Sometimes The Simplest Food Takes The Most Effort: Making Gnocchi With Rosina from Until Next Sunday

Last week we toured Italy with Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. On Monday, Audry visited our podcast and shared some of the behind the scenes of writing the book. Today, we dove into the book and decided to attempt to make and share the iconic family recipe for gnocchi.

Until Next Sunday is a book about two Italian immigrants who find each other and fall in love in America during the early 1900s.

Told through the eyes of the female heroine, Rosina, the story opens with the character saying goodbye to everything she knows in Italy to board a ship to America.

The stage is set for a bit of a Cinderella story as we learn Rosina is leaving because of an evil step mother that worked her to death. She doesn’t know if she will ever get to return, but she has an opportunity to join a brother in America and have her own happiness. Though goodbyes are heartbreaking, this one came with a hopeful promise.

In America, Rosina meets Gianni, and they fall for each other. Illness puts Rosina in a sanitarium (at a time in history when bad things happened there), and the budding love has to spend the majority of its time in letters. For years, the family they have together knew nothing of the past hardships that they faced…one Sunday visit at a time…during limited visits. They couldn’t read the letters either because they were all in Italian and in a dialect hard to translate.

Until Next Sunday is an immigrant story. It is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction, but what I love about it is the TRUE STORY behind it. Three sisters–who were granddaughters of Rosina and Gianni–inherited a box of mementos. In that box was a scrapbook of over 100 carefully stored letters. Thanks to the sisters and their determination to know more, a translator was found who could read the difficult regional dialect, and a year of stories was unlocked for all of us to hear. Many of those translated letters are in the book.

How precious would it be if you could see a prequel of the life of your loved ones?

Rosina was a storyteller. Family gatherings on Sundays were filled with food and stories. Some of the sisters’ fondest memories were of Rosina’s Gnocchi, so they included her handwritten recipe in the book. For this review, I decided to take it on.

Making Gnocchi

Gnocchi is a potato pasta that is just three simple ingredients: potatoes, salt, and flour. The ingredients were simple. The instructions were simple. The process was not.

First of all, there is a reason that the recipe calls for a ricer. After you cook 4 potatoes, you are supposed to press them through a ricer. This would mash them evenly into fine pieces. That is extremely important as you are counting on the starch in the potato to hold everything together, but it won’t be broken down enough without a ricer.

Boiling water for gnocchi becomes the test that shows what I did wrong

In my case, I didn’t have the ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as well as possible with a masher. What I ended up with was chunks of crystal-like potatoes in the dough that would make the dough fall apart in the water, create a cloud of starchy mash, scorch the pan, and cause me to have to drain and start over multiple times.

So…use a ricer.

Despite this rookie mistake, I did get a reasonable good dough out of it, and I did transfer it to a wooden board as Rosina suggested.

The board made it easier to cut and form the pasta, but it also further revealed how unsteady it was. It was hard to make any pinch of this hold together with chunky potatoes in it.

Still, some of them did hold long enough to rise in the water and be transferred to the sauce.

Success! Gnocchi made it to the sauce.

Gnocchi is pretty plain by itself (it’s a pasta), so you need sauce. I’m sure it would be excellent in cheese, but I wanted to be as authentic as possible and make a scratch tomato sauce.

Tomato marinara from scratch

How to make marinara

If you can get your hands on home canned tomatoes, that would be best, but I used store bought. For this sauce, I started with a generous coating of the pan in quality olive oil and spices. I used Greek cold-pressed oil, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder. The herbs are extra fragrant, so I knew they would carry a little farther than just Italian seasoning. I sautéed that oil/herb based for a minute till it browned, then I added tomatoes. I added two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (one had garlic and olive oil in it that really added flavor), one 16 oz. can of tomato sauce, and one 8 oz. can of tomato paste. You need that variety to create the consistency of a chunky sauce. The paste is important too because it acts as a thickener but with concentrated tomato flavor.

You want to bring all the ingredients together stirring them in the pan till a light boil pops. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let it simmer. The longer a sauce has the chance to sit and simmer, the better it becomes because all those flavors and ingredients marry each other.

Final plate: gnocchi in homemade marinara, drizzled with Greek olive oil, and topped with grated parmesan

What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me

Making gnocchi was a lesson in itself. To get to that final plate that looks and tastes so good, you have to be willing to put in extra time, effort, and patience.

I’m not a very patient cook. After 30 minutes of messing with something, I am usually over it. I am sure half of my problems making gnocchi were from trying to make this without the proper tools. Nevertheless, this recipe said a lot about the person who wrote it. Rosina had to have been a very patient, loving, and resilient woman. What came second nature to her came because of years of making it so it would become easier.

How many things in life do we practice to perfection?

How many times do we exercise patience and persist when we want to quit?

I had to laugh at myself to keep from crying as I made this first attempt at gnocchi. Next time (and there will be a next time), a ricer will be involved. But making gnocchi with Rosina the cooking grandma, made me want to know her as Rosina the young woman. Until Next Sunday lets you do that.

I encourage you to jump on the author’s website and grab a copy for yourself. It’s worth it.

Travel to Southern Italy: A Region Featured In The Novel, Until Next Sunday 

by Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday

Researching the Campania Region of Southern Italy had to be one of the best parts of writing my latest novel, Until Next Sunday. If only I could have conducted my research in person!

In Until Next Sunday, the main character, Rosina, makes the brave choice to leave her hometown of Torchiara, Italy, in late December 1919. She has a specific reason for her departure (which you’ll discover in the story). Still, leaving everyone and everything she knew for a new life in America is heart-wrenching. 

While someday I hope to visit the setting in Italy at the beginning of my novel, the family with whom I collaborated to write the true story based on their grandparents’ love letters was able to take a trip to this region several years ago. While there, they visited the home where Rosina lived before leaving for America, and they had a visit with the family of Filomena, Rosina’s cousin and closest childhood friend.

Rosina’s hometown of Torchiara, and Naples, where she disembarked for America, are in the Campania Region of Italy. Located in the Southern portion of the boot-shaped peninsula, Campania encompasses the coastal Mediterranean areas of the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, the Cilento National Park, and the islands of Capri and Ischia. 
Campania has a variety of cities, picturesque coastlines, and historical places to visit. Naples is the bustling capital city. The Amalfi Coast hosts dramatic coastlines with mountains that rise steeply from the Mediterranean Sea. And, the ancient city of Pompeii is located in Campania. 
One of the tastiest regions in Italy, Campania offers a variety of well-known Italian dishes and drinks. It’s the birthplace of pizza, especially pizza Margherita. Campania is also known for spaghetti, mozzarella, limoncello, and cannelloni. And it excels in providing some of the best espresso and cappuccino in the country.
Centrally located in the Cilento National Park, Torchiara overlooks the blue Mediterranean Sea with groves of ancient olive trees lining the hillsides. This picturesque village enjoys mountain breezes, lower humidity, and views of Salerno Bay. On a clear day, you can spot the island of Capri in the distance. Torchiara boasts over a thousand years of history along its cobbled stone streets, ancient palaces, and quaint churches. 
Although born in Battipaglia in the Campania Region of Salerno, Rosina spent most of her youth in Torchiara. Her childhood home sat along one of the cobbled stone streets in this hilltop village. Before leaving for America, Rosina worked in the olive groves on the mountainside. 
According to Linda, one of Rosina’s granddaughters, “When I would comment on my Grandmother’s soft hands and beautiful skin, her reply was, ‘I worked in the olive groves of Torchiara, where some of the finest Virgin Olive Oil comes. And the oil from picking olives was the best lotion for keeping my skin so soft. So throw away your expensive creams and use a little olive oil each day! So what if you smell like a salad? It’s worth it!”

These three pictures were taken by the sisters that visited their grandparents’ home over ten years ago.

