Local Adjacent Hippies

One of Lexington’s Many Decorative Pigs

Our daughter recently chose North Carolina’s Piedmont for her wedding. I was tasked with writing up some interesting nearby places.

Our families have a long history in the area.  My mother’s family, the Styers show up on the 1790 census.  Glenda’s family, Snodys and the Haymores, have been in the area so long, my family is consider newcomers. However, my great grandfather ran Styers Ferry across the Yadkin River in the days before bridges and there is even a road in nearby Forsyth County called Styers Ferry Road.  I also grew up in the area and lived on Styers Street. My childhood home there is now a restaurant which is probably not a coincidence considering how good a cook my mother was.

North Carolina’s Piedmont is very unique among the places we have lived. It is a vibrant, growing place that is still blessed with lots of small farmers and plenty of farmers’ markets.  Small farmers are an endangered species in these days of combines with 50ft headers.

There are restaurants here that are closely connected to the land and the farmers who care for it.  You do not have to explain why homegrown tomatoes are better. People here know how to cook food from scratch- from beans to homemade jams. They also know everything you need to know and some things you don’t want to know about using all of a pig.

This is the land of country sausage and country hams, and of course true pit cooked pork barbecue.

We know farmers whose families have been farming the same land for five generations. Food is important here and it is how North Carolina welcomes its guests and keeps them coming back.  We can teach you all you need to know about pork, fried chicken,  chicken pies -Moravian or otherwise, pimento cheese and even cobblers or sonkers. 

When our daughter asked us to research things for visitors to do,  the obvious place to look was nearby Lexington, North Carolina. It is around fifteen minutes from the Finch House and has plenty to entertain visitors. It is also the home of the Holt House which some of you will visit.  Most importantly, Lexington is the barbecue capital of North Carolina and hence the world.  That is settled fact.

As the holidays were getting in gear in December, we decided to see what we could find to entertain us in Lexington for an afternoon.  Obviously, we first had to decide where to eat. I found  a nice place, Rustic Roots,  in a building that used to house an old hotel on Main Street.  We arrived just before the lunch rush.  I ordered the BLT and Glenda got the lunch special, a chicken pot pie.  My BLT was delicious with hand-sliced sourdough bread and a little twist with melted cheese on the ham.  It was accompanied by homemade chips. Glenda’s pot pie was obviously not from a  sous vide bag.  It was topped with some beautiful puff pastry.

Next we wandered down to Bruce’s Tuxedos, the largest supplier of tuxedos in the region.  I was hoping for some advice on where to get a suit for Erin’s and Tim’s wedding.  True to my hippy-adjacent roots (I had to look it up), I do not own a suit at least yet. Bruce gave me a great recommendation but it was in Winston-Salem, thirty minutes away.  Exploring Lexington took priority.

Next, my other persona, that of being a cattleman running two hundred  head of Angus cattle in New Brunswick,  caused us to head down the block to visit the Butcher Block. I had read of their high quality meat and wanted to see the place in person.  While I have made and eaten a few soy burgers, I still favor a good steak on my plate at least once a quarter.

It turns out that the Butcher Block goes well beyond great meat.  They have a wonderful selection of oysters, and other interesting items like pineapple flavored rum cake.  They get fresh grouper and flounder from the coast on Fridays.  I had a great time and brought home some really nice pork chops with a test batch of house bacon.  I expect to be a regular customer.

Next we wandered back by the car to stick the meat in a cooler and visited the Conrad Hinkle Food Market just across from the old Courthouse which is now a free local museum.  Conrad Hinkle sells a lot of their brand pimento chesse all across the Triad (Winston-Salem, High Point, Greensboro). Their store is an old-fashioned grocery store and has a mother lode of  their own pimento cheese, but please don’t buy any. I would be happy to teach you how to make your own and it will be twice as good as what you can buy there.  I was tempted to buy our daughter a can of spam at Conrad Hinkle, but she has yet to eat the one I gave her for a Christmas present in 2005. Without a doubt, it is still “safe” to eat.

After the grocery store which has the smallest shopping carts that I have ever seen, we wandered over to the Candy Factory.  It was crowded with holiday shoppers and we were a little overwhelmed.  There was no shortage of candy had we desired any.  Next trip we plan to go farther down Main Street and see the actual factory where the famous red bird mints are made. My addiction to those mints leads me to try to not buy more than a handful at a time.

