In the Spirit

Straining for a Gift?

Wu-Tang Clan to the rescue

By Tony Cross

There’s always that one person who’s impossible to buy for. My father is a struggle during the holidays; he has a habit of buying himself what he would like a month or so before Christmas. Maybe if we just stopped buying him gifts altogether, he would stop that nonsense. So much for hindsight. Even if you’re a great gift giver, here are a few recommendations that probably haven’t crossed your mind. All are unique and will hopefully stand out.

Mover & Shaker Co. Raekwon Cocktail Strainer, $105

Calling all Wu-Tang fans: I saw this advertised a few months ago, and I splurged immediately. With my wallet. Cocktail company Mover & Shaker has teamed up with legendary MC (Emcee), Raekwon, from Wu-Tang Clan, on a signature cocktail strainer. They’ve only made 300, so you’ll have to act fast. Go to It’s shaped like the Wu-Tang “W” and has “chef RAEKWON” etched on it. If I had never seen this, and someone gifted it to me, I would be thrilled. Even if that hard-to-buy-for-person isn’t the biggest cocktail fan, having this piece could change their mind. If they love Wu-Tang, of course. A few weeks after receiving my strainer, I went live with my company’s promotion of bottled cocktails. One in particular we call “Surgical Gloves,” named after a Raekwon track. I made a little video and posted it on our social media sites. The next morning, not only did I have a message from the Chef, himself, he also shared it on his Instagram stories. I screamed like a little girl.

Crude Bitters Attawanhood #37 and No No Bitters

Based out of Raleigh, local business Crude Bitters has plenty of great bitters to choose from, but these two seasonal bottles don’t stay on the shelves long. The Attawanhood #37 and No No bitters couldn’t be more different. They’re the spice rack in a cocktail smorgasbord and, depending on whom you’re buying for, one might complement that person’s cocktail palate more than the other. This is what they say about their seasonal bitters:

“Attawanhood is a variation of a classic aromatic with a tart cherry in the forefront. Named after the street our founder grew up on (a fun “A” name like the classic bitters you many know). Stone fruit, silkiness, with sharp bitterness and dark spice bite. For classic and modern cocktails.” In addition to the tart cherry, there are flavors of cinnamon and cloves as well. They describe their No No bitters as, “A tasty mix of sweet and hot peppers. You don’t want these bitters. They’re a spicy meat-a-ball-a. Blending bhut jolokia, guajillo, habanero, Scotch bonnet, jalapeño, bell, and more. We craft this to add a sweet pepper flavor, one you can taste, and then it finishes with a slow capsaicin burn.” Visit your local wine shop, or wherever local mixers are sold to grab yours. If your local establishment doesn’t carry Crude, ask them to! Until they do, you can place an order over at

The Spirit of Haiti-Clairin

Clairin, a native rum to Haiti, is one of my newest fascinations. If you are buying a gift for a rum fan, look no further. Oh, and when I say “rum fan,” I don’t mean flavored Bacardi or Captain Morgan’s. This is the real deal. Previously, I’ve raved about The Spirit of Haiti’s Michel Sajous clairin. That bottle comes in at a whopping 51 percent ABV, but when used in a daiquiri, it’s pretty damn tasty. No, it’s really tasty. Since then, I’ve become enamored with their Clairin Vaval. My new favorite, hands down. Still high proof, coming in at 48.7 percent ABV, this is my Ti’ Punch rum. Distiller Fritz Vaval uses 100 percent Madame Meuze sugar cane juice — Vaval’s family has owned their distillery since 1947 and has 20 hectares of land planted with varieties of this type of sugar cane. According to the, “It’s fermented naturally with wild yeast and distilled in one continuous copper column still with 10 trays and a homemade condenser made from a gasoline can.” Small batches. Beautiful packaging. Exquisite rum. Odds of finding this in any of our local ABC stores is probably as good as bumping into Fritz on the street. Go online and grab a bottle as soon as possible to ensure arrival by the 24th. The Spirit of Haiti distributes three other types of clairin, so if this one’s a winner, you can grab another variety next go-round.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

Simple Life

Becoming My Father

And, luckily, his father, too

By Jim Dodson

A dear friend I hadn’t seen in far too long and I were having lunch outdoors, safely distanced. She sipped her lemony mineral water and noted her relief that a grueling year was finally drawing to a close.

“If ever a year could make you feel old,” she said with a thoughtful sigh, “this was it.”

I agreed, sipping my sweet tea, pointing out that I am living proof of this sudden aging phenomenon.

“How’s that?”

I replied that I was — quite literally — turning into my father and grandfather before my very eyes. This was either scary or wonderful. The jury was still out on the matter.

She laughed. “I think you were probably just born old. Besides, you’re more of an old soul than a grumpy old man.”

This was nice of her to say. I hoped she’s right.

In fact, I hoped this sudden aging awareness might not be the result of the year’s tumultuous events — a worldwide pandemic, collapsed economy, record hurricanes and wildfire, to say nothing of a presidential election that ground us all to a pulp — and was merely a case of finally growing old enough to appreciate the way our lives unfold and how we are shaped by the people who came before us.

For the record, two years ago I officially joined the great Baby Boom horde marching resolutely toward their Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Between us and my morning glass of Metamucil, however, I really don’t feel much older than I did, say, 20 or 30 years ago, when I built my own post-and-beam house on a coastal hill in Maine and spent my children’s college funds creating a large faux English garden in the northern woods.

In my 30s and 40s I could work hard all day in the garden — digging holes, planting shrubs, mowing the lawn, rebuilding old stone walls — and simply require a good soak in our huge Portuguese bathtub and a couple of cold Sam Adams beers to put my aging body right.

As my 50s dawned, shortly before we moved home to Carolina 15 years ago, I even tagged along with renowned Raleigh plantsman Tony Avent and a trio of veteran plant hunters half my age to the Great Karoo desert and some of the most remote places of South Africa in search of exotic plants. We were gone five weeks in the bush, much of that time out of touch with folks back home, politely dodging black mambas and angry Cape baboons. I came home filthy and exhausted, bloodied and gouged, punctured and sprained in places I didn’t even know I had.

