Monday, December 31, 2007

A Look Back at 2007

So, I was going to write a reflective post - looking back on the year, changes, what I've learned, how life is different, etc. - but, frankly, I am not in the mood to be quite so contemplative. So, rather, I am going to look back at some of my favorite moments of 2007. Here they are in no particular order.

Mom and dad make their first visit in January.

I have my first (and henceforth only) Northbrook Tornado.

I hit my 100th post.

I finally write about salads. Consider it a follow-up to an earlier post in 2006 on vegetables.

I discover the wondrous joys of Bojangles.

I finally see Zipper's by day.

I hit the rapids with friends for my birthday.

Nugget greets the world.

We rediscover what's so great about America's favorite past time.

We survive Elvis's craziness.

I get my 15 minutes. And so does Marty.

I spend a day in the country harvesting tomatoes for the needy.

For about 30 minutes on Veteran's Day, the lead photo on Yahoo's home page is not Lindsay or Britney or Paris. It's my Uncle Icky and I couldn't be prouder.

Dixie Mae finally comes home.

It's been a wonderful year for us, full of so many blessings, and I feel truly, truly lucky.

May 2008 bring everyone much happiness and hope and love.

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

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Our Very Own Disney World - Right Here in NC

So Marty & I drove to Asheville on Friday and spent the day (and the night) at the Biltmore Estate, North Carolina's very own answer to Disney.

Ok - so there aren't any rides or characters walking around, but everything about our 24-hour experience - from the sheer volume of visitors to the timed entry to the price tag on just about everything (except the house of course) - reminded me of Disney World. And for those of you wondering how a 30-somethinger with no kids knows about Disney, the answer is because Marty and I have gone 8 out of the last 9 years so I know of what I speak (or in this case, blog).

The first problem was with our tickets. I had tried to be efficient and went online a few weeks before the trip and bought our admission tickets. These gave us access to the house (via timed entry - more on that later), the grounds, the gardens, the winery - everything. What I failed to process was that there was distinction between regular daylight access and Candlelight at Christmas - which was a whole separate ticket. This came up Thursday night at dinner and so first thing Friday morning, I was on the phone to the Biltmore trying to figure out options.

The phones. Just like Disney - one main number to call and then you wait for 10 - 15 minutes for "a host" to answer your call. It's one stop shopping from buying tickets to making dinner reservations to booking hotel rooms. My host informed me that we could upgrade from our daytime tickets to candlelight tickets, but we had to do it in person at the ticketing center at the estate.

She also explained the concept of timed entry. Even though we had tickets for Saturday, we needed to get up early Saturday morning and go to a tent on the lawn in front of the house and get a ticket for the exact time we could actually enter the house. Sort of like Fastpass. She warned me to get there early because they did run out of timed entry slots and it was quite possible that we could have tickets to the Biltmore but be denied access to the house (frankly - the whole reason we were going) at which point we'd have to be satisfied with all of the other attractions.

As it turns out, most of this was a non-issue. As guests of the on-site hotel, we didn't need timed entry - we could just flash our little guest card and enter whenever we wanted (sort of like staying on-site at Universal in Orlando); however, we didn't find this out until after we had arrived at the estate, stopped off at the Ticket & Welcome center (so Disneyesque), upgraded from daytime to candlelight, checked into the hotel, and sat down with the concierge who politely informed us of this little perk.

So the house is spectacular and you all should go see it. We saw it at night, all decorated for Christmas, with beautiful trees in every room, and lots of garland and lights and candles. I can't imagine it any other way but Christmas only comes once a year and the house is open 365 days a year so whenever you make it to Asheville, work this into your trip.

Yesterday, we got up and drove around the grounds and hit most of the other sites. We stopped off at River Bend Farm which was very cool and they did have animals (although not as cute as ours).



We went to the winery, skipped the tour (if you've been to one winery, you've pretty much been to them all) and the tasting but walked around the ginormous retail shop which Marty & I both said reminded us of the shopping at Epcot.

We went back to the house to see it once more in daylight. We skipped walking through it a second time, but stood on the lawn and took pictures like all the other tourists.



I wanted to check out the gift shop at the house but there were way too many people so instead we waited on line for 10 minutes for a hot dog for lunch.

We drove through the Conservatory (not much to see in the winter) and wound our way throughout pretty much the entire estate in order to ultimately exit and be on our merry way.

All in all it was beautiful and quite fun and since we didn't make it to Orlando this year (the first time in 9 years we've missed it), this was a pretty good substitute to scratch the Disney itch.

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Trip to the Fish Camp

For those of you who don't know, I don't really know how to describe a fish camp and unfortunately, there's no easy description to be found online unless I feel like slogging through thousands of hits (which I don't). Those of you down here know exactly what I am talking about and NYCers might be familiar with Mary's - which bills itself as a fish camp (but Southerners would probably just laugh).

I think the original camps were actually just that - camps where you'd go and camp and fish and the fresh fish would be prepared right there. However it's evolved, and you no longer have to catch your own fish so now it's more of a simple restaurant where you go and get fish - usually fried (OK - did I just write that???).

Anyways, I went to a fish camp once - in Shelby. We were down here visiting my in-laws and we were driving back from a day spent in Hendersonville and we stopped off at a fish camp for dinner. Now I should preface this all by saying that I am EXTREMELY finicky when it comes to seafood and in general, I don't really like it all that much. I certainly don't crave it. But we went and I tried to be all local so I ordered salt & pepper catfish. The plate that was put in front of me ten minutes later had a pile of catfish all right - heads, tails, bones - everything. I freaked and haven't been back to a fish camp since.

But last night we had dinner with some of Marty's family and they traditionally go to a fish camp for a holiday gathering of sorts and so it was that I found myself at Fox's Fish Camp in Lincolnton.

Here's the amazing thing about Fox's: They are open from 4pm - 9pm Wed - Sat. That's 20 hours a week. A sign-out front indicates that take-out business on Friday and Saturday is handled out back - I don't know if that means they don't do take-out the other 2 days or if it's handled in different places on different days due to volume.

Another sign out front reads: No Drinking. No Profanity. Fox's bills itself as your "family seafood restaurant." Thankfully there's another sign indicating that Fox's is smoke-free (a rarity in rural NC).

The menu is pretty straight forward. Catfish. Flounder. Perch. Shrimp. Scallops. Oysters. Deviled crab. There's also chicken strips and hamburger steaks for those not partial to seafood and Thursdays and Fridays they serve baby back ribs.

The fish is fried unless otherwise specified (they have the means to broil although the menu warns that broiling will add an EXTRA 20 minutes to any order). They can also fry without breading - although I can't imagine how that would work...

Meals are served with baked potato or fried and slaw (mayonnaise or vinegar). And of course, plenty of hushpuppies.

Once again, I tried to be all local and so I ordered the flounder (filleted thank you very much). Marty assured me it was better than catfish and honestly, I think Marty made me blackened flounder (or maybe blackened catfish) not too long ago and I devoured it.

Here's the problem with fried fish: it tastes like fish. Even non-fishy fish like flounder still tastes mildly fishy because there's no seasoning. It's just fish, breading and oil. I wasn't a huge fan, although I did eat about half of a piece smothered in tartar sauce. I am already resolved that next time I am invited to a fish camp I am not even going to PRETEND that I like fish and just stick with the chicken strips.

Meanwhile, Marty's grandmother, Nanny, who sat to my right, ordered catfish - NOT filleted. Her plate looked an awful like what I got in Shelby and when she was done, there was a neat little stack of catfish skeletons, picked clean - almost like a cartoon in fact - on her plate.

My favorite part about Fox's though, was the ladies room. There's no doors on the toilet stalls - just shower curtains.

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Who Would've Thought

Who would've thought that Elvis would turn out to be so sweet.

While the goats have never been much for affection, Elvis in particular has picked up on the attention that we are paying to Dixie and seems to be interested in receiving some for himself. When I come into the pasture these days, Dixie is still the first one to come running but Elvis is not far behind. And after I am done with her, he lets me pet him and rub on his nose and scratch around his ears and even hold onto his horns!

Go figure!

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

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nowhere to Get a Drink (But Still a Very Merry Christmas)

Had a very Merry Christmas yesterday. Woke up early and patiently waited for my husband to get up and finally at 10:30, like a kid on Christmas on morning, woke him up so we could open presents!

Spent a few hours during the day at the Rollins' - the folks who run Good Wood Pizza . They have a big pizza party at their place every Christmas and we were invited after having them "cater" (can make your own pizza really be called catering?) our holiday bash at the beginning of the month. (Which, as my friend John pointed out, I failed to blog about. Whoops.)

Then, because we haven't had enough to eat in the last few days (I made home made lasagna on Christmas Eve - it was sooooooo good), Marty & I prepared a traditional English roast for supper: standing rib roast, horseradish sauce, Coleman's mustard, Yorkshire pudding, peas, and roasted potatoes. I was a little bit nervous about the Yorkshire pudding, but Marty assured me it was better than what we'd had at Rule's in London when we were there 3 years ago (note: I have to pause and write that the inspiration for this meal came partly from our wonderful dinner at Rule's and partly going back to Marty's English heritage).

