DeSoto Magazine December 2021

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Thanks to our wonderful customers! Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

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December CONTENTS 2021 • VOLUME 18 • NO. 12

features

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A Fairy Tale in Miniature Ave Maria Grotto of Alabama

Bringing Stories to Life New Orleans City Park’s Storyland

​ eale Street Bound B Hyatt Centric: The First Hotel on Famed Street

departments 16 Living Well Holiday Pet Adoptions ​ 22 Notables Mississippi Poet Laureate Catherine Pierce 26 Exploring Art ​James Hayes Art Glass Co. 30 Exploring Books Patti Callahan Henry

45 Greater Goods 64 Homegrown Moondog Makers 66 Southern Gentleman The Travails of Gift Wrapping 68 Southern Harmony ​Laine Hardy

32 Southern Roots ​Keeping Holiday Plants Alive

72 In Good Spirits ​Cocktail Lover’s Gift Guide

34 Table Talk ​Pearl’s Diner of Laurel 38 Exploring Destinations ​Grapevine, Texas

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42 On the Road Again Christmas on the Alabama Coast

74 Reflections ​Remembering Pearl Harbor

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editor’s note | DECEMBER

The Most Wonderful Time Great memories rise during the holidays like the sweet bubbles of my mom’s pecan pie. I think of my youthful anticipation, when the delight of decorating the tree didn’t sate my desire to rip open the presents waiting beneath its boughs. I recall those delectable aromas of past holiday meals with family and friends and traveling to destinations far and near to enjoy the magic of holiday lights. You’ll find lots of holiday delights in this our “Holiday Wishes” issue, starting with the renovation of Storyland in New Orleans’ City Park. This children’s park dedicated to beloved literary characters has a new lease on life, just in time for the annual Christmas in the Oaks holiday lights celebration. Beale Street in Memphis welcomes its first hotel, the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis. The hotel will be a happening place when the Memphis Holiday Parade rolls on Dec. 11 on Beale and the guitar icon drops at midnight on New Year’s Eve. The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, features miniature worlds of stone, mortar, and glass created by a former monk named Brother Joseph at St. Bernard Abbey. It’s a special visit this time of year, for one of Brother Joseph’s most elaborate displays is a massive nativity scene.

DECEMBER 2021 • Vol. 18 No.12

PUBLISHER & CREATIVE DIRECTOR Adam Mitchell PUBLISHER & ADVERTISING DIRECTOR Paula Mitchell ADVERTISING CONSULTANT Melanie Dupree

But if you’re craving all things Christmas, don’t miss our story on Grapevine, Texas, known as the Christmas Capital of Texas — for good reason! Writer Karon Warren and I visited this wonderland of 1,400 holiday events — including being bundled up as we navigated an ice show, as the photo shows — and came away filled to the brim with holiday spirit. It’s quite the experience, as the story explains. Most of all, we at DeSoto magazine wish you and yours a merry Christmas, and may the New Year bring you joy and prosperity.

Cheré Coen

EDITOR Cheré Coen ASSISTANT EDITOR Casey Hilder CONTRIBUTORS Tom Adkinson Michele Baker Cheré Coen Mary Ann DeSantis Jackie Finch Jason Frye Verna Gates Pamela A. Keene Karen Ott Mayer Tracy Morin Karon Warren Kevin Wierzbicki Pam Windsor PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 208 Hernando, MS 38632 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 Paula@DeSotoMag.com SUBSCRIBE: DeSotoMagazine.com/subscribe

on the cover

Pets make the holidays special, but make sure it’s the right gift. Read more on page 16.

DeSotoMagazine.com

©2021 DeSoto Media Co. DeSoto Magazine must give permission for any material contained herein t o b e re p ro d u c e d i n a n y m a n n e r. Any advertisements published in DeSoto Magazine do not constitute an endorsement of the advertiser’s services or products. DeSoto Magazine is published monthly by DeSoto Media Co. Parties interested in advertising should email paula@desotomag.com or call 901-262-9887. Visit us online at DeSoto 11 desotomagazine.com.


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living well | HOLIDAY PET ADOPTION

“At Christmastime, it’s nice to have extra toys and treats,” says Monica Mock, director of DeSoto County Animal Services. “Some shelters are looking for dog beds, some for food, so call and ask what your particular shelter could use and appreciate. Donations for spay and neutering are always welcome — it’s a gift that keeps on giving. Treats, toys, collars, and items that are given out with adoptions are also always appreciated, by both the shelter and the adopter.”

