Sunday, April 30, 2006

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Little Girl

With great pride, I am thrilled to announce that there is finally native Southerner in my bloodline - a native Blufftonian to boot! On Easter Sunday, my niece, Erin Katherine, was born making her the first member of our family to be born in a state other than New Jersey.

Certainly, I will begin to gain some clout with the locals, with the ability to start my sentences - “well my niece, Erin, who was born and raised here, says …”

I have come to understand that even though I have lived in Bluffton for a year now, I am not “from Bluffton” or “of Bluffton”. I am a Northerner, and in fact, I am unfortunately an intruder in some circles (those damn pancakes).

So, I wonder what we will tell Erin about how we came to find Bluffton, her hometown. I think it will go something like this.

Erin – Once upon a time, your mom and dad decided that they wanted to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Your mom and dad loved South Carolina – your dad went to college here and spent hours and hours on the SC beaches during summer vacations. Your dad starting bringing your mom here too and together they fell in love with the Lowcountry. So, it made perfect sense that they would move to Bluffton.

Your Uncle Joe and I were pretty upset that your mom and dad had moved. And then Grandma and Grandpa decided that they were going to move to Bluffton too. We hemmed and we hawed, but the beauty of Bluffton persuaded us in the end.

You are so lucky to live in Bluffton. Here, you can watch dolphins in the May River, feel the grass between your toes all year long, savor fresh seafood, gaze at the starts that appear close enough to touch, and be part of a culture that you will be proud of. Bluffton is going to be your favorite fairy tale.

Next week I move to Fridays. (Statistics show that pancake lovers don’t read on Fridays.) See you there!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Expecting the Unexpected

Note: I wish I could get into the mind of my Editor for just one moment. This week, he again, took the spirit out of my weekly column with overzealous editing. Aren't you glad you get to see the REAL version?

Have you ever gone somewhere not really knowing what to expect? Or been a little hesitant about what you were about to encounter? And then, been so pleasantly surprised that you admonished yourself the whole way home for being so silly. Well, welcome to my world!

Their names were Paul, Marianne, Renee, Joanne, Celia, Willie Ann and Mary and I joined them this past Wednesday to hear more about a project they are working on. And, I am hooked.

The Bible Missionary Baptist Church, with a congregation of thirty-five, has a lofty goal. They want to build a new church. The small congregation has a track record to prove that they are serious about meeting their goals. They purchased 5-acres of land two years ago and have paid it off. And they paid, in full, for the architectural plans and engineering studies. Now, they are ready for the next step – the construction of a $500,000 church.

The Bible Missionary Baptist Church is no ordinary Church. They have made a profound impact on Bluffton since their establishment five years ago. The Church members are active, dedicated volunteers – who spread their love and kind hearts throughout our community - visiting the sick, tutoring students, providing juvenile counseling, offering a helping hand and perhaps my favorite – providing financial support for kids who show a special talent. Yes, they will help a member of our community afford piano or dance lessons to refine their skills.

Up until now, they have been doing their work out of the Bluffton Community Center. It is time that they have their own home. And, you can help.

Next Saturday, April 29, they are holding a church building fundraiser with good ol’ Southern cooking and gospel singing. This is the taste of the South that I have been waiting for.

Church of the Cross on Buckwalter, has opened their doors to host the event. When I asked Paul (Pastor Paul Hamilton, Jr.) about the unique nature of this partnership among the churches he responded, “They were reaching and we needed to be reached.” The camaraderie goes deeper – five pastors from the local Baptist churches will join the celebration as well as choirs from ten community churches. All offering their support to help a fellow church.

Tickets are $50 per person and cover quite a spread – shrimp and grits (the committee will be peeling 50 lbs on shrimp in preparation for the event – that is dedication), baked chicken, ribs, ham, collared greens, black eyed peas and cornbread. (Not to mention great entertainment, a silent auction and door prizes.)

When you arrive, make sure to introduce yourself to the members of the Bible Missionary Baptist Church – they will be in gold shirts, with the church name on them and would love to share their story with you.

No matter what your religion is, this event is about spirituality and the community coming together to help a cause, that has for five years helped to better our community.

It is time to get to know each other beyond the wave of a hand. This is the perfect opportunity.

What: Bible Missionary Baptist Church - Church Building Fundraiser
When: Saturday, April 29 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Church of the Cross, Buckwalter Parkway
How: For tickets call Minister Willie Ann Hamilton at 338.6238

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Um, What's the Bible Belt?

When I was six, my family traveled to California to visit my mother’s cousin and her family. We were met at the airport by mom’s cousin and her family and we loaded into their panel wagon for the trip back to the house. My cousin, David, turned to my sister and I, and said, “we’re Jewish, what are you?” And I replied, “We’re girls, silly.”

Apparently the magnitude of that question was beyond my first grade education, and I had no idea that my reply should have been, “Catholic, what’s it to you kid?”

When contemplating the move to the South, we often heard the standard north vs. south barbs, but we also heard incredulous shrieks of, “you’re moving to the Bible Belt!” (Thank goodness our reputations did not precede us.) My reply, “um, I guess so…” when I was really thinking, what the heck is the Bible Belt?

Our friends at tell us that – “A Bible Belt is an area in which Christian Evangelical Protestantism is a pervasive or dominant part of the culture. In particular it is the region where the Southern Baptist Convention denomination is strongest. It covers a number of southern Middle-West and Southern states in the United States. In the U.S., the stronghold of the Bible Belt is typically seen as the South, due to the colonial foundations of Protestantism in the culture of the region. The major forms were of Tidewater Anglicanism after the Church of England and Appalachia Presbyterianism after the Church of Scotland.”

This definition really hasn’t helped clarify much for me so; I have been pondering this Bible Belt notion for some time now. And, interestingly it came up at a meeting I attended earlier this week. We were discussing a sunrise Easter service. My colleague, Jim, chimed in that yes, he and his wife were attending the sunrise service and then they had two more services to attend.

The idea of participating in three church services in one day was unfathomable to me. (I am one of those kids who was “forced” to attend church each Sunday and catechism classes until my parents stopped making me at about age 14 – and I haven’t been back much since.)

So, after our meeting I pulled Jim (a native Georgian) aside and asked – “do you think that religion is regional?” “Why does religion and the practice of it seem to be more prevalent in the South?

“Courtney,” he said, “I don’t think it has anything to do with North and South. I am a Christian and I believe in the Bible. The Bible, to me, is the only book that is one hundred percent truth. So, I attend a church that preaches the Bible as I believe it.”

“Let me tell you a story,” Jim said. I had to chuckle, Jim loves to tell stories and I love to listen. And, it began. Jim told me the story of the Christmas Celebration at his church in Savannah – he likened it to a Hollywood production - that thousands attend each year.

As people arrive at the celebration, they are given a name tag with a biblical name, and together with members of the congregation they all play a part.

This past Christmas, the church received a call from a gentleman who had attended the Christmas festivities the night before – his first time at that church. This man went on to explain that he had lost his wife and two children that year. He and two of his other children attended the program at the church and when they arrived they were each given name tags – each with the name of one of the three family members they had lost.

Jim finished his story and said, “You see, that was a message that everything would be alright.”

Hmmm, that will make anyone a believer, even a Yankee. I think I can stop asking questions now.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Aw, Shucks

Two weeks ago we headed north to New Jersey to visit the ol’ home-front. (Per your emails, those readers who are sick of reading about NJ, can turn the page now.) I’ve been whining to Joe about being homesick for sometime now. So, as we crossed the Delaware line into New Jersey, I expected some feeling of familiarity to wash over me. It didn’t. As I passed the exit for “Shore Points”, I again, expected this wave of emotion. Nothing.

I turned to Joe and much to his delight I declared, “I guess South Carolina is indeed home”. It seems I’ve gotten used to things here in the South. And now that we just passed the one year mark, I guess it is official, we are here to stay!

Now, the twelve hour drive was just too long for me - more so for our hero, Joe, since he drove the whole trip (what a guy!). Despite the fact that I barely survived, our four dozen May River oysters, packed in ice, weathered the trip like champs and we were very excited to share them with our Yankee friends.

After experimenting a few times at home, we were prepared to celebrate a Lowcountry tradition, 800 miles North on our friends brand new (and gorgeous) dining room table. And our friends loved it!
I’d share the pictures, but we paired our oysters with margaritas and the photo journey falls into the T.M.I. – too much information – category. We had fun, let’s leave it at that.

Moving on, if you haven’t tried this tradition yet at home, here’s how you do it:

First, call the Bluffton Oyster Company and place your order – order the selects, not the clusters, they are a little more expensive but well worth it. When you pick up your order, make sure to grab some shucking knives, too. Otherwise, you’ll ruin every butter knife you’ve got.

The cool part is that you can start yourself a big ol’ fire in the backyard (not advisable unless you are a member of the Bluffton FD) or just light the grill, which seems to work just fine for us. You’ll need a bucket of water and a piece of burlap large enough to cover your grill surface.

Soak the burlap in water. Place the oysters on the grill at medium heat and cover them with the burlap. When the burlap dries out, re-hydrate. The oysters should only take 7 – 10 minutes on the grill, they will begin to open naturally due to the steam.

Cover your table with newspaper. Adding cocktail sauce or drawn butter is an option – the oysters can definitely stand on their own!

An interesting tidbit: Although it seems to be hard to find anyone who knows the exact origin of oyster roasts, it is said that perhaps American Indians were the first to roast oysters in the south as early as 4,000 years ago, evidenced by blackened shells found throughout the coastal regions.

I’ve seen conflicting reports regarding the “R factor” – eating oysters only in months with an “R.” I don’t know what the rule is. But, April is running out, so plan your roast soon!

In the words of the great Pat Conroy, “Your one job is to eat as many oysters as you can while they are still steaming off the fire. A lukewarm oyster is a disappointment to the spirit.” Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Planning a Party in Bluffton? Beware ...

April 2, 2006

It was an unsuspecting Sunday morning, the birds were singing and all was right with the world. Today I was hosting a baby shower and looking forward to celebrating. I had been working for months to make sure everything was just right and by noon, the house was overflowing with people. We ate, we drank and we were merry. And then, the tables turned!

