Sunday, December 31, 2006

2006: A Look Back

I arrived in North Carolina on May 5th of this year - so while I wasn't here a full year, I figure 8 months of Country Girl living warrant a look back.

The truth is, that much of what I write about has to do with challenges and how I cope or find a solution. Whether it's where to find iced coffee (no honey, I don't mean like a latte) or rearing 2 pygmy goats, my move to North Carolina has presented me with a plethora of challenging situations to deal with - some more humorous than others.

In no particular order, here are some of the highlights of 2006:

* While getting goats was a sheer joy, it has not been without its difficult moments. Obviously, the deaths of Nanny and Claudette were tragedies that highlighted there was going to be more responsibility than we originally anticipated. However, despite their deaths, the never-ending worm problem, and the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy, I wouldn't trade Elvis and Ann-Margaret for anything. And I hope that 2007 brings some new members to the herd.

* Iced coffee was an early Achilles heel. It seems that the concept of brewed coffee served cold over ice is a hard one for the residents of Lincolnton to grasp (which is odd because iced tea is like the national beverage). Still, solutions were to be found. It started with a conversation explaining exactly what I wanted with one of the local coffee purveryors who kept me fueled for a week. Then there was the discovery of an iced coffee maker at our local discount store which allowed me to take matters into my own hands. And finally, by June I was driving into Charlotte on a daily basis where the concept of iced coffee wasn't so hard to grasp.

* Being behind the wheel again has been both thrilling and nerve wracking. There was the mysterious pothole I hit early on which ripped through the underside of the Mercedes and sent a piece of the fan through the radiator. Then there was the time I backed out of the garage (also in the Mercedes) and didn't cut the wheel and slammed the front left wheel into the side of the garage, leaving a big dent (among either things). Thank God we sold that car and got the Volvo - although the pressure of being behind the wheel generally requires I pop a Xanex. There was of course the "fender bender" which proved just how kick-ass my truck was and the second accident when someone tapped me from behind (while in the precious Volvo) while parked at a red light (no damage - Phew!). Debating about weaving in and out of lanes to keep moving forward while in rush hour traffic or the struggles of driving at night have been other driving issues. I don't know that I can say firmly all of my driving mishegas is behind me though - so add it to the list of "Areas to Improve" for 2007.

* Rumors abounded that Lincolnton was getting the world's largest Bojangles. Well, the new outpost has opened and while it does not appear to be the world's largest (there is one in Charlotte that appears to be significantly bigger), it may be the busiest. I counted 20+ cars in the drive through line yesterday at 12:30pm - and the parking lot was full! Honey - you wanna go get you a chicken biscuit?

* Tony Baloney showed up in our garage on a rainy Wednesday and became the newest member of our clan. He slowly graduated from an outdoor cat who occasionally came in the house, to an indoor cat who likes to go out. He and Sebastian seem to peacefully co-exist (although they aren't exactly friends) and Tony has even carved out a spot on our already over-crowded double bed (the new king bed arrives in 2 weeks - I can't wait!) - right smack in the middle!

* We managed to discover a few local watering holes - although they tended to be more of the biker bar variety. Still, I miss the smoke free environment of NY and NJ - you know it's bad when you come home and your socks reek of smoke...

* I learned to shop at Wal-Mart and Lowes. Actually, I didn't learn to shop anywhere. Shopping is an innate act for me - sort of like breathing. I can have a good time at CVS. But I learned to feed my habit in new and lower-priced ways.

* After struggling with my morning routine (remember the gate, the coffee, the too small bag?) I took care of the problems. The gate has been fixed - it is now close enough to the ground that there is no threat of Ann-Margaret slipping through (although her growing belly helps there too). We have a new latch that requires the simple flip of a pin. And under the tree I found that Santa had left me a beautiful new bag that is big enough to hold all of my crap and comfortably fits over my shoulder - leaving my hands free to carry my coffee.

* I found out that there are other Jews in Lincolnton- although Hanukkah candles were harder to come by.

* Lastly - I found that I love living in the country. When we first moved down, I made Marty promise that we would plan to move to Charlotte by next year. We went so far as to put a deposit on an apartment in a high rise in Uptown Charlotte that is currently under construction. But as can happen in this life, plans change. We discovered that while all is not perfect, we like where we are and don't want to give that up. Plus - I'd miss the goats too much.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

So...Cats Really Do Kill Mice


How do I know this? Because I just saw Tony carrying a dead mouse in his mouth. Ok - so I didn't witness the actual killing. But when you see a cat with a dead mouse, you make certin assumptions.

In my case, I went to bring Tony in from the rain, and when he emerged from the crawl space under the house where he likes to hang, he had a big grey blob in his mouth. At first, I thought it was a giant dust ball. Then I saw the tail. And the ears. And then I screamed (how un-Country Girl of me) and ran back into this house and left my cat and his prey to their own devices.


Now I am wondering, if he killed it, does that mean he'll eat it?

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Stayed tuned tomorrow for the If That Ain't Country Year End Review.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Sophie's Choice

Although I have never read the William Styron novel or seen the movie starring the incomparable Meryl Streep, I know the basic premise of Sophie's choice (or at least I think I know): a mother can only save 1 of her 2 children - how does she choose?

Well, I know find myself faced with a similar dilemna.

Consensus is that little Ann-Margaret is pregnant. We aren't sure - after all, we never caught Elvis and Ann-Margaret in flagrante delecto. But there was a period where he was obsessively grooming her and following her around the pasture (much to her displeasure) and my mother-in-law commented that Ann-Margaret was looking a little wide. I think she always looks a little wide so I am not convinced. But we should know something in the next few weeks - a dead giveaway will be if her nipples drop.

Assuming Ann-Margaret is pregnant, it raises some serious questions in terms of how to let the goats interact going forward. Marty and I have not exercised any discipline with these goats - they have been free to roam whenever, whereever and with whomever. In fact, every time we've tried to separate Ann-Margaret and Elvis, they have both been devastated.

But once we have babies it all changes. First and foremost, you want to avoid in-breeding . And apparently Elvis can be a serious threat to the kids - to the point where he may try to kill them because he feels threatened.

According to my father-in-law, who successfully raised over a dozen goats, we have several options.

1) After the babies are born, get rid of Elvis and bring in a new billy goat who is unrelated for future breeding. This is apparently a standard course of action for serious breeders. To me, getting rid of Elvis is like breaking up a family. I just can't do it.

2) The other option is to section off the pasture in paddocks and keep Elvis separate from the rest of the herd. He and Ann-Maragret can interact, but we have to keep him away from the babies once they get old enough - especially during mating season. We may be Southerners now, but that don't mean we want them inbred goats.

No matter what, we have to keep Elvis away from the babies in the early days. Apparently, he may either intentionally or unintentionally attack/injure/kill them because he feels threatened - or because he doesn't know what he is doing. I don't know what we'll do there - I can't imagine keeping him locked in the stall.

The thruth is, I hope Ann-Margaret has just put on some holiday poundage (like the rest of us) and is not pregnant because having to choose between Elvis and the babies - well that's just a choice I am not ready to make.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oh Hanukkah Candles, Where Art Thou?

Some time Tuesday night, it occured to me that Hanukkah was coming up and I didn't have any candles. While 3 days might seem like plenty of time to buy candles, We are actually leaving this morning on vacation so that left Wednesday to track down the festive lights.

One day - no problem. It's times like this that I am glad I work in Charlotte. Surely it should be easy to track down something simple like Hanukkah candles in a large, cosmopolitan, urban environment like Charlotte - a city which is home to the largest reform Jewish congregation in all of the Carolinas?

When I lived in NY, Hanukkah candles could be puchased at numerous locations. Overpriced, hand-dipped beeswax candles were standardly available at everything from overpriced stationery and gift wrap stores like Kates to your basic Hallmark. Even generic candles were available at the drugstore. You didn't have to think about it.

Not so in Charlotte. I called 3 Hallmarks in the vicinity of my office (which is an upscale part of town). All 3 had no candles - although one did have a menorah (why you have a menorah and no candles is beyond me). I didn't know where the equivalent of Kate's was in Charlotte - not that they were guaranteed to have candles either. I had a brief moment of panic while I racked my brain trying to think of an easy solution that didn't involve me braving the South Park mall (would Neimans have them and if so, would they be affordable?).

Then it occured to me. Charlotte has the largest reform congregation in the Carolinas - surely the temple would have a Judaica shop and surely that shop sold candles?

As it turns out they do and they did. So I drove out to Temple Beth-El tp buy candles. I was disappointed that the only overpriced, hand-dipped candles they had were in an odd shade of purple. I prefer mutli-color so I can plan out elaborate color schemes over the course of 8 nights. But straight purple? Not for me. Perhaps the prettier ones sold out weeks before to more forethinking people who don't wait to the last minute.

As for me, I drove out the Judaica shop and all I got was this box of plain old generic Hanukkah candles.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Roadkill in the Driveway

Ok - given the subject, I'll keep it brief. But in a true "If That Ain't Country" moment, I went to pull out of the driveway yesterday morning only to discover roadkill blocking my path.

Roadkill down here is common. In fact -it's almost grossly prevalent. I unfortunately see it everywhere. Dogs. Cats. Deer. Racoons. Squirrels. Occasionally a skunk. It's pretty nasty. And I've always wondered about that poor schlub who winds up with a rotting/splattered animal corpse along his driveway/yard/trailer. Do they remove it? Call someone to remove it? Do they even care?

Well - yesterday, I was said poor schlulb. And I cared.

I confess - when I saw the dead animal on the road, I hoped it was Pepe Le Pew (who has still been hanging around our property trying his darndest (and unsuccessfully I might add) to get into our new, locked-lid garbage can.). Alas it wasn't.

I guess I haven't spent enough time down here to truly develop my dead-rodent-identifying skills although Marty (who eventually disapposed of the creature) said it was a possum.

Whatever it was, it was roadkill in the driveway.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Mayonnaise Wars

Apparently I have something to learn about mayonnaise. Which is weird because I was always fairly certain that I had condiments down. Ketchup is Heinz. Worcestershire sauce is Lea & Perrins. Soy Sauce us Kikkoman. And mayonnaise is Hellmans. (Mustard is too tough to call given the number of varieties.) These things aren't questioned. They are constants. Realities. Facts of life like the sky is blue and the Earth is round.

But several recent conversations have caused me to rethink my views on mayonnaise.

The first was with a friend who shops for groceries at Aldi's. Aldi's is a chain from Sweden (I think) that sells a limited assortment of private label products at low prices. I went in there once and the lack of recogniizable brand names made me break out into a cold sweat. Anyways, this friend shops for all of his groceries at Aldi's but he has to have his Duke's Mayonnaise and so he occasionally makes a trip to Bi-Lo.

I asked him why Duke's - why not Hellman's? He laughed. I might as well have suggested he buy ground round over a black angus ribeye. I made a mental note to investigate this issue further.

Then, we were at a friends house for Thanksgiving. Despiter her modern home, she is a traditional country cook who grates her own cabbage for slaw and simmers a big old ham hock with her green beans. The oversize tub of mayonnaise on her counter was Duke's.

I asked her the same question I'd asked before: why Duke's? She said it was a Southern thing. She said it was the only mayonnaise to use and that in fact she used to ship some to a relative who lived in Colorado where Dukes was not available.

Shipping mayonnaise across the country? I felt compelled to learn more.

The thing that kept nagging at me was taste. I mean - how is that 2 mayonnaises could taste different? After all, isn't mayonnaise just oil and eggs? So I started out by comparing ingredients.

Hellman's: Soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice, natural flavors, calcium disodium Edta (used to protect quality).

Duke's: Soybean oil, eggs, water, vinegar, salt, oleoresin paprika and natural flavors.

Basically the same ingredients although with some noticeable differences - like the sugar in Hellman's and the paprika in Duke's. And as it turns out, these actually contribute to differences in taste.

In a side by side tasting comparing Duke's to Hellman's, Hellman's tasted sweet while Duke's was smoky. In fact, the lack of sugar in Duke's was extremely noticeable seeing as my whole concept of mayonnaise has been built on Hellman's.

As for which one I liked more, I don't know. But now that I am a Southerner, I'll be switching to Duke's.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Memories of Not-So Black Fridays

Before I begin, let me warn you that close family members have often commented on the...fuzziness of my memory. It's not that I can't remember stories. It's that my interpretation of events is often...questionable. I have a tendency to occasionally re-write the occasional detail. So what follows is my memory of the day now known as Black Friday. However, I make no claims as to its accuracy.

The Friday after Thanksgiving always marked the official start of the holidays in my family. We'd get up, pile in the car and drive out to the Toys R Us on Route 4 in Paramus, New Jersey.

I don't know how early it actually was, but it always felt pretty early. I don't think we were getting up at 5am, but we were usually one of the first ones in the store. I know because by the time we were getting ready to check out, the store would slowly be filling up with other holiday shoppers and the whole family would have this sense of relief that we were getting out before the madness began.

I have memories of walking up and down the aisles, loading carts with what would become Hanukkah and Christmas gifts.

In the game aisle, mom would search for whatever new games had been designated as Best of the Year by Games magazine.

Mom also had a list of gifts that we needed to purchase for cousins and other children.

I'd always spend as long as possible in the Barbie aisle, fantasizing about putting the entire collection in the cart. Then I'd wander over and marvel at the bikes - even though I didn't really ride one.

Once or twice, after Toys R Us, we went to Kids R Us and I even have memories of walking around an early incarnation of Woodberry Commons.

What I don't remember is massive crowds of people camping out the night before. What I don't remember is people pushing and shoving and trampling each other in order to get an extra 30% off. What I don't remember is the mystique of what has now become known as Black Friday.

Seeing as I was merely a child interested in presents, there very well could have been the consumer madness that I have been witnessing all morning on the news. I just don't remember.

But I do know that today always has and always will mark the official start of the holidays season for me.

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Rock and Holy Roller

They say that patience is a virtue. That good things come to those who wait. So forgive me for being such an absent blogger these days. But hopefully what I am about to write about will make up for my delinquency.

Marty & I spent yesterday evening at a Baptist church for a "singing."

In case you are wondering how we wound up at church for a "singing," we were invited by Marty's brother and his wife. We had been visiting them and their 10-week old son and the visit lasted longer than we had planned. They were headed to church and asked us to join them. Being with family, celebrating their son, it seemed like the right thing to do.

There is something about Baptist congregations that always astounds me. The level of their conviction in their faith. Their single mindedness in their spirit. The openess of their hearts.

I confess - not being Baptist, not believing what they believe - it can feel a bit awkward to be in their midst, especially when they stand up and raise their arms to be closer to God. When the room echoes with their "Amens" and "Hallelujahs." And yet, there is also something so incredibly moving about it. The pure passion with which they celebrate their beliefs is infectious. And not in a "I am thinking about converting" kind of way but more in a "I sometimes wish I had that much passion" kind of way.

I would say that Baptist churches are a dime a dozen down here, but the truth is I haven't been to all that many. What I can say is that they exist in mass proliferation. They range in size from small roadside shacks to large, modern day constructions.

Yesterday we were at Christian Freedom Southern Baptist Church in King's Mountain, NC. And in fact, we weren't actually in the church itself but in the auditorium of the high school that's also run by the church. The reason for the auditorium setting was that the singing featured the Crabb Family, a well-known, award-winning Christian Rock/Gospel group that Marty said reminded him of the Osmonds.

Despite their Christian roots, the guys looked like they could have been in any modern day band. One sported spiky, tousled hair and 3 days growth of facial hair. Another had shaggy long hair like David Cassidy circa the late 1970s. They wore faded jeans and skinny shirts. One sported Elvis Costello rims and a trendy cap. The girls seemed a little more wholesome - but the stage set-up - inlcuding 4 guitars, keyboards and drums - was all rock band.

I wish we could have stayed longer and heard more. Although we got to church at 5:30, the show, which by the way was SRO, didn't start until 6pm and the choir performed 3 "opening act" songs.

Still, we heard 3 songs by the Crabb Family and I have to say, they rocked...Holy Roller style. At one point I wondered how many songs you can write about God, faith and redemption. And then I thought that if you can write 1000s of songs about love, broken hearts, cheatin' boyfriends, unrequited love, and second chances, then why not God and faith.

All in all, it was a different sort of Sunay night from what I am used to, but it was very much a reflection of what life is like down here.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

My Greatest Challenge

I suppose I had some concerns when I moved to Lincolnton. Would the slow pace frustrate me? How would I cope without a well rounded selection of restaurants and bars for dining and entertainment purposes? Where would I shop? Could I find iced decaf anywhere?

But these were relatively insignificant concerns in the grand scheme of thing, and I have learned to cope with all of them. For now, I enjoy the slow pace and relish it. There will be plenty of time in the future for rushing and frenzy. I have learned to appreciate Outback and Red Lobster for an occasional night out, I have found a few gems like Willow Creek Inn for when I require a little something more and in all honesty, Zippers and Iron Thunder provide as much entertainment as the lounge at the W Hotel. As for shopping, Wal-Mart has proved to be an excellent panacea (although rumors that a Target is coming to Lincolnton in 2007 have me all a-flutter!). And we know how I've dealt with the iced decaf situation.

The truth is, these weren't really challenges, merely changes in lifestyle.

But I have - in the last 2 weeks - found myself face to face with truly my greatest challenge: driving at night.

I suppose driving 80 miles a day in and of itself was an original challenge. Then came the first time I drove in the rain. Drove in the fog. Drove in the dark. Drove on the Interstate.

My first trip into Charlotte after we moved down here, I white knuckled it the entire way on 85, convinced I would be crushed by a tractor-trailer. My body was so tense when I drove, I had to stretch when I got out of the car.

But I got used to driving. I took back roads instead of the highway. I drove slowly in the rain. I learned to use my lowbeams in the fog. And when I eventually found myself forced to drive on 85 on a trip to Atlanta, I took it slow until I got comfortable.

In fact, everything was fine until the accident. As I wrote right after it happened, the accident knocked me down about 6000 pegs. My confidence was shot. And although I am slowly regaining my confidence behind the wheel, I still hesitate when I change lanes.

Driving in the dark has been a concern for some time. As we approached the end of daylight savings and the days got shorter, it was staying darker, longer, every morning. My morning commute went from no darkness to nearly 30 minutes of darkness over the span of a few short weeks. The only upside was that it always got lighter in the morning. I knew, that at some point during the drive, I'd go from dark to light and all would be ok.

But then came the end to daylight savings and the start of 5:30pm sunsets. It was pitch black by the time I left the office, with no hope for any light.

I found myself hating 2-lane back roads which had once been my salvation because every time a car passed me in the opposite direction, the headlights would glare in my eyes and make it difficult for me to see. Could it be that the LASIK surgery I had 6 years ago was still affecting my night vision?

I found myself unsure of myself in the dark. I'd see headlights reflected in the mirror and have no sense of how much room I actually had to get over. Merging as always been a weak area for me (dating back to an early childhood merge mishap). Merging after the accident has been that much more difficult. And merging in the dark on top of everything leaves me nearly paralyzed with fear.

For the first time one night, I was not able to merge over the 2 lanes I needed to in order to get onto the loop to head home. Instead, I found myself on Highway 74 heading the wrong direction in rush hour traffic. It took me an extra 15 minutes and 5 1/2 miles to get back on the loop in the right direction.

