A Thanks-filled Thanksgiving

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday with my family.

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I am so thankful that I got to see my sister-cousin, Patti!

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I am so thankful for the very grand dinner…

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A Honey-baked ham, roasted turkey, crawfish dressing (and plain cornbread dressing), mashed potatoes and gravy, creamed corn, squash casserole, praline sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, cranberries, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, cheesecake and brownies.

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I was grateful to enjoy all of my favorite foods!

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I was blessed to be able to spend time with my little niece, Livvy.

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I had the pleasure of playing with Betty, the Boston Terrier.

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I was extra-thankful that David’s Mom Skyped in so she could join the festivities!

And I was truly thankful for all the laughter and joy that filled the day.

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My dad creates an elaborate ceremony of dubbing visitor Grace an honorary Ferguson

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Grace was very good-spirited about the whole thing (or maybe she’d mustered her courage with some good spirits). Anyhow, perfect Ferguson material.

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“I dub thee Gracie Ferguson!”

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Newest turkey in the crew!

Mostly, I was overwhelming thankful for the outpouring of love and acceptance from my family.  It’s there on Thanksgiving as well as the other 364 days each year.

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I am a very thankful girl!

I hope you all had a lovely day filled with the things you are thankful for.

“I am grateful for what I am and have.  My Thanksgiving is perpetual.”

Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: As Fine as Wine

13930_10152426241672561_5480934725351323470_nAuthor’s note:  This post was planned as my “letter W” contribution in the April 2015 A-Z Blogging Challenge.  I made it as far as “V” in my thematic “A Hellacious Belle’s Guide,” only to bail on “W,” never completing the challenge. 

I hate not finishing things (an unfortunate Aries trait), so I’m attempting to go for W – Z during November’s NaBloPoMo Challenge.  Thanks for your patience and I really appreciate everyone’s kindness and comments.

As a city belle and a lifetime hospitality industry employee, I tend to think of myself as a tiny bit of a connoisseur when it comes to wine.  I do say “tiny,” because not only is the industry enormous, but the varieties and varietals are almost infinite – years of study and training (and drinking!) are required to become an expert.  And although I’ve had some study and training (and I’ve definitely mastered the “drinking” part) I still feel that  fundamentally “it’s just grape juice,” (although sometimes truly amazing grape juice honed by masters) and there is a flavor for everyone and every palate.

Although the Southern states of Virginia, North Carolina and Texas are perhaps better known for wine making, it’s interesting to know that my home state of Georgia was once one of the largest producers of wines in the United States. Prohibition’s early start in Georgia (1907), wiped out their lead and made the industry almost non-existent until the 1970s, with the exception; oddly enough, of sacramental wine production.

Today, Georgia boasts over two dozen vineyards and wineries all over the state, although the preponderance are located north of Atlanta, in the higher elevations of Helen, Dahlonega and Cleveland.

Georgia boasts climactic conditions suited for growing Vitis vinifera (European varieties) and cold-hardy French-American hybrids used for making traditional “fine” wines. The South’s mild Springs and early Summers allow a long growing season and the higher elevations of the Appalachian foothills provide some relief from the humidity.  Our famous red clay soil, a universal source of profanity after a rainstorm, actually contributes to both to excellent drainage and the ability to retain moisture during dry spells.

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Vines at Montaluce, in Dahlonega, GA

Basically, this all means that the South, and Georgia in particular, is enjoying a renaissance of vinification.

How fortunate, I’ve always considered myself a “renaissance girl!”

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Frogtown Cellars in Dahlonga, Georgia

Once I managed to climb over my own ridiculous snobbery about Georgia-produced wines, I fell in love with the North Georgia wine country.

We visit its rolling hills and beautiful wineries several times each year, even staying in the estate villas in Montaluce for family vacations.

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Skilled winemakers and award-winning wines make it a pleasure not only to “shop,” but to “buy local.”

“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
Ernest Hemingway

We’re not trying to make California wine. If you want California wine, go to California. What we are doing is making Georgia wine…and Georgia wine is good wine.”

-Rob Beecham, Montaluce Vineyards

People are Strange (When You’re a Stranger)

IMG_1759It is important to note that people are also strange in convenience stores very late at night, on any type of mass transit, at Revival Services featuring live rattle snakes and frequently at  Walker-Stalker Con.

Oh, and Hallowe’en.

Most definitely people are strange on Hallowe’en.

Mostly “good” strange, though.

People are strange when you’re a stranger…

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Faces look ugly when you’re alone…

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Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted…

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Streets are uneven, when you’re down.

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When you’re strange…

IMG_1704Faces come out of the rain…

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When you’re strange…

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No one remembers your name…

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When you’re strange…

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When you’re strange

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When you’re strange.