Then, with presents open and having consumed enough food to last us for days, Marty & I decided to go out and have a holiday nip. Last year, Marty wound up at Lincoln House. It was him and the bartender and the Christmas tree - and frankly that sounded like a nice way to end the day, but alas, after last year's poor turn out, Lincoln House was closed this Christmas. As was Tradewinds. As was Zippers.

You know what was open as we headed home? Waffle House. And the place was packed.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Integration & Weight Issues

Integration between Dixie and the goats is actually going pretty well. It took them about a day or 2, but they graze together and lay together and in general aren't killing each other so I'd say that's a good thing. They aren't yet the best of friends, but I am hoping that will come with time.

Meanwhile, the surprise in the mix is Tony, who is completely befuddled and dare I say, afraid, of Dixie. He has been a little on edge and bristley at the simple sight of her so don't expect a picture of Tony curled up next to Dixie any time soon. I am hoping, that as with everything else we've been through animal wise, time is the answer.

Had quite the day on Friday. Dr. Mary came out to give Dixie her shots - which she did not like at all. Four in total and it took both me and Dr. Mary to hold her down for the injections. We also had to wrangle the goats to be wormed - well, "we" is stretching it slightly. I held out the bag of animal crackers to bribe them and Dr. Mary did most of the hard work. In fact, as you can well imagine, Elvis was a little wary after his last encounter, and did not submit willingly.

Meanwhile, Dixie seems to be settling in nicely to her new home which is good and bad. Good in that she is happy but bad in that now that she's no longer afraid, she's also developed a little bit of an attitude. She's been sassy and stubborn and well - living up to the reputation of donkeys everywhere.

I have been trying to work with her to train her: everything from putting her bridle on and taking it off, walking her on a lead, and working her legs so she gets used to lifting them to have her hooves cleaned. She did great the first few days but yesterday was a little harder and frankly, I am frustrated. I know that I need to be the tough one, the disciplinarian, the rule setter - but I also want her to love me and I am afraid that if I am too tough, too hard on her - she'll start to run every time she sees me. Marty assures me that's impossible but that doesn't make it any easier.

Anyways, it's definitely a lot of responsibility - the routine, the training - but I know it will be worth it and truthfully, she is sooooooo sweet. Y'all have to come and visit!

In other news, Ann-Margaret is both fat AND pregnant! When Dr. Mary was here she palpated which is the main way to tell if a goat is pregnant. It took her 3 times, but the third time she thought she felt a fetus (she offered to do an ultrasound to be absolutely sure but I declined). As it turns out though, the fetus is in the back and those bulbous blobs sticking out of Ann-Margaret's side are FAT! One side is the rumen and one side is her small intestine and Dr. Mary said she's definitely carrying around a little extra mass. So the goats are on a diet which they don't like at all. They've been getting a big scoop of corn and a big scoop of feed once a day. Dr. Mary said they don't need any corn (except as a treat) and only a handful of feed. Marty suggested weaning them slowly from the overfeeding to normal amounts - like weaning someone off of drugs - but I took charge and yesterday they got a normal amount of feed with just the tiniest amount of corn. In the pre-diet days, they took 5 - 7 minutes to eat. Yesterday - they were done in about 30 seconds and boy were they confused by how little they got. It was kind of funny actually.

So it looks like Dixie Mae is not the last addition to the farm and it's possible that we'll have some more goat kids running around soon...

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Never Imagined My Life Like This

In preparation for and now with the arrival of Dixie the Donkey I have been reflecting a lot on my life and how much it has changed in the last year and a half. And while the changes are not just about the animals, they certainly play a big role.

I am spending nearly as much time at the farm supply store as I am at Wal-Mart (we're nearly on a first name basis with the owner - not quite, but nearly). I am trying to find the right hay. In fact, - the fact that I know that there are different types of hay - alfafa, fescue, ryegrass - is a reflection on how much I've changed. I talk about things like corn and sweet feed and whether to buy Goat Chow or start getting a custom blend from the farm supply. I talk about things like pellets for Dixie and what percent protein she needs. I am stacking the bed of my pick-up with bales of straw and in the meantime, debating the merits of straw vs. sawdust to use as a bed in the stalls. I can speak on the subject of rutting, goat gestation, and goat castration with a fairly high level of knowledge. I think about things like breeding.

Things I need to pick up soon? A broom for the barn (so I can sweep the goat poop off the concrete in the barn), something to muck Dixie's stall and a brush for Dixie.

Speaking of, even though Dixie is a fraction of the size of a horse, she is no less responsibility. She needs to be fed twice a day, at around the same time. She needs to be let out in the morning and put up at night. She needs to be brushed. She needs to be played with - assuming we want her to develop a sweet, loving, docile personality. If not, we can let her be and she'll be an aloof and standoffish donkey. We need to work with her to train her. That means putting her bridle on and leading her around. That means rubbing her legs and getting her comfortable lifting them so we can eventually clean out her hooves.

I used to joke that Marty and I never got a dog because the responsibility was too much. Well, we just took on a huge responsibility with the donkey, and you know what, I am looking forward to every minute of it!

I'll reflect more on the other non-animal changes in another post. But for now, one more picture of my sweet girl:

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

Monday, December 17, 2007

Welcome Home Dixie Mae

It only took about 4 months, but Dixie Mae is finally home.

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First of all, thanks to Uncle Harold for coming up with the name. Here was his thought process:

In the sequel to Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong is taken
captive and Diddy Kong takes his place as the protagonist with a new
female sidekick named...Dixie Kong. And, of course, the obvious: you
are living in a state that seceded from the Union. "Look away, look
away, look away..well, you get the point."

We loved it and truthfully, she looks like a Dixie, doesn't she?

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So, we brought her home this morning. We put her up in the stall (because we weren't sure how she'd interact with the goats) while we went back to get our truck and run some errands but after lunch, I headed out to the pasture with some work and a folding chair and spent about an hour outside trying to read and keep an eye on Dixie and the goats to make sure that they didn't attack each other.

The goats were completely flummoxed by her presence and sort of huddled together and stared:

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After it was clear that they weren't going to injure each other, I came inside and continued trying to work/study while keeping an eye on the pasture. For awhile, Dixie kind of ran and frolicked and when she got too close to the goats they ran from her and then she'd run towards them again and then they'd run and so on. But eventually they got to grazing and they all sort of hung out for a while.

And it's not just the goats who are not sure what to do with Dixie. Tony is in a right state over her. He's been watching her from the window all afternoon and when he finally went outside, he bristled at the sight of her and his tail started twitching.

I am hoping that all of my animals naturally adjust over the next few days and start the bonding process. In the meantime, Marty is already talking about buying one of Dixie's playmates from the breeder so she won't be lonely.

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

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Barn Improvements

Please keep all nasty cracks and comments to yourself. I am back. Sorry for disappearing. But, if anyone out there feels even the remotest sniffle coming on - get thee to bed now. Drinks lots of fluids. Take plenty of Vitamin C. And REST. Please REST. Whatever is going around is brutal and I, unfortunately, did not take the proper time to REST and so this nasty cold has been lingering for some time now and while I am functioning, I still sound like I have consumption and in general, it means at the end of my very busy days (and believe me, my days have been busy), all I want to do is flop on the couch and not think about anything, including you, my dear, dear loyal readers (Can I even say readers at this point? Do I have more than 1 left after being the world's worst blogger??). So once again apologies and thank you for your patience.

Now, onto the post...

So the activity around here has been all about fixing up the barn for the arrival of our donkey. Yes - back in August I mentioned we were getting a miniature donkey and now it's been nearly 4 months and I am sure you are all scratching your heads wondering what's taking so darn long.

Well, part of it is she needs to be weaned. When we saw her over the summer she was a newborn, 2 or 3 weeks old. I thought she would be weaned within 2 or 3 months but I guess 4 or 5 months is not so strange. Also, we needed to have her bridle trained so that added on a little more time.

On our end though, we needed to provide her with a home. Marty was adamant that we would not let her run willy nilly like the goats and that she would have structure. So we went to work at fixing up our barn which was completely functional but just a little old and frayed at the edges. We poured some concrete which is much easier to clean and maintain. We turned the outer bay where they used to park the tractor into a stall for our donkey (so we can put her up at night) by adding a door. We also cut a half door from the new stall looking into the interior of the barn. We cleaned out and planked the hay loft so that it can actually store hay. All that's left is to run power so that we can have light (and maybe a heater in the winter if it's cold or a fan in the summer if it's hot because no - our pets aren't spoiled or anything) and run water and make a quick trip to the farm supply store to pick up a new trough for the donkey.

As an added bonus, we're getting the goat feeding situation under control because we're either going to buy some more troughs or build a proper one that all 3 of them can eat out of simultaneously. Actually it may be more than 3, Ann-Margaret is looking wider than she is tall and we once again, think that she is pregnant.