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Pet Project By Tracy Morin | Photography courtesy of DeSoto County Animal Services and Shutterstock

If you’re looking to adopt a pet this holiday season, understand both the process and responsibility required to care for your new family member. ​ Many families and individuals may view pet adoption as a thoughtful gift this holiday season, but those who work with animals in shelters witness all too often the issues that can occur as a result. Not surprisingly, they stress the importance of doing one’s due diligence before attempting to adopt. ​ “The image of a cute puppy with a ribbon under the tree seems heartwarming, but it may not be the best gift, especially if the person receiving the pet does not choose it or know it is coming,” says Monica Mock, director of DeSoto County Animal Services in Nesbit, Mississippi. “Pets take time, patience, money, and a lifelong commitment.” ​ Sandy Williams, executive director of The Tunica Humane Society in Tunica, Mississippi, agrees that these

adoptions deserve well thought-out consideration. First and foremost, recognize the requirements of pet adoption — not just over the holidays, but for years to come, she advises. ​“It is a lifetime financial commitment to care for a pet properly,” Williams says. “Emergencies come up with pets, just as they do with children. You have to be prepared for those emergencies at all times.” If a child wants a pet for Christmas, the parent should do their homework by studying the different breeds and researching pet ownership and what is involved. ​“Pets require training, food, water, shelter, and vet care, from shots to flea and tick treatment to spaying or neutering,” Mock says. “They also require your time and attention. Pets DeSoto 19


need to feel part of the family or pack, or they may develop behavior problems, such as separation anxiety, inappropriate potty behavior, or, if left outside, constant barking. These are signs that they are not happy and need your attention.” ​ Additionally, problems often arise when adopters are specifically interested in young animals, like puppies and kittens. Mock notes that fewer kittens and puppies are available during Christmastime and more are usually available from spring to fall, during which there is also a wider variety of breeds to pick from. ​“If someone wants to add a pet to their family as a Christmas gift, we always recommend adult dogs or cats from our shelter,” Williams says. “With adult animals, you know what you’re getting on the front end. Puppies grow up, and most rescued dogs in our area are larger breeds. They may have started out in a home when they were very small but, sadly, they find themselves dumped in animal shelters when they grow up, or even worse, discarded somewhere on the side of the road. All shelters are bursting at the seams with loving, gentle, beautiful 20 DeSoto

larger dogs that are just as deserving of a loving family.” ​ Luckily, organizations like The Tunica Humane Society take every adoption very seriously in order to place pets in loving homes. For those willing to commit to adoption, expect to fill out an application, and practice patience throughout the process. ​ “We want these to last a lifetime, so there is much thought and time put into our adoption process,” Williams says. “The Tunica Humane Society is not a walk-in shelter, where you just walk in and leave with an animal. We check many things from the adoption application that give us a good idea if someone is going to be a responsible pet owner.” ​Finally, once the animal is placed, new owners should remain realistic about their expectations. Understand that it will take some time for the pet to acclimate to the new home. ​“You cannot expect all pets to automatically be housetrained, know commands, and meet your immediate goals,” Mock says. “It takes time for the animal to adjust — sometimes months — so be patient. Some animals need a lot of time and


attention to feel safe and part of the family.” tunicahumanesociety.com

Based in Oxford, Mississippi, Tracy Morin is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with a passion for covering food, beverage, beauty, and boxing.

Shelter Supplies

​ ven if you’re not in the E market for pet adoption, you can still contribute this holiday season. The Long Beach, California-based organization Operation Santa Paws encourages animal lovers to give much-needed supplies to shelters everywhere during the month of December. Sandy Williams of The Tunica Humane Society shares what her organization especially needs this time of year: ​Cleaning supplies, such as Clorox, Clorox Wipes, garbage bags, paper towels, washing machine pods, OdoBan; Blankets and old towels; Dog and cat food for the community food pantry (the shelter supplies food for animals in the area, for owners on fixed incomes); Dog collars and leashes; Cat food, canned and dry; and Cat litter.

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Shop, relax, unwind.

Holidays in Senatobia The five star city 22 DeSoto


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notables | CATHERINE PIERCE

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Something We Carry By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Megan Bean, Mississippi State University.

Mississippi’s Poet Laureate Catherine Pierce inspires with her own brand of creative style. When she was only nine years old, Catherine Pierce encountered the idea of poetry for the first time. “I remember the teacher wrote a snippet on the board from E.E. Cummings and I thought, ‘What is that?’” she recalls. Pierce asked her mother if she could check out a poetry book from the library and from there came sparks that ignited a lifelong passion for crafting words. Appointed Mississippi’s Poet Laureate in April 2021 by Governor Tate Reeves, Pierce hopes to continue sharing her personal messages about poetry across the state while helping to dispel a few misconceptions about the art. ​ Growing up, Pierce was a self-confessed bookworm, but she also believes one particular element lent to her early interest in words and language. “My parents let me read above my comprehension

level so I think that I felt comfortable not always understanding what I was reading,” she explains. Later in college, she vacillated between English and theater, eventually choosing English because it seemed more practical. Originally from Delaware, Pierce made her way to the South, first to Missouri where she earned a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, then to Mississippi where she began teaching at Mississippi State in 2007. Altogether, she has spent 20 years in the classroom. Her husband, award-winning fiction author Michael Kardos, also teaches and co-directs the creative writing program at the university. When Pierce first arrived in Mississippi, she was taken by first the heat, then the people. “I remember how friendly people were and how DeSoto 25