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Thank you to the Doors and Jim Morrison for the Spooky-festive and appropriate lyrics, and massive thanks to my bestie, L.C., not only for being her amazing self, but for throwing her annual and wildly fantabulous Hallowe’en Extraganza, which is more fun than anything should be.


From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
~Scottish Saying

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A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Total Immersion

I am in deep.  Way deep.

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Deep in the heart of Dixie.

I am on vacation with my family, far south of Montgomery in Monroeville, “The Literary Capital of Alabama;” for the town’s production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The play is currently in its 26th season in Monroeville, which was the template for the fictional Maycomb in Harper Lee’s book.

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We are staying in the Best Western, Monroeville.  It is the town’s luxury accommodation, yet we are still in a bit of a “technology-free zone” – I have painfully sporadic internet at the hotel and there seems to be no Sprint signal within miles, so you may not get this post until I’m able to finesse something with Dixie cups and string.

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The entire citizenry of Monroeville has apparently jumped in to create the event, which includes a mint-julep VIP reception, the play itself, which is acted by “The Mockingbird Players,” and divided into two Acts: with the first half set outside the courthouse in a specially built amphitheater and stage, and the final scenes set in the actual city courthouse.

My folks, foster sister Wendy and my husband, David.

My folks, foster-sister Wendy and my husband, David.

Set in Alabama during the Great Depression, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a young white girl, Scout and her brother Jem, whose father, attorney Atticus Finch, has been appointed to defend a black man framed for a crime he claims he did not commit.

Courthouse set for Part One of

Courthouse set for Part One of “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The play, like the book I read so many years ago, was touching and poignant, with its message of justice, courage and family.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

Enjoying freshly made mint juleps just before the play began.

The event was fabulously produced from start to finish.

Clocktower of the old courthouse

Clocktower of the old courthouse

The cast, crew and Courthouse personnel were kind and welcoming. The food, featuring crispy fried oysters, roast beef, pork tenderloin sandwiches, shrimp, chicken and cheesecake was abundant and delicious. The grounds were beautifully maintained and a riot of brightly colored flowers.

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

Post play catered dinner and cast party on the courthouse grounds

The post-event cast party featured live music and a chance to mingle with members of the Mockingbird Players, who are all volunteers from Monroeville and the surrounding counties and are comprised of teachers, business owners, contractors ministers, attorneys, retirees, students, judges, stay-at-home moms and morticians.

Wendy and me with

Wendy and I with “Atticus Finch,” Jeff Brock, by day the District Judge for nearby Conecuh County.

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It was such an incredible experience, made even more special by the presence of my family and the opportunity so spend time with them in a world so far removed from where I live: at the heart of a small town, deep in South of my childhood and memories.

“Growing up Southern is a privilege, really. It’s more than where you’re born, it’s an idea and state of mind that seems imparted at birth. Its more than loving fried chicken, sweet tea, football, beer, bourbon and country music. It’s being hospitable, devoted to front porches, magnolias, moon pies and coca-cola, and each other. We don’t become Southern, we’re born that way.” -Anonymous

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Always “After” Me Lucky Charms – The Tardy Paddy’s Party

11008454_10153702145578626_3595862338279555338_nEverybody loves a party, but there is something about a Southerner that makes them reach lunge for any excuse to celebrate.

We’ve always focused on our Scottish ancestry (David’s a Douglas and I’m a Ferguson) but I do, at least, have some Irish heritage as well (McCormick on my Daddy’s side, should anyone require legitimacy.)

Just knowing us and our obsession with entertaining should have removed any minutia of surprise from the minds of friends and family when I announced we were adding St. Paddy’s Day to our list of annual gatherings.

After all, while based on a Irish religious observance, the modern holiday is truly an American celebration.

For us, an excuse to shake off the winter “blahs,” invite over a bunch of good friends, serve up a mess of great food and drink and enjoy a little festivity! (And the perfect excuse to dig out the green wig I bought years ago for another St. Patrick’s party)

March 17th, the actual St. Patrick’s Day, was out – it was mid-week and I had an enormous event at work, so we settled on a Post-Paddy Party the following weekend.

I love researching and designing menus, so I did some digging and came up with a Gaelic-inspired repast – thanks to some inspirational food blogs (please click through for the recipes):

Grab a plate and a cup!

Grab a plate and a cup!

Irish Guinness Lamb Stew100_1791

Cheddar and Guinness Fondue  with dunk-able ham cubes, croutons, apples and fresh veggies

Stuffed Baby Red Potatoes with Cheese and Bacon

Smoked Salmon Dip  served with assorted crackers

Kale and Spinach Greek Yogurt dip served with European Cucumber chips. (I bought mine at Trader Joe’s but click the link for a delicious home-made version.)