Each night, I get into the car and my heart starts to pound. Anxiety sets in. I contemplate which route to take - which will be safest, which will be least stressful. I know most of my fear is psychological. I suppose I will learn to get comfortable driving at night the same way I learned to drive in the rain. Take it slow and steady. In the meantime, I am counting down the days until December 21st (39) because after that, the days start to get longer again.

The capper came last Tuesday night. It was raining. Driving in the rain at night had me sweating bullets all day. On numerous occasions, I contemplated leaving early. But I figured it wasn't a very good image to project professionally so I toughed it out.

While highway driving has proven easier at night, highway driving in the rain is generally a nightmare and 85 is usually peppered with accidents. So I opted for the back roads. They were pitch black. The presence of fog made it impossible for me to use my brights. Every time a car approached I'd slow to a near halt on the curving roads. I was so blinded by headlights I was unable to see directly in front of me and was not sure how much room I had before going off the road. As I wound my way towards 27, I kept a tight grip on the wheel. I finally got to 27 and turned onto the familiar (and thankfully relatively straight road).

The rain slowed. Traffic was light so I wasn't barraged with a steady stream of headlights. As I approached Lincolnton a wave of relief set in. I was so close to home, I could taste it. Until - what's that flashing light?

A vehicle was parked in the road several hundred feet away. A figure I couldn't see was waving a flashlight indicating I should go - where was he indiciating I should go?

It turns out there had been a terrible tractor trailer accident on 27. I had no choice -- I was being directed back to the back roads I had been so grateul to be off of just moments before.

The amazing thing was that I actually knew the back roads I was being directed to.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...


ps I did eventually make it home. One hour and forty minutes after I left Charlotte.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Goats v. Tractor

People often ask me why we got goats in the first place. Pygmy goats do not seem like a natural pet choice for 2 former urban sophisticates such as me and Marty.

I explain that the goats aren't pets, they are functional. I explain about our 2 acres of pasture and the fact that goats are good at keeping pastures down. I explain that Marty's parents, who inhabited this property before us, used to have upwards of a dozen goats who did just that. I explain that the alternative to goats was to buy a tractor, and frankly, the goats were a whole lot cuter.

Of course, everything I've just said is a big bunch of goat pellets.

Elvis and Ann-Margaret are terrible at keeping the pasture down. Whether it's because they are too little (although Elvis is not so little any more); whether it's because there's not enough of them; whether it's the fact that they are spoiled with twice daily servings of Goat Chow and all the animal crackers they can eat; whether it has something to do with the fact that they seem to enjoy eating tree bark and dead leaves more than grass. I don't know.

But whatever it is, we have to have our neighbor drive down from the top of the hill and bushhog our pasture with his tractor every few weeks.

As far as the role that Ann-Margaret and Elvis play in the Paris family dynamic, they are pets and we treat them as such. I suppose if I had 12 goats roaming the pasture, I wouldn't feel so attached to any one goat. But after all of the goat drama we've been through, Elvis and Ann-Margaret are survivors and I love them for it. They are no doubt members of the family, and for the amount of time and effort (not to mention the vet bills) that go into them, we probably could have gotten a dog.

Of course, the goat drama never really ends with us. They are both sick again. Worms. And Elvis has Coccshidia. This is a worst case scenario as Coccshidia requires twice daily doses of antibiotics for 4 - 7 days and Elvis is difficult to catch. I remember thinking when Ann-Margaret had Coccshidia over the summer, how grateful I was that it was her and not Elvis, as she was easy to grab, hold and squirt in the mouth with her meds.

Not so with him. For Elvis, after the first dose (which the vet was there to help administer), Marty and I relied on mixing the meds in with some food. We'd crush up cookies, add a little Chow and stir in the antibiotics. This worked twice, but Elvis fast caught on that something was up and has since refused to eat any tainted goods.

While I could handle Ann-Margaret on my own, Elvis is a two man goat. And the likelihood of Marty and I both being awake, home and mentally prepared for the task of catching and holding Elvis - not once, but twice - during daylight hours is slim to none. Frankly, once is a stretch.

This leaves us in a bad spot with no obvious or pleasant solution. I am hoping that our being out of town this weekend will leave Elvis so hungry for cookies and Chow, that he'll eat whatever we feed tomorrow when we get home.

On top of the antibiotics, I've got to worry about the 3 doses of dewormer he'll need in 3 days, and Elvis has recently been grooming Ann-Margaret obsessively which is probably an indication that he's getting ready for a roll in the hay.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Welcome to the Country

There are plenty of animal indicators that we live in the country. Ants in the kitchen. Deer in the yard. Rabbits hopping through the pasture. Birds in the trees outside my window. Spiders just about everywhere.

I have learned to tolerate (or at least ignore) these creatures and accept them as part of life on the farm. But my tolerance was challenged today with a new visitor.

I knew something was wrong when I saw trash strewn across the back steps this morning. We usually have a few bags accumulated as there is no trash pick-up in Lincolnton, and Marty and I don't make it to the dump every day. The bags are generally piled in a large trash can next to the back steps, however the can is lidless. While the trash situation has never been a problem, I have had my concerns that one day the scent of our rotting garbage would attract some sort of undesireable creature. I did try to buy a lid when we first arrived, but it seems that trash cans and their lids are sold as one.

I had a feeling that Saturday night's trash - which included the remanents of our delicious grilled cornish game hen dinner - would attract a wild creature. Something about the carcasses and the unused bags of innards made me particularly prescient. So much so that I double bagged it.

It seems my instincts were rights. While this morning the bag of trash was still resting in the can where I had placed it Saturday night, both bags had been torn open and a mess of soggy paper towels and game hen bones littered the back steps. More frustrated than anything, I cleaned everything up and triple-bagged the whole lot in a giant black trash bag.

It didn't occur to me to worry about who or what had been in the trash. In fact, in my mind I wrote the whole thing off as a one-time incident.

So I wasn't expecting to come home tonight and see the same pile of paper towels and game hen bones strewn across the back steps. Twice in one day?

As it turns out, Marty caught sight of the responsible party - and it stinks about as much our trash.

Oui, oui madames et messieurs. Pepe Le Pew has decided to visit Paris, NC.

The ironic thing is that late Saturday afternoon we were talking with Carl and his friend Digger and the conversation turned to skunks, raccoons, rabies and roadkill. 24 hours later I've got a skunk rummaging through my trash.

If that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Register of Deeds

Over 2 months ago, while driving to work one day, I saw a lone and rather large sign out on 27 asking me to please re-elect Elaine Harmon as the Register of Deeds. This was long before mid-term election frenzy dominated the airwaves and newscasts. Long before 95% of commercials turned to ads meant to denigrate opponents rather than laud candidates. Long before anyone else stuck a sign in the ground and asked me to please re-elect them.

I had no idea what the Register of Deeds actually did, why it was an elected position or why I wanted Elaine Harmon on the job. But I was curious, so I did a little digging.

The Register of Deeds is responsible for issuing and maintaining lots of paperwork and files - deeds, trusts, birth certificates, marriage certificates, maps, etc. One website describes the Register of Deeds office as a library of local records. Back in 2002, the Lincoln county Register of Deeds paid $47,000 a year. I have not quite figured out why this is an elected position. It would seem to me you would want to appoint someone based on natural job qualifications - organization, intelligence, people skills - and not just elect any Tom, Dick or Harry (or Elaine) to the job.

As it turns out, Elaine Harmon (who is a Democrat), is running for a 5th term. A few articles in our local paper laud her accomplishments over the last 15+ years including her automation of the office. According to one local blogger, she has this race in the bag. Frankly, I haven't seen much in the way of a campaign for her Republican competitor, Jerry Long, so I'd be inclined to agree.

Still - Elaine seems to be making a big push. The closer we get to the election, the more signs I have seen. Big ones. Little ones. Some in prominent roadside locations. Some stand alone. Some are comingled with other political aspirants hoping to be elected this November 7th.

So while the rest of the country breathlessly waits to see which way the balance of power will shift in the Senate and the House, I am waiting to see if Elaine Harmon gets to keep her job as Lincoln County Register of Deeds.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Friday Night Lights

A few weeks ago, Marty and I attended a football game at St. Stephens, Marty's alma mater in Hickory, NC. I don't know what I was expecting - the pressure and prestige of Friday Night Lights. The passion and perseverance of Wildcats. Anthony Michael Hall in Johnny B. Goode. What I got instead was a bunch of band geeks and the sense that Hollywood has completely glamourized high school football.

Ok - so Friday Night Lights was based on a true story. But in general, movies about or featuring high school football - ranging from the cheer sex in Bring It On to Forest Whitaker's unstoppable linebacker in Fast Times at Ridgemont High - have a tendency to glamourize.

I grew up without football. That is I grew up in New York City. We didn't quite have room on the Upper West Side for 100 yards of green grass and bleachers. The big fall sport for us was soccer. And while Zinedine Zidane's headbutt and David Beckham's off field antics make for interesting press today, high school soccer isn't the same as high school football. At least - not as far as the movies are concerned.

But as far as real life is concerned, my first high school football experience was pretty disappointing.

Maybe it had to do with our players who seemed so small I couldn't imagine any of them going on to play in college (and I'm sure at least a few were seniors). Maybe it had to do with our seats, which were smack dab amidst the band families (the band members sat in the section directly to our left).

In general, the night seemed rather...low key. No rabid fans. No impassioned parents. No live or die moments. Just a regular old football game.

Of course, there were your typical stereotypes. Too cool for school boys who looked they were auditioning for an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. Disinterested girls standing around in cliques, sucking on blow pops. The band geeks who brought to mind every stereotype introduced with those famous words: "One time at band camp..."

