Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Landing In Little Rock With An EF4 Tornado Wasn't Exactly On The Menu

Where were we last? I believe I was driving across Arkansas headed to Little Rock...
I had a mission to arrive there by 6:00 pm and visit the only Whole Foods before going to a pizza place I had read about online.The sky had turned menacingly gray and the anxiousness of arriving in a new place started to fill my tired body.

Somehow through the planning of events, my talents of discovering the best of what a city has to offer in gluten and allergen free have been honed. People ask me regularly if I use Find Me Gluten Free App - My answer is rarely. The recurring problem with many apps has been that they are only as knowledgeable as the users who post them there. I have grown tired with the aforementioned app in particular because 9 times out of 10, they will only list the bigger chain restaurants and places, bypassing the smaller places where little treasures can be found.

After visiting Whole Foods in West Little Rock and checking out their options, I pulled into the tiny little parking area in from of a row of houses which had been turned into restaurants. The target of my trip was The Pizza Cafe, which had received better than average reviews on their pizza. The tiny pizzeria had a few booths and tables with a definite funky mismatched feel to the decor. They greeted me and sat me down at a booth with a menu. With a glance up to see the weather coverage on the big screen TV, signalling a tornado watch and severe thunderstorms, I ordered a veggie pizza and pulled out my laptop to make hotel reservations while I ate. 

Gluten Free Veggie Pizza at The Pizza Cafe, Little Rock

All of the sudden, my phone started blaring the emergency warning simultaneous to the TV doing the same. Having never heard that before, the rush of adrenaline instantly overtook and I fumbled to silence the phone. The TV weatherman began describing a tornado on the ground 10 miles from my location as the sky became pitch black outside the large glass windows. The trees visibly started bending and twisting as I scanned behind me through the stormy parking lot.

My eyes must have grown as big as saucers as the waiter let out an expletive under his breath He laid down the pizza with hesitation as we both watched the weatherman excitedly describe the debris signature and what that meant, which didn't thrill me in the slightest. The lights began to flicker and the plate glass windows gave a rattle. I could only watch the people working there thinking, if they panic, I am panicking! The manager phoned his wife and kids and it seemed like time stood still.

News coverage of the town hit by Tornado in Mayflower, 
20 miles Northwest of Little Rock

Being a mountain dweller, you watch the TV when they report a tornado having hit somewhere, and you are glad you don't have to worry about knowing what to do for a tornado,or a flood if you are protected on a hill. Those moments just never happen. So to say I lost most recollection of what to do in a tornado would be more than accurate. My mind was quickly assessing the checklist of what to do, but looking back, I realize I would have had little time to do much, but take cover and hope for the best.

I left the Cafe once they gave the clear on the TV, headed straight to the Wyndham hotel. As I checked in, I asked the concierge if they would wake up guests if a tornado touched down again. The helicopters and ambulances bringing in the injured from Maumelle and Vilonia kept signalling the reality that I was lucky to be alive and injury free.

The sky still eerie the day after tornado outside my hotel room at 
Dickey-Stephens Ballpark in North Little Rock 

Awakening as the rest of Arkansas did, turning on the TV to see the devastation and the sad reports of 16 dead, I realized even more how lucky I was. I called my parents so they wouldn't have a heart attack when the news reached them and I resigned myself to staying put as the weather marched on through Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina for the next three days. Call it survivor's guilt or just humanity, the sinking feeling of knowing there were people without any food or home to cook it in kept my heart heavy.

Taken from the National Weather Service:
Around Mayflower (Faulkner County), there was a story about a family with a basement on Lake Conway, and they shared the basement with a lot of local residents. While the house took a direct hit from the tornado, they all made it. Then there was the story about the Air Force airman in Vilonia (Faulkner County) who shielded his daughter from the monster we all know about now. His mission was successful, but he lost his life. Today, his daughter calls her daddy a hero. Not far away, a college student knew it was going to be bad, and he was scared. But even in a time of crisis, he thought to send a text: "Goodbye, mama." Those were his last words, but what a gift to his mother. Another local resident got a call from his father, and was told a tornado was coming. The man took his sons to an interior room, but thought it might not be enough protection. They ran to their truck and headed to a community safe room. It was a wise decision. When they returned, the house was gone. And then there was the woman in the same area that tried frantically to reach her friend following the storm. No luck. She sent her husband to find out what happened. When she texted him, there was no answer at first. According to her blog, her texts became frantic: "Are they hurt? Are they alive? Miah (her husband), please tell me they are alive." His response: "I can't." Her friend survived (with extensive injuries), but her two boys did not.

