Fruit frenzy!

21 Sep

Summer has always been my favorite season. It still is, despite having endured one of the hottest summers recorded in North Carolina history, and previously unfamiliar with this thing called ‘humidity.’ But, with the autumnal equinox less than two days away, the days will be getting shorter soon, the weather will cool and all of the great things summer brings with it will fade away.

What will I miss most?

Sweet, juicy, humongous, abundant, delicious fruit! Seriously, my Southwestern friends – y’all are missing out. The fruit here in the South is so, SO good.

Since the beginning of summer, I’ve been making a giant bowl of fruit salad every week. Watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, strawberries, blueberries, grapes – basically, I throw in whatever I can find, and usually by Thursday the entire bowl is gone.

The strange thing is, one of my most vivid memories of young childhood in North Carolina is picking strawberries with my family and some of my dad’s friends. Obviously, that one afternoon in a strawberry field made a real impression! I can’t help but reflect back on that when I dig in to that bowl o’ fruit.


Random Photo No. 3

14 Sep

I love when people decorate their cars. I saw this ocean-themed one today in the parking lot of a craft store – no surprise there!

Massive is to South :: murderous is to Southwest

7 Sep

As previously stated, I’m not a big fan of bugs in the South.

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest creepy crawlers I’ve seen so far:

Imperial moth (Eacles imperialis)

An even bigger Imperial Moth.

Carolina mantis (Stagmomantis carolina)

They are big. They are numerous. But, they are not dangerous.

I read an article the other day –  ‘Guide to the United States’ 4 Deadliest Insects‘. Amazingly, every single one of the four most harmful insects in the U.S. are found in Arizona.

I’ve long known that these insects – black widow, tarantula, Africanized bee and scorpion – are dangerous. But, for some reason they seem less unnerving than their harmless, yet gargantuan Southern counterparts.

Fear of the unknown, I guess.

Progessive ≠ podunk

26 Aug

A lot of people have asked me why I moved to the South, and especially since I’m from so far away. My reason was simple – I was looking for better opportunities. As it turns out, I am not alone.

Why do people like the South? The weather is balmy, the cost of living is low, and quite frankly, I think people like the idea of the South. The traditional view of the region is a romanticized, idealized, old-fashioned, morality-driven, rural living type of place and it’s appealing to many people from all areas of origin.

Or, at least people like that version of the South.

The idealized version that persists in the minds of non-Southerners exists as a part of a dichotomy, the other half consisting of poor, uneducated people in rural settings wearing trucker hats and denim overalls who spend their days hunting, fishing, riding tractors and drinking beer down by the river.

Despite that negative and often overriding image, more and more people move to the region every year.

The huge influx of people from other parts of the country (and other countries) into the South in the past several decades has created a dramatic change in the demographic and consequently the culture. There is a wider variety of people, sparking new demands and new businesses, increasing commerce, creating new jobs and expanding cities.

So why, knowing that, does the rest of the country and the world, for that matter, still view the South as poor and podunk? The same reason outsiders think the West is still chock-full of gold miners and gun-slinging outlaws.

North Carolina Public Radio‘s ‘The State of Things‘ is airing a two-part series called ‘Meet the New New South‘ in which they explore this phenomenon.

The first segment aired Monday on WUNC, in which host Frank Stasio discusses the change with several experts, including Historian Tom Hatchett of the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, N.C. Hatchett explains the reason why he believes the South has progressed without breaking free of its stereotypes.

“I think that there are two parts of the country that have really strong images around the world – one is the West, where everyone is a cowboy, of course, except for the Indians . . . and the other is the South – the gracious, the old, (the) mint juleps, the backward-looking world of traditional food and traditional literature . . . and those stereotypes die hard.”

The idea of the ‘New South’ is not itself an new concept. As Stasio says in the program, historians argue that this is perhaps the great-great-great-great-grandchild of the original New South, the first being the post-Civil War era.

The South (like the West) has made great strides, taking it far from its early beginnings. Urbanization, migration, immigration and corporate industry are the main factors lending to the most recent reinvention of the South, says Hatchett, but despite all that negative images of an impoverished, rural resident population prevails.

Can the South reinvent its reputation or is its ‘redneck’ label stuck with Super Glue strength? I’m interested to see what insight Part Two of ‘Meet the New New South’ will bring.

Also, while we’re at it, let’s have some sympathy for the new ‘Wild West’.