As the capital city of the Campania region, Naples is a dynamic location. And not just because it sits beneath the shadow of Mount Vesuvius! It’s also the third-largest city in Italy.
Naples has a diverse and complicated history with some triumphs and many setbacks. In my book, Until Next Sunday, Rosina disembarked from the port in Naples for America in 1919.
Although Southern Italy and Naples are considered much poorer regions than Rome and northern Italy, this region still offers many tourism opportunities. You can visit ancient sites and various castles, stroll through art museums, and indulge in a pizza or a shot of espresso.
If you travel West and slightly to the North of the Campania Region, you will come to the Eastern, mountainous coast of Italy known as the Abruzzo Region. Gianni, Rosina’s love interest in Until Next Sunday, originally called Teramo in the Abruzzo Region home. Teramo sits between the high peaks of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast.
One of the region’s well-known dishes is homemade gnocchi. Rosina would prepare homemade gnocchi for her family at their Sunday dinners. You can find Rosina’s recipe for gnocchi in the opening pages of Until Next Sunday and within the free book club kit download from my website.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Italy. This region was fascinating to research. I love how a book can take you on a mental vacation to faraway places like the mountain village of Torchiara or the bustling city of Naples. Someday, I hope that I get to go there in real life! How about you? Is Italy on your travel “wish list”?

About the Book

About the Author

Audry Fryer is an author and professional freelance writer from Pennsylvania. Formerly a teacher, Audry wrote her first novel while her toddler son and twin babies napped. As her children have grown into teenagers, she has expanded her writing career. Audry lives with her family and two pugs in a quiet corner of Southeastern PA. To learn more about Audry, please visit her website at www.audryfryer.com

A Miracle In The Making In Tin City: Wallace Christian Academy

(Previously published in The Duplin Times)

A miracle is in the making in the Tin City area of Wallace. In January 2021, Pastor Chris Jarman of Poston Baptist Church spoke to some of his church members about his vision to start a Christian school in the Wallace area. Together they visited several schools in eastern North Carolina and presented their findings to the church body. The church voted and found 100% approval to move forward with the project. By March, they had formed a committee where each person contributed the best of their expertise in the areas of construction, planning, and implementation. A three-phase plan was born to build a K-12 school. During Phase One, the school will open enrollment for K-2. In Phase Two, enrollment will extend for 3-5. In Phase Three, enrollment will begin for 6-12. By the end of the third phase, a fully functioning private Christian K-12 school will be built on 17 acres of farmland once donated to the church.

Everything you see (behind the church) that was soybeans, belongs to Poston. We decided it needed to grow children for God on this property–not just keep growing soybeans and stuff.

Assistant Principal Charles Blanchard

Right now, Phase One is enrolling for K-2 classes to begin on August 23, 2022. Phase Two with classes for grades 3-5 is expected to be ready to enroll in Fall 2023.  “Our goal is for the children we have in second grade this fall to be able to go into third grade with us the following year,” said Headmaster Steve Le Roux. “We will keep operating like that until the final building can be completed.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux with influential director and Assistant Principal, Charles Blanchard

Building for Phase One began last year. The church gutted its existing structure down to the floor joists and rebuilt it as a school. The church sanctuary remained intact throughout the rebuild and will serve as a weekly chapel for the school. The men of the church gave their time and talent to facilitate the rebuild and are still busy finalizing the details of the property today. Construction for Phase Two will begin later this month. “A building has been ordered and will arrive on May 17th (to begin Phase Two),” Mr. Blanchard said. “It will be a shell building that we will frame in and build up for grades 3-5. It will take us till after Christmas to get it finished.”

Charles Blanchard, a member of Poston Baptist Church, has been key in the direction and build of Wallace Christian Academy. Retired from over 40 years of service teaching and administering schools in the Duplin County Public School System, he knew exactly what steps would need to be taken to get the school running and accredited with the North Carolina Christian School Association. He will continue to serve the school in a voluntary position as Assistant Principal. “He has a wealth of knowledge,” said Mr. Le Roux. “He will be an ongoing asset for us.”

Mr. Le Roux also serves as the pastor of Rose Hill Baptist Church (which helped assist and house the Rose Hill UMC church after its fire four years ago). He is excited about the role he will play leading the school. “What Poston has already been able to accomplish in one year has been amazing,” said Mr. Le Roux. Not only did they plan for every detail of the project, but the church also raised $250,000 to fully fund Phase One. As the school grows, the buildings will continue to serve a dual purpose for the church as meeting spaces for church ministries. The final Phase Three building will also serve as a Family Life Center for the church. 

Several families have already taken the step of faith to commit to the school. We are prayerfully interviewing teachers and hope they really have the heart to see this as a mission field the way that we do.” 

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Mr. Le Roux’s heart for ministry has been a passion throughout his life. He was born in South Africa with a skull injury that was supposed to cause him blindness and a life of pain. Corrective surgery and prayer brought him complete healing. In 2003, Duplin County Schools began recruiting teachers from England. They interviewed and hired Mr. Le Roux. “Those first few years, I was miserable and wanted to go back home. I would come and park behind that dumpster over there,” Mr. Le Roux said, pointing to a nearby convenience store. “I looked out at the field and just thought and talked to God. I had no idea I was looking at the place that would become a school I now get to headmaster.”

Mr. Le Roux’s teaching experience provided the background to know that small class size and the personal touch of reading in a circle matters. That’s why you will see circle tables in each classroom in addition to the individual student desks. The school plans to cap individual class sizes to 18 students. “We don’t plan to turn anyone away,” Mr. Le Roux said, “but we want to also keep the classes manageable.”

Starting with Abeka curriculum, Wallace Christian Academy will provide a thorough education in core subject areas, extra-curriculars, and Biblical training.

We are a Christian school, and we are going to teach a Biblical worldview. Founded on Ephesians 6:10-11, we want to empower our students to know what they believe and be able to defend it in our modern culture.

Headmaster Steve Le Roux

Efforts to teach using the latest technology were important enough to the school to budget for it. “Students will have books as well as IPads to begin their learning process,” Mr. Le Roux said. “Older students will have laptops. We also plan to have fast WiFi and smart TVs in each classroom that teachers can use for instructional purposes.” Technology extends beyond the classroom to the parents as well. Parents will be able to monitor grades and progress online using GradeLink. 

Tuition is competitively priced at $4500 a year per student and it decreases per child for families with multiple students enrolled. “We also have the Opportunity Scholarship for families within certain income brackets that want private school education but think they can’t afford it,” Mr. Le Roux said. The scholarship can cover the whole cost of tuition for approved applicants. 

On April 9th, parents and future students of Wallace Christian Academy had the opportunity to visit the campus for an Open House event. Everyone was excited for classes to start in the fall. 

Enrollment is still open for students to join the 2022-2023 school year. For more information, check out their website at https://www.wallacechristianacademy.com/ or come pick up an application at 4121 S. Highway 11 in Wallace.

Walton’s Distillery in Jacksonville, NC: A Family Heritage Publicly Shared

Donald G. Walton Jr. at the gift shop at Walton’s Distillery

When Donald G. Walton, Jr. left Onslow County to pursue a law degree in the 1980s, he never knew he would return to the area with a heart for distilling spirits much like his ancestors. “I fell in love with the distilling of bourbon while studying law in Kentucky. (When we started the distillery in 2013), bourbon was a very difficult spirit to start, so we began with our very own corn whiskey,” Mr. Walton said.

Distilling bourbon or whiskey is a time-intensive process involving locally sourced corn that is blanched to produce an enzyme-rich liquid. The spent corn is sold back to local farmers for their cattle, while the liquid stays to become the base of most distilled spirits. It is cycled through layers of fermentation to create grain alcohol. “The objective for whiskey,” Walton said, “is to condense alcohol and clarify the spirit.” For bourbon, the highest proof alcohol is then also exposed to a new aged oak barrel for 2-3 years. “During that time, the liquid breathes in and out of the wood, infusing its flavor, and letting the charcoal remove any impurities,” Walton said. Without any additional flavors, the final product is a clean flavor of earthy corn and smoked oak within the fire of a 90 proof alcohol. 