But for the most part the night was more ordinary high school football than American Pie.

I don't know. I guess some times life in a small town is just life in a small town and not life in a small town as interpreted by Billy Bob Thornton.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Common Sense and the Ferber Method


After writing about the ridiculousness of my morning routine the other day, a routine which reached a peak of ridiculousness that resulted in my coffee spilling into my Alma bag, I decided to do something about the situation.

So as of this morning, I now have a small shopping bag into which I can throw my shoes, the tupperware I use to feed the goats their Chow, files, folders and anything else that would result in a bulky and awkward to carry handbag. What this means is a handbag that dangles easily on my wrist and a shopping bag which also dangles easily from my wrist. Things dangling comfortably from my wrist means I have use of my hands and a much better range of motion for my arms.

Simple common sense. I just wonder why it took so long.

p.s. For those who are wondering about the shoes, I am not Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. I don't like to drive in heels so I actually drive in a pair of JP Tods driving shoes (what else would I use them for?) and carry my heels with me.


***

I wonder if the Ferber Method works on cats. Not that I know a lot about the Ferber Method -- only what friends have told me about that painful first night listening to your child wail for over an hour. So it was tonight that I found myself in a similar situation.

It rained all day here. It was raining when I left this morning at 6:55 a.m and it was raining when I got home at 7:00 p.m. I didn't even see the goats but when I pulled in tonight I was greeted in the garage by Tony who seemed happy to have human contact.

He rubbed against my legs and darted in and out of my feet while I fed him. I scatched his ears and rubbed his belly for a few minutes, but it was late and wet and cold and I wanted to get in the house. Tony followed me from the garage to the house and before I could shut the door, he had followed me into the studio.

I picked him up, gave him a little more lovin' and then plunked him back outside.

I felt bad - it was raining after all. But for a number of reasons we just aren't ready for Tony in the house. The biggest reason is that he hasn't yet gotten a clean bill of health from the vet and I don't want him to pass anything on to Sebastian. But he's also got sharp claws and a proclivity for jumping on furniture.

Besides - Tony has got full shelter in the garage, blankets to keep him warm and a steady supply of food. If he was a real stray I'd have worried. But I knew Tony had some place warm and safe to go to and so that helped ease some of my guilt.

Still, as I busied myself in the kitchen emptying the dishwasher and preparing dinner, I was bombarded with a pitiful chorus of meows. Tony had moved from the studio door to the kitchen door and was begging to be let in.

"Go back to the garage," I mentally commanded. "It's warm. You'll be dry." Apparently my mental commanding skills are lacking. Tony kept meowing. Once or twice he scratched at the door.

For some reason I started thinking of the Ferber Method.

I wondered how long Tony would keep at it and more importantly, how long until I cracked. I kept peering through the window hoping to see him scampering through the grass to his shelter. But he was firmly planted on the doorstep, waiting to be let in, and reminding me constantly with a steady chorus of wails.

My heart ached. I wanted nothing more than to let him in the warm, dry house and scratch his ears. I wanted to trust that he was healthy and flea free and trust that he wouldn't claw the sofa. I truly did. And several times I nearly caved. But I kept returning to the Ferber Method. I wasn't sure if the Ferber Method actually applies to attention-hungry kittens (versus sleep deprived babies), but I knew if I appeased Tony's cries, he'd always expect appeasement. And I knew I couldn't let that happen.

So I forced myself to detach, exercised a little tough love and maybe have become a better pet parent in the process. Who knows - I might even be ready for some cows.

And if that ain't country, U'll kiss your...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Meet Antonio Vivaldi Paris

The little guy has been hanging around and seems to becoming a permanent fixture in our brood:

LOOK AT THIS FACE

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SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

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HANGING WITH THE GOATS

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TRAVELLING KITTY

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And, because I can't resist...KISSING GOATS

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Red Lobster and Designer Jeans


As long as I can remember, Marty and I have typically avoided going out on Friday nights. This is not new behavior. No matter where we have lived - Houston, Hoboken, Lincolnton - we have always considered Friday nights to be amateur nights, and so we are typically contented to stay home and have a quiet night after a long week.

But this most recent Friday we found ourselves in unfamiliar territory: out.

Why didn't we stay home? We had cooked an unprecedented 3 nights out of the last 4 and wanted to get out.

We evaluated our few Lincolnton options for going out: Court Street - we had been on Tuesday, our one night out for the week. Tradewinds - we had been there the previous Friday (going our for a quick and easy local dinner doesn't really count as "going out") and besides, it's always so smoky, I wanted to enjoy dinner without the constant reminder that I live in tobacco country. Fatz never came up - I suppose neither of us were in the mood for Calabash chicken. That's pretty much it for Lincolnton - unless we had wanted to give the new Waffle House a whirl.

We didn't want to drive into Charlotte. I suggested 1 or 2 of our favorite restaurants out by Lake Norman but in jeans, a Rugby shirt and Birkenstocks (and with no intention of changing), Marty was ill attired.

So we got in the car and began driving. Our path led us to Hickory. I suggested Da Vinci, the local Italian joint, but Marty declined saying we'd be right there on Saturday (we were planning to watch the A&M game at a nearby tavern). Marty suggested Outback. I declined saying we had just eaten there. We both longed for a high-end sit-down Chinese like Chin Chin or David K's but the only Chinese in these parts is a buffet or take-out. As a compromise, I suggested Kobe - a hibachi steakhouse similar to Benihana. Marty wasn't sure but we headed in that direction.

En route, we passed a brand new Chili's, closed because they were training the staff. We passed an Applebees, where we had once stopped for drinks many, many months ago because there was no place else to go. We passed an Olive Garden - one of the few chains I have never experienced first hand. We passed a Red Lobster, another heretofore unvisited chain.

All of a sudden, Marty recalled a semi-recent dinner he had had with his parents in Gastonia en route home from the airport. The "Rockzilla" lobster tail, he assured me, had been phenomenal. Although we were in Hickory and not Gastonia, how different could the experience be?

Still, it was 7:45pm on a Friday and the parking lot was full. We continued towards Kobe but at Marty's request, I called Red Lobster to see what the wait was. 15 - 20 minutes.

Ok, he said. If we get to Kobe and it's also a 15-minute wait, let's go back to Red Lobster. I agreed.

Of course Kobe was packed and so we turned around and headed back to Red Lobster.

Now I confess, short of Marty's rave review of a singular excellent lobster tail in Gastonia, I associate Red Lobster (courtesy of frequently run commercials) with all you can eat shrimp for $5.99. I associate Red Lobster with various pasta dishes laden with chicken, seafood, cream sauce and lots of garlic. Frankly, I associate Red Lobster with Middle America.

It's not where I pictured myself on a Friday night. But that's where we were.

I walked in and gave them my name. In return, I was given a little buzzer to hold onto that would flash and vibrate when our table was ready. Not exactly Le Bernadin.

The restaurant was packed but the bar was relatively empty, and although the person ordering before me asked the bartender if he knew how to make a Jolly Rancher (he did), the bartender also knew how to pour a glass of chardonnay.

When we were seated a few minutes later, I looked around the brightly lit room. Lots families with young kids. Plenty of sweet teas and colas – the occasional oversized mixed drink – not too many dry martinis or Cabernets. One or two all you can eat shrimp plates. Somehow, we seemed – as per usual – out of place.

Apparently, the trick to ordering at Red Lobster is to order "formula food." By formula, I mean they've developed a recipe/technique/method of cooking that is so foolproof it's impossible to screw up. Cooking a steak is not a formula (actually - it is at Outback but that's an exception) - it can be overcooked, undercooked, and the quality of meat can be poor. Attempted recipes - recipes that involve things like lemon Parmesan cream sauce, sun dried tomato garlic stuffing or citrus butter sauce - are to be avoided at all costs. They are generally poor attempts to recreate haute cuisine for the masses and they generally fail. This typically wipes out half the menu at a chain like Red Lobster or Olive Garden (not that I’ve been to Olive Garden, but I've seen enough commercials).

Formula food at Red Lobster is steamed lobster. A fresh 2 pound lobster pulled out of a salt water tank and served steamed with drawn butter is the same at Red Lobster or Oceana. It is what it is. Lobster is lobster. You can't get lesser quality lobster the same way you can get lesser quality meat. Fried fish is also formula food. Roll anything in seasoned flour or batter and drop it in hot oil and you can't go wrong. Shrimp. Flounder. Scallops. It's all good.

I of course didn't stick to the formula this trip (my first trip - lesson learned) but I think I've got it figured out when we go back.

Marty - a Red Lobster veteran - did stick to the formula and it was delicious. His 2 pounder with drawn butter was exquisite.

***

After dinner, we headed back to Lincolnton and made a stop-off at Zipper's. It was a typical night at the bar - smoky, mediocre karaoke (at best) and cheap Bud Light bottles. There was the usual cast of characters. A redhead with too much eye make up and in need of orthodontic work was there celebrating her 50th birthday. She greeted Marty with a hug - he had apparently met her a few nights back with Carl and she remembered him. We met a man named Doc who looked like Burt Young in the Rocky movies (Uncle Paulie) - down to the hat perched jauntily atop his curly white hair. Although he was short, he was built like a Mack truck and Marty and I agreed that we wouldn't want to be on the opposite end of his fists. Or the holstered knife attached to his belt. It was - for the most part - a typical night at Zipper's.

And then I saw them. People like us. Well dressed. Well coiffed. Dental work intact. Thin. I noticed the men first. One was wearing jeans, an oxford underneath a cashmere v-neck and Gucci loafers. He was talking to a heavyset but pretty girl in pearl earrings and designer jeans. Their companion (who offered a better than average rendition of a Garth Brooks song) was in a black t-shirt and blue jeans that had Dolce & Gabbana embroidered on his ass. It reminded me of the scene in Mystic Pizza when the guy who winds up playing Julia Roberts' love interest walks into the local townie bar as part of a foursome on a double date. The girls - in their heavy plaid pleated skirts, headbands and with their orders of chardonnay stick out. So does the love interest - with his cashmere overcoat and well-styled hair (although at least he has the sense to order a beer).