Listen to Part 1 of ‘Meet the New New South’ here:

‘Office’ accent fail

22 Aug

I was watching some of  Season 6 of  ‘The Office’ today and laughed out loud when I saw the episode “Murder”. I completely forgot about this great episode where the characters play a game called Belles, Bourbon & Bullets, a whodunit game set in Savannah, Georgia. It’s a bizarre mix between the board game Clue and the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

The employees of Dunder Mifflin choose a character and act out that role as they try to solve the murder mystery. Their attempts to adopt Southern accents as part of their role-play are both terrible and hilarious.

Check out this clip from ‘The Office’ Season 6, Episode 10:

Random Photo No. 2

17 Aug

One of my favorite things about the South is all the water!

This little lake behind our apartment complex is host to turtles, geese, ducks and fish. They make a beeline for the gazebo each time they see a person, hoping for a snack.

She’s so ‘Scandalous’!

11 Aug

I cruised the streets of Durham Saturday on my continued quest for an easy read with some Southern flair.

What I got was a story centered around a sassy Southern belle in her early-thirties with a gritty sense of humor and a marriage built on lies. It’s set in the small town of Gentry, Louisiana, bouncing among three periods of her life – high school, young adulthood and present-day.

In The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc, author Loraine Despres tells the tale of a discontented housewife and mother with a knack for manipulating men (sometimes to her detriment) and follows her as she flawlessly extracts herself from each sticky situation.

While contemplating her constricting life, Sissy jokingly entertains thoughts of suicide by Coca-Cola and asprin –  just before she  spots her high school sweetheart, Parker Davidson hanging from a telephone pole across the street.

He had just returned to town after 14 years away. Parker vehemently pursues Sissy, a chase which she is only barely reluctant to resist. The only thing standing in the way is her “toad” of a husband, Peewee LeBlanc.

Sissy navigates her way through life with a simple set of rules she mentally records as she discovers them. Each is numbered. She refers to her composition as ‘The Southern Belle’s Handbook,’ an actual book written by Despres.

Sissy’s rules for living are like herself – devious, funny and purpose-driven.

One of my favorites is:

“When you get to be a certain age, you realize that the only thing you have time for is doing exactly what you want.”

And that’s what Sissy does.

The book has its dark points, but like every great Southern book, it is down-to-earth, humorous and contains a character longing for more than her small-town life has to offer.

Random Photo No. 1

8 Aug

Yep, it is what it sounds like – a random photo.

Here’s the plan: I will post random photos with random frequency of random things I find in the South.

Why so random? I don’t want to feel obligated to post not-so-great photos just because it’s time for “Photo of the Month/Week/Day,” etc.

That’s about it. Here’s a daylily from outside our back door.

“Its botanical name, Hemerocallis, derives from two Greek words meaning ‘beauty’ and ‘day,’ referring to the fact that each flower lasts only one day.”

-The American Hemerocallis Society website

What’s in a name? One’s age, apparently.

7 Aug

Diminutives are big in the South.

Not only are people under 30 often referred to as ‘girls’ and ‘boys,’ those comprising the older demographic are apt to add an “ie” or “y” to the end of the so-called youngsters’ names – at least the ones that can adopt those suffixes.

In case you’re confused:


pertaining to or productive of a form denoting smallness, familiarity, affection, or triviality, as the suffix -let, in droplet from drop. (

For (another) example, take this recurring conversation I’ve had with middle-aged or older people I’ve met at work:

“Excuse me, young girl – what’s your name?”


“Nice to meet you, Katie. I’m (insert name here).”

The first couple times this happened, it was irritating. I thought these people weren’t listening, or maybe they didn’t hear me correctly. So, I corrected them.

“It’s ‘Kate,’ not ‘Katie’.”

Much to my frustration, even then, most of them continued to call me ‘Katie.’

It’s not that I dislike the name ‘Katie’ – I’m bothered by the combination of being referred to as a “young girl” and the use of the diminutive form of my name, which I did go by – when I was actually a young girl.

I’ll admit, this is somewhat of a touchy subject for me. Apparently, I appear much younger than I am – many peg me at about a decade younger, give or take a year or two. Case in point: the number of times I have been mistaken for a high school student in the past year cannot be counted on my two youthful hands. But, I digress.