After the over stimulation from the candy store, we headed to the visitors center back by the Courthouse.  Mostly, we needed to find some public restrooms since we had been hiking around the same few blocks for over three hours.  Beyond clean historic restrooms, we also got lots of recommendations about where we should eat next time and the things that we missed during this visit. 

Lexington has an amazing number of interesting restaurants, small shops and boutiques. There is a coffee shop, a bookstore, a bagel shop, and even an Army-Navy store which appears to have the jeans’ market cornered.  I don’t think anyone will be disappointed it they park on Main Street in Lexington near the old Court House, find something to eat, and wander around for a while.  There is plenty to choose from with just a short walk even by our aging standards.

According to the ladies at the visitors center the Hampton Inn in Lexington is the newest hotel in the area and it is only 15 minutes from the wedding venue. If you are having trouble finding a spot, you might want to consider it.

I was planning on getting barbecue from Smiley’s for dinner after our trip.  After some testing a year ago, Smiley’s had emerged as one of my favorite barbecue destinations. One of the welcome center ladies told me that Smiley’s had been torn down because of a road construction project.  Losing one barbecue restaurant in Lexington is not a problem.  The ladies gave us a list of ten others.  We picked the closest one, The Barbecue Center.   We brought home a great dinner, coleslaw, potato salad with some of the freshest buns on earth.

Here is a link to pictures I took during our afternoon in Lexington.

Thirty minutes after leaving Lexington, I was fitted for my suit for the wedding and headed back to Mocksville where we live.  Now about that hippy-adjacent comment.  Yes, I went back to the land, but I always preferred working the land with a big green John Deere tractor or a huge red  International one and that was a long time ago. I will admit that Erin had two Labrador retrievers as baby sitters occasionally. That might explain a few things.

I have worn my fair share of suits walking through DC humidity but that also was a couple of decades ago. The moths got my last DC suit. Rumors that I planted them are not true. My daughter will likely admit that I am closer to a geek with dirty fingers from gardening than anything else but that is a very long story. If you need a really fast fiber connection for work while in the area, stop by Mocksville. We’re likely faster than what you have up north.

Not Missing My Boat Yet

The White Oak River near Swansboro, NC

In 2006, we bought a home on Raymond’s Gut just off the White Oak River just ten minutes from the beaches of Emerald Isle. In June of 2007, we added a boat and a boat lift to our collection of things to make life more complete here along the water.

There were challenges to learning how to be safe boaters in our fifties, I even took a course and hired someone to accompany us on our first trip to Shackleford Banks in our own boat. It was a very long ride down there by boat from our house. The trip was so long, it was the only time we ever made that trip with our boat.

Everytime you use a boat, it takes more time than most people imagine to clean it up, and each year it needs maintenance which increases with the age of the boat. However even with all the work, we enjoyed boating for several years. These pictures taken from our skiff and going from Raymond’s Gut to Swansboro give you an idea of all the beauty we have seen from our skiff. Then there was this especially memorable trip with my friend, Brian, when we beached the skiff on an island just outside of Bogue Inlet.

It was truly nice when our children would come down and we could all go boating. I often told people that you could not really see the Crystal Coast without riding down the Intracoastal Waterway from the Emerald Isle bridge to Swansboro’s harbor. In my mind it was a much better main street for the area than Highway 24.

I learned out to the navigate the tricky waters of the White Oak River. I even got so I would venture out a little into the ocean. I even captained a few memorable fishing trips like this one where we caught bluefish until our arms ached.

However, I got so that I did most of my fishing from the kayak. Going out in the skiff, even my early morning ride to the marshes near Swansboro, became less a part of my life. Still I am grateful for all the beauty that the skiff allowed me to see.

Most boaters will tell you that owning a boat is a lot of work even if you have a lift for it. The other thing about a boat is that it is a lot of responsibility when you are the captain and you have others on board. A lot of things can go wrong on a boat and people do get hurt even in safe places to boat like the sounds of the Crystal Coast much less the more dangerous Bogue Inlet. I could handle emergencies a lot better when I was in my fifties than now when I am in my seventies. Making sure that you have a safe boating trip can be very stressful.

A few years ago I sold my truck. I was driving it less than 2,000 miles a year. Do I miss it? Once in a while I would like to have it back but it did not make sense given that we have limited parking at our house and I put less than 2,000 miles per year on it the last few years. I enjoyed driving it, but it wasn’t something that I had to have to survive. I guess the boat finally got to that same point.

