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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Watch your feet on Charleston beaches this weekend!

It doesn't happen often but a good southeastern wind from the Gulf Coast can wash these mesmerizing psychedelic Physaliidae onto Charleston shores. And some of the these Blue Bottles or Portuguese Man O’ War did just that on Sullivan’s Island recently.

The Portuguese Man O’ War is likened to a jelly fish, but is actually a completely different species. Unlike jelly fish which are single multicultural organism’s, the Man O’ War is a colony of specialized minute individuals called Zooids. That would make it a cluster muster.

You really can’t avoid them while they are in the water because they don’t swim. They are propelled by tide and wind and can’t help bobbing into you if you are in it’s path. Their tentacles will wrap around you leaving red welts and shocking nerve pain.

I worked on a shrimp boat in the gulf shores in the 70's. We would shrimp all night competitively but when morning broke and the shrimp were bedded on ice, we’d tie off with the other trawlers, share breakfast and unwind. Often a cool swim in the ocean followed.
All mornings weren't so peaceful though. Like the one that a girl jumped starboard right into a bed of Man O’ War’s! I will never forget the look of fright on her face as they wrapped around her. Someone threw a ring or line out and pulled her in. She was covered in bleeding red welts. Once on-board she began shaking really bad and her blood pressure dropped. She was going into shock. The coast guard was called in and she was flown to emergency at Biloxi Hospital. She pulled through but had neurological problems for a while.
So, if you see this beached blue pod on shore this weekend, resist the urge to examine it too closely. I never understood why people like to poke dead stuff with sticks but they do. If you get a squirt of this venom on you, it may require a trip to the ER. This translucent blue beauty is dangerous and sometimes fatal. It’s venom can be potent for hours and sometimes days.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Take Me To Church, Jim Avett, Finnegan Bell & Marci Shore

Well I can't think of a better way to usher in daylight savings time than winding down with a glass of vino in a graveyard while waiting on the band to kick off in the church on a gorgeous 70 degree Sunday evening. What???? Vino, graveyard, church, concert?
Yep,  STAC House Shows and Awendaw Green put on a marvelous sold out performance at The Society of St. Thomas & St. Denis Parish in Cainhoy off of Hwy 41. The show featured Jim Avett (father of the Avett brothers) with Finnegan Bell accompanying and Marci Shore on fiddle.
Odd venue?  Not really, why let history crumble away in forgotten forest. The church and grounds could stand to benefit from the union.
The crowd filed into the church pews as Finnegan Bell strummed their first notes. Finnegan Bell's duo, Shane Williams and Warren Bazemore have played all over the country since they began writing and playing together at USC, but their roots are nourished here in the low country. They play over 100 shows a year sharing the stage with good company such as Nickel Creek, Leigh Nash, Drew Holcomb and The Neighbors, Jars of Clay, David Mead, Griffin House, Danielle Howle, as well as members of Hootie and the Blowfish and Allison Krauss and Union Station.
They strummed and harmonized with beautiful tracks from their new record as well as a moving melodious rendition of "Hallelujah."  I watched the sun's last rays blur orange on thick leaded glass window panes marveling that I sat in the same pews where Carolina lineage sat hundreds of years ago. Ironically Finnegan Bell was singing a track off of their CD titled Carolina line.
After their set was done, we took a break for a few and wandered the grounds again. The huge red doors of the church were latched wide open to allow laser lighting from a production trailer outside to beam the stage.
Jim Avett was carousing the grounds as well. Easygoing and approachable, if you make eye contact with him, he is going to talk to you. Jim asked me where I came from in NC and I told him he wouldn't know the little place, Walnut Cove. He took me by the hand and marched me up to the pulpit where Marci Shore, the fiddler was rosining up her bow. "Marci here is from King, NC" he said. King is  just a country mile from Walnut Cove. We talked about our little necks of the woods for a few and vowed to catch up with each other again.
Jim Avett is a humorous avid story teller as well as humble musician. Noticeably the venue majority was more the younger crowd than the young at heart crowd, Jim bridged the divide easily with humor, song and encouragement. He held the attention of 120 youthful parishioners’ for the full set. There were some tunes that didn't strike a chord of familiarity with many, Jim described these as being on the "B" side of the record, not quite as popular, but still meaningful. There were others that had everyone singing along, Merele Haggard, Randy Travis, Don McLean. Jim artfully filled in  messages of love, faith and strength between the tunes.
Jim refers to himself as left behind. "Left behind, music moved on, America moved on and I pretty much stayed right where I was.  But that's ok you see. I don't mind being where I am. I had my day, you'll have yours and the one's following you will have theirs too.  And if the only thing I'm known for is siring the Avett Brothers, I'm ok with that too." he tells us.
But, tonight Jim Avett wasn't the Avett brother's father. Jim Avett has a song to play and a story to tell. The word that comes to my mind is re-purposed. I believe this graveyard and grounds with over 300 years of history that include founding SC, fires, revolution, births, baptismal and death lies in wait of ruin without a caring community. It is the perfect venue for re-purposing and showing that longevity has value. Tonight — this night, the church had a song again.
I look forward to many more productions like this. Thank you, The Church of the Holy Cross on Sullivan's Island for the use of the church and grounds, Awendaw Green, STAC House Shows, The Society of St. Thomas & St. Denis Church, Jim Avett, Finnegan Bell and Marci Shore for an eventful evening.

Take Me to Church! Jim Avett Concert on Hallowed Ground

Take Me to Church! Jim Avett Concert on Hallowed Ground

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: