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Friday, February 6, 2015

Singletree Gun & Plough Inn

Sometimes it’s nice to get your head into the clouds and use some of those LL Bean gloves, mittens, scarves and jackets pushed back in the closet. Ok sand-lappers, I am going to tell you about a secret mountain getaway, the likes of which you will want to experience before it is discovered. Believe me, the ones that know of this gem aren't talking, they are hoarding.
Nestled in Westfield, NC and adjacent to Hanging Rock State Park, Singletree Gun & Plough Inn encompasses 1000 acres of flora and wildlife and includes 5 miles of riverfront on the gorgeous Dan River. Owner Johannah Stern describes the property, "We are committed to enjoying  and sharing this ecologically significant property with minimal human disturbance, and we're dedicated to sustainable and organic methods of maintenance for the overall health of our game and land."
Hanging Rock State Park tout's the accolades of 2012 State Park of the Year and in 2014 was named in USA Today as one of the top twenty State Parks (out of 7,500) in the USA. Both Hanging Rock and Singletree Inn are a marriage of property lines and tundra. If the wind carried parables here, Singletree Inn would whisper to Hanging Rock, "You complete me."
Not only are you privileged to enjoy the 1000 acre property of Singletree Inn's Lodge, cabins, wildlife and riverfront, you also have Hanging Rock State Park with it's amenities as well.
Don and I stole away for a weekend to Singletree Inn recently. Five hour's into the drive from the coast— My phone signal disappeared along with the daylight. A tad bit of city slicker panic kicked in when I realized that I was almost off the grid. We climbed one last hill and there was Singletree Lodge,  looking every bit like a Thomas Kincaid painting, glowing windows and smoke from chimney.
Owner Johannah Stern and property manager Bill Sparks greeted us. "I figured it was going to be late when you arrived and you might not want to go down the mountain for dinner, so we’re cooking for you." Johannah said, while drying her hands on a cotton dishtowel. No argument given. Bill opened my wine and refrigerated Don's Holy City Beer while we unpacked and settled in. After a fabulous dinner we moseyed over to the den and tamped down both the evening and  blazing fire with wine and conversation.
We slept fabulously in the Dean's Room, one of 7 lodge rooms on organic cotton sheets. "Washed in Charlie’s soap and clothes line dried! Johannah tells me. It sure was quiet too! Johannah told me later that they never fill more than two rooms at one time, unless, of course, a family or group so requests more room. There were guest in the cabin across from the lodge from us but we didn't lay eyes on them all weekend.
The next morning, the smell of bacon wafted up to the guest room and got me stirring. I crept down the steps but I'm sure a creaky board gave me away. Bill passed me a cup of coffee (organic/free trade) and I went back upstairs to discover. I snuck past my room to peer out of the windows, smiling as my feet found a squeaky plank on the antique lodge's floor. The sun wasn't promising an appearance, but the fog was a magical morning gift. After pulling a book from the shelves in the library loft, I found an Indian footstool and swallowing easy chair by the expansive windows.  Minutes after settling in I gave up and put the book down, the foggy morning breakdown would not be denied my attention.
A little while later Don and I headed down for breakfast. If you stay at the lodge, absolutely opt in for the meals. I have seriously not had a better breakfast in my life. And every thing we ate was locally sourced, natural and organic.
Don and I pulled out of Singletree shortly after breakfast, mapped out itinerary in hand for a full day in Stokes County. We found all of the things we'd been ~hankering for~ and more! Local honey, ham, beans, Amish butter, goat cheese, homemade soap and a delicious eastern BBQ sandwich.
The lodge was quiet when we returned, Bill was still stoking the fire. I was thinking nap. Later in the evening we donned our coats and scarves and drove a country mile down the road to the Green Heron on the Dan River where we enjoyed an amazing delta blues live band, partook-eth of adult beverages and watched our new friends cut the rug (shag) on the wood floors next to the sleeping resident Labrador Cubbie.      
