Out of the Blue

The Brownie Effect

A treat with a tasty purpose

By Deborah Salomon

Please don’t take this recipe as an affront to PineStraw’s excellent food columnists — proponents, like myself, of healthy eating. Brownies don’t grow in the garden, so I’m not treading on Jan Leitschuh’s turf. They don’t boast fiber, or antioxidants. They are chock-full of gluten, fat and calories. But they do serve a purpose.

The Brownie Effect started in the early 1980s, when I worked part-time as a food/features writer at an excellent New England newspaper. The staff was youngish and famished so I brought cookies whenever I turned in an assignment. At first they stared at me like I was Mary Poppins and the Tooth Fairy rolled into one. Soon, I progressed to brownies still warm from the oven, but only on the Fridays when I was needed.

“Why are you doing this?” they asked, between bites.

“Because it’s Friday,” I explained. Brownies are what I do on Friday.

Before you could say lickety-split I was hired full-time. I’d like to think this was because of my writing but . . .

Word spread. Soon, employees of the ad department, circulation, even the publisher had business in the newsroom on Friday.

Amazing, what a little chocolate and sugar can accomplish. I’m reasonably sure that several employers have wanted to dump me but dared not, fearing a brownie backlash.

Even more amazing — how easy, foolproof and yummy these brownies are. No idea where the recipe came from, only that I made them for my children and grandchildren, for bake sales, picnics and funerals. I have shared the recipe hundreds of times. And so, in the interest of improving employer-employee, husband-wife, student-teacher, neighbor-neighbor relationships I feel compelled to share it with you, conversationally, like we were having coffee at the kitchen table.

You’ll need a big (at least 3 quart), heavy pot, a heavy (not sleazy-cheap) 13-by-9 inch non-stick baking pan, a wooden spoon, a rubber spatula, measuring spoons and a 2-cup measuring cup. Into the pot, put 1 1/2  cups sugar, 1 1/2  sticks butter, 4 tablespoons water, 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules. Slowly bring to a rolling boil, stirring often with wooden spoon. Take off burner and add 2 cups (a 12-ounce package) semi-sweet chocolate chips. Stir until chips are completely melted, set aside. Crack 4 large eggs into a glass, stir well with fork and drizzle into chocolate, stirring all the time with the wooden spoon. Measure 1 1/2 cups flour; add 1 teaspoon salt and combine thoroughly with a tiny whisk. Mix flour into chocolate with the wooden spoon until smooth and no streaks remain. Grease pan or spray with baking spray.  Scrape batter into pan and tilt to even it out. Sprinkle with nuts, if desired (See below). Bake at 350 degrees EXACTLY 35 minutes for brownies that are firm on top, fudgy inside. Let cool for 20-30 minutes, cut into squares.

I can have them finished in 50 minutes. But then I’ve baked at least 3,000 pans.

About the butter: I prefer stick margarine, but it must, by law, be labeled margarine. The only two brands available locally are Land o’ Lakes and Harris Teeter house brand. Imperial, Parkay, Mrs. Filberts are NOT real margarine suitable for baking.

About the chocolate chips: They aren’t created equal. Must be a 12-ounce bag. I’ve tried every brand, found Harris Teeter and Food Lion house brands melt better than Toll House. Don’t use “dark” chocolate, in 10-ounce bags. Not enough chips, and they resist melting.

About the flour: I use Walmart house brand unbleached for all my baking. Half the price of King Arthur, can’t tell the difference.

About the coffee: Trust me. Subtle, but what a difference.

About the nuts: People either love or hate them. I sprinkle sliced almonds over the batter, which haters find easy to remove.

Warning: You must take boiling mixture off the burner and stir in chips until completely melted. Only then will it be cool enough not to “cook” eggs, as they are drizzled in. Brownies do not require baking powder or soda, which would turn them into cake.

These brownies freeze beautifully.

Brownies are as unnecessary to survival as Champagne or crab cakes. But they have worth. So think of this not as a recipe, not even a bribe. Think of it as a lesson in life, a theory on human relations, a method beneficial to baker and recipients.

But only on Fridays.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

Mom, Inc.

From the Podium

A few words from an award-winning mom

By Renee Whitmore

My son, Kevin, just told me I was the meanest mom in the world. I made him ride his bike for 30 minutes before he could come inside, and I told him he could not have Tootsie Rolls and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups before dinner. So, in his defense, I clearly am awful.

I am so honored. Meanest mom in the whole world. Wow. Out of all those other moms, me! Just a small-town girl with big dreams, hiding from my kids in my closet, armed with a box of Dove milk chocolates.

So, I wrote a speech for when I accept my award. I walk up on stage with the best Beyoncé reaction I can gather.

(Waiting for applause to die down.)

Thank you. Thank you. Family. Friends. Please be seated. I am absolutely in shock right now. I am so blessed to be standing in front of you today. I truly wasn’t expecting this. (I try to run my fingers through my hair nonchalantly but can’t get past the tangles of dried chocolate.)

Something like this cannot be accomplished alone. I stand on the shoulders of all the mean parents in the world who do not give in to every whim and demand their children make.

Karen. Debi. Shelly. I feel like you guys should be up here with me. Karen, I saw you stop your daughter from standing up on the slide — so cruel. Debi, you only let your son be in two activities at a time — positively sadistic. Shelly, you didn’t buy your kid a third iced donut when he already had a sprinkled one and a glazed one — what were you thinking?

Of course, this day would have been impossible without my long-suffering campaign manager, Kevin, who I sincerely believe will recover from my many dastardly acts in the fullness of time.

My message for you today is a simple one: If I can do it, so can you. You, too, can be meaner than you ever thought possible. So, join me in a toast. Let’s raise a second cup of coffee:

To all the moms who make their kids play outside.

