Thursday, May 25, 2006

Committed to the Asylum

When you walk in, you are not sure where to focus your eyes. You hear the gentle squawk of the resident bird, “Pumpkin”, who forces you to – albeit somewhat hesitantly – venture in further, and peak around. What you make of it is up to you.

You’ve entered the Art Asylum at 1230 May River Road, Old Town, and this is not your typical art gallery. By typical I mean pristine walls sparsely populated with art that you can’t afford and sales associates peering at you trying to assess your net worth. Instead, it reflects the small town feel of Bluffton, as many of the galleries in Old Town do. In fact, the first time I slipped in to have a look I never encountered a person. I wandered on my own for a few minutes – a no pressure browse.

The birth of the Art Asylum is a sweet story steeped in love for the community. Last fall, Harold and Denise Lee, owners of Old Bluffton Flowers (a find in itself and the perfect spot for your visiting guests to pick up a memento of their stay here), were looking for a way to bring an art gallery to the space next to their shop. By January the doors were open and another Bluffton institution was born. The Lees generously provide the financial backing for the Art Asylum as a gift back to the community, one that they adopted years ago.

My second pop-in introduced me to Molly Carrington, Artist-in-Residence of the Asylum, which she bills as a haven for artists. “This is a place to keep them safe from the world,” Molly tells me.

According to Molly, “The Asylum is a montage of good and bad art. Art is everything – it is in the mind of the beholder.” The Art Asylum encourages artist to be unusual and different. This mission stems from Molly’s own experiences as a “junk artist” – a genre that hasn’t been taken seriously in her opinion.

The Art Asylum offers an eclectic mix of art in all forms – paintings, jewelry, paint your own pottery, poetry readings, creative arts classes, artist’s receptions every Friday night (booked through 2007!) and even Tai Chi on occasion. My favorite … Lillian Byrne Heyward’s current exhibit features an inventory of rooster-related oils on canvas that I am salivating over. Good news, they have a lay-a-way plan for art purchases!

Molly tells the story of the Art Asylum and the Bluffton arts community with passion. She is an interesting women with a gift to share and a mantra that goes something like this, “Well behaved women don’t make history.” I like this lady!

Art Walk Today!
Today the Art Asylum and the galleries and shops on Calhoun Street, stay open late and open their doors to the community for an art walk – an open house of sorts.

Merchants and artists will spill onto Calhoun Street offering snacks and libations. Howard Duff will entertain the crowd with his blues music, and guests will enjoy the chance to meet the artists and maybe understand just what it is that inspires them.

Art Walk Bluffton – Food, Music & Art
Today, Friday, May 26
3:00 – 8:00 p.m.
For details, call the Art Asylum at 757.2741

Friday, May 19, 2006

Hair we go again ...

When I was twelve, I insisted that I needed a perm. New Jersey’s sons, Bon Jovi, had recently released their first record and were wildly popular and so was big hair.

My seventh grade, wavy hair would just not do. I needed a perm, so that I could tease it out and look like the rest of the girls in my class. I finally convinced my mom that a perm was the way to go and I remember counting the days until my appointment.

When we arrived at the salon, on a Friday afternoon, we learned that our stylist, whom we trusted, was out sick and Angel would be filling in. Nothing about Angel set my Mom’s mind at ease. It could have been her attire, her tattoos, or the fact that her hair had about 6 inches of dark roots before the bleached blonde took over.

But, there was no way I was letting this opportunity slip through my fingers. So, I sat in the chair and got what many could call the worst perm in the history of perms. I, of course, pretended that it was just great lest I give Mom the satisfaction of a “you were right”. (Shortly after, I would also be allowed to wear makeup. Unfortunately, blue eye shadow was in style back then and there is a year of pictures that I believe my mom should destroy.)

Oddly, that perm gave me permanent curls to this day. Whether it was Angel, puberty, or genes, I have very curly hair and I have been fighting it ever since.

So, what does a girl with curly hair want more than anything else? Why, straight hair, of course! Most mornings, I pull it back in a pony tail and call it a day. But every once in awhile I decide that I need a new look. And, that is where the saga begins.