When we left the next morning we left our new friends with hugs and promises to return. Johannah Stern and Bill Sparks have a vision for this beautiful mountain lodge and property. That vision is to be at one with the land and —thankfully share it as well. I am so grateful that they are including the public on this journey to provide a preservation vacation.
Check out Singletree's website and contact Johannah or Bill to discover the many amenities offered for a fabulous getaway. And whatever you do, don't count out the winter here. It is serenely beautiful and just as accommodating! Johannah said “Some of our guest have secretly wished to be snowed in during their visit.”  
To sum up my experience at Singletree Gun & Plough Inn. I felt like I had wandered into a time warp of archaic beauty coupled with elegant, albeit rustic, creature comforts offered by it's proprietors. If you don't come away from here feeling like Zen & Huck Fin, I'll shut my mouth.
Their website is comprehensive and beautiful. Johannah is a phenomenal photographer as well. Whether it is relaxing, rafting, fly fishing, hunting, tubing, hiking, wining or dining you are looking for, Johannah or Bill will be happy to guide you to that exact experience.
A little tidbit. I took a friend to this area a few months back. We didn’t drive 16 miles total  for the 2 days we were here. Here are a few of our experiences. A morning jog with mountain views and deer crossing’s, a fabulous waterfall hike within minutes of the cabin, a jaunt to the beautiful lake at Hanging Rock State Park (mountain vista’s from the lake are phenomenal!), a stroll along the Dan River, a visit to a centuries old general country store, a mouthwatering simple yet delicious eastern BBQ sandwich at a tiny restaurant that still has Conway Twitty and George Jones on a juke box, enjoying the company of a local goat farmer and stocking our cooler to bring home with butter, goat cheese and venison and finally, a morning tour of an unbelievable wine/art gallery.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Comeback Kid, Brett McKee/Kathy Downey's New Venture 139-B

139-B Market Street, a private dinner &social club.
Anxious trepidation, yep that's what I felt while climbing the steps at 139- B Market Street last week to meet the infamous chef Brett McKee. We had talked before on several occasions and kept up with each other in social media, but never met. A Carolina version of Chef Gordon Ramsay vision wafted through my head. You see that's what rumor mills do.
Brett met me warmly and I immediately felt comfortable in his presence. I clicked the recorder on while he breezed me through his new venue. While I'll admit the room was charged by his presence, a lot of the energy came from the bustle of what appears to be a promising new venture for Brett McKee. The building's old world charm echoed in the studio room that housed the first level's kitchen and dining area. Whitewash knock out on the brick walls could barely contain it's stories, centuries of Charleston living.
Just a few minutes in and Brett's phone was ringing and dancing on the table. He apologized, saying that he had to take the call. I didn't mind, actually I would have missed some of 139-B's charm had he not. I peered out of the street front window as I heard the clomp, clomp of a carriage coming down Market Street, Palmetto fronds were whisping in front of the Gucci store across from 139-B. It just feels right. Something good, something old world meets new and something "Oh so Charleston" is going on here.
While the table in the dining room was staged with flutes, plates and napkins — the incoming calls and round table meeting in the room beside me wasn't. Parties were being booked while menu's, staff and wine list were being discussed.
OK, so 139-B structurally has what it takes — let's see what's at the wheel. Brett came back from his call and without missing a beat, picked up where he left off. Without hardly a breath between sentences (so glad I had the recorder) he proceeded to portray his vision room by room and — for years out.
Brett has been on the uptake and following new dreams since he left the Oak Restaurant. The ideas that led to this establishment were fueled by his success in the private sector doing intimate home gatherings, dinners and cooking classes throughout the low country.
My clients/friends would ask, Brett, when are you going to open up a place we can come to?" to which he explained to them over and over. "I don't want to go back into a restaurant."
Over the course of these past few years he discovered a new calling. “I found that I love the experience of the smaller, intimate social gatherings. They remind me of my life in Brooklyn, NY. Everything happened around the table, in closer groups. I found when I left these local private cooking classes and dinner parties, that I had made friends. Not something that happens in the kitchen of the restaurant. Charleston is growing by leaps and bounds in popularity, not in structure. There is only so far you can go in town with limited building space. We're going to end up with 100 restaurants in town and 10 chefs to run them all."