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

Thursday, December 06, 2007

So Sorry...

So sorry's been sick right after Thanksgiving (still haven't shaken it in full) and simultaneously started a new job which has left me little time for much else.

Promise that I will catch up this weekend but wanted to let you know that I was alive, still living in NC and very much a country girl at heart.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Famous in a Small Town

According to Miranda Lambert, Everybody Dies Famous in a Small Town. Well, I just got my 15 minutes.

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Plug For Paris

Check out Marty's new single here. I co-wrote the lyrics so you see, Country Girl has a little rock and roll in her yet!
Black Friday

So don't ask but I was up at 4:18 this morning (ok if you must ask my legs were sandwiched in about a 2-inch gap between Tony & Sebastian and me being the loving pet parent that I am, I refuse to kick either cat off the bed) and I got to thinking about the fact that it was 4:18am and that as I lay in bed tossing and turning and cursing my cats and trying my hardest to fall asleep again that there were people out there, right then, at the very second, Christmas shopping. And I got to thinking about doorbusters and sales and specials and the fact that Kohls was opening at 4am and maybe JC Penney and how some stores even started at midnight, hardly giving folks the time to recover from their tryptophane and stuffing induced food comas. And then I got to thinking about Wal-Mart - specifically our Wal-Mart in Linolnton and how I was fairly certan it would be open at 5am because I think Wal-Marts everywhere are opening at 5am and how I had to go to Wal-Mart anyways because there was a sweater there that I really wanted (actually I got the sweater in black the other day and loved it so much I wanted to get it in at least one other color - possibly red for the holidays or heather gray because it's so versatile) and how it would be kind of cool to go at 5am just to see what the whole crazy first-thing-in-the-morning-Black-Friday experience was all about even though I don't need a computer or a flat screen or a slow cooker or a pre-lit Christmas tree or any of the other thousands of items that are drastically reduced and hence the whole reason why people are up and out shopping at such ungodly hours (then again, having the love for shopping that I do, there is no such thing as an ungodly hour to shop and perhaps, just perhaps, this world would be a better place if one could shop (and I don't mean online - I mean actually shop) at all hours of the night). And then I remembered that I hate driving in the dark and so instead of heading out at 5am to truly experience Black Friday I came downstairs and watched last night's Grey's Anatomy on TiVo and waited until dawn was breaking at 6:45am to head to Wal-Mart and buy my sweaters (in heather gray and rose bud).

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

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

No - We Don't Fry Turkeys

So...some more thoughts on Thanksgiving.

Let me begin by saying that no, we don't fry a turkey. We don't brine a turkey. We don't roast a turkey. We simply don't do turkey. Marty doesn't like turkey in any way shape or form so we might be the only people in America to have a turkey-less Thanksgiving.

This of course disturbs me because it's Thanksgiving also known as Turkey Day and ever since I learned about brining I think that I make one hell of a turkey and so not being able to prepare turkey bothers me. Deboning and grilling cornish game hens just does not provide the same level of satisfaction...

What I do get satisfaction from is making my stuffing and traditional mashed potatoes (not a whiff of roasted garlic or goat cheese in sight) and my spiced cranberry and fruit conserve which nobody eats but me (well Marty doesn't eat it and if it's just us that's an awful lot of cranberries for one person). Less satisfying? Traditional green bean casserole (which, if you can believe, I actually screwed up the first time I tried to make it - I mean this is a foolproof recipe on the side of soup cans everywhere and I, who can make the most awesome broccoli and cheese souffle you've ever tasted, messed it up!) and macaroni and cheese. I just don't get the whole mac and cheese as Thanksgiving side staple but Marty swears by it. He assures me it's a Southern thing.

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

Bonus: Click here for my cranberry recipe - it's delicious!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tales from the Archives: The Stuffing Wars

In honor of the upcoming holiday, below follows a piece I wrote a while back on the first Thanksgiving that Marty and I celebrated together.

I have long dreamed of the day when I would host Thanksgiving. The honor currently belongs to my Aunt Pearl, our family matriarch, so any Thanksgivings spent in New York are spent at her table in Kew Gardens. But in 1999, Marty and I were living in Houston and decided not to travel. We were going to do our own Thanksgiving. I was ecstatic.

We hit the first hurdle with the menu planning. Marty wanted to serve traditional green bean casserole (you know – the recipe that comes on the side of the can of Durkee fried onions), macaroni and cheese, dirty rice and pecan pie. I wanted to make cranberries from scratch, mashed potatoes, some kind of green vegetable that wasn’t smothered in Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and pumpkin bread pudding.

Then there was the issue of the meat. I wanted to serve turkey. Marty insisted on Cornish game hens.

It seemed the only thing we had in common was that we both wanted stuffing.

One night, we were having drinks at the bar at the Four Seasons. I was knee deep in planning mode and I had a sheaf of recipes I wanted to go over. I started to show Marty some different stuffing recipes I had pulled off of Epicurious including one for sweet potato cornbread stuffing with greens and bacon that I really had my eye on. He rejected them all. The stuffing, he told me, would be Pepperidge Farm, like he had eaten as a child. Although I had not eaten a lot of stuffing as a child and did not have a strong position on the subject, I felt passionately about being able to prepare the stuffing I wanted to prepare. This was going to be a gourmet Thanksgiving if it killed me.

We launched into a heated argument about stuffing, further fueled by cocktails. At one point we were debating the merits of using stale or toasted bread versus fresh bread. Just as I was about to give up hope, a young mother pushing a baby stroller came up to us.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” she said. “But I couldn’t help but overhear your discussion on stuffing.” Of course she overheard us. We were loud. And how kind of her to call it a discussion when it was clearly a fight.

Still, she continued on. It seems that her family had nearly come to blows over stuffing several years back until the recipe she shared with us, saved them. It was a simple recipe and I forget who gave it to her. But she passed it onto us and it saved us. The basic premise is to sauté a trinity of onion, garlic and celery in some oil. Add some cubed baguette (we prefer sourdough), which has been buttered and sprinkled with salt and pepper (we actually use Tony Chachere's seasoning). Add some stock, maybe a little wine, cook down and you are done. The stuffing can be augmented with anything – sausage, mushrooms, oysters – but it is best in its original simplicity (although to be fair, we top it off with some fresh Parmesan).

Marty and I made our Four Seasons Stuffing that year. Along with everything else. We literally made 2 Thanksgivings for 3 people as we could not come to agreement on what to cut from the menu.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Why I Love Small Town Life

So Karen's reception was last night and it was fabulous! I have to admit, in a year and a half of living here it was one of our first real nights out in Lincolnton where we had the chance to truly be part of the local community.

Karen's show is at the Cultural Center (in a very large p.s. I will suggest that all local readers make their way over there before the end of the month as her work is absolutely OUTSTANDING) and everyone who was there last night seemed to know each other. Marty's firm sponsored the wine and so not only did we provide the wine but we were the bartenders and so we met a lot of people and you could tell that people were trying to figure out who we were, why we were there, where we fit in, etc. It was actually kind of fun because we've lived in Lincolnton for a while now and we're still relatively unknown and ever so slightly mysterious.

After the show, we popped over to Tradewinds for a quick game of trivia. Although the bar was empty when we sat down, it filled up quickly. A grey haired gentleman with a moustache came in. Elsa, the bartender, addressed him by name and steered him to the one remaining seat to my left. She got him a drink without even asking and plunked an ashtray in front of him unrequested. It was if he was a regular.

His name was Paul. Although he didn't have a game board, he joined into the trivia action shouting out answers when he knew them. He was a friendly enough fellow and we made some polite small talk.

I assumed he was a local and a regular but as it turns out, he lives in Arizona and is a sub-contractor for Lowes. He's only in town for 2 weeks. Still, I loved that Elsa knew him by name, knew his drink of choice (Bud in a bottle) and that she made a point of introducing him when he sat down. It was exactly why I love living in a small town.

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Calling All Art Lovers

My friend Karen Banker is an artist and she's got a one-woman show running at the Lincoln Cultural Center during the month of November. I would encourage all local readers to go see her work or attend the artist's reception this Friday night.

You can also read a little bit about Karen and the show here.

I am actually excited because besides seeing Karen's work (which is fabulous) I would otherwise never get to see the Cultural Center seeing as it keeps the incredibly convenient hours of 9 - 5, Monday - Friday.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Tribute on Veterans Day

I am proud! Busting at the seams, big smile on my face, call-everyone-I-know and post-it-on-the-blog proud. On the main page of Yahoo, on the "Featured" tab, usually reserved for the antics of Britney Spears or, as early as this morning, talking about how to manage inter-office romances, is a picture of my Uncle Icky. Veteran. American. Hero. And my uncle.

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Surely this moment will be fleeting. Perhaps a few more hours - or even through the rest of the day. But then Veterans Day will pass and the "Featured" tab will feature someone or something else more relevant. But right now, at this very instant, millions of people are clicking onto the Yahoo homepage and millions are seeing my Uncle Icky's yellow-bespectacled face. And I couldn't be prouder.