Bourbon aging in oak barrels at Walton’s Distillery

Perhaps more approachable than the bourbon is the moonshines made by Walton’s Distillery. “My family had been distilling moonshine for generations in the woods,” Walton said, “and after some persuasion, I decided to continue on with the family recipe and distill moonshine as well.” At 40 proof or less, the moonshines are considerably lighter and come in fun flavors to pair well with drinks and cooking. My favorite was Mag Walton’s Peach Shine. Many guests raved about adding shots of it to sweet tea or champagne, but I think the bright fruit and floral notes will be especially fun to cook with. Equally beautiful is Kitty Walton’s Apple Pie Moonshine. Infused with real apples and all the spices of an apple pie, this shine has all the flavor of its name with the kick of the shine. I expect it to make fall cooking with apples extra special.

“Moonshine is more of a novelty product,” Walton says, “everyone wants to buy it thinking of the Prohibition era, and, in my family, our ancestors were making it here and transporting it to New York during that time (illegally). Most makers that make shine now do so as a hobby following the same regional methods of their ancestors to create a quick liquor with a cheap and fast yield.” That novelty is often quite personal for the guests at Walton’s Distillery; many come as descendants of moonshiners with familiar ties to what the Walton products offer legally today. Some have gifted Walton with photographs and memorabilia for display at the distillery. 

Vintage truck from the Prohibition era at the distillery

Moonshining was such a source of pride in Walton’s own family that the cousin that helped start the moonshine still, Norwood Rochelle, shared his version of the generations-old family recipe without a penny of payment. “When he wouldn’t take payment,” Walton said, “I told him I would never sell a jar of shine without giving him credit for it. To this day, his picture is on every label.”

Portrait of Norwood Rochelle hanging in the gift shop at the Distillery

Family remains the heartbeat of Walton’s Distillery. Built in 2013 on the site where numerous illegal stills had previously operated, Walton’s Distillery is a family-owned and operated business. “All our products bear the names of my ancestors as a lasting tribute to them, the hardships they endured, the goals they obtained, and the legacies they have left,” says Walton. 
Unlike beer and wine, distilled spirits cannot be sold online. This makes distribution and growth a real concern for the business. “The easiest part of this business is making the spirits,” Walton says. “The hardest part is marketing and selling. You’re out if you can’t get into an ABC Store. Without that, you limit yourself to local customers.” Growth and marketing for distilleries has to be creative. To that end, Walton’s Distillery hosts five open house events with live music and free food for the public. You can visit the distillery for tours and free tastings throughout the year, Monday through Saturday, from 10AM to 4PM at 261 Ben Williams Road, Jacksonville, NC 28540. For more information, check out their website at www.waltonsdistillery.com

Greece in America: Celebrating Greek Independence Day with Isaak’s International in Wallace, NC

Today, March 25th, Greeks all over the world are celebrating blue and white pride in honor of Greek Independence Day. On this day in 1821, Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag with a cry “Freedom or Death”, and a revolution against over 400 years of Ottoman Empire rule was born. Other European countries joined in the fight, and a treaty ended it all with an independent Greek state in 1829.

Greeks live all over the world today. In fact, the highest concentration of Greeks outside of Greece–approximately 3 million–live in the United States today. Greek Independence Day is celebrated with parades, flags, and traditional folk dress, but it is also a holy day honored with church services. This day is celebrated in the Christian liturgical calendar as the Feast of Annunciation, the day the angel told the Virgin Mary she would bear the Christ child. Many Greeks celebrate their independence by also celebrating the holy day in church services.

Greek culture is about far more than a Mediterranean diet or grabbing a gyro for lunch. To learn about Greek culture, we went to Isaak’s International, a marketplace catering to imported Greek, Italian, and Middle Eastern food at 308 East Southerland Street, Wallace, NC. The Greek owners, Isaac and Soteria Georgiadis, took time to tell me about life as a Greek and shared their culture through food, music, and pictures. It was the kind of hospitality that makes you homesick for a country you have never been to. Isaak’s International is open 11AM to 6PM Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 910-665-1464 or email the store at isaaksinternational@gmail.com.

Soteria and Isaac Georgiadis with Store Manager, Jody Hoffmann, and General Manager, Mary Blair Young.

Finding authentic international culture in the middle of a small, southern town, is not as odd as it may seem, but this location was the result of a direct need. The owners moved to North Carolina from New York and had to make trips to New York to purchase the products they cook regularly with. After years of dreaming of opening their own store, in April 2021, they finally got the opportunity to do so. Isaak’s International is an oasis for imported foods used in many European cultures.

Food

Greeks have a saying that “food is life.” The very flavor of the earth itself transfers into the food it creates–even the processed foods coming out of Greece. Olives grow better there. Lemons are happier there. Even the pasta tastes different. Food is a celebration of life that transcends nationality, but the Greeks make it a social event.

Greeks are everywhere and in more of us than you may think. Greek culture has been influenced by invading cultures since 350 BC. Those influences later became the cultures of Italy, England, Turkey, and other European countries. As we immigrated from those countries to America, we brought the ancient Greek roots with us. Many of those influences can be seen in our food from the tall hats chefs wear to much of the vegetarian cuisine we eat today. Like many clean eating diets, Greek cooking involves food cooked in season and with little to no preservatives.

For my attempt at Greek food, I asked for guidance at Issak’s International, bought authentic Greek ingredients, and made Greek Manestra. Click here for a recipe to make your own.

Religion

Though it is officially a secular state, 98% of Greeks identify as Christian and associate with the Greek Orthodox church. The Greek Orthodox Church has many conservative beliefs, but one that is pervasive is the idea that life is not separate from the church. Therefore, Greeks tend to be deeply devout people throughout the week–not just on Sundays. Orthodox faith is focused on the ancient roots of the Christian faith. For more about what they believe and how the church as a whole came to America, check out the Orthodox church website.

Work-Life Balance

In Greece, people work to live not live to work. As a nation made of over 2000 islands, many Greeks were traditionally farmers or fisherman. Today, Greeks can be found in all available commercial occupations, and many of them work multiple jobs. Work shuts down from 2-6pm for afternoon meals and rest time called “messimerino”. Most work days start at 8 or 9am and resume from 6-8pm after the afternoon break.

Family comes first in Greek culture, and they show that by how they spend quality time together. For example, it is traditional to welcome guests with a spoon sweet: a thick flavored sugar that is usually offered by spoonfuls in a glass of water to guests. The spoon sweet flavors the water and is eaten slowly off the spoon while you sit and talk.

When Greeks get together, it is usually coupled with food, music, and dancing. The type of dance and music differs slightly based on the region, but all Greeks can say hello and goodbye with a simple “Yassou!” It is the Greek version of “aloha”.

Cultural Dances

Here’s an example of traditional Greek dance that is recognizable to most cultures today. The Zorba dance seen here is actually from an older all-male dance, the Syrtaki, celebrating the butcher guild and connecting the dancers with aprons, napkins, and a butcher knife.

In Northern Greece along the Black Sea, dancers wear traditional dress involving tobacco, smokers, pouches, a knife, a prayer box, and a cross charm.

In mainland Greece, traditional dance involves kilts and tights, and the instruments include clarinets.

Interested In More Stories Like This?

Check out our story on Afghanistan featuring writing from an Afghan native, Merzae.

Why We Love Afghanistan And The Lessons You Could Learn From Us

From the mark of Alexander the Great in 329 BC to the Asian culture in the 6th Century at Bamyan to the Sultans in 1194 creating a World Heritage Site at the Minaret of Jam, Afghanistan is an intersection of many of the cultures that formed our world. Long sought after for its natural mineral resources and geographic location, the country of Afghanistan has suffered at the hands of brutal tyrants for centuries. This weekend marks the Persian celebration of Nowruz which many Afghanis enjoy in a way similar to American Thanksgiving with special foods and time with family and friends. Yet, the Taliban does not consider it to be an authentic holiday to the Afghan culture, so they discourage the celebration of it. The following article written by an Afghan friend of mine shows the beauty of the country and what lies beneath the layers of war outsiders see. I think the pride he has in his country is something we all can identify with and learn from. Please continue to pray for Afghanistan and encourage American support of our allies there; it is not a safe country and won’t be till the Taliban are removed from it.


by Merzae

There is an innate sense in all of us to love the land we are in. It is the ultimate thought of beauty that exists for all human beings more or less, I do not think there is any human being on earth who does not love his land–even those of us who must live in lands plagued by bad economic times, bad politics, war, and natural disasters. Even when your native country is an unfavorable atmosphere forcing you to leave it for a season, there is still a love for that country beating from the depths of your heart that will not rest until you can return to it. It is the will of every Afghan–wherever we are in the world–to be buried in my land so that, after death, we may sleep peacefully in our land.