Brett is transparent about his past woes. "I sacrificed years of my life, my health and relationships, in the F&B biz. Even though that is what I know, it’s what I do. It had to change. This is me now, I’m comfortable with this. 139-B is about offering what I love and do best without sacrificing my life or my family's. I am healthier than I have ever been. I don't drink, party, smoke. If I am not here, I am with my family or finding ways to give back to the community. That is my life now. This place, these walls, I can come and go as I plan for the select events and members of this clandestine group and —so can the members of 139-B.”
His family are all on-board, it's a collaborative effort involving 2 single parents, 6 girls and a granddaughter. Some of his girls work with him as well. Brett's fiancé/partner Kathy Downey is an intricate piece of the puzzle here as well. One such event that her hand's are all over is the upcoming Valentines Singles banquet and with Charleston being on the hot list across the nation and world now as a top desired wedding venue, there will be opportunities galore to offer as well at 139-B. "We are coordinating with almost every single top wedding planner in the city." Brett explained.
This private dinner social club will offer an environment that encourages the pace of leisure,of building relationships and socializing with wonderful food. It's not a crescendo to drunkenness. It’s a place where 150 members can gather, vetting and dining comfortably with the assurance of private security. Brett explains "No one is going to crash your event from the street, you can enjoy your evening without the un-expected threats in public dining such as someone hitting on your partner while you are in the restroom, or spilling a drink on you as they stumble past. Another benefit of the closeness in numbers is that the staff and I will know and catering to their personal likes and dislikes. Not as easily attained in the restaurant world. Allergies, wine selections, birthday’s, anniversary's, milestone’s, favorites wine, dinner choices to name a few"
I was taken aback actually at what the venue offers for the price of membership. $1000.00 gets you a membership and six scheduled events a month to include two dinners, two rooftop events, and two brunches. In addition, they'll have access to the building's two bedrooms and rooftop terrace. If a member wants to book 139-B Market for any event (big or small) it would cost $500 less than the regular booking fee of $1500 during the week and $3000 on the weekend. And that is with Chef Brett cooking.
I came away from the meeting excited for Brett McKee and 139-B Market, and more so for it's members. They are in for one hell of a virgin cruise with him. 139-B is sure to produce sub-groups and interest for expansion in so many areas.
139-B Market Street, Charleston.
Upcoming Events:
Are you "Single in the City" and want an upscale alternative to the Charleston nightlife scene on Valentine's evening? Come meet other sophisticated singles in a beautiful exclusive setting, while enjoying amazing food prepared by Celebrity Chef Brett McKee. Join us for Hors D'oeuvres, a premium open bar under the stars on the rooftop terrace, interactive meetings, music and dancing. Cupid promises a few Valentine's surprises. Tickets info at
139-B is the venue for an incredible Mardi Gras party coming up on February 21. The Charleston Shoe Krewe's inaugural Mardi Gras Fete on Saturday, Feb 21. Premium open bar, live music, dancing, and lots of revelry. You can get your tickets here:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Those So Called Christians

I  saw these post in social media recently. "We need to go back to the good ole days when we were one nation under God." or “The decline of America started when they took prayer out of the schools." “We need to put prayer back in school.”
You can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again. It's not going back and ―maybe it never should have been there. I can almost hear the audible gasp and under the breath jab, "You are going straight to hell!"
Before you get your skivvies in a wad think about it. I usually scroll by or ignore these blasé comments and lame social media arguments. Yes, lame. Prayer in school. Let’s see,  I was 7 years old, pledging allegiance to my flag “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”  Hmmm… public school was segregated  and — there were no black people in my Dick and Jane reading books at that time. How indivisible was that?
Maybe prayer in school was divisive in the confines of the classroom. Maybe prayer needed to be in the home, in the hearts of the community. I remember a little Jewish girl in my 2nd or 3rd grade class who didn't participate and was ostracized for it. I also remember the first person to tell me they were an atheist and having pre-formed beliefs that they were going to get struck by lighting. Literally, I jumped back. Why? Obviously the world around me didn't teach acceptance. I would be equally uncomfortable if I were asked to (or not) pray to a totem pole if that were (or were not) my religion.
