Friday, October 29, 2010

Time Flies

...when you're having fun!

Where in the Sam Hill did October go?  Here in the studio it was a happy blur of pumpkins and autumn leaves and ocean sunrises and hot air balloons, with a couple of tornadoes thrown in for good measure.  Thankfully, we survived.  Our prayers go with our neighbors here in Lincoln County who weren't as fortunate.

Happy Countdown Friday.
Today's Count stands at 337
Please remember to go to the polls and vote on November 2!

Next stop...turkey and tinsel***

Sunday, October 24, 2010


The word "serendipity" is loosely defined as the art of discovering something wonderful while searching for something else.
I was on my way home from Hamptonville, NC yesterday afternoon, having made a run to the Shiloh General Store for Amish butter and stone ground grits.  Yes, I can find those things closer to home, and I can order online, but this is October in North Carolina and the sun was shining.
Coming through Statesville, NC, I decided to skip I-40 in favor of Highway 70, and five minutes later found myself in the mother of all traffic jams.  We did not MOVE, and there was very little opportunity for turning around.  I did what I could to make the time pass.  Checked my emails on the Blackberry.  Ate a Pumpkin Whoopie Pie that I had told myself I was buying for Joe.  Listened to my favorite Beach Music CD three times while singing along at the top of my lungs until I noticed the guy in the car up ahead surveying me in his rear-view-mirror like he was considering calling the authorities. I had no clue what the holdup was - but they had my curiosity piqued, so I stuck around.
An HOUR LATER (no joke), we had inched along enough for me to see that everyone was heading for the Statesville Airport and this year's Hot Air Balloon Rally - the second largest in the US.  Realizing that this wasn't some kind of a disaster, but not about to pay the $10 admission fee, and feeling a little queasy from the Whoopie Pie, I elected not to turn in to the airport and gratefully waved goodbye to my guy up ahead (who was probably more grateful to be rid of me and Solomon Burke), and picked up speed toward home.
However, around several more curves and over a couple of hills, I came upon a little clump of cars that had pulled into a tiny side road that provided a great view of the horizon.  With no $10 ticket-taker in sight, I decided to park the car and see what might happen.  None of us knew if we were going to be in the flight path because balloons are prisoners of the wind, and it blows where it will.  But we waited. 

Then, silently, just beyond a nearby tree line, the balloons began rising like giant bubbles blown from one of those bubble-makers we all used to love as kids.  And one by one, they flew right past us on their way into the evening sky.  The only sound was the occasional hiss of their burners.  We counted somewhere in the vicinity of 50 balloons. 

October in North Carolina.  You just never know...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Making Lemonade

When life hands you lemons...
Most pessimists who hear that old saying look at you like they'd just as soon slap your face as hear it againMost of the year, I don't get where they're coming from - but in the fall, with days getting darker and shorter, cold winds beginning to blow, and the prospect of at least a few months between me and the next scent of jasmine on my back porch - I have to say I feel their pain.
Looking at the oak leaves in this photo, however, I gained a fresh perspective.  If you love the chore of raking all those leaves in the fall, raise your hand.  Yeah, that's what I thought.  (You can lower your hand now, sir.  The other twenty thousand of us don't share your joy.)  But here's the thing - my humble artistic effort in the middle of the shot can't hold a candle to what God did in my oak trees outside with just one breath.  And if He loves Autumn that much, who am I to complain?
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's Count is 344

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stealing Summer

We found a last, sweet slice of summer this weekend on our favorite beach in South Carolina.  There were two days of completely cloudless, deep clear blue skies with calm ocean, warm sunshine and white sand.
The view from the balcony.  Who says summer is over on Labor Day?  Not me!  The tidal inlet that you see in the foreground is shown at high tide.  The bridge that crosses it leads to the ocean.

Very early Sunday morning.  You can see the sun beginning to color the horizon over the ocean.  The air was warm and completely still.  Even the gulls were still sleeping.
Then, just a few seconds before sunrise, the whole sky caught fire.  
Followed in less than a minute by the sun.  How can one witness something like this and not understand that there is a God who loves us outrageously, and who intricately designed the earth with us in mind?  If any of you are fans of the big bang theory, you have my love (and my sympathy!).

Not five minutes later, there they all were, standing in clumps at the waters edge, stretching and yawning and waiting for breakfast.  We never heard a sound.  They just appeared - little tiny congregations of churchgoers at a Sunrise Service they enjoy every single day.  We should all be so lucky.