For those of you who may not know Uncle Icky, my dad recently gave a brief interview for Bloodthirsty. In it, he was asked, who's your oldest friend? This was his response:

My Uncle Icky. His real name is Irving Ziffer, and he’s the basis for Ziff the Sniff, the narcotics detective in my books. Technically he’s my blood relative, but he’s still a lifetime friend. He’s 89 years old, a decorated World War II hero, who fought in the Pacific for five years, was wounded once, recovered, then insisted on going back to the front lines, where he earned another Purple Heart. He is legally blind, dependent on two hearing aids, but doesn’t let anything stop him from living life to the fullest. He is my friend and my hero. He was a travelling salesman who took me on road trips, taught me how to drive a car long before I was of age, introduced me to horseracing, and is still quick with a dirty joke. My wife is his health care proxy, and his instructions to her are as follows: "If I’m lying in the hospital plugged into a resuscitator, put a pair of dice and bottle of Johnnie Walker Black on my chest. If I don’t move, pull the freakin’ plug."

I couldn't have described Uncle Icky any better (or any funnier for that matter).

God bless all of our veterans and all of our men and women in the armed forces today. Thank you for what you do.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Houston, We Have a Problem

So I had high, high hopes for my glorified return to the world of blogging. I was going to live-blog the CMAs. I have never live-blogged before but I love it when Dan Wetzel does it for the first 2 days of March Madness and The Fug Girls were hysterical with their live blog coverage of the Oscars. So the CMAs seemed like the perfect forum: an awards show, country music and long-time proclivities for spangles and big hair, more performers than awards - plus, I was in Chicago which meant the show ran from 7pm - 10pm so no threat that I'd fall asleep before it was over.

Alas, if you can beieve it: I COULDN'T GET FREAKING INTERNET IN MY ROOM. That's right, while staying at the Ritz-Carlton (a Four Seasons hotel) in Chicago I could not get Internet in my room. I'll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say I spent WAY TOO MUCH time on Wednesday trying to solve the issue. Apparently, the Ritz does not offer in-room wireless and for some reason, my laptop was missing a LAN connection (not their fault but still - wireless is kind of the go-to technology these days and I never thought I'd be penalized for having the more modern technology) so once I realized the problem I went to the business center and tried to download the driver from Dell but it didn't work and I eventually threw my hands up and returned to my room, having missed the first 1/2 hour of the show. I watched about 30 more minutes, maybe an hour and from what I watched - there was plenty of good material.

I saw Big & Rich (or maybe it was Brooks and Dunn - I get them kind of confused) take the stage. One was wearing a seriously pimp daddy fur coat that would give Sharon Stone a run for her money while the other was wearing a hat from the Dr. Seuss reject pile.

I saw Rascal Flatts win an award (best group I think) which was enough to have me question everything about today's country music and life in general. They might possibly be the worst musical act EVER. And they look kind of dorky and all of their girlfriends/wives/female companions looked they had taken classes at the Pamela Anderson school of Tanning & Enlargement and well...anyways, I wonder.

I watched Carrie Underwood sing So Small (again - why is this her first single???) and wondered if the girl had consumed a carbohydrate in the last year? She did look lovely in yellow (in my opinion).

I saw Sara Evans and Kate Walsh in their "hosting" roles. Flat. Flat. Flat. I mean, Sara is a singer and not an actress but Kate Walsh is actually talented. Kind of. Sort of. I mean, she was when she was bitchy Addison on Grey's but now that they've softened her corners, she's less exciting (hence why I don't watch Private Practice) and well, she was terrible at the CMAs. The writing was awful and the lame attempts at humor fell flat as did Sara and Addy who read straight from the teleprompter with little to no emotion. I almost choked when Bucky Covington was introduced as part of the stable of hot (as in good looking and not popular) new country male artists.

So you can see, there was plenty of material and I was so looking forward to actually, finally getting the chance to live blog but alas I was denied. I don't know where this leaves me exactly in my live-blogging quest - I guess I'll have to wait until the ACM awards in May...

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

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Whole Mish Mosh of Stuff

Daylight Savings Time is officially over which means I am officially driving home in the dark for the next 126 days. On the upside, it's at least now lighter in the morning...for a few weeks anyways. It's been truly depressing leaving the house these last few weeks in the pitch black.

And...if you're wondering why I've been so quiet recently, Marty's been really busy working on a new album due out in early 2008 and we haven't been out and about as much.

Also, a year and a half since living here, the whole city girl/country girl, fish out of water thing has kind of gone by the wayside. The fact that I spent half an hour at Lowe's this afternoon pricing lumber for a new deck - not very exciting. At least not to me (and therefore probably not to you). A year ago I would have gone on and on about either a) simply spending time at Lowes or b) the joys of shopping at the Lincolnton Lowes vs. the Secaucus Home Depot but now it's just kind of like, eh...who cares.

To that degree, I open up the floor to what few readers I may actually have left (not related to me by blood of course) for any suggestions on subjects they'd like me to write about.

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

p.s. For all you Paris Keeling fans out there, Kelly Keeling is currently on tour with Trans-Siberian Orchestra so check him out when he comes to town!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Not What I Was Expecting

Remember my concerns with Carrie Underwood's new single?

Well as it turns out, having now listened to the CD obsessively for the last week (it helped that I had to drive to and from Atlanta AND that NPR has been having a pledge drive so there's no real programming to listen to)So Small is 1 of 3 tracks on the 13-track CD that I don't like. I am a big fan of the power ballads Just a Dream, I Know You Won't and I Told You So (will Carrie do for Randy Travis what Whitney did for Dolly?) as well as the Before-He-Cheats knock-off Last Name. I belt these bad boys out in the car like I have Carrie's pipes (by the way - she has a serious voice and American Idol - producers and viewers - should be relieved that they got it right that year). I am also quite fond of the more uptempo Get Out of This Town, Crazy Dreams and All-American Girl. Even Flat on the Floor, the first track, which I was scratching my head when I first heard it, is growing on me as is The More Boys I Meet and Twisted.

I am curious to see what her second single will be, but in the mean time, I am waiting for Garth's new CD next Tuesday and the CMAs on Wednesday (which I am considering live-blogging).

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Old McDonald Had A Farm

Ok - so I don't think I've told you all my fantasy to chuck it all and be a farmer. I mean I've got 8 acres, the right zoning and if some guy named Manny can do it in 800 square feet in a Brooklyn backyard, so can I. Right?

I mean, I have seriously elaborate fantasies involving vegetable gardens, goat cheese and grape vines.

Anyways, I am not there yet, but I did spend last Saturday picking tomatoes. Actually, I was gleaning for the Society of St. Andrew.

Society for St. Andrew is a Christian ministry dedicated to gleaning America's fields and feeding America's hungry. The actual definition of gleaning means to gather (grain or the like) after the reapers or regular gatherers. Essentially SFSA gets farmers to plant crops or donate extra crops which volunteers then glean and send off to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and the like.

So I spent Saturday at a farm in China Grove picking tomatoes to be sent to a soup kitchen in Morganton. I'll tell you this - it was hard work. I only picked for ~ 2 hours but I was exhausted and sore and dirty! My hands were black with caked on dirt and mud. But it was also so satisfying on so many levels. And I love the idea of being self-sustaining.

Sorry...trying to post and watch Grey's Anatomy simultaneously and it's a bad idea so I am going to wrap it up...

So um yeah...famring...gleaning's all good.

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Saturday in the Country in 2 Chapters

Chapter 2 When We Make Pie

Ok. So you probably don't even care about Chapter 2 any more seeing as it's been 11 days since Chapter 1. And I guess I should have warned you that I was taking a slight hiatus, although truth be told I didn't know that I was taking a hiatus until 11 days of feeling semi-unmotivated and uninspired passed and I realized I was either being completely lazy and shirking my blogging responsibilities or taking a hiatus and obviously taking a hiatus sounds so much better than being lazy. Anyways...

Back to the pie. No - not that pie, New York pie. Pizza.

Last Saturday (or rather, 2 Saturdays ago - God, does time fly), we took mom and dad out to Mansour's for a make your own pizza party. The wood burning oven was fired up. The dough was already made. All you had to do was grab a ball, roll it out, and then top to your hearts desire. Mansour did not skimp on the toppings as there was beef, 2 types of sausage, ham, chicken, fresh shiitakes, artichoke hearts, tomatoes, asparagus, jalapenos, and 2 types of cheese (among others - it's been 2 weeks and I didn't take notes).

I will tell you this: It was the best pizza I've ever had. I think it's because I made it and had complete control over the proportion and distribution of all toppings (both sausages, ham, shiitakes, artichokes, chicken, asparagus). Or it could have been the wood burning oven - which as far as I am concerned you could use to boil water and the water would taste that much better.