The concept is common in the Southwest, too. Although, the use of names in diminutive form is mostly isolated to the Spanish-speaking population and more often meant to convey affection rather than youth. Here’s an exception – when a child and his/her parent share the same first name, then the child will often take on the diminutive form of the name. For example, if  man named Paulo names his son Paulo, then it’s likely the father is called Paulo and his son goes by Paulito. It’s a sort of substitute for ‘Junior.’

As explained to me by a(n older and wiser) coworker, here in the South diminutives are just a cultural norm. At this point, I’ve stopped correcting  and accepted that people will call me what they want. That’s just their way.

The Secret of Hippol Castle

3 Aug

I’ve long been fascinated by mysteries.

As a kid, I pored through stacks of Nancy Drew and Kay Tracey books, soaking up their sleuthing tactics in hopes of someday stumbling upon a situation where I could be the detective. I wanted to be the one to uncover the secret, solve the crime or expose the truth.

I did not, however, believe the mystery would magically find me, as it often did Drew and Tracey. I thought it my mission to seek it out . . . and I took it quite seriously.

In my game of make-believe detective, I softly tapped on walls with my knuckles searching for secret passageways and examined cracks for signs of hidden hidey-holes. I looked for cryptic codes in discarded bits of paper I found along the roadside. Strangers and acquaintances alike transformed into scheming villains whose missions were to prevent me from discovering the truth about whatever mystery I believed I was pursuing.

I was persistent, but never found what I was looking for – my very own mystery.

My penchant for mysteries has continuously grown in intensity since I first laid hands on those series. Whether presented in literary or cinematic form, mysteries continue to be my preferred form of entertainment.

Mostly, mysteries in books, movies and television are fictional. Fiction is great, but nothing tops a real-life mystery. I guess it’s because the reader/viewer knows that in a real-life mystery a real-life person(s) used real-life techniques to discover the truth and solve the mystery.

Even now, Ihave that desire to be a  real-life detective. It’s not that I necessarily want a career in mystery-solving: I just want one really great mystery. Shortly after I moved to NC, I started digging for local secrets.

Chapel Hill isn’t exactly a dangerous place, so there wasn’t much in the realm of unsolved crime, but I did discover a fascinating piece of architecture with an even more interesting background: Hippol Castle, an old stone structure at the end of Gimghoul Road in Chapel Hill’s Gimghoul Historic District is “the” mystery of the town. (It is also commonly referred to as ‘Gimghoul Castle.’)

The building’s history revolves around a long and detailed legend (which by definition, of course, is a fabrication) about a guy named Peter Dromgoole who was a University of North Carolina student. According to the story, he died at the site. Basically, it’s a classic tale of two guys pining for one girl and deciding to duel to the death for the prize of her affection. You can read more about it here.

One part of the story is true: the Order of Gimghoul, a secret society formed around the legend does exist. Records of the organization are available at the UNC’s Wilson Library, though they’re heavily restricted.

Also, the Order of Gimghoul (which, in addition to being a secret society, is also a corporation) owns the castle. Much to my disappointment, I found that it is  not open to the public and that there are numerous signs discouraging trespassers. One website claims there is an armed security guard on site 24/7 to prevent break-ins. I wondered, what do the order’s members use it for? Does anyone live there? What is it that they are so eager to protect?

Weeks after my discovery of its existence, I could hold out no longer. I had to see it for myself.

I traveled down tree-lined Gimghoul Road to where asphalt gives way to gravel and meticulously manicured foliage tranforms into full-fledged forest. There it was: Hippol Castle.

There were indeed “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs. My plan if I were approached was to apologize profusely, explaining that I thought the dirt drive was an extension of Gimghoul Road and that I was trying to find a friend’s house, but got lost. After all, the signs were directly in front of the property, not at the driveway’s entrance, which extended from the road to beyond the castle, with a semi-circular segment in front of the building. I stayed on the straight part.

Still sitting in my car, I carefully surveyed the scene while I felt around for my camera. There was a black SUV parked in the driveway, but no sign of activity. Light from the blazing mid-afternoon sun struggled to penetrate the dense foliage. The effect was unsettling.

After a minute or two, I decided it was best to leave. Camera in hand, I quickly snapped a couple of photos and put my car in reverse. As I was backing out, I caught a glimpse of a figure peeking out from behind the white curtain in the left upstairs window – the rumored security guard, perhaps?

I drove home, thirst for discovery unquenched. Truthfully, I was also kind of creeped out. I did discover one thing that day: courageousness can’t be learned from a book.