The stories of people living the events greatly affect those covering the events. Even here at the National Weather Service, there is a feeling of helplessness when a tornado is tearing up the countryside. The mission of protecting life and property is the focus, and we hope people are getting the warnings and finding shelter. But when the reports roll in, and the words are filled with suffering, that's hard to deal with at times. As one of our local forecasters wrote recently, "I'll never be the same again. I’ve worked many severe weather days - and a few tornadoes. But this one was different. The only thing I can think of is that I have more years as a husband and father under my belt. You really have an understanding of how precious and fragile life is and can be. And you try to take it less for granted."

Join us next time as we tour the best of allergen free in Little Rock, eat the best Beef Carpaccio I have ever tasted, learn about Hot Milk Cake, and more on Allergy Free Back Roads...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Making Good Memories In 2012 From a Capture In 1863

It's not always about gluten and allergen free food here on Allergy Free Back Roads.There are a whole lot of things that can happen when you travel. When we last parted, I had left Loretta Lynn's Ranch and was back on the road to Little Rock  to set up and meet with local vendors. The stormy gray sky put out a few showers as I traversed through the western part of Tennessee and passed through Memphis, stopping long enough to get a cup of java and stretch my legs.

This road trip started to remind me again of my precious child. We had made the same trip in reverse two summers ago. After we had journeyed to Butcher Hollow, we drove through Kentucky stopping at Lexington, then Louisville to visit Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. We ate at a Jason's Deli in Louisville and headed back on the road. We stopped for an afternoon in Hannibal, MO to visit Mark Twain's Boyhood Home & Museum. Each stop had some sort of interesting side trip for Doodlebug to learn from and explore.

Doodlebug at Churchill Downs

Yes, I absolutely made her do the paint brush on the fence in 
Hannibal - hehe what are mothers for?

We went on up to Omaha, seeing people and meeting vendors before starting the trek back down through the middle of the country, heading ever South to New Orleans. There was a mission I had to accomplish in Vicksburg Mississippi, which is really why I wrote this story down on a Memorial Day weekend.

We stopped in Memphis to do the Sun Studio tour. Doodle has been a fan of Elvis Presley since she was old enough to sing along, but his home was like an amusement park and I knew what she really wanted to do was hear his music. If you are ever going through Memphis,stop in and pay the $13 to do the tour. It is by far one of the coolest tours I have ever done of a historical landmark, filled with the music of Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. All three recorded hits there and it is known as the birthplace of rock and roll. The soda shop has fantastic root beer floats (gluten free of course) you can sip as you sit on the very bar stools that Jerry Lee and the King, Elvis, sat on many moons ago.

Having a root beer float before the tour - The barstools are embroidered 
with the names Elvis, Johnny, and Jerry Lee in their favorite seats

After Memphis, we traveled on to Vicksburg, Mississippi. It's not really on the way to New Orleans, but this was a special mission. You see, my Great-Great Grandfather fought in the Civil War as a Confederate and was captured by the Union soldiers at the Battle of Vicksburg on July 4th, 1863. They kept him a prisoner for almost a year and set him free during an exchange of prisoners. His Union issued blanket had been passed down through the generations to me. However, I just couldn't see keeping it in my possession and felt it would be better suited in a museum.

Union issued Civil War Blanket and 
Great Great Grandfather's military records

Well, the Old Depot Museum in Vicksburg had been emailed and I had sent the Director a formal request to donate the blanket. We arrived on July 3rd and the Director, Lamar Roberts, met us at the door. I handed the blanket to him and I could see his eyes grow larger as he fingered the blanket folds inspecting the hand made stitching. He looked up and said, "I'm going to call the newspaper."
Doodle and I hung out in the coolness of the air-conditioning and waited on the reporter to arrive. Lamar excitedly chatted to us that he had found the area on the battleground map where my relative was captured. The following article was written and Doodlebug and I graced the front of the Vicksburg Post the next morning for July 4th.
A capture in 1863, a memory in 2012
by Pamela Hitchins
07.04.12 - 01:00 am

When Confederate Sgt. Jacob Senile Heller was captured at Vicksburg July 4, 1863, by Union troops, he was given a choice: sign an oath that he would not continue to fight and be paroled to go home, or be taken as a prisoner of war.

A Union-issued blanket passed down by Heller to family members is the only clue to what Heller decided.