To all the moms who don’t let their kids eat cookies and popcorn for dinner (lunch maybe).

To all the moms who say no to a third dog or cat.

To all the moms who do not let their kids go to school in the clothes they slept in the night before.

To all the moms who pitched out their kid’s once-favorite toy that they haven’t touched in two years.

To all the moms who enforce a bedtime.

To all the moms who make their kids eat green beans.

To all the moms who say “no.”

To all the moms who recognize the purpose of toothpaste.

To all the moms who teach their kids to clean up their own messes, love others and respect authority.

This is for you.

Hold your head up high and be mean.

You can do it, too!

World’s meanest mom. Wow. These are heady times when anything seems possible. When any ordinary mom can aspire to an achievement like this.

Thank you. Thank you so much. I am honored.

They like me. They really, really like me!

(I make a mad dash back to my closet and my Dove chocolates).  PS

When Renee is not teaching English or being a professional taxi driver for her two boys, she is working on her first book

Too Much Stuff

Spring cleaning and decluttering in the Sandhills

By Jan Leitschuh

You never get enough ’cause there’s just too much stuff

— Too Much Stuff, by Delbert McClinton

In my Wisconsin childhood, the first soft days of spring led to a vigorous and enthusiastic assault on accumulated winter crud by the women on my block. After being cooped up for months with the kids, they felt the craving for space, serenity and order. Children were shooed outside — no playdates needed, just a sweatshirt and orders like “Go play with your little brother, and not in the road.” Boom: The closet cleaning, organizing and disposal of the long winter’s detritus commenced.

“I think the urge comes from prepping for spring, especially those gray, rainy weekends just before. It’s been a long winter, and we’re feeling stuck; we want to purge,” says Mandy Mosier of Clean Quarters by Mandy, an in-home decluttering service charging $40 per hour. “Or I could be cliché and say ‘new beginnings.’”

These days, busy moms work outside the home, and stuff accumulates despite the increasing involvement of the male of the species. But stuff has weight, and they want to lift that weight off their household. But we’re busy . . . and there’s that inertia thing . . . and, so much stuff.

It’ll wear you down, carrying around too much stuff

Today, decluttering the homes of the busy and overwhelmed is big business, the purview of coaches, specialists and TV series, such as organizational guru Marie Kondo’s best-selling books and recent hit Netflix program Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

Another popular online resource is home organization website FlyLady.net. “Have you been living in CHAOS? FlyLady is here to help you get your home organized! She teaches you to eliminate your clutter and establish simple routines for getting your home clean!”

Woman hands tidying up kids clothes in basket. Vertical storage of clothing, tidying up, room cleaning concept.

FlyLady has you begin with a clean sink and expand from there, sending daily emails assigning small 15-minute tasks. FlyLady’s key values are self-love, patience and many small actions. It urges folks not to be perfectionists, noting that your home didn’t get cluttered overnight, so just drop the mental chatter, be patient with yourself and git ’er done. If your after photos look worse than others’ before photos, no self-flagellation. Note the change and keep moving forward.

All this outside support speaks to a deep longing in our busy souls for space, peace and household order.

So. What’s holding us back from serenity and home nirvana?

Too much stuff, there’s just too much stuff

“Our culture is to accumulate, gather things,” observes Mosier, wife of an active duty military man and veteran of 14 moves in the last 18 years. “Then we are working full time, so we don’t make time to throw things away after doing the cooking, laundry, shopping, dealing with the kids, trying to relax. There’s no time, it seems. It’s so much easier to shove something in a box in a corner or the attic.”

“Moving as often as I do, it is in the forefront of my mind, knowing I’ll have to pack things up again. So this has forced me into a constant state of purging. I’ve learned to live a minimalist lifestyle,” she adds.

Some spring-cleaners need a non-judgmental, outside eye to give them direction and help them stay focused. For others, simply watching a reality show about decluttering is the spark to clean things up and restore peace to the home. Local thrift stores report donations are up in the wake of the Kondo series. “Absolutely,” agrees Lucie Saylor, manager of the Emmanuel Episcopal Thrift Shop in Southern Pines. “I have been asking everyone who brings things in, ‘What’s going on here?’ I think a lot of it has to do with the weather. I’m sure the Coalition (Sandhills/Moore Coalition for Human Care), Friend to Friend, Whispering Pines (Thrift Shop), all of us are benefiting.”

Marie Kondo’s method is full-bore. It begins by connecting with the house, and then simply piling all the clothes on a bed and looking for items to discard, thanking them first for their role in your life. Discard what no longer “sparks joy.” This can be problematic — do athletic supporters or Spanx or underwire support bras “spark joy” in you? (No denying they can be useful in certain situations.) After the winnowing, Kondo shows clients how to roll clothes and stand them upright in drawers, so all can be seen at a glance. Then she moves on to books, papers, sentimental items and everything else — kitchen, garage and the rest.

You can pile it high . . . But you’ll never be satisfied

Perhaps the real secret to Kondo’s decluttering success isn’t the simple sparking of joy but the massive disruption caused by disgorging all that stuff from its static place at the bottom of the closet or back of the drawer. Once it’s out, it must be dealt with. Besides making a visual impact — “Oh my! I have so much stuff!” — the shelves are now clear to wipe down, the floors easily vacuumed. Who wants to put all that back anyway? Plus, you’ve now found that beloved concert tee you thought you’d lost, and who needs to buy toothpaste when two full tubes still in their boxes surface?

“I love Marie Kondo,” says Mosier, “and I did the ‘spark joy’ thing, but I think it can have some limitations. Say, when you’re sorting your sock drawer.”

