Friday, December 31, 2010

Burning Bowls

Tonight I attended the 6 o'clock worship service at Unity Church of Houston to take part in the congregation's annual Burning Bowl Ceremony. I was accompanied by a good friend who was as eager as I was to symbolically release life's negatively and ask for positive replacements.

The ceremony is a rite of passage of sorts. It is designed to help us clear away obstacles to our happiness, well-being, peace and joy. It allows us to make room for new beginnings — a new way to be.

The obstacles might be old resentments or nagging regrets. They could be pain or anger over lost relationships or unresolved issues. It doesn't matter. The burning bowl accepts them all.

The ceremony at Unity Church started with the writing on paper of the things we wanted to let go of in the new year. Next, row by row, we walked to the front of the sanctuary to set our papers aflame by lighted candle. Then, quickly we released them into the pit of a burning fire.

As we walked away, an usher handed each of us another piece of paper - to replace the ones we had tossed away. On each was written a specific affirmation.

Mine read: "Affirming that GOD is my Source, all that I desire to accomplish is possible."

I couldn't help but think: "Wow! How wonderful to be given the exact message I need right now."

Some years ago I began making a private ceremony like this part of my New Year's Eve ritual, but tonight was the first time I had the group experience. I liked it. As with prayer, a group's intention and resolve is always more intense and powerful.

I came away tonight feeling as if a roaring fire had been lit in me!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Going Home

I am at O'Hare Airport, sitting at Gate B4, waiting to board Continental Flight 147, which will "officially" end my holidays in Chicago and take me back home to Houston. It will be a bittersweet walk to the plane.

Experiencing a white and wonderful Christmas with my daughter, Nicole, her husband, J.T., and my two young grandchildren, Alexandra and Andrew, has been memorable and special. It is difficult to say good-bye.

Still, I am looking forward to being home for the remainder of the holidays. I will enjoy meeting friends for dinner and/or the movies. I will enjoy hanging out on my own sofa and in front of my own TV (in total command of the remote control). And, once again, I will enjoy raiding my own fridge — day or night — without the slightest fear of being detected.

Going home! It's still the very best way to wind up a simply great vacation!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier

My family and I ventured into down- town Chicago today to visit the 10th Annual Winter Wonderfest at Navy Pier. And, what a festival of fun it was - especially for my three-year-old granddaughter, Alexandra, and 15-month-old grandson, Andrew, whose eyes stayed wide open with excitement the whole time we were there!

Winter Wonderfest was located in a huge room upstairs. It was full of activities for kids and kids at heart —  a large rink for ice skating, Create-a-Cookie Cottage, Bah Humbug Jail, climbing walls (for the bigger kids) and the Winter Wonderland Stage with continuous entertainment. There were also dozens of rides, including a giant ferris wheel and rubber slides, a miniature holiday train, huge rocking horse and a charming old-time carousel.

The place was crowded, and the lines to get on the rides were long, but Lexi didn't seem to mind one bit. She seemed to enjoy watching the other kids take their turns and showing her how "it was done."

Characters, like the Present Lady, strolled around, delighting the youngest of the crowd. Each sported a huge smile and a friendly demeanor and an attitude as cheerful as Saint Nick himself. 
There were concession vendors too, the kind you'd expect to see at a Winter Wonderfest like this, selling wonderful things like flavored coffees and hot chocolate, funnel cakes, popcorn and cotton candy.

Despite all the goodies I'd just eaten before, during and after Christmas Day, I couldn't resist buying a giant mug of the hot chocolate. It  was yummy — and just the right refreshment for this particular place and time!

My family must have thought so too. Each member of the clan kept asking to take a sip and then another and another. This happened so often; I was forced to revisit the vendor to buy some more!

Admittedly, the feet of my daughter, son-in-law, son and grandkids held up better and much longer than mine. After awhile, I slipped away from the holiday scene and into a favorite spot downstairs - the Dock Side Cafe. There I settled in at a table over-looking Lake Michigan with another beverage, a basket of the eatery's famous waffle fries and my blue pencil. In my over-sized handbag was 64 pages of copy (for an upcoming issue of Houston Woman Magazine) that needed another round of proofing. Oddly enough, it proved to be perfect spot to relax a bit - and focus on the work at hand.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shopping for Boots

This year, 2010, turned out to be the year of the boot, and having just one pair (or even two pairs) in the closet just doesn't cut it.