Monday, that blanket found a permanent home in Vicksburg thanks to Holland’s great-great-granddaughter, Nikki Holland Everett, a North Carolina resident.

“We knew he had been captured here,” said Charlotte native Everett, standing with her 11-year-old daughter in the Old Depot Museum, where the treasure will now reside. “The blanket has been in the family for all this time. It was packed away in an attic.”

Everett researched various Vicksburg spots that could be a good home for the family treasure, finally settling on the newly opened museum in the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley Railroad station on Levee Street.

“They needed donations. They had that on their website. When I read that, I thought, ‘that’s where it ought to go,’” Everett said.

Her father, B. Lee Holland of Huntersville, N.C., said he is delighted with Everett’s decision. As a boy, he often visited his aunt and her husband, Jewel and Albert Grego, who lived at 2421 Drummond St., and has fond memories of the city.

“To me it’s appropriate because he was captured there,” said Holland, 75, reached by phone Tuesday. “It’s like it’s gone home.”

Holland said he was in the city visiting his aunt on July 4, 1947, when then-Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower came for a military parade. “There was a huge celebration, which we went downtown to see,” he said.

Old Depot Museum Director Lamar Roberts said the family contacted him a few weeks ago about donating the blanket. Seeing it Monday, Roberts said the sturdy weave of the wool cloth and the hand-stitching on its binding testify to its age.

“I’m surprised to see the excellent condition,” said a broadly smiling Roberts, clearly tickled to have it. He plans to set aside an area where it, historic letters and other artifacts can be viewed but not jeopardized by handling.

Heller was a native of Bohemia, in an area that was then part of Austria, said Holland. He was 21 when he came to the United States in 1854, eventually settling in Delhi, about 40 miles west of Vicksburg.

“We know he worked in a general store before he got married, and he imported the lady who became his wife,” Holland said.

Heller enlisted in the Confederate States Army on April 21, 1862, and eventually was assigned to Company C of the 31st Louisiana infantry.

The 31st saw action at Milliken’s Bend and Chickasaw Bayou in 1862, and wintered quietly in Vicksburg, “doing picket duty and drilling,” before being sent in May 1863 to Port Gibson “as (Union General U.S.) Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg began in earnest,” according to “A Brief History of the 31st Louisiana Infantry,” by Kelly Shockley.

The regiment defended against Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign at Jackson, the Big Black River and Vicksburg. Its members helped repulse Grant’s May 22 assault, Shockley wrote, and was a part of the Confederate force that surrendered July 4 after the 47-day siege.

“Each Confederate soldier was forced to sign an oath, saying they would no longer fight, and were then paroled,” he added. “Those refusing to sign remained as prisoners.”

Holland said the family history does not explicitly state that Heller refused to sign the oath, but in addition to having the Union blanket it’s known that he was part of a prisoner exchange to Allen’s Brigade in Shreveport, La., March 29, 1864, and Heller’s daughter, Eunice Heller Levy, Holland’s grandmother, always told family members he said the blanket was given to him when he was a prisoner.

“From my grandmother speaking about him and the kind of man he was, she said he was a very determined individual with very strong feelings about his family, his country, about doing the right thing, and it was one of the reasons he joined the army,” Holland said.

After the war, Heller and his wife, Babette, eventually settled in Bastrop. The 1900 census lists nine daughters born to the couple. Two other children were stillborn, according to family records Holland sent to Roberts to authenticate the donation.

“We hold a very special place in our hearts for Vicksburg,” Holland wrote to Roberts. “My aunt took me to the battlefield on holidays and other occasions, and it was very much a large part of my fondest memories of growing up. I can think of no better resting place for the blanket than to be a part of Vicksburg history for others to enjoy and reflect upon.”

© vicksburgpost.com 2012

Someone wrote into the paper after seeing the article:
Subject: Sgt Jacob S Heller Article_4 July 2012


Enjoyed your article and decided to do some researching on Heller on Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. I found on Fold3 that he did sign the Oath after the surrender at Vicksburg (see attached). There are 12 pages of documents on Fold3.com that contain his CSA records. He appears to have been captured at Milliken's Bend and exchanged during the Vicksburg Campaign. His wife also filed for a CSA pension in Arkansas (also see attached) found on Ancestry. If you would like me to send you or to Holland-Everett family this info let me know and provide me contact info. I am a member of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), General John C. Pemberton Camp 1354. This has been pleasure.

Happy Fourth!

Larry Holman
Vicksburg, MS

Oath of Surrender at Vicksburg
Oath of Surrender at Vicksburg

I smiled as I drove through Memphis and in a couple hours time I was in Arkansas, the terrain returned to the flatness I had remembered. Nothing but farmland and wet fields greeted me as the stormy skies rained down on my car.

Join us next time on Allergy Free Back Roads as I stop in Little Rock at the same time an EF4 touches down, experience the tastes of Little Rock and then onto St. Louis...

Did you know? Rocket 88 was recorded at Sun Studio and is given the distinction of being the birth of Rock'n'Roll

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Visiting The Coal Miner's Daughter & The Circle Goes Unbroken

In the post "Look Out Music City, Cause I'm Here Now and I Ain't Never Leaving" we visited Nashville and held a wonderful first time event there. However, I forgot to mention a truly heartwarming moment. I was in the midst of setting up the event the day before, and a lanky older gentleman  in his late 60's, early 70's walked in. I asked him if he was there to speak to the venue manager.
He said "No I was wondering if this is where the Gluten Free event is going to be held?"
I smiled and told him yes. He said, "Well I drove all the way from Georgia and need to go to a grocery store before checking into a hotel, so I wanted to leave my truck in the parking lot and stretch my legs"
I wanted to hug him for being so persevering to drive all that way by himself. It is these moments that give me the fuel to keep plugging along ever harder and never give up on fighting the good fight.

After Nashville's event, I thought I would drive on out to Little Rock Arkansas to set up our June 21 event there. It was only 6 hours by my calculations and GPS, so I loaded up and headed on the road. A couple of hours into the trip, I saw a billboard sign for Loretta Lynn's ranch and RV Park. This would be of no consequence, but there's a reason it caught my eye.

When I first started traveling and doing events, there were two new events to plan - One in New Orleans, LA and one in Omaha, NE. So, I had this great idea to take my daughter with me on a road trip to both and she could get exposure to new cultures in her own country, see some sights along the way, and get a new appreciation for how hard Mommy's job is. We live at the edge of Virginia and NC in Appalachia, so we headed up through Southwest Virginia and into Kentucky.

My Doodlebug likes some country music and plays mandolin in bluegrass. Ever since she was little, she loved Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn. From the movie Coal Miner's Daughter, I knew Butcher Holler(Hollow) Kentucky was the birthplace of Loretta Lynn, so I looked it up. Sure enough, several people had written about how to find Butcher Holler. The directions take a whole web page to figure out, but I'm up for an adventure any time.

Herman Webb's General Store formerly the Company Store for the coal miners

1. You have to find Van Lear Kentucky which was a coal miner's camp originally, now turned into a very small township.
2. Once you get to Van Lear, there are no signs to find the General Store, but you must find it to get to Herman Webb, Loretta Lynn's brother.He runs the tours at the cabin.
3. If you can't find the general store (we never did see it), you can try to find Butcher Holler, but there are no signs to follow. The only sign for Butcher Holler is a rock.

Doodlebug and the rock

4. Once you find the sign, you follow a winding mountain single lane road until it dead ends
5. You'll see the sign for the cabin as you turn into the only driveway.

Doodlebug and the sign

6. If you didn't find the general store, you might get lucky like we did, and happen upon Herman giving another tour for $5 per person

Nikki, Herman Webb, and Doodlebug in the Coal Miner's Daughter cabin in Butcher Holler, Ky.

Butcher Holler Cabin

This is why I was compelled to stop at Hurricane Mills TN to see Loretta's mansion and park. I felt like it was a completion of circles, so to speak. Doodle wasn't with me, so I took lots of pics and recorded a video for her to see when I reached home.

With a smile on my face, I traveled back to the interstate to continue my trip to Little Rock AR. Unbeknownst to me, the stormy gray skies were waiting for my arrival to Clinton's home city before dropping an EF4 tornado. But, we'll save that story for next time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

All The SuperMoms of The World ~ Allergy Free Moms That ROCK!

It's Mother's Day, and all of us Moms get to sit in the honor seat today. It's not a seat most Moms relish sitting in. We are usually taking a back seat to all the joys of our children and living to make sure that we raise healthy responsible adults. I meet lots of advocates in the gluten free world who are mothers and started advocating due to their child being ill. 

People refer to our kind as Mama Bears, and sometimes, in a not-so-nice kind of way. That's OK. 