Persistence is the key. “It looks worse before it gets better” is a Kondo mantra. “You have to grab the mood when it strikes,” says Mosier. And carry on.

The Kondo “mountain of stuff” method may not work for everyone. “A lot of our psychological block is that it’s already overwhelming, especially if you have children,” says Mosier. “I’ll break it down into categories for them. We’ll do all the dresses. Then all the T-shirts. When I leave, I might say, ‘Tonight I’ll have you do your sock and underwear drawer.’”

It’ll mess you up, fooling with too much stuff

While some sort by sparks of joy, others use the tried and true one-year rule.

Kelly Sanders of Kelly’s Tidying and Organization, who also helps others organize, clean and declutter at $35 per hour, agrees with Kondo that “I personally find it easier to make a complete mess first and bring everything out, then start sorting.”

Sanders, mother of two, is so disciplined and organized in her home life that she doesn’t have much in her closets to clean out. “I buy only the bed linen I need, then wash it and put it right back on the bed, so I keep the closet from overcrowding,” she says. “And as far as my own closet goes, most of my items are wash-and-wear quality in dresser drawers. So my closet is minimal.”

But she is firm about discarding, sparks or no sparks. “If I haven’t used it in a year, it needs to go.”

Well it’s way too much . . . You’re never gonna get enough

Mosier, as the wife of an active duty military man, is also tough on herself, but her approach to clients depends on their core values. “I don’t have a specific one-size-fits-all method because what motivates one person doesn’t motivate another. I try to connect to the main reason they contacted me in the first place.” She has new clients fill out a questionnaire detailing their goals, priorities and their “why.” It becomes her roadmap in dealing with specific client needs.

One of Kondo’s principles is item visibility, and Sanders agrees. For her own home, where she is the strictest, Sanders stays organized by “constantly checking on things and seeing how out of hand an area or closet has gotten. The old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is so true. If you can’t see it . . . it’s likely to become hidden with clutter.”

Her home’s kitchen is an example. “I have open shelving storage so I see exactly where things go or need returning. Same goes for my closets. Everything is in sight. My son’s closet is by size and color so I know exactly what I’m looking for. I try to go crazy, clearing out seasonally.” As each one of the four seasons ends, she says, “I go through everything from that season as I’m putting it away in storage containers . . . clear ones with labels so I know what’s inside. I donate holiday decor items I’ll no longer use or sell my kids’ clothes that they’ve outgrown, to buy the new ones they need. I try to stay on top of clothes.”

Ah, baby clothes. “A major question I ask in a first meeting: ‘Are you planning to have more children?’” says Mosier. “Women who are done having children can get rid of all this baby stuff.”

It’ll hang you up, dealing with too much stuff

Sentimental attachment is one factor both Sandhills organizers find trips people up. People often identify strongly with items imbued with memories.

“Everyone is different,” says Sanders, “but basically I talk to them about being overwhelmed in stuff, and wanting to breathe. That it’s OK to let go of some things and only keep the most meaningful, something that meant something to you personally.”

Our attachments can have deep psychological roots. “I think the biggest thing behind clutter is being attached to items,” says Sanders. “There’s guilt of letting it go because maybe someone special gave it to you, and you don’t want to disappoint them. Or, you believe it has sentimental value?”

The “might-need-it-someday” mentality is also a clutter keeper. “I know several people who came up very poor and believed in keeping things until they broke or could pass them down,” says Sanders. “They now are able to buy things, but are mentally unable to let things go.”

“My kids might want this one day” is another hang-up, but many find their offspring are rarely interested in grandma’s china or the great-aunt’s crystal. Use or donate, the experts advise.

It’s a mental game. Mosier tries to connect with her clients’ “why.” “One lady is very attached to her things,” says Mosier. “She has dresses with tags still on them. Some are old and stained and torn but she was pregnant when she wore them. As a stay-at-home mom, she wears dresses maybe once a week to church. She went through them and had a hard time letting go. And the clutter in the house was damaging their marriage.”

Yeah, it’ll tear you down, fooling with all that stuff

Mosier’s tips for sorting clothing include asking: Is it classic or trendy? Does it still look new or fresh? Is it stained, damaged or torn? “Women are very appearance driven, and clothes are important to us, and we get attached to those things in a way I don’t think men do,” she says.

Harking back to her questionnaire of stated goals, Mosier was able to ask her client, “Is this dress that you have never worn more important than your marriage?” She may practice a little tough love. “Sometimes I have to take a gruff approach with people. ‘You’re going to go through these dresses again.’ And then I sit there as they try them on. An outsider’s eye has no sentiment. Often, I’ll be able to offer some clarity and say, ‘Honey, you’re a beautiful girl and that doesn’t flatter you,’ or, ‘That dress doesn’t do you any favors.’”

One client had trouble letting go of a large stainless steel silverware chest because it was a wedding gift, even though she had a set she preferred. The solution? Art. “We took one setting only — knife, fork and spoon — and had them framed in a shadow box with a meaningful saying about love and nourishment, and she liked that,” says Mosier. “There are companies that will take your baby clothes, or your college tees, and turn them into blankets.”

For bulky sentimental items, the organizers suggest up-cycling. Mosier turned her wedding dress into a baby quilt. “Now I have one baby blanket that my kids use, not 10, and it is meaningful.” Her husband’s old military uniforms were important to him, but taking up space, unused: “My mother-in-law took them and made two lap blankets for our two boys.”

You know you can hurt yourself, fooling with too much stuff

The massive disgorging of clothes frees up a lot of energy, say all the organizers. This is the payoff — space, peace, satisfaction, the big sigh of relief. “Start by focusing on the most cluttered rooms first,” advises Sanders. “After those are completed, the rest of the house will seem like a breeze and will be something you’ll want to do. Place seldom-used items in clear containers for easy storage and you’ll know how to locate them.”