What's even better about this whole experience - at least for those of you who live nearby - is that there is a local company that can replicate this party in your backyard. Brian Rollins and his wife own Good Wood Pizza. Brian builds wood burning ovens (in fact, he helped Mansour with his) but they also have a portable oven and they bring it to your house, and they bring a big old bowl of dough, and either they'll supply the toppings or you can supply the toppings, and voila - instant pizza party!

I think I am officially off hiatus, especially since I am off to pick tomatoes tomorrow morning at a farm in China Grove.

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

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Saturday in the County in 2 Chapters

Chapter 1 When We Go The Fair

Mom and dad came to visit us this weekend and Saturday morning we took them to the Cleveland County Fair.

It was pretty much your typical county fair - funnel cake and cheeseburgers and livestock and rides on the midway and...tractor pulls. That's right kids - I went to my first tractor pull. For full details on what a tractor pull actually is, check out this link (I'm too busy watcing the Yankees vs. Indians to write in much detail). Other than that, isn't it enough to know that I went to a tractor pull...and actually liked it?

Photos from the fair follow:

The Sled

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Scenes from a Tractor Pull

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More Scenes from a Tractor Pull

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Some Very Large Pumpkins

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The biggest is 440 lbs. What? You don't believe me?

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Also, Some Very Large Watermelons (the largest was 140 lbs)

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Some Awesome Produce

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And Finally, the Goat Booth

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Lastly, I'd add that in addition to everything I've already mentioned, perhaps my most favorite part of the fair was the color game. Normally, whenever I've played the color game at fairs in the Northeast, I've plunked a quarter (or maybe 50 cents)on a color (the more choices the better) and then someone throws a ball and it bounces around a giant grid and hopefully lands in a slot with my color (sorry - Wikipedia doesn't offer a handy description for what I call the color game). Anyways, in the South, they spin a giant wheel and stick a white rat in a tin cup in the center and then the rat crawls out of the cup and runs into a hole and whatever hole he runs into is the color that wins. Ok, maybe not the best description, but still...

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

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Highlights from a Day in Kat Kountry

I am obsessed with the new Garth Brooks single, More Than a Memory, and since it's not available for purchase until November 6th and not available for download EVER (don't get me started on that), my only hope of hearing it is on the radio. As such, I've been listening to a little less NPR and a little more 96.9 Kat Kountry.

However, it seems like every time I flip on the radio I hear one of the following: any one of a number of songs by Rascall Flatts - who I can't stand and it's doubly worse because they just released a new album and so they are getting lots of radio play; Kenny Chesney's 2 current singles - Don't Blink (don't bother) and Never Wanted Nothing More - a song which I enjoyed ever so slightly the first time I heard it but have since grown tired of; and Proud of the House We Built, the new single by Brooks and Dunn (also out with a new album).

All of this, and no Garth. So, I decided to do a little research and see what exactly went on during the course of a day in Kat Kountry. Maybe I just had really bad timing - maybe it wasn't always Rascall Flats every hour, on the hour. So, on October 4th, between 8:47am and 5:46pm, I kept an eye on 96.9's last 10 songs played and here's what I can tell you:

* More Than a Memory was played twice: once at 10:29am and again at 5:27pm

* There was only 1 Rascall-Flatts-free-hour, between 11am and 12pm (also possibly the 5pm hour but I didn't quite make it all the way through).

* Brooks and Dunn were played 13 times, 11 of which happened between 10am and 3pm. As it turned out, Ronnie and Kix were guest-DJ'ing for those 5 hours which explains the skew.

* Both Kenny Chesney songs made 2 appearances in the 9 hour period I tracked as did 3 other songs.

* There was rarely an hour without Tim McGraw - Faith's husband was played 8 times.

* Also popular were Brad Paisley who was played 6 times (although thankfully Ticks and Online were only played once each), Montgomery Gentry (4 plays) and Rodney Atkins (3 plays).

* The American Idols weren't so popular: Kellie Pickler and Bucky Covington (who I also feel like I always hear when I turn on the radio)only had 1 song a piece, while Carrie Underwood had 2 (although she didn't make her first appearance until 3:25pm).

* Luke Bryan's All My Friends Say was played 3 times which is fine by me because I actually like the song. I am less a fan of Dierks Bentley's Free and Easy which was played twice.

To see the complete list, click here. And I guess until November 6th, I'll just have to hope for a little less Rascall Flatts and a little more Garth.

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

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mansour Does It Again

Well…I haven’t really been inspired to write much of anything recently. I know that you are sick of the goat tales (though you’ll be glad to hear that Elvis seems to be recovering just fine) and I can’t really keep complaining about the shortening days and the fact that it’s dark out now when I leave in the morning.

I was going to write about a double whammy with technological devices purchased online (a portable GPS that doesn’t offer door-to-door navigation – it just gets you to the general area – I mean, really – what’s the point? And a car radio whose clock can’t be programmed – seriously, I called the manufacturers in NY and they don’t even know how to program it – they have their tech guys breaking down a model and trying to figure it out as we speak) but then I decided it wasn’t particularly country and I find myself where I’ve found myself before…realizing that I am just too darn country for my own good and at a loss of interesting and entertaining stories.

Lucky for me we had dinner at Willow Creek Inn last night, and as always, Mansour blew us away. It started when we pulled in and I saw flames in the wood-burning oven Mansour built over the summer. Yum...anything cooked in a wood-burning oven is fine by me. We were seated at our favorite little table, wine was poured, and immediately, all the stress and chaos of the day were gone. Mansour started us off with salad – which seemed a bit odd because he usually serves us soup or an appetizer and then the salad but there was no precursor this evening. The salad was perfectly portioned (he has historically tended to serve us entrée size salads that are way too big) and full of farm-fresh vegetables, a sliver of some delicious blue cheese and a not-too-tangy balsamic. It’s amazing that something as simple as a salad can still blow me away.

But it was the entrée that put the evening over the top: wood-fire grilled beef tenderloin atop a piece of wood-fired Lavosh served with wood-fired onions and a whole wood-fire roasted tomato. Additionally, there was a steaming pile of Mansour’s amazing rice (seriously – his plain white rice is beyond words good) topped with a bevy of fragrant herbs and spices that Mansour ordered us to mix into the rice while it was still hot. Everything was beyond delicious. Even dessert – a brown-sugar stuffed date accompanied by a cup of Mansour’s perfumed tea, was perfect.

Next up on the agenda at Willow Creek Inn? Native American Night on the 27th - bonfire and everything.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I Guess We Were Wrong

Ann-Margaret is NOT pregnant - or at least not as Dr. Mary can tell. If she is pregnant, she's early on. Same goes for Nugget - thankfully.

And today was the day. Elvis is now a Soprano...and I don't mean Tony.

He came through like a champ, although, as you can well imagine, he's a bit despondent. We kept him up today so he could recover but I'll let him out tomorrow and hopefully things will be back to normal before you know it.

Apparently, even though Elvis has been castrated, he can still impregnate Ann-Margaret or Nugget for the next to 7 - 10 days (I'll spare you the details) so Dr. Mary suggested keeping the girls separate. But Marty and I both agree Elvis will be happier with his family. And after all he's been through, if he still has it in him to knock one of them up...well, then...he really is a stud!

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Is it Elvis or is it Us?

Ok. I am feeling frustrated. And funky. So my blog now becomes my journal and a forum to vent.

It’s gotten bad with the goats. Very, very bad. So much for Elvis knowing when to back off. As I wrote yesterday, he’s been out of control for nearly a week. I won’t go into graphic detail, but if you’re interested in some of the mating behavior of pygmy goats click here.

We put him up in the stall on Saturday afternoon. We tried to let him out a few hours later, which was a mistake, and Marty literally had to wrestle him back into the stall. He stayed penned up all day Sunday, doing nothing but butting the walls of the stall (and chipping his magnificent horns in the process) and bleating non-stop (you could hear how hoarse he was by Sunday afternoon). Feeding him Sunday proved nearly impossible as he was so hostile.

Marty and Steve went out yesterday and got a collar and a chain so we could at least let Elvis outside for a bit. By the time I got home in the evening, he was chained up to a tree in the middle of the pasture, where he’d spent most of the day. Marty said when they first put him up he jerked so hard on the chain, he nearly snapped his neck.

Despite being outside all day, he wasn’t a happy goat. We unchained him and tried to feed him at the fence as is normal custom. I coaxed him about halfway there but then he backed off and ran back to the other stall where the girls were penned up and started doing the sort of things that male goats do that make me think of lascivious old men and flashers on the subway.

We ended up herding him back into his stall and left him there, bucking and bleating.

Marty’s observations were that we can't let the animals run our lives and we do. They are spoiled and it’s our fault. We need to break them. This is how it’s done. Well, I am a softie at heart and all of this hurts me. A lot. And so I ask the question: is it Elvis or is it us?

I was so worried about Elvis (because we left the rope chained to his collar and I thought he might strangle himself or choke on it as he tried to chew it off) that I went out to check on him this morning before I left for work.