much I liked my students who were always more than willing to try new things or experiment,” she says. Pierce has been writing essays for the past few years, exploring the difference between prose and poetry. “Poetry is slow and careful,” she says. “Essays are a different kind of process and I lose track of time when writing because of the stronger narrative thread. I find it interesting to see the different ways the brain works.” She draws great inspiration from the natural world, with her recent works incorporating themes about climate change and humanity’s impact on the planet. Her most recent book, “Dangerous Days,” was released in October by Saturnalia Books, earning Pierce the 2021 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award. Helping others understand poetry is her mission, both in and outside of the classroom. “We don’t have to know everything. We can allow for space to question.” Like many others, her questions only grew in 2020 as she found herself hibernating with her family. “2020 was about trying to find time to do anything as we were all together in this space and there was no space,” she says. “At the same time, we really got to know each other even better.” Time, she recognizes, is always the challenge. Despite a list of books and publications — many stamped with awards and recognition — she readily admits to chasing questions about her own habits and work. “I think about what it means to be a writer who is not writing,” she says. And in the end, her pragmatic sense and acceptance of the process itself, reassures her. “We all need these fallow periods when our creative soil needs nutrients and to be regenerated,” she says. “Even when not writing, we’re still accumulating observations.” When listening to Pierce talk about poetry, it’s clear she may be the best qualified for her new role as the state’s poetry ambassador. Even those who have little experience with poetry or tense up from memories of English class will find her reasoning contagious. “My belief is that poetry is for everyone and everybody can connect with poetry,” Pierce says. Pierce believes our world and busy lives have never needed poetry more. “Poetry requires us to slow down and to really look at things. Fear, a tree, whatever. We have so much happening today in our fast lives.” More importantly, Pierce explains that everyone can access poetry because there’s no judgement or right or wrong when reading a poem. “I think there is this fear that if you don’t understand a poem, somehow there’s failure,” she says. “When reading a poem, let it wash over you, uncover you. Just sit with it.” For Pierce, poems are meant to be read more than once, as each time we find new or different meanings. The beauty lies in the interpretation. “Many of us may feel like there’s a code to crack, or an equation to solve a poem,” she says. “But this isn’t math. When we look at it this way, we take the pressure off that somehow we’re failing to understand it.” catherinepierce.net

For two decades, writer and editor Karen Ott Mayer has chased countless stories and is still passionate about words — and that next story.

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exploring art | JAMES HAYES ART GLASS

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Christmas in Glass By Michele D. Baker Photography courtesy of James Hayes Art Glass, Arkansas.com, The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas

Deck the halls with seasonal selections from James Hayes Art Glass Co.

Even as a child growing up in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, James Hayes wanted to be an artist. After graduating from Pine Bluff High School (“Go Zebras!” cheers Hayes), he attended Hendrix College in Conway where he “studied every art form available,” including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and photography. In 1988, he graduated with a degree in art. “I always knew I’d be an artist, and I took my dad’s advice to supplement that with learning some business and marketing,” Hayes says. “He wanted to make sure I could succeed.” Three months later he discovered glassblowing at the Arkansas Arts Center Museum (recently renamed the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) in Little Rock, and the creative fires were lit. “The heat, the fire, the molten glass… it was an adrenaline rush,” Hayes says. “And glass is ready to sell within

12 hours. I knew this was it.” Hayes draws inspiration for his art glass from nature, color combinations in fashion and interior design, his own experiences, and pure chance. “My art is playful, adventurous, colorful and distinctive,” he says. “When I make something, I always begin with the end in mind. However, during the glassmaking process, sometimes the glass has a mind of its own and it turns out even better.” To further hone his craft, Hayes has been fortunate to study across the world, including spending time with socially engaged hot glass sculptor John “Sleepy” Moran in Ghent, Belgium, and with Mexican artists Einar and Jamex De La Torre at the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle. He has also studied glassblowing in Murano, Italy; Paris, France and the Glass Furnace in Istanbul; taken classes at Urban Glass DeSoto 29


Brooklyn in New York; and learned techniques at New Town Plaza in Hong Kong. Hayes’ continuing passion for travel informs both his business model and his art, and he is definitely in demand. His everyday schedule is packed with appearing at Art on the Square in Bentonville, Arkansas; giving glass blowing demonstrations; and doing pop-up shows and blowing glass at his gallery in Pine Bluff, the James Hayes Art Glass Company. He also travels extensively across the United States to install glass chandeliers and panels and is comfortable working on a grand scale. “I am fortunate to get many commissions to create and install my glass,” says Hayes. “Recently, I installed several chandeliers in a medical facility in Kentucky, and I am working on a chandelier and glass wall plates for a large casino.” To date, his biggest chandelier is at the University of Arkansas in Hope. “It’s 15 feet long and took four days to assemble,” he says. “Another major chandelier is at the Arts & Science Center [for Southeast Arkansas] in Pine Bluff.” Hayes has worked on numerous solo and group projects over the years, including glass award statues for dozens of corporations and nonprofits, has been featured in Southern Living and appeared on the cover of At Home in Arkansas magazine. He has been honored with an invitation from the White House to design a Christmas tree ornament and in 2007, he created the ornaments for the James Hayes Christmas Tree at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Compared to other art forms, glass has a quick production time, and part of the appeal is the immediacy of the result. “Unlike pottery where you have to check it, and heat it up some more, and check it again, glass is quick,” Hayes says. “It’s like Christmas every day.” In addition to popular James Hayes glass items available all year such as vases, bowls, stemware, jewelry, centerpieces, 30 DeSoto