This spring I had someone interested in buying my boat so I made the decision to sell my boat and get rid of my lift. I am pleased with the decision. It is a couple of less things to worry about as I get a little age on me.

When you get into your seventies, it is not uncommon to simplify your life. We’re working at that. I still enjoy getting out on the water, but I have plenty to fill my life like gardening, fishing from my kayak, and our newly found marsh kittens.

The changes required by the current crisis make you appreciate a lot of simple things in life. I am just happy to have a beautiful home along the water and that my family and friends are safe so far from the Corornavirus.

I have a lot of great memories with my boat, but it hasn’t been gone long enough for me to miss it.

HOAs Rarely Provide a Smooth Ride

The Low Tide Channel Between Oyster Rocks in the White Oak River.

Many of us live in HOAs. At the best of times HOAs stay out of our lives, provide a little safety, protect our property values and usually offer us some recreational opportunities that we might not have if we built our homes in the middle of a field.

Unfortunately, many HOAs are started by developers, have underfunded reserves, and people with agendas running them. Most will say that their agenda is to make the community a better and more beautiful place to live.

However, as we all know the devil is in the details. Something like navigating a river with hidden oyster rocks at high tide. When you put people of varying ages together in a community, it is hard to come up with priorities that suit the majority of the people. The guy in his seventies who has given up boating is going to care a lot less about the inlet needing to be dredged than the younger family that just spent $30,000 on a new boat.

HOAs also come with lots of skeletons hiding in their closets. Those are the poor decisions, reckless spending and down right illegal actions that sometimes box HOAs in a corner. The usual advice is to get involved with your HOA. However, there are times when doing just that puts you in one faction or the other in your community. They might even be warring factions.

My advice is to carefully investigate any HOA in a community where you are planning on buying. Talk to more than one person, try to find someone with a broad perspective of the community. Sometimes HOAs drink a lot of their own Koolaide so be careful accepting at face value the pitch from HOA directors. Someone not on the board might have a totally different view.

Here is a cautionary tale of what can happen when HOAs go off the rails.

Saved by the Marsh Kittens

Our four marsh kittens that we recently rescued

Our time living on the North Carolina coast will hit fourteen years this fall. It has been a wonderful adventure. We live on Raymond’s Gut off the impressively wide White Oak River near the beaches of Emerald Isle. I was not a boater when I came to the area, but we bought a 20 feet skiff in June of 2007 and we learned to love our time on the water. I also continued the kayaking that I have been doing since the mid-nineties. I even wore out one kayak by fishing very close by the oyster rocks in the river.

Living on the water, in the marsh has been a life changing event for us. We have lived a lot of different places including along the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia and at Tay Creek in the hills north of Fredericton, New Brunswick where we farmed and had 200 head of Angus for ten years. We learned a lot in our sixteen years in Canada but the marsh has been a good education for the later years in life. We have ridden out hurricanes here and seen an amazing amount of wildlife like our Great Egret buddy. Frank 29X who has visited from Canada every winter since 2012. However, we did not expect kittens to be a part of our life here.

About three years ago, I saw a starving kitten wandering the neighborhood. I lured it to our home where we started feeding it. Luckily Smokey had been fixed. A few months pass and a tiny cat shows up and starts enjoying some of the food. We gave her the nickname, Little Cat or LC, for short. Over the months, LC became Elsie and she became a regular. Two springs ago she had kittens. We managed to trap one and someone else got another. Our daughter took the one we caught home and it is living in luxury now instead in the unpredictable marsh. Last summer Elsie had some additional kittens. We tried to hire someone to trap them. We were unsuccessful with them and getting the county involved. We still feed Elsie and her two fully grown cats from last year.

This year Elsie had kittens again. This time she brought them to stay in our garage. We managed to trap three of them quickly but one kept eluding the trap. It took a week to catch the one we decided to call Maverick. The first three kittens were socialized very easily. Maverick has been more of a challenge. He loves to be held but is not fond of being picked up.

Still it turns out that rescuing marsh kittens and sharing videos of their antics is a great way to save your sanity, have fun and get your mind off the COVID-19 crisis. I still work but I make time to play with the kittens every day. It is much more therapeutic than even watching late night television. This is a short kitten video showing how much fun they can dream up. I have decided to post more of them via Twitter. Hopefully, they will make you smile. You can find me at @ocracokewaves on Twitter.