Afghanistan is one of the saddest countries in the world because of the suffering we see here. We see death daily through war and hunger. Jobs are hard to find and even harder to keep. We struggle to find safe places to live and raise our families, and we worry about the future we have to give our children. We have become the victim of wars fought by foreign empires seeking to control our land for its natural and historic resources. They come to take from us and leave us in the dark ages–unadvancing into the current opportunities for growth and technology.

Our country is strategically placed geographically to provide intelligence for other surrounding countries in the region. This has made us become the graveyard of all the empires that have tried to conquer us, yet they keep coming. As a people, we have become extremely xenophobic; we show love to strangers as our guests, but we don’t want them to become our lords and rulers.

You may ask why such patriotism has not been met with prosperity and development in Afghanistan. The answer to that is complex and goes through centuries, but it is also a simple one. We do not move forward because we are constantly held back by war. Those who temporarily conquer us don’t have the vision to develop us into a globally contributing country either. They seek to use us and move on from here to conquer more lands. The majority of Afghans do not know who to blame for this dysfunctional existence. The multidimensional and complex question we keep asking ourselves is: do we live like this because of something we have done, our conquerors, or both? Despite all of its problems, we Afghans still love our country.

We hold everything dear here. We enjoy a mild climate most of the year and have some of the best natural foods because of it. We love to pack picnics and escape to places like Band-e Amir National Park when the weather is nice, and we can safely do so. We are also deeply cultured and prideful about our roots. This has led us to nurture many scholars and poets such as Maulana Jalaluddin Balkhi, Ibn Sina, and Abu Rihan.

We are the land of fire and smoke, of antiquity, and of the war-torn. We burn to build. We love this ruin and mourning. We stay and fight to improve our situation, and we won’t give up till our country has its own path to prosperity. Problems will never stop us from loving our homeland. We Afghans are hardworking people with a rich, ancient culture and beautiful land to call our home.

There is no Afghan who has left the country because of loss of interest. Only the circumstances of the times they are living in can force them temporarily away. Still, when they go, their hearts are filled with the love of their country. There is a famous Afghan song when our people emigrate. It says:

I went homeless, I went from house to house
Without you, I always went shoulder to shoulder with sadness
My only love from you is my sign
Without you, my poem and song have no salt
My land is tired of persecution
My land is silent and silent
My land is suffering from incurability
My Land
When did my land make you sad?
When did my land open for you?
When has my land been faithful to you?
My Land
My Moon And Star My Way Again
My proposition is not everywhere
They stole your treasure for their own sake
Break Your Heart Whoever Turns
My land is tired of persecution
My land is silent and silent
My land is suffering from incurability
My Land
My land is like a waiting eye
My land is like a dusty plain
My land is like a heart of sorrow

Afghan Immigration Song

The love for our homeland is so great that we consider living and dying abroad as a disgrace. We love Afghanistan as one loves a child; it is a feeling that comes from the soul. It has nothing to do with the facilities and comforts that are provided. Though a tyrannical and terrorist regime (the Taliban) currently rules our land, we know their end is destruction. Though we struggle to live through poverty and economic problems, through war, burning houses, and a reign of darkness, still love remains. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for this great love.

Learn from us! America, you have the best country in the world in terms of facilities, sweetness, blessings, comfort, and standards of living. Enjoy your freedom and the light you have there. Create a stable and peaceful atmosphere and use the climate and resources afforded to you to enjoy your life. Love your country with all the gentle tenderness of a lover–it is your gift to steward and maintain for future generations.


Nowruz is the celebration of the start of Spring in the northern hemisphere. It’s exact date changes annually as it depends on when the Earth’s equator passes the Sun and day and night become equal in length. This happens between March 19th and 21st.

Specific foods and celebrations differ depending on where it is celebrated, but it is generally a shared cultural holiday observed by over 300 million people worldwide. To learn more about how it is celebrated in Afghanistan, read this article.

One of the primary dishes used to celebrate Nowruz in Afghanistan is a mixed dried fruit and nut dish called “Haft Mewa” or “Seven Fruits”. One of the seven ingredients in the recipe from my friend was not able to be sourced in America. I was not able to source the Oleaster (Lotus tree fruit or Russian Olives) to make this myself. However, Afghani Humaira Ghilzai uses another recipe that replaces the Oleaster with dried cherries. You can find most the ingredients at nuts.com including some pre-blanched nuts to save you that step. Here is a video touring Little Kabul in Northern California and showing you how to make the modified version of Haft Mewa.

Living With A Gypsy Heart: How To Solo Traveling Without Breaking The Bank

When you love to travel as I do, the most frustrating thing is waiting to have the money to hit the road again. What if you didn’t have to? In today’s post, I will share with my favorite ways to travel within a budget as well as how to save money when more expensive travel is necessary.

Traveling Within A Budget

One of the tricks I learned when I was a young, poor college student was to simply explore the new town I was in. I went to places I had never been to before, and I window shopped. When I wanted to spend money, I gave myself a reasonable limit. Sometimes, I even made myself go with cash only, so I couldn’t add debt with my spending.

Today, I still find this to be my favorite way to explore and travel on a regular basis, but I have expanded it. Now, I go to new towns I haven’t visited before, within a reasonable commute of my home. I will go almost anywhere as long as I can drive there and back in a day. If it takes longer than that or is too much mileage to drive, I have to consider flight cost, housing, and food. In those cases, I would probably refer to Nomadic Matt for advice on how to work my way through my travels.

When you compare the cost of gas to the cost of food and housing, day trips really do save money. I drove all the way across my state and back for a recent adventure and only spend $100 plus my shopping money.

Bonus: Daytrips are a great way to find new favorites. One day, I drove south the same distance I used to commute daily north, and this one little change helped me find a town I absolutely love now. I’ve been back multiple times to explore more locations and meet new people. Now it feels like home.

Saving Money On More Expensive Travel

Sometimes a day trip just can’t cut it, and you need to go somewhere for a couple days. Whether you are celebrating a special event or just getting away for a breather or purposefully seeing the wonders of the world beyond your commutable distance, longer travel is always something worthwhile to do, AND you can still save money doing it.

A 2018 article suggested many different ideas to save money while traveling. Here are some of my favorites and my take on them:

Bring your own food; don’t eat out all the time.

It is easy to spend money on food and not even realize how much you spent, but you can limit that running faucet of spending by bringing food from home. Pack simple groceries that you don’t have to refridgerate much, and consider a stay with free breakfast to cut down on more food cost. Let yourself slurge on a local lunch more than dinner because lunch is always cheaper.

If food is important to your experience, give yourself more room to splurge. If shopping and activities is more important, this is an easy place to cut costs and put the money where you really want to spend it. I can think of times when both shopping and food were important in my travels, but the older I get, the more I want mementos and good pictures more than great food at exorbitant prices. For my next adventure, I went to my favorite little international grocer, bought some special canned and refrigerated foods, and plan to pack them on ice to carry with me to my room. That should help cut at least a little of the food costs there.

Travel during off-season.

Believe it or not, even fancy resorts open up for less than $100 a night during off season. The trick to resort booking, however, is the extra fees for simply having resort amenities. To be able to stay in a historical site and get discounts to food and events, you can end up paying an extra $10-35 a night! For that price, I lose whatever deals I found online, and I am back to comparing a room to a hotel.