“standy chandies” (chandeliers mounted on a rod affixed to a metal base), other lighting fixtures, and commissioned award statues, Hayes also specializes in everything Christmas. He followed advice from longtime friend and mentor Bo Clinton — whose shop carried an extensive line of Hayes art glass — that “the more you have, the more you’ll sell.” Hayes creates a dazzling array of ornaments and baubles especially for the holidays. “Let’s see,” he muses. “This year there is a special color glass bubble ornament, but I also make flattened bubble ornaments, twists, crosses, several sizes of angels, Madonnas, Santa Claus in a couple sizes, Christmas trees, snowmen, elves, tree toppers, rubber ducks in Santa hats and reindeer.” The reindeer figurines feature recycled copper antlers that are twisted and inserted into the hot glass. When cool, Hayes gently unwraps the copper and then fashions them into recognizable antlers. At this stage of his career, each piece of Hayes art glass is a unique and treasured keepsake. Many of his ideas come from clients, vendors, and customers, and Hayes loves discovering unique and fun variations on traditional glass figurines. “The more unusual the ornament, the more people love them,” he says. Hayes glass art can be found on his website gallery and at retail locations across Arkansas and at select stores in Louisiana and Tennessee. HayesArtGlass.com

Michele D. Baker is a freelance travel writer and blues music lover in Jackson, Mississippi. She also loves cats, books, and beautiful artwork. (www.MicheleDBaker.com)


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exploring books | ONCE UPON A WARDROBE

Where Stories Come From Mary Ann DeSantis Photography courtesy of Patti Callahan Henry; photo of Patti by Bud Johnson Photography, Savannah.

Familial love during the holidays is a theme that runs deep through Patti Callahan Henry’s books, especially her latest one that stirs memories of a children’s classic. ​ Where do stories come from? It’s a question that writers like Patti Callahan Henry are asked often, and the bestselling author made it the theme of her latest novel, “Once Upon a Wardrobe.” ​ In the book, 8-year-old George Devonshire is mesmerized by the C.S. Lewis classic, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” but wants answers about the fictional Narnia. He presses upon his older sister Meg — who is studying mathematics at Oxford University at the same time Lewis teaches there — to ask where Lewis got the story. The love between Meg and the terminally ill George tugs at readers heartstrings, but the meetings between Lewis and Meg provide unexpected benefits for Meg herself. With persistence and an open heart, Meg learns how stories often make the bad things in life bearable. ​ This is not Henry’s first book that peeks into C.S. Lewis’ life. Her 2019 novel, “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” was a New York Times bestseller and a 2019 Book of the Year for both the Christy Awards and the Alabama Library Association. The book also led to her award as the Harper Lee Distinguished 32 DeSoto

Writer of the Year for 2020, one of Alabama’s highest honors for writers. ​ Henry’s interest in the British author began long before she became a published writer herself. ​ “I grew up as a preacher’s daughter and our house was lined with C.S. Lewis books. I read them on and off,” she says. “His works are like living things. They change. You can read them in college and then again as a married woman, and they are different and speak to you in different ways.” ​ She says her fascination wasn’t really about Lewis, but rather with his wife, Joy Davidman. “I became interested in her and their love story, but I saw the breadcrumbs of Narnia in his life,” she says. “Those breadcrumbs grew into a story about a sister and brother. One thing led to another.” ​ Familial love is a common theme in Henry’s books. In her heartwarming holiday tale, “The Perfect Love Song,” grown brothers are almost pulled apart by fame but come together for a memorable Christmas Day wedding. The book is a sequel for her 2006 novel, “When Light Breaks,” and continues the story


name), for her contemporary fiction, including “The Perfect Love Song.” ​ Writing historical fiction about a real-life person can be trickier than popular fiction. She says the bones of the story, which are the facts, must be weighty and solid; however, facts and stories are not the same. ​ “Facts don’t hit us in the same way or psychologically affect us,” she says. “An 8 year old (like the character George) can’t put himself in an autobiography as he can in a story.” ​Henry found a clever way of telling Lewis’ story in “Once Upon a Wardrobe” by weaving well-known facts about his life into a book that unfolds like a fairy tale. A note from Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, is proof she succeeded. ​ ​ “This is not merely a book worth reading; it is a book that will drive us through the difficulties of love and of sorrow, to struggle gasping onward and upward, our emotions surging with us until we are brought once again to love,” writes Gresham at the end of the book. ​ In addition to writing books, Henry is one of the writers behind a podcast and livestream show titled “Friends & Fiction.” The group of friends, which includes novelists Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, and Kristy Harvey, share not only stories about the books they’ve written but also discussions about the art of writing and the books they are reading. ​“We started in April 2020 and we’re about to hit our 100th episode,” Henry says. “It’s like the Field of Dreams… build it and they will come. It was a profoundly beautiful reading community waiting for something like this.” And, of course, the discussions frequently include the question, “Where do stories come from?” Henry believes the answer often lies within ourselves. As Meg explained to her little brother, “Maybe Narnia began when Mr. Lewis sat quietly and paid attention to his heart’s voice. Maybe we are each and every one of us born with our own stories, and we must decide how to tell those stories with our own life or in a book.” of Jack and Jimmy Sullivan and their girlfriends. ​ “I wanted to explore how fame could affect relationships. Christmas brought things back into focus,” says Henry, who lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama. ​ As the author of 17 books, Henry has definite ideas about storytelling and how stories take readers out of themselves and expand their awareness of the world. As a young girl, she found libraries to be sanctuaries and began a journey into understanding the power of stories to navigate confusing times. ​Although she received a nursing degree from Auburn University and became a pediatric clinical nurse specialist, Henry always knew she wanted to be a writer. ​“It wasn’t until I had young children and was home with them that I began scribbling in notebooks,” she says. “I just wanted to try this one thing that sustained me all my life. I was always a book worm nerd. I wanted to see if I could write them.” ​ Now a prolific and popular writer, Henry has two pen names: Patti Callahan, for her historical fiction like the ones centered around Lewis, and Patti Callahan Henry (her married