My religion IS Christianity, so I speak for myself here and not collectively for anyone or any group.
I cringe when I see the ills of society blamed on taking prayer out of the schools. It's highly possible that school was the only place it was going on since the argument is that everything went to hell and a hand basket when it was gone. Maybe prayer figuratively needs to leave the confine’s of wall’s, get some air? What if the last thing we see on the jumbotron at church read: Jesus has left the building.
The absence of  prayer in school is not the root issue. I would just want prayer to mean something if it was there, for everyone. Not a mantra of mixed signals. If it's value to man was as important as it's source, it would have never been removed in the first place. Acts 5 vs 39.
Claiming feeble injustice with a rant for insignificant causes discredits the voice we could have collectively for real issues and empowers other's to call me a “So called Christian.”
I think back to an afternoon 10 years ago. We lived in the country. Not really the outback, just far enough out that we never EVER got a solicitor or a trick or treater. Our then 4 year old granddaughter was walking to the kitchen when someone knocked loudly on the front door. It scared her to pieces and she fell to the floor. Don answered the door while I scooped Alana up. After a minute or two, Don shut the door and consoled Alana who was still clinging to me by telling her the visitor's were people from the church. When she was able to speak she blurted out "So called Christians!"  
I am one of those so called Christians. And every single time I give someone an opportunity to judge my actions, I open the door for such remarks. I will get it either way mind you, like the poor so called Christian’s that knocked on my door that day. But — that doesn't mean I need to provide the ammo.
I am neither the example for Christianity or the doormat. What I am is a struggler. I wake up every day and try. Some days I pass and other's I fail miserably, (my record is two minutes after waking.) I drink, I cuss and sometimes my faith is as volatile as the weather and  if I had to pack my baggage of wrongdoings to board the Titantic, it would have sank in harbor instead of at sea. I am no more a Christian for reciting a prayer or singing onward Christian soldiers in elementary school than I would be for putting a fish stick sticker on my car.
My ACTIONS depending on the situation are what speaks of him in me. Be it soft and gentle or righteous for HIS names sake and not MY causes sake.
Choosing my battles wisely will give me better credibility as portraying the one I say moves my heart and actions. Oh!, and about those good ole days; I go back once again to the lyrics of Billy Joel "The good ole days weren't always good, but the bad weren't always bad"

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Very Selfish Good-bye

This is a tribute to my true hero. My John Wayne. In many ways he was just that. Daddy looked strikingly like James Arness in Gunsmoke when he was in his 20's and 30's and much like John Wayne in his older years.
I wrote a few years or so ago about calling a dead man's cell phone. That father's death affected me admittedly with nothingness. The man he was supposed to be was replaced with this one. One man held my hand while I crossed the road as a very young child, the other held my heart for the rest of his life.
The single biggest influence in my life,  you couldn't convince me that the blood that runs through my veins wasn't his if you tried. Daddy came in strong and stayed. He came with gifts — food and raincoats for children, not broken promises and pipe dreams. He was the white horse kind of cowboy.
My first TV boyfriend was Little Joe on Bonanza. I was a little girl idolizing a cowboy while living in a brownstone in Chicago, Illinois and living with the rhinestone cowboy father. I met the real cowboy 8 years later in a little pink house outside of Moncks Corner, SC.
Daddy taught me that Little Joe and the cast of Bonanza weren't the only western heroes. Let's see —  there was John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Stewart, Sam Elliot, Robert Mitchum, Roy Rodgers, Robert Redford, Paul Newman and on and on.
There were good guys and bad guys and in all the movies and books he ever read and watched, the good guys try to win.  I learned so much from him from his last days. He taught me that we just keep trying to get better. He would ask forgiveness for imaginary sins, dropped  pride and accepted grace.