Resort or hotel, you almost always find the best prices during times of the year when few people frequent that location. For example, mountains are popular during the fall, and the beach is popular during the summer. If you want a deal on either location, go during seasons when they are not popular. Even last minute same day deals can be better booked online because locations would rather slash prices to fill rooms and make some profit than leave the rooms empty.

Research your stay options on Google and be flexible with your dates.

Google gives you real-time comparison data for prices, reviews, and reservations. Usually, staying during the week is cheaper than a weekend stay, but you really want to read reviews before you commit to a place. A lot of hotels trick you with good pictures, but the reality is far from them. Read the most recent reviews possible and watch, too, how the management responded to them. I read one property arguing with guests over their negative reviews, and that alone made me feel uncomfortable staying there as a guest.

If certain amenities are important to you, consider calling before you book to make sure they are available. Depending on the season and Covid restrictions, a lot of amenities are unavailable right now.

Consider alternative housing such as hostels, AirBnB, or VRBO.

You can find a cheap bed almost anywhere in the world at Hostels World. If you are not afraid of sharing bathrooms and living quarters with only your bed for privacy, you can sleep cheaply (even $20-30 a night) and save the difference for use in your travels for food, transportation, events, and more.

I know a world traveler that swears by this method of travel. She has been in over 80 countries and met a lot of people through hostels and never had a problem yet. It is a minimalist way of traveling, though. There really isn’t room for an entourage of luggage or your hogging the bathroom for hours.

If you want a unique experience, check our Airbnb or VRBO. You can still find cheap deals and stay cool places like treehouses or antique farms on Airbnb. However, the cleaning fees since Covid has made rooms on Airbnbs as much as hotels in most places. I prefer a lot more privacy and hotel amenities like a pool when I travel, so I find myself opting for hotels more.

How to determine what is too much to pay for a hotel room

I use Google, free rewards clubs with hotel chains, and discount programs available through my health insurance to help me find the best price on a hotel room in a location.

I have learned to follow customer reviews to see what is fair to expect for pricing. Generally speaking, $60 and below is often a budget motel with bug problems, odors, old furnishing, bad service, and cleanliness issues. $70-100 seems to be the average good deal price right now for a room in a hotel with a good clean room, fitness and business amenities, and breakfast. Don’t take for granted free parking and mini fridges either; some places charge extra for that.

If a stay is too expensive, I look somewhere else in a neighboring town or on Airbnb. Sometimes, hosts give discounts for longer stays on Airbnb. If it is still too expensive, I rethink the whole timing of the trip.

Concluding Thoughts

Don’t ever tell yourself that you have to wait to be rich to travel. If you have that wanderlust of a gypsy, that itch to move like a pioneer, scratch it! You don’t need much to go somewhere new. Somewhere new is probably just 30 minutes from your house. Start small, explore neighbor cities, and shop local. The more you explore, the more you learn, and the easier it is to stretch beyond those small beginnings.

Don’t ever be ashamed to share your rambling heart. Embrace who you are, and go share your love with the world. The world needs more light like you in it.

Christmas With The Chosen

If you haven’t heard of it already, The Chosen is the first ever television series based on the life of Christ. It presents the Gospel in a way that makes the characters real and approachable. For example, there is a scene when Joseph comes to Bethlehem with Mary and there is no room for them anywhere. In The Chosen, Joseph gets angry at the lack of accommodations but makes the best of it in a stable. We see him shoveling out animal feces to make room for the birth of the Savior of the World. It is thought-provoking, humbling, and human.

The Chosen is intentional about this. It’s goal is to present God as a relationship not a set of rules we must follow. I will let the creator, Dallas Jenkins, explain it more. The following are the first and second Christmas specials with The Chosen. As it approaches its third season fully funded by the fans, there are a lot of reasons to celebrate.

Join us as we celebrate the Christmas season with other artists you may know on the set of The Chosen.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Get Used To Different: The Pivot of Hope During Covid-19 and the Heart of The Bohemian Princess Journal

“Get Used To Different” by Mandisa

When Covid-19 happened, the world was turned on its head. People turned against each other and made a cause to fight even if there wasn’t one.

The buzz word everywhere became pivot. We all had to learn to think on our feet and be willing to change quickly to stay relevant. Our culture was evolving into a global one at levels of interdependence we had not experienced before. Instead of a few countries in partnership with each other, the entire world got hit with an invisible enemy and the need to work together to crush it.

In some ways, this was a good thing. People spent more time at home and got a reset on their values. Business increased as more people shopped online. The supply couldn’t work fast enough to keep up with the demand and now, going into 2022, we have shortages effecting every corner of the market. That means opportunities for work are opening across the globe in ways we haven’t seen before in years…perhaps even my lifetime.

We have seen the good and bad in humanity during Covid-19. While all these opportunities are presenting themselves, we also face them with polarized views about health-care, politics, race, and religion. Across the globe, human trafficking, domestic violence, and genocide have increased because of our isolation.

But hope still exists. International dependence also creates International awareness. We don’t have to struggle alone in the dark anymore. The world really is your oyster.

The Catfish Who Was Neither Cat Nor Fish

One morning I got a message through social media from a man I had never met before. I was used to men trying to catfish me on social media, so I had pulled my picture off all my accounts save this one. I approached the message a little guarded. What sort of person messages a lady at 2:00 in the morning that is NOT a catfisher? I thought. As it turns out, a married man on the other side of the world would.

E reached out to me from hiding in Afghanistan. He saw my connection to the Afghan Coalition and hoped I could help them get out. E was in the media during US occupation in Afghanistan, and he was actively promoting equal rights and democracy for his country. His wife, N, was a human rights activist helping women get legal protection from abusive marriages and education to start small businesses. If Wonder Woman were real, I imagine she would be like N.

I vetted my new friends, E and N, through channels of aid who could verify they were who they said they were and who could connect them to help evacuating the country. If I am honest, however, I was already invested in caring about them and wanting to tell their story to anyone who could help or make a difference.

We knew it was just a matter of time before the Taliban found and “detained” E and N. I feared the worst and worried that every word I wrote them in English risked their life. Thankfully, E was smart enough to delete the messages…but I still worry that our friendship is a threat to his safety.

After the Taliban assassinated his father-in-law and threatened him to stop advocating for western ideas in the media, E and N left their home and went into hiding. They have been living off their savings every since. This week, I asked E how much money he had left to live on and he told me: one month. One month before communication stops. One month before hunger becomes so real your body feels like it is eating you from the inside out. One month before two heroes fighting for the lives of their people cease to be.

Then E told me he had two gold rings he could sell to buy another month. I didn’t want to ask–I already knew–but he confirmed it. He would have to sell their wedding rings to buy more food.

Something about that just broke me. I couldn’t stop crying. For a whole day, I went to Christmas parties with my friends and shopping in the local stores all in a fog thinking about him. All the hustle and bustle of Christmas felt meaningless in the light of real suffering and loss on the other side of the world.

E never asks me for money. He blesses me and thanks me for my heart. Talking to me gives him a glimmer of hope in humanity. Talking to him reminds me why this blog exists.

Why The Bohemian Princess Journal Exists

There is beauty in multi-cultural awareness. God did not create us to live in silos or see the world through our own narrow set of lenses. There is so much more color in the world.

Like Jason Aaron’s version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, there is greater richness and understanding of the heart of God when we embrace other cultures in love. Embracing cultures–trying different foods and traditions not other religions–is at the heart of what Jesus Christ did when he walked the Earth. He loved on people in tangible ways and called people out on their faults when it was necessary. We need to do that too. Loving like Jesus opens the door for conversations that will lead to change, but it all has to start with that intentional hand reaching down to the drowning Peter and helping him up.

What would it look like if all the world were your oyster not your cage?

What could you do for Christ if you thought about life with a Kingdom mindset on a global scale?

For me, those answers became my writing business and the heart of this blog. I chose to become more intentional in my writing and use this platform to make a difference and inspire change. So far, we have been able to reach into over 30 countries with our message, and we look forward to God using us to inspire others for many more years to come.

