted rock tumbler.)

She also tried to inject a little cultural cachet into our group by accompanying us to the opera in New Orleans for a matinee performance. Now, I didn’t exactly take to opera (nine years later, in fact, one of my fellow gifted students would find himself elbowing me awake repeatedly during a production of The Marriage of Figaro at the University of Southern Mississippi), but I remember falling in love with the IDEA of opera, and live performances in general.

Mrs. W.’s greatest contribution to my future, however, was definitely our field trip to the Sun Herald in Gulfport, Miss. Don’t get me wrong: I come from at least two generations of daily newspaper readers, so the concept of print journalism was not foreign to me at all. I grew up understanding that no breakfast table was complete without a newspaper.

The Sun Herald folks gave us a tour of the entire operation, including the pressroom. They gave us copies of the preprinted sections, hot off the press. The moment one of the press guys handed me my section, I realized that it took A LOT of people to get the newspaper out the door every morning, and I was certain that I wanted to be one of those people.

Fast-forward past college: I was a copy editor and staff reporter at the Mobile Press-Register for nearly 10 years. It was the most awesome job ever, and now it’s gone. I got out of the business a few years before it really hit bottom, but last summer, the position I had literally disappeared from the newsroom, along with dozens of others.

The newspaper business is a treacherous place right now. There’s no going back, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do going forward.

I ran into an Internet friend at Earth Fare today – Joe Martin of Huntsville Adventure Boot Camp for Women fame. (It’s always weird to meet Internet friends in real life, but it’s also kind of awesome, especially when said Internet friend is somewhat of a fitness guru and you’re feeling reasonably fit that day and are carrying only bananas and spring-mix lettuce in your basket.)

While explaining my recent return to the Rocket City, I mentioned that my post-newspaper career had been pretty flighty. His response? Something along the lines of, “Imagine how flighty it would be if you had stayed in newspapers.”

What a duh moment for me. I mean, I know that I’m better off having gotten out of the newspaper business before the implosion, but I don’t know that I’ve ever understood that other people, people outside of the industry, understand that, too. And I think I carry a little guilt for not staying until the absolute end, although, as Joe suggested, that would have been a terrible idea.

So here I am. Former newspaper copy editor turned technical writer turned research analyst turned proposal coordinator. Wife, freelance writer, decent weightlifter, mediocre runner, culinary adventurer, cat owner, amateur photographer, blogger.

A little flighty, maybe, but also gifted with the experience that can only come from a multi-pronged career path and the curiosity to wonder what comes next.

Let’s do this.

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I’ve spent the last five years trying to figure out how the heck side-by-side refrigerators got so popular in the ’80s.

I grew up thinking my family, with our old-fashioned one-door, freezer-on-top model, was missing out, that somehow the families with side-by-sides were enjoying better meals and tastier snacks. They were certainly enjoying hipper, more modern kitchens.

Oh, the misguided assumptions of youth. I finally got my new-fangled side-by-side refrigerator when we moved to Huntsville (at the same time, I might add, that the hippest homeowners were purchasing refrigerators with French doors and freezer drawers on the bottom).

I quickly ascertained that side-by-sides are virtually useless for anyone who actually wants to USE a refrigerator. I was constantly rearranging things to try to make other things fit. The freezer was a disaster, with two extremely deep, extremely narrow drawers that quickly turned into a tumbled mess of freezer bags and containers no matter how careful I was to try to keep them organized, and shelves that were difficult to navigate despite their small size.

Organizing the refrigerator shelves was like playing a game of culinary Tetris. A gallon of milk and a container of orange juice was pretty much all the top shelf could handle. My love for greens fresh out of the salad spinner required a dedicated bottom shelf. The small salad spinner, mostly reserved for fresh herbs, sometimes had to reside in the crisper, a problem given that the drawer usually already contained an array of veggies.

We never got around to getting another one, partly because someone had kindly custom-built the cabinets around the refrigerator, severely limiting the potential replacement models.

Now that I’m in Atlanta, I’m once again living with an old-school, freezer-on top refrigerator with one non-French door. Only this time, I’ve decided that old-school is pretty awesome.

The refrigerator shelves offer wide, open spaces — currently, the salad spinner is residing alongside half a gallon of milk, a carton of goat cheese AND a jar of jelly. The freezer’s a huge open space — no shelves, but a couple of small plastic boxes can help sort a LOT of frozen foods. It even has a working ice maker, an innovation that I have, until now, not enjoyed in my own home.

The whole setup is so much more usable than the side-by-side that I’m not even curious about freezer drawers on the bottom anymore. I just want space that makes sense.

I guess the moral of this post is to be careful what you wish for, because you might be stuck cursing at it for five long years when you finally get it.

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Posting has been erratic here for several weeks because my brain has been occupied with big decisions. Like whether to apply for another job, accept another job and move to another city.

In short, the answers were yes, yes and yes.

The husband and I will be moving to Atlanta in short order.