Jeeves, our trusty alligator butler, offered revelers a "Lucky Charm" libation at the door

Jeeves, our trusty alligator butler, offered revelers a “Lucky Charm” libation at the door

For bevs, we had our usual offering of red and white wines, a selection of Irish beers (Harp, Guinness) and a little sparkler I whipped up with fresh mango juice, cava and a dash of Emerald Green Tropical Punch Gatorade (shameful, I know, but the color gave it the zingy tone I was looking for).

Some lovely supplements to the spread were brought by friends:

Dana's homemade Irish Soda bread (complete with holographic butterfly - he likes to add that "extra touch."

Dana’s homemade Irish Soda bread (complete with holographic butterfly – he likes to add that “extra touch.”

Laura and Paul's tasty Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey's Irish Cream Icing! (and holographic butterfly - Dana had an extra.)

Laura and Paul’s tasty Guinness chocolate cake with Bailey’s Irish Cream Icing! (and holographic butterfly – Dana had backup.)

And we dug in, drank up and had a wonderful time!  Kudos to David for the spectacular Irish Stew!

Gathered in the kitchen enjoying Irish Lamb Stew and soda bread

Gathered in the kitchen, tucking into some Irish Lamb Stew and soda bread

Paddy's Party players!

Some of our Paddy’s Party players!

Enjoying the nosh!

Enjoying the nosh!

Someone always has to play with the kiddy toys...

Someone always has to play with the kiddy toys…

Some, more than others.

Some, more than others.

Happy hosts! That's me in the green wig.  (any excuse)

Happy hosts! That’s me in the green wig. (any excuse)

We had an amazing time – blasting Irish party tunes, talking, laughing, telling stories way into the wee hours.  Absolutely fantastic party.

And then there was the after party math.  ::sigh::

the afterparty

the 5 a.m. clean up party

The wee green beastie retired again til next year

And the wee green beastie is retired again til next year

Slàinte mhath, y’all!

Six Things Thursday: February 5, 2015

I’ve got a ton of happy moments to be grateful for and share in Nerd in the Brain’s Three Things Thursday this week.  I’ll throw in a few extra to (hopefully) make up for being MIA last week.

Basically, two very fun weekends! Both wildly different but lots of wonderful memories.

Not a lot of time to blog. (Working on this.)

Reunited with my very dear friends, Sharona and Mike!

Reunited with my very dear friends, Sharona and Mike!

Friday the 23rd, we enjoyed some talented local art at my friend Denise’ opening at the Movement Gallery, and afterwards, visited Sharona and Michael, friends from my “glamorous” bartending past, running the bar at the quite excellent restaurant, Valenza. (Food and drinks were stellar!)

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Gracie: a lot of cat to love. And brush.

Saturday, we met up with my parents, who were in town visiting with some good friends of theirs in North Georgia. Besides great company and a wonderful dinner, we  were able to hang out with their really fabulous cat, Gracie, who used her advanced powers of feline mind control to bend me to her will.

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On Sunday, we helped out with Atlanta Lab Rescue’s Adoption Day.  One of my very favorites, the incredibly precious and beautiful Jake, found his forever home with a really sweet young couple.  Yay, Jake!  That’s a whole bunch of happy right there.

{Insert a manic work week}

Continuing the awesome on Friday the 31st, we gathered at the mountain house for our yearly celebration of Burn’s Supper.

Patti, my sister-cousin

Patti, my sister-cousin

This is David’s and my fifth year to host (our slightly warped version of) the traditional Scottish dinner and it gets bigger (and a little rowdier) each year.

Patti, my little Mommy and me

Patti, my little Mommy and me.  Oh, and a photo bomb from Dana.

We had a happily overflowing house with my parents, their friends Mike and Derenda (Gracie-the-cat’s folks), my sister-cousin Patti and her friend David, good friends, Heidi, Hil and Dana, and our bagpiper friend, Sam and his wife, for a soul-restoring weekend of beyond stellar views, company, food, wine and festivity.

The motley "MacCrew."

The motley “MacCrew.”

So, there you have it! My 6 things Thursday, or 3 Things Thursday², as it were.  Thank you, Nerd in the Brain, for the chance to remember (and share) my big ol’ bunch of happy!

(Soon to come, Tales from Burn’s Supper. Many, many stories in itself.)

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December: A Recap

Ta dah!  Now that I have successfully disappeared for a month, I’ll move on to my next trick, which may or may not involve more consistent blogging.

The doctor’s note I’m submitting for my absence will remind the reader that December is the third circle of (work) Hell for me. No surprises there, it has been for the last twenty years or so, since I stumbled into the hospitality industry back in college.  My job has always been to create and insure other people’s holiday memories, not so much my own.

For years I didn’t really care,  but getting married (and older) has made it increasingly important to carve out time for special celebrations with family and friends.