Pickles, Pigs, and Swigs 2021: Inaugural Event in Downtown Mount Olive, NC

On November 20, 2021, Mount Olive, NC will see the inauguration of the second-largest event since its globally recognized Pickle Festival. We think it is a pretty big Dill, so we decided to cover it for today’s story. With some advanced notice, hopefully, no one will be left Squealin’ that they missed out on all the fun. Excitement is Brewing in Mount Olive, and we hope you will be a part of it. 

The Pickles, Pigs, and Swigs event was created to celebrate the role of agriculture in our community. An NC Pork Council whole hog cookoff will feature 20 cook teams competing from 8:00 pm tonight (November 19, 2021) till Saturday morning. On Saturday morning, the teams will be judged and prizes will be awarded. Then the hogs will be chopped up, seasoned, and combined with side dishes to be sold per plate to the public. 4,500 hush puppies, 75 gallons of potatoes, and 63 gallons of slaw will be prepared for the event. Plates are $10 each and include chopped BBQ, slaw, BBQ potatoes, and hush puppies. People can purchase plates through a drive-thru by the Southern Bank building downtown (previously at the old Train Depot) or they can come and sit down and enjoy the festivities.

A fenced-in beer garden will be available for people to purchase and consume beer from a local craft brewer, R&R Brewing. Fifteen local vendors will be set up including vendors making funnel cakes and kettle corn. The Mount Olive Pickle Company will have pickles as well as a pickle train ride for kids. Antique tractors will be out on display. A partnership with the University of Mount Olive will provide corn hole and giant board games like Jenga and Connect Four for people to enjoy. 

Live entertainment will be provided from 11:00AM-6:00PM by North Carolina artists on the following schedule:

  • 11-1PM: Shannon Baker and Sometime Soon, a bluegrass/folk-country band from Wilson, NC.
  • 1:30-3:30PM: The Harmony Boys, a Mount Olive bluegrass favorite.
  • 4-6:00PM: Riggsbee Road, an all-female bluegrass/country/cover band from Raleigh, NC. The lead vocalist, Shelley Kelly, is a Mount Olive native excited to come home and support her hometown.

The event is expected to see between 2-3,000 people come to the North and South 100 block of Center Street, Mount Olive, NC on November 20, 2021. Funds raised from the event will go back into the community through the Mount Olive Community Development Corporation. Efforts are underway to revitalize downtown Mount Olive and bring people back to the downtown area.       

After a year of COVID pandemic isolation, we all need hope and something to celebrate in the community again. Life is far more intentional now. It is the hope that this event will be a part of building civic pride and community spirit as people come out safely and have a good time. If you are in the area, we hope to see you there!

Did You Miss It?

Here are some photo highlights from the inaugural event. If you heard of the fun and were left squealin’, make sure you add this event to your calendar next year.

New Location Celebrates Growth and Community at Southern Ground Coffee Shop, Mount Olive, NC

When you walk into the new location of the Southern Ground Coffee Shop at 1037 N. Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive, NC, you immediately notice it is not your normal commercial experience. Farmhouse style home decor, handmade hardwood tables, a corner booth filled with pillows, and plush, earth tone couches and chairs welcome you. Girls behind a long colonial blue beadboard counter with coffee beans epoxied into the top greet you by name and take your order. These girls are more than baristas; they are family to the owners, Amy and Robbie Brogden. The personalized care they put into their service is a trademark quality of the location. They don’t just know their regulars by name, they know what they want to drink and what temperature they want to drink it.

The Journey Here

Before we can celebrate where Southern Ground is today, we need to tell the story of where they have been. Owners Amy and Robbie Brogden did not see coffee in their future when they met and started dating 8 years ago. Amy was a successful independent woman in the securities industry in Wilmington. Robbie was a father with four teenagers and his own construction business in Mount Olive. Though they saw the potential for partnership in each other, they took their time getting to know each other before they were ready for marriage. When they did marry, Amy took a position in insurance sales in Duplin county. Amy’s manager encouraged her to increase her sales by working from a local coffee shop and letting the busyness lead conversations and potential sales to her. The problem was that there were no coffee shops in Mount Olive. That need birthed the idea for Southern Ground.

When Amy told her husband about the advice from her manager and the idea of a coffee shop, he took her driving around the town of Mount Olive. Coming from a family with deep roots in the community and over fifty years of knowledge serving it himself, Robbie knew that the right location for a business like that would be near Interstate 117 and the University of Mount Olive. With no business plan and no money in the bank to fund it, they found the perfect location, made the decision to act on it, and did every sort of odd job they could to pay for it.

Robbie and Amy Brogden, owners of Southern Ground Coffee Shop.

My husband is the kind of person that you don’t tell something to unless you really want it. He is an encourager and will move heaven and earth to make that thing come true for you even if it means he has to work hard, long hours to do it. His confidence empowers me. We are a team, and when we work together, the dream happens.

Amy Brogden

I’m not scared to take a chance. If you don’t play the game, you know you’re going to lose. I make a decision and live in the reality of it, not the fairytale.

Robbie Brogden

Faith in Business

Both Amy and Robbie Brogden were raised in Christian homes, and that faith is the root of their business. Southern Ground is not overtly religious nor does it hound guests with the Bible, but neither are they ashamed of who they are and hiding it. Most of the girls serving are Christians as well as the owners, and they are kind and respectful to everyone. They genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; nevertheless, what you see is what you get with them. They won’t sugar-coat things or change who they are to please others. Southern Ground knows they won’t be liked by everybody, and that’s okay.

The Brogdens are also hard-workers with giver mindsets. Often working 80-100 hour weeks, they give most of what they make to the community because it is what they feel they are supposed to do. They are not perfect people. “I disappoint God everyday,” Amy says. “I am so not worthy. But He knows we are trying hard, and He is honoring that not just for us, but for the others that come in here.”

How Covid Affected Their Business

While Covid-19 caused many small businesses to close their doors, Southern Ground found its start in it. Campus closures and quarantine caused less traffic to come in from the university and businesses, but something surprising happened to fill the gap: Google. People began to intentionally Google search for them because they wanted to support a local small business. From this traffic, a loyal following developed, and many of those people still patron the business today.

Supernatural favor protected and blessed Southern Ground because God wanted them to be there. Far more than a cup of coffee, they are a place of service and ministry to the community. At Southern Ground, students congregate and study, small groups meet, and families hold celebrations. Southern Ground is a launching place for fellowship and wholesome, healing community. The impact of their business has only just begun.

Supporting Small Business

When they were just starting out, Amy had to learn everything she could about coffee. She researched the business and learned how to operate her business well. Amy and the girls on her team were mentored by other established coffee shops. They learned how to properly make and serve gourmet coffee and smoothie drinks, play with the ingredients, and make their own recipes. Those recipes are featured on their menu today, and Amy is now mentoring two women wanting to open two coffee shops in eastern North Carolina.

Southern Ground supports many small businesses and an example of this is in the fact that they source everything they can locally. “We are a small business and couldn’t make it without the small businesses supporting us,” says owner, Amy Brogden.

Southern Ground takes pride in the uncompromised quality of their products. Their coffee is exclusively sourced from a North Carolina roaster, Cactus Creek. Part of their partnership includes a proprietary blend, Southern Sunrise, that can only be purchased at Southern Ground Coffee Shop. The milk used is sourced locally from Simply Natural. Cinnamon rolls and other pastries come from local bakers, many of whom are in-home makers. Supplies used to remodel their shop came from local hardware stores including Jones True Value. Even their social media presence supports a local business, Daily Testify.

The First Location

The first location at 997-E Henderson Street, Mount Olive, was a beautiful hole in the wall that opened in 2020 and holds a lot of fond memories. Everyone at Southern Ground recalls times when the whole shop–every guest and employee–contributed to the same conversation. They loved that sense of community engagement, and they hope the new location will see more not less of it.

