Acclimatizing: pests, storms, and sweet potato casserole

Having been in Memphis for roughly two weeks now, I’m pretty much an expert on all things Southern. Haha, I kid, I kid. The area we’re in is actually referred to as the Mid-South, though I have yet to confirm if this is in reference to its East-West or its North-South positioning, it seems like it could be either. Anywho, these first couple weeks have exposed us (well me anyway, more of a re-exposure for Jeff) to some new conditions that are foreign to me as a Seattleite. There have already been at least a dozen things I could discuss here but for the sake of relative brevity, I’ll focus this entry on bugs, thunderstorms, and cuisine.

First: Bugs. Don’t worry, those of you that fear or have a strong distaste of bugs, I won’t post any ugly pictures or try to gross you out. But seriously, there are copious amounts of bugs here. I was reminded of this fact immediately, when while moving into our new place the gal at our apartment complex informed us about their regular pest control plan and how to go about requesting additional services. I made the mistake of inquiring further about what to expect and got a rather lengthy explanation about the most common pests in the area. I now know that there are distinct type of cockroaches. One type harbors in dirty dark corners and is more likely to infest while another, less worrisome, tends to climb in through drains. She demonstrated with her fingers the different shapes in their body type so that we could more easily identify them. I’m pretty sure if I see one in my room I’m not going to care so much as to classify it, but rather want it to be exterminated immediately, but, to each their own. 

She also mentioned that since we have a top floor unit we might get a bit less of the land dwellers (now we’re talking) but since we back up to a wooded area we will probably get more spiders on our deck (bummer). I then asked about mosquitos and ticks, should we decide to be active outdoors, and she said something to the effect of, “Oh yes, we have lots of those, make sure to use bug spray.” Although I appreciated her honesty, even if she did seem overly enthusiastic in her descriptions, she was not telling me what I wanted to hear.

So far, fingers crossed, we have been relatively bug-free inside our unit. Unfortunately I can’t say the same about our back patio, which despite its luxurious size and lovely view, will probably not get much usage until later in the year when the bugs calm down a bit. Hmm, I guess I’m assuming that’s going to happen. They shouldn’t stay this dense year round… I’m just going to tell myself that there will be less bugs at some point. Just like it can’t stay this hot and humid for the whole stinkin’ year. We moved here in the summer, in its most drastic season, so things will only improve from here. Also, I survived in tropical conditions in Costa Rica for a month in college with some insects as large as your palm (you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not) and slept for days under a mosquito net. So I can survive a year here in Memphis right? Hopefully I have retained some of the resiliency of my college days, though Seattle has certainly spoiled me since then with it’s mild conditions and dearth of pests. 

Moving on… the first weekend after our arrival we were treated to a spectacular thunderstorm. I awoke around 1 am to flashes and distant booms. Our room has blinds but no curtains so light can easily seep through. Soon our bedroom was lighting up like a disco party with a strobe light but instead of Donna Summer hits we heard a mix-tape of thunder noises. Jeff eventually woke up and we laid together watching nature’s light show and listening to its chaotic symphony. Quickly and constantly came the flashes and crackles with variable intensity and proximity. It was awe-inspiring. I may be prone to hyperbole when I write, but not even I can exaggerate nature’s magnificence when she choses to unleash. I couldn’t get a great view of the sky due to the location of our unit against a wooded area but you could feel the earth and air vibrate as the storm swirled. I say swirled because it lasted nearly 3-hours! Normally I think of storms as passing through, so either this was a gigantic system, which had not been forecast, or we were just the lucky recipients of a disoriented tempest. After talking to locals the next day, they seemed to think the latter. And even by their thunderstorm levels, they said this had been a big one. 

Along with the storm came heavy rains. After the thunder and lightening subsided and I finally fell back asleep, I was awakened early in the morning by a horrible buzzing on my phone informing me of flash floods. I silence all notifications while I sleep but apparently emergency warnings supersede my settings. It said something like, “Emergency Flash Flood Warning: Avoid high flood risk areas.” Super helpful information seeing as, being in town for all of 4 days, I know where all the flood risk areas are. So glad they woke me up for that. Fortunately it was a Sunday morning and we didn’t have to go anywhere early. By the time we went out to church after 10 am the roads were clear.

We also lost power intermittently during the storm, but only for brief moments, almost in surges. Our room fan would go off, then back on, then off again, but never stayed off for a prolonged period. Nevertheless, the outages were enough to reset all our clocks and our thermostat. The thermostat we did not realize until the next afternoon when it started feeling uncharacteristically warm inside. I eventually went over to check the control on the wall and saw that instead of the comfortable 70 degrees we had been keeping it at, it had reset to 85 degrees! Fortunately the room temp hadn’t quite reached that sweltering temp, but it had been steadily rising.

Besides being treated to a storm that first weekend, we decided to treat ourselves to some good ole Southern food. We found a restaurant only a couple miles from our home called “Sweetpea’s Southern Cookin” that sounded like it fit the bill. The casual dining room was packed full of happy customers when we arrived, so I figured we must have made a good choice. The special of the day was chicken pot pie and their menu featured a variety of southern staples with a bevy of sides to choose from. We shared some hand-breaded fried green tomatoes then Jeff ordered the fried chicken livers for his entree and I got the special, each meal came with two sides and some bread. 

I can’t say I’ve had a ton of pot pies in my day, my experience up to this point had been limited to Marie Calendar’s, Costco’s version, and an occasional homemade attempt, but Sweetpea’s… Mmm… it’s making my mouth water a bit just thinking about it. My previous pot pies had been like watching a show on a 1980s TV set and being content with the quality of the picture because you live in a bubble and don’t know any better. Then this pot pie was like suddenly being transported to watching the same show on a modern flatscreen in HD and being like, WOW, that’s what it’s supposed to look (or in this case taste) like!

And then, there was the sweet potato casserole. Fortunately we each selected this as one of our sides because I might have stabbed Jeff’s hand with my spoon if he had tried to take a bite of mine. I at least had some comparison for the pot pie but the sweet potato casserole was in a category of its own. I mean, I’ve had dishes with mashed sweet potatoes before in my life, and I’ve generally enjoyed them, but this was unlike anything I’d ever had before. It was like a small piece of heaven had descended onto my plate in the form of a humble orange-and-brown blob. I can’t even describe its exquisiteness. This was no mere mortal side. No, this was a star! It could be breakfast, it could be dessert, it could, and should, be served with anything and everything because it was truly transcendent!

Okay, okay, taste-bud-fueled-emotions aside, good sense has since prevailed and I have so far managed to keep my sweet potato casserole consumption in check. Sweetpea’s slogan is “Southern cookin makes you good lookin” but I’m pretty sure in actuality it should be “unmoderated enjoyment of Southern cookin makes you fat and increases your risk of Diabetes.” Being that I’m going to be here for the next twelve months, and would like to maintain my health in this time period, I’m thinking that we’ll treat the decadent Southern cuisine as an occasional indulgence rather than turning it into our staple diet. 

Well, there you have it: a not so brief introduction to some of our early experiences here in the South. Feel free to share any thoughts, comments, your own similar or dissimilar experiences on anything I’ve written (unless you don’t like Southern sweet potato casserole… then something is clearly wrong with you). You can also sign up to receive an email anytime I post a new entry by clicking on the “Contact” section of the blog and then on the right-hand side of that page by entering your email under the “Follow Blog via Email” header. 

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