Just in case you weren’t aware, every small, southern town has some sort of festival or celebration in which the community gathers together in honor of a (sometimes) quirky theme. The Fire Ant Festival, Pig Jig, Wild Chicken Festival, and Shrimp Festival, just to name a few. Here in Ocilla, we celebrate The Sweet Potato Festival.
Recently, our local high school football coach, Buddy Nobles, was diagnosed with cancer. Over the last several years, he’s led our team to multiple championships, but more importantly, his influence on our community has been incredible. His players are inspired to greatness, not only on the football field, but in the classroom and their daily lives as well. Although my sons do not play football, they march in the band, and even they feel his influence. I can recall when he came to talk to the band during camp and encouraged them to play as loud as they could to pump up the football team and fans!
When word got out about Coach Nobles’s diagnosis, rather than just being devastated, our little town rallied together. Everyone got to work, doing what small southern towns do when there’s a crisis in the community. T-shirts, bracelets, and signs were made and sold, and most importantly, prayers went up. My Facebook feed is constantly bombarded with support for their family - from fundraisers to prayers to pictures of folks wearing red or white (our school colors) all with the hashtags #wegotyourbackbud or #Noblesstrong or #Irwinstrong or #Godisbigger. Our football field now bears Coach Nobles's initials, and the band even put him in the halftime show!
Before the Nobles family came to our little town, they actually spent several years in our rival town in the neighboring county. Usually, there’s a lot of trash talk in the week leading up to the rivalry game. This year, though, the focus was planning a “White-out Cancer” night, where fans of both teams dressed in white to show their support of Coach Nobles. It was a beautiful sight! My friend, Renee Hartley, took some incredible photos that night. You can see just how emotional Coach Nobles is at planting the spear in front of a such a supportive crowd!
Every game we’ve had, our opponents have made signs showing their support for our coach. Players on our team and many others wear Coach Nobles's initials on their helmets. Teams from all over the state we’ve competed against have made t-shirts and even taken up donations to give to the Nobles family!
Y’all, I have to tell you the truth. I enjoy watching a football game, but I’ve never been a diehard football fan. So, I’m not writing all this because I love football. And, although Coach Nobles has been a great influence in our community, I can’t say that I know him all that well. What I am hoping to point out here is the way our community - and communities all across our state! - have come together to show love and support during a crisis. That’s just what we do here in the South. We may have our differences, but when someone is in need, differences are put aside, and we focus on what really matters.
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Remember that we’re all just a moment away from being in a crisis ourselves. Let’s be kind and supportive, in all situations, no matter what. We’re all in this together.
**Photo credits: most of the pictures in this post came from the Irwin County Indians Facebook page, except those noted from the White-out game, which were taken by Renee Hartley (aka Photogirl).
"Recently, a magazine contacted my husband, Chris, and asked for a recipe using muscadines with apples for a special piece featuring apples in North Georgia. Of course, he turned to me and asked, “Any ideas?” Although this was during our harvest season and fresh muscadines were abundant, I thought how much easier it would be to use one of our products made from muscadines that are available year-round. My favorite muscadine product is Paulk's Pride Muscadine Sauce. Maybe I could even combine it with apples to make a modern version of a muscadine hull pie? "
My Papa was one heck of a man. Honest, trustworthy, dedicated, patient, kind, hardworking, simple, loving...I could go on and on. One of his great loves was fishing. He loved it so much, that he made sure his kids and grandkids had the opportunity to learn and love it too. I remember digging up worms in his worm bed, learning to bait a hook with stuck and bloody fingers, starting off with a cane pole and graduating to a rod and reel, sitting on an upside-down 5 gallon bucket, and getting caught in the trees more times than I'd like to admit. He cultivated a love for the outdoors in me at a young age, and I still enjoy fishing today.
My Nana's parents, who we called Pap and Granny Honey, also loved to fish. They decided to make use of a low spot behind their house and have a small pond dug. This turned out to be perfect for us kids, since Nana and Papa lived right next door! I remember thinking how magical and mysterious this small wooded pond was--never knowing what I'd pull out of that dark water.
From an early age, I remember loving the taste of fried fish. Our family usually gathered over a "fish fry" to celebrate birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. With such a large family to feed, this was one cost-effective way to please the crowd. Papa would fish for weekends, freezing his bounty, saving up for the big day. He and Nana would stand over the bubbling grease, waiting for the hushpuppies to float. Served alongside grits, homemade french fries, and slaw, it was a feast. He would stand in line with us kids, telling us what each piece was and what he thought we might like best. Then my mom or Nana would help us diligently pick it off of the bones to ensure we didn't accidentally swallow one and ruin the night. I'd sit barefoot at the table with my legs crisscrossed feeling like I was in heaven.
There was a period of time that I spent every Friday night with my grandparents. They, along with about 10 other couples, would gather at the cabin to hold a weekly fish fry. The men would spend their week catching as many fish as they could just so they would have an excuse to get together for supper. The women would bring in their specialties, whether it be a side or dessert, as their contribution. I remember sitting at a table, surrounded by "old women" talking about "old men", while the men gathered in the kitchen to chit chat and heat the grease. I didn't care that I was the only kid there--I got to eat my favorite meal and go home with my favorite people.
When my Papa got sick, I reflected on what it was about him that I admire and would miss so much. I decided that if I could marry someone that was half of the man he was, I would be happy. Little did I know that Phillip would come calling, and I would find him, too, honest, trustworthy, dedicated, patient, kind, hardworking, simple, and loving. The funny thing is, Phillip is also a carpenter (like my Papa), and he too loves to fish.
Phillip's family has a deep love for fishing as well, and "fish frys" are a common occurrence around their house. Needless to say, I fit right in.
Fried catfish and bream may seem like a poor man's dinner to some, but let me tell you, it's a feast fit for a king. I love the feeling of nostalgia and flood of memories that hot, greasy fish and homemade french fries bring. You know the old saying, "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime."? It is easy to believe that if I had only eaten a plate of fish at family get-togethers, rather than investing in the experience of fishing as a child, I wouldn't feel the way I do today. Good thing my Papa taught us to fish, because it did more than feed us for a lifetime.
If fried fish is new to you, but you'd like to give it a try, take home the Deep South cookbook! It showcases traditional Southern meals, like fried catfish with hush puppies and tartar sauce. Yum!
And in case you didn't know, lemon pie is a must when fish is on the menu. If you don't have a recipe of your own that you love, try out our Southern Pies cookbook!
Here in the South, we love to call a dish a "salad." Think about it - Watergate Salad, pear salad, chicken salads, congealed salads, frozen salads, ham salad - what really makes a salad a salad? Maybe it just makes us feel better about eating it?
Possibly the most confusing "salad" we serve at our Cafe is a dish called "Hot Chicken Salad," which is really more of a casserole. Adding to the confusion is the fact that we keep these Hot Chicken Salads in the freezer for sale for customers to bake at home!
It may be confusing, but one thing is for sure - it is delicious! Creamy chicken and rice, dotted with celery, boiled eggs, and almonds, all baked together makes for comfort food at its finest. Its ingredient list is simple, making it perfect for a weekday dinner or covered dish supper, but it can also be dressed up for company with a few extra almonds on top. Pair it with a green salad (meaning one made with lettuce, but no judgment if it's a Watergate Salad), or green beans for an easy meal just about anyone will eat!
Since it is a comfort food dish that almost anyone will eat, it's perfect for taking to a church potluck or to someone's house who's just had a baby or death in the family. In fact, the recipe is enough to make two large (9x13) pans, so you can bake one for your family and one to share! Tara's blog post, A Little Food Goes a Long Way, tells just how much sharing food with our neighbors really means!
Last week, we lost my sweet, 91-year-old grandmother. Many of you have heard me mention my grandmother as she and my grandfather had an enormous impact on my life.
I am so blessed to have had a childhood full of so many wonderful memories, especially of time spent with my Grandparents. Though we lived 12 hours away from them, Wayne and Helen Bloomingburg had an unbelievable way of being involved in our lives and making sure we (both me and my younger brother Troy) knew how much we were loved.
Grandma and Grandpa were hard-working folks that always put God and family first, and they raised their children to do the same. It is hard to talk about my grandmother without also talking about my grandfather. They were the most faithful and selfless people I have ever known. Even though we lived so far away, there was never a doubt that grandma and grandpa were in our corner.
The summer before my senior year in high school, I decided to live with my grandparents and get a summer job. My grandmother landed me a great job with a friend who was a real estate attorney. I spent five summers with my grandparents, working in the attorney’s office and exploring the city. (As much as I was allowed to - Grandpa liked to keep me close!) Oh, how I have cherished the time that I was able to spend with them in the summers. Grandma would tell marvelous stories of growing up in Selma, Alabama, what it was like to lose her mother at a young age, and how much she loved her “daddy”. I didn’t fully appreciate these experiences at the time, but I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the summers that I spent with my grandparents.
After her move to Florida, I was so happy to have her close and to be able to spend more time with her. She loved telling everyone in her assisted living village that I was her granddaughter, and she was so proud to have me every time I came. I never got tired of her calling me “sweetie” or telling me what a “doll” I was. Even after her stroke she would love to visit and talk about her childhood and memories of her youth. She never stopped being concerned about me, never stopped being my comforter, and never stopped being my grandma. When the words wouldn’t come, her pretty blue eyes and sweet smile still told me all I needed to know.
And now, as I have lost my last grandparent, it is such a bittersweet feeling of growing older. In a way, I feel like not only have I lost Grandma, but I feel like I have lost Grandpa all over again. I know that Grandma is so much happier now, to be with Jesus and Grandpa and her “mama” and “daddy”. I count myself so lucky to have been so loved by those two special people. I have so many friends that didn’t have that same experience. They don’t have parents and grandparents that will drop anything to do anything for their family. Just last week Grandma's care giver in the nursing home told me she had never known a family like ours, so full of love for each other and so many of us concerned about grandma. I told her that it was all because of “her” as I pointed to my grandmother with tears in my eyes. My family is truly lucky to have been led and loved by Helen and Wayne Bloomingburg, and I am forever grateful for their presence in my life and the legacy they have left behind in their family.
In honor and in memory of my Grandmother, I am reposting two blog posts I wrote about my grandparents in years past. When cleaning out my grandmothers' apartment, we found that she had a folder for each grandchild in her filing cabinet, each one filled with mementos and cards from over the years. My folder, amongst other things, held a copy of each blog post that I had sent her in the mail. On the outside of the papers she had written, “keep forever”. I am so glad that I took the time to share with her how I felt about her while she was living. I already miss her so much it hurts, but am rejoicing that she is at peace and with her Heavenly Father.
I am so blessed to have had a childhood full of so many wonderful memories, especially of time spent with my Grandparents. Though we lived 12 hours away from them, Wayne and Helen Bloomingburg had an unbelievable way of being involved in our lives and making sure we (both me and my younger brother Troy) knew how much we were loved. We were able to make the trip to Arlington, Virginia every summer and every other Christmas to pay them a visit.
My Grandparent's House
I am flooded today with memories of my grandparents’ house. As a kid it was a magical place that we were only lucky enough to visit on summer vacations and every other Christmas. It was not a huge house, a modest Sears and Roebuck home built in 1938, just on the outskirts of Washington D.C. My grandfather and his family moved in to the house when he was 14. In turn, my grandfather later bought the house from his father, and my mother moved into the house when she was 14. The house was a happy home to the same family for its entire life. It saw many a Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas Morning and visiting relative. Some of the happiest moments of my childhood were spent there.
I don’t recall ever reading the Oscar Wilde quote on our latest t-shirt design until Katelyn showed it to me, though I’m sure I’ve come across it before. In any case, between wearing my shirt throughout the summer and seeing it on our chalkboard every day when I walk in to work, it has stayed on my mind. “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
In getting ready to send my older boys back to school, I began to think about what it’s like to grow up in the South and in particular, my favorite summer memories. I can recall riding my bicycle up and down our little country road over and over all summer long. Of course, I grew up in the country, so I had no real neighborhood to traipse through or many friends’ homes to hang out. My grandparents lived up the hill, and just past their house was my grandfather’s cousin’s house. “Uncle Merle” and “Aunt Margaret” lived there, and at some point in my childhood, their daughter’s family, Margie, Ron (aka “Rooster”), and Melissa moved in with them. Although Melissa and I were not closely related, we were very close in age, and became fast friends.
We would meet in the mornings at the pomegranate tree in my grandmother’s backyard, then make a plan for the rest of the day. We took turns spending our nights at each others’ houses and our days riding our bikes all over my grandparents’ farm. Our mothers allowed us to get in the kitchen and make our own breakfasts and lunches, scrambling eggs and making peanut butter, jelly, and cream cheese sandwiches - don’t knock it till you try it! :)
When I wasn’t riding around with Melissa, I was attending Vacation Bible School at one of our local churches. My friends and I had quite the VBS circuit, sometimes even attending one in the mornings, and one in the evenings! I also had the opportunity to go to a couple of different camps, Woodmen of the World at Camp Glynn and 4-H Camp at Camp Fulton. When there wasn’t anything else to do or anyone to play with, I spent quite a lot of time in my room reading. One summer, my brother actually built a platform in a tree for me to climb up and read there. It became one of my favorite places outside because I was enveloped in the leaves of that oak tree and surrounded by the scent of the jasmine vine growing up the trellis nearby. I felt so “outdoorsy” and almost as if I was in heaven, even though I was no more than 20 feet outside the back door!
Those summer memories helped make for a happy childhood, and even recalling them now gives me a happy feeling of nostalgia. I had freedom (limited, of course), books, even flowers and the moon, which are simple, everyday things we take for granted. You know, so many people chase happiness all their lives, but are never satisfied. They fill up with what makes them happy at the time, then when that no longer makes them happy, they become depressed or turn to something else to try to fill that void. At times, I’m sure we’ve all been there; I know I have.
Happiness is a result of our circumstances, while joy can be found no matter our circumstances. That is what I’ve learned to focus on, that I can choose to have joy in spite of whatever is going on in my life. The simple things in life can bring happiness, even in the midst of trials. On busy days, a flower or joke from one of my boys puts a smile on my face; when someone passes away, remembering time spent together brings laughter through the tears; during tough times, a song can life my spirits.
Although happiness can be short-lived, those moments remind us to focus on others rather than ourselves and bring us back to our true joy. I’m reminded of an acronym I probably learned in one of those Vacation Bible Schools I attended. JOY stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself. I know it seems a bit cliche, but if we live our lives with our priorities in that order, we can find true joy instead of just trying to be happy. Isn't it funny how simple summer memories can have a lifelong impact?!
It's not too late to order one of our Southern Merc T-shirts featuring original artwork by our Katelyn! Let our favorite Oscar Wilde quote help you remember to find your joy in simple things! They are on sale right now for $19 so grab yours while they last!
Even though I was raised in a small, rural area in the south, I never learned the art of keeping up a garden or canning and "putting up" vegetables. My family traveled a lot in the summers and I didn't have a grandma to teach me those important southern traditions.