The first location was the place where standards of excellence in customer service and branding were established. In this place, Southern Ground Coffee Shop became known as a home away from home with Farmhouse Style similar to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Fixer Upper and Magnolia Network. The commitment to make everything welcoming even extended to the bathrooms.

Advice for Business

Both Amy and Robbie agree that being in business for yourself is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth it. The step of faith that started their business is still a step of faith today; all the profits from Southern Ground’s first location were put back into the business.

We knew God wanted us to open the shop because He kept putting the right people in our path to make it happen just when we needed them to be there.

When God does that, you have to go; don’t question it. It is a day-by-day step of faith and trust in Him. You figure it out along the way.

Amy Brogden

What’s New

The new location more than doubled the space for Southern Ground from 1200 sq. ft. to over 2600 sq. ft. That extra room brings some exciting new perks along with favorites from the old shop.

For example, the large round Magnolia Co. clock iconic from the first location fills part of the back wall while a new stone fireplace and magnolia log mantle fill the other.

A large black and white conference room sits tucked behind a warm rust wall to the left of the fireplace featuring the signature dry-erase board from the old location.

A new white board gives the shop the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of their patrons. Guests are welcomed to sign it and share where they are from.

A drive-thru window welcomes guests to get service on the go without leaving their vehicles.

What’s Coming Soon

  • Artists from the Art Department at the University of Mount Olive are currently working with Southern Ground to put a mural on the side of the building.
  • A copper framed hood behind the counter welcomes a stove to expand the menu. Later this fall, Southern Ground plans to add soup, sandwiches, and salads to their gourmet coffee and smoothie menu.
  • Online ordering will soon make it possible to offer quicker service.

For the latest updates on Southern Ground, check out their social media on Facebook, Instagram, and Daily Testify.

Make plans to stop by the shop on Breazeale Avenue. They are closed on Sundays but open 7am-7pm Monday thru Friday and 8am-7pm on Saturday.

Uniquely R’s and The Gladstone: A Local Treasure Gives Culture to WCC Students

Just beyond the curtain door at the back of a little shop, there is a special place for art and history in downtown Goldsboro, NC called The Gladstone. Dark wood walls and a crystal chandelier hanging from an antique tiled ceiling give this place a Golden Age feel. An upright piano frequently plays classical music and artists that serve coffee, tea, and pastries often sing along there. Occasionally a visitor pops in with his/her instrument, sits in one of the tall wingback chairs, and belts out a series of folk tunes.

Making a place for artists and people to feel welcomed and inspired was part of the owner’s vision. Her welcoming heart is present in every creative display, quirky item selection, and ornate fixture. Uniquely R’s offers customers an opportunity to experience a richer culture than their own and buy things they couldn’t possibly find anywhere else. Guests are drawn in by the quaint, enchanting floral patio entrance. They are curious about what lies beyond the water fountain and tables. They come to support a local business, but they end up transported to another time and place. The Gladstone gives guests an opportunity to sit and soak in that different time and place; it is the pride of the shop, Uniquely R’s, and the heart of its owner, Ruth Glisson.

In such a place, I get big ideas.

As an English teacher, I always struggle with making British literature relevant to my students. They have a hard time grasping the concepts and language of classics like Austen and Shakespeare. They don’t understand Victorian customs and practices; all things British seem old and unnecessary to them. How could I make them see the beauty in a bygone era? How could I make them truly understand and love the classics they had to read? The answer: let them experience it.

My big idea: bring students to The Gladstone and let them experience a foreign culture firsthand. l mentioned the idea to Ruth Glisson, and she loved it. Many months later, a travelling show was set to come to Paramount Theatre and present “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged”. It was the perfect timing and opportunity to take my English 4 students out for a cultural experience. I wrote a grant to the Foundation of Wayne Community College, and got approved! I was never so proud as when I got to walk into Uniquely R’s and talk business with Ruth. The party we planned was special, but the end result exceeded my wildest imagination. On April, 16, 2016, nine students and myself were treated like royalty.

My students had just read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, so we made a high tea themed around Pride and Prejudice. We had custom menus and music from the movie version–which we had watched in class–of the book. Courses came out in shiny tiered trays as the host (me) gave the nod to move forward. Ruth explained the history of tea and tea parties during the Victorian era as well as the history behind each food choice in our course. We began with savories then sweets with three drink choices along the way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The students were encouraged to dress up for the occasion. While some were not able to do so, others dressed up in suits, dresses, and hats. Regardless of their dress, every person there sat a little bit taller and prouder that night. They felt special…treasured…loved.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Much thanks to Uniquely R’s and the Foundation of Wayne Community College for making this experience possible.

 

Staycations

It’s been raining here a lot lately.
One cold front followed by a hurricane followed by another cold front makes it hard to get outside and do much.
I’m starting to understand why we have such a thing as “staycations”.

Staycations are vacations you take at or near home. Instead of going away, you stay close to home. I don’t count working around the house as staycationing; that’s work.

image

My favorite staycations happen on rainy days. These are days I stay home and sleep in, binge watch some of my favorite shows, or read a book I haven’t been able to get to in a while. These are the days I feel like putting paint on an empty canvas, starting a new journal, or blogging. These are the days I finish a crochet project or another piece of my quilt.

If any of that sounds like work to you, substitute your own peaceful hobby and you will share my staycation too.

The point of vacationing is to bring you peace, rest, and a mental break from your normal everyday toil. Staycationing can give you all that.

Consider making your next vacation a staycation.

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 2

As class ended, I didn’t want to leave my new friends…and new passion for quilting. I was midstream designing another quilt on our last day of class when I heard about Row by Row Experience 2015. Row by Row is a quilting challenge that happens annually across the US where quilters travel to various shops to collect patterns and make quilts. The first quilter to use eight or more of the 9 x 36 rows in a finished quilt, wins a stack of fabric. If they use the row from the store they turn their quilt in to, they win an extra prize from the store as well. This year, all fifty states and parts of Canada participated.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

My Bobbin Robin (the mascot of the 2015 Row by Row Experience and a contest in herself) was branded by most of the shops I visited.

A collage of some of the quilting work I've done since class.

A collage of some of the quilting work I’ve done since class including my first quilt, a runner of drawings done by my nieces, and the start of my own Row by Row water themed quilt.

The idea of throwing travel and quilting together over the summer was a win-win for me. I bit hard on the idea like a fish on a hook. By summer’s end, I traveled all over eastern North Carolina, parts of South Carolina, and all over eastern Florida for patterns. Telling my friends and family members about it had patterns coming in from Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon too. Some of those helpers have bitten the quilting bug themselves now as well. 😉 By summer’s end, I had over 30 patterns and the beginning of a water-themed queen size quilt.

One surprising fact about quilt shops: they are all uniquely different and all uniquely happy, even if they are close together. In one area of Raleigh, NC, for example, there were four shops within a few minutes of each other, but each carried very different materials and supplies from the other. Quilt shops are specialized to certain niche markets and maintain clientele through customer service.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister.

A collage of shops and shopping with my mom and sister. Notice the bus tour crowd in the bottom corner at Calico Station, FL.

I don’t know if it is the “your husband called and said you can spend all you want here” signs or the bright, colored fabrics, but I rarely found a sour faced, curmudgeoned quilter. Quilters invest in fabric and pattern stashes with pride. They shop in groves (even bus tours), little two-by-twos, or individually. Quilters are young and old, pop artists and antique traditionalists. We are a wide and varied group, but a happy one.

If we count the cost of how much we spend in quilting, we may not be so happy, but I believe we quilters are happy because we feel fulfillment when we sew…and there’s no price tag for that. We are also happy because quilting generates friends. From the old days of quilting by hand in large circles around a loom (which apparently my great-grandmother and grandma did) to going to classes and working on machines to shopping and sharing pictures and ideas with strangers, quilting is a universal language of love.

Rockin’ Summer Row-by-Row Experience: My Journey Into Sewing & Quilting Part 1

A few months ago, my mother and I signed up for a quilting class at our local quilt shop, Thistlebee. I had no experience sewing, but she did. My mother grew up sewing her own clothes and even made her wedding dress. I, on the other hand, didn’t even own my own machine. I was ambitious and didn’t know it.