As my daughter, Nicole, commented when she gave me a new pair of dark brown (and very good-looking) leather boots for my birthday,

"There's so many styles today. I didn't know exactly what you wanted. After a bit of shopping, I decided it didn't matter; one pair wasn't going to take you everywhere you need to go anyway. So, I bought the pair I liked best; you can pick out some more after Christmas!"

Admittedly, I like the way my daughter thinks.

So, here we are at Macy's in the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois, trying to choose from among all the great new styles. Selecting just one more pair (the limit I've set for myself) is tough!

There are suede, leather and rubber boots, as well as short, medium and tall boots. There are fur-lined boots and cloth-lined boots. There are boots with pointed toes, square toes and rounded toes. There are boots you slip into (and pull on) or zip up. There are very plain boots with no decorations. But, there are also boots with laces or buckles or both. There are boots you wear under boot-leg-cut jeans and boots for stuffing straight-leg jeans inside. There are work boots and play boots, casual boots and dressy boots.

My daughter and I spent more than an hour in the shoe department of Macy's before I made my purchase.

In the end, I fell in love with a pair of tall, black suede, fleece-lined boots with flat heels, a zipper on the inside and buckles on the outside. Perfect for wearing with tights or trendy skinny jeans.

When I walked over to the cash register and presented that "perfect pair of boots" to the sales clerk, all she said was "Ugg."

Yes, indeed. That, in a word, pretty much summed up my boot shopping experience!

The Beauty of Blue and White

I knew it was going to be a white Christmas long before I arrived in Chicago for the holidays, so seeing the delicate flakes fall repeatedly on the big day was not a surprise. What was, however, was what I saw the day after Christmas - a "ceiling" of bright and beautiful blue skies! Wow, my first blue and white Christmas!

Staring at it with awe, I couldn't help but think about the meaning of colors and how the combination of blue and white were especially welcomed.

Blue, known to be the favorite color of  the majority of us, is loved equally by men and women. Blue is perceived as a constant - like the ocean and the sky. It's said to produce chemicals in our bodies that are calming, that bring us peace.

White is neutral. It implies cleanliness and purity. Like a house surrounded by a white picket fence, landscapes of snowy white make us feel safe and happy. White encourages us to clear away clutter, purify our thoughts and deeds.

Blue and white. Together they produce beautiful images of peace and of joy. Blue and white at Christmastime. What could be more wondrous? What could be more fitting?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

Going to church on Christmas Eve before we sit down to dinner and focus on other night-time festivities has long been a treasured family tradition, and spending the holidays in Chicago this year didn't change that.

We opted to go in the late afternoon, to the Intergenerational Worship Service at Glenview Community Church, the current church home of my daughter and her husband.

Walking into the church, I was taken by its lovely architecture, huge pipe organ and the awe-inspiring crucifix displayed prominently at the back of the sanctuary. 

I loved the festive seasonal decorations that had been placed all around - especially the bright red poinsettia tree. It was simply stunning against the church's white paneled walls and exposed brick support beams.

I liked the fact that we were attending a service planned for families. Having the pews filled with bright-eyed and beautiful children of all ages was a wonderful sight. It was something my mother - born 84 years ago today - would have appreciated.

I think of my mother often, and each thought brings memories and emotions and tears - but never quite as strongly as on Christmas Eve.

My mother was an angel, a precious child of God. How blessed that she was born on Christmas Eve; how special for our family to always be together and in church on Mother's birthday, praising God and thanking Him for the gift of her.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Gathering of the Team

The Houston Woman Magazine Team
We weren't posing for the front of a holiday greeting card, but the photo here would have made a good one.

It was taken by my son, Matt, at Maggiano's Little Italy today, after a holiday luncheon attended by members of Houston Woman Magazine's creative team.

