Happy Birthday Dad

My Dad, Joseph Henry Cunningham, would have been 67-years-old today. That is young in my book, too young to die for sure. Dad had just retired about this time last year. I’d talked to him about throwing a BIG retirement party but he talked me out of it. That is a decision I regret. Maybe he was talking himself out of it because he really didn’t want to retire after all. His two excuses for not having the soiree:

  • People would not show up because it was a Friday night and everyone in Carlisle would be at the high school football game – the Bison were heading to the state championship most likely.
  • No one would want to spend their Sunday afternoon at his retirement party at the hall at the church.

Dad died suddenly on May 22nd. He was in Mt. View working on his cabin when he had his heart attack. I still haven’t gotten my head wrapped around the fact that he is gone. Friends who’ve lost parents tell me that I may never get my head wrapped around it.

Cocktail Hour With Dad

Cocktails and Smiles in NYC with my Dad

What I have figured out and wrapped my head around is this. The next time I want to throw a party for someone I love, I’m going to do it. If I want to talk to someone I love, I’m gonna call them. If they don’t answer, I’m going to leave a message. I’m not sending any text messages. I’m calling. My Dad and I played phone tag the week before he died. He left me the sweetest most heart felt message ever that week. Luckily, I saved it and on occasion I’ll listen to it which usually sets off a river of tears and a simultaneous smile. He just wanted to tell me how much he loved me and to call him when I had some time. I am so glad he didn’t hang up that day when I didn’t answer and went on to leave me such a keepsake of a message. I’ll forever be able to hear his voice even now that he is gone.

Usually on his birthday, Father’s Day or Christmas, I’d ask him what he’d like to have. His response was, “just some time with you.” Our last time together, just the two of us, was on March 13th. I’d flown back to Arkansas to hire an attorney after being served divorce papers the day before on the street at 7:40 in the morning after dropping Corbin off for school. Needless to say, it was not the happiest of times for me. But looking back on it now, it was probably the most time the two of us had spent together alone in a long time.

Despite the legal business at hand for me, Dad managed to help me shift my focus for a bit. He took me to his most recent construction site to show me the progress. He’d bought a small lot in a neighborhood that needed a facelift of sorts and was building a really cute house. Dad was proud of it. I was proud of him for taking the risk. If I was looking to buy a house in Lonoke, Arkansas, I would have bought it. It was that cute!

I would give anything to have some time with him today, right now. I would love to be able to sit and sip on a gin and tonic with him and just “visit” as he liked to say. I would love to take that trip to the White River in Mt. View and check out his wood working workshop. He was looking forward to spending time after his retirement in that workshop. The last time I saw him turning wood on a lathe, I was in middle school! That was a long time ago! He was making miniature duck calls then. I wished he could have found a way to work his retirement dream into his pre-retirement life. I’m pretty sure he thought he would have more that 7 months of retirement before he checked out!

For Dad’s birthday, I’m giving myself a gift since I can’t give him one. The gift is this. I’m going to spend more time with my friends and family – at least the one’s I like! I may be sad, but I haven’t totally lost my mind! And to do what I love TODAY, not next week, next month or next year. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Yes, I’ll plan for the future,  but I’m going to make sure I live each day to the fullest. That’s one hell of a gift, I think. Dad would agree, too.

Living the Dream in New York City

Living the Dream

When I was anchoring the morning news cast at KTAL-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana, my dream was to move to New York City and take over for Katie Couric. I thought I’d look fantastic alongside Matt and Al. (Some days, I still think that!) But sometimes life takes you on the scenic route. That’s what happened to me.  Fast forward—A few years later, I was no longer in television news.  I was married and soon after nursing a baby and changing diapers. Fast forward to now…

sheep's meadow in Central Park

All Smiles from the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park

I am living in New York City and loving every minute of it. So half of my dream came true. But Katie, you can sleep easy. I’m no longer gunning for your job! So how did I get here? I would have never in a million years thought that my repeat vacation destination would later become my home town, thanks in part to our Exclusive Resorts Concierge in New York.