Of course, it was dark out and so I tromped through the pasture, flashlight in hand, and when I got to his stall and peered through the slats, he was just standing there, silent, looking forlorn and beaten down. Despite all of his frustrating and out of control behavior recently, I felt bad for him and wished more than anything that things hadn’t come to this; that Marty and I had had the foresight to neuter him early and send our females out to be bred – if and when we decided we wanted to breed.

But it is what it is. And so Elvis will spend another day penned up, angry, scared, confused, hurt, lonely (wow – am I projecting onto this goat or what?!). And then Dr. Mary will come tomorrow morning and slice, slice, snip, snip and it will be over. I hope. And then we can put this all behind us and go back to being the family we once were.

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

Monday, September 24, 2007

You've Heard It All Before

Ok. I’ve been a bad blogger. I seemed to have used up all of my creative juices in August which has left September rather…well…lacking. Truth be told, there hasn’t been much to write about. Things that seemed so interesting and blog-worthy a year ago, are now old hat.

Actually, the goats have provided some fodder…and I have been crafting a post in my head since Saturday (when Marty literally had to wrestle Elvis to get him back into his stall after he got violent with the girls…long story…ok, quickly…Elvis is “rutting” which I take to be the male equivalent of being in heat…he’s all crazy and testosterone fueled and swollen and smelly and well, he’s being a general pain) but then time passed and there’s been more drama and well…suddenly the drama side of things feels too weighty to contend with at the moment and so I’ll leave tales of goats and Elvis’s impending castration to another day.

However, I will say this. All animals are a responsibility. Think seriously before buying. And always, always, neuter your boys early.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2007

An Apple A Day

Yesterday was the Apple Festival and this year we didn't miss it.

We didn't miss the fried apple pies. Or the apple fritters. Or the apple dumplings. Or the apple butter. Or the apple ice cream. Or the apple cider. Or the apple cider slushies. We didn't miss the BBQ, burgers and dogs. We didn't miss the scuppernongs or the muscadines.

We didn't miss the farmers market - complete with lots of fresh tomatoes, okra, squash, and of course, apples. We didn't miss the fresh honey or the honey tasting (we opted for blackberry honey - quite tasty).

We didn't miss the arts or the crafts or the local folks hawking their wares.

We didn't miss the local high school marching bands or the local beauty queens.

We didn't miss any of it!

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

City Mouse vs. County Mouse

So, as it turns out, my not being able to vote in yesterday's election had nothing to do with my political leanings and everything to do with where I live.

Apparently, while I live in Lincolnton, I don't actually live in Lincolnton i.e. within the city limits so I can't vote for city officials. Ok.

I admit, I was a bit frustrated about this at first until I realized what exactly the mayor of Lincolnton does. As per the city's website:

The Mayor is the chief elected official of the City of Lincolnton. The Mayor is elected, at large, for a two-year term. The Mayor is the presiding officer of the Lincolnton City Council. The Mayor votes to break a tie vote and does not have veto power. The mayor appoints members to various municipal boards and commissions, issues special proclamations, meets with citizen groups, and represents the city at various local, state and national meetings. The Mayor serves as the City’s Chief Ambassador, meeting with dignitaries and business representatives. The Mayor plays an important role in the development of Lincolnton’s municipal policy.

Not exactly like being mayor of New York City...

That said however, I am pulling for David Black - who came in first (with 377 votes) although didn't win the 40% required which means a run-off is possible.

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

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tales from the Archives: September 11th

I thought long and hard about what to post today. In the end, I decided to share an essay I wrote in the days following the attacks on September 11th, 2001. It's a little long for a blog, so click here to read in full.

Since the post is so long and since I couldn't figure out how to create an expandandable post (despite my best efforts), I am hosting the text on a temporary "mirror blog" until I can figure out another solution.

Additionally, click here to listen to Tears of Heaven, a song inspired by the events of that day. I hope it inspires you too.

God Bless America.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Good News, Bad News & Frankly I’m Not Sure

We’ll start with the bad news: I saw on the news this morning that it’s been 90° or hotter for 40 of the last 42 days. The 2-day respite we had was Labor Day weekend when I was in Texas where it was…you guessed it…over 90°. I am tired of the heat. It’s making me cranky. I am ready for fall. Boots. Sweaters. Coats. Fireplaces. French Onion Soup. All of it.

Now for the good news. While Elvis is still a testosterone-feuled pain in the ass (and we can’t castrate him yet because…you guessed it…it’s too damned hot), at least he’s learned that if he’s acting aggressively towards Nugget (and I hope that’s all he’s doing) and Ann-Margaret starts crying at the top of her lungs and I come out of the house and walk towards the pasture (as I did at 5:55am this morning in my robe and slippers) that he best stop what he’s doing and run towards the barn because otherwise he’s going to get pelted with rocks. I mean – at least I don’t have to venture out into the pasture and beat him off with a stick (which is what I used to have to do).

Lastly, you all know I love Carrie Underwood – she’s one of the reasons I got into country music in the first place. And I am excited about her new album coming out some time in October. However, I am not a fan of her new single, So Small, which is apparently breaking all kinds of download records and popularity contests on iTunes. I just don’t know what to think because usually you release your biggest hit as the first single and if this is the biggest hit – well, let’s just say I am concerned.

Hoping for the best, expecting the worst and in general wishing Carrie Underwood would eat some BBQ – the girl’s starting to look skinnier than those African children she was singing for this spring.

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

Thursday, September 06, 2007

And the Winner Is…

I love awards shows although that doesn’t mean I am particularly knowledgeable in whatever it is that is being honored. For example, for last year’s Oscars I had seen none of the Best Picture nominees, not to mention any of the actor-nominated performances with the exception of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. To this day, the only movie that’s moved off that list is The Departed, which came to cable about a week ago. The Emmys, coming up in 11 days? Of the 10 Best Shows nominated (5 comedies, 5 dramas), I watch one on a regular basis: Grey’s Anatomy. I’ve seen none of the other 9. Acting awards? I can’t tell you anything about the lead actors, although I can comment on 3 of the nominated lead actresses: Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), Sally Field (Brothers and Sisters) and Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU). Oh – and I can tell you everything you want to know about American Idol.

So I suppose I was a bit surprised – possibly more than a bit truth be told – when the nominees for the 41st Country Music Association Awards came out and I knew/had listened to/felt invested in just about every category.

Entertainer of the Year? Give it to George Strait– if only because I can’t stand Rascal Flatts, I think Brad Paisley has gone of the deep end (Have you heard Online? Who’s writing for this guy anyways), Kenny Chesney is so much less interesting now that he’s divorced from Renee Zellweger, and while Keith Urban does have some delicious arm candy in the form of Nicole Kidman, he’s still never going to be the King of Country Music. He’s Australian for Pete’s sake!

Female Vocalist of the Year? Hands down Carrie Underwood. Partly so that the good folks at American Idol can feel like they are actually churning out some decent performers and partly because I am not that familiar with any of the other nominees.

Male Vocalist of the Year? See comments on Entertainer of the Year only replace Rascal Flatts with Josh Turner and watch me scratch my head and go, Josh who?

Horizon Award is tough. I have a soft spot for Taylor Swift, but I also like Rodney Atkins – if only because he managed to work an entire Happy Meal into a song. I’ll tell you who I am not pulling for – Kellie Pickler. We’ve got to keep the folks at American Idol (and the general viewing public in general) focused on finding talent.

Vocal Group of the Year has to be Emerson Drive. No arguments (even though I do like Not Ready to Make Nice by the Dixie Chicks). If Rascal Flatts wins, I think the Earth may spin of its axis.

Vocal Duo of the Year? I am hoping Montgomery Gentry or Sugarland. I mean, haven’t Big & Rich and Brooks & Dunn won enough?

The fact that Ticks is even nominated for Single of the Year makes me question sanity levels in Nashville (in fact, the fact that the song was even written makes me think they need to dump some Lexipro into the Nashville water supply pronto). So I vote for Before He Cheats, the best song to shout out loud at the top of your lungs while you’re driving and no one can hear you or Wrapped, if only because it’s George Strait. I also give BHC Song of the Year award. I mean – have you seen the other nominees?

Album of the Year also goes to George. How can it not?

I find Musical Event of the Year an interesting category title. I’d hardly call Reba McEntire’s remake of Kelly Clarkson’s Because of You featuring Kelly Clarkson an event. Still, forced to choose at gun point I’d have to give the nod to Tracy Lawrence’s Find Out Who Your Friends Are over Jimmy Buffet with George and Alan simply because I never understood Hey Good Lookin’ as a song.

I haven’t seen any of the videos up for Musical Video of the Year but I am pulling for Moments by Emerson Drive because a homeless man stopping a down-on-his luck dude from committing suicide feels so much more meaningful than a jilted blonde smashing up a Chevy or Brad Paisley getting down and dirty in cyber space.

The only category where I am really at a loss is musician of the year. But I am giving my vote to Randy Scruggs on guitar because I like his name.

Tune in November 7th to see how I did.