In short, it was glorious — the most fun I’ve ever had researching a book — and it only took me a case of beer and a full week of soaking in the bath to fully recover.

Four years ago, as senior citizen status officially loomed, my wife and I decided to downsize and move from the Sandhills to my hometown in the Piedmont, prompting a friendly debate over whether we should move to the old neighborhood where I grew up or the 10 rural acres I had my eye on outside the city.

“I know exactly what you have in mind,” said my younger wife. “You want 10 acres so you can build another post-and-beam house and create an even bigger faux English garden. Problem is, 65 is not the new 25. I know you well. You’ll rarely come in the house and work yourself to death. I’ll come home some afternoon and find you face down in the Virginia creeper.”

I laughed off such a silly notion, pointing out it would either be English bluebells or maybe the winter Daphne.

She was not amused.

We moved to my old neighborhood a short time later.

Truthfully, I think about my old woodland garden in Maine and that wild African adventure sometimes when I’m working in the modest suburban garden where I now serve as head gardener and general dogsbody, a simple quarter-acre that I’ve completely re-landscaped with or without the FedEx guy in mind.

As a sign of how time may finally be catching up with my botanically abused body, however, it now takes three cold beers, a longer soak in the tub, two Advil and a short nap to get me up and moving without complaint. I suspect my days of sweet tea consumption are also dwindling in favor of mineral water with lemon.

In the meantime, the evidence mounts that I am becoming my father and grandfather before my own eyes.

Maybe that’s not, as I’ve already said, a bad thing, after all.

My father’s father, from whom I got my middle name, was a lovely old gentleman of few words who could make anything with his hands, a gifted carpenter and electrician who worked on crews raising the first electrical towers across the South during the Great Depression and later helped wire the state’s first “skyscraper,” the Jefferson Standard Building in downtown Greensboro.

Walter Dodson wore flannel shirts with large pockets and smoked cheap King Edward cigars. He gave me my first toolbox one Christmas and showed me how to cut a straight line with a handsaw that I still own. In the evenings, he loved to sit outside and watch the birds and changeable skies, sometimes humming hymns as he calmly smoked his stogie.

Walter’s wife, my spunky Baptist Grandmother Taylor, knew the Gospels cold, but I don’t think Walter ever darkened the doorway of a church. Nature was his temple.

His son, my old man, Brax Dodson, was an adman with a poet’s heart. He loved poetry, American history, good bourbon, golf with chums and everything about Christmas, not necessarily in that order. He sometimes smoked a beautiful briar pipe he brought home from the war and moderated a men’s Sunday school class for more than two decades. A man of great faith, he’d experienced unspeakable tragedy during his service in Europe but never spoke of it. Instead, he lived his life as if every day was a gift, always focusing on the positive, the most upbeat character I ever knew.

My nickname for him, in fact, was “Opti the Mystic,” owing to his unwavering goodwill and embarrassing habit of quoting long-dead sages and Roman philosophers when you least expected it, especially to my teenage dates. I never appreciated what a gift he gave me until I turned 30. Lord, how I miss that man.

Regardless of where you come down on the nature v. nurture debate, one doesn’t need a deep dive into to understand that each of us owns pieces of the people who came before us. If we are lucky, the best parts of them live on in us.

Having reached an age where there are more years in the rearview than the road ahead, I take some comfort in suddenly noticing how much I really am like Opti and Walter, good men who lived through hard times — and even tragedy — but never lost their common touch or appreciation for life’s simple pleasures.

Like Walter, I dig flannel shirts with large pockets, church hymns, quiet afternoons in my garden and sitting beneath the evening trees watching birds feed and skies change. I miss going to early church on Sunday mornings. But nature is my temple, too. For the time being, that will suffice.

Like Opti, I have a thing for poetry, American history, good bourbon and golf with chums, even quotes by long-dead sages and Roman philosophers that never failed to embarrass my children when they were teenagers.

Just like my old man, I love everything about Christmas. Some gray afternoon this month, I’ll even fire up one of his favorite briar pipes just for fun, a little ritual that makes me feel closer to my missing father, my kindly ghost of Christmas Past.

There’s one more important way I connect with Walter and Opti, who were anything but grumpy old men.

Both had wise and spirited wives who shaped their thinking and made them better people. I have a wife like that, too.

Maybe there’s hope for me yet.  PS

Contact founding editor Jim Dodson at


The Greatest Gift

The season of a lifetime

By Bill Fields

Like all of us, my father had his moments. He could be short or overly critical about things that didn’t — or shouldn’t — matter much. These lapses didn’t overwhelm the good of the man, but they were there. Every December, they seemed to vanish.

Dad was happiest around Christmas, and not just because of a free ham from work or a fresh bottle of brown from the ABC Store. He weighed less that time of year, regardless of how much of his homemade fudge or my mother’s “Trash” (an addictive baked snack mix of cereal and nuts, flavored with Worcester sauce) he ate.

With the tree up and lights placed around the front door, the extended forecast for Dad’s mood was pleasant and calm. He preferred an all-blue display inside and out, although he wasn’t Jewish, Catholic nor had gone to Carolina. The color had a soothing effect unless you touched one of the big glass bulbs late in the evening; then it seemed the Christmas miracle was how the cedar (1960s) or white pine (1970s) hadn’t turned into kindling.

We made do with a faux fireplace, enhanced with plastic logs illuminated by amber lights that flickered thanks to a spinning wheel. The real flames were in the backyard grill. Dad loved to cook out, even in winter and especially around Christmas, when there was more likely to be steak than hamburger. A flashlight was a necessary tool, lest he have to return outside to make sure Mom’s ribeye was as done as she liked it.

With the exception of assembling some toy with a lot of parts when I was little, Dad liked everything about Christmas. He enjoyed procuring the fruit, nuts and candy that went under the tree, and the little gifts that filled the red felt stockings my sister sewed, our names in green glitter. He was happy when carols came on the radio.

We wore out our Monopoly set, and when he worked at the Proctor-Silex factory, it was natural for him to be represented by the iron. Family poker games were a holiday staple, and Dad overruled Mom and bought the proper set of chips I had eyed at Hill’s downtown. His last Christmas, 1979, weak and frail with cancer, he still found the strength to play a few hands.

That Dad’s birthday also was in December, celebrated on the 20th of the month, contributed to it being a special season for him. Not until a dozen years ago, nearly three decades after he died, when I went poking around a cluttered records room in Carthage, did I truly understand why.

He knew he was adopted, and we knew too, but details, if known, were never shared. Then one afternoon in the county seat, in the fall of 2008, searching for his history and my own, I made a discovery in the court records from March 5, 1921:

“FIRST: That on or about the 14th day of December, 1920, as petitioners are informed and believed, one George Parker found upon the roadway, or near there-to, in the County of Moore, near a place known as Frix, an infant newly born, manifestly abandoned by its mother.”

“SECOND: That the said Parker states that he is ignorant of the parentage of said child, and the parentage of said child is unknown to petitioners . . . and that notice of this petition and motion be given and served upon George Parker, the only person known to petitioners to have any rights or interest in the matters alleged in the petition.”

After finding the newborn and caring for him, Parker gave the child to William and Chattie Fields a handful of days before Christmas. The couple, who had lost their grown daughter, Sadie, to diabetes, named their gift William Eugene Fields. If a certain mystery accompanied Gene through life, so did the love of the people who took him in a hundred years ago. As much as Dad loved the holiday season in my lifetime, his best Christmas had to be his first.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at

A Spin Around the World

Christmas in Distant Lands

Photographs by Tim Sayer

Costuming by Mary and Marcie McKeithen, Showboat

The symbols of holiday spirit can involve more than a jolly old elf with a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly. You can be naughty or nice in every corner of the globe.


As Cosmo Kramer would say, “Giddyup!” In 1642 Dutch explorers named their first church in Manhattan after Sinterklaas, the patron saint of children and sailors who comes riding into town decked out with a bishop’s red hat and carrying a jeweled staff. He knocks on doors delivering bags of goodies. In the 21st century celebration Sinterklaas arrives in Amsterdam on a boat from Spain — where he spends the rest of the year — on Dec. 5. Olé, old fella.

USDF bronze and silver medalist, Charlotte Brent, poses with Anna, owned by Jennie Acklin

United Kingdom

Throw the big, fat goose on the table, slather yourself in Yorkshire pudding and pull out that dusty old volume of Charles Dickens. You might see a Santa in a red suit on the streets of London, but the traditional British Father Christmas is decked out in a hooded green suit, his head crowned with a wreath of holly and a dash of mistletoe — the colorful touch of pagan mythology.

Ian Drake, manager of The Sly Fox Pub


The legend of Krampus, spread across much of Central Europe, dates back to the 12th century. In early December, youngsters began hearing whispers about a dark creature with horns and fangs who carried a bundle of switches used to swat misbehaving children. On Krampusnacht — Dec. 5, the day before St. Nicholas Day — he’d come into town with chains and bells and steal away bad children in a basket. The next day St. Nick would reward all the good children with presents in their shoes. Fill ’er up.

Phillip Shumaker, Existing Industry Expansions manager, Economic Partnership of North Carolina


Dressed like a garden gnome, the gray-bearded julenissen was once a barn devil who protected the farm like a rabid Chihuahua. While these days it may live in a forest or a field nearby, the julenissen brings gifts from the North Pole on Christmas — not down the chimney but through the front door. And don’t forget the porridge with a little butter on top. This gnome can go sideways in a heartbeat.

Local fisherman Bennett Rose


Christkind, or Christkindl, is the giver of gifts. An angelic figure with long, often curly, blond hair and golden wings, she leaves them under the tree (or maybe on the doorstep) on the last day of Advent, Dec. 24. This second Santa grew out of the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. Children never see the Christkind in person — on delivery day, that is. In some places, her departure is announced by the ringing of a tiny bell. Come and get it.

Veronica Lloyd, owner and manager of Monkees


Anyone who remembers the Coneheads from Saturday Night Live knows that things are a little different in France. Père Noël wears a red cloak with a hood and brings toys to good children after evening Mass on Christmas Eve. Children don’t leave milk and cookies but might set out a glass of wine. Père Noël travels with Père Fouettard — the whipping father — who handles the misbehaving little tykes.

Local carpenter Laurent Rocherolle


La Befana is the good-natured hag who flies around on her broomstick on the night of Jan. 5, the Eve of Epiphany. She’s covered in soot because she enters houses through the chimney carrying a bag filled with candy and gifts for good children and coal for the naughty ones. According to the legend, she gave the three wise men shelter but declined to join them on their trip to Bethlehem. She’s been trying to catch up ever since.

Kathryn Galloway


The tomte is a powerful little guy who’s got your back. Traditionally the protector of the farmer and his family, your typical tomte is no taller than half the size of a grown adult. If you get him angry he has the power to drive you mad. The jultomten is a tomte who showed up sometime in the late 1800s bringing gifts at Christmas. Leave him a bowl of porridge on Christmas Eve with a small cut of butter on top.

Secret Santa


What do they say, a billion Chinese can’t be wrong? They can’t be entirely without Santa, either. Though the Christian population hovers around 2 percent, Dun Che Lao Ren, the Christmas Old Man, still makes an appearance. Gifts are pretty much confined to New Year celebrations, but Santa shows up in malls and markets and is a frequent photo op. In a few households, children hang muslin stockings to be filled with treats and gifts.

Manny Samson, former post commander VFW

The Kitchen Garden

Peppermint Temptation

And a holiday home remedy

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas . . .

With candy canes and silver lanes aglow

— Meredith Willson

By Jan Leitschuh

For some, it’s Christmas cookies. For others, it’s eggnog, shortbread and complementary spirits.

You might still be eating Halloween candy, but for me, it’s peppermint, in all its calorie-laden glory, that represents the culinary high point of the holiday season. Peppermint ice cream. Mocha mint lattes. Chocolate mints. Peppermint bark. My Christmastime, scale-aware caution and catnip.

Starting around Halloween, you can’t escape peppermint temptation in the stores. The Holiday Mint M&Ms and candy canes beckon.

It’s easy to forget that these processed, sugary treats derive their flavor from a simple herb. Peppermint is a sterile hybrid (Mentha ×piperita) of watermint (Mentha aquatic) and spearmint (Mentha spicata). I’m also deeply fond of a very close cousin, chocolate mint.

The distinct peppery-cool flavor is a mixture of chemicals. The plant makes volatile aromatic compounds, and stores them in specialized “hairs” on its leaves. These leaves distill readily into concentrated oils.

The United States produces more than 70 percent of the world’s supply of peppermint. The Pacific Northwest leads in mint production — conditions in Washington, Oregon and Idaho are ideal for producing high quality oil. Fields of peppermint are mowed down like hay, dried, then steam-distilled to extract the oil. Peppermint flavoring is complex, a mixture of menthol with numerous other molecules.

Candy canes and peppermint patties use just a small sector of mint oil demand. The majority of mint oil (90 percent) is split equally for flavoring chewing gum and dental products (toothpaste and mouthwash). Mint oil is big business, worth approximately $200 million annually.

Peppermint is one of the oldest (and best-tasting) home remedies for indigestion. A nice cup of peppermint tea soothes winter chills, and mint is used in many sleepy-time blends. Recent research conducted at the University of Cincinnati has shown that sniffing mint improves concentration — several Japanese companies now pipe small amounts through their air conditioning systems to invigorate workers and improve productivity.

Mice and other rodents don’t care for the smell of mint. Some homeowners use it as a perfectly safe and natural pest control method. Plant mint around areas they might use to get inside, or put peppermint oil on cotton balls and place in holes and cabinets.

Even though it doesn’t produce seeds, peppermint is a prolific propagator via vegetative growth of stolons (plant biology word of the day). In the case of mint, stolons are runners just below the soil surface that can establish their own root system and plant. Because mint is very good at this, it can be quite invasive once it gets established. For your home herb garden, I would suggest growing it in a container to keep it corralled. For commercial production, certified disease-free rootstocks are used and continue producing good yields of high quality oil for about four years.

How did peppermint come to be associated with Christmas? The colors of red and green abound, and the peppermint herb itself carries half that load proudly in green. The traditional peppermint candy cane colors are, of course, red and white. Aside from peppermint’s frosty, refreshing taste, it seems that the candy cane may actually be to blame for the Yule association. According to an online story, in 1670, a choirmaster at Cologne Cathedral handed this candy out to children at their living Nativity to keep the kids occupied.

“The candy was shaped to look like a shepherd’s staff,” wrote the blogger Eric Samuelson. “The peppermint flavor probably wasn’t introduced for another 200 years. They became popular to hang on Christmas trees in the United States. So I think this is how mint became associated with Christmas. Starting with the candy cane, other mint flavored candies were introduced over the years until mint became one of the flavors of Christmas.”

To incorporate a little peppermint into your Christmas, you could put a few drops of peppermint oil in a shallow dish on a warm spot to scent a room. Perhaps give your favorite gardener a pretty pot of peppermint to refresh their gray January, or dry some of your mint to give as a gift of tea.

If you have mint in your garden, some usable leaves still might be hanging around. Peppermint extract also offers an added benefit for the holiday season. If you’ve eaten too many of those spectacular holiday treats when the baking is done, add a little of your homemade peppermint extract to a cup of tea — soothing for an upset or over-stuffed stomach.

Homemade Peppermint Extract

1 cup fresh peppermint leaves or, fresh chocolate mint leaves

1 tablespoon cacao nibs

1 cup vodka (80-100 proof)

Wash mint leaves and remove any discolored leaves. Roughly chop leaves. Bruise lightly by striking with a mallet to coax the oils from the leaves. Fill a half-pint jar loosely with chopped mint leaves and pour vodka over the leaves to completely cover, leaving at least half an inch of air at the top. Tightly seal the jar and give it a good shake before storing in a cool, dark place.

Allow the extract to steep for 3 to 4 weeks, shaking the jar every couple of days to agitate the leaves. Once desired strength has been reached, strain the leaves from the extract using a fine strainer or cheesecloth. Squeeze to get all the intense goodness. Return the extract to the jar for storage — or transfer into an attractive jar or bottle as an unusual and crafty holiday gift!  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.


December Almanac

By Ashley Wahl

December is here and, with it, the sound of a single cricket. One distant, mechanical song. A message transmitted across space and time.

The stars are out. You cannot sleep. And so, you listen.

Months ago, when the crape myrtle scattered her crinkled petals like pink confetti upon the earth beneath her, an orchestra of crickets filled the night with a song thick as honey. And months from now, when the vines are heavy with ripening fruit, they will sing again, knitting an afghan of sound by moonlight — gently tucking you into bed.

On this cold December night, the cricket transmission grows clearer. You follow it like a single thread of yarn until you receive it:

There is no end, the cricket sings. Only change.

Somehow, this message brings you comfort.

December isn’t an abrupt or happy ending. There is no hourglass to turn. No starting over. Just a continuum. An endless stream of light and color ever-shifting like a dreamy kaleidoscope.

December is sharing what’s here: our warmth, our abundance, what we canned last summer.

This year and the cold have softened us. We feed our neighbors, feed the birds, open our hearts and doors.

The camellia blossoms. Holly bursts with scarlet berries. From the soil: gifts of iris, phlox and winter-flowering crocus.

The cricket offers his song — a tiny thread guiding us toward the warmth of spring — and we listen.

This listening, too, is a gift. Sometimes it’s all we’ve got. And, sometimes, that listening is itself a simple thread of hope.

December’s wintry breath is already clouding the pond, frosting the pane, obscuring summer’s memory . . . – John Geddes

You Gotta Eat Your Spinach, Baby

Fortunately, many nutrient rich greens thrive in our winter gardens. Especially spinach. And what’s not to love about it?

Enter pint-sized Shirley Temple, ringlets bouncing as she marches past a small ensemble to join Jack Haley and Alice Faye centerstage:

“Pardon me, did I hear you say spinach?” she asserts with furrowed brow and her punchy, sing-songy little voice. “I bring a message from the kids of the nation to tell you we can do without it.”

And then, song:

No spinach! Take away that awful greenery

No spinach! Give us lots of jelly beanery

We positively refuse to budge

We like lollipops and we like fudge

But no spinach, Hosanna!

And now for the opposing view: In the 1930s, the spinach industry credited cartoonist Elzie Crisler (E.C.) Segar and his muscly armed sailor man for boosting spinach consumption in the U.S. by 33 percent.

But why-oh-why did he eat it from a can?

Longer shelf life, no doubt. Also, cooked spinach contains some health benefits that raw spinach does not. Raw spinach is rich in folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin and potassium, but it also contains oxalic acid, which can hinder the body’s absorption of essential nutrients like calcium and iron.

According to Vegetarian Times, eating cooked spinach allows you to “absorb higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium and iron.”

In other words: You gotta eat your spinach, baby.

Starry, Starry Night

Well, this is perfect: The Geminid meteor shower will be peak from mid-evening December 13 until dawn December 14 — a new moon. That means the show will be unobstructed from moonlight, and if conditions are right, you might catch up to 120 meteors per hour.

Some believe this prolific shower ramps up every year. We’ll see. Regardless, may we allow this celestial pageant to remind us of the wonder and beauty that so often graces us.

And don’t forget to make a wish.  PS

Golftown Journal

Best Buys

Golf under the Christmas tree

By Lee Pace

We’ll soon utter good riddance, bon débarras (French), buon viaggio (Italian) and buen viaje (Spanish) to this dud of a virus-tainted year of 2020. Fortunately, some good emerged from the rubble — the golf course has proven a reasonably safe refuge from Zoom calls, nose swabs and political backbiting. Golf Datatech, a golf industry research firm, reports a 25 percent jump in rounds played over a year ago in the month of September, and year-to-date rounds are up nearly 9 percent nationally.

Many golfers report their “COVID handicaps” are a hair lower because they’re playing more golf. I did my part and spent a few bucks along the way, figuring I can’t take it with me, and I might as well pump up a sagging gross domestic product.

Herewith are a few of my favorite purchases from 2020. Maybe they’ll spawn a Christmas gift idea.

For game improvement: the Flyt Chipping/Pitching Sleeve (pronounced like flight). Brad Smith, a former pro on various developmental tours worldwide, concocted the device after noticing the fundamental differences in the chipping and pitching motions of elite players versus mid-handicappers and up. The sleeve covers the right hand, wrist and arm just past the elbow (of a right-handed golfer) and takes out any hinging action of the wrist and elbow. You simply move your arms and chest back and through in a triangle motion with absolutely no hand action. A tip from an instructional video to keep the chest down and moving through the shot is the secret sauce. I am still working on getting distances and trajectories honed, but contact has never been as consistently pure by replicating the motion and feel. Highly recommended.

For foot comfort while walking the course: Sketchers GO-Golf shoes and Bombas Tri-Block ankle socks. There is nothing more important to the walking golfer than good shoes and socks. Who among us hasn’t slogged up 18 with a painful blister borne of rigid shoes or poorly constructed socks? I’ve tried a pair of the True Linkswear Knit shoes and they are among the lightest and most comfortable I’ve worn, but they’re not waterproof. So if you troop through the dew on a summer morning, you’ll be soggy all day. These Sketchers shoes are waterproof and featherweight, and their spikeless traction outsoles feature multidirectional cleats and lugs that provide superior traction. The Bombas socks are made of a cotton/poly blend; they don’t slip, have no irritating toe seams and have a “blister tab” — a tiny cushion that sits directly where the shoe hits the leg. You’ll be tuckered out after walking 18 holes, but your feet won’t be squealing.

For a total sell-out to technology over minimalism: Peakpulse Rangefinder. I swore I’d never stoop to using an artificial measuring device (and even said so in this space in a September 2009 piece titled “The Golf Curmudgeon”). But I airmailed wedge shots on the same hole on consecutive Sundays back in June because I was too lazy to find a sprinkler head. I tried a Bushnell Phantom GPS but found it cumbersome to mount to my bag or belt (and too easy to pop off), then opted for the Peakpulse. It’s easy to use, accurate and reasonably priced. I simply reach into my bag as I approach my ball, pull out the rangefinder and give the flag a quick shot.

For my winter golf comfort: a reverse stripe hoodie from Linksoul. Players like Justin Thomas and Erik van Rooyen have normalized wearing a hoodie on the golf course, and my annual resolve to play more winter golf (and annual rejection thereof) prompted the idea for a stylish and comfortable outerwear piece. Generally I am more homed in on the color of Stitch and Johnnie-O and find Linksoul’s color palette too earthy and muted, but this light gray piece (“Deep Lake” in their catalog) looks great with stone-color trousers on the course and jeans off it. That’s exactly what company founder John Ashworth had in mind — create a transitional wardrobe based around a Southern California coastal environment; every piece works whether you’re walking onto the first tee or into a boardroom.

For my lightest and coolest golf bag ever: a customized bag from FlagBag Golf Company. A course superintendent in California named Josh Smith had the idea a year ago to take flags used on hole flagsticks and turn them into golf bags, figuring that three flags stacked one on top of another and stitched together would be the right amount of material. Josh and his brother Matt went into business together and manufacture the bags in a shop in Portland to individual customers’ specifications. I acquired flags from six of the courses to be featured in my upcoming book that University of North Carolina Press will publish in the spring of 2021 and asked the Smiths to turn them into a bag. It features Pinehurst No. 2, Palmetto GC, Eagle Point GC, Old Town GC, Grandfather Golf and CC and Old Chatham GC and weighs only 2 pounds. It’s bare bones — one pocket, no umbrella holder, no stand. “Less is more,” Smith says. “It ties into minimalist golf. Minimal strokes wins in golf. Minimal wins in architecture, swing thoughts and golf bags.”

For my reading pleasure: a vintage hardback copy of The Heart of a Goof by P.G. Wodehouse. I have more than a dozen yellowed paperbacks from the Jeeves/Bertie Wooster library of novels by Wodehouse, the British humorist from the early 1900s, as well as his two golf books, The Heart of a Goof and The Clicking of Cuthbert. My favorite is The Heart, in which from his perch on the veranda at a fictional club, The Oldest Member ruminates and tells stories on the vagaries of golf and its adherents. The opening salvo in this book tells of a “goof” named Jenkinson, “one of those unfortunate beings who have allowed this noblest of sports to get too great a grip upon them, who have permitted it to eat into their souls, like some malignant growth.” It’s a book worth re-reading every year or so, and I thought it should assume a more distinguished spot in my library in the form of a hard-cover edition from The Classics of Golf vintage book collection. That this version includes a foreword from the esteemed Herbert Warren Wind makes it all the more special.

And for my nesting pleasure: a trio of vintage, golf-themed railroad travel posters. As we’re spending more time at home, I thought my office could use a makeover with these throwback images from the early 1900s. Back in the day, railroad companies spent much of their advertising budgets commissioning beautiful and intriguing paintings to promote their destinations and routes. Now these giclee prints depicting venues in France (Vichy), Scotland (Cruden Bay) and Switzerland (St. Moritz) give me wistful longings for the days we could easily get on a plane to play golf and then shake hands after that final putt on 18.  PS

Lee Pace has written about the Sandhills golf scene for more than 30 years and currently is working on a 25-year anniversary book for Forest Creek Golf Club. Contact him at


The Tinsel War

By Matthew Moriarty

If there is one thing my father and I agree on this holiday season, it’s that this is going to be, unquestionably, a tinsel year.

You see, my older sister, Jennifer, and I are the offspring of a mixed marriage. My father loves tinsel on our family Christmas tree. My mother absolutely loathes it.

Naturally, some years ago, Jennifer and I were forced to pick sides. I went into Dad’s camp. My traitorous sister sided with Mom. The battle lines were drawn. This type of conflict can tear any normal family apart. Luckily, ours isn’t that normal. Family legend holds, for instance, that back in the “old country” brothers Cormac and Connor Moriarty actually split the family in two over whether it was appropriate to add a cinnamon stick to a burning log of peat. So, at least in terms of important holiday decisions, we have a long history of this sort of thing.

On the eve of a duel to settle the cinnamon issue once and for all, the story goes, both died simultaneously of acute liver failure, leaving matters to their argumentative progeny. Thus remains a simmering conflict. The brothers were too poor to buy a cinnamon stick anyway.

But I digress. Knowing how hard family conflict could be on one’s organs, we eventually entered into an uneasy treaty. As a compromise, Mom agreed that every other year would be a tinsel year. On the face of things, this would seem the perfect compromise. However, time being linear and memories being not, it seems that every year in November the same debate erupts over whether last year was a tinsel year. I’m still convinced that Dad and I got chiseled out of few good tinsel years.

So, why do I love Christmas tree tinsel? Um . . . good question. I really don’t know. It’s terribly tacky stuff. It can take an otherwise beautiful Christmas tree and turn it into a monument to white trash tastes. It melts onto the lights, sticks to the dog and generally gets everywhere. It feels, in a word, kind of creepy.

The only logical conclusion is that I love tinsel because I inherited it from my dad. Just to be sure, I called him up and asked him why he likes Christmas tree tinsel.

“It’s part of the overall experience,” he explained. “Why do you like the leaves to turn in the fall? It’s part of the overall experience.”

I pressed him for a better answer. Give me something tangible, I pleaded.

“Well, it’s home entertainment as well,” he offered, “when the cats yack it up.”

There we go, I thought. In the interest of family fair play (and so as not to unduly fan the flames), I also asked my mom why she hates tinsel.

“How many reasons do you want?” she replied. “For one, it gets all electrified. It grabs onto the cats and they drag it all around the house.” (Editor’s note: You may wish to find a comfy seat. She’s just getting started.) “They eat it and you have to pull it out of their butts. You can’t vacuum it. It winds its way around the vacuum and you have to flip it over and pull it out by hand. It’s so nasty. Children play with it and you look at them and see little pieces of shiny junk sticking out of the corners of their mouths. You pull it out and it’s a foot long. Yuck.”

“Anything else?” I asked her.

“Those are a few reasons. I could name others.”

She went on unstoppably about finding mysterious pieces of tinsel on the carpet in July (“Where has it been the last six months? I have no idea.”) and about its other horrible tendencies to infest every nook and cranny of our home. She was still ranting about tacky tinsel when I had to hang up.

One year my mom attempted to end this protracted war by buying static-cling-free tinsel. It was oddly translucent strips of plastic that looked and felt nothing like real tinsel. The peace offering actually had the opposite effect. Dad and I hated the “fake tinsel” and demanded a do-over the next year. That spring, Mom found a bird’s nest made out of the stuff. I’m glad something found a decent use for it.

About five years ago, with Jennifer and me out of the house, my mom somehow won a decisive battle. The exact details of the skirmish are lost to history, but one thing is for sure: We haven’t had a tinsel year since.

That is, until now. That’s right. It’s a tinsel year. I asked my dad, just to make sure.

“Matty,” he says, “it’s always a tinsel year. What the hell’s the matter with you? What kind of question is that? Go ask your mother.”

So, to be on the safe side, I also asked Mom.

“No,” she replied, as if I must be joking. “Of course not. It’s never a tinsel year.”  PS

(This column originally appeared in the December 2007 edition of PineStraw. Matt’s father feels that, if ever there was a tinsel year, 2020 must be it.)


Winter Visitors

You’ll know this clever nuthatch by its color and its call

By Susan Campbell

Every few winters, an irruption of wintering finches wings its way to the Southeast. This is definitely shaping up to be one of those years. Thousands of songbirds native to the far north, such as pine siskins and purple finches, are already pouring in, looking for food all over North Carolina.

The first waves were observed in late September, signaling that there’s already a dearth of red spruce, balsam fir, Eastern hemlock and other small, oily and protein-rich native seeds across the northern tier of states. These birds will move farther and farther south in coming months. Some, such as the red-breasted nuthatch, have their breeding grounds way up in the boreal forests of Canada. Although pairs can also be found in northwestern North Carolina at altitudes of upwards of 3,000 feet year round, some nuthatches may cease their quest southward when they happen upon a well-stocked birdfeeder. If it’s your feeder, don’t be surprised if they take up residence in your yard for the duration of the season. And are they ever entertaining for the lucky hosts!

The red-breasted nuthatch is closely related to our resident brown-headed and white-breasted nuthatches with which many of us are so familiar. They defend their nest cavity fiercely from other birds as well as climbing predators. They have also been documented using resin and pieces of bark around the nest entrance for protection. Such skillful tool usage is remarkable, so it’s no surprise that red-breasted nuthatches can be very successful breeders. However, if the weather is good and food is abundant in summer, they can easily outstrip the local mast crop by late summer.

These animated little birds have a gray back, a prominent eye stripe and rusty flanks as well as a reddish breast, as their name implies. Red-breasteds are also quite vocal, calling repeatedly a distinctively nasal “yank yank” that sounds like a tiny tin horn being blown from the treetops. Both sexes will call, but unmated males are the most vocal. They give a very definite warning of their presence — even to larger birds, which they are not afraid to challenge for food.

Red-breasted nuthatches spend their time crawling over the branches of pine trees looking for seeds in cones as well as insects active in the needles and outer bark. Stock your birdfeeder with sunflower seeds, which they love. With their long, wedge-shaped bills, they can readily shell and gobble down black-oil sunflower seeds or they store them in a crevice for later. These little birds also love peanuts and suet. Individuals can be quite aggressive, driving other nuthatches away with strong body language and harsh vocalizations.

In the Sandhills and Piedmont, where we have such good nuthatch habitat, you can find them almost anywhere in a good winter. The best way to locate a red-breasted is to slowly walk through a pine stand and listen. They rarely resist giving themselves away. But in the absence of repeated, nasally calls, scan nearby chickadee or titmouse flocks. These northern visitors are known to frequently associate with other small-bodied seedeaters. If you spend just a little time in the woods over the coming weeks, chances are you’ll spot some of these clever winter visitors!  PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife observations and/or photos at

Hope & Healing

Photographs by John Gessner

We’ve all had bad days. Occasionally it’s been a tough week. And some months are better than others — blistering heat in August and ice storms in February come to mind. But an entire year gone off the rails? Geez. There is little doubt that 2020 carved out a special spot in our psyches for wretchedness. Seemed as though if it could go wrong, it did. It’s been an alphabet soup of catastrophe and, as we all know, the letter C stands for COVID. But the end is in sight. The sun will come up tomorrow. And who better to remind us of the promise of that new day than the faith community that surrounds and embraces all of us?

Rev. Debra L. Gray

Pastor Blacknall Chapel
A.M.E. Zion Church

Attorney and author Bryan Stevenson, in his public appearance at Davidson College in 2019, declared proximity to be important in addressing the problem of inequity in our society. This is not natural, nor easy. Ethnic and socioeconomic divides disunify our nation. Yet the unforeseen challenges of this year have devastated the lives of all of us. It is in this place of pain and frustration that we have now begun to experience proximity. The images of the inexplicable deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and others are embedded in our minds, not to be forgotten. We have all been affected. We have all been hurt. We are all forced to accept the new norm of masks and social distancing. We understand others’ hurts because it is the same as ours.

I am reminded of the story of Moses. Scriptures tell us when Moses died, it was God who buried him. The Creator of all the Earth got close to the lifeless remains of this man to put him in the ground, where only God knows the place. Our God can still get close to our dead places. Welcome His proximity into your life as we walk this journey together.

Rev. John Jacobs

The Village Chapel

Yes, we’ve had a tough year, but that doesn’t have to define us. Circumstances beyond our control need not control us. Unsuccessful responses to crises need not defeat us. Abraham Lincoln called us the “almost chosen people,” in contrast to the Jews, as God’s chosen people. Well, are we? I believe we are.

Our hope in 2021, and the years to follow, must be in where it has been before: “In God We Trust.” Considering the fact there are many who will be grateful to see this past year retrospectively, hopeful that 2021 will bring welcome changes for the better; for many, reasons to cheer 2020 are nonexistent. Some might even find scant chance for redemption in the year to be remembered for racial unrest, lawless destruction in our cities, political polarization, and a pandemic virus leading to shutdowns affecting the economy, jobs, schools and churches. No one has been unaffected negatively by our responses to the pandemic.

And yet, the bleakest prospect would be to think that nothing can be learned and changed by these 2020 experiences. God help us if we ignore a redemption that can restore our faith in the Creator of this world — the God who has promised to make all things new; the God who can take our sins and mistakes and redeem them for good.  

In this country the rest of the world still calls “new” — and as God’s “almost” chosen people — therein lies our hope, in God’s redeeming grace, our only hope, that will take us from this crisis to the next, and from here to eternity.

F. Javier Castrejón

San Juan Diego Catholic Mission, Robbins

Les saludo con mucha alegría. Este año 2020 ha sido un año diferente como todos los demás, sólo que este año nos ha dejado tristezas en algunas familias y nos ha presentado retos difíciles. Pero al mismo tiempo, este año nos deja una gran enseñanza, que sólo unidos todos como verdaderos hermanos, sin distinción de raza, pueblo o nación, podremos vencer las dificultades, el egoísmo, el racismo, la indiferencia y la irresponsabilidad deben desaparecer de nuestras vidas en este 2021. Todos nosotros debemos ver este nuevo año como una nueva oportunidad para corregir nuestros errores pasados y saber que todo lo que yo haga en beneficio de los demás ayudará a que todos vivamos mejor y así cuidar nuestra casa común, que es este mundo en el cual vivimos. Nada malo podrá vencernos si nos mantenemos unidos. No olvides volver tus pasos a Dios y vivir su mandamiento de amarnos unos a otros como Él nos ha enseñado.

Mis mejores deseos para este 2021. Dios te bendiga.

I greet you with great joy. This year 2020 has been a different year like all the others, only this year has left us sadness in some families and has presented us with difficult challenges. But at the same time, this year leaves us a great lesson, that only united as true brothers, without distinction of race, people or nation, can we overcome difficulties, selfishness, racism, indifference and irresponsibility must disappear from our lives in 2021. All of us must see this new year as a new opportunity to correct our past mistakes and to know that everything I do for the benefit of others will help us all live better and thus take care of our common home, which is this world in which we live.  Nothing bad can defeat us if we stick together. Do not forget to turn your steps to God and live his command to love one another as He has taught us.

Best wishes for 2021. God bless you.

Rabbi Ken Brickman

Sandhills Jewish Congregation — Beth Shalom

Each week the Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown with the lighting of two candles to remind us to bring light and hope into the world, just as day turns to night. In recent months, the restrictions caused by the pandemic, the illness itself and the grief of those who have lost loved ones to the virus have often made it seem as if the light of that hope has been diminished and a pall has been placed over the world. As we approach the holiday season, people of all faiths will celebrate by lighting lights, whether it is the candles on the Hanukkah menorah or the multicolored lights that adorn homes throughout our community.

As the year ends, we hope and pray that these lights will rekindle the sense of hope for a new year in which we can resume our lives as they were when we celebrated the holidays last year. Ring in the New Year not with the usual resolutions, but with the commitment to bring light into our world by working to realize our shared vision of a just and more humane world.

Rev. Colette Bachand

Penick Village

When my children grew old enough to know who Santa was, their father and I had to make an important decision. Would the gifts under the Christmas tree be wrapped by Santa or unwrapped?

When their dad was little, Santa brought unwrapped gifts, but in my house as a child, Santa’s gifts were wrapped. There was a special feeling that came with discovering wrapped gifts. There was mystery, anticipation and most of all trust. Trust that something amazing lay beneath the colorful wrapping and bows. There was a moment when everything in the world felt possible. Underneath the wrappings could be a new bike, a record player, roller skates, or even better, the outfit guaranteed to impress the boys at school.

This is a year we need to believe that underneath the Christmas tree, anything and everything is possible. We need to hold on to anticipation because we’ve waited too long for things to feel normal. We need the guarantee that the outfit we wear when COVID is over will be our victory garment because we made it through with God by our side.

In the end, my girls got gifts wrapped by Santa. This year, I need a reminder of those wrapped gifts because they held within them the promise of things to come, even when we didn’t know what that was. The mystery of wrapped gifts is the promise that under the Christmas tree is everything we need. Under the tree is God, the God who wishes to dwell among us and because of that, we will be OK. For now, the mystery must be enough. In due time, we can unwrap the gift.

Rev. Terry Yasuko Ogawa

Congregational Church of Pinehurst

If we are Christian, we follow the God who is Love itself (I John:4).

After a year of physical distance, isolation and divisiveness, I think the path to unity requires that we each admit that we are not defective, but broken. There seems to be a desperation to deny our ongoing hurts, which prevents acknowledgement of our neighbors’ pains. The problem is, when we do that, the pain leaks out, and often gets taken out on others in resentment.

Recognizing others’ trauma does not diminish the significance of your own trauma, even if they are not equivalent. The God of Love has healing for us all. There is room at the table for each and every one. And we are called to make sure that our neighbors get to the proverbial feast as well.

We have work to do. The work of justice, the work of kin-dom building, is ongoing. Use the gifts God has given you to the best of your ability, and let your light shine. Recognize that others’ lights deserve to shine too. Hope lies in being the best disciples of Love we can be. And recognizing that if others are following their own paths of compassion, well, God loves them too.

Emily Whittle and John Bowman

Community of Mindful Living in the Pines

During this year our human family has been confronted with monumental challenges and suffering. Together we continue to face an expanding pandemic; a societal crisis in terms of racial injustice, poverty and class inequality; severe economic challenges; and climate crisis. Today we all have a role to play in the rising tide of collective awakening to racial injustice, systemic inequalities and climate justice.

As we honor our emotional experience at this moment and care for what is arising in us, we are invited to examine our lives and our community and help move our world toward a more inclusive and compassionate society.

One of the greatest challenges we face now is how to be calm and peaceful in these crises. Mindfulness practice and mediation can be a source of peace, healing and transformation, and it must go hand-in-hand with deeply looking into all aspects of our daily lives and its social structures to examine their ethical and moral foundations. When we act from a place of being, of stillness and peace, we can be moved into compassionate action. At this moment it is essential that we stand up and speak out against racism and for racial justice, just as it is for gender, class and climate justice. We must have the courage, patience and openness of mind to look deeply into the root causes of these injustices, and listen deeply to those who are suffering, and learn how we are each contributing, individually and collectively. This can be a source of peace, healing and transformation for the world and us.

May we all be filled with loving kindness, may we all be well, may we be calm and at ease, may we all be safe and happy.

Muhammad A. Lodhi

Masjid Al Madina

As believers, we trust that the prevailing pandemic and accompanying challenges faced by humanity cannot exist without the knowledge and permission of Almighty God. Every hardship is a test from our Lord as He says in the Holy Quran, “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits but give good tidings to the patient. Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to God, and indeed to Him we will return.’” COVID-19 is a test from God. A test to see whether we reflect, show patience, and thank Him or continue with our usual ways. There is no one who can remove adversity from us except God, who is known as Al Rahman and Al Raheem, the most merciful to His creation. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught us that God tests those people He loves. He further advised to recognize and acknowledge God in times of ease and prosperity, and He would remember us in times of adversity. We should turn to God and beg His forgiveness, show our allegiance, and spread goodness. May the Controller of affairs protect us all from any harm.

Pastor Nathaniel Jackson

Christ Way Deliverance Church

In these very different times

Dear God what can “I do” in these times

To make things better for someone

Although I am aging

Put me in places and mold me

To make someone’s day brighter and bring a smile

Although I am growing in years

Help me to help the young reach their goal

If not their lifetime goal

A goal that makes things better for the moment

Dear Lord

Help me cheer up someone’s day

That they are smiling as I walk away

Lord help me

Offer a hand up that will last

Not just a hand out

Bless this our country and our world

Keep us safe and free from all sickness

Help us find more love, peace and happiness

Not just at this Christmas season but all year long

Help us find salvation in Jesus Christ our savior

In Jesus’ holy name I pray