Included here are writers Deborah Quinn Hensel, Kim James, Nikki Rosenberg and Richard Varr, graphic artist Kim Hackerott, photographers Roswitha Vogler and Deborah Wallace, web designer Mark Matsusaki and advertising account manager Christina Piessel.

All are talented professionals, and I am one lucky woman to have them all on the team of Houston Woman Magazine.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

National Poinsettia Day

Poinsettias are one of my favorite plants and displaying them all over my house in December makes me happy!

I can't resist these flaming red, star-shaped flowers. Their brightness cheers up spaces and all who occupy them.

I love that poinsettias are known as the "flower of the Holy Night" and represent the deep love of Jesus Christ for all mankind. Having them around me at Christmastime is a constant reminder of the reason for the season. I love that too.

Long ago I researched the history of the poinsettia and learned that they were brought to the United States from Mexico more than 100 years ago - in 1826 - by Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett of South Carolina, the first US ambassador to that country.

At first Americans referred to the plant as the Mexican Fire Plant or the Painted Leaf, but after Poinsett's death in 1851, it became known as the poinsettia. And, later, December 12, the day Poinsett died, was declared National Poinsettia Day in his honor. 

So, each year, on this day, I decorate my home with baskets full of poinsettia plants and pay special homage to Dr. Poinsett and Mexico. 

I invite some friends over, mix up a batch of green chili enchiladas and a pitcher of margaritas and deliver a ceremonial toast to the man and our neighbor to the south.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Celebrating in New York

A couple of days ago, a good friend of mine, who lives in another city, called and suggested we drop everything and fly to New York City. He thought a spur-of-the-moment trip would be a great way to celebrate my birthday — and his! 

(We were both born on December 9 — just a few years apart.)

Immediately, I thought, "I love New York! I really, really love New York!"

I wanted to jump up and down and say, "Yes, yes, yes! Let's go!"

Instead, I offered up a dozen reasons why I couldn't get away. The normal stuff - work, holiday parties, work, Christmas shopping, work. But, my friend accepted none of it. 

He simply reminded me how much I love New York. Then he reminded me that we've been trying to celebrate our birthdays together for years. Then, he reminded me again how much I love New York!

I always "preach" that it's a good idea to take things as they come, go for the gusto, seize the day! But, when my own schedule is especially busy, I have to force myself to do that. 

But not this time. Some opportunities are simply too good to pass up. Taking a bite of the Big Apple today — on my birthday —  is one of them!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Tales from a Judicial Diva

Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore and I are members of the same breakfast club. She's been involved for many years; I just joined three years ago. 
Because of her duties on the bench, I don't see her often, but when I do, I'm always delighted by her great sense of humor. 

Now she's sharing it with the public in her new book, "You Can't Make This Stuff Up: Tales from a Judicial Diva."
In this autobiographical collection of short stories, Vanessa gives us a glimpse of her life - on and off the bench.
A master storyteller, and a lover of all things funny, Vanessa often entertains her friends with tales of her life. 
Once she related a story about a criminal defendant who was flirting with her as she took his plea, and another who dressed as a king during his trial. 

Friends have long insisted that these stories could not be true. To which Vanessa always replies, "You can’t make this stuff up."
This book will leave you laughing and asking if life as a judge can really be this much fun.
To get your copy, visit

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Collecting Nutcrackers

I fell in love with German nutcrackers when I was a young girl. Seeing the nutcrackers in the upscale shops at Christmastime was always a treat. I would pick them up, turned them around and upside down and admire the fine workmanship of the woodcarvers. 

Afterwards, I would bemoan the fact that they were expensive, costing much more than I could afford. Setting them back for on the shelves for others to buy, I would think, "When I grow up I'm going to collect these!"

It's been more than 30 years now since I acquired my first hand-carved nutcracker. It was a gift from a loved one and getting it was very exciting for me. That first nutcracker was traditional in design; it resembled a toy soldier — much like the one seen on the posters of The Nutcracker ballet. The acquisition of that first nutcracker turned out to be the start of a treasured collection and my love affair with all things "nutcracker."

Not only has my collection grown to include nutcrackers in all shapes and sizes (and from different countries) it now includes nutcracker "characters" that include a cowboy, a sailor, a chimney sweep, a few Santas, a snowman, some kings and a wide assortment of additional toy soldiers. I love them all!

