Sunday, July 24, 2011

High School Football in the South

High School Football is a huge part of living in the South. In fact, it’s almost a southern religion. Every year, football season is eagerly anticipated by a large portion of the community. It usually starts with spring practice, when the local team is sized up by the community, and scrimmages are held.

High school football is a big deal with southern living. How big? I’ll give you an example. Our state-of-the-art football stadium holds 10,000 people, even though the population of our small town is only around 15,000 or so, according to the 2000 census. At big games, the stadium is filled, too.

Attending Friday night football games is sort of a ritual in the Deep South, especially in small, close-knit communities, where most people know the players and the coaches. Before the most important games, community pep rallies are often held, and they might include bonfires, bands, guest speakers, and more. And if the team makes it to the playoffs, the pep rallies get even bigger, and more community events are held. The last time our team made it to the state semi-finals, hordes of people lined the highway leading out of town to cheer the buses as the boys left. Many fans were holding up signs.

If you’re not accustomed to high school football games in the Deep South, allow me to describe one for you. You buy your ticket the day before or at the gate, unless you hold season passes for reserved seating. You find your seat immediately, or you stop first for some snacks: boiled peanuts, roasted peanuts, cotton candy, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, nachos, candy apples, popcorn, candy bars, and soft drinks. The atmosphere is very festive, and there’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the fans. You visit with friends and neighbors while you wait for the game to start.
At starting time, the United States flag is raised, and the high school band plays the Star Spangled Banner. Sometimes there’s a vocalist, too. The home team’s and the visiting team’s cheerleaders have made huge paper banners beforehand. When the teams exit the field house, they crash through these banners as they enter the field, while the band plays the school’s fight song. At our stadium, we have the added effect of smoke billowing from the field house. And then the action starts.

Many southern teams do something special every time they score. For example, a cannon is fired at our stadium when the home team scores points in the game, and the cheering from the home side is even louder than the cannon blast.

At halftime, the home band and the visiting band entertain the crowd with some pretty impressive shows that include marching, configurations, flags, and in some schools, baton twirling. Also during the halftime break, the cheerleaders toss small footballs to the crowd, and just about every fan tries to catch one. All in all, attending a high school football game in the South is a great way to spend an evening, and it's a wonderful part of southern living!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Camping in Florida

One of the great things about living in the South is the availability of numerous outdoor activities. If you’re into the camping life, you’ll love this part of southern living. There are plenty of great camping spots around the Deep South, including many in Florida. As you might already know, there’s a significant difference in the climates of the Sunshine State. In South Florida, the weather is pretty warm all year. At the other end of the spectrum, North Florida has weather that’s more like Georgia, with cooler falls, winters, and springs.

We’ve done a lot of camping in North Florida. If you have a camper with air conditioning, July and August are good times to go camping, especially if you’re planning on swimming and other water activities. Actually, we prefer to go Florida camping in September. The weather isn’t quite as hot then, but it’s still warm enough to swim in the ocean. And yes, many Florida campgrounds are either on the beach or very near the beach.

The absolute worst time to go camping in Florida is in April or May, at least from our experiences. You’ll most likely be attacked relentlessly by sand gnats, and they bite. After one late spring camping trip to Florida, my children had so many bites on their bodies that their teachers thought they had chicken pox and sent them home from school. Hubby had to go up to the school and show them his bites before we could convince the school officials that the girls didn’t have chicken pox.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Southern Beaches: Anna Maria Island

One thing I love about living in the South is that I’m near some great beaches and islands. Southern living just doesn’t get much better than that. One of our favorite vacation destinations is located on Florida’s gulf coast, just south of Tampa. The name of this small island is Anna Maria, and it’s truly awesome for families. When we go, we take the daughters, the sons-in-law, the grandkids, and friends with us. Everyone has a blast!

If you’re used to the fast pace of Orlando and other tourist meccas, Anna Maria Island will be a wonderful change. It’s totally laid back. In fact, when we go, we’re sometimes convinced that all the clocks on the island run slower. We call it “island time.” You’ll also enjoy the friendly natives, the perfect weather, and the tropical flowers and foliage.
Like most islands, the biggest attraction here is the beach, and Anna Maria has several top-notch beaches, ranging from busy and somewhat crowded to practically deserted. Choose your poison! You can also choose what type of surf you want. Some of the beaches have no waves at all, while others have some gentle waves. No matter which beach you visit on the island, you’ll find clear water and super soft white sand.

Anna Maria Island doesn’t have high-rise hotels and condominiums, but you will find plenty of vacation lodgings. Choose an inn, a private home, a hotel, or a condo. Many accommodations are right on the Gulf or the bay, but no matter where you stay on the island, you won’t be far from a gorgeous beach.

Spend your days swimming, skimboarding, body surfing, crabbing, kayaking, fishing, building sand castles, bird watching, or just relaxing in the sun. The grandkids love snorkeling at the nothern tip of the island, where they find starfish and sand dollars. Rent a boat or a jet ski at a local marina and do some exploring. You can even swim with horses! If you need more entertainment, cross the bridge to Bradenton or drive a few miles to Sarasota for aquariums, museums, tons of restaurants, kids’ activities, and tons of restaurants. You won’t have to leave the island to enjoy some great meals, however. Forget the national chains and opt for a locally owned island restaurant. Choose from fresh gulf seafood, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, crepes, southern barbecue, bakery items, frozen treats, and much more. Believe me, pals – this is southern living at its best!

Living in the South: Fall Foliage

If you’ve lived in the North and are now living in the South, you might think you’re going to miss the brilliant fall foliage to which you’re accustomed, now that you’re enjoying southern living. In some areas of the Deep South, you’re right – you won’t see a lot of autumn color in Florida, South Georgia, South Alabama, South Louisiana, or South Mississippi. You’ll see splotches here and there, but that’s about it. Don’t give up completely on southern fall foliage, however!

The mountains of North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, and Western North Carolina erupt in a kaleidoscope of bright colors every fall! The hillsides and valleys are literally covered with scarlet, crimson, orange, gold, yellow, ochre, and rust. In fact, I think this area would rival any in the United States when it comes to colorful autumn leaves.

A couple of the best places to take in the fall foliage in the South are in North Georgia and in the Great Smoky Mountains. In North Georgia, check out the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway, just north of Helen, GA. This is a beautiful drive that takes you past some of the highest elevations in the state. You’ll pass by country churches, small farms, historic homes, and verdant valleys. The road is winding, with some hairpin turns, so drive carefully, especially when you’re in a cloud.

Another breathtakingly beautiful drive is the one between Cherokee, North Carolina and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. This drive is all landscape, with no houses and no businesses to adulterate your experience. There are numerous places to pull over and soak up the amazing scenery. Along the way, you might even see black bears, deer, or wild turkeys. Be warned – at the height of the season, the traffic can be bumper-to-bumper, especially on the weekends.

The peak foliage time for these regions is usually around the middle of October, but it changes slightly from year to year, depending on weather conditions. You can keep abreast of the leaf change via the internet.