From Arkansas to the Apple

One day, at our home in Jonesboro, Arkansas, my husband and I had a serious discussion about moving to New York City. It went like this:

“DJ, what do you think about moving to New York City?”, said Mark.

“I’ll be ready in five minutes!”, DJ exclaimed.

It was one of the most decisive conversations we’d ever had.

We’d lived the majority of our lives in Arkansas, but from the first Exclusive Resorts trip to Manhattan, we were in love with the Big Apple. There wasn’t just one thing about the city that drew us here. There were a lot of different things. From the people and food, to the museums and lights of Broadway, the city captivated us in a way like no other city in the country.

After a few weekend getaways, we found ourselves scouting out apartments instead of sightseeing. Our ER concierge encouraged our curiosity. On her days off, she would go to real estate open houses and then call us with the scoop.(Talk about service that goes above and beyond!)

“It was awful. Total fixer-upper.”

“Those on-line photos have been photoshopped to death”

“It was AMAZING, D.J., you’d love the kitchen! But it’s under contract.”

It was a process. But finally, we found the right place for the whole family. We moved on August 10, 2010, and it was a day I will never forget. We walked into our beautiful new apartment on the Upper West Side with just a few suitcases and Leo, our dachshund.

living room

My Living Room featured in Lonny October 2011

I knew I was no longer just a visitor in New York City. There would not be a car waiting to pick me up in a few days to catch a return flight to Arkansas. Or a packed schedule of things to see and do. All I had to do was put down my bags, kick off my shoes and exhale! I was home and I was over the moon excited about this new chapter in our lives.

Settling In

When we moved, I knew New York pretty well—for a visitor. But as you can probably imagine, living in New York City is a totally different experience. I moved from Jonesboro, Arkansas, a town of roughly 60,000 people, to one of the largest cities in the world in a matter of hours. Everything was different. You can’t just zip across town to the grocery store and park your car in the lot. I learned to love the subway, which is hands down the fastest and easiest way to get around NYC, other than walking!

All-weather gear was not anything I spent much time worrying about before I moved. Proper outwear is essential every day of the year in New York. It is a walking city and you need to be dressed appropriately all the time. Rain, sleet, snow or sun, I don’t want to be stuck in midtown without the proper gear in the event of a downpour or a blizzard in January. Or caught in the sweltering heat of July without my sunglasses and a hat! Without the sanctuary of a car to duck into, it’s just me and the elements most days. Although a taxi or the subway isn’t usually too far away.

Full Contact Shopping

About that grocery store, and shopping in general? It’s not easy to trek four blocks from the grocery store with heavy bags in tow! I learned to shop for a few days at a time so I could carry the bags home—or better yet, have them delivered. I can even order groceries on-line and have them delivered….all from the comfort of my bed! Grocery delivery definitely comes in handy when snow is piled high on the side walks and the temperature drops below freezing.

Maneuvering in a Manhattan grocery store is like living in a bad video game. The aisles are tiny and so are the grocery carts. The energy in my local store, Fairway, is similar at times to what you’d feel at a boxing match. You can feel the anticipation of someone about to take out a shopper with a one-two punch at any given moment, for no reason other than they aren’t moving fast enough!

School Next Door—And Everywhere

Some things are more convenient in New York than they were in Jonesboro. Corbin started kindergarten in the public school right next door to our apartment – no morning commute for us. In Jonesboro, I’d have to get Corbin in his car seat and make the drive across town to his school every day. But now it was just a short three-minute walk to the front of the school! Reading, writing, and arithmetic just steps away from home.

Corbin at Bronx Zoo

Corbin and the Hairy Creature at the Zoo

And let’s talk about the field trips! Corbin and his class have visited the Central Park Zoo, the Bronx Zoo, the Natural History Museum, and Ellis Island. He even has an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., and a trip to London in his elementary school future. Growing up in Carlisle, Arkansas, I remember one time we checked out a local dairy farm and once even made a trip to the state capitol and the Little Rock Zoo! New York City itself is a classroom for Corbin and the rest of us, too.