But, my affection for nutcrackers did not end with the carved "dolls." I have, somehow, acquired books about nutcrackers and "The Nutcracker," CDs of the beloved Nutcracker music, silver candleholders in the shape of nutcrackers, mugs, plates, tea towels and fabric napkins decorated with nutcrackers, pillows and throws with nutcrackers on them, place card holders shaped like nutcrackers, even a nutcracker shaped like a nutcracker!

I can honestly say I did not buy all of these items for myself. Well-meaning friends and relatives have gifted me these special items. Every time I think I own every nutcracker "thing" ever made, I get another one! I should, at some point, say, "Enough already!"

But I don't. Instead, I smile broadly and say sincerely, "Thank you so much! I love it!"

And, I do!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Fan's Farewell

Texas lost one of its favorite sons today — Joseph Don Meredith. He passed away in Santa Fe, NM at the age of 72. His wife, Susan, and his daughter were at his side.

Like so many others here in the Lone Star State, I am deeply saddened. I feel as though I've lost a member of my family.

Though I never met Meredith, I grew up watching him play a lot of football. I remember watching him throw the ball as an All-American quarterback for the Mustangs at SMU in the late 1950s. Later, I remember watching him become an All-Pro quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. It was then that 17 became a favorite number!

I always watched Meredith on TV, while sitting in our family room, next to my dad - a loyal and devoted FOM (Fan of Meredith).

My dad always said, "Meredith is a natural athlete."

Meredith was tall and strong - like a quarterback ought to be! When Meredith threw the ball, he did so with precision and power! That was obvious.

Meredith was also a really handsome guy. Even back then, that fact wasn't lost on me! So, like my dad, being a fan of Meredith came easy!

When Meredith retired and landed the job on Monday Night Football, my dad and I watched him routinely. Both of us loved Meredith's sense of humor and, at times, his lack of reverence. I will never forget the many times he would sing Willie Nelson's classic, "Turn Out the Lights, the Party's Over," when the game was nearly over and it was apparent which team would get the win.

About a dozen years ago, I found myself spending a weekend in Mt. Vernon, Texas, the hometown of Don Meredith. I was told the general store on the town square had a lot of Don Meredith memorabilia among its shelves, so I went in there to check it out. Happy was I to see the owner's collection of footballs, jerseys and helmets - all autographed by Don Meredith. Needless to say, none were available for sale!

Tonight I can't help but think about a special friend of mine — a sports journalist — who also grew up watching Meredith play football. But, in his case, he watched the exploits of Meredith from the sidelines of the fields at SMU and at the Cotton Bowl.

There is no athlete my friend admires more than Don Meredith. An old football autographed by Meredith sits on the mantel of his fireplace. It is his most prized possession.

About six or seven years ago, my friend traveled out to Santa Fe to interview Meredith and put that conversation on video. When he returned, he couldn't stopped talking about the experience.

My friend has watched that video many, many times since then. I can't help but wonder if - tonight - he will try to watch it again! And, if he does, will it ease or sharpen the pain of loss?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Unstoppable in Stilettos

When you're the editor of a magazine for women, you are contacted often by authors, publishers and publicists when one of their books is released and available for purchase. This was the case recently when I received an email alert about Lauren Ruotolo's new book, Unstoppable in Stilettos: A Girl's Guide to Living Tall in a Small World."

It sounded interesting, so I asked for a copy to read and consider for mention in Houston Woman Magazine. It arrived today.

During my lunch hour, I scanned through it and learned about Ruotolo. First, she stands four feet, two inches in flats (which, of course, she never wears). Secondly, she prefers to take on the world in stilettos. That's what she did when she went after the man and the job of her dreams. (Ruotolo is the director of entertainment promotions for Hearst Magazines.)

Despite having a rare genetic disease, McCune-Albright Syndrome, Ruotolo believes in living tall in a small world. She has written this book to share her hard-earned wisdom and experiences. She calls them "Lauren's Lessons" and hopes they will help others become as adventurous, self-assured and successful as she is!

