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Letting the dog off the leash - Denese Rodgers

I had a conference in Athens last week. It was informative and well organized, and (yawn) met all the requirements for education and self-improvement.

Now, having been at Athens in my early 20s, it is an easy sell to get me to attend anything in that beautiful city.

They've really spiffed Athens up since I lived there. There are dozens of cute, little bistros and music places to choose from, and the city is much cleaner.

There has also been some artsy thing, where businesses have displayed a big ol' bulldog statue, creatively decorated. I guess that was inspired by the painted cow thing that they did in Atlanta a few years back.

After the conference was over, we decided to stay the weekend just to get away for a bit before the crunch of the Christmas season. Divine intervention made the weather a vision to behold -- perfect, crisp, sunny mornings and warm, toasty afternoons.

Music wafted through the alternating sounds of giggling teenagers, enthusiastic football fans, and the normal street traffic. It looked like my idea of a heavenly red-and-black kaleidoscope.

Friday night, we strolled around until we found a restaurant on Broad Street. It was an Italian place called, DePalma's. When I was in Athens before, the closest things to Italian we had were pizza and sub joints.

I am equally certain that my willingness to seek out finer dining has a lot to do with the passage of time, and, I guess, maturity. Back then, I could subsist happily on pizza and subs.

Saturday morning, we strolled around until we found a breakfast nook. This place was called, "Mama's Boy," and its specialty was poached eggs on a salmon croquette.

I have got to try this one at home. I almost hurt myself trying to finish eating that thing. The coffee had to have been flavored by the perfect sunbeam that was streaming through the window.

On the way back, we took a side trip up and down the greenway that they've added along the riverside. Somebody has gotten real smart about what to do with tourists in the Classic City.

Later that afternoon, we noticed the Georgia Theatre marquee touting, "GA vs FL on the big screen." Well, that was the best we could have imagined, since we weren't in Jacksonville.

We joined about 100 of our new closest friends that evening to scream, whoop, and holler as the dawgs broke a woeful losing streak. I'm still a tad hoarse today from trying to help Stafford throw the ball. I haven't shrieked and jumped around like that since I actually went to live Georgia games.

The next day, as we were gingerly massaging sore muscles, I noticed Vinnie Testaverde on TV. You know Vinnie, he's the 44-year old quarterback for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

I could hardly hobble around the hotel room after one night of joy, and there he is, dodging and weaving around a bunch of 25-year-old kids.

I know he is a well-conditioned athlete, but, hey, it was not as if I was playing quarterback. I just jumped and hollered a little.

Deep sigh. I think I need whatever is in his Gatorade.

Denese Rodgers is the director of Connecting Henry. Her column appears on Wednesdays. She can be reached at (770) 288-6230, or at connectinghenry@co.henry.ga.us