Do Not Enter

What’s not part of my New York Experience? Two words: Times Square. Sure, I’ve done the touristy things in the city, and still do on occasion. But I only venture into Times Square if I’m on the losing end of a bet with Corbin and have to take him to the indoor Ferris wheel at Toys R Us to settle up. Other than that? Forget it. Even if I have theater tickets I’ll sidestep the whole area to avoid the chaos. (We did shoot ONE scene of the NYC episode of “Meet Me There” in Times Square. It was NUTS, even more so than usual. After we wrapped the episode, we found out that there had been a crash involving some tour busses a block away from where we were shooting!)

DJ in front of Juniors in Times Square

Escaping the Times Square Bus Crash Insanity

It’s been four years since we moved to New York City but it feels like I’ve been here much longer. I may be Southern by the grace of God, but I’m a big city girl at heart. As for the other half of my dream? I’m living it right now with Exclusive Resorts, getting to create “Meet Me There.” Sharing my adventures with you and introducing you to new people and places is also something my 22-year-old self would have never thought possible! See, dreams do come true, and sometimes turn out even better than you expected.

East Hampton Off-Season

After 3 years of living in New York, I finally trekked out to East Hampton for an off season weekend get away with the boys.   I wanted to find out what all of the fuss is about.  I typically leave the city over the summer but head West or go on a trip to an Exclusive Resorts location. But right in my backyard is one of the hottest vacation-getaway spots in the country.

For the get-away, our friends gave us their beautiful house on Swamp Road in East Hampton on the way to Sag Harbor.  Our first stop in East Hampton was for a boozy brunch at Babette’s.

Babette's was a hit!

Babette’s was a hit!

She is big on the farm to table approach to eating. But the food is not what I want to talk about. It was the mimosa, the watermelon mimosa.  Fresh pureed watermelon with a half bottle of Mumm Napa Valley sparkling wine.

Trio of yummy goodness

Trio of yummy goodness

It was unique, simple and delicious!

Later in the day, we drove out on route 27 to Montauk.

You are here!

You are here!

We were taking in all the sights, the deer and the water…and then a police car.  We locked eyes, the police officer and me,  and I knew I’d been caught so I just pulled myself over.  He asked me if I knew I was going 60 in a 40 and I told him I didn’t even know what the speed limit was…kindly he let me go! Corbin, my 8-year-old thought it was hilarious!! My husband on the other hand, not so much.

We ended our first night in the Hampton’s at Sag Harbor at Tutto Il Giorno.  It was highly recommended and frankly, I was highly disappointed with my dish.  The boys out ordered me.  As we were finishing up dessert, out walks exercise guru to the stars like Madonna  and Gwyneth Paltrow – Tracey Anderson.  She looked great.  She was wearing jeans, a cropped brown leather jacket and her hair in a ponytail. She is a tiny little thing.  It was cool to see her. I mean, I feel like I know her.  After all, we’ve worked out together on and off for months now, on DVD, in my apartment.

After 24 hours, I finally tapped into the magic of the Hampton’s that everyone talks about.  To me, for the most part it looks like every well kept small town in America.

Small town East Hampton

Small town East Hampton

It reminded me in a way of where I grew up in Carlisle, Arkansas with all of the original old buildings. But the buildings on Main Street in East Hampton are home to Ralph Lauren, Tiffany and Co., Elie Tahari and Brunello Cucinelli.

Brunello Cucinelli Hampton's style

Brunello Cucinelli Hampton’s style

Instead, The Big Teaze, City Hall and the local drug store can be found in the old buildings in Carlisle, Arkansas.  But the Hampton’s are located along the beach and two hours from New York City!  Big difference!  The trip out was easy, especially since it’s the off-season. We are definitely going back. I’ll leave you with some of the photos I’ve posted on Instagram and included here!

Beach Cabanas

Beach Cabanas

Running wild and free

Running wild and free


Ka-Ching homes of the waterfront

Ka-Ching homes of the waterfront

Two thumbs up for the smile!

Two thumbs up for the smile!