Our guests had started to leave and we noticed that one of them was walking back and forth on the street. We asked her if everything was ok and, it wasn’t. Her car had been towed.

Yes, one of my lovely neighbors didn’t like that a car was parked in front of her house so she called the Bluffton Police. The Police verified that the car wasn’t stolen and it did not belong to any other immediate neighbors, and after my “neighbor” promised to pay the towing costs (which she later denied), the Police issued an Event Number (which helps them keep track of the crazies who call – my words, not their’s), not a Case Number because nothing illegal had actually occurred.

My neighbor then called a towing company who towed the car that was parked (legally) on the street for less than two hours. Hmmm, you can do that? My first reaction was that the towing company just stole a car!

Four hours and a dozen phone calls later and I have some answers, but I have even more questions!

This was not the fault of our POA; in fact, at the time of the incident our covenants did not state that parking on the street is illegal. So, who is at fault?

Is it the Towing Company, who responded to my neighbor? My neighbor, after all, had an Event Number, which is all the Towing Company needs to do their job and ensure that they aren’t charged with grand theft auto. Preston at Pro Tow (on Burnt Church Road) was a real trooper in answering my questions and even offered to amend the bill once I sort this all out. (I’m not there yet Preston, but I do appreciate the offer!)

Is it the Bluffton Police Department? They issued the Event Number to my neighbor to act if she wanted to. But, can we expect the Police Department to know the ins and outs of every POA in Bluffton? I think not. (Thank you Officer Murray and Officer Creason for fielding my many questions and my numerous phone calls.)

Is it our neighbor who missed the Being a Good Neighbor 101 class? (And will probably toilet paper my yard this evening.) Do we now fear ever having company since our guest’s cars may be towed?

Is it the developers who are aggressively building new community after new community – following the narrower the street, the more houses you can squeeze in mantra?

Or is it our town’s planning commission who approved a community with a sub-par infrastructure (narrow streets) in place?

Is this a problem without a solution? I don’t know. But I do know that this will spark some lively debate. So, let’s talk about it. What is the answer?

Or, if you are bored, annoyed with your neighbor, or just a pain in the #$%, you may want to make sport of the newest game in town. Call the cops, have a car towed, have a great day!

The Old College Try

March 26, 2006

It was a Friday afternoon in mid-October 1990 and I was napping on the couch, after a really rough day of high school. I had a dream that I had gone out the mailbox and my college acceptance letter was there.

Sure enough, I woke up from my nap, went to the mailbox and there it was, a letter from West Virginia University. I tore it open, did a little celebration jig on the front porch and ran inside to call my best friend, Lisa, who I was hoping would be joining me at WVU in the fall.

My reasons for selecting WVU were pretty lame. Lisa’s cousin had gone there and went on to become the physical trainer for the Philadelphia Eagles, making him a bit of a celebrity. Mr. Genco, our very cute, very young, physics teacher was also an alum, making the allure even greater. Add to that – it was number one on the party school list that year. I was a girl ready to go wild!

The short version of the story is - I went, I saw, I conquered, I got a 2.0 GPA. And by the spring semester of my freshman year I was back at home attending our local community college in preparation for three years at a very small, very private, very Catholic, women’s college.

Despite my short tenure at WVU, they are “my team” and my allegiance is strong. I still proudly wear a 10+ year old WVU sweatshirt on most Saturdays in the fall, and whether I am in New Jersey or South Carolina, I always meet a fellow fan.

Why is she telling us this, you may ask? Because … when I attended the Hilton Head St. Patrick’s Day parade two weeks ago, what struck me most was the large contingent of marchers showing not only their Irish pride, but pride for their alma mater. Only further demonstrating that the Lowcountry is quickly becoming a melting pot.

As floats streamed past decked in green – so did the Michigan alums, and those from Ohio State, Penn State, and Notre Dame. But, here is the kicker. As we were packing up, a gentleman approached us to comment on how nice our beach chair was. “Blue and orange stripes, huh? You must be big Florida Gator fans”, he said. “No”, I replied, “we just bought it at Wal-Mart.” “Really”, he said, “how about I take it off your hands for say … $40?”

So, yes, we left the parade $40 richer and ever more aware of the price one will pay to support “their team.” It is quite an interesting phenomenon and I have to wonder what the stories are behind everyone else’s favorite team.

Finally, it is only right that I give a big “Go Hawks” to Monmouth University (of West Long Branch, NJ and where I received my master’s degree). Monmouth was surprisingly placed in that awkward number 65 spot at the “Big Dance”. I would have loved to have heard that phone call. “Yeah, you guys kind of made it, but not really – just play one more game.” Much to my delight they won their first NCAA Tournament game ever and slid into the number 16 slot where they inevitably fell to Villanova. Well, there is always next year.

‘Til then, WVU is still going strong (or they were before I headed out of town for a long weekend). Let’s go Mountaineers!

Get Out the Vote

March 19, 2006

“It was a great national contest that will immediately be recognizable to you. Two men were vying for one prize. Although tens of millions of ballots were cast, the margin separating the two was less than 1 percent of the total. The announcer ticked off the state by state tallies as the two candidates, both Southerners, watched closely. One candidate had won Ohio and New York. The other had won a great bounty: Florida. As the night wore on, reporters came to us live from massive placard-waving rallies in the candidates’ hometowns. Minutes later, the network was ready to make its announcement, once that would answer the question on the minds of millions.”

This opening paragraph in David T.Z. Mindich’s 2005 book Tuned Out, could easily refer to one of two great races. The obvious answer to many is the 2002 Bush v. Gore race. Or, it could go the other way – to an election that saw a voter turnout of 24 million where we heard, “ladies and gentleman, the winner of American Idol 2003 is Ruben Studdard.” (Clearly, some of these voters were minors, but bear with me here.)

In November 2000, about 37 percent of the 457 registered Bluffton voters cast ballots. In 2002, turnout was about 51 percent, or about 215, of the 425 registered voters. And, on November 15, 2005, 265 Bluffton voters came out for our local election (a mere 22% of the nearly 1,200 registered voters). The run-off on November 29 saw 350 ballots cast.



Where were you Bluffton? Is it only wings and pancakes that move you?As a fairly newbie, I know that registering to vote is not at the top of the list of things to do. When you finally make the trek to Motor Vehicle, you do have the option of “motor votering” and registering yourself at the same time as your car. However, that system failed me and hubby, and a number of other folks I’ve heard from. (I will say though, you may just need to wait out the system as my mom just received her card seven months after becoming a motor voter.)

I’ll admit I was not at the polls on Election Day and until this week my second voter registration form sat on the corner of my desk at home. But, now that it is submitted, I will monitor the mailbox until I am official.

In sixth grade, when Missy Mikovits and I ran for class president and vice president against Bryan Dickerson and his running mate (who’s name escapes me) everyone turned out for the vote. Yes, we were probably required to, but the power that our vote wielded drove the sixth graders to debate, to make signs, and to campaign on the school bus. It was that power that made the process all that sweeter. And it was the 100% turnout that made our loss ever the more painful.

So, where is the passion? Is it that we feel that we hold no power? Why aren’t we motivated to make it to the polls?I don’t know what the answer is but come November, I will stand at the polls all day if I have to and I invite all of you who want to take me to task - on pancakes, wings, manners, Southern charm, or whatever the topic of the day may be - to show up and vote.

Cast your vote, engage in some friendly debate and then let’s shake hands.

Then we will all be winners at the polls that day – after all, if we have the freedom to voice our opinions, shouldn’t we?

Ain't No Thing But a Chicken Wing

March 12, 2006

I can’t believe I am about to quote a country song, but here goes… “Every time I hear that song, I go back, I go back. We all have a song that somehow stamped our lives, takes us to another place and time.”

That Kenny Chesney really knows what he is talking about. Last Friday night, Joe and I hit the new Wild Wing Café in Bluffton and the first song that I heard … brought me back. And the song after that, and the song after that. It was like I was sitting at Leggett’s, my favorite restaurant/bar in New Jersey.

I could fill a year’s worth of columns with Leggett’s stories but I will spare you and just touch on the highlights. Leggett’s was our local beach bar and restaurant. We would always arrive early enough to get a spot at the bar and order their special thin crust pizza and lots of appetizers. We would play Budweiser Bingo on Thursday nights, listen to our local bands on the weekends, and always play a rousing round of the “tion game” – a very high-tech wordsmithing competition where participants would rattle off words that ended with “tion” … anticipation, arbitration, abomination, you get the picture.

Anyway, my Leggett’s memories are near and dear to my heart. So when, within, the first few minutes at Wild Wing, I was flashing back to another place and time, I was hooked.

But, it wasn’t only the music on the stereo, which by the way included old school alternative picks like Souixie and the Banshees and Elvis Costello paired with some recent classics from Dave Matthews, Fuel and the Goo Goo Dolls, that made my night.

Let me give you some specifics. Having never been to the Wild Wing on the Island, I wasn’t sure what to expect, which made my first impressions even sweeter. It is a great space - big bar, a great inventory of TVs in varying dimensions (two with Law & Order re-runs, it’s always fun to guess who’s the culprit with no sound), lots of booths (the best seat for a relaxing evening out) and interesting artifacts and artwork on the walls – fodder for conversation.

If you are a wing person – who isn’t? – I think you will be happy. With fifty variations to choose from there must be something for everyone. My favorite – “THE GENERAL Tsao, Tso, Sow...Whatever!” – being a wordsmith myself (see the “tion game”) I loved the name and had to go for it.

Now, ever since I embarked on my thirties a couple of years ago, I continue to be reminded of how young I am not! As we were leaving, full and happy, the twenties crowd from my office was just arriving. No doubt, they actually got to hear the live band that was slated to go on later that night (they have live music four nights a week). No worries though, this week I will take a nap in the afternoon, ensuring that I can enjoy all that they have to offer!