Mosier finds “the master closet seems to be the number one priority, followed by the kitchen, followed by the kids’ playroom. Most of us find it easier to get rid of our kids’ stuff, than our own.”

Then there is the “where-to-discard-it” paralysis. A number of folks don’t want to consign the still-useful to landfills. “Some of it just has to go right in  the dumpster,” says Mosier. “Then I like to suggest the Sandhills Coalition or Friend-to-Friend for useable items. People like the idea of helping others. Since I mostly work with women, I use Friend to Friend, the battered women’s advocacy agency, to help women let go. I point out that if this dress can help one woman in need get out and get a job to support her children, that’s an easy sell.” Mosier also likes the website RealReal.com for recycling upscale items on consignment.

You know you can’t get a grip when you’re slippin’ in all that stuff

For Mosier and Sanders, decluttering is a year-round activity they enjoy. “But I see why people might feel overwhelmed,” says Mosier. “I am naturally prone to this because of the way my parents raised me, and our constant military moves. I became a stay-at-home mom when we decided to have children, and that allows me to have the time to do something I enjoy doing.”

She laughs: “If I was working full time, my house would probably be a mess!”  PS

Contact Sanders through email: Sanderskelly2820@yahoo.com or at 910-705-5016. Contact Mosier either on her “Clean Quarters by Mandy” Facebook page, or by email: cleanquartersbymandy@gmail.com.


Purple Reign

For birdwatchers, the return of the purple martin marks the true arrival of spring

By Susan Campbell

For many bird enthusiasts, it is not truly spring until purple martins return. Their unique and twangy song, high-flying acrobatics and glossy plumage easily distinguish them from the other members of the swallow family. But it is the species’ affinity for manmade housing that endears them to thousands of martin landlords across the United States. In fact, east of the Rocky Mountains, purple martins are completely dependent on gourds and multifamily housing to raise their annual broods. Nesting Martins love company and pairs may take up residence in close quarters with anywhere from a few other families to dozens of them during May and June. Established colonies have been known to include a hundred or more adults if space is available. In prime habitat, less experienced birds may delay breeding until a vacancy in the housing occurs.

Martins return to North Carolina from their wintering grounds in Brazil by late March. However, early individual scouts may be seen as early as late February. Experienced adults are paired for the season by early April. Both male and female share the nest building duties, producing a nest of pine needles and leaves. The female lays five to seven eggs and patiently sits on them for about two weeks. After hatching, the young are fed by both parents for up to a month before they are strong enough to leave the nest. They remain associated as a family group not only with each other but also their neighbors in the colony until late July when they begin their journey southward for the winter.

Purple martins are found where larger flying insects are plentiful during the warmer months. This is usually close to water given that their favorite prey includes dragonflies and damselflies, which tend to be abundant near ponds, lakes and rivers. For many years it was erroneously believed that martins were an ideal form of mosquito control. But recent research has shown that they do not pursue mosquitoes. This is almost certainly related to the mosquito’s small size. Maneuvering to catch such tiny prey has virtually no energetic benefit. Also peak foraging occurs around midday, not at dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.

Attracting martins requires some forethought. The birds need lots of room to soar and maneuver adjacent to their home. It needs to be in an open location at least 30 feet from human housing and 60 feet from the nearest tall trees (the farther, the better!). The gourds or house should be 10–20 feet high and clear of any bushes, shrubs or vines. Open area around the pole and housing will reduce the likelihood of predation by mammals or climbing snakes. Once a few pairs of martins are successful breeding in a new location, they will not only become very site faithful but also attract other individuals. Indeed, countless people each year find that providing for purple martins and sharing in their summertime activities is the ultimate backyard birding pursuit. PS

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at susan@ncaves.com.

Character Study

A Chin Scratcher

Stuck in the era of the presidential close shave

By Scott Sheffield

Whither hast thou gone, presidential whiskers? No American president has sported facial hair of any kind since Howard Taft left office in 1913, except for the mustache and goatee cultivated for a short time by Harry Truman after the 1948 election. Before Taft, no American president had gone without it since James Buchanan ceded the office to Abraham Lincoln in 1861, except Abe’s successor, Andrew Johnson, and William McKinley. During that era, the diversity of presidential facial growth ran the gamut of possibilities. Long sideburns, mustaches, mustaches with muttonchops, full beards with mustaches and without.

John Quincy Adams (1825–1829) was the first president to opt for a hairier facial appearance. This new look consisted of something between very long sideburns and muttonchops. He may have been emulating his father’s [John Adams (1789–1803)] sideburns, which were shorter but just as bushy as his. Martin Van Buren (1837–1841) was next to show some facial flair, sporting long bushy sideburns, followed by Zachary Taylor (1849–1850), who wore shorter, less ostentatious but still bushy sideburns as well.

In 1861, the first beard appeared on the face of a president. The beard, sans mustache, appeared on the face of Abraham Lincoln. In October of the previous year, Lincoln had received a letter from a young girl advising him that he should grow some whiskers in order to enhance his appearance, as well as his chances of winning the election the following month. Although Lincoln expressed concern in his reply to the little girl that people might consider doing so “a silly affectation,” he started growing a beard shortly thereafter. On his inaugural trip to Washington, D.C., the following February, his train stopped in Westville, New York, the hometown of the little girl, Grace Bedell. He called her from the crowd and proudly showed her his full-grown beard, saying, “Gracie, look at my whiskers. I’ve been growing them for you.”

In 1865, Andrew Johnson, who became President after Lincoln’s assassination, was the last clean-shaven president until William McKinley took office in 1897.