We earned that title because it is a natural instinct to protect your young. Sure, you can overdo it and there is a way to advocate positively in order to empower your children later in life. However, the single biggest blow I felt as a mother when my child was diagnosed with celiac, was because I kept thinking I had been responsible for slowly poisoning her for years, by simply doing what any Mom does, feed their young!

And to add insult to injury, the medical industry and her physicians seemed to think it was in both of our heads! I even started questioning whether I was afflicted with Munchhausen Syndrome and/or if she possibly had her real father's depression issues. When none of that seemed logical, the natural animistic tendency to tear into anyone who made her feel even worse than she already did was overwhelming.

I was determined to provide her with the options every other child had so I spent days, possibly months when you add them together, perfecting childhood favorites. Now, I realize she is so much better off than half of her peers in the dietary department - But, in the beginning, it was hard to see the forest for the trees.
Taking on advocating for any child like her became the new focus after she was equipped to handle many of the challenges presented to her. New challenges arise in her adolescent years and we tackle them together, but with the new purpose of her finding her own voice. Hopefully in the face of any challenge, our children will have the tools needed to tackle it and stand on their own two feet.

This section of my post will get emotional, but it is indeed important.
To all the Mothers that have been unsuccessful in becoming pregnant or carrying to term, I give you a huge hug this Mother's Day.
In the quest to be pregnant, I had 6 miscarriages, one of which was a child born at 6 months gestation and only lived five days. After little Brian died, I thought I would crack into pieces. For sure, the action of breathing was hard to do for many moons...I gave up.
Out of a miracle, I became pregnant with my Doodlebug. If that had never happened I know I would still become highly emotional on Mother's Day each year, with teary-ness and heartache.
My heart still aches immensely for anyone facing infertility.
Most of all, I wish the Want-To-Be-SuperMoms the blessing of dreams fulfilled...

~Much love to ALL Mothers everywhere for raising the children of the world, 
especially when any of them face adversity ~

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Look Out Music City, Cause I'm Here Now And I Ain't Never Leaving!

My apologies for being MIA for a couple weeks from blogging. In just two short weeks, we have had an event in Nashville, and taken a road trip out to Little Rock and St Louis to set those events up as well. Doing 9 events in a year is an incredible venture in itself, but as hard of a job as it is, the rewards are felt on multiple fronts. People ask me how I manage to do it and the truth is I don't really have time to focus on anything but making the events happening, so there is little time to ponder anything but the positive and making it come together for the community.

There is too much fantastic information for me to assimilate into one blog post. So for the next couple of posts made, you will take the 9 day journey with me across 7 states. Ready?

I left the mountains of NC and drove all night to get to Nashville,Tennessee.
Is it reminding you of a country song yet? Just wait, it will, if it hasn't already.

After a warm welcome by the CSA of Middle Tennessee and Nashville to their area, we set up and had an amazing time with the local vendors and volunteers who made their event possible. One of the hardest parts of pulling off an event is making sure you try to not have as much conflict as possible with other events. In the case of Nashville, we were competing with the Rock and Roll Marathon, and every city in the area holding their springtime festival. But still, we had an excellent turn out for a first time event.

The highlights included:

Meeting these beautiful people from Nashville

Meeting the beautiful, charming and talented local Nashville owner of The Wild Muffin and tasting her wildly popular treats!

Getting to meet the lovely Karen, from Cuisine Cube, who have the greatest treats to share through their monthly subscription without you having to track them down all over the country!

Tasting the delicious local Nashville bakery cupcakes from OMG That's Gluten Free? 

Salivating over the local Nashville gourmet marshmallows at The Bang Candy Co.

Oh my gluten free goodness, Maple, Bacon & Bourbon flavor with Belgian chocolate?

Loved meeting the local Nashville owner of Grab The Gold and trying a truly healthy treat

And we had the best time playing Gluten Free JINGO, therfore we are going to play it from now on instead of doing a boring raffle. We still get the same results in the end but have a whole lot of fun doing it!

At the end of every event, to say goodbye is bittersweet. We raise a whole lot of awareness, but it never seems like it is enough. I listen to people's stories everywhere, and they echo the same resonating plea for more awareness, more options, better physicians...but we all have a heck of a celebration in the meantime.

After packing up and saying goodbye to everyone including one of my favorite speakers, Jennifer Fugo, I hit the road and started my journey to set up the next events in Little Rock AR and St Louis MO. The next posts will include a stop at Loretta Lynn's Ranch and a deadly tornado that touched ground 10 miles from me as I sat eating my gluten free pizza.
I told you it was a country song in the making...