Confessions of a Beach Bum

March 5, 2006

My mom played golf the other day with her new friend, who hails from the Jersey Shore (who knew there were so many of us). They were talking about the beach and mom’s friend commented, “we need a boardwalk”. I am not sure if her comment was in jest or a longing for the familiar, but I had to laugh at her statement.

You see, if you have been to the beach in New Jersey you know that every beach is lined with a boardwalk. Some boardwalks are just walking and biking space. Others are crammed with games, boutiques, bars, food, amusements and rides.

The NJ boardwalk is a social scene in the summer (for the folks from Nawth Joisey), a respite for locals in the winter, and the stage for many a Springsteen video or Sopranos clip. But, as I sat on a Hilton Head beach just a few days ago, with the Lowcountry spring finally upon us, I did not miss it at all.

The beach in the early spring is one of the most relaxing spots in the Lowcountry. So, when my boss told me to take a day off, I took him up on the offer. I headed out at about 10:00 a.m., made a pit stop for sunscreen …

Wait! I have to stop here and tell a funny side story. Last year, I moved to South Carolina on April 6. On April 10, I sat on the beach for hours soaking in the Hilton Head sun, in an attempt to achieve my first “tan” of the year (much earlier that I was used to). On April 11, I started my new job – bright as a Jersey tomato. I was burned to a crisp and easily stood out as the new chick, obviously from the North, and obviously unaware of the strength of the Lowcountry’s April sun.

… made a pit stop for sunscreen, Sun Chips (a Courtney beach staple) and a good book. When I made the left off of 278 onto Folly Field Road, I was surprised to find that I was not the only one escaping the office for the day. The first parking lot was full!

So, I parked the car, grabbed my beach chair and other gear and headed to pay for my parking. And, even though I have been doing this for almost a year now I, of course, forgot my space number so I backtracked, determined I was in space #20, dropped in my quarters and I was ready to roll.

Sinking my toes in the sand for the first time in months was just heaven. And I wasn’t alone. I shared this small slice of heaven with parents and young children – some who appeared to be teetering on legs that had just started to walk; dogs enjoying the freedom that only a good game of fetch on the beach can offer; retired couples walking hand in hand seemingly satisfied with what life has provided; and a few folks just like me – escaping from the office, if only for a day.

The smell of the ocean, the texture of the sand, the trademark seagulls, and the dolphins in the distance - these are the things that vacation is made of. Unless you are one of us, the lucky few who call the Lowcountry home.

How About Them Wilsons

February 26, 2006

Four score and twenty-four years ago, a family of Northerners made Bluffton their new hometown. This prominent New York family, like many industrialists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries decided to purchase a hunting estate in the South. Little did they know the allure of the Lowcountry would quickly convince them to make Bluffton their full-time residence.

It was 1902 when Richard T. Wilson, Jr. purchased 18,000 acres in Bluffton, South Carolina, and named the property “Palmetto Bluff.” (Before Wilson settled on the name “Palmetto Bluff” for his South Carolina estate he called it “Eden.”)

Wilson built a modest house overlooking the May River for the family’s winter visits and began spending as much time as he possibly could at the estate. When his father died in 1910, the obituary identified his son, Richard, as “having spent little time of late in New York and whose home is now Palmetto Bluff, S.C.” In fact, the census of 1910 lists Richard T. Wilson, Jr. and his family as residents of Bluffton.

We are talking about a time when electricity was still a novelty; L.L. Bean had just offered is first ever mail order leather boots, the bra was finally being introduced as a more comfortable option than a corset, and the Oreo was developed by Nabisco.

I find it rather interesting – and I am beginning to sense a pattern - that even back then, folks were looking for a quieter, more relaxed way of life.

In Bluffton, Wilson was able to spend his time pursuing his interest in agriculture. Wilson used his land for farming vegetables and for raising dairy and beef cattle. He bought 50 Shropshire sheep and even hired an Australian cattle rancher to oversee them. Many of the provisions for the estate were produced on the property.

More than anything, Wilson loved thoroughbred race horses, and he was an expert horseman and breeder. In 1916, his horse, Campfire, was not only the top money-winner in North American racing, but also the American Champion Two Year Old Male. In 1922, Wilson’s horse, Pillory, won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Wilson owned stables in New York and Kentucky, in addition to those at Palmetto Bluff. The Wilson stables’ racing colors of yellow and green were in winner’s circles around the country.

Palmetto Bluff was Richard T. Wilson’s idyllic retreat away from the city of New York until on March 2, 1926, the great mansion caught fire. A distraught Wilson had to twice be led away from the roaring flames, which eventually reduced the magnificent building to ashes.

The loss of his beloved home devastated Wilson. Unable to face rebuilding, he returned to New York and sold the entire property to J.E. Varn a few months later. Wilson died in New York City in 1929.

And, the rest as the say is history.

So, enough about me and the Wilsons - how does your story go? What made you move to Bluffton?

Special Thanks to Dr. Mary Socci, Palmetto Bluff’s Archaeologist, for the continuing history lessons!

C,C,C is for Cookie, Cookie, Cookie

February 19, 2006

There is a special day that comes ‘round only once a year. We wait, and we wait, and when finally this day arrives – oh, the reward is sweet.I’m talking about Girl Scout Cookie day – the day when cases and cases of cookies are distributed to the impatient masses that have been waiting for the satisfaction that comes only from a Thin Mint.

I had some insider information (thanks Jim) that this day was nearing and headed out to witness the cookie frenzy first hand. I was graciously invited to attend a meeting of Bluffton’s Girl Scout Troop 252, so I had a front row seat for the excitement.During my journey to cookie heaven though, I learned a thing or two. The meeting I attended was dedicated to the Troop’s preparations for Girl Scout World Thinking Day, which is an annual event for Girl Scouts only. (Seems to me a worldwide thinking day for everyone may not be a bad idea … but, I digress.)

For World Thinking Day, Girl Scouts around the world turn their efforts to learning about girl scouts in other countries. This year, Troop 252 selected Jamaica and spent a number of weeks learning about the Jamaican culture. During prior meetings, the girls prepared and sampled Jamaican dishes, made a Jamaican flag, and crafted a display board illustrating all that they have learned. I was lucky enough to be there for the real fun – tie-dying shirts! Kudos to Troop Leader Renee Polcari, who mastered the process of tie-dying and managed to get eleven shirts tie-dyed with not a drop of dye splattered on the floor or a girl scout. On Thinking Day, February 26, Girl Scout Troops from Bluffton and Hilton Head will gather together for a parade of countries followed by troop performances and finally, their favorite, visiting the other countries with their “passports”.

Watching their plans un-fold was definitely a stretch from my typical Saturday morning routine, but it was chock full of fun moments. Witnessing the transformation of eleven pre-teens – from a group of somersaulting, cart wheeling and chit-chatting girls - into a focused team with a mission was quite impressive. It seems to me, that the girl scouts of troop 252 are taking their role quite seriously and definitely adding value to our community.

And then, just as the clock struck 12, the “cookie moms” (and one cookie dad) rolled into the parking lot. Minivans were converted into delivery trucks and bursting at the seams. A caravan of parents soon followed and there in the pouring rain, dedicated volunteers unpacked and distributed 2,000 boxes of cookies to the girls of Troop 252. Ah, sweet relief.

If you missed the opportunity to place your advance order, you can still support the young ladies of Troop 252. They will be at Wal-Mart on Hilton Head today, February 19, from 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. and at Kroger in Bluffton next Saturday, February 25 from 12:00 – 2:00 p.m. No thinking required!

For more details on Girl Scouting in our community, contact the Palmetto Service Branch, which serves girls in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, at 843-842-3444.

My Love Affair With Bluffton

February 12, 2006

We met for the first time in September of 2004. I had being hearing about him for months. My sister had been seeing him for a few years and finally made the commitment to be with him full-time in the spring of ’04.

When I boarded the plane late one Wednesday evening I was filled with anticipation and looking forward to this meeting, after all my sister had been raving about him for so long.

The plane touched down in Savannah and we made our way out the front doors of the airport and the palm trees put a smile on my face. (The only palm trees in NJ are plastic!) Anyway, the drive to meet him was short and sweet. The signage at the SC state line – “Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places” really set the tone for what I was about to see. I was impressed. My sister was right (never thought you’d see that in print, did you Shar?). He was quiet and quaint on the surface yet when he really opened up there was an adventurous and fun side to him – the perfect mix.

Our first visit ended too soon and as I headed back home I was already plotting how to get back to see him again. A few months later I was on another plane – I couldn’t stay away. This time I brought my mom and my husband with me. (Before you question my values and if you haven’t caught on yet, the “Him” is “Bluffton”.)

It was January of 2005 and Bluffton was enjoying seventy degree days. We golfed, we beached, we enjoyed the local fare and we were hooked. This time, on the plane ride home we were poring over real estate information and plotting how to sell our homes, get new jobs and be back to Bluffton as soon as possible. It worked.

So, as I approach my first Valentine’s Day in Bluffton I feel that I need to do something to commemorate this new found love and celebrate the love I have, of course.

So my perfect Valentine’s Day starts with a Norseman’s Grog at the Bluffton Coffee House followed by a stroll down Calhoun Street, where I can take my time in all of the shops and buy anything I want – I just get a kick out of “Eggcentricities”. I’ll wrap up the evening with shrimp on the grill and roasted oysters while watching the fire.

In order to provide a fair and gender-balanced option, I asked my hubby for his perspective on this too. His picks include a good breakfast (Joe suggests the Inn at Palmetto Bluff), a round of golf (not sure if this includes me or not), a sunset cruise on the May River and cooking a nice dinner at home and eating in front of the fire.

Looks like we may spend at least part of the day together!

So, while my love affair with Bluffton continues and I learn new things about “him” everyday, I am so grateful that my true loves are here to share it with me. So, to those that I love – Joe, Darby, Mom, Bob, Sharon, Jamie (and the little one on the way) - Happy Valentine’s Day.

And to Bluffton – thank you for opening your heart.

