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...