Not sure yet if this book is geared to young professionals just starting out or long-time executives like me who are constantly dealing with obstacles. No matter, I'm going to read it tonight and find out.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gourmet Shop at The Sanctuary

My last stop before leaving The Sanctuary was a visit to the hotel's Gourmet Shop, located on the first floor, across the hall from the lobby bar! Such a lovely spot — with so many great take-me-home items!

I picked up a few Christmas gifts (which I won't mention here), but I also brought home a few goodies for myself, including another tin of Benne Wafers (I've become addicted to them!), a "Sounds of The Sanctuary" CD, and, to add to my collection of Junior League cookbooks, a copy of Charleston Receipts, published by the Junior League of Charleston.

During my visit to Charleston, I learned that Charleston Receipts has been in publication since 1950 and is the oldest Junior League book in the United States. It is the classic Lowcountry cookbook and is a staple in every Charleston kitchen. The receipts (Nobody calls them recipes.) are tried and true and used by countless famed hostesses all over the South.

And now, those receipts will be used by one inspired cook n Houston.

The Ocean Course

I met Natalie Payne, director of leisure sales and special events for the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, in the lobby of The Sanctuary at noon. Plans were for us to drive out to the far eastern tip of Kiawah Island, to have lunch at the clubhouse at the Ocean Course.

I was delighted by her invitation. I was eager to see more of the island and be precisely where golf history will be made in August 2011 — when the PGA Championship is played here.

As I expected, the drive out was wonderful; the sights of the ocean-side course were incredible!

The clubhouse was as you'd expect — well-appointed and beautiful. I could just picture PGA money leaders like Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk walking in off the 18th hole and sinking deep into one of the large and comfy chairs — much like either would do at home!

After showing me around a bit, Natalie led me into the grille. It was a large and attractive space too, with all tables overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The view was lovely, just the kind of scene that inspires golfers, even a novice like me, to pick up a bag of clubs and hurry on out there.

The menu was fun - lots of items you simply want to eat, making selections was difficult. Finally, though, Natalie and I both decided to start with a cup of the chicken corn chowder. It proved to be a great choice! She followed up with an order of Fried Shrimp, and I chose to try the mini-burgers and fries. We both admitted that, after counting every little calorie for days, our choices would be especially appreciated!

Over lunch, Natalie told me about some special packages offered for women visiting Kiawah Island Golf Resort in 2011. Included are special events and rates for golfers and tennis players, as well as for women just wanting to enjoy a pampered getaway. Needless to say, I was interested. I got the details, and soon I will share with the readers of Houston Woman Magazine.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Spa at The Sanctuary

This afternoon turned out to be a chilly, wet one here on Kiawah Island, so I opted to hang out at the Spa at The Sanctuary.

I wanted to spend some time at a special place where I would be surrounded by tranquil sounds and scents. The spa was the perfect choice.

I was able to spend some time in the sauna and the whirlpool and, ultimately, to get a custom facial. I was in serious need of a treatment that would be relaxing and refreshing, and at the same time, one that would restore the "natural beauty" and vitality to my skin.

Luckily, I got an appointment with a delightful young woman named Cheryl, who suggested I try the 60-minute "Bright and Balancing Facial." This one, she told me, was especially created for skin like mine. (Graciously, she did not elaborate. So, I'm not sure whether she was referring to my oily skin or my aging skin. Immediately, I liked Cheryl.)

A combination of anti-bacterial extracts of tea tree and lavender were applied first to balance and purify my skin Afterwards, a clay mask was applied to draw out the toxins and leave my skin ultra clean and refreshed. Then, to finish up, Anakiri's clarifying skin serum was applied to revitalize my skin. In the end, I emerged with a radiant complexion that (quite literally) glowed.

Freshfields Village

I was eager to visit Freshfields Village on St. John's Island so, about mid-day, I called on The Sanctuary's shuttle service to get me over there.

The drive took only 15 minutes, but it allowed me to see some of Kiawah Island that I might have missed otherwise - through some forested and marsh areas, past glorious golf courses and, hidden in the trees, some of the large and lovely homes situated here.

Starting out the weather was cool and wet, but before my "off-campus" excursion was complete, the sun came out and brought with it many more locals and tourists. Like me, all were eager to check out the offerings of this enclave of unique shops and dining establishments. With Christmas around the corner, it was not surprising to see that most were buying!

I was taken by the inventory of one particular shop, The Old Rangoon. There I chatted with the owner, a delightful woman named Joy Tucker, and learned much about the beautiful items she carried. Her "Arts from Asia" included jewelry, clothing, wall hangings and furniture.

I found myself totally enamored with the incredibly beautiful hand-made Oovoo handbags from Vietnam. I learned that the bags were a joint venture between two women - an American and a Vietnam citizen. So, I bought a small one, knowing I would love owning the purse, but also knowing I was helping two female entrepreneurs!

It was suggested I try Vincent's, a drug store and soda fountain, for lunch. So, happily, I did. I found the shop charming, a throwback to the 1950s. Loved the turquoise and white decor and barstools I remember as a child.

Reading over the menu, I spotted the Grilled Cheese Sandwich and under its listing (for the child in all of us). I liked that, and ordered the sandwich. Given the atmosphere there, it was deliciously appropriate!

This Morning

Being able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in my room this morning was a high priority. The need to relax and pamper myself was strong; the grand opportunity to do so here at The Sanctuary was not to be missed!

So, I got up very early - before daybreak - and immediately picked up the phone to order room service. Then, I stepped in and out of the shower, put on the hotel's waffle-weave terry robe and eagerly awaited the beauty of a new sunrise and the server's knock on the door!

A few minutes later, the latest issue of the New York Times and my morning repast of vanilla granola and berries and a large pot of coffee had been delivered. Within another few minutes, I was sitting outside on the balcony, taking in the beauty of the scene below and enjoying it all.

For me, early mornings are the most precious times. Always, I am nourished by the quiet and solitude and drawn to meditation. It is then I am most fully aware of the blessings of my life and my need to prayerfully express my gratitude!

Afterwards, I pick up my journal to ink three pages. Most often I write freely and fast, without concern for spelling or punctuation. Most often, I start by recording the things for which I am most grateful. Most often, I finish up resolving to use this new day to prove (to Him) just how much!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dinner at Jasmine Porch

It's my first night at The Sanctuary, and I'm dining at Jasmine Porch, a casually elegant restaurant located on the hotel's first floor.

I did a little homework before I got here. Found out that Jasmine Porch specializes in Lowcountry favorites and is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I learned that the restaurant's signature Shrimp & Grits can be ordered any meal of the day! (Evidence of its popularity!)

My waiter is J.B., a gregarious man with a broad smile and friendly manner. After just a few minutes of interchange between us, I knew he was going to make sure I thoroughly enjoyed the upcoming dining experience!

He recommended a number of dishes and, for the most part, I followed his guidance - the seasonal green salad and beef tenderloin. As expected, though, he brought me a number of other dishes too - items he thought I "just had to try while I was there."

He brought me an appetizer side portion of the Shrimp & Grits, followed by an order of the Fried Green Tomatoes. Both were delicious, of course, and both sparked unintended conversations.

"Why do the chefs of the Lowcountry leave the tails on the shrimp," I asked. "Am I the only one who asks this question?"

He responded, "No, you are not the only one who wonders about the tails. We get asked that a lot from people not from this area. The reason the tails are there," he continued, "is because most chefs like to serve 'em that way. Simple as that!"

"OK," I said to myself. "If I try to make Shrimp & Grits at home, I can remove the tails! Good to know!"

The Fried Green Tomatoes led us into a conversation about the 1987 book, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg and the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, with Kathy Bates.

The communication skills of J.B. were good and only a bit distracting from the fact that I was now (happily) eating a lot more food tonight than I had planned.

Finally, J.B. served the wonderful green salad, followed by the beef tenderloin. Again, both were delicious! Perfectly prepared and beautifully presented!

To complete the meal, I ordered coffee. But, again, J.B. brought me something extra — a serving of Southern-style bread pudding topped with a small dollop of rich and tasty vanilla ice cream.

I didn't (couldn't) eat it all. I was, quite literally, stuffed.

I record all of this here, because I know I am picking up some extra pounds tonight. When I get home, friends will ask me about it.

I will tell them the truth, "It's not my fault. I was over-served at Jasmine Porch. You can read my blog if you don't believe me!"

Benne Wafers

Funny how you discover something new one day and, soon afterwards, it keeps showing up in your life again and again - and always quite unexpectedly! I couldn't help but think of this phenomenon when I spotted the Benne Wafers given to me today upon my arrival at The Sanctuary at Kiawah Island Golf Resort. Just three days ago I had never heard of them!

The first time I was introduced to Benne Wafers was Saturday when I was shopping on King Street. I had stopped at a small cafe for a cup of hot tea. When the waitress brought my order, included were a couple of small, crisp and thin cookies. They were delicious, with a flavor I wasn't familiar with, so I asked about them. They were Benne Wafers, a local favorite. I learned they are made with Benne seeds, blended with maple and brown sugar. I learned the Benne seed is the seed of good luck!

On Sunday, I bought a copy of Pat Conroy's new book, South of Broad, and spent much of that evening reading. In an early scene the hero, Leo, is asked by his mother to bake cookies for the new neighbors. Leo opted to bake some Benne Wafers. I smiled knowingly when I got to that part!

So, here I am, sitting on the balcony of a beautiful room in an incredibly special place. Every few minutes, an ocean breeze kisses my cheek and reminds me how blessed I am to be here. On the small table beside me is a small pot of coffee and a tin of Benne Wafers.

I pause and think: Just how lucky is that?

The Sanctuary

I have finally arrived; it happened this afternoon!

I am at The Sanctuary at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, and for the next couple of days I will be a "happy camper" lounging around in this ocean-side lap of luxury!

The Sanctuary, awarded the prestigious Forbes Five Star Award, sits along the pristine beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, just 30 minutes from downtown Charleston, S.C.

The Sanctuary was built in the style of a 1850s Southern mansion. The architecture of The Sanctuary and its friendly and attentive staff capture exquisitely the charm and spirit of the gracious Old South.

After a quick check in, at about 2:30 p.m., I was led to the fourth floor of the West Wing, to a lovely and well-appointed suite overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

As I entered, I was immediately taken with the spaciousness of the rooms and "at home" with the Southern decor: traditional furniture in dark woods and posh accents: plush pillows, classic lamps and framed art, lush and formal draperies and sheers.

Just inside the door, on a small side table sat a bottle of red wine and a platter of cheese, crackers, berries and nuts. A welcome (and yummy-looking) site at this particular time of the day.

On the desk were two more gifts from the management: a ceramic vase full of fresh flowers and a signature Sanctuary totebag laden with local goodies. Inside the adorable lime green and brown burlap tote were a small book on the history of Kiawah Island, a box of Charleston Plantation Tea, a bag of praline pecans, a mini sweetgrass basket, a Charleston Chew bar, a starfish and a tin of Benne Wafers.

After bidding adieu to the bellman who helped me with my luggage, I turned around and took in the scene once more. I opened the French doors leading out to the balcony and walked outside. I breathed in the salt air and smiled.

The Sanctuary could not have been given a more fitting name!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bev's Sweetgrass Baskets

This afternoon I stepped out the main entrance of the Charleston Place Hotel and took a short walk over to City Market, a unique shopping area that has been part of Charleston's downtown scene for more than 200 years.

Within minutes I was standing in front of Market Hall, an imposing building that serves as the main entrance to City Market and its four blocks of open-air buildings. Strolling through them all, I found vendors selling high quality products of all kinds. I was taken with the beauty of the clothing, jewelry, pottery and paintings - all created by talented local artists. I was happy to see that the prices were appropriate - not too low, not too high.

One exception, perhaps, was the Lowcountry's famous sweetgrass baskets. Brought to the area 400 years ago by slaves who came from West Africa, basketmaking was a tradition handed down from generation to generation.

Today, the sweetgrass baskets are widely respected and a distinctive art form. They are found in royal residences and art museums, even the Smithsonian Institution.

At City Market, even the smallest of these unique works of art was pricey! I was about to "walk on by" until I saw a vendor sign that read, "Bev's Sweetgrass Baskets."