During those intervening years, the choices varied considerably. Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1877) wore a closely cropped, but full, beard and mustache. My favorite, by the way. (Maybe because it looks like mine.) Rutherford B. Hayes (1877–1881) likewise wore a full beard and mustache but most definitely not a closely cropped affair like Grant’s. His beard cascaded well over his celluloid collar, just as his mustache flowed over his mouth, almost concealing it completely.

James A. Garfield (1881–1881) was only in office six months when he became the second president to be assassinated in less than 20 years. While in office, though, he perpetuated the style of his predecessor with a free-flowing mane of his own, beard and mustache alike. At least you could make out his mouth.

Chester A. Arthur (1881–1885) distinguished himself as the only president to adorn his countenance with the combination of muttonchops and mustache. Unfortunately, the hair on his face grew sparsely so he really wasn’t able to rock the style statement.

Grover Cleveland, the only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms (1885–1889 and 1893–1897), wore only a full mustache. It was a bushy one, one that seemed to eschew trimming, but not on the scale of those belonging to Hayes and Garfield.

Then there was Benjamin Harrison’s (1893-1897) beard. Similar to Grant’s in shape and length and well groomed, it also earns style points for color. Although he was only 56 years of age when he took office, his beard was totally white. I still like Grant’s the best. (Did I mention that his looked like mine?) As a result of yet another assassination, Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901. William McKinley (1897-1901) had opted against any type of facial hair at all, but his successor wore a full mustache similar in size and shape to Cleveland’s. In today’s parlance, both Teddy’s and Grover’s mustaches would be likened to those of bull walruses, and come to think of it, probably were in their day as well.

The last president to adorn himself with facial hair was William Howard Taft (1909-1913). His choice was a full-blown handlebar mustache.

So why have the presidents’ faces gone hairless for over a hundred years? Around the turn of the 20th century, public health officials determined that tuberculosis, a scourge of the era, was an infectious rather than a hereditary disease. In this period of uncertainty about the disease, the theory arose that men’s beards could be repositories of tuberculosis germs. That pronouncement eventually led to the adoption of the clean-shaven look as the more healthful and therefore more desirable for presidential candidates, as well as men in general. Even after it was determined that beards posed no greater risk of contracting or transmitting tuberculosis than shaven skin, the damage was done. Facial hair didn’t return to men’s faces until the 1960s and never again (or at least not yet) to the faces of presidents.

In the presidential races of 1944 and 1948, Thomas Dewey, the last candidate for the office to wear facial hair, was defeated on both occasions. It was said at the time that the public’s disapproval of his mustache may have contributed to his losses.

So, is that it? Has presidential facial hair been relegated to the dustbin of history? I don’t think so. If Julian Edelman, the MVP of Super Bowl LIII, can wear a beard and have it shaved live on TV by Ellen DeGeneres, can the most powerful chief executive in the world be far behind?

Maybe, if it’s a woman.  PS

Scott Sheffield moved to the Sandhills from Northern Virginia in 2004. He feels like a native but understands he can never be one.


Parade of Champions

Come walk the fairways with the legends of the game in the second United States Senior Women’s Open Championship played May 16-19 at the Pine Needles Lodge & Golf Club in Southern Pines. Defending champion is Dame Laura Davies who won the inaugural championship last year at Chicago Golf Club. Eleven former U.S. Women’s Open Champions are among those in the field. Ticket packages — some including a special screening of The Founders at the Sunrise Theater on May 13 at 5 p.m. with reception to follow at The Pilot — vary and are available at www.usseniorwomensopen.com. Tickets will also be available at the gate.

Spring into Antiques

The Cameron Spring Antiques Street Fair takes place Friday, May 3 and Saturday, May 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the heart of Cameron on Hwy. 24/27. All shops will be open and will be joined by 250 outside vendors. Food and refreshments will be available.

Author Visits Brownson

Debby Irving, the author of Waking Up White will be at Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church for a lecture and discussion on Monday, May 20 from 6 – 8 p.m. and again on Tuesday, May 21, from 9 a.m. to noon for a workshop, followed by a discussion period. A former community organizer and a classroom teacher for 25 years, she shares her struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, offering a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners and tolerance. 

First of the Firsts

The opening First Friday concert features Eric Gales on the First Bank Stage next to the Sunrise Theater on Friday, May 3. Music begins at 5 p.m., rain or shine. Beer available for purchase. No outside alcohol and, please, leave your dogs at home. There will be food trucks and fine music in
great abundance.

Get Your Souvenir

The Judson Theatre Company presents Liz McCartney and Bob Stillman in Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s the true story of one of opera’s most unforgettable stars. An eccentric and wealthy New York socialite believes she is an enchanting coloratura soprano and wants to share her gifts with the world. She becomes a sensation, draped in fabulous costumes, holding recitals at the Ritz. Unfortunately the truth is, Mrs. Jenkins can’t sing. But there’s more than one way to get to Carnegie Hall. The curtain goes up at the Hannah Center Theatre, The O’Neal School, 3300 Airport Rd., Southern Pines, on Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m.; Friday, May 10, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 11 at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, May 12 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $38 and available at judsontheatre.com.

Farmers al Fresco

North Carolina food is expertly prepared by Chef Mark Elliott in this special fund-raising event for the Given Memorial Library and Tufts Archives at 6:30 p.m. on May 21 at Tufts Memorial Park on the Village Green in Pinehurst. Tickets are $80 and can be purchased at the Tufts Archives or www.ticketmesandhills.com. For additional information call (910) 295-3642.