On a work trip through Little Switzerland, I found a cute little quilt shop. The owner stood in the doorway on double crutches and said to me, “you’re a fabric artist, baby, I know you’re coming in here”. When I told her my story, she told me hers. She had lost everything, and now she was selling away her personal fabric stash to build a life for herself. When I told her I was planning on taking the quilt class and sharing my mother’s machine, she said, “wait right here, baby”, went home and brought me back a machine.

Charlie's Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

Charlie’s Quilts in Little Switzerland, NC.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie's Quilts.

The 1980s Singer given to me at Charlie’s Quilts.

I was blown away by this stranger’s generosity and odd prophetic ability to look at me and see me as an artist with fabric. I accepted her gift, and had it serviced and working good as new before the class began.

Joining the quilt class was a good decision. It was good bonding time for mom and I, and we also made good friends at the shop with the instructors and shop owners. Mary Ellen, the shop owner, helped me figure out fabric measurements for the designs in my head. Pat, our teacher, helped me square up my work and learn to love my seam ripper. I went from not sewing at all to sewing a straight line to reading patterns, learning quilt tools, and designing my own quilts. Thistlebee became my home away from home, and something mom and I looked forward to sharing together.

2015-05-30 12.11.21

Mom working on her quilt while Pat helps square up some other work on the ironing board

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Pat teaching us quilting lines

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

Mary Ellen at the register looking out into the shop from the classroom.

As class approached its end, I realized I would not get my project done in time (I redesigned the project from the original lap quilt to a full queen quilt). I didn’t want to disappoint, so I designed, pieced, and finished a small tabletop pinwheel quilt instead of the rail fence we had started. This little quilt was a big hit in the class (Pat and Mary Ellen wanted to keep it), and it has since been used to teach math in my classes. When I see it now, I smile. I think about Pat and Mary Ellen and Charlie and mom; all the ladies that opened the door for me to learn how to quilt.

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

My first quilt (designed and pieced in a couple weeks)

Reliving Civil War History in Bentonville, NC

Near Newton Grove, NC, over 150 years ago, one of the largest battles of the Civil War took place. Acres of farmland were overtaken in gunfire and the home of the Harper family became a hospital for injured soldiers.

image

The Harpers were not your stereotypical Southern plantation family. They cared for the wounded on both sides of the war with equal charity. Many of the wounded that died were even buried in their personal family graveyard.

image

Why would a Southern slave-owning family show such compassion? The answer may be in the long history of their family line.
Generations of Harpers, before and after this particular family unit, were in the forefront of important historical events. There were Harpers in the Revolutionary War, Harpers on both sides of the Civil War, Harpers in industry and trade, Harpers in education, and Harpers in religion. One such famous Harper was a preacher set to do a revival in America when he went down with the R.M.S. Titanic. He went into the water preaching the gospel of Christ and did not give up till he finally froze to death. So I have to think there is something in the Harper line, some great Christian heritage, that taught them to be industrious, strong, and kind people.
The Harpers of the Harper house did own slaves, though, so they must have been bad people, right? Wrong. One of the biggest misunderstandings about slavery is that those who owned slaves were immediately bad because they were buying and controlling other people as property. It is equally assumed that all slave holders mistreated their slaves. What we are missing is the fact that slavery was a way of life back then. Slaves were necessary to do manual labor that machines had not yet been created for.  They were paid in room and board and, in places like the Harpers house, education. Where it would have been a cause for beating to read elsewhere, Harper slaves were taught to read. Instead of the shanties on other plantations, Harper slaves lived in their own modest cabins.

image

Most importantly, Harper slaves felt loved and valued by their masters. In letters to the Harper family after the war, slaves praised the Harpers for their kind treatment and shared fond memories of their time there. Though our modern minds cannot fathom any humanity in owning slaves, there are many things about the past that we cannot comprehend without living it.
Today, tourists can visit the Harper House free of charge year-round. There are also many activities to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Bentonville every year on the anniversary of the battle. The most exciting part of these activities is the reenactments of life and cannon fire during that time. It is an opportunity to relive history that you don’t want to miss.

image

image

image

For more information about the historical site and how you can go visit it, check out their website at:
http://www.nchistoricsites.org/bentonvi/

Historical Downtown New Bern, NC

There is a place that I like to go to at the end of Highway 70 where time is frozen. It is a town once build by the Swiss, named for their beloved homeland, bearing its shield, and revealing its artistry in rooftops.

image

An old church surrounded by dogwood blossoms and Spanish moss remembers the times George Washington visited its doors.

image

Gravestones in its yard tell stories of valiant men, women, and children who died in a period of illness that swept the town.

Across from this, an old soda shop remembers when Pepsi Cola got invented there, and it still makes you floats with local ice cream and Pepsi at its bar.

image

Commercialization creeps in–that’s to be expected. There are Pepsi company products at the soda shop, tours of the old church, and dozens of shops along the streets. But none of this bothers me. I am just excited to see downtown New Bern, NC alive and thriving.

Take a drive a little further down these downtown streets, and you’ll reach the inlet. Anxiously moving cars rush across criss-crossing bridges over water.

image

Sailboats are often docked at fancy hotels along the water. A simple open park gives a patch of grass for paused reflection. A walkway around the grass leads to odd concrete steps into the water.

image

Walk in and get your toes wet. Feel the water lap around your ankles. Feed bread crumbs to the gulls circling around you. But don’t jump in for a swim. Though the waterway is wide open for wading and one could easily jump into the deeper water from there, you can’t trust the current–or anything living in the water–from there.

It isn’t hard to love the culture of downtown New Bern. Whether for water, history, or shopping, there’s something in this little spot for everyone. Enjoy!

The Forgotten Field in Morganton, NC

2014-04-25 12.10.50In a little corner of the mountains of western Carolina, lies a field of the forgotten. These were once mothers, daughters, sisters, and sons. They were somebody’s friend, somebody’s family member, somebody’s…somebody. Today, they are just numbers along a rusted chain. Tags along a line that are nearly completely faded into history. Once in a while, a stone leaves a more lasting impression. This stone, in particular, broke me. Beneath the words of names and dates, it remembers the person as an artist.

Here lies an artist.

It has not always been cool, especially in the place this stone lies, to be an artist. Cast down, abused, medicated, they were often treated like the rejects of society because they saw the world a little differently. When I see this stone, I think about how many things have changed and how many things have stayed the same.

This final resting place is part of a much older and sadder story.

Mountain people are particularly gifted in textile trades. Wood carvings, furniture making, basket weaving, and loom tapestry weaving were marketable skills passed down amongst them for generations. In the early 1900s, western North Carolina was a booming place for furniture and upholstery. The generations of talent in making housewares by hand now turned to factories and annual market sales. The trade continues to thrive for generations there and bring in buyers from around the world.

But one other thing set up roots in Morganton, NC: Broughton Hospital. In the early days of mental health, a series of brick buildings connected into a beautiful castle. It was one of the largest hospitals for the mentally ill and people were sent there from all over. I imagine people were amazed by the beauty of the place and left their loved ones there easily. But not everything that happened in mental health medicine at that time was good, kind, or ethical. In fact, it was quite common for families to be so embarrassed by mentally ill family members that they would either hide them away in “disappointment rooms” in their homes or send them to places like this.

Over time, parts of the hospital closed down, and only a small section of it remains in use today. The old castle bits have wasted away almost completely. All that remains are a few condemned buildings across from the forgotten field like this one. 2014-04-25 12.14.59 Windows broken by ivy vines and basement boiler rooms full of shoes and old tin cans are the only signs of life here now.

2014-04-25 12.20.03

I wonder what stories this place could tell.

What lessons would we learn from their mistakes? What acts of kindness would warm our hearts and inspire us? What horrors would make us sleepless at night?

We can learn from the past–and I hope we all do–to be better people today. Enjoy your life and strive to understand the people in your world, especially family. Forgive them, love them, and make the most of your time with them.