The Blue & The Grey

February 5, 2006

I flipped on the radio Thursday morning on my way to work to hear the local station’s Groundhog Day news report. Much to my surprise, they were talking about “General Lee”. I’m sorry, who?

Having grown up with Punxsutawney Phil as the only famous groundhog on my radar screen, I was surprised that he had other comrades across the country in the same line of work.

However, much to my delight, General Beau Lee (of the Yellow River Game Ranch in Georgia), didn’t see his shadow, so spring is just around the corner. (I must have missed winter – loving this weather!)

According to Beau’s website; “In his characteristically purposeful fashion, Beau waddled to the edge of the spacious verandah and searched across the front lawn for an extended period of time.” Sounds very Scarlett O’Hara, doesn’t it?

So by 8:00 a.m., I had already learned another something new about my adopted region of the country. It was to be a big day for me as my plan for the afternoon was to head out into the woods with a forestry and wildlife expert.

If you recall, the skies on Thursday afternoon began to look ominous just after lunch and a torrential rain pour began just as we headed out into the wilderness. Nothing could dampen my spirits, though. We loaded into the truck and headed a few miles into nowhere. And I mean nowhere - if I had been inadvertently left in the woods, I was resigned to the fact that I would be living out the rest of my days much like a cast member of the show “Lost”.

Once we arrived at our location, which I would love to share with you but I have no idea where I was, we bundled up and climbed a treacherous set of steps to a “blind”. That was my second lesson of the day. While “blind” could have easily been referring to the blinding rain that was whipping my spoiled self raw, a blind is also a shelter designed for concealing hunters – it is shielded from the site of wildlife and blends into the natural landscape.

Once in the blind, we settled in and waited. Time can pass really slowly if you aren’t really interested in the show. But I was soaking it all in. The smell of the rain was intoxicating. What I witnessed was narrated by my guide in a hushed voice – an irony in itself – as I was huddled there with a great hunter and wildlife expert dressed in camouflage from head to toe (seriously his boots were camo!).

As if on cue, the rain slowed and the parade began. A mesmerizing procession of eighteen turkeys – gobblers and hens – slowly made their march right in front of us. For a girl whose only turkey sightings have been in November, this was nirvana.

As the skies lit up with lightening and the thunder boomed, we were back in the truck – Mother
Nature’s performance had come to end. I can’t wait until next time!

P.S. Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow. So, I guess the battle of the North and South rages on!

Inhabiting the Soul of Things

January 29, 2006

There are two key benefits to 70 degree days in January - one, bragging to the folks back home and two, sitting out in the sun with a good book. Anticipating the heat wave of the past week, I headed to the Bluffton Library last Saturday to get my library card.

The librarians could not have been more helpful – and the Southern charm of the Bluffton Library was somewhat remarkable. I can honestly say that the architecture of a library has never struck me as unique. (Probably because most libraries are cinder block towers.) But, Bluffton did it right.

In just a few minutes I was official and in search of a good book. I wandered somewhat aimlessly, not really sure what I was looking for. I had no author or genre in mind. Honestly, I was simply looking at the bindings for inspiration. And then it hit me – Pat Conroy.

I have been silently reminding myself for months that I needed to read Conroy’s works. (While at the same time avoiding Prince of Tides showings on HBO – so the movie wouldn’t ruin the book.)

I had never come across his books before – I tend to find an author I love and read everything they have written. Conroy’s books never fell into my lap. Now though, as a resident of the Lowcountry, I thought this was the perfect place to start.

To describe our growing up in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation, scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocket knife and feed it to you from the shell and say, “There. That taste. That’s the taste of my childhood.” - The Prince of Tides

I selected The Prince of Tides and by early afternoon I was hooked. Talk about painting a picture with words. Conroy’s vivid imagery of the Lowcountry makes me thirsty for insider knowledge on growing up in this remarkable region. While his stories are fiction, he weaves his tale around his own experience of being raised in our backyard.

In his Memories of an Island in South Carolina Conroy tells us, “Because I came to Beaufort County when I was a boy, my novels all smell of seawater. I watch things closely here, and I try to get the details right. I write about the great salt marshes and pretend I am that marsh. I do the same with the ocean, the horseshoe crab, the flock of brown pelicans, the beach-strewn kelp, the half-eaten stingray. I try to inhabit the soul of things, before I write about them, the way my mother taught me.”

I am only half way through the 567 pages (wow, they don’t write ‘em like they used – The Prince of Tides was published 20 years ago) but I am already looking forward to my next Conroy novel.

I was born and raised on a Carolina sea island, and I carried the sunshine of the Lowcountry, inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders.

Did you get you your library card yet?

Paying it Forward

January 22, 2006

My apologies for the deviation from my typical column. I’m writing this from an uncomfortable airplane seat as I fly across the country on my way back from a long weekend in Vegas. Up until a few minutes ago, I thought I may never see Bluffton again. It was a bumpy take-off, an even bumpier ascent, and suffice it to say the Dramamine is not working so well.

There is nothing like four days in Las Vegas to make you really appreciate what you have back home. The lights, the noise, the crowds, the noise, the smoke, the noise – all things that are absent in Bluffton and I realize now more than ever, why Bluffton is the right fit for me.

But, back to vacation… It was an interesting trip and I learned a lot. Barry Manilow looks like a wax figure of himself, that should be in Madame Tussauds Museum (had some plastic surgery, have you Barry?). Howie Mandel is by far one of the funniest live comedy performers I have every seen. Tip everyone. Fifteen is apparently not my lucky number. And, the world is about people.

My mentor, Steve Nicholl, told me time and time again that the world is about people. And, while it always echoes in the back of my head and I have preached those words from time to time myself, it really rang true during this trip.

Our feet were swollen after having walked for two days in an effort to see every site that everyone said we “had to see” – and sadly in Vegas there aren’t many places to just sit and relax but plenty of places to sit, relax and lose money. Whatever the price, it was worth it. So, we sat down at a roulette table. And there, we met Bob. Bob was a marble salesman who had accounts with many of the casinos. This afternoon, he and his colleague were visiting their client’s work sites and decided to stop at a casino rather than finish out the work day (classic!). For two hours Bob entertained us. He told us story after story, joke after joke and made the afternoon fly. And, when Bob finally decided to call it a day he cashed in his chips, took his winnings and slid them across the table to us calling “enjoy the rest of your stay” as he slipped through the crowd.

Who does that? Bob was I guess, in the truest sense, paying it forward. And while no one should be expecting money to fall into their laps, his actions made me wonder. The unexpected acts of a few can start a chain reaction that will impact many.

Now, Bob’s gift to us was swiftly lost on red (I told Joe to go with black) but it was the message in his gift that made me think. It is the people here in Bluffton that will make your neighborhood, your office, your golf course, your classroom, your place of worship remarkable. Know them, and once you do, pass your story along to me. I would love to tell it.

Pancake Gate

January 22, 2006 - my response to the Pancake Scandal of '06 --

Dear Editor:

Ah, the Pancake Scandal of 2006. I can imagine that our descendents will be telling this story for many generations.

While I appreciate feedback, and the first few days of banter were enjoyable, we are now on day seven of PancakeGate. It may be time to move on to bigger and better things.

I certainly recognize that everyone has the right to express their opinion. Heck, the Bluffton Today pays me to express mine. But, in his letter to the editor, Mr. Brinkman states that I, “constantly put down newer restaurants”, my “columns seem to be written by the Old Town chamber of commerce”, and my “husband ordered two separate items” at the Pancake House. All are untrue.

However, while we are sharing conspiracy theories … listen closely.

I don’t eat food that is green.
I don’t wear bulky sweaters.
I don’t like socks that don’t stay up.
I don’t like the people who pass me on the left on Route 46 (at 65 mph).
I don’t like clip art.
I am addicted to chapstick.

Bunker down Bluffton! The Yankee is coming, the Yankee is coming!

I love Bluffton, and I love (most of) the people. Thank goodness for a society where we can all share our opinions freely.

Next week we tackle French toast. Be prepared.

Courtney Naughton
Columnist and the Most Controversial Person of 2006

Big Business vs. Having Squat

January 15, 2006

They say breakfast is the most important meal. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I’ll give them this one. So, after hearing some chatter about the Original Pancake House I decided to give it a try. We headed there last Sunday morning and after some staff confusion over where to seat us (the folks in line before us dealt with the same confusion), we settled into a booth. We received a too strong cup of coffee and I was skeptical. To me, the coffee is key. Especially at an establishment that focuses on breakfast.

But, we barreled on. I ordered the blueberry pancakes – half a stack. (The full stack is seven pancakes, quite a serving.) Joe ordered the Irish Omelet, accompanied by half a stack of chocolate chip pancakes. Hey, go big or go home!

The waitress was fun and pleasant and our breakfast arrived quickly. But then my pet peeve – the waitress dropped the check with the meal. Not a good sign. In fact it is usually an indicator that you won’t see her again. We didn’t. Regardless, the pancakes were amazing – not too thin, not too thick – the perfect serving. Joe’s omelet was enormous, stuffed with cheese and corn beef hash – and Irishman’s dream.

Twenty-three dollars was a bit much for breakfast, not to mention the drive down 278. So, after all that we both came to the same conclusion – we’ll stick with The Squat and Gobble. I’ve been remiss in singing their praises, so this is as good a time as any.

I like The Squat – it’s casual, you pick your own seat and sometimes even share your table with strangers. Their coffee always tastes perfect and makes me wonder why I can’t make it taste like that at home. The service is fast, the waitresses are all familiar faces and the food is great. Joe loves the biscuits and gravy (he has quickly adapted to the Southern lifestyle) and I’ll get the French toast or ham and cheese omelet anytime. You’re in and out, with minimal damage to the wallet. And, every time you are satisfied.

So, it begs the question. Does the small town, mom and pop shop just do it better? At the Original Pancake House I read the fifty plus year history on the back of the menu as well as the list of their many locations throughout the US and wondered – hmmm, that much experience and they still haven’t gotten it quite right?