Start Your Engines

The second Sandhills Motoring Festival begins Friday, May 24 with an informal car show at Little River Golf & Resort from 5 – 8 p.m. The three-day event continues on Saturday with a rally and concludes on Sunday at the Concours in the Village with 125 automobiles parked on the Village Green and the streets of Pinehurst. Registration ends on May 15. For more information visit www.sandhillsmotoringfestival.com.

Best of the Pines

Explore pop-up booths from over 25 favorite local businesses vying for nominations and votes for “Best of the Pines” honors on Saturday, May 11 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Heritage Flag Company, 230 S. Bennett St. in Southern Pines. The vendors will be giving out samples of treats, products and services. There will be live music, beer from the Southern Pines Brewing Company and food from What’s Fore Lunch food truck.

The Rooster’s Wife

Sunday, May 5: Rory Block and Cindy Cashdollar. The name says it all: Sisters of Steel. Delta blues guitar, steel guitar and lap steel superlative. Cost: $25.

Thursday, May 9: Compton and Newberry. Preeminent practitioners of the real deal. Masters of old-time mandolin and banjo/guitar. Cost: $15.

Sunday, May 12: Fish Harmonics, The East Pointers. Take an adventurous dive into roots and modern folk music with first-class world music maestros.

Thursday, May 16: Open mic with the Parsons.

Saturday, May 18: The Gravy Boys. Natural storytellers who spin their tales through tight brother duet harmonies over a vintage acoustic backdrop. Cost: $10.

Sunday, May 19: Bombadil, India Ramey. Creative and heartfelt lyrics, lush vocal harmonies and thoughtful arrangement, contrast with a sassy spitfire and her Southern-gothic songwriting. Cost: $15.

Friday, May 24: Yarn, Ashley Heath. Yarn plays roots music from the shadows of skyscrapers. Expect velvet blues with a touch of twang from Ashley Heath to open the evening. Cost: $15.

Sunday, May 26: The Allen Boys. Sacred steel comes to Aberdeen. Get ready to be happy. Cost: $25.

Thursday, May 30: Tim Carter Band. Grooving Appalachian, folk rock, funked-up, bluegrass, gypsy blues music.
Cost: $10.

Unless otherwise noted, doors open at 6 p.m. and music begins at 6:46 at the Poplar Knight Spot, 114 Knight St., Aberdeen. Prices above are for members. Annual memberships are $5 and available online or at the door. For more information call (910) 944-7502 or visit www.theroosterswife.org or ticketmesandhills.com.


Drinking with Writers

Blood Memory

Five friends and a meal to remember

By Wiley Cash     Photographs by Mallory Cash

In his first poetry collection, 1998’s Eureka Mill, Ron Rash writes about the connection he feels to his father, grandmother, and grandfather, especially their waking before dawn to work in textile mills. Rash refers to this connection, the connection to an ancestor’s experience without the experience itself, as “blood memory.”

I have always felt a kinship with Ron, and it is not just because our people come from the same places — the South Carolina Upstate and western North Carolina. I feel a deep bond with the experiences he writes about, the people he portrays, and the often disappearing landscapes he puts on the page. Is it blood that connects us? No, but when I read his work I feel like I understand Ron and the people he writes about as much as I understand my mother and father and the people who came before them.

This is what I was thinking about — this blood memory — when I left my adopted hometown of Wilmington and drove across the state, where the Appalachian Studies Association was hosting its annual conference on the campus of the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Normally, I am not someone who enjoys conferences: the academic talk, the nametag gazing, the feeling that everyone there is vying for the same thing, whether it is publication, notoriety, or the keys to both. But I felt at ease as the elevation increased and the air cooled because I knew I would be spending the weekend with writers and scholars who view the world in much the same way I do.

There were many people I was looking forward to seeing again or meeting the first time during our stay in Asheville, but I would be lying if I said I was not giddy at the thought of spending time with Lee Smith, someone I do not see as often as I would like and someone I will go to my grave believing is the most charming and warm-hearted person in all of American literature.

Along with novelist Silas House and his husband, writer Jason Howard, my wife Mallory and I had plans to have dinner with Lee in Asheville on Friday night before Saturday’s conference keynote event: a discussion between Lee and Ron Rash with me serving as the moderator.

I had met Silas House a few times over the years, but I really got to know him after we spent an evening in Swain County, North Carolina, last spring, facilitating creative writing workshops and readings with groups of high school students from western North Carolina and New York City who were participating in a literary exchange program. I had never met Jason before, but I knew his work, much of it focused on Kentucky’s rich music history and environmental issues like mountaintop removal. 

For dinner, the five of us met at Rhubarb in downtown Asheville. Asheville has become a culinary mecca over the past decade, and while you may hear a lot about restaurants like Cúrate and Cucina 24, Rhubarb serves consistently incredible food comprised of regional ingredients. John Fleer, a Winston-Salem native and Rhubarb’s owner and chef, is the former executive chef at Blackberry Farm, and he was named one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century” by the James Beard Foundation. After a meal at Rhubarb that might include crispy fried hominy dusted with chili and lime alongside wood-roasted sunburst trout you can see how Fleer is steering into the 21st century with the roots of his Southern history fully intact. Rhubarb is one of my and Mallory’s favorite restaurants in Asheville, and we were proud to share it with Lee, Silas and Jason.

Over dinner and drinks, I asked Silas how he had come to know Lee.

“Over 20 years ago I submitted a story to a workshop Lee was teaching at the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky,” Silas said. “And a few weeks later I went to one of Lee’s book signings. I was so nervous to meet her because I loved her books, and I wanted to be in her workshop.”

Lee laughed and picked up the story.

“And when you came through the line and told me your name so I could sign your book, I said, ‘How funny. I just read a very good story by someone named Silas.’”

“And it changed my life,” Silas said. And his life is still changing. His most recent novel, Southernmost, received rave reviews and kept him on a book tour for most of the spring and summer.