I desperately wanted to talk to these people. Find out who they were. Why they were at Zippers. They seemed to know a fair number of locals, which made me think they were local themsleves. Better sense initially prevailed - but when Dolce & Gabbana made the rounds of the bar with the karaoke tip jar, I worked up the nerve to ask him what he was doing there. Of course - I phrased it slightly better and pointed out that we didn't exactly belong there either.

He laughed. And said he'd tell me later. Later never came.

And so I am left with the knowledge of what to order next time I find myself at Red Lobster and wondering - who's the guy on the D&G jeans?

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Out of Control

My morning routine has gotten out of control. The progression from sane to insane has gone something like this.

It started out giving the goats Chow in the mornings. During the summer, it was light out (and warm) quite early so at around 6:30am, after I had showered, I would throw my PJs back on, run outside, and give the goats their breakfast before getting ready for work. I'd leave the house dressed, coiffed and maquillaged and get straight into the car and drive into Charlotte.

But as summer wound down and the days got shorter, going outside at 6:30am in the dark seemed silly (plus they weren't always out yet). So I'd wait until 7ish, right around when I need to leave for work, and give the goats their breakfast en route to the car. The big concern here was would Elvis put his hooves on my new dress from Barney's and I am happy to say that thanks to some defensive posturing, I remained hoofprint free.

The gate in and out of the pasture has always been a problem. It's called a farm gate and it doesn't latch, rather a chain loops around the post and is secured with something that reminds me of a carabineer, only it doesn't click open, you have to unscrew it. Needless to say, the simple act of getting in and out of the pasture has always been a struggle - especially when one is trying to balance an overflowing handbag, a cup of coffee and a scoop of Chow. Additional problems reside in the fact that our gate is short, which means there is enough room for the goats to squeeze under and find themselves on the wrong side of the fence. We had propped a board up against the bottom while we evaluated a more permanent solution, but then Ann-Margaret discovered she could knock the board over so now the board is weighted down with two rocks.

Which means that every morning, in the dark, Louis Vuitton Alma dangling from my wrist, heels sticking out making the bag overstuffed and awkward to maneuver, cup of iced coffee in the same hand, and a large scoop of Chow in the other - not to mention suited up for a power day at my power job - I have to lean over, remove the rocks (which are dirty and cold and occasionally wet from the dew), push the board to the side, unscrew the cold piece of metal which secures the gate, defensively step into the pasture to prevent the goats from "hoofing" me, and dump the chow into their trough. It's a delicate balancing act but one I seem to have pretty much nailed.

Then last week, there was a disturbing new development. Elvis began to head butt Ann-Margaret out of their shared feeding trough. I discovered this after I had been into the pasture, given them their feed, left the pasture, gotten into the truck, and was getting ready to start it when I heard Ann-Margaret crying. I got out of the truck, walked outside, and saw Ann-Margaret standing off to the side while Elvis pigged out. So I ran to the fence, tried to shoo Elvis away (hard to do with a fence separating us), and ultimately found myself getting another scoop of Chow, going back into the pasture, and trying to hand feed Ann-Margaret while keeping the very hungry Elvis at bay.

Marty and I chalked up this new behavior to Elvis's testosterone levels and alpha status, but also to the fact that the trough is small and the goats are bigger. Elvis is probably twice the size of when we got him and little Ann-Margaret has baby horns, whereas before she had none.

So over the weekend we purchased an identical trough to give them more room. The troughs are side by side and we try to give Elvis about 2/3 of the Chow and the other 1/3 to Ann-Margaret. Of course, they don't realize these are their own personal troughs and they tumble over one another trying to eat what the other one is eating (thinking it is somehow better) - although they typically figure it out and finish their meal side by side. Still, it helps if you stay in the pasture to watch them feed because Elvis won't dare head butt Ann-Margaret if Marty or I are standing there. Then again, running out the door to work, I don't have time to watch them feed so the morning is a crapshoot on how much Ann-Margaret will eat.

Then came Antonio Vivaldi. Antonio is a stray kitten we found in our garage 3 nights ago in the middle of a rainstorm. He was just sitting there when Marty went to pull the truck in. Of course, we gave him a can of food, which he would only eat when we had retreated a respectable distance, and we left the truck out in the rain because the little guy wouldn't move.

Thursday night, Antonio got bolder. He began rubbing up and down against our legs. He let us pick him up. He followed me to the fence while I fed the goats their nightly animal crackers. In fact, we couldn't quite shake him - he was constantly underfoot (literally - I tripped over him numerous times).

We couldn't bring him the house, so I took the oversized carrying case we had purchased for the goats (which is already in the garage), piled up some old blankets and towels inside and tried to make a cozy nook for Antonio. I even crawled in there (that's how big it is) so that Antonio would follow me (he did) and see what a wonderful sleeping environment I had created.

We eventually managed to sneak in the house and I suppose only the strains of Grey's Anatomy on the TV kept me from hearing Antonio's pitiful meows.

Between Elvis's new alpha feeding tactics and the attention-seeking kitten, I knew Friday morning would take time. I just didn't know how much. But I planned accordingly and left the house at 6:40am. This is how it went.

Still pitch black, I step outside, bag dangling awkwardly from my wrist, a plate with a piece of turkey and a small saucer of milk balanced in my other hand. As soon as I step outside the goats start bleating for the breakfast. Then Antonio pokes his head out from the garage and comes running straight for me. I put the bag down, along with Antonio's breakfast, and get a large scoop of Chow for the goats, all the while the kitten dancing in and out of my legs. I walk to fence, rest the scoop on the post, and begin the process of opening the gate. I don't know why, but for some reason I don't want Antonio to get into the pasture. Not that the goats will eat him. Not that he'll hurt them. and frankly, he's so little he could probably wiggle through the fence and get in there anyways. But this morning, my mission is to keep all species on their respective sides and so I am extra defensive in my movements, trying to keep Antonio separated from Elvis and Ann-Margaret.

The feed is distributed. I would love to spend a minute or 2 to ensure that Ann-Margaret has time to eat but I am also worried about how to get the car out of the garage without running the kitten over. So I make a premature exit out the pasture (knowing that if Ann-Margaret doesn't eat, Marty will spoil her with plenty of animal crackers later on today), pick up my bag and the saucer of milk and head to the garage. Again, all the while Antonio is darting around my feet, nearly tripping me at least once. I rest the saucer of milk on top of the case which I hope has become Antonio's new home, scoop him up and try to put him in there. He darts out before I can latch the door. I am successful on the second try and I pull the car out without fear of running over my new kitten.

As I pull out, I see Ann-Margaret off to the side. Shit. I get out and walk to the fence. She has feed in her trough, but Elvis won't let her get at it. So back into the pasture where I have to stand watch so my baby can have her breakfast. Antonio's meows fill my ears.

Back to the garage I unlatch the gate and let the kitten out. I put down the saucer of milk and he ravenously begins lapping it up. But the dry food is all gone (we had given him a large scoop last night - enough to last Sebastian for 4 days) so I run back into the house and grab a big plate of dry food, I also add some ripped up fresh turkey because hey - why shouldn't Antonio be spoiled like every one else? I put the food down next to the milk and try to leave but kitty seems more interested in where I am heading then his breakfast. I pick him up and place him practically on top of his food and this time it takes. He starts eating. I dash out of the garage, into the car (no time for my usual morning farewell to the goats) and peel out, all the while fearful that the kitten has still managed to follow me and that I will somehow run him over.

All this before 7.

I don't know what else to say except -

If that ain't country, I'll kiss your....


ps when I relayed my tale to Marty he told me I was nuts. He said I should just feed the goats and let nature take its course (ie either Ann-Margaret will learn to stick up for herself or she won't get her chow) and not worry about the cat - he'll move out of the way when I start to back out.

Monday, October 09, 2006

More on Bojangles


If you may recall, a few weeks ago I wrote that little Lincolnton would soon be home to the world's largest Bojangles.

So as it turns out, we may just need the world's largest Bojangles!

I have never been to Bojangles, but the other Sunday, I stopped by Bojangles to pick up a chicken biscuit for Big Mama (a.k.a. Marty's grandma) because she loves them and can't get out to get them herself. The parking lot was full and people were parking at the elementary school next door and walking over. The drive thru line must have had 20 cars. I had neither the time nor the patience to wait. As I drove around, I noticed every seat in the joint was packed. A typical post-church Sunday lunch in Lincolnton.

No wonder we are getting the world's largest Bojangles.

This past weekend, Marty and I drove to Southern States (farm supply) in Cherryville to pick up some items for the goats. En route, we passed a McDonald's that looked as crowded as Grammercy Tavern on a Saturday night. It's a good thing Marty was craving a Bojangles chicken biscuit and not a Big Mac. We found a Bojangles Express attached to a Shell station right across the street from Mc'Ds and pulled up. Of course, Marty overshot the menu (and the little box where you order) so we found ourselves face to face with a human at the pick up window.

Marty asked me what I wanted.

I don't know, I said. What are my choices?

Apparently, asking what to order at Bojangles is like asking what to order at KFC. You order fried chicken. So Marty wound up with his chicken biscuit and I wound up with 3-piece dinner with slaw, mac & cheese and a biscuit.

The chicken was good. Certainly better than I could have made.

Anyways, I have now experienced Bojangles firsthand and look forward to the arrival of the world's largest Bojangles in my town.

And in then interim, I welcome the arrival of Waffle House which has all of Lincolnton a-buzzin'.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

So it finally happened. After months of joking that my biggest concern with taking the back roads was getting caught behind a tractor, the other morning I found myself in a line of cars creeping along at 20 mph behind a very large John Deere toting some sort of oil tank or canister. The sad thing was, I wasn't even on the back roads. I was simply driving through Lincolnton trying to get to 27.

I suppose it's a good thing I had made my peace with lane changing and wasn't in a rush or feeling anxious because there was no way to get around the slow moving behomoth until we reached the intersection with Main Street (yes - we have a Main Street) at which point John Deere turned right and I turned left.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your....
Changing Lanes

I am a lane changer - on the road and in life.

I am the girl standing there evaluating which line at Harris Teeter is likely to move faster. Will it be the middle aged woman with the extremely full cart and 2 whiny kids trying to make all sorts of last minute purchases from the candy rack or will it be older woman with a cart full of frozen dinners and paper towels? Which cashier is moving more efficiently? Is there someone helping them bag their groceries? How many coupons do they have? How will they pay? Yes - this is something to consider. Partly because down here, a lot of people pay by check. Yes, that's right. They write checks.

It shocked me and Marty the first time we saw it. We thought check writing was antiquated - short of paying bills. But as it turns out, it's not an antiquated practice. Not in Lincolnton anyways. One of the local banks won't even issue an ATM card unless you request it special. So you can find yourself standing in the right line only to get caught behind a check writer.

Cash payers can also slow you down - particularly those who sit there and fumble through their wallets and change purses to eke exact change. The ideal form of payment is credit card - just swipe and go.

We once got caught behind a woman who couldn't pay for her groceries. I don't say this to mock her. I say it simply to illustrate the point. We had already unloaded our groceries on the converyor belt. We politely waited for 10 minutes while she kept trying to swipe a debit card that wouldn't go through. Finally the manager was called over and at that point we gathered up our groceries, and changed lanes. That's the problem with lane changing while shopping - once you commit to a lane, you can't easily change. That's why so much thought an analysis has to go into the actual selection.

The only plausible solution to lane changing while shipping is to divide and conquer. This was a tactic I remember using with my mom when I was growing up. One person keeps the cart and stands in the line you think most likely to move. The other grabs a solitary item and stands in an alternate line - just in case. Presumably, the one with the cart has made the right decision and it's easy for the other person to surreptitiously slide out of line and join them. If not, the cart pusher has to make the move to the new lane and suddenly the guy standing behind you - thinking he lucked out that you only had 1 roll of paper towels, realizes he's been screwed by the divide and conquer technique. Divide and conquer also works well when standing in line for movie tickets.

Changing lanes while driving is different. And I am not talking about changing lanes in free flowing traffic on a highway. I am talking about backed up traffic, creeping along.

Sadly, this is a dilemna I face each and every morning.

I take 16 into Charlotte. I pick it up just on the outskirts of Mecklenburg County and for the first few miles, traffic moves freely. But the closer you get into the city, the slower traffic moves and the more it backs up.

For a while, I thought I had figured it out. Once you cross Bellehaven, you want to be in the right lane. This is because at the stoplight at Hovis, there is a lane that peels off to make the right turn and many cars take it. Then, if you can, get into the left lane until you cross the train tracks and then make sure to get back into the right because a third lane appears on the right to feed people onto 85 South. You'd be amazed at how many cars move into that far right lane allowing you to quickly move forward. At the traffic light with the Exxon station, you want to cross back left because now any possible ground you could have gained by cars moving to the right is gone and you can pick up more ground with cars moving to 2 new lanes to the left to get on 85 North.

Once you cross 85 onto the loop, it's generally smooth sailing.

It's pathetic, I know, that these are the types of things I think about. But I am - for whatever reason - constantly evaluating which lane I want to be in. Is this driver next to me slow enough so that I can squeeze in front of him? Is there a truck in my lane that will slow down traffic while he takes 60+ seconds to get up to speed (I know this because I have driven a truck and 0 to 60 in six seconds is not in a truck drivers vocabulary.)

When I exit onto Providence Road, I know not to get caught in the left lane because cars often stop to turn (there's no turning lane) and you can get stuck for a while. So I always stay right - EXCEPT for the first few lights when the right lane seems to creep and I sometimes go left (there's actually 3 lanes at this point so I am really going middle)and then hope to squeeze back over right when somebody turns into the gas stations.

The lane changing rules I have created for myslf are quite complicated. And they don't always work. Sometimes, I follow the rules, and I still wind up in the wrong lane. It's not a perfect science.

And yet, these are my mornings. This is what I think about. Right. Left. Stay straight. Change lanes. Timing. How can I outmaneuver the other drivers? And for what? Will I get there 2 minutes faster? 5? 10? Does it matter?

I am trying to be better about lane changing while driving. Mostly because I realize there's not much to gain by constantly switching lanes. But also because I already have one dented fender - I don't need two.

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And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

No longer a shortage of things to write - just a shortage of time in which to write them. I probably have close to 10 topics to muse on - including a long overdue on post on salads (although most of you have probably heard the verbal version at this point) and some thoughts on the high school football game we attended last weekend.

Still, a few timely things to comment on.

****

For those who were concerned about my Shaggy Girl status, I received a much-needed haircut over the weekend while in NY. And I will say, it was well worth the wait because the cut was exactly what I wanted.

For those of you who are wondering why I waited 8 months for a cut (ok - I did get a cut in June in NC - but it didn't really count, it was more of a trim), I had 2+ inches lopped off and that sort of dramatic change requires a certain level of trust.

In a perfect blogging world, I would have had Before and After pictures to illustrate my Shaggy to Chic status, but as I was taught long ago, the world is not perfect...

****

Yesterday was Yom Kippur, and I broke the fast with a bag of Black Pepper jack Doritos while standing in the check out line at Fred's discount store in Lincolnton (although I did say the Motzeh under my breath before biting into the first chip).

And if that aint' county, I'll kiss your...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Tasty Delights

In previous posts, I have written about 2 truly southern culinary phenomena: spicy pimento cheese and watermelon pickles.

Because you are not likely to find these items in Citarella of D'Agostinos, I thought I would share recipes so you could recreate these tasty delights for yourselves and share in a true If That Ain't Country experience.

Spicy Pimento Cheese

This recipe comes from the Foster's cookbook and was given to me by Dr. Maggie Walkup when I visited her recently in Chapel Hill. Maggie was thrilled that I had discovered and fallen in love with spicy pimento cheese and told me this was the best recipe ever.

Mix 1 cup of grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1-1/2 cups of grated Parmesan cheese, and 1 cup grated smoked gouda together.

In a separate bowl, mix together the following ingredients: 1 roasted red bell pepper* (chopped), 1 roasted green bell pepper (chopped), 1 cup of mayonnaise, 1 jalapeno (seeded and minced), 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.

Add this mixture to the cheeses and combine. Couldn't be easier - could it?

I have not tried this recipe myself, so if it sucks, take it up with Maggie.

* For those who don't know how to roast a pepper, it's simple. Take a whole pepper and put it over a high flame. This can be a grill if you have one, or a burner on your stove (in which case you'd hold the pepper over the flame with tongs). You want to char the outside of the pepper so that the skin gets all black and blistery. You'll notice the pepper starts to soften too. When the pepper is nice and charred, take it off the heat and plunk it into a brown paper bag and wrap it up tight. Allow the pepper to "steam" in the bag for about 10 - 15 minutes. Then take it out of the bag and peel off the skin and reove the seeds. Slice, dice or chop it - whatever the recipe calls for. And if that seems like too much trouble, just go to the store and buy a jar of pimentos. It's the same thing.

Watermelon Pickles

This recipe comes from my mother-in-law, Carole Varner. According to her, this is an amalgam of several different recipes that she has tweaked and tinkered to make her own.

Watermelon pickles come from watermelon rind. You want the white part only - no fleshy pink meat and no tough green skin. For this recipe you will need 3 quarts (or 12 cups) of watermelon rind cut into bite size cubes (Carole suggested 1 inch by 1/2 inch cubes. 1 inch square cubes are too big).

Place the watermelon rind cubes in a large pot. Mix 1 tablespoon of pickling lime with 2 quarts of cold water and pour over the rind. Allow to soak for 1 hour. Drain the pot of water.

Cover the rind with fresh water and bring to a boil over medium heat until fork tender - about 10 minutes. Drain the water.

Combine 2 tablespoons of whole allspice, 2 tablespoons of whole cloves and 5 cinnamon sticks - each broken in half) in a cheesecloth bag (just buy cheesecloth, cut off a big square, put all the spices in the middle, and wrap up) and add to the pot with the watermelon rind. Add 1 quart of white vinegar, 1 quart of fresh water and 7 cups of sugar. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes until a syrup forms. Remember, the watermelon rind has already been cooked so the purpose of this step is the syrup and the flavor the watermelon rind with the spices. You'll know it's done because a) you'll have a syrup but b) the watermelon will become somewhat translucent.

Spoon the pickles into hot, sterlile jars and pour syrup over. Put on the lid, stick in the fridge (after it's cooled of course) and voila, a handy dandy southern condiment to bring out at your next big yankee BBQ. Actually, Carole did give me all sort of tips at about canning (or jarring as the case may be) and turning upside down to get a good seal but honestly, I'm not going to can these (unless I decide to send these out as a Christmas gift this year) - I'm going to throw them in a disposable plastic container and call it a day.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...

Sunday, September 24, 2006

BBQ 101

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My first trip to RO’s was supposed to be life-changing. It was supposed to be monumental. It was supposed to be blog-worthy like my jaunt to the Chuckwagon. And while I am taking the time to write about the experience, sadly there’s not much I can tell you.