At the Squat and Gobble – you appreciate the bare-bottomed mannequin who greats you at the door and wonder just where did they get the bloodied foot that hangs from the ceiling? I continue to be impressed by the folks who order beer with their breakfast, and the crowd that forms in the entryway each Saturday and Sunday morning. It’s comfortable. I think I may stick with the hometown choice – it just feels right.

NOTES: This column later generated a 10 day debate over my lack of manners and the audacity I had to share my opinion - hmmm, isn't that what I am being paid for?
Check out this link for the gory details ...

Cinco D'Anytime

January 8, 2006

There is nothing worse than feeling rushed at a restaurant. You know what I am talking about. Your meal arrives before you have finished your appetizer. Your check arrives before you finish your meal. And, all the while your glass has been pushed to the outmost edge of the table beckoning to be filled yet remaining ignored. You can usually determine when this is going to happen as soon as you sit down. Ironically, your server will wait indefinitely to visit your table for the first time. And it is during that wait that you realize it – you are going to be asked for your drink order, appetizer, meal, dessert, and if you’re finished with that, in such a quick succession that the only thing you will remember about dinner; is that it sucked. Sorry to be so blunt, but this is a major pet peeve of mine.

So, when I experience the opposite, I feel it is my duty to sing the praises of the “un-hurried eat.”

I have been hearing about Mi Tierra (Dr. Mellinchamp Drive – just off Route 46) since long before I ever moved to Bluffton. My sister would regale me on Saturdays with stories of Mi Tierra – where she and her work friends would gather on Friday after work to recover (or forget) the long work week. Mi Tierra is a great spot for the after-work crowd to gather and de-compress. I have started doing the same with my work pals and we always have a great time. The bar is separated from the restaurant so my annoying laugh doesn’t bother the diners, the waitresses let you take your time, have a few drinks, and eat through as many baskets of their (complimentary) house tortilla chips and salsa as your heart desires.

Dinner is just as delightful. The menu is huge, and in my sheltered life I have never eaten at a true Mexican restaurant before, so it can be overwhelming. You see, I really don’t know the difference between a fajita, an enchilada, or a burrito so I can’t guide your hand at ordering but I can tell you that everything I have tried has been amazing. (My husband is yelling from the other room that the chili relleno is to die for – I have no idea what that is, but he loves things hot!) My typical m.o. at a restaurant is to find one thing I like and order it every time I go. Not the case at Mi Tierra – I guess I am trying to diversify. I’ve jumped around the menu and have found every time that veggies are always fresh and the meat is always cooked to perfection. And, apparently my “I don’t eat anything green” theory is out the window – I like guacamole, who knew?

I had a point here, right? Ah yes, the service is ideal. The wait staff doesn’t rush you. They just allow you to enjoy, finish your, savor your meal and take your time. As a matter of fact, even after you have finished dinner and turned down dessert (I’ve seen the fried ice cream pass my table – it looks amazing) they will actually ask you if you’d like another drink. Unheard of! Priceless, in my book.

Did I mention the margaritas? Delicioso!

Yankee Resolutions

January 1, 2006

Happy New Year!

So, here we are again, January 1. The day where we all reflect on the past, promise to do better next year and make a list of resolutions, most of which we never achieve. Well, that’s the story on my end at least. Maybe it is because my list looks exactly the same every year – I’m going to exercise more, save more money, spend more time with my family, and get more involved in the community. When really, these are things I should be doing anyway. Helloooo … I think I need a challenge, which will be my approach for 2006.

Last year, the resolutions I wrote mentioned nothing about moving South. It’s funny how things change – last year on this day, we shoveled some snow and made our resolutions thinking we knew what the year would bring. How wrong we were.

So, I’m in a new climate, in a new house, and have a new job. I am thinking that perhaps it is time that my resolutions have a new twist as well. To that end, I have decided to focus on one mission – getting to know Bluffton, and the people who live here. And I’ve made a list of the top 10 things that I want to accomplish (and I invite you to join me) in ’06. (Selfishly this should also provide me with a number of columns so maybe I can finally be ahead of the game rather than emailing Rob, my editor, at the last minute each week – hmmm, should that be a resolution?)

Participate in the Old Town Bluffton Planning

Volunteer! Donate my time, talent, and some treasure to Habitat for Humanity. (If anyone from Habitat is reading this, email me and give me a job to do!)

Fish, crab, shrimp – catch something, anything, and cook it.

Break 100, which means I will have to play golf more than three times a year. Of course, I could easily break 100, and maybe even 50, if I could find three other ladies willing to join me for 9-holes every now and again. Any takers? (Thanks Mom, but I am trying to meet some new people.)

A “pizza crawl” - there has to be a Jersey guy or gal somewhere who opened a pizza joint – I promise you my northern friends, I will find it.

Convince BT to join me in hosting an event so that Yankees and local Blufftonians can meet. We can call it the Blue and Gray Ball, the North and South Social, what do you think?

Meet more of my neighbors – short of walking door to door and introducing myself, I need to develop a better plan. Perhaps numbers 1, 2 and 6 will help. (Again mom, we already know each other.)

Put some air in the tires of my bike and use it – where are all those people on Hilton Head going to (and coming from) on two wheels? What am I missing?
Work with fellow residents and dog lovers to make the Bluffton Dog Park idea stick. (Darby hasn’t met many new four legged friends.)

Oh, and of course, #10. Mud boggin’ along the May River! (We may want to send a photographer for this one.)

If you have any suggestions for my journey, drop me a line. Until then, maybe I’ll see you at the “Meet the Yankees” party – hint, hint.

The Christmas Glow

December 25, 2005

Aunt Bethany: Is your house on fire, Clark?
Clark Griswold: No, Aunt Bethany, those are the Christmas lights.

Clark Griswold, as patriarch of his family, believed that it was his duty as an American to follow Christmas tradition and elaborately illuminate the interior and exterior of his home. I think it is fair to say that a little bit of Clark lives in all of us each holiday season. Men and women teeter on the edge of their roof struggling with the ladder, a tangled mess of lights, and a staple gun. Their families stand on the front lawn with a crick in their necks as they look up to the roof shouting instructions and silently wondering just how long it will take the paramedics to arrive.

The first year I was married, we lived in a gingerbread-esque house – perfect for holiday decorations and lights. Joe still reminds me each year at this time – with a sarcastic undertone - how much he thoroughly enjoyed that first Christmas together. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was less than 10 degrees on the afternoon that I insisted we hanging our exterior lights. Bundled up in layer after layer we (and by we I mean Joe) worked for hours, long after the sun went down, to get those white lights just right – outlining every each of every eve on our house. The sun was the only thing keeping the temperature above zero, so as it set Joe’s fingers became more and more frozen. After all, you can’t manipulate the lights in gloves can you?

Since that first Christmas, our decorating stories have all been rather similar as we hoped for a warm (above freezing) day to get in the spirit. This year, of course, Joe was relieved by the prospect of decorating in a warmer climate. But, as I have alluded to before, I was afraid that the warmer temperatures may stall my holiday spirit. However, the folks in Bluffton did not let me down and it was clear that come Thanksgiving that the Christmas spirit was alive and well.

In our neighborhood, houses were quickly being illuminated as neighbors scurried to finish their displays before dusk on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Since then, we have enjoyed watching the transformation of our neighborhood. White lights, red lights, blue lights, green lights, twinkle lights, rope lights, running lights. Reindeer and sleighs, candy canes, Christmas trees, and a virtual winter wonderland courtesy of one of our technologically gifted neighbors who set up a light show that featured snow flakes falling against the backdrop of their new home.

So today, whether you are celebrating your first or your twenty-first Christmas in the Lowcountry, take a walk around your neighborhood. Appreciate what Christmas means to your neighbors and as the bulbs burn bright all day and night say a little thank you for the gift of Bluffton. We are indeed lucky.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

A River Runs Through It

December 18, 2005

Henry David Thoreau once said “It is pleasant to have been to a place the way a river went.” Now, he didn’t say it directly to me but, I think I know what he meant. When I look out across the May River, I continue to be awed by its beauty and the entertainment that it offers us here in Bluffton. But there is an element to our river that a newcomer would never find on his or her own.

Last week one of my Georgia born and bred co-workers passed along a copy of an article to me. The note that was attached read, “To Yankees who need to know.” The article, courtesy of Southern Living, was about pluff mud. Pluff what you say? Exactly. This Jersey girl certainly did not know that mud came in varietals, but I have since learned otherwise.

Pluff mud is the mud of the marshes and an “elemental characteristic” of the Lowcountry. It seems that the scent of the pluff mud is its claim to fame and to some Lowcountry locals; the smell of the mud is a reminder of their childhood, their home. The distinctive fragrance – a hint of rotten eggs and salt water - is a result of the marsh grasses dying, rotting, and then mingling with the fresh, salty air.

How pluff mud got its name remains a mystery. Donna Florio, author of the Southern Living article says that “the favored theory is that ‘pluff’ is the sound the mud makes as you walk across it – or pull your boot out of it.” The webmaster for the Myrtle Beach Convention Center offers this explanation: “‘Pluff’ is actually the sound you hear when your truck keys fall out of your shorts pocket, while you're climbing over the side to drag the boat out of the aforementioned pluff mud."

Regardless of the origin of its name, the pluff mud offers shelter and food for a variety of tiny inhabitants – fiddler crabs, snails, worms and the like. More interestingly though an age-old sport among local couples is boggin' – running and sliding - in the pluff mud found on the edges of the rivers and marshes. I have not tried it yet but plan to put it on the agenda for the spring.

A trip out on the May River was part of my orientation to Bluffton. And, I was fortunate enough to have a great guide, a Blufftonian for over 30 years. He was able to tell me the stories of Bluffton – stories that you won’t find in history books but rather stories based on the way the river flows. As we cruised the perimeter of Bluffton and peered into backyards, I learned the history (and a bit of gossip) about Bluffton families, land, wildlife and industry.

The May River is a rich resource for us. So too are the locals. Go ahead; ask them to tell you a story.