When I moved back after college I turned to my friend Mrs. Carolyn for a little help! I have known Mrs. Carolyn my entire life. She was the secretary at the elementary school where my parents taught and our families have been long time friends. When my dad was opening our shop and cafe 16 years ago, he called on Mrs. Carolyn to help in The Cafe. She has been with us ever since! She lovingly tends to our Cafe guests every Tuesday and it is her pimiento cheese recipe that has become famous in our little town.
By the time Perry was about 6 months old, I already knew what his First Birthday Party theme would be. Little Blue Truck is absolutely his favorite book, and he has shown a preference for it long before I thought he should be able to. As we read the book to him, he would lean around the page to see what was coming next as he turned the page. And, when we finished, he would cry for us to read it again, even pushing other books out of the way!
I had never even heard of Little Blue Truck before one of my teacher friends gave it to us at Perry's baby shower (side note, the other book she gave me, Pete the Cat's Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star is also among his favorites!). It's a sweet story of Little Blue Truck who makes friends with lots of farm animals as he rides down the road. When a rude dump truck gets stuck in the mud, no one comes to help until Little Blue Truck shows up and get stuck himself. When all his friends hear his "Beep! Beep! Beep!" they show up and do what it takes to get both trucks out.
Since it's not a very well-known book, there aren't a lot of party decorations readily available, so I had to get creative. In the back of the book, there is a link to download a party kit that includes party hats, cupcake toppers, coloring sheets, and a "Pin the hat on Blue" game (which was a lot of fun for the older kids). That gave me a good start, but I knew I needed more, beginning with an invitation. So, I got to work using some of my favorite online tools!
I got on Pinterest and created a board for Perry's birthday party to get some ideas. I was surprised and very pleased when I searched Etsy and found several invitation options! I finally settled on a digital version I could send electronically and print myself. Of course, once I started looking, I discovered lots of Little Blue Truck items made by people who are more creative than I am. I found decorations for centerpieces I could also download and print myself. I ordered a onesie embroidered with Little Blue Truck and his friends (which I managed not to get a good picture of him wearing). I even found fondant characters to put on the cake, which is one thing I could do myself. I'm pretty proud of how the ombre icing turned out, thanks to tutorials I found and Tara's help! If you like the idea of ombre, but aren't sure about tackling the icing, check out Tara's tutorial for ombre cake layers.
I also saw several high chair banners people had made, and I realized that I could do that myself, too, and I did for half the price I would have paid. After Perry's party, I used it as a backdrop for some of his 1-year pictures. Didn't it turn out cute?
While looking at all the things I could order from Etsy, I saw the cutest decorated sugar cookies that reminded me of cookies I had seen from a bakery in our neighboring town. I sent the picture to the bakery and asked if they could make some similar? Not only could they, their cookies were actually less expensive! I love Etsy because you're purchasing from a small business, but I love supporting a small business in my local community even more!
Amazon and Oriental Trading were my sources for paper goods (plates, napkins, tablecloths, etc.) in blue and white gingham, which matched the invitations and color scheme for the party.
If you're planning a party and want the look of being crafty without too much work, my recommendations are to check out Pinterest for ideas, then look for what you need locally when it's possible or Etsy when it's not. Fill in whatever can't be made (by yourself or someone else!) from your local dollar stores, Oriental Trading, or Amazon.
If you don't already follow us on Pinterest, we'd love it if you check out our boards! They are full of great ideas and resources, like our "Soiree" board that has wonderful ideas for parties and gatherings!
I love Mexican food! On a warm summer night there is nothing much better than chips and fresh salsa, preferably accompanied by a good margarita! I love this time of year when fresh produce is starting to come in, and after a long winter of sub-par vegetables, you can finally find some big, juicy, red tomatoes! I have tried so many brands of jarred or canned salsa, but I just can't find one that I love. I have come close when visiting Texas, as the grocery stores there seem to have a thousand to choose from, but nothing quite compares to the good ole homemade option. Fresh salsa really is so simple and easy to make, there is no reason to be intimidated and no reason you can't enjoy this treat all summer long!