Marty has talked about RO’s forever so when we decided to stop by and get some BBQ on the way home from synagogue yesterday I was thrilled.

“My parents used to come here on dates when they were teenagers,” he said. “This place has been around forever and they have the best BBQ.”

As we drove through Gastonia, I tried to imagine what we would encounter. I pictured some ramschackle building in downtown Gastonia with blue haired ladies running BBQ to long time patrons. I pictured big pots of simmering sauce and huge hunks of pork butt being shredded and minced for sandwiches and vats of home made slaw. I pictured plastic tables and holey vinyl benches and bad lighting – you know that wonderfully stale and decrepit atmosphere that is completely offset by the deliciousness of the food being served?

We pulled up and Marty asked me, “What do you want?”

“What do they have?”

“I don’t know. BBQ. I guess you could get fried chicken if you want.”

“I mean – can we go in and look at a menu?”

“That’s not part of the experience.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you don’t go inside. They take your order out here and bring it to you. You’re going to ruin the traditional RO’s experience and then you won’t be able to write about it on your blog.”

I looked around. We were in a regular parking lot. Nothing indicated that this was a drive-in like the Chuckwagon.

Marty pointed to a group of 3 teenage boys in green RO’s polos and aprons, hanging out by the back door. “They take your order,” he said. Given that they were hanging around so casually (one may have been smoking a cigarette), I had naturally assumed they were on a break.

“But where’s the menu?” Did people just come to RO’s and automatically know what to order? I look at the menu when we go to Don’s and everyone knows you go to Don’s for hot dogs and cheeseburgers (except me – I frequently get the grilled chicken plate or the French dip). “I mean – do they have BBQ plates or do I have to get a sandwich?”

“I don’t know. I always get 2 jumbos to go.”

That didn’t help me. “Fine,” Marty huffed and got out of the car.

RO’s was indeed in the type of small, plain jane building I’ve come to learn can house some of the South’s best cooking. A neon sign stuck out above the restaurant and a sign in one window said since 1946.

As we walked across the parking lot I tried to make Marty feel better about the decision to break with tradition. “You know sweetie – I can’t very well write about sitting in the car. I need to see what it looks like and get a feel for the atmosphere.”

Of course, we opened the front door to find a wall of people. I didn’t even see what the inside looked like. All I saw was 2 people’s backs and not much else. So I can’t tell you much about RO’s and if it all lived up to my fantasy version.

We turned around and went right back to the car and flagged one of the green-shirted boys to come take our order.

“What can I get you,” he asked?

Marty looked at me and I shrugged. “Just get me whatever you normally get.”

“Four jumbos,” Marty said to the boy.

“Shredded or sliced?”

“Shredded.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” the young man said.

I looked at Marty. The order seemed anemic to me. Shouldn’t there have been a side order – some slaw or something.

“I guess we still have some slaw at home,” I muttered.

“You don’t need slaw,” he replied. “It’s on the sandwich.”

Oh. Maybe I would have known these things had I seen a menu.

“Did we really need 4 JUMBOs,” I inquired?

“I always get an extra one and stick it in the fridge and eat it cold the next day. That’s the thing about RO’s. You can eat them hot, room temperature or right out of the fridge and they still taste good.” More lessons learned.

Less than 5 minutes later a bag of food was brought to the car. Marty handed it to me while he paid. It was heavy.

As it turns out, RO’s does make excellent BBQ. The sandwich is a simple combination of shredded pork (perfectly cooked and not too dry), some slaw and the vinegar-based BBQ sauce North Carolina is famous for, all piled onto a soft, doughy, slightly sweet roll. My only issue was that the sandwich could have used a little more sauce.

Marty said that the ratio of meat to sauce was off – that whoever had made these had put too much meat, that normally it was a thinner layer of meat.

Still, the sandwich was delicious and I was glad I had one more in the fridge for the next day.

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And if that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your…



Saturday, September 23, 2006

Baruch Atah Adonai Y’all

Marty and I attended Rosh Hashana services at Temple Emanuel in Gastonia this morning. Although I tried not to constantly make comparisons to my former congregation in NYC, I couldn’t help it.

The congregation I belonged to in New York is big. It is high profile. The building is a national historical landmark Tickets for high holiday services go for prices you might expect to pay a scalper for Madonna tickets.

Although the temple can accommodate plenty of people, so many people attend high holiday services that most services are split into 2 (except for the Yom Kippur morning service which can’t be split so many of us find ourselves worshipping in a makeshift temple in the Starlight ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria). In the last few years, membership has increased so much that they have even set up folding chairs and a large screen TV in a reception space underneath the sanctuary for those who arrive too late to grab a seat. Oh – and services are also webcast.

There was a period when our congregation met as one. After a fire broke out in the synagogue in the 1998 just weeks before Rosh Hashana, Governor Pataki gave permission for us to meet and worship in the Park Avenue Armory (it required his permission as the armory is a government building and there must be some sort of rules about using government facilities for religious purposes). The size of the armory, decorated on short notice by Robert Isabel, was so massive that for a few years while we waited for our temple to be rebuilt, our congregation worshipped as a unified body on even the busiest of days. These years were punctuated with visits from Pataki and Giuliani, which definitely contributed to the high profile I mentioned earlier.

When the refurbished and rebuilt temple re-opened, it was magnificent. I mean- it had always been magnificent (a girl at my Bat Mitzvah said it seemed more like a church than a synagogue) but now it was simply breathtaking. You didn’t want to walk on the tiled floor because the mosaic was so beautiful. The wooden pews seemed to gleam. The stained glass windows shone.

Of course, what should have been a joyous occasion was marked by sadness. Our first high holiday services in the new building were in 2001. September 11th was a fresh wound and we all felt like targets.

Pataki and Giuliani, who had been honorary members of our congregation for 3 years, who had lent their support when we found ourselves in desperate need, and who were on hand to welcome us back to our home, were newly minted heroes in light of the terror attacks and their presence on our beemah was thrilling. Celebrity shul.

While we had always had security, 2001 marked a dramatic shift in policy and by the following year, getting to synagogue felt like planning a trip to the airport and you definitely wanted to get there early. Thousands of people. Unreserved seating. If we wanted our usual left center seats about 10 rows back, we had to beat the crowd. Plus, long lines formed while people and their bags were manually searched before entering the building.

The tone of the sermons changed too. They became, in my opinion, more political and less spiritual. I began to feel no connection to the rabbi, to the congregation, or to the synagogue that I had called home for most of my 30 years. In fact, the only reason I continued to worship there was because I wanted to be with my family.

Not that I am super Jew. I am not. I rarely go to Friday night Shabbat services, the only time I have been to Saturday morning services in the last 15 years was when a cousin was being Bar or Bat Mitzvahed and I usually have to look up the answers to questions posed to me by my husband’s non-Jewish family

Mother in-law: So Sarah – what exactly is Hanukah?

Me: Um – well it has to do with the Maccabees and a battle and they only had oil to last for one night but it miraculously lasted for 8 and that’s why you eat fried foods.

Mother in-law (slightly confused): Oh.

Me: Sorry. I know. That wasn’t a good explanation. Let me Google that and I’ll get back to you.

Still, I am a spiritual person and the few times I am involved in the ritual of religion, I want it to be satisfying.

So being in North Carolina for the High Holidays was exciting. It was a chance to find a new congregation, a new rabbi, and a new source of spiritual inspiration.

As I wrote in an earlier post, I skipped the large Charlotte congregation (despite the excellent reputation of the head rabbi) in favor of a more local community.

This morning Marty and I chose to go to Temple Emanuel in Gastonia. Although services started at 10am and the synagogue is only 20 minutes away, I made Marty leave the house at 9:15. What can I say – force of habit.

The building is on a corner in downtown Gastonia right down the street from an Episcopal church and a Masonic temple. We pulled into the lot at the same time as the lay leader (the congregation does not have a rabbi) Dr. Brown and we were greeted with a warm L’shana Tovah.

The building – not a national landmark – was built in 1913 and is charming in its simplicity. I was particularly drawn to the curved wooden menorahs on either side of the beemah.

Most rows were marked reserved so Marty and I took seats towards the back and waited. A few minutes before 10, Dr. Brown approached and asked if we were up for doing an aliyah. I think I looked confused (I was – for some reason I was thinking of a minyon) so he quickly began to chant the familiar blessing. After explaining that Marty wasn’t Jewish, I said I would be happy to do the aliyah. Dr. Brown asked Marty to accompany me to the beemah.

Why did I agree to such insanity? I don’t know. I thought back to my NY congregation and to the fact that I’d never – not in a million years – be asked to read an aliyah. Or light a candle. Or dress the Torah. I thought of all the politics involved (not to mention the donations that must be made) for one to be tapped for one of these honorary roles.

And I thought it was so wonderful that here, a stranger to this temple, and I was asked to participate. I was flattered. No – I was honored. So I guess I accepted out of pride.

It also helped that Dr. Brown had a transliteration of the aliyah on hand. As I looked at the words and practiced chanting them in my head, it was like refamiliarizing myself with a childhood song. I mean, I haven’t listened to Really Rosie in 20 some odd years but if someone asked me to sing a song (or 3) from the album, I probably could. And if I had the lyrics on hand, I could get through the whole album.

Services began. A member of the congregation stood on the beemah with Dr. Brown and read the English. He read and chanted the Hebrew and occasionally played a Casio keyboard when we came to a song. Not quite the organ and choir I was used to in NY, but not bad either.

Then came time for the Torah service. I began to panic. Why had I agreed to do an aliyah? I hadn’t chanted Hebrew on a beemah since my Bat Mitzvah – nearly 20 years ago. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was going to embarrass myself. I watched as the first 2 aliyahs were performed. Oh my GOD!!! These people were reading Hebrew from their prayer books. They weren’t using the transliteration cheat sheet. I quickly turned to the transliteration in the back of my prayer book. Could I memorize this in the next 2 minutes before I was called? Could I pull it off? I looked at the words but the panic just grew and so did my ability to process anything.