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

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Commenting on a Subject I Know Very Little About

I don't know a lot about college football. I can't tell you who won the Heisman last year (apparently Troy Smith of Ohio State) or who played in the 1969 Rose Bowl (Ohio State again, defeating USC and that year's Heisman winner O.J. Simpson). But I am married to an Aggie, and college football is sort of a religion in our house, so I know just enough to be dangerous. Which leads me to my commentary on this weekends Big Upset at the Big House.

Lets start with Michigan. They were ranked #5 in the pre-season poll and considered contenders for a possible national championship. But should they have been ranked #5? After all, they lost their last 2 games. And despite returning most of their offense, they had lost quite a bit of their defense. Was that 5 ranking based in reality, or was it steeped in myth and history of college football's winningest program?

Speaking of winning, I dont know how you can consider a football team that wins back-to-back national championships (and incidentally are heavily favored to win again this year) a cream puff. So what if it was Division I-AA. I went to Duke. Our football team is Division I-A. Trust me. These guys would pound us into the ground. They are the best of the best in their league and in my mind that's enough to make them contenders.

And yet everyone seemed shocked at the outcome of the game. They're calling it the biggest upset in college football. Little App State from little Boone, NC comes into big ol' Michigan and wins? Preposterous! And yet in my mind, it wasn't so shocking. But then again, as I said before, I don't exactly know a whole lot about college football.

I think what tickles me the most about the whole thing is that the App State kicker, Julian Rauch, who kicked the winning field goal under tremendously pressure-filled circumstances, is a member of the congregation I go to in Gastonia.

Never let it be said that Jews can't play football.

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

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Election Rejection

So as it turns out, I can not vote in the upcoming mayoral election for Lincolnton.

Who knew that Lincolnton was a completely Democratic town? Certainly not me, otherwise I would have registered as Unaffiliated rather than a Republican (pause here while all NYC relatives and friends gasp in horror).

You see, our 3 candidates for Mayor are Democrats. The primary is on September 11th and the date has passed when I could have changed my registration from Republican to Unaffiliated or Democrat. So I can not vote in the primary and whoever wins the primary is running uncontested.

I am particularly bummed out because after the last election, I realized that it's at the local level that my vote truly counts.

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

What a Month (And a Return to Zippers)!

Well, it seems that dad's comments on my blah blah blaaahhging were just the swift kick in the tuchus that I needed. Can you believe - 20 posts in August (21 including this one).

That's the most post for a single month since I began this blog last summer. My second busiest month this year was when Nugget was born and half of those were pictures!

Now - in other If That Ain't Country news...I returned to Zipper's on Wednesday. It's been a while since I was there. We took Maggie when she came to visit in early August, but we stopped by for a quick beer at 9 o'clock on a Saturday night just so she could see it. Hardly anything worth mentioning.

But the other night we went out to grab a beer with our neighbor Carl and Marty was tired of Tradewinds and I was completely against returning to Lincoln House so we decided to pop into Zippers. Well, it happened to be Bike Night -which you think would make for some interesting stories. But unfortunately, all the bikers were out in the parking lot and Zippers has one of those bar top trivia machines that I am absolutely addicted to - in fact, they have the newest, shiniest, most up-to-date machine with a nice big flat screen and all of the newest games and so I got a stack of singles, a bottle of Bud Light and made a night of it. I was so caught up I didn't even notice the off-key karaoke in the background!

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

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Would You Like Nightcrawlers with That Blow Out? (UPDATED)

I am flummoxed – nay stymied – by the preponderance of roadside “salons” that I see down in these parts. They typically don’t amount to much more than a trailer or a shack or occasionally a pre-fab home with a sign out front – sometimes hand-written, sometimes painted, sometimes with the little magnetic letters like they use at gas stations – advertising a variety of services from cuts to color to nails to tanning. I mean – really, it’s like Peggy Sue went to Mr. Rodolfo’s Beauty Academy in Smallville, got a certificate, and is now trying to outdo Elizabeth Arden with a full spectrum of beauty treatments –OUT OF HER HOME.

I don’t get it. Do people actually stop at these places? Is this a sustainable way to earn a living? Would you randomly go into someone’s roadside home and ask for a trim, a cut, or worse yet, highlights? I mean, we all know that I am nuts when it comes to my hair (although I did find a divine colorist in Charlotte), but I just don’t get this.

A friend of mine who lives in a small town in WV and can completely relate to this phenomenon told me about her favorite sign: Tanning, Hair Cuts and Live Bait.

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

UPDATE: My WV friend just called to say that she was driving through the mountains and looking for the Tanning, Hair Cuts, Live Bait sign so that she could take a picture and send it to me to post. Unfortunately, that establishment is no longer in business (is anyone truly surprised) but across the street, there was a restaurant. There was no name or anything. But a sign out front read: Beer & Eat. That's right. Beer & Eat.

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On My Playlist – Part II

I caved. I did it. I downloaded Tim McGraw. Please don’t hate me. Or disown me as a friend. It was simply inevitable. Every fifth song on the radio is a Tim McGraw song. Some of them are catchy. They stuck in my head. In my defense one of my 2 McGraw downloads was Live Like You Are Dying. I am sorry. I happen to like the song. I know it’s sort of cheesy but it makes me think of his dad, Tug McGraw, and their whole father-son dynamic which was well publicized by the media (well, People magazine anyways) when Tug was dying and then Tim wrote this song (well - he didn't write it but some songwriters in Nashville wrote it) and I mean, how can you not like it?

I also downloaded Don’t Take The Girl, a very sappy and cheesy ballad that I am sure I will hate in about 2 months but for now it's on the playlist.

I wanted to download Everywhere but I couldn’t bring myself to buy THREE Tim McGraw songs in one sitting. Aren’t you proud I managed to stop at two?

Speaking of Tim McGraw, has anybody heard his new duet with Faith Hill, I Need You? And can anybody explain the following lyric to me:

So I need you like a needle needs a vein

Ok – what’s up with this line? Needles and veins primarily make me think of strung out druggies in crack houses in the ghetto and prostitutes desperate for a hit and chasing the dragon and freebasing and overdoses and getting my blood taken at the doctor’s office and in general all sorts of things that I don’t want to be thinking about ever, at all, under any circumstance.

What’s even odder to me is that this line is juxtaposed with other “I need you” lines like Uncle Joe needing rain out in Oklahoma, a coast line needing a lighthouse, and the Father and the Son needing the Holy Ghost. Huh? From drugs to God in 4 lines? (BTW - if I am mistaken on my interpretation of this line please explain it to me. Please.)

Getting off the smack track, I also downloaded Trisha Yearwood’s Walkaway Joe. Talk about a melodic hook. And seeing as Garth Brooks is undownloadable and seeing as Trisha is his wife (or fiancé or girlfriend – I’ve lost track – all I know is that Garth left his wife of a bazillion years for Trisha) it sort of feels like the closest I can come to downloading Garth until he can come to some arrangement with Apple and make his music available online.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

School Days

Ok – so whoever heard of school starting BEFORE Labor Day, but it apparently it does – at least in North Carolina anyways. And yesterday was the first day which means school buses are back on the road, school zone speed limits are in effect, traffic volumes are that much higher and in general my commute is longer/more stressful.

PLUS – we are now more than 2 months beyond the longest day of the year which means that days are getting shorter and pretty soon, I’ll be driving home in the dark and you all know how I feel about that.

Even with the added bonus of 4 extra weeks of daylight savings time (1 week in the fall and 3 in the spring) I am still looking at 125 days of driving in the dark and it’s freaking me out.

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

Monday, August 27, 2007

Snub You

I was snubbed. By a waiter. At breakfast. At a bed & breakfast on Lake Lure. That's right. Snubbed. By a waiter.

(Pause here while I do some deep breathing exercises and bring my flaring temper under control).

Seriously, the whole episode made me so angry. I stormed back to the room, roused Marty from his Sunday morning snooze-in and ranted and raved for 5 minutes using all sorts of expletives and language not fit to print in this blog.

"Why didn't you say something?" Marty muttered, still half-asleep and clearly annoyed.

"Because. It's his job to serve me. I shouldn't have to ask."

Anyways we debated the topic for more of the morning than I'd care to admit and we tried to figure out what I could have possibly done to annoy the waiter in question.

Was I rude at breakfast the previous morning? I don't think so.

Was he annoyed I asked him for water the previous morning because I didn't see it out on the buffet? What can I say, I didn't see it.

Was he annoyed when, the previous morning, after hurriedly eating my omelet and taking off because I was late for an appointment, I returned 5 minutes later, with Marty in tow, and Marty decided to toast an English muffin for the road while I grabbed a can of V-8 (conveniently located in a basket next to the heretofore unseen water)? Possibly.

I suppose it didn't matter really. I mean, I wasn't in the mood for any of the breakfast choices (eggs benedict and french toast) - although I had been thinking I'd maybe ask them to scramble me an egg and I was definitely flirtng with a side order of bacon. So while I waited to be waited upon, I served myself some fruit. Then got up again to toast an English muffin. I got juice. Coffee. I read my book. Nothing. For 15 minutes - nothing.