Super charming Book Hamptons

Super charming Book Hampton

Buying a Mom approved souvenir

Buying a Mom approved souvenir

Blue and Cream pit stop

Blue and Cream pit stop


Catch a flick on Main Street

Catch a flick on Main Street

Travel buddies

Travel buddies

20 toes in the Atlantic in October

20 toes in the Atlantic in October

All good things must come to an end.

All good things must come to an end.

My post is part of Instagram Travel Thursday.

Instagram Travel Thursday












Front Page Below the Fold

Carter Harrison knows fried catfish

By DJ Duckworth


Some of the most amazing food can be found on the small, yet jam packed island of Manhattan. If you can think of it, it is here. Whether it is authentic Thai, Mexican, Indian or Turkish dishes, you will find it in New York City. And to make it even better, you can have just about any of it delivered. The only exception, I have found is the lack of really good southern cuisine. More specifically, fried catfish. Sure, you can find it in New York City, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the tasty versions that are served up across the southern United States.

However, one man is making catfish served southern style available to the masses across the country. Carter Harrison, the man behind King Kat Inc. of Hickory Plains, has been either raising, processing or catering catfish since the 1970s. Harrison was recently in Washington, D.C. cooking for the Catfish Farmers of America when I caught up with him to talk about his career and the current state of the catfish industry.

Before the crowd of Southern senators and congressman arrived at the reception, Harrison talked with me about his business. He got his start with catfish in the late 1960s working alongside his late father-in-law Raymond Schroeder in Carlisle. The two would often spend 18 hour work days along side each other. Harrison, who grew up in Des Arc, says he had no clue what he wanted to be when he grew up. “How many young people know what they wanna do? I grew up in the country and just knew I liked being outside,“ Harrison said.

Outside is where Harrison was when we spoke as he prepped for the reception not far from the steps of the nation’s Capitol. The hot topic of the evening was the inspection process of catfish with the focus being on imports. Harrison says the imported catfish from China and Vietnam is cheaper but not being held up to the same standards as the U.S. raised catfish. “They are bringing it in at a lower cost, not by the guidelines that they need to be, competing with our product that is cultured and produced under good situations under U.S. guidelines.” Currently, imported catfish has 75 percent of the filet market.

The United States Department of Agriculture currently inspects catfish, but the government, sighting duplicity issues, wants to move the inspections to the Food and Drug Administration’s supervision. According to Ben Pentecost, president of the Catfish Farmers of America, 91 percent of the fish in the U.S. is imported. The FDA currently inspects only two percent of the imports and conducts chemical testing on one tenth of one percent of imported fish. The House Agriculture committee has already voted to move the inspections from under the USDA to the FDA. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Joey Lowery, from Newport, farms 400 acres of catfish.

“We can compete with anybody but we have to have the right atmosphere to do that in,“ Lowery said. The catfish inspections are detailed in the 2008 farm bill that has yet to be implemented. Congressman Rick Crawford, serves on the agriculture sub committee that voted to move the inspections to the FDA. “It’s a food safety issue, it’s a quality issue and it’s not a trade retaliation issue,” Crawford says. “If the FDA is going to be in charge of inspecting it, we are going to make sure they inspect it properly and to the right standard.”

U.S. seafood importers with the aid of the National Fisheries Institute have spent over a million dollars to keep the inspections under the FDA’s authority.

After marrying his wife, Debbye, Carter Harrison went into full-time catfish production, even building catfish ponds and processing catfish. In 1985, he streamlined the business focusing primarily on catering. Harrison now has three full-time workers and his family often helps out, even though he says King Kat isn’t a traditional family business. His children seem to disagree.

“No one can merely ‘observe’ when at the farm,” says Harrison’s daughter Shana. She was at the farm before her father left for the Washington, D.C., trip. “Before the day was out, I was sent off to buy dry ice for the trip. At one point, I also saw Chris and Bryce out in the kitchen doing something to get it ready. It seems that the concept of ‘family business’ continues to grow with us, despite our age or how far away from Prairie County we roam.”