Thanks for the Flashback, Mom

December 11, 2006

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, in the eye of my mom. A few weeks ago I stood at the counter of the Bluffton Coffee House, bleary eyed, and waiting for my coffee to jump start the day. Jim, my new friend, called out from behind the counter, “oh and Courtney, that painting over there is not for sale.”

A bit confused, I looked over to where Jim pointed and much to my horror I saw something too familiar for me to believe. I shook my head, and rubbed my eyes. Nope, I wasn’t seeing things. There was a painting that I had completed some twenty years ago, propped up in a corner at the Bluffton Coffee House. (If you happen to see the painting, you too will agree that writing was indeed my calling.)

I was speechless, but Jim quickly chimed in to fill the silence and inform me that my mother was in for coffee one day, looked around at the eclectic art on the walls and offered the Coffee House the only result of my twelve-week art class many moons ago.

I mentally cursed Mom (I have since forgiven her, it is after all the holiday season) as I don’t like surprises and this certainly was a shock to my system. This painting had hung in my mother’s kitchen for nearly two decades, until she moved. Bless her heart – she actually made the trip from NJ to SC with it – but I guess it didn’t match her new color scheme, or maybe her taste in “art” has changed because she offered, Jim accepted, and as a result I have my first piece of art displayed.

I’m not sure if this qualifies me for membership in the Society of Bluffton Artists, but Mom’s response to my horror was that this little story would make a great column. I guess she was right as it does allow for, if nothing else, an awkward introduction to Calhoun Street, a spot that many real artists call home.

For many folks, Bluffton is nothing other than a trip down 278. But, for those who venture into Old Town Bluffton, Calhoun Street and its many occupants tell a far different story. Wandering down Calhoun Street is like a vacation for me – strolling beneath a canopy of live oaks and Spanish moss is like stepping back into time. The street is peppered with shops, antiques, art galleries, historic homes, and at the end - as the street fades into the May River – one of the most breathtaking spots to watch the sun dance on the water. Calhoun Street plays host to the Bluffton Festival and Christmas Parade, among others, serving as the heart of our community.

Just around the corner on Boundary Street, is The Society of Bluffton Artists’ Gallery, which features the works of over 60 artists, one of whom is always on site to show you around and answer your questions (very cool!). In addition, a learning center offers art classes to students, aspiring artists and the general public. (Visit for more details.)

If you have not been yet, you need to add Calhoun Street and the SOBA Gallery to your list of things to do. And now, with the holidays looming it is the perfect time to make the trip, get your holiday shopping done and support our local establishments. Happy hunting!

Let's Go to the Movies ... Let's Enjoy the Show

December 4, 2005

I haven’t been to the movies since I arrived here eight months ago. There was just no appeal in schlepping 30 minutes in traffic to the Island for a movie. The addition of the Sea Turtle Cinemas on Buckwalter provides an alternate to the horrors of 278 and quite an enjoyable experience.
In an attempt to escape a fridge full of Thanksgiving leftovers and the Law and Order marathon that my father-in-law was mesmerized by, we headed to the Sea Turtle for a movie last Saturday.We were greeted by no lines (which I am sure will change) but made our welcome all the more personalized from the young man behind the ticket window. After purchasing two tickets for the Walk the Line matinee – only $6 each, which is a bargain as far as movie prices go – we headed to the snack counter and again, no line! We had a great conversation with the two teens behind the counter, both of whom are also fans big fans of Sour Patch Kid candies and are effective salesmen in their own right (more on that later).So, before we even hit the theater I was impressed. We’d interacted with three employees and all went out of their way to chat us up and make us feel welcome. Two thumbs up on that!I guess most of Bluffton was home watching the aforementioned Law and Order marathon because the crowd was light in the theater as well. But, anytime I don’t have to worry about folks climbing over me for a bathroom trip, or watching the movie through the hair of the lady in front of me – it is a good outing.And then I sat down. Ok, this is where it gets really good … the seats are amazing. We are not talking the standard airplane-esque seat where you just can’t get comfortable. These are big, cushioned rockers. When I think of the money we spent furnishing our home, I wish we had considered the “movie seat” where I could easily spend lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons watching the movie channels in the comfort of my own home. (But if that were the case, this column would quickly be defunct.) The brilliance is definitely in the arms between the seats that retract for folks who want to snuggle or stretch out. In our case we needed somewhere to put the 44 ounce soda we were talked into buying (hey, it came with free refills) so we stayed separated by the arm and about 5,000 liquid calories.

Indulge me as I put on my movie reviewer cap for a moment and suggest that if you decide to make the trip, Walk the Line was a great flick and will quickly connect your soul to your Southern surroundings. Great soundtrack, great acting, and great storyline – it passed the Courtney Litmus Test as I didn’t check my watch once.

Once Berkeley Place – the plaza that is home to the theater - fills out I think it has the potential to become a community hot spot with eateries and shops that will easily fill an afternoon or evening.

As we walked back to the car, I flipped a quarter into the centerpiece fountain and made a wish. Now come on, if I told you it wouldn’t come true.

A Jersey Girl?

November 27, 2005

A few weeks ago I received an email from a co-worker, Mike, that read “so when are the real Jersey Shore stories going to emerge as entertainment for our Southern friends? Tales from "Sleaze" side (slang for the town of Seaside, where ‘cruising’ the strip is a pastime) or perhaps Belmar, where gold, oil, and free weights reign ...” Sticks and stones, Mike, sticks and stones.

My first reaction was that Mike must be a Jersey boy, with all of the insider knowledge he presented. However, when I posed that question, he responded “Thank the good lord NO --- however, my wife is from Flemington, I forget the exit number though.”

And that made me think. Do I need to defend my roots? And, is there actually a stereotype of New Jersey? Of course there is!

So, I am here to dispel the myths and tell you the story of my New Jersey. I also thought it was time to talk about something other than food. One of my husbands co-workers recently commented that it sounds like all we do is eat out – point taken Jim. (Hey, at least I know people are reading!)

Let’s start here - New Jersey is not the Sopranos! So ignore the mental image that HBO has painted and think Bruce Springsteen’s “Greetings from Asbury Park”.

First, the Jersey Shore is a land of its own and not representative of the “New Joisey” that everyone refers to. In fact, when the folks from Joisey (north Jersey) invade the shore Memorial Day through Labor Day we (the locals) retreat into local jaunts and stay as far away from the shore (“shaw”) as we can. So, in reality, a visitor will never really know what a weekend at the shore is, not the way I do.

New Jersey has mountains and beaches, and acres upon acres of farm land – the tomato is to New Jersey as the peach is the Georgia. There are communities with budding artists and musicians, small towns and big cities, second to none Saint Paddy’s Day parades, and a rich history – in fact, some guy named George Washington crossed the Delaware River from NJ during the Revolutionary War. High school and college sport rivalries are a way of life and NJ is home to over two hundred golf courses, including the number one ranked golf course in the country. Hmmm, sounds a lot like South Carolina, doesn’t it?

My point? When I arrived in the South I had some preconceived notions of what I was about to encounter. I know all of the Jeff Foxworthy jokes, and I had a few of my own. Likewise, New Jersey suffers from the critics and the cast of Saturday Night Live. But, opinions are just that.

I am sure I will stumble and I may even fall as I get used to the differences between the Palmetto State and the Garden State. And as I make the transformation into a Southerner, you can be sure that for a short time at least, Mr. Springsteen’s lyrics will continue to play in the back of my mind. After all, he says its best … “down the shore everything’s all right … when you’re in love with a Jersey girl …” Ah, memories.

P.S. – My brother-in-law almost boycotted Thanksgiving last week because I neglected to mention him in my Thanksgiving column. So, here are his fifteen minutes of fame … Jamie, Jamie, Jamie – now you have something for your scrapbook!

A Very Lowcountry Thanksgiving

November 20, 2005

“The staples of classic Southern food are butter, sugar, salt, pepper, hot sauce, vinegar, ham hocks, and to put it bluntly...fat! When's the last time you heard someone saying they're going up North to get some of that good Yankee food?” These are the words of Paula Deen – Savannah resident and southern cooking guru.

I have been planning my first Lowcountry Thanksgiving in my head for some time now. And you have heard me say before that I am seeing everything this year with a fresh set of eyes. So, committed to new traditions, I tuned into the aforementioned Paula Deen’s “Southern Thanksgiving” special on the Food Network to get some inspiration and hopefully offer my guests a southern twist for my favorite holiday.

For those of you celebrating your first holiday season in the Lowcountry, I thought I would share my plans as a Jersey girl goes southern. I mean hey, for the first time in my life, using the grill for Thanksgiving Dinner is an option, flip flops are appropriate attire, oysters are on the menu and lawn games are a go.

We are going to do appetizers outside, with a fire going in our outdoor “fire pit.” We (and by we I mean my husband, Joe) are going to roast oysters and serve them with the traditional hot sauce, melted butter and cocktail sauce. May River shrimp is on the menu as well – and we (again, Joe) will wrap it in bacon, douse it in hot sauce and grill it up. I’ll finish off the appetizers with sugar roasted pecans (“pee cahns” if you want to sound authentic). And, some boring stuff for the less adventurous.

While the grill and fire are going outside, I hope that the competitive side of the boys (helped along with some local, Palmetto Pale Ale) will get the best of them and they will partake in some lawn games – bocce and horseshoes. When have we ever been able to offer this before!?!

Come the main course, I need to stick with my old standbys … I am tempted to deep fry the turkey, but I just can’t get past the turkey being done in 30 minutes and no turkey smells in the house to show for it. Garlic smashed potatoes, fruit and bread stuffing, caramelized Vidalia onions rolls and a new sweet potato recipe courtesy of Ms. Deen.

Dessert offers some interesting options for the southern cooking newbie. I’d love to give pumpkin cheesecake a try, but I am hoping that I can find that pre-made somewhere or one of my guests will offer to handle that … Mom?

Finally, what will be most important about this day - yet too often is overlooked - giving thanks. I am thankful that I have my mother and sister so close and, that for what may have been the first time ever, we all agreed on one thing – moving to Bluffton. I am thankful that Joe’s father, who we haven’t see in four years, will be with us for Thanksgiving – and I am grateful to Joe’s mom, who passed away five years ago, but raised a wonderful son. I am thankful for small towns, good neighbors, new friends and new traditions. Happy Thanksgiving Bluffton!