Since being in Bluffton, I have tried three salons in an effort to find the best hairstyle for me.

Salon A decided that what I really needed was long layers, straight hair and some highlights. You know the “Jennifer Aniston”, seven years too late. It looked great, for a day. The next morning, after I decided there was no way I was straightening my hair each morning (a thirty minute ritual) or having light blonde highlights in my brown hair, I was at Walgreens buying hair color to return to my original state. By noon, my hair was brown again and in a pony tail.

After a five month recovery period, I headed to Salon B. After a thirty minute wait, I again shared my desire for a style. It was December and I wanted to cut my hair short, avoid the pony tail for a few months, and enjoy my curls while humidity was in a down cycle.

Salon B suggested, “yes, go with your curls, but you don’t want short hair, not with your face.” (I think that was an insult.) The indicator light did not go on – the one that should have prompted me to exit immediately - so I allowed Salon B to proceed to tell me what I should do. After all, they were the “experts”. So, I came home with long hair, parted on the wrong side, some short layers mixed throughout and enough product to keep the New York Kennel Club show dogs primped for a year. My solution this time? I gave Joe a pair of scissors and made him cut my hair.

After another long recovery period and months of split ends (did I mention that Joe cut my hair with small bathroom scissors?) I got back on that horse and headed to Salon C – Charles & Company in the Kroger shopping Plaza.

This time, I was prepared to stand my ground and what a delightful experience it was. I was put in the chair at exactly the time my appointment was to start. I then explained what I wanted – just a trim please – and I found a stylist who listened.

I am proud to say that I will indeed return. I finally, after a year of searching, found a salon in Bluffton that will see my repeat business.

Friday, May 12, 2006

The Nitty, Gritty

The Nitty, Gritty

I’ve heard all about them, but still haven’t had the nerve to taste them. Grits that is. They are described as small broken grains of corn. But menus throughout the South, offer various culinary variations to the grit.

They have shrimp and grits, cheddar grits, bacon and artichoke grits, grits and cheese casserole, friend grits, fried grits and ham, southwestern grits, garlic cheese grits, baked grits, corn-grits fritters, chicken medallions and grits, stone ground grits, wild mushroom grits, spring chicken and grits, tomato grits, and chile grits.

The list goes on and on. Emeril, Paul Deen, Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence – they all have their own recipes for grits – these small broken grains of corn, that I guess can taste like just about anything.

But, my interest also lies in the other type of grits. The capital G, capital R, capital I, capital T, capital S – Girls Raised In The South, G.R.I.T.S.

My first encounter with a G.R.I.T.S. was right after I accepted my job here in Bluffton. I was handling all of my human resources paperwork via email and FedEx packages and received the sweetest email from the human resources representative at my new company. She asked about my husband, my family, our new home, our new neighborhood, and what she could do to help me settle. Then, she shared news about Bluffton to prepare me for my arrival - the azaleas were blooming, Church of the Cross was expanding, the weather was warming. She was everything that I expected from a Southern woman and more.

So, to help my fellow newbies acclimate to the land of grits and G.R.I.T.S., check out these recipes for both.

Cheesy Grits (Courtesy of and the easy version that I am going to try):
1 cup coarse-ground white grits
2 cups water or more, if needed
2 cups milk
1 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 cup sharp white Cheddar
Set a sauté pan over medium heat and grease (bacon grease is a great start). Add the water, milk and grits to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the grits, covered, stirring often, until soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours depending on the grits. Add more water a half cup at a time), if necessary. Once the grits are cooked to the desired degree of tenderness, season with salt and pepper. Add the cheese and stir well to combine

G.R.I.T.S. (the version I’ll never be, but will continue to aspire to)
• Must be born south of the Mason-Dixon Line (No chance of that happening for me.)
• Well versed in the Southern dialect. Prone to sayings such as, “dahlin’” she takes her time speaking and enunciates. (I’m what you’d call a fast-talker.)
• Can make sweet tea with her eyes closed and hands tied behind her back. (Damn if I can’t figure out how to add the right amount of sugar!)
• She is gracious and warm and always makes you feel at home in her home. (There are a few exceptions who have tried to curse the Yankees - me included - back to the North, but for the most part this holds true.)
• She makes her grits from scratch!