Harrison’s mobile operation runs like a well-oiled machine. He does some prep work before leaving Hickory Plains and adds the finishing touches once he arrives on site. The food is packed in ice chests on dry ice. The Mississippi-raised catfish is later dressed and fried in his mobile kitchen. Like the veil of secrecy surrounding the ingredients of Kentucky Fried Chicken’s recipe, Harrison prefers to keep his breading recipe under wraps. But he does make a concession when I ask him if he will divulge it to me, “only if you wanna buy it!” he says.

If you can think of an event where you need a meal, King Kat has catered it — from RiverFest, to funerals, to luncheons in Washington, D.C., to fundraisers at local schools. As one publications once wrote, King Kat has served catfish from the outhouse to the White House.

With a career spanning over 40 years, Harrison talks about his favorite part of the job. “Pleasing people,” he says this with a pause as tears come to his eyes. “I’ve enjoyed working with a lot of young people along the way, too.”

When asked what he would be doing if he weren’t the king of catfish catering, he says with a laugh, “I wouldn’t be fishing! I’d be seeing the county. I’d still eat catfish though, maybe driving a bus and touring people in later years but that won’t happen. I’m gonna cook to long to do that.”

In the fast paced world of social media, you won’t find King Kat on Facebook and you will not be able to keep up with their travels on Twitter. You can’t even get the scoop on King Kat off of his website – there isn’t one. Harrison says, “we have a phone number” and that has kept him busy and in business since 1980.

DJ Duckworth is a television journalist currently living in New York City. The Carlisle native is a contributing writer for New York Family magazine. You can read more about her adventures atwww.iamdjduckworth.com

Southerner and the City: Catfish in the Capitol


Southerner and the City on Catfish and Politics

May 30, 2013

I grew up eating my fair share of catfish. Whether it was at a back yard fish fry, at Nick’s in Carlisle or Murry’s in Hazen, I could always count on eating really good fried catfish at any of those places. After eating some of the best southern caviar as I like to call it, I’ve basically decided that I don’t need to eat this delicacy anywhere north of I-40 in Arkansas. Why, you ask? I’ve found it to be a waste of calories and money! Most people just don’t know how to properly cook the stuff.

I made an exception recently on a trip down to Washington, D.C. when Carter Harrison headed to the Capitol to cook for the Catfish Farmer’s of America. Since 1985, Harrison has made a yearly trip to DC cooking for various groups, including senators and congressmen. Hailing from Prairie County, Harrison is the man behind King Kat, which is one of our nations premier mobile catfish catering businesses. My Dad tagged along for the trip as Harrison’s right hand man which made the occasion even more special for me – my Dad and catfish.

With all of Arkansas’ political delegation in attendance, the crowd dined on catfish as they discussed the topic of the evening…catfish inspections. And without going into my old investigative journalist mode here, I’ll just say this. At issue is the government’s inspection of imported catfish. American catfish farmers want the USDA to inspect the imports, while the government is leaning toward having the FDA inspect the fish. The USDA inspects a larger percentage of fish than the FDA. The imported fish is also not held to the same standards as American raised catfish. So, without a more in depth inspection, American catfish farmers claim that the imported fish may raised using banned drugs and chemicals and may in fact not even be catfish at all. The USDA inspections, outlined in the 2008 Farm Bill, have yet to be implemented and may be heading for the chopping block.

As a consumer, we have to arm ourselves with all of the information we can about where our food is being raised and what chemicals are being used on it. Does your fish come from China or a pond in Mississippi? I’ve found it’s best to know the difference between farm raised and wild caught fish. And now, I’ll be asking if the catfish is American raised or imported!

Keep up with DJ’s adventures by following her on Twitter @mrsdjduckworth and on Facebook. Check out www.iamdjduckworth.com for more. DJ is a contributing writer for New York Family magazine. She lives in Manhattan with her two boys and the world’s most amazing wiener dog, Leo!

– See more at: http://www.jonesboro.com/newstaffy/item/7164/Southerner+and+the+City+on+Catfish+and+Politics+#sthash.16EaTmkI.dpuf