HOT Peppers

November 13, 2005

I woke up this morning to more snow, which changed my routine considerably. So, I hustled outside to get the driveway shoveled. The dog loves snow, so his morning routine was altered as well but ten minutes of eating snow finally resulted in a “go” and I was back on track. Showered and dressed, I ran through the house one more time to make sure all of the windows and doors were indeed locked, all appliances were off and that I had everything I needed. I penned a quick note to the dog sitter and I was off to the airport.

This scenario took place eight months ago. My husband, Joe, was already living and working in Bluffton and I had stayed behind to pack the house and square away all of the details up North (thanks Joe). On this morning I was headed to the airport for a five day trip to Bluffton for some job interviews and my first look at our newly cleared lot, where our home would soon stand.

Fast forward some ten hours and Joe and I were looking for a place to grab dinner. Pepper’s Porch was lit up like a Christmas tree with strings of white lights and caught our attention. Once inside, it felt as if we were sitting in an old friend’s dining room – it was casual, a keyboard was being played in the corner and artwork smattered the walls. As we settled in at our table, we hear an unfamiliar sound. Not sure what it was, we turned our attention to a group of four men sitting around a square table – each with a metal bucket in front of him and another at his feet. Bang, bang, bang – it was the sound of a bucket of oysters happily being eaten. We smiled knowing that this was our new hometown.

For the remainder of my stay, we dined at Pepper’s Porch each night. When I finally arrived in Bluffton permanently it was our first stop, and remains at the top of our list. The “Back Bar” reminds me of a spot in New Jersey that Joe and I used to frequent often, and I know that if we ever convince our friend Neil to make the trek to SC for a visit, it will be the first place we take him. We have sat outside under the giant oak and watched old men “pick” (a term I picked up recently) at their mandolins and young children fly through the air on the swing that hangs from that oak.

It is no surprise that vacationers quickly discover this gem too, as during the summer months the crowds swelled and the “hometown” feel became a bit overwhelmed by the tourists. But, being a native of the Jersey shore, I am used to sharing my summers with vacationers who are trying to squeeze into one week what we take for granted for fifty-two. So, now that Bluffton belongs to the locals again, oysters are back in season and I am focusing on taking nothing for granted - Pepper’s Porch it is.

Pepper's Porch
1255 May River Road
Old Town Bluffton

Coffee Talk

November 6, 2005

Ok, so now I am addicted. I need my large mocha in the morning. My routine now includes a trip to the Bluffton Coffee House, at least three times a week - assuming that the dog has “gone” on schedule, there were no kinks in my dry cleaning (been having a problem with double-creased pants lately), and there are no pre-work emergencies.

In the mornings though, I am often rushed and I don’t always have the time to enjoy the pleasant surroundings of the Coffee House. So, a Saturday morning trip was necessary. With eyes focused, it is amazing how many things you notice when you aren’t burdened with the hustle and bustle of the weekday crunch.

In the back left corner of the Coffee House, just past the counter hangs a map of the United States. Next to it hangs a note that reads “mark your home town.” One look at the map and you’ll find that folks have settled here from all over the country – thrilled that so many patrons made their mark, I too pushed a pin right through Brick, NJ and one a little further north in Keansburg for my hubby.

Just under the map sits two tiny chairs and an antique checkerboard, which I am told has seen some action since their opening. Books of local history and lore pepper the table tops and provide an escape for those who need one. When speaking to Jim, who was behind the counter one particular morning, he told me the story of a gentleman who comes in each morning, before his wife wakes up, for a quick cup and conversation – his own private ritual.

When they were preparing the shop for opening, the electrician remarked that every coffee shop has a signature chandelier and asked where theirs was. When he finally saw the beautiful piece that was to hang above the counter he said, “I’ve seen that before – in fact, I took it down from Sea Pines years ago.” Yup – in fact, the majority of the furnishings in the Coffee House are recycled and were purchased at the Habitat for Humanity Store. You have to love and respect a new establishment that gave back to the community before it even opened its doors.

For those of you who have relocated and are still working on decorating your new home, head to the Habitat store - what a find! All proceeds go to build new Habitat homes and if you see something grab it, as the inventory moves quickly. (Volunteers are always needed to staff the store – call 843.757.9995 if you are interested.)

I am truly enjoying life in the Lowcountry and I continue to be impressed by the proprietors of our local establishments, who go out of their way to talk to me and make me feel at home. (And I know it is not because they recognize me from my BT picture – I definitely need a re-shoot on that one, do I really look like that?)

Those Summer Nights

October 30, 2005

Like a beacon in the night calling me home, a lighthouse to a wayward sailor – Jersey Mikes, the new “sub shop” on 170 in Okatie provides the taste of my old hometown. So, allow me to be selfish for a bit.

The pit stop to Jersey Mikes was my husband’s brain child as he remembered hearing something about it earlier in the week. So, with a car full of groceries and ice cream melting in the trunk, we had ventured up 170 looking for a sign of home.

Stepping into the newly opened Jersey Mikes evoked a lot of memories and emotion for me. (I know it is only a sandwich, but bear with me). The original store was in Point Pleasant, NJ, and was a quick bike ride for me along the Metedeconk River, over the Beaver Damn and Lovelandtown Bridges. A picture of that store graces the walls in the Okatie shop, and my husband and I were brought back home, if even for just a minute, when we saw it.

Jersey Mikes subs were a staple for summer concerts at The Garden State Arts Center. And, summer nights at the Arts Center were a staple for any NJ teen. Jersey Mikes was located right at the exit 91 Parkway entrance (a joke among New Jerseyians is that everything in NJ can be found based on a Parkway exit and when you meet a fellow Jersey guy or gal you ask “what exit?”) and there we would load up on sustenance for the night.

It didn’t matter who was performing each night as the fun was always in the parking lot. The Arts Center gates would open in the afternoon and would ultimately be packed with cars by 5:00 p.m. The parking lot was a place where summer loves were found, lived, and lost until everyone clambered back in their cars at the end of the summer and headed in opposite directions on the Parkway to their hometown.

Just standing at the counter last weekend – and this is going to sound sappy – but I could remember myself standing in the same spot, 800 miles north, ten(ish) years ago, with high school friends preparing to get on the road to the Arts Center.

Once I snapped back to reality, we ordered the Club Sub to go. With sub and hand, and barely out the door my husband pulled back the wrapper, nudged me and we inhaled. And, suddenly we were transported back to summer nights at the Jersey Shore. Our minor bout of homesickness cured, we eventually snapped out of the Jersey Mikes fog and spent the afternoon in the yard with the neighbors - the benefits of a Lowcountry fall are quickly growing on me.

Next time you need a quick taste of the North, you know where to go.

Courtney (formerly exit 91)

Falling in Line ...

October 23, 2005

This is my first fall in the Lowcountry. I guess I should have had some inkling that my favorite season would see some slight changes this time around. But for whatever reason I remained ignorant to the fact that I am clearly in a different region of the country where 90 degree days linger well into fall.

In my past life, I had always been ready to make the switch right after Labor Day. Children would return to school and shortly thereafter we would witness the leaves changing and the smell of wood burning stoves in the air. We would head to the farm market (Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck for my fellow New Jersey natives) for pumpkins, mums and cider, and I would once again break out my pride and joy sweater collection, which by the way, I packed and moved south with, despite the advice that I would not need it.

This year though, I was having some trouble adjusting to a fall in flip flops and yes, I’ll admit that for a few days I was even crazy enough to consider moving back north. It was a few weeks ago that I started to notice the pumpkins and scarecrows popping up all over my neighborhood but I was unable to get into the mood, after all it was still 80 degrees.Patience is a virtue, one that I do not readily possess. But finally the days have cooled, and I have decided that even though the leaves may change later than I thought and chances are the fireplace won’t see much action this season it is indeed time to start “my fall.”

So, the Northerners guide to celebrating fall in Bluffton goes something like this …

When purchasing your mums you are guaranteed that they will last well past Halloween. However, your carved pumpkins will probably reach their demise sooner than later – since the night time frost won’t be present to keep them preserved.

All of the effort and care put into your Halloween costumes will be worth it this year because you won’t have to force the kids to wear their winter coats over their costumes.

The allure of seafood lasts well throughout the season – the “shore” restaurants and bars don’t close down after the summer. In fact, October has an “R” in it, which means oysters are a go. Head to the Bluffton Oyster Company and ask for some tips on putting together your own oyster roast – a signature of fall in the Lowcountry. (This may also be a great time to find out exactly what oyster stuffing is – with Thanksgiving right around the corner, this year may be the year you substitute the sausage!)

Head to Cahill’s Market - a quaint spot on May River Road with an eclectic blend of jams, jellies, veggies, flowers and such – to fulfill the farm market itch.

Looking for coffee to take the chill out of the morning air? The new Bluffton Coffee House on Mellinchamp Drive opens early at 6:00 a.m. (they make a mean café mocha – just perfect!) and far surpasses any ideation that we need a Dunkin’ Donuts here.

In the north, you would know when fall had arrived. The air would smell different and the slight chill that the first step outside presented promised the new season. Here, we plan our fall days with warm sun and the knowledge that this year we won’t have to locate the snow shovel in the garage, just the golf clubs.

Friday Night Lights

October 16, 2005

I have two vivid football memories from my high school days. The first was me standing up at a board of education meeting and demanding to know why the girl’s field hockey team had to share uniforms while the football team had an expendable budget and outfitted over 125 players in new uniforms each year. Seriously, we stripped off our kilts after the varsity game and handed them to the junior varsity players who then went on to play in our sweat drenched skirts for an hour - with a losing record every season I am sure this boosted their moral even further.

I also insisted on an answer to why we played on a field that doubled as the baseball field in the spring (boy, if you were on offense with the dirt baseball field as your goal, you could really smack the ball hard) while the football field lay pristine during the day and only saw action five times a season when we were the home team. Surely the girls were worthy of playing on this precious turf? I should offer a quick thanks to Mrs. Niven who was my political science teacher and instructed me to exercise my rights. (I haven’t stopped since.)