Like the cowboys of his youth and the ones that were piped incessantly into our living room through the western channel,  he was given several death sentences (shot) over the past two years. He bounced back (healed himself behind the cactus) for over a year and a half. Old cowboys never die, they just fade away. In true western fashion, Daddy faded. And then one day. There weren't any re-takes.
I have found that grief doesn't discriminate, nor is there a hierarchy of pain. I also found there is pain where I can't be the encourager. I hurt, the mother hurts, the sister, the brothers, the grandchildren and in-laws. I am helpless to this day to share my grief. It is mine until it's not.
I watch the full moon drop across the night sky through the window almost to the edge of the horizon. It hung low, like it could drop and splatter at any moment. My heart hangs as low as it does. I wonder those things, the things that you don't think of —until you do. Did I glean all that I could of his goodness?
Who am I going to be after this? My life will change because of his death. Death turns a dial. Static comes across the waves of life. The stations doesn't come in as clear. I go to my journal for remembrance of  some special moments, excerpts from a year earlier.
"I have convinced myself that nothing bad can happen if I have my pink Curious George flannel jammies on. It works sometimes. I sit beside him as he nods in and out and he talks crazy stuff, grinning the entire time. The white noise is deafening, yet calming. Each gurgle of water and hiss from the oxygen tank is another breath he is with me. 
He closed his eyes to sleep and I look at his bruised arms. Peeking out beneath his t-shirt sleeve are tales of his youth —name tattoo’s of lovers long forgotten, Debbie and Shirley I think. I wished I had asked him about the crazy day or night that he got those. There will be a thousand and one things that I will wish that I had asked him. 
I get up to make Tuna Sandwiches while he naps. I look out of the kitchen window. The massive Oak, how many days we sat together on the porch and looked up into it's branches. How old is it Daddy? I don't know Nae, it was here long as I can remember and Granny E said it was here as long as she could remember. 
The last time Daddy and I measured it was about 5 years ago, it was over fifteen feet in circumference then. Old and good, withstanding storms and ravages. Indelibly it will die one day too, but not today. 
I am honored to have fed my Dad tiny bites of tuna sandwich, to have watched him put a orange slice and a Cheetoh in his mouth at the same time and proclaim it's goodness. The morphine made things good and comical sometimes. I laughed when we left the room once and came back to find him completely upside down in his recliner. His head was near the floor but he was grinning. But then again there were the lucid days, the ones that leaked silent tears out of the corners of his eyes. Then there were the times he would just look at me and say "I love you girl."
He had many beds in the last year of his life, hospital, respite and nursing. Each time in the guise of a relationship that I knew was just ours, I found him. I told him, "I will find you Daddy. Don't worry, wherever you are I will find you."  A nurse told me that she traversed to his room at night or her early morning shift just to hold the phone to his head and watch his blue eyes light up. 
I watched my father, a prideful country man nod to me this acceptance as a caretaker put a bib on him in a respite home. All the while I wanted to holler “Cowboys don't wear bibs!” 
Daddy, I am sorry, I kept you here too long. While you prayed to die, I prayed for you to live. I am so proud of this simple man, his simple life, his sacrifices for family, his heartfelt convictions that changed a generational tide of racism and forged values that will haunt me to my grave. He had enough love to go around. I fall short. If anyone is jealous of the love I had for this man, they need only study his prototype to understand why.
I didn't know heartache could be so physical. I actually got up the night he died and took aspirins. I thought I was having a heart attack, it was the heartache of loss like I have never known.
I feel the need even now, months later, to go into the forest —the kind where you don't hear tree's when they fall and wail. I tried. The woods weren’t deep enough. So, rather than wait until I heal to write. I write to heal. Like a paralyzed cursor, only then can I move forward.
I didn't go to spread his ashes around that old oak tree. It was his life with that oak that mattered, not without it. I didn't do a damn thing I was expected to do.
I am going to follow the vapors of his trail that went into the sunset and then sank this bag ass harvest moon over me. I'll have to come back, there is only so far a live cowgirl can ride into the sunset. Don’t worry, I know where you are. I will find you Daddy.