www.patticallahanhenry.com www.friendsandfiction.com

A longtime fan of C.S. Lewis, writer Mary Ann DeSantis believes we are all born with stories to tell. Many of hers can be found on her website, www.maryanndesantis.com.

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southern roots | PLANTS USED FOR HOLIDAY DECORATIONS

Variegated poinsettias

Keeping It Green By Pamela A. Keene | Photography courtesy of Mississippi State University Extension, Pixabay, Pamela A. Keene

Plants used for holiday decorations provide colorful accents and some may even live on as houseplants and in the garden. Holiday houseplants add another dimension to the season, but what do you do with those poinsettias, paperwhite narcissus, amaryllis, and Christmas cacti once they’ve bloomed? ​“Many people these days are using live plants instead of cut floral arrangements to augment their Christmas décor, and that’s wise,” says James M. DelPrince, horticultural specialist with Mississippi State University Extension. “Living plants provide a much longer bloom display, and in some cases, they can become houseplants or even an addition to your landscape long after the holidays are over. Others, however, can be treated like annuals and simply tossed once their beauty has faded.” ​Poinsettias, a true symbol of the holidays, now are grown in a full span of colors from creamy white and light pink to deep red, some with splashes of contrasting colors. ​“The whole process of creating these holiday plants just in time for the season is fairly technical and growers have the process down pat,” DelPrince says. “However, for consumers, it’s very difficult to get them to rebloom, so it’s better to simply 34 DeSoto

enjoy them indoors, then discard them out when they’ve faded. In reality, they are so affordable, it’s not worth the effort to keep them.” ​It’s pretty much the same with paperwhite narcissus that expend all their stored-up energy in a flush of fragrant white blossoms. DelPrince says that once they’ve finished blooming, compost them along with the last of the wrapping paper. ​ “Bulbs, such as paperwhites and amaryllis, are powerhouses of energy,” he says. Narcissus are grown to be ‘one-and-done’ and because they are so small, it’s not too likely they will rebloom. ​ “Amaryllis, on the other hand, can do very well as an outdoor plant, particularly in the warmer parts of the South,” he says. “As the blooms fade, carefully cut them off at bulb level. Leave the strappy green foliage and continue to keep them watered in strong indirect light and you may even coax out more blooms into January or early February.” ​ After several weeks, if they haven’t sent up more buds,


Christmas cactus

cut back on watering and leave them in a bright sunny window to give the foliage time to store up energy for the next flowering. Once the leaves begin to turn brown, remove the bulbs from their containers and allow them to dry out for about four weeks. ​“The best time to plant them outdoors is in mid- to late spring,” he says. “Find a sunny spot in your garden and replant the bulbs, leaving about the top one-fourth exposed. They aren’t too particular about the soil, and once they’ve been moved outdoors, you just let them do their thing.” According to DelPrince, they will not bloom again that first summer, but once they’ve become established, they will revert to their normal blooming time around April of the next year and you’ll be rewarded with showy blooms year after year with very little effort. ​ Sometimes, the heavy blooms benefit from staking. Not only does this encourage longer stems, it also keeps the blossoms off the ground. They can be cut and brought inside for a nice summer bouquet. ​ Christmas cactus, and its cousins Thanksgiving and Easter cactus, have a reputation for becoming heritage plants. They’re often known to be covered with white, pink, orange, red or purple blossoms in the winter and into the spring depending on the variety. “I’ve talked with people who tell me they inherited their massive Christmas cactus plants from their grandmothers,” DelPrince says. “They are fairly easy to care for and can become quite large.” ​ He recommends keeping the plants in a cool room that’s between 60 to 65 degrees, withholding water, and giving them a spot with natural light to replicate the 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness in the fall. “This will encourage them to set buds, but once this starts, water them again, but just be careful not to overwater,”

DelPrince says. “You’ll be rewarded with a colorful easy-care blooming plant each year.” ​ Christmas cacti are simple to propagate by taking cuttings of stem sections and planting them into loose soil in the spring and summer. ​Two plants grown for their foliage are popular during the holidays: rosemary trimmed into a Christmas-tree shape and Norfolk Island Pines. ​ “The topiary rosemary plants can be moved outdoors into a spot with full sun and require very little water,” he says. “You can maintain the pyramidal shape through pruning, or simply let them grow on their own, and they appreciate the summer heat.” ​ Norfolk Island Pines are native to Australia and are adaptable to the same comfortable conditions as humans: temperatures in the 70s and bright sunlight. ​ “They do well in the summer on the porch and then can be brought back inside as the temperatures turn colder,” DelPrince says. “Just be aware that if you move houseplants indoors and outdoors you need to be mindful that they may bring in pests, insects and disease. Frankly, most of these seasonal houseplants are affordable enough to just start over with new ones as the holidays roll back around.” extension.msstate.edu/publications/holiday-houseplants-0

