Monday, September 19, 2011

Countdown to Southern Festival of Books 2011: Four Weeks -- A Meditation on Time, Or: My, How the Time Does Pass Quickly (When You're Old)

My, how time does slip by. In only four weeks, SFB 2011 will be upon us -- which means in only three weeks I will be turning the big 3-0. Last weekend my childhood girlfriends and I, all of whom are also turning thirty, made a quick-as-lightening trip to the beach (a.k.a. "Turning 30 on 30a"). We celebrated by laying around on the beach by day, eating ourselves stuffed-to-the-gills-full of excellent southern seafood at night.

The pool view from our balcony
We stayed at the amazing Sanctuary by the Sea, which I couldn't recommend any higher. The condo was beautifully appointed, as were both pools, the common areas, and the boardwalk to the ocean. It was a stone's throw from all of the eateries and shops at Grayton Beach and Seaside, of which we took full advantage. We visited my favorite grocery store anywhere, hands down -- the Publix at Santa Rosa beach -- but we also ate in some of the area's best restaurants.

Our Bud & Alley's Attempt -- Menus! No Service.
Our first night we began at Bud & Alley's Roof Deck, but after some truly deplorable service (as in, we were largely ignored, then asked to "turn in" our menus without the waiter ever having asked for our orders), we made our way across Seaside's square to the Great Southern Cafe. This restaurant lived up to its name, being both "great" and "southern."

Grits a Ya Ya, photo from Flickr
Several of us indulged in their specialty, the "Grits à Ya Ya: A delectable Southern specialty of our smoked Gouda cheese grits smothered with a sauce of fresh cream, sautéed Gulf shrimp, spinach, portobello mushrooms, applewood-smoked bacon, garlic, and shallots" (from the restaurant's website). Yes, it's every bit as good as it sounds. We wrapped up the night listening to live music at Pandora's in Grayton Beach, a venue I was familiar with from a trip earlier this summer. Fun, all around.

Mandy & I at Hammerheads, circa 2006
The next night (after a hard day spent lounging in the sun once again), we made our way to Sandestin's Baytowne Wharf area.  It is a water-side mini-city created explicitly for tourists. I described it to a group member who hadn't been before as a kind of "Disneyland for grownups," which she agreed later was accurate. There are restaurants, nightlife, and shops on cobblestone streets that have never seen car tires, as they were created to be pedestrian-only. We tried to get into Hammerheads, which is located on the water and also features live music, but were turned away at the door (somewhat expected after our Bud & Alley's experience the night before).

Poppy's Crab Legs (& High-Fashion Bib)
The Hammerhead's host recommended that we go next door to the much-less-crowded Poppy's Seafood Factory (that link is to The Crazy Lobster, as the same people own Poppy's, but haven't created a website for it yet -- the food looks largely similar). At Poppy's we had excellent seafood, if somewhat sub-par service. The crab legs and steamed shrimp were some of the best I've ever eaten. And no one can mess up drawn butter, right? Suffice it to say, the meal was delicious.

We then made our way to the dueling piano bar Rum Runners, where we sang along to "Rocky Top," "Don't Stop Believing," and -- for my friend Caroline -- "Sweet Caroline." I couldn't have asked for a better group of girls to turn thirty with... Since growing older seems to be a necessary part of life. I still have three weeks at 29, though, and I'm holding on to every second of it!

One week after my birthday, I will be in Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books. All of that was a really long way to say: my, how times passes quickly! Southern Humanities will soon be posting the SFB schedule (usually within a week or two of the Festival). October 14-16 in downtown Nashville, on and around Legislative Plaza, it's the place to be this fall! I am very excited that several of my friends will be joining me for sessions that weekend. My aforementioned friend (and fellow English major) Caroline has been out of town for many SFBs in a row, but she will finally be in town for this year's Festival, and I couldn't be more excited.

Eating at Provence last October during SFB
In addition to visiting Festival sessions and eating at Provence's downtown library location, we have also ventured across the river to Nashville's Oktoberfest in historic Germantown. This year, the German festival kept its usual weekend (the actual weekend of my birthday), while SFB moved one weekend later. As Oktoberfest is also always fun, I may just have to make a trip to Nashville two weekends in a row!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that my friends also threw me an early bachelorette party at the beach, as well. When we arrived at the condo, they had decorated for me (see picture to the right).

And on our road trip down, we opened a series of gifts (one for each hour of the ride) from my fabulous friends Mindy and Mandy. One of them was a set of cups, personalized for each of us. Mine, as you can (kind of) see in this (very fuzzy -- in a car!) photo, says "Bride to Be." So cute.

In short, time flies quickly -- especially as an adult. Thirty came so slowly, yet so quickly. And so will the Southern Festival of Books. More on the Festival (and especially Michael Lee West's novel Gone With a Handsomer Man) next week!

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