Marty and I were called to the beemah as “our new friends.” I felt so welcomed – like such a part of the community even though I was a stranger. Although I desperately wanted to read from my prayer book, common sense won out over pride and I stood next to Dr. Brown, who had the cheat sheet laid out next to the Torah. I touched my prayer book to the Torah where Dr. Brown showed me and then touched it to my lips.

Then I began to chant.

Ba-r'chu et A-do-nai ha-m'vo-rach!

My voice sounded high and thin in my ears. My legs were shaking. Had Marty not been there, I might have collapsed.

The congregation replied: Ba-ruch A-do-nai ha-m'vo-rach l'o-lam va-ed!

I didn’t look up at them. I kept my eyes glued to the sheet and repeated: Ba-ruch A-do-nai Ha-m'vo-rach l'o-lam va-ed!

I felt 13 again. And then I remembered, that when I was 13, I kicked ass. I mean – not to brag, but I rocked my Bat Mitzvah and completely put the other girl getting Bat Mitzvahed with me to shame.

And so I decided to rock this aliyah. Who cared that I didn’t know the Hebrew by heart. I hadn’t done this in 19 years and here I was with less than an hour’s notice in a room full of strangers chanting like a pro. I thought – Mom and Dad would be proud. I was proud.

Still, with the post reading blessing still to chant, my legs continued to shake while Dr. Brown read the Torah and I found myself empathizing with anyone who’s ever had stage fright.

Dr. Brown stopped reading.

Ok Sarah. Bring it home.

I looked at the words on the page:

Ba-ruch a-tah A-do-nai, E-lo-hei-nu me-lech ha-o-lam.

Familiar words. I’d seen them and read them thousands of times. But shit – what was the melody? It wasn’t the usual melody was it? I started and then stopped. I think I said “Sorry” and once again found myself staring at the words on the page. Nothing. I was lost.

I turned and looked to Dr. Brown for guidance. A cue. “You got it,” he said. Bar-uch a-tah A-do-nai…the melody came back and despite a rocky start, I made it through the aliyah. I even lingered on the no-tein ha-torah to make up for the dismal start.

After services, we were introduced to a number of people. Many of them complimented me on my reading. I dismissed them, pointing out my gaffe at the end. They said it wasn’t noticeable and that I had chanted to beautifully. Again I thought, Mom and Dad would be proud. I was proud.

As Marty and lingered after services I thought about Rosh Hashana services last year in NY. I thought about my dad and I making a mad dash for the door right after the benediction to avoid the otherwise 10-minute long exit process and the even longer search for a taxi. Three minutes after the benediction we were out of the temple and in a taxi heading up Third Avenue. Of course, we’d left my mother and brother behind and they weren’t too pleased with our behavior. We hadn’t even turned to say “Happy New Year” we’d been so focused on making our escape.

Not an issue here.

After we left, Marty and I drove to RO’s for a couple of BBQ sandwiches to celebrate the new year.

And if that ain’t country, I’ll kiss your…

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cause You Had a Bad Day

Because I am neither an American Idol (although I am undiscovered and fabulous) and because I have no earthly idea how to technically and/or legally download the Daniel Powter song of the same name to play in the background while you read this post, please feel free to hum along while you read instead.

Cause you had a bad day
You're taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around...


It started when I left the house 10 minutes later than usual because my morning had been filled with extra tasks like putting the sheets and towels in the washer (for the cleaning lady), picking up some clutter around the house (for the cleaning lady), running the dishwasher (for the cleaning lady), - I will pause here to point out how much work goes into getting the house ready for the cleaning lady, a concept I have never fully grasped - blow drying my hair (which takes an extra 5 - 7 minutes because it's so freaking looooooooooong) and of course, stopping to feed Elvis and Ann-Margaret.

While normally I take the back roads in the morning, 85 takes less time and I thought I could make up the difference by hopping on the Interstate. Bad call. The difference between leaving at 7am and 7:10am is rush hour. While 85 is normally congested the rare mornings I take it, it was a down right parking lot yesterday.

I knew I could get off in McAdenville (exit 23 versus exit 36 where I normally get off) and cut over to Wilkinson - which runs parallel to 85 - I just wasn't sure how. I thought I'd wing it and see a sign or two but a few wrong turns and 10 minutes later and I was lost. I finally stopped at a gas station where I got directions (I was close but would have never found it on my own) and eventually made it into work after an hour and 20 minutes. I could have just taken the back roads and made it in in an hour.

I'll leave out the details of my work day but I'll tell you this. I am in sales and marketing. A big piece of that job - no matter what you are selling - is rejection. I had a healthy dose of it yesterday and it left me feeling rather blue.

Though I arrived to work late, I cut out a few minutes early. Once again, I skipped 85 in favor of Wilkinson - partly because of rush hour headaches and partly because I needed to stop at a Michael's to look for something and the closest Michael's is in Gastonia on Wilkinson (well - it's technically on Franklin but Wilkinson turns into Franklin).

I am cruising along in the pick-up, all is well, traffic's not too bad. I am thinking I'll make it home at a reasonable hour so I can spend some time with Elvis and Ann-Margaret. Thinking perhaps Marty and I will head up to Hickory for some wings and trivia. When BAM! I get into my first fender bender.

As I was trying to move from the middle lane to the right lane, I got hit from behind by another truck. Traffic had been stopped so impact was minimal (sort of).

I do not accept or deny responsibility - although legally because I was moving into his lane, I am considered at fault.

We pulled our two trucks off the road into the parking lot of a used car lot. He called 911 to report the accident. I panicked.

The other driver was fairly angry (you can imagine) and I was relieved when the local Cramerton police arrived on the scene. Of course, for reasons I don't quite understand, the accident was not in their jurisdiction so Highway Patrol had to be dispatched.

While we waited, the other driver and I got to talking. As it turns out, we are both from NY/NJ, we both left work early and we both NEVER take 74 home. When I told the State Trooper this later on, he said: "We'll, I guess y'all just had to meet."

I am of course all right physically although mentally, I've been knocked down a peg or 6000 when it comes to driving. My confidence level is probably on par with a teenage girl who's just got her permit (which incidentally, the daughter of the man who hit me had just passed her test that morning). You should have seen me this morning trying to shift lanes. It was pitiful.

The only (sort of) bright spot in all of this, is that my truck KICKED ASS. While we were waiting for Highway Patrol, the other driver caught me surveying the damage to my truck. It didn't seem too bad - a dent in the rear right fender (or bumper - I don't quite know the difference) and some scratches on the paint. As he looked from my car to the shattered orange glass that used to be his left headlight scattered on Wilkinson and what remained of his left front fender (or bumper - I don't quite know the difference) he said: "That's one tough truck you got there. I hit you pretty hard and it doesn't look too bad."

While I nodded meekly out of respect for the situation, on the inside I was full of pride and beaming. I thought: you're damn right my truck is tough.

And if that ain't country, i'll kiss your....

p.s. To those who might post comments about their own first bender to make me feel better about this, keep in mind I am 31 years old and tales of being 16 and new behind the wheel are not quite as comforting as you think.
OOPS

So - I fell asleep while writing Monday night's post hence the not quite double post that's been sitting out there for several days. Sorry guys. Normally I check how it looks after I post but I was so sleepy I skipped the usual check....

Monday, September 18, 2006

My First Traffic Jam in Downtown Lincolnton

I experienced my first Lincolnton traffic jam on Saturday And it wasn't because of an accident. Or a lane closed down for construction. No. Our little town of 10,000 found itself flooded with visitors from all over the area (some coming from as far as 2 - 3 hours away) to celebrate the Lincoln County Apple Festival.
Yes - for a few hours on Saturday our sleepy little town turned into quite the buzzing metropolis (or at least a buzzing fairground).

Sadly - we (mostly) missed the actual festival. I know, you are wondering how I could miss such a large happening in such a small town. But it's not my fault. I knew the Apple Festival was on Saturday and I planned on attending. But I assumed it would last all day and well into the night. At least until 9 or 10 o'clock. I pictured a band playing out on the Courthouse Square. Maybe some fireworks.

Silly me. The Lincolnton Apple Festival lasted exactly 7 hours from 9am to 4pm. And I didn't figure that out til after 1pm when I had already encountered the traffic disaster AND I was unshowered and still in my running clothes.

Our run in with the festival related traffic came when Marty and I headed downtown at around noon to drop some mail off at the post office. I knew the Festival was going on so instead of heading straight downtown, I thought I'd take a back road and cut across Flint Street. Clever me. And clever 50 other people. You couldn't turn right on Main Street (7 whole blocks - a significant area in downtown Lincolnton - were closed off for the event) so there was a major logjam of cars as people tried to contemplate where to turn.

We inched along slowly until we finally got to a stop sign right before Main. We turned right and headed down the narrow street. Cars were parked on either side and in every available lot. Many commercial lots threatened towing if you parked their for the festival.

Marty and I actually covered the blocks we needed to get close enough to the post office. We pulled into a bank parking lot and I left Marty (still in his jammies) in the truck in case an overzealous bank employee was on duty and threatened to have us towed. Meanwhile I crossed through a crowd of people and a cornucopia of fair food smells (turkey legs, fresh corn on the cob, funnel cake) and made my way across Main Street to the drop box.

Then back through the throng and to the truck where we sat in another mess of traffic - all people trying to figure out how to get close to Main Street street while we tried to make our escape.

The whole excursion - which should have taken 15 minutes - took upwards of 45.

So while we missed the Apple Festival, we got a taste of the traffic.

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...