Avid gardener and Atlanta-based journalist Pamela A. Keene always has at least a dozen amaryllis blooming in her sunroom each Christmas. Her favorite is “Dancing Queen,” a bi-colored blossom of white and orangishred. Once she plants the bulbs outdoors in the spring, she has blooms to share with friends and neighbors.

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table talk | PEARL’S DINER

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Laurel’s Queen of Gems By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of Pearl Campbell

Pearls are known as the queen of gems and, fittingly, Pearl’s Diner has become one of Laurel’s most treasured eateries. ​ The pearl-colored building with large display windows at the corner of Magnolia Avenue and Oak Street in Laurel, Mississippi, is iconic for many reasons. For nearly a century, it was Burton’s Jewelers where high school seniors ordered class rings, young men bought engagement rings, and brides registered for fine china. More recently, the site has become one of the city’s most recognized restaurants, especially since HGTV’s “Home Town” series occasionally films there. ​ Reigning over this smorgasbord of Southern dishes is Pearl Campbell, a Laurel native who returned home after three decades with a dream to open her own restaurant. After graduating from Bishop College in Dallas, Texas, she taught in

Mize, Mississippi, before moving north where she could make more money. She worked in education in Cleveland, Ohio, and even owned a restaurant with her brother in Indianapolis, Indiana. But in 2015, her father talked her into returning to Laurel. ​ “My dad, who is still alive and 95 now, asked me, ‘Why don’t you think about coming home so we can enjoy each other’s company?’” Campbell says. “After 34 years, I was back home, but I almost started crying… most of my friends had died or moved away.” ​ A deeply religious woman, Campbell knew she had to find something to do. She was looking not only for a job, but DeSoto 37


also a ministry of sorts to give her life purpose. ​ “I prayed, I meditated,” she says. “I love to cook and I love people. God said to me, ‘That could be your ministry. You came to me and I’m going to work it out for you.’” ​ Laurel was undergoing a transformation and revitalization, thanks to the new HGTV series starring Laurelites Ben and Erin Napier. The timing was right for Campbell to secure investors and the Burton building. ​“From day one, I have been so grateful,” she says. “God put the right people in my life to make my dream come true.” ​ Pearl’s Diner opened in September 2017 with great fanfare. Locals were delighted to see the Burton building come to life again while the onslaught of tourists were glad to have a lunch place that served authentic and fresh Southern food. The lines to get in are long, especially on Saturdays when a local rock band often plays just outside the front door to keep folks entertained while they wait. ​ “I originally thought about calling the restaurant Sarah Duncan’s after my grandmother because I use her recipes,” Campbell says. “I learned how to cook from her at her store on South 8th Avenue back in the 1950s.” ​ Those recipes include Pearl’s extremely popular fried chicken and meatloaf, along with an array of Southern side dishes including macaroni and cheese, peas, butterbeans, greens, brown gravy and mashed potatoes. When asked about her “can’t miss” dish, she quickly responds with hamburger steak or roast beef. They aren’t on the menu every day but when they are, they quickly sell out. ​ “And when I make banana pudding, everybody says it’s to die for,” she says. ​ During the holidays, a few special recipes will be on her menu. “I’ll make chicken and dumplings and sweet potato pies. I’ll have Christmas cookies and probably pound cake, too,” Campbell says. ​One of the best compliments, she says, came from Billy Burton, former owner of Burton’s Jewelers. “He told me he’d sold a lot of pearls in here, but he 38 DeSoto

never dreamed that he’d have a Pearl cooking black-eyed peas and cornbread for him in the same space,” Campbell says. “Relationships like that bless my heart.” ​It’s not unusual to see “Miss Pearl” as she is known in Laurel — and around the country, thanks to HGTV — moving from table to table chatting with her customers. With a smile that lights up the dining room, she has become something of a celebrity herself. In addition to running Pearl’s Diner, she was featured during the second season of HGTV “Home Town” when the Napiers renovated a home she bought near downtown. ​ Although it was a great experience, she recently moved. “Going up and down the stairs [in that house] at my age was hard,” says Campbell, who turned 74 in September. “I probably had 3 million pictures since that episode aired. People would catch me in my robe and want a picture. I didn’t mind, but I’m enjoying my privacy now.” ​ She’s also enjoying working with family, especially her younger son, Darren, who is her right-hand man at Pearl’s Diner. “He quit a decent job in Colorado to come help his momma,” she says. “When you raise your kids right, put God first, and treat people the way you want to be treated, things work out.” ​ Despite the challenges of running a restaurant, Campbell says the HGTV “Home Town” series is a blessing for Laurel and business owners like her. ​ “I’m hoping and praying the show will stay on at least 10 more years,” she says. “I am living the high point of my life and I’m not through yet.” pearls-diner.business.site As a young Laurelite, Mary Ann DeSantis spent a fair amount of time window shopping at Burton’s Jewelers. She now prefers to feast on Miss Pearl’s fried chicken and black-eyed peas whenever she goes home.