I want to say it was a difficult decision, but it really wasn’t. Huntsville is a nice enough place, but I’m getting antsy.

I haven’t been sure about my career path for the past five years. I’ve wanted to be in the newspaper business since I was a teenager. I never quite recovered from leaving the industry, and the transition to technical writing has never felt quite right to me.

People say your job doesn’t define you. I would reply that no, it certainly does not, but you sure do spend a heck of a lot of time doing it, so you may as well try to enjoy it.

Thus, I’ve accepted an Atlanta job that I think will be an excellent fit for me — the company has already hired several former newspaper folks with great success. I’ll be doing lots of reading, analysis and writing, pretty much all the graduate school activities that I’ve been missing ever since graduation last December.

Atlanta itself? Pretty cool. Lots to do, lots to see. It contains a very busy airport that I’ve never been keen on flying through (in truth, I haven’t been very keen on layovers for several years), but that I’m more than willing to fly out of and into. Two-hour direct flights to New York City abound, and I could spend every vacation day I ever earn in Manhattan if I had the chance. Which I might.

I’ve been packing and getting rid of stuff for the past week. We’re hoping to live in Atlanta, not outside in the commute-stricken burbs, and the tradeoff for this is space. This is going to be the first move in which I really analyze what means enough to me to take. Stuff doesn’t just go in boxes because I own it; stuff goes in boxes because I want it, love it and/or will definitely use it.

I’m excited and nervous, a combination that probably indicates this is going to be awesome. It’ll offer plenty of blogging material, at the very least.

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Last week, I finally got around to trying Homegrown Huntsville’s Dine & Dash, a fun take on the progressive dinner concept. Head to a downtown spot, have a bite to eat and a cocktail and board a trolley to the next spot — no worries about parking or reservations.

For only $30, you can sample specialties from five different downtown Huntsville bars and restaurants. (Only you really can’t, because there are no more Dine and Dashes scheduled past September and the two upcoming events are sold out. Check back with Homegrown Huntsville, though. They’re trying to schedule more.)

It’s a great way to try those downtown establishments you’ve been meaning to get to, and it’s a fantastic activity for a group of friends (I went with five other people).

The July 12 event was a signature drink and appetizer tasting. I learned that the word “signature” is not defined the same way by everyone and that my tolerance for smoke-filled rooms has been dramatically lowered by the preponderance of smoke-free establishments in Madison and Huntsville.

I found one spot (Amendment XXI) that definitely merits a return trip, another that I may visit when I’m feeling plush (Ruth’s Chris), a bar that I would probably enjoy with the right friends (Voodoo Lounge), and two popular spots that seem entirely overrated (Furniture Factory and Kaffeeklatsch).

Here’s a rundown of the places we tried, in the order that we visited them:

    • Ruth’s Chris, as expected, proved to be the classiest stop on the tour. The waitstaff was obviously ready to impress us, and the kitchen put out two delicious appetizers: miniature crabtinis and tenderloin with Béarnaise sauce and rolls. The crabtini was simply a crab salad served in a chilled martini glass — even our miniature samples featured a generous portion of lump crabmeat tossed with a house vinaigrette and topped with a bit of remoulade sauce.

      Ruth’s Chris signature cocktail offering wasn’t a cocktail at all; instead, a server offered diners their choice of a couple of wines. I’m not one to turn down a wine tasting, so I sampled both.

    • The next stop was Amendment XXI, a downtown bar known for its handcrafted cocktails and ambiance. The hostess gathered us in the private room upstairs and immediately introduced us to the Strawberry Mule, a delicious combination of Absolut Citron, fresh strawberry, lime juice and ginger. Our appetizer here was a small cup of some sort of cracker/pretzel mix; the hostess explained that Amendment XXI doesn’t really have a kitchen, and instead offers foods picked up from other downtown spots such as Sam and Greg’s, Humphrey’s, Jefferson St. Pub and Mickey’s. Fair enough.

      We were treated to another signature cocktail so new that it’s not even on the menu yet, leaving me to admit that I completely forgot its name. It was tasty, however.

      Pro tip: Just drink whatever the Amendment XXI bartenders recommend.  You won’t be sorry.

    • The Voodoo Lounge was, as I had been warned, a tiny but enchanting bar. The hostess served us a small cup filled with a peachy cocktail and followed up with a sampling of the bar’s appetizer offerings: a small bite of fried chicken with a honey-based sauce (I think) and a spicy chicken wing. The chicken wing was so spicy that one table filled with our trolley cohorts offered theirs to anybody who could stomach them (I demurred, even though I found them perfectly edible).

      After about 10 minutes in the Voodoo Lounge, a little more than half of our party made their way to the stairs to escape the underground space. The combination of heat and the remnants of heavy cigarette smoke (the ceilings are about 8 feet tall) quickly began to make the lounge a little less enchanting.