When I shop, I always look for things that "call out to me" or "have my name on them," and take it as a sign that I should pay the price and bring them home.

As you'd expect, today was no exception!

King & Queen Streets

I came upon this street sign today while walking to meet a new friend in Charleston. I couldn't help but wonder about the names of the streets and exactly which king and which queen did they refer to?

So, when I got back to my laptop, I started a search for information. Here's what I found out:

King Street was a generic name, used to pay tribute to the ruler of England. The road was also known (at various times) as "The Broad Path," the "High Way" and "The Broad Road." Those names referred to the part of King Street above Beaufain Street until after the American Revolution. During the later part of the 18th century, the upper part of King Street became the center of the wagon yard trade. Then, from the mid-19th century to the early 20th century, King Street was a regional retail center. King Street ended at South Battery until 1911, when it was extended southward to the newly created Murray Blvd.

Queen Street was one of the original streets. At first, it was called Dock Street, after a boat dock. The road was originally dug in the swamp once found at the present intersection of Queen and East Bay streets. Later, it was renamed Queen Street, after Caroline of Ansbach, the consort of George II. Queen Street ended at Smith Street until 1849, when it was extended westward to Rutledge Street.

I found it interesting that the office of the Preservation Society of Charleston (seen in this photo) is located right near the intersection of these two historic (and most popular) thoroughfares.

Brunch at Poogan's Porch

Tucked away in a lovely Victorian home at 72 Queen Street in downtown Charleston is Poogan's Porch, one of the city's oldest and most popular dining establishments.

Since its opening in 1976, Poogan's Porch has served some of the finest Lowcountry Cuisine anywhere and has been a favorite destination for well-known actors, politicians, tourists and locals alike.

Just knowing Tennessee Williams, Joe Namath, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Barbra Streisand and James Brolin and so many other celebs have dined at Poogran's Porch makes a visit here all the more enticing!

There are some interesting stories associated with Poogan's Porch, and all just add to its allure.

First, its name. Seems the place was named after a scruffy neighborhood dog that spent his days roaming from porch to porch, begging for table scraps. When the restaurant opened in 1979, its owners, who loved Poogan dearly, named the eatery in his honor.

Secondly, it's haunted. The Travel Channel had voted the restaurant the "Third Haunted Place in America" in 2003. Ghost Tours here always include a stop at and story about Poogan's Porch.

The story goes that Zoe St. Amand, a native of Charleston, lived at 72 Queen Street for a number of years before her death. Since then, "she" has been spotted in various locations in the building and at various times of the day and night. Pots and pans in the kitchen have been known to crash to the floor without reason, and hostesses in the restaurant have seen visions of an old women in a long black dress walking around.

Needless to say, I couldn't wait to dine here.

When I arrived this morning for brunch, I was greeted by Andy, a native of Seattle who opted to leave grey skies and daily mists behind and make Charleston his new hometown. He led me to a charming table upstairs, right in front of one of the two fireplaces in the room. It was a welcomed sight, as temps in Charleston today are just low enough to make sitting by a roaring fire an extra special treat.

Soon I was joined by Jenny Ferrara. Jenny is a lovely young woman from Connecticut who moved to Charleston in June "because she's loves the city and just wants to live here." We connected because she now works for Obviouslee Marketing, a firm that represents Poogan's Porch and a number of other local establishments.

Knowing the treats in store, both of us were eager to place our orders!

I opted to start with a cup of the famous Issac's Okra Gumbo and found it to be absolutely yummy! (A larger portion would, in itself, make a grand meal.) Ingredients include Cajun sausage, chicken, seasonal vegetables and tomato broth.

For my entree, I selected a big bowl of Sunrise Shrimp and Grits, one of the signature dishes of Poogan's Porch. After just one bite, I knew why! Featuring a blue crab gravy, peppers, onions, sausage and two poached eggs, it was extraordinary!

After brunch, Jenny and I headed out on foot, both wanting to spend some time on King Street, popping in and out of antique and gift shops, boutiques and the like and, of course, both hoping to find more treasures to bring home.

Obviouslee, we did!