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exploring destinations | THE CHRISTMAS CAPITAL OF TEXAS

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The More the Merrier By Karon Warren | Photography courtesy of Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau

With more than 1,400 events and activities in 40 days, Christmas definitely is bigger in Grapevine, Texas. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and Grapevine certainly does its part to bring truth to that statement when it comes to Christmas. With more than 1,400 events and activities in 40 days, it’s not surprising Grapevine is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas. From millions of twinkling lights along Main Street to classic Christmas movies at the Historic Palace Theatre, to train rides for kids and adults on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and so much more, a visit to Grapevine goes a long way in boosting holiday spirits. ​“Grapevine, as the Christmas Capital of Texas, is a great place to experience a classic, traditional Christmas,” says Paul W. McCallum, executive director of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Bureau. “People will see a massive Christmas tree on our new Peace Plaza and millions of lights and enormous ornaments along Historic Main Street. They can cozy up to hot mulled wines in our renowned wine tasting

rooms, or enjoy the world-class tastes and aromas of Christmas dining and crafted holiday drinks at our area bistros and cafes.” ​For Drew Floyd-Pinion of Frisco, Texas, that mix of Christmas décor, activities, and treats was actually what they wanted when visiting Grapevine last year. ​ “We heard there were lots of picture opportunities, wine tasting and crafts,” she says. “It sounded like a great time, and the weather was perfect.” ​ During her visit, Floyd-Pinion shopped, took pictures, and drank wine and enjoyed appetizers at Messina Hof Winery, a great start to their visit. Of course, there are several new offerings this year to keep things fresh. ​ For 2021, the Gaylord Texan Resort’s Lone Star Christmas welcomes “Mission: Save Christmas Featuring Elf,” where guests are invited to help Buddy the Elf save Christmas. This multi-sensory experience is perfect for the entire family, DeSoto 41


Christmas Wine Train

who can help power the Kringle 3000 with Christmas cheer, take their best shots in the virtual snowball fight in Central Park, and participate in more than 10 other interactive elements. ​ The resort also hosts Merry & Light, a new walkthrough outdoor Christmas lights attraction with more than 400,000 lights, a 40-foot-tall Christmas tree, and a North Pole display complete with falling snow. ​ For an old-fashioned touch of Christmas, stop by the Christmas Village, where visitors can explore with Herman the Elf using their Grapevine Christmas Passport. Guests can take home a handmade cookie cutter, create metal tinsel at the Grapevine Tin Shop, decorate wooden train ornaments at the Cotton Belt Section Foreman House, and stamp a brass luggage or gift tag at Millican’s Blacksmith Shop. ​ Speaking of unique Christmas souvenirs, visitors are invited to learn how to make their own glass-blown Christmas ornament creations at Vetro Glassblowing Studio. Open to everyone age 12 and older, these classes are a great way to make memories with the whole family and create a wonderful, timeless memento to hang on the tree each year. ​ And for those ready to warm up, head to Dr. Sue’s Chocolate for hand-crafted hot chocolate at the Hot Chocolate Bar and Happy Hour. Pick a flavor such as old-fashioned, peppermint, or Mexican spice and top with whipped cream, marshmallows, spices, and more. Don’t leave without sampling and buying some of the handmade chocolate featured at the store. ​ Families with young children also will love Great Wolf Lodge’s Snowland, which features indoor snow showers, holiday stories, seasonal crafts, and a nightly Frost Fest Family Dance Party. For those who decide to stay at the resort, wearing 42 DeSoto

pajamas to the dance party is a must. ​ This just barely scratches the surface of everything there is to see and do at the Christmas Capital of Texas. ​“People can immerse themselves in holiday movies and shows on the big screen at the Palace Theatre, enjoy familyfriendly holiday events, and explore a shopper’s paradise for unique holiday shopping,” McCallum says. “We have 40 days of events and activities that offer something for every interest, whether people are looking for festive fun for the whole family or a relaxing, holiday getaway with someone special.” ​ For Floyd-Pinion, Grapevine offers so much more than events and activities. ​ “We loved the fun atmosphere and enjoyed being out and about after many months of things being cancelled,” she says. “We love the ‘old meets new’ vibe that Grapevine feels like. It’s fun. It feels nostalgic. It’s a great place for dogs and kids.” ​ When planning your visit to the Christmas Capital of Texas, there’s a wealth of information at the tourism website, which includes hours of operation for shopping and restaurants as well as scheduled events, plus ticket and admission prices (if required). grapevinetexasusa.com/christmas-capital-of-texas

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren enjoyed visiting the Christmas Capital of Texas, where she loved taking photos of the many holiday decorations around Grapevine.