Detective Inspector Ferguson approves the Christmas tree

Detective Inspector Ferguson approves the Christmas tree

So nowadays, about the time the T-day leftovers are packed up, I’m scrambling to plan as many snippets of holiday fun as possible around my chaotic schedule.  While highly valued, they do end up absorbing the wee segments of time I can normally devote to leisure activities like blogging, working out and laundry.

I think I was pretty successful this year in creating some Christmas “me” time; so here, in vague order, is a recap of my holiday season.

The Christmas Tree

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Nothing says, “Whoo-hoo, it’s Christmas!” like a Christmas tree.  A tree is mandatory for me since a long ago Christmas when I was so broke (mentally and financially) that I couldn’t manage one.  My friends chipped in and got me a tiny Charlie Brown tree, which was very sweet, but kinda sad.  Afterwards, much like Scarlett O’Hara, I swore dramatically to “never be Christmas tree-less again!”

Getting that Tannenbaum up and bedazzled is the first thing on the holiday agenda.

Now that I split my time between my loft and the home I share with my husband, I have reluctantly sacrificed real Christmas trees for a faux fir.  Real trees are truly the best, but with a work schedule skewing towards 12-15 hour days and 6-day workweeks, I would only get to enjoy about five minutes of twinkly wonderment each night after work before passing out from exhaustion.  I would then spend the entire next day, trapped at the restaurant, fretting that the loft was erupting in flames since I’d forgotten to unplug the tree lights.

Fake trees don’t smell as nice, but they are slightly less incendiary and don’t turn into a projectile weapon when you finally take them down mid-January.

Christmas Parties

Party group shot!

Party group shot!

Years of serving hors d’oeuvres at other people’s events has left me with a perpetual jones for Christmas soirees where I get to be a guest and dress up in holiday finery to revel with friends.

This year David and I not only hosted our own Christmas party, but we finally made it to our friends Anne and Randall’s Annual Grown Up Cookie Swap with Booze, (which to our shame and regret, we have missed the last three years.) An added bonus: our white chocolate, ancho-chili gingersnaps won “Best Cookie,” garnering us the first prize of a spendy bottle of champagne and the warm fuzzies of success.

Ice Skating

Toepick!

Toe pick!

What’s merrier than a little Holiday on Ice?

Unfortunately, ice skating in Atlanta is pretty much limited to pop-up rinks during the holidays, but I try to squeeze in at least one seasonal ‘Scapade, since I own my own skates and by December, have typically paid down my insurance deductible.

My BFF and I have a running “Toe Pick!” joke that never fails to convulse me in laughter, especially as I’m inevitably the one to take the first colossal wipe-out of the season.  David and I also went ice skating on our first date; which, especially now knowing my husband’s distaste for ice skating, never fails to remind me of the power of love.

Annual 3-D Flicks and Friends Outing

Or not.

Or not.

Every December, I meet up with a couple of fellow geek buddies the Wednesday the week before Christmas to catch whatever gi-normous sci-fi/fantasy 3-D blockbuster the studios are tossing out for the hols.  We started in 2010 with Avatar, moved on to Tron, and have been surfing the Hobbit death-spiral since 2012.

It’s been ages since we all worked together, but we have somehow survived changes in jobs, marital statuses and progressively offensive movie interpretations of beloved books to keep our yearly appointment of film and friendship for these past five years. Wow.

Which only goes to show you that “nerd” is thicker than water.

David’s and my Wedding Anniversary

Celebrating two whole years!

Our Alligator Butler, Jeeves, offers celebratory bubbles.

David and I have two anniversaries, as we had two weddings (the secret helicopter one and the include-the-whole-family one.)  December 22nd marked two years for the family festivity, and January 26 will be 3 years since we said “I do” while choppering about the Atlanta sky.

This year, David surprised me with a starry stroll on the Beltline to Inman Park for a lovely dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.  It was magical to have some “us” time and definitely one of my favorite moments of the season.

Christmas with my family in Alabama

I feel truly lucky that my parents and David’s mom, Linda have become wonderful friends and we are able to spend Christmas together.  It’s just plain awesome to have a jolly hol-i with all the family I love so much – including my sister, her husband, my niece Olivia, and “adopted” sibs Wendy and Alexis.

Playing Santa at the family tree

Playing Santa at the family tree

This year I was able to finagle almost a whole week off work to spend in Birmingham.  Score! Lots of fabulous food and drinks, talking and reminiscing and watching Christmas Vacation for the gazillionth time.  Oh, and lots of love.  That’s the best.

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Decembers ever.  Hopefully, next year will be just as memorable and if I’m lucky, might actually include in a post or two, the odd sit-up and a little Woolite hand-washing.

Wishing you all a very wonderful 2015!