My second memory is the pride I felt walking around in Ed Smith’s * varsity football jacket. He had already graduated high school and bestowed the honor of his jacket upon me. He would pick me up on Friday nights, in his hideous car, with music blaring from the speakers of a stereo system that was worth twice as much as his old’ jalopy, and we would go to the games. (I should also mention that Ed and I worked together at a local seafood restaurant and when he broke up with me, I put his jacket in a large vat of Manhattan clam chowder in the walk-in. That memory still makes me smile.)

Anyway, football in Brick, NJ was rather exciting as I am sure the many alums who were a part of one of our many state championship teams would attest. The school has had one coach in its 48 year history, which is also a draw. For me, it was a social event - as evidenced by my best memories … neither have anything to do with the game itself.

When we first arrived in Bluffton, my husband quickly took note of the fact that the local papers paid a lot of attention to high school sports. So, fresh off of renting Friday Night Lights, I pondered … is Bluffton one of those towns? Do the lights of the football stadium offer the allure of something better? And finally, is the appeal of high school football the sport? Or is it the sense of community that the event generates?

I decided that it was indeed time to put my social theory to the test and hit a local football game. But before I could even make my way to a game – I found my answers. I can see the stadium lights from my house, and on game nights I can hear the band and the roar of the crowd. And, with my senses heightened – relying primarily on what I hear - I suddenly put my finger on the appeal of the Friday night lights. Town politics, blog debates, disagreements among neighbors – they all stop at the gate to the stadium. And, for a few hours everyone is on the same team, all cheering for a common cause.

The Bluffton Bobcats are home this Friday, October 21. See for yourself.

*Names are changed to protect the innocent.

Sounds Like ...

October 10, 2005

I get caught up in conversations at work all of time – people talking about what they did over the weekend in Savannah, Beaufort, or Charleston. And they ask me if I’ve been, or start providing directions to places I have never heard of. I nod along as if I know what they are talking about. Eventually though I shamefully admit that since I moved here, I haven’t left the Bluffton/Hilton Head area (minus two trips to the Savannah airport).

I am enjoying my new home but even I will admit - I need a life. So we changed out of our t-shirts and shorts and we trekked to the Island for a Saturday night at the Jazz Corner.

I am “voice person.” By this I mean that I love a unique voice – tone, dialect, accent. I don’t know why but all of my Hollywood crushes (y’all have them so don’t snicker at me) have to do with the voice. Mark Ruffalo, Josh Lucas (who, by the way went to elementary school in Sullivan’s Island, SC), Matthew McConaughey, Harry Connick, Jr. - you get the picture.

My point in all of this is obviously that I am a great listener. And, listen we did. Eight of us converged upon the Jazz Corner at about 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday night. We were led to a table that was tightly wedged between all of the others – good thing we went to the bathroom before we left house (mom taught us right!).

Shortly after ordering our drinks, the lights dimmed, and a round of “shushing” began. At this point we noticed that the tables had little cards on them that asked us to be quiet during the performance – we were a bit surprised by this but whispered our dinner order to the waitress and focused on the stage.

The “shushing” was worth it – The Noel Freidline Trio - plus two - took the stage. And then I heard him – my newest “voice crush.” If listening was the only sense employed that evening, you would have thought Harry Connick, Jr. himself was on stage. Noel had a great sense of humor and served as narrator and pianist for the evening. His trio was actually a quintet that night and included an eclectic mix from around the country – a Tar Heel, a Mountaineer, a Floridian, a former Miss Indiana and our Kansas boy, Noel.

I don’t know much about music and having never been to a jazz club, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was definitely pleased by their repertoire. We heard fabulous renditions of Moondance, Mrs. Robinson, and At Last. Of course I am still unclear as to what “jazz” is since I’m pretty sure Van Morrison and Simon and Garfunkle don’t fall into that genre.

The crowd was just as eclectic as the music as folks in their twenties through seventies and even a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary quietly chatted, tapped their toes and enjoyed the atmosphere.

The menu was compelling and I would definitely suggest you try the shrimp, scallop and blue cheese egg rolls as an appetizer and the tiramisu for dessert. A great beginning and end to the evening.

We were back at home and in shorts and t-shirts by 11:00 p.m. – still enough time to sit out back, and enjoy our new home.

I Had Fun at the DMV

October 3, 2005

There, I said it. So, have I lost all credibility yet?

I finally – and with a mere few hours to go before hitting the new resident deadline – made my way to the Motor Vehicle Office. I scanned the crowd and moved toward the greeter’s booth to get my number.

After being drilled on the necessary documents – yes, I have my paid tax receipt, yes, I have my birth certificate, yes, to the social security card and the proof of insurance. Yes, yes, yes. (I gathered from this exchange that not everyone studied the SCDMV website to ensure that this trip would be their only trip.)

I finally received my number – 45. Initial panic set in when I looked up to find that they were at number 126. But much to my delight, that meant I was only 19th in line. My fear of being 919th quickly quelled as I was told that the board on the wall goes to 1,000 but the tickets only to 100.Whew.

So, I tucked myself into the corner – behind the greeter’s station to begin my wait. Since I forgot to bring a book – people watching would be my sport. As I settled myself right next to the spinning wheel of numbers, I knew that I could not have picked a better spot.

This was where the action was. No one could go anywhere without the go ahead of the “Greeter” and the golden number she would place in their hand. I was intrigued by the Greeter’s position, which I later learned was rotated among the DMV staff from week to week. Here is a person who has to smile all day – and we all know how hard it is to smile at DMV – anddespite how ridiculous the request, they need to try to help. My favorite that day, “the guy sold you the car, you paid for it, but you have no title? I’m sorry ma’am but you are going to need to get the title.” How she managed to muster a smile and an innocent, helpful tone was beyond myreach.

Apparently the DMV is a thriving social scene. I watched a little girl - dressed to the nines in high heeled sandals, and sparkly top - dance for the crowd. I overheard conversations about lawn maintenance, kids preparing to go away to college for the first time, new residents seekingout advice on good restaurants, shopping and the likes. It was like a block party – until one unsuspecting man turned onto our block.

It was about an hour into the show and in walked the “suit” – he gets this designation because he was the only guy in the DMV in a suit. His first victim was the Greeter who he asked for directions to the police station. She politely answered that she didn’t live in Bluffton but perhaps one of the other staff at the counter may be able to help. His second victim – a new staff member and new resident to Bluffton - was also unable to point him toward the Police Station but suggested that there were probably a number of Bluffton residents in the office and one of us could help. Then, he made us all his victims by remarking “I don’t think anyone here knowsanything.” And, he turned on his heel and headed toward the door.I felt an immediate surge of Bluffton Pride and shouted out, “lock the doors, let’s get him.” After all, you don’t come onto my block and talk to my neighbors that way. I was ready to “rumble” but then, of course, number 45 flashed on the screen and the show was over.

Cow Tippin'

September 26, 2005

Merriam-Webster defines community a number of ways : a unified body of individuals; the people with common interests living in a particular area; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (as species) in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; and on and on.

If it was the Courtney-Webster Dictionary (my name would, of course, be listed first after having ousted Merriam for being too wordy) my definition would be simple, The Sippin’ Cow.

Norm, Sam and Diane had Cheers. Rachel, Ross and all their friends had the Central Perk. Jerry and the gang hung out at Monks. Often times, television isn’t based in reality. Heck, reality television isn’t even based in reality. But, I think I may have the exception. The Sippin’ Cow would indeed be the local hangout if “Real World Bluffton”, “As Bluffton Turns”, or “The BC” were ever to make it to sweeps week.

Now, I know that I touched on the “Cow” briefly in last week’s column but it is definitely a Bluffton establishment that deserves some special attention. The Sippin’ Cow is community in action.

So, here is what I love …

The tarragon chicken salad is amazing – I order it every time – the sweet tea (we called it iced tea in NJ) is perfect, and the potato salad has a hidden ingredient that I think is bacon and definitely worth your attention.

You wouldn’t notice it if you were just driving by. In fact, folks who aren’t local probably travel 278, so they will never take “your spot” at the counter.

They have a counter with stools – a great place to eat on your own and quietly listen, and learn everything Bluffton – as the conversations of others drift over in bits and pieces.

The service is top notch – always a smile, always a kind word and you never wait more than a few minutes for your order.

The brilliance behind the personalized service is in how you order. The menus are notepads, you write your name at the top, check off what you’d like and just like that, they know who you are. So, rather than hearing “who had the chicken salad on rye” you hear “where’s Courtney.”

4 out of every 5 customers are greeted by name – before they write it down with their order. This is most endearing and reminds my why I love being part of a small town. (Some day – maybe after this column – I hope that they will know me by name.)

The walls are plastered with novelty items, great articles about the place, its owners, and the most recent addition to the walls is the pink bonnet that graced the store front when owners, Adam and Lyndee, welcomed Virginia Adelyne into the world.

The license plate collection. Great reading if you decide to dine in. (Hey Adam, I have some to donate, if you are interested.)

The crowd is an eclectic mix of locals – folks in suits, dusty work boots, and flip flops. Most everyone who walks in the door is greeted by someone already enjoying their bite at the counter or at one of the small tables that border the windows.

It just feels like home.

For those of you who have already discovered this gem, I am preaching to the choir. If you haven’t enjoyed the camaraderie and community that the Sippin’ Cow offers, hurry up – the lunch specials go fast!

The Sippin’ Cow Cafe is located on May River Road, Old Town. Make sure to throw a little something in the jar on the counter, the folks working behind it, deserve it!

PS – I arrived home last week to find Heartland USA in my mailbox (“The Magazine of the American Outdoor Life” and chock full of guns, garb and gear) – I’ve never seen anything like it. Now, I know I am in the South. I’d like to do something very “Southern” to commemorate my subscription to this new magazine (Martha Stewart will be appalled). Any suggestions?