    • The famed Furniture Factory just didn’t seem to try very hard at all. We were ushered onto a crowded back patio (apparently our gathering was slated for the uncovered patio in back, but, alas, it RAINED in Alabama, you guys). Seriously, it was standing room only back there. Quite a few dine-and-dashers invaded what appeared to be a private dining room, where we were offered appetizers. Several of us darted back outside to bring back glasses of an unidentified blue-green beverage.

      If these samples were Furniture Factory’s signature offerings, then I definitely will not be returning. The three lukewarm appetizers consisted of fried jalapeno slices, fried mushrooms and what’s I’m guessing were taquitos (also fried, it’s safe to assume). The mushrooms were passable, the jalapeno slices were too spicy to judge and the taquitos were simply the worst thing I had all night. I have no evidence to indicate that the taquitos didn’t come straight out of the freezer case of the restaurant supply store (heck, I could buy the same thing at Sam’s Wholesale).

      The drink, while non-offensive, was also nondescript. It looked like mouthwash and tasted like … melon liqueur, with a bit of sour flavoring added? Not terrible, but not what I would call a signature drink, either.

    • The Kaffeeklatsch proved uninspiring, even if it was less crowded than the Furniture Factory, but at least the great Kaffeeklatsch mystery was finally solved for me: It’s a coffee store AND a bar. This explains the coffee supplies that can be seen from the front window AND the constant late-night activity listings.

      One member of our party, dreading the combined odor of coffee and cigarette smoke, left us behind in search of gelato at Sam & Greg’s. He needn’t have feared, however, for there was no hint of coffee aroma to be found on the bar side of the Kaffeeklatsch, only the stale remnants of cigarette smoke.The hostess gave us a brief history of the coffee store and bar, and proceeded to introduce our signature goodies: sangria and a “savory bread pudding.”

      Again, either the proprietors misunderstood the meaning of the word “signature,” or there’s simply nothing that interesting behind the Kaffeeklatsch bar. The sangria was a bland mishmash of fruit flavors, complete with anemic-looking strawberries and utterly lacking any noticeable trace of wine. The “savory bread pudding” was a lukewarm miniature muffin, again notable only for its blandness.

The tour hostesses were engaging and helpful, plying us with Fred Bread as we trolleyed from spot to spot and keeping us updated on the night’s scheduling.

The only ding on the entire operation was the condition of one of the trolleys; what came to be known among our group as Moldy Trolley was leaking (it was one of the summer’s rainier nights). This wasn’t the first leaky night for this trolley, however, because some of the interior wood was warped and there was a distinctive mildew odor in the back area.

Provided Moldy Trolley makes it through the next couple of months intact, I’ll be on the lookout for more Dine & Dash events. It really is a fun and innovative way to test-drive downtown Huntsville’s slew of interesting bars and restaurants.

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Photo courtesy of Atkinson Candy Company

The best part about serving two days of jury duty in Madison County, Alabama? I found a source of Chick-O-Sticks.

Chick-O-Sticks, for the terribly undersnacked, are orange sticks mostly made of peanut butter, granulated sugar and corn syrup. Dusted with ground coconut, they taste like the orange insides of a Butterfinger, for lack of a better comparison.

They’re crunchy and delicious, and they used to be much more widely available. Lately, they seem to only pop up in small, locally owned grocery stories and Mississippi gas stations.

You’ll find the large, cigar-shaped variety of Chick-O-Sticks in downtown Huntsville across from the courthouse at Harrison Brothers Hardware, which is part museum, part store. They’re displayed with a bunch of other old-fashioned snacks, including MoonPies and Necco Wafers.

I’m excited to see that the Atkinson Candy Company is still making Chick-O-Sticks in a variety of sizes and packaging options; hopefully that means they’ll be around for a while. Because there’s nothing like a taste of childhood on a hot summer day.

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Yesterday, we hustled this beast of a piano into a rental truck for a short trip across town to one half of The Owl Sisters, two Huntsville ladies who refinish old furniture. After they remove its incredibly heavy harp, one Owl Sister will move the piano (which will really be a former piano at that point) into her home, where she’ll probably turn it into a bar. Or, possibly, something even cooler.

I’ve learned that old pianos are essentially worthless unless they’ve been completely reconditioned, a process that can cost just a thousand dollars or two less than the newly reconditioned piano’s value. I’m not taking that wager.

In the past, I’ve called this the accidental piano. When I was helping my dad clean out his mother’s house, it seemed like a good idea to take it home, not because I had fond memories of it (or even played piano), but because I had always thought it was a groovy piece of furniture. I had no idea that nearly 10 years in Mobile’s humidity would render its delicate wheels virtually useless.

For me, it has held family photos and knickknacks, along with whatever objects happened to be attracted to a flat surface at any given moment. I will miss its unique addition to the general decor, but I won’t miss moving it to another house or worrying about it scratching/denting the new floor when we get around to ditching the carpet.

Au revoir, beastly piano. Enjoy your third life.

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