Over the years, Jason came to love Lee just as much as Silas does.

“I was in Washington, D.C. a few years ago,” Jason said, “and suddenly I heard Lee’s voice on The Diane Rehm Show. I dropped what I was doing and drove right to the NPR station. The receptionist asked me what I needed, and I said, ‘I’m just waiting on Lee Smith to finish her interview.”

Lee burst out laughing.

“I came out of the studio, and there you were. It was like we planned it.”

Before dinner, Mallory and I had discussed whether or not she should bring her camera gear, but we decided against it. We wanted to enjoy the evening talking to people we do not get to see that often. But Mallory did take one photo with her cell phone; in it, Lee, Silas, Jason and I are all squeezed onto one side of the table. If you did not know better, you might think we were family.

The next afternoon, during the conference keynote, Lee, Ron Rash, and I spent an hour or so onstage in a packed auditorium talking about Appalachian writers and literature and issues specific to the region.

“I think it’s important to be able to steer students toward writing that reveals something about themselves,” Lee said. “There’s value in seeing your life on the page.”

“Robert Morgan did that for me,” Ron said. “And so did Fred Chappell’s book I Am One of You Forever.”

After our discussion, we took questions from the audience. Someone stood in the dark theater and asked if any of us have ever felt slighted because of the place we call home or how we speak.

“For me personally, that’s why I don’t want to ever lose my accent,” Ron said, “Because that to me is a rejection of your heritage. The way I look at it is, OK, you can make fun of my accent, but we can out-write you, we can out-music you, and we can out-cook you.”

I agree with Ron. I am proud of the place and the people I am from, and I am proud to share stages and dinner tables with them. They feel like family. They feel like blood.  PS

Wiley Cash lives in Wilmington with his wife and their two daughters. His latest novel, The Last Ballad, is available wherever books are sold.

May Bookshelf

May Books


Tears of the Trufflepig, by Fernando A. Flores

This debut novel weaves in ancient myth, foodie culture and a modern Hunter S. Thompson-like journalist on the hunt for truth. Narcotics are legal in South Texas but there’s a new contraband on the market: ancient Olmec artifacts, shrunken indigenous heads, and animal species brought back from extinction to clothe, feed, and generally amuse the very wealthy. Esteban Bellacosa has lived in the border town of MacArthur long enough to know to keep quiet and avoid the dangerous syndicates who make their money through trafficking. He soon finds himself in the middle of an increasingly perilous, surreal, psychedelic journey, where he encounters legends of the long-disappeared Aranaña Indian tribe and their object of worship: the mysterious Trufflepig, said to possess strange powers. Flores’s writing is already drawing comparisons as a wild Amor Towles. Tears of the Trufflepig could be the best book of 2019.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

Thanks to FDR’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome Creek got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter, hired to distribute reading material by packhorse. Carter’s not just a book woman, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike anyone else. Based on the combined histories of the Pack Horse Library Project and the families with blue skin, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a novel of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s determination to bring a little bit of hope to the dark hollers.

The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake

The best-selling author of The Postmistress examines not just a privileged American family, but a privileged America. Moving through three generations and back and forth in time, The Guest Book asks how we remember and what we choose to forget. It reveals the untold secrets we inherit and pass on, unknowingly echoing our parents and grandparents. Blake’s triumphant novel tells the story of a family and a country that buries its past in quiet, until the present calls forth a reckoning.

Mistress of the Ritz, by Melanie Benjamin

A captivating novel based on the extraordinary real-life American woman Blanche Auzello, who secretly worked for the French Resistance during World War II. Blanche and her husband, Claude, are the mistress and master of the Ritz, allowing the glamour and glitz to take their minds off their troubled marriage, and off the secrets that they keep from their guests — and each other. In June 1940, the German army swept into Paris, setting up headquarters at the Hôtel Ritz. Suddenly, with the likes of Hermann Goëring moving into suites once occupied by royalty, Blanche and Claude must navigate a terrifying new reality. In order to survive — and strike a blow against their Nazi “guests” — they spin a web of deceit that ensnares everything and everyone they cherish. Based on true events, Mistress of the Ritz is a taut tale of suspense wrapped up in a love story for the ages.

Prairie Fever, by Michael Parker

Parker eloquently captures the desolate beauty of the Oklahoma prairie in prose that is both searing and lyrical as he tells the story of two teenage sisters in the early 1900s. Lorena is sensible while Elise is always lost in flights of fancy. When a series of events leads them to realize they have feelings for the same man — their young schoolteacher — the two are driven apart by years and hundreds of miles. With poetic intensity and deadpan humor, Parker reminds us of how our choices are often driven by our passions.

The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, by Juliet Grames

A breakthrough debut novel about an Italian immigrant family set across two continents and 100 years. Told in a series of near-death experiences and set in both Italy and the United States, this is a book rich with romance, murder, food, stories and ghosts. The prose is inviting and unexpected, the story immersive. With hints of magical realism, recalling the work of Isabel Allende, the underlying theme is ultimately about the changing role of women in a patriarchal culture over the last century.


Rough Magic, by Lara Prior-Palmer

In 2013, the 19-year-old London native and future Stanford graduate competed in the world’s toughest horse race: the 1,000-kilometer Mongol Derby, a course in Mongolia that recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan. Driven by a lifelong love of horses, restlessness, stubbornness, and the realization she had nothing to lose, Prior-Palmer raced for 10 days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could in the homes of nomadic families. Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she scrambled up mountains, forded rivers, crossed woodlands, wetlands, arid dunes and the open steppe to become the first woman to win the race and the youngest person ever to finish.