I'd like to give this young man the benefit of the doubt. I'd like to say that he didn't see me or was busy serving thousands of other people. But it's a small B&B. Less than 20 rooms. Less than 30 seats in the dining room. Plus, I rolled in on the late side of the breakfast window so it's not like I sat down at the same time as 10 other people.

It was, as far as I can tell, a clear and deliberate snub.

So why share this humiliating experience with you all? I honestly have no idea. It's just something I feel like writing about, something I suppose I may feel like looking back on one day many, many moons down the road, and sighing, and thinking to myself: "Ah...what a lovely weekend at Lake Lure...What a lovely dinner at Water Oak...what a lovely lodge - even though it's not the one where they filmed Dirty Dancing...and what an obnoxious, snot-nosed waiter who has no business being a waiter because clearly he has no interest in waiting tables...well, mine anyways.

Sorry...I feel like I've wandered off the deep end so I'll simply wrap it up before I do any further damage...

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

Friday, August 24, 2007

And You Thought I Was Crazy…

I know. I know. You all think I am crazy. First the move to NC. Then blowing off the high rise in Charlotte. Then the goats. The truck. The country music. Hell – even white water rafting had some of you scratching your heads, thinking to yourself – we need to get this girl back into therapy – pronto – before she goes off the deep end and chucks it all to get up and milk the cows at 4am (a fantasy that I do actually entertain…but that’s another story).

Well – I’ll have you know that some of my more…rural proclivities as it were, are not that far off the pop culture radar screen.

Apparently, Rob & Big, 2 guys with a show on MTV (a channel that I haven’t watched in 100 years since they stopped showing music videos and started showing nothing but reality shows – and let me pause here to ask the following question: what exactly is the difference between The Hills, Laguna Beach, and Newport Harbor: The Real Orange County? Because as far as I can tell they all look the same i.e. very spoiled, very blonde, and oh sooooo real)…anyhoo, back to my original thought. Rob & Big (not to be confused with country duo Big & Rich as I have now done twice while writing) apparently bought a miniature donkey as a companion for their dog (actually, it appears it was a miniature horse, but, close enough).

So, you see, our impending purchase of Donkey (whose name we’ve now selected but will keep under wraps until we bring her home) isn’t really that country after all. I mean, if they’re doing it on MTV…

So rock on dudes!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Che Cosa è una Ragazza da Fare

I suppose I am spoiled. Growing up in NYC. 5 years in Hoboken, birth place of Frank Sinatra. A semester abroad in Florence. What am I driving at? Italian food. How good it is. How much I love it. And how much I crave it these days since there is no good Italian food anywhere close to where I live.

How I long for our Hoboken days, when exceptional Italian food was ubiquitous (and even the un-exceptional stuff was better than average) and Marty and I felt frustrated at the notion of: Italian again? What I wouldn’t give for a plate of perfectly cooked broccoli rabe with lots of garlic, oil and red pepper. I used to by broccoli rabe by the pound at the Korean deli and cook it for myself at home. Go to the grocery store here and you’ll see plenty of leafy greens: collard, mustard, dandelion, kale. But no rapini.

I long for a plate of fresh mozzarella and thinly sliced prosciutto di parma. Or mozzarella and tomatoes. Insalata Caprese. It used to annoy me to see this salad on menus across NYC and NJ. No longer. Now, I’d kill for one.

Veal Picatta. Chicken Francese. Eggplant rollatine. Ahh eggplant. A misunderstood vegetable that the Italians figured out brilliantly.

Red sauce. Bar pie. Pasta in any way, shape or form. Fresh papardelle with homemade ragu. A side of spaghetti al aglio e oglio.

My mouth is watering.

Alas, I have found no way to scratch my Italian itch since moving here over a year ago. We had dinner a few months back at Volare, the best Italian restaurant in Charlotte according to Zagats. The food was overcooked, overpriced and underwhelming.

We tried Da Vinci up in Hickory. The Francese was a disaster (mushrooms?! Who puts mushrooms in Francese?) and I can’t even get into the red sauce. And this, from 2 men who are actually Italian and who if, memory serves me correctly, ran an Italian restaurant in the Northeast.

What really kills me about Da Vinci though is their signature dish. Marty and I went back for a second try not too long ago. We sat at the bar and asked the bartender what he recommended. You know what he said? Buffalo wings. That’s right. BUFFALO WINGS at an Italian restaurant. Seriously.

E se quello non è paese, bacerò il vostro...

p.s. By the way, we ordered the wings. And you know what? They were great. Better than great. Possibly some of the best wings I’ve ever had. Go figure.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Heat Wave and Pregnant Goats

It seems that the extent of this current heat wave is unknown outside these parts. So let me further enlighten the unenlightened. IT’S HOT. IT’S TECHNICALLY BEEN HOT (I.E. OVER 90°) FOR 22 DAYS. WE’VE HAD 6 RECORD HIGHS IN AUGUST SO FAR. IT WILL CONTINUE TO BE HOT UNTIL NEXT MONDAY WHEN THE HIGH TEMPERATURE WILL ONLY REACH 89° AT WHICH POINT THE HEAT WAVE WILL OFFICIALLY BE OVER.




And in other news, it’s clear that Ann-Margaret is definitely pregnant. Based on when I believe Elvis took care of business, she is due some time between September 23 and October 3.

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

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Thoughts on What To Name the Donkey

The following is courtesy of dad. He thought that it might be too lame to post. I think it's hysterical.

Mom and I had lunch with some local friends and we kicked around (no pun intended) donkey names.

I came up with Hodey

My friend came up with Shane.

You may be wondering why.

You can ponder it.

Or scroll down


This is my Donkey Hodey (Don Quixote)

This is my Donkey Shane (Danke Schoen)

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

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Another Hidden Gem

Go figure, but there's fine dining in Rutherfordton, NC.

Imagine my surprise that there existed in the small (pop. 4000), historic town of Rutherfordton, NC, nestled in the mountains of Western North Carolina, whose semi-fraying downtown reminds me of Lincolnton to some degree (although Rutherfordton seems to be further along in its revitalization process), a restaurant with a menu with nary a chicken wing, jalapeno popper or ranch-laden salad in sight. It was like stumbling on Willow Creek Inn all over again.

I admit, I did not just happen to "discover" The Water Oak. I had a meeting in Rutherfordton not too long ago and we happened to have lunch there. I was immediately blown away by the decor - the blonde wood, the hardwood floors, the clean lines, the subtle photos on the walls and the tasteful bric-a-brac selectively scattered throughout the room. It felt like a bistro or cafe you'd find in Boston. New York. Chicago. Charlotte even. But Rutherfordton?

And while the lunch menu was your usual mix of salads and sandwiches, my chicken salad was well above average and the cream of yellow tomato soup that my lunch companion started with seemed like a clever way to put summer's tomato bounty to work. But let's not dwell on lunch, because, well, lunch is not particularly exciting. It was dinner that really stood out.

So it happened that we were out at Lake Lure this weekend. And so it happened that Rutherfordton is only 15 minutes away. And so it happened that we needed a place to dine Saturday evening. And so it happened that we found ourselves at Water Oak.

Bathed in candle light, the restaurant seemed even prettier than I remembered. The attentive service was the same. A list of specialty cocktails given to us when we sat down indicated that while the bartender wasn't going to give Dale DeGroff a run for his money, he/she was up on what's in the world of mixology. I had a mango mojito that wasn't too sweet and that, while gently kissed by mint, was missing the usual muddled puddle of leaves and lime in the bottom of the glass and instead sported a single sprig floating in the orange hued beverage. Score an extra point for artful presentation.

The wine list was not extensive, but offered a selection of well thought-out and fairly priced wines including some of our favorites like Murphy Goode fume blanc, Chalone pinot noir, and Rombauer zinfandel.

As for the food, it was amazing. I had a special appetizer to begin: 3 baby yellow peppers stuffed with organic herbed goat cheese and lightly roasted. They were accompanied by a salad of organic cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic and basil oil. All I can say is, Oh My God. This was one of the most delicious summer salads I have ever had. And forget that I am a sucker for goat cheese for just a moment. But seriously, I could eat this all day, every day, and never be bored. Marty started with she-crab soup which he swore was good enough to be served at Brennan's.

For my entree, I went with a rock-grilled Cornish Hen over mixed greens with tomatoes, olives and feta. Sort of a grown-up riff on a Greek salad. And while salad is salad, the game hen was delicious. Expertly grilled, well seasoned, crispy skin outside and tender meat in. Marty went with the local specialty, red mountain trout, which they grilled and served with a mustard-tarragon butter and a potato-corn cake that he couldn't get enough of.

We skipped dessert but they all looked delicious (the espresso mocha cheesecake in particular cried out to be sampled).

And here's the crazy thing. While you'd think that we'll never come back to Water Oak again because really, why would we schlepp out to Rutherfordton for dinner, it's only about an hour away. Seriously. It takes longer than that to get to some parts of Charlotte.

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