For more, you may want to visit a website dedicated to the art of the G.R.I.T.S. I learned a lot and I think you will too!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Things that make you go hmmm...

My column was moved to Friday. Too much ad space on Sundays was cramping my style - and stripping my column of 200 words a week and we can all agree that the good people of Bluffton need more than 300 words of Courtney each week. So I successfully bothered my Editor enough, that he moved me for good. So here it is, my Friday debut -

DISCLAIMER: I am politically challenged.

What is your favorite type of Bar-B-Que sauce?

Ketchup based?
Mustard based?
Vinegar based?

Why do I ask? Actually, it’s not I who inquires. This question was posed by the South Carolina Democratic Leadership Council in an e-Survey on South Carolina politics sent on April 20.

In case you are interested, 33% of respondents favor mustard-based bar-b-que, followed by 32% for vinegar-based, and ketchup-based in a close third with 29%.

In more food news, Governor Mark Sanford traveled to Rock Hill on Monday to sign H.4585, designating the boiled peanut as the official State Snack Food of South Carolina.

Important work we are doing here, huh?

Anyway, these interesting tidbits got me thinking. It is only natural that a new South Carolinian would want to know more. So, here it is people.

The General Assembly declared by Act No. 360, 1984, the peach as the official fruit of the State. South Carolina is the nation's leading peach producer and shipper east of the Mississippi River. See, now I just learned something. Didn’t you think the leading peach producer would be Georgia?

Our state flower is the Carolina Yellow Jessamine - officially adopted by the General Assembly on February 1, 1924, because, and I quote the state website, “it is indigenous to every nook and corner of the State; it is the first premonitor of coming Spring; its fragrance greets us first in the woodland and its delicate flower suggests the pureness of gold; its perpetual return out of the dead Winter suggests the lesson of constancy in, loyalty to and patriotism in the service of the State.” This flower can be found growing up mail box posts throughout Bluffton.

The Palmetto is the official state tree. Ok, that certainly makes sense.

Tea is the state hospitality beverage, per Act No. 31, 1995. Well, of course it is! Some history for you - South Carolina is the first place in the United States where tea was grown having been planted in the Lowcountry outside of Charleston in 1799 at what is now Middleton Place. And now, “the direct descendants of those very plants have been restored to their former grandeur at the Charleston Tea Plantation, a lush, subtropical tea farm, nestled on a serene sea island near the historic City of Charleston.”

But wait! The official state beverage – not to be confused with the official state hospitality beverage – is milk. Um, what did you say? Yes, it is true. Milk was designated as the official State Beverage by Act No. 360, 1984. Why can’t I find anything about a state cookie? Then we could celebrate properly.

Did you know that the “shag” - yeah, baby (only Austin Powers fans are laughing) - is the state dance per Act No. 329, 1984? 1984 was apparently a slow year in the state house. In fact the National Shag Dance Championships are held each year in Myrtle Beach, twenty-four years running. According to, shag is “an off-shoot of swing; a couples dance that involves a six to eight step count and involves a simple forward-and-back motion and a change step at the end; with the six count, this consists of two triple steps, followed by a rock step for the ladies and an optional kick-ball for the gents.” Anyone else just trip and fall?

Finally, I leave you with the first couple of verses to one of South Carolina’s two state songs, South Carolina On My Mind …

At the foot hills of the Appalachian chain,
Down through the rivers, to the coastal plain,
There's a place that I call home,
And I'll never be alone,
Singin' this Carolina love song

I've got South Carolina on my mind
Remembering all those sunshine Summertimes,
And the Autumns in the Smokies when the leaves turn to gold
Touches my heart and thrills my soul to have South Carolina on my mind,
With those clean snow-covered mountain Wintertimes
And the white sand of the beaches and those Carolina peaches,
I've got South Carolina on my mind.