Truth Worth Telling, by Scott Pelley

One of the most experienced and award-winning correspondents in broadcast journalism, Pelley has been reporting stories for 60 Minutes since 2004. He served as anchor of the CBS Evening News from 2011 to 2017. Chatting face-to-face with world leaders and on the front lines of wars, Pelley has learned to identify the values that separate the people whose lives make a difference in the moments that count and the flaws that bring down even the most powerful. This book is about the humanity he sees in the most intense moments and serves as an inspiration for tackling the challenges in our own lives. Pelley will be at the Pinehurst Resort, 80 Carolina Vista Dr., in conversation with Kimberly Daniels Taws on June 6. Tickets are $35.

Spying on the South, by Tony Horwitz

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist follows in the footsteps of the young Frederick Law Olmsted who traveled the South in the 1850s as an undercover correspondent for the precursor of the New York Times. Using the pen name “Yeoman.” Olmsted journeyed by horseback, steamboat, and stagecoach, finding a land on the brink of civil war. His vivid dispatches about the lives of Southerners were revelatory and reshaped the man who would reshape the American landscape as the country’s first and foremost landscape architect. Horwitz rediscovers Yeoman Olmsted amidst the discord and polarization of our own time. Is America still one country? In search of answers, and his own adventures, he follows Olmsted’s tracks.


A Piglet Named Mercy, by Kate DiCamillo

Oh, my goodness! If Mercy Watson wasn’t already the cutest pig on the shelves, now readers get to meet her as a piglet — the fabulous toast-loving house pig, Mercy Watson. (Ages 3-5.)

Sweety, by Andrea Zuill

All the young readers, and the young at heart, who truly embrace their inner oddball will absolutely fall in love with Sweety, a naked mole rat who is lovingly referred to by even her adoring Grandmother as a “square peg.” Anyone who loves dancing, mushrooms, or rainy days will be delighted to have a little Sweety in their lives. (Ages 3-6.)

Underwear!, by Jenn Harney

Getting a bare bear into his underwear after bath time is impossible for a tired papa bear when underwear makes great hair; can turn a cub into a superbear; and is so much fun to hide under a chair! But beware of a big scare. This simple silly rhyming romp is sure to have young readers giggling out loud. (Ages 2-5.)

When Your Daddy’s a Soldier, by Gretchen McLellan

Deployments are difficult for everyone, especially the little ones. In this picture book, a young boy shares the pride, sorrow, joy and difficulties he, his mom and his sister experience while Dad is serving his country far away. With moving illustrations by Caldecott honoree E.B. Lewis, this powerful picture book serves as an homage to families who serve. (Ages 3-8.)

The Line Tender, by Kate Allen

When Lucy Everhart sets out with her best friend, Fred, to create a field guide for their town as a summer project, she has no idea of the path it will lead her down. Budding marine biologists, young artists and anyone who just loves a darn good story will not be able to put this one down. (Ages 10-14.)  PS

Compiled by Kimberly Daniels Taws and Angie Tally

Good Natured

Here’s to the Bs

A supplement for a healthy life

By Karen Frye

Author and nutritionist Adelle Davis believed that through a healthy diet and taking the right supplements for your body, you could achieve a long life. In the 1950s she was one of the most highly respected authorities on healthy food and vitamins. One of her best-selling books, Let’s Have Healthy Children, would be a wonderful read for anyone today.

One of her most highly recommended vitamins is the B-complex — a combination of all the B vitamins in one tablet. Each B vitamin (there are a lot of them) has an extremely important function in the body. Taken together they give you the proper proportions to address any deficiencies. The food that contains the richest of all the B vitamins is brewers yeast or nutritional yeast. It’s easy to add to foods, juices or smoothies and is an excellent food for vegan and vegetarian diets. Before we had processed food (and white flour), when we relied on more natural whole grains, we could get adequate nutrients in our foods. Today, however, the food isn’t enough and a supplement can make a huge difference.

The B vitamins are very important in the function of a healthy nervous system. If you are plagued with fatigue, B vitamins can increase your energy and stamina. B deficiencies can be the root cause of many skin and gastrointestinal issues. Adequate amounts of B vitamins can help alleviate anxiety and depression. There are many other advantages to keeping enough B in your diet. Deficiencies are common especially in the elderly. Even Alzheimer’s disease can be improved by adding B complex to the diet.

Though the Bs work especially well as a team, they also have specific benefits individually. It is very common for folks to have low B12. This can be found in a routine blood test with your doctor. Folate, needed to make red and white blood cells, is another B vitamin prone to being low.

And, while not scientifically proven, there have been personal testimonials of people using B1 to repel mosquitoes and other biting insects effectively. It’s been used with success among hikers, gardeners, athletes and, of course, those of us who just like to sit outside and enjoy nature. I’m sure you or someone you know can be outdoorsy and not be affected by annoying insects. They may have enough Bs in their system to emit an odor mosquitoes don’t like. On the other hand, perhaps you’re the one the bugs have decided to feast on and get covered in nasty bites. Just add B vitamins (or B1 alone) and you will be amazed. It’s a safer alternative to repellents containing DEET.

Some of the richest food sources of B1 thiamine are egg yolks, brown rice, most nuts, legumes, asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, plums, prunes, and nutritional yeast. If you decide that you want to take a supplement of B1, you can get it in a B complex or take it alone. Just make sure you get enough to effectively repel the bugs. The recommended amount of B1 to use is 25-50 milligrams several times a day.

I have been adding nutritional yeast to my dog’s food for years as a natural flea repellent, too. Dogs love the taste, and it even slows down the aging process — for us and our pets.  PS

Karen Frye is the owner and founder of Nature’s Own and teaches yoga at the Bikram Yoga Studio.