The rest of the day we spent right here, watching the tides, baking in the sun, and doing a lot of smiling.  Monday would find us back at work, but on this last stolen day of summer, we were a million miles away.
October Who?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Taking Flight

The bad news is time flies.
The good news is you're the pilot.
Michael Altshuler
Happy Countdown Friday
Today's Count is 351
Enjoy your weekend.  Make it count for something.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Foot in the Mouth

A few years ago, my sister called me one evening in a bit of a panic.  She was at a literary conference in Highlands, NC and had just come from dinner with friends and a few new acquaintances - among them the novelist Pat Conroy and his literary agent.  Not realizing that his agent was New York through-and-through, my sister had brightly offered what she considered a couple of humorous lines about people who aren't from "around here".  Even though the entire table laughed graciously, a good friend later pulled her aside with the "OMG-do-you-realize-what-you-just-said" speech.  What is a girl to do in this situation?  Trying to cheer her up, I sent her a message the next morning before breakfast.  "Sis, if you should happen to stick your foot in your mouth again before the conference disbands, just apologize by way of explaining that you're from North Carolina and all we ever really learned to do was make barbecue and make babies - the rest has been sort of hit and miss."  She loved it - and read it to the great amusement of the entire breakfast table (including Mr. Conroy) shortly thereafter.   
The following Christmas, I unwrapped my gift from her.  Beautifully framed, it was my written message to her, signed at the bottom with the following inscription:  "To Beth...Tell me about the babies part...Pat Conroy"
Among his many wonderful literary works is The Pat Conroy Cookbook, an outstanding love-song to Southern Cooking.  Below is his recipe for Shrimp and Grits, condensed by me for this blog.  I would encourage you to go buy the book and devour it from cover to cover.

Breakfast Shrimp and Grits
1 cup coarse white grits
2 thick slices of country bacon
1 small shallot
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon strained fresh lemon juice
Coarse or kosher salt
2 to 3 drops Tabasco Sauce

Slow cook the grits according to package directions - about 60 minutes - and set aside.  Slice the bacon into matchsticks and cook until crisp.  Remove the bacon, keep the fat in the pan.  Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until soft.  Add butter.  When butter melts, add shrimp, cooking until just pink, about 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and a pinch of salt and toss to coat.  Place a serving of grits into bowl.  Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon from pan and place a few shrimp on top of grits.  Add the crisp bacon and Tabasco to the remaining pan juices, swirling the skillet to blend into a sauce.  Pour over the shrimp and grits.

Enjoy, y'all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grits 101

So here's a secret for you non-Southerners.  That polenta you've been eating for years and drooling over in restaurants?  Grits in chic clothing.  So you might as well open your minds and your hearts to a dish we can't live without down here.

We eat grits for breakfast, sometimes for lunch, and very often for dinner.  They are made from dried corn.  They are referred to in the plural.  There probably is such a thing as "a grit" - but not in our vocabulary.  The best grits are milled the old fashioned way - stone ground.  The purists - especially the chefs - wouldn't think of offering anything but stone ground grits on their menus.  Stone ground grits have more texture than commercial brands such as Quaker Quick Grits.  But here's another secret - most of us aren't that discriminating.  In fact, I prefer Quaker Quick Grits, straight off the grocery store shelf - much in the same way any of you will gladly settle for a Hershey Bar if you get a chocolate craving and don't happen to be near the Godiva counter.  So if you decide to try this recipe, go buy a bag of Quaker Grits (not to be confused with Quaker Instant Grits, which you should avoid) and hold your head high.

Grits are not only delicious, they are versatile.  They are fabulous with nothing more than a knob of butter stirred in - but you can also finish them with a little heavy cream and grated cheddar cheese - or - heavy cream and Parmigiano Reggiano (my personal favorite) - or - red eye gravy, made from country ham drippings and black coffee (another post for another day, that country ham...) - or - cooked and baked with garlic and cheese - or smothered with spicy shrimp in a rich sauce for dinner.  So now that your mouth is watering, the basic recipe is below.  Once you master Grits 101, if you would like a Grits PhD, follow this link to the website of Anson Mills, purveyors of the real deal and a favorite of chefs everywhere.

Basic Grits
3 cups cold water
1 cup Quaker Quick Grits
1/2 teaspoon salt
Bring water to a boil.  Stir in the grits slowly.  Reduce heat to low.  Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover with a lid once the boiling is reduced to a simmer. Add any or all of the following to your taste - butter, heavy cream, grated cheddar or parmesan cheese.
(Stone Ground grits require a little more cooking time, but the results are the same.  Follow the package directions.)

Enjoy, y'all!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pumpkin "Time"

Don't you think God put pumpkins on the earth just so He could watch us smile?
Happy "Countdown Friday"
(Today's count is 358)
"Time is free, but it's priceless.  You can't own it, but you can use it.  You can't keep it, but you can spend it.  Once you've lost it, you can never get it back."
Harvey MacKay
Enjoy your weekend.  Go hug a pumpkin and lift a smile to God. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Countdown Friday

Welcome to Countdown Friday!  Each Friday for the next year, I hope to take a moment and consider the subject of time.  How do we use it?  How do we waste it?  Does it control us?  Do we control it?  Is it a gift?  Is it a curse?  Does that all depend?  Anyway, counting backwards until next October 1, our number stands today at 365.  Enjoy your day!  Enjoy your year!
"There is only one you for all time.  Fearlessly be yourself."
Anthony Rapp