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on the road again | CHRISTMAS ON THE ALABAMA COAST

s a m t C hon rtheiAslabama Coast 9:00 Start the day with a beautiful view and delicious food at Tacky Jacks Orange Beach. Located on Cotton Bayou, Tacky Jacks is a locals favorite. Enjoy the farmer’s omelet loaded with sausage, ham, veggies, and potatoes or the wheelhouse pancake. Save room for their famous Bushwacker! 10:00 Relax in your gorgeous accommodations at Turquoise Place. Soak in your private hot tub, enjoy a cocktail poolside, play a game of tennis, or take a dip in the indoor swimming pool. Their Christmas package offers decorations and Christmas dinner courtesy of The Beach Moms. Call ahead to book. 12:30 Lunch at The Gulf overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The cooler temps in December are perfect for dining outside. The menu changes with the seasons, but everything is always fresh and local. Burgers, oysters, salads, and delicious seafood are just some of the options. After lunch grab a hand-crafted cocktail and take in the view from the comfortable couches right on the sand. 1:30 Orange Beach is known for outdoor activities. Try fishing, kayaking, golfing, or a walk on the white sandy beaches. Gulf State Park’s Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail is a great way to walk off lunch. The 6,180-acre park consists of 28-plus miles of paved trails through nine distinct ecosystems. 3:00 Make holiday memories at OWA! The Foley park and downtown are transformed during the Christmas season into a winter wonderland complete with twinkling trees, elves, and Santa and Mrs. Claus. There is something for everyone…shopping, rides, brunch with Santa, and nightly holiday light show. 6:30 Dining options are plentiful at OWA. Everything from tacos to sushi, but Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen is the perfect comfort food for the holiday season. Paula Deen’s recipes for juicy fried chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and collard greens are served family style. You will not leave hungry! 7:30 After dinner enjoy a show at the OWA theater or hit the Arcade at OWA with over 50 games to choose from.

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To plan your visit: gulfshores.com tackyjacks.com thegulf.com turquoiseplace.spectrumresorts.com visitowa.com pauladeensfamilykitchen.com

New Year’s Eve Events:

Reelin’ in the New Year Street Party The Wharf Let’s bid adieu to 2021 in the grandest of style with live bands, family friendly activities, AND adultcentered fun all rounding off at midnight with The Park Band, the marlin drop, and a fireworks finale. alwharf.com

Turquoise Place The Gulf

Flora-Bama’s New Year’s Eve Bash Flora-Bama Lounge & Oyster Bar All you can eat dinner buffet served from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., breakfast buffet to begin serving at midnight, FREE champagne split, party favors, souvenir koozie, live music on all three stages, PLUS surprises all night long! florabama.com

New Year’s Eve Fireworks OWA Spend your New Year’s Eve outdoors with your family in The Park or in Downtown, and let’s celebrate.

OWA

Photography courtesy of Spectrum Resorts, The Gulf and OWA

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greater goods | CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS

Christmas Ornaments

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1. Alex Ladner ornaments, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 2. Baxter & Me ornament, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 3. Chistmas in Hernando ornament, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 4. Cotton bales and angels, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 5. Etta B Cardinal, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 6. Gnome ornaments, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 7. Hand painted star ornaments, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 8. Leopard Ornaments, House To Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 9. Michael Aram snowman, House To Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 10. Mississippi shaped ornaments, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 11. New baby ornaments, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Road, Marion, AR 12. Ornaments 4 Orphans, Square Cupboard, 328 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 13. Painted Oysters, BlairHaus Interiors, 208 W Main St, Tupelo, MS

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A Fairy Tale in Miniature

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By Verna Gates Photography Credits: David Garber

Navigating a tiny world of stone, mortar, and glass at Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama.

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He was a small man dressed in a long, dark robe in the Alabama heat. He carried a sack on his hunched back, filling it up with the things his neighbors no longer wanted: a broken plate, a single earring, an empty pickle jar or “anything shiny.” What others discarded, he meticulously crafted into a creation people still visit today, 60 years after the death of Brother Joseph Zoetl. To my great-aunt Gem, he was “Holy Joe,” and she swore her cold cream jars were holding up the Temple of the Fairies in his miniature masterpiece, the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama, at St. Bernard Abbey. Looking at the foundobject art, there is a good chance she was right. Brother Joseph’s artistic nod to the fairies points to the fairy-tale life experienced by a man born Michael Zoetl in Landshut, Bavaria. His is not the prince-and-princess tale, but that of the unexpected hero. His mother died young, leaving Zoetl with his father, who soon married the classic wicked stepmother. Young Michael Zoetl, like all fairytale heroes, escaped death from both water and fire. After nearly drowning and burning to death, he was sent to America as a young teenager — cast out on a long journey to his destiny. In 1892, when he arrived at Ellis Island, St. Bernard Abbey had been formed the year before and had just opened a Catholic preparatory school and a seminary to train priests. The Benedictines were recruiting monks to serve German populations in America. In 1866, Colonel Johann Cullmann founded the city bearing his name as a German enclave for workers. Zoetl embraced the local and Benedictine motto of prayer and work, often to his detriment. A slight man with pre-existing back problems, he was injured while working in the belfry of the Abbey, which the brothers built themselves. The resulting hump crashed his dream of becoming a priest, as he was now deemed unfit. He later joined as a brother, with a name change to Joseph. In his new capacity, he ran the powerhouse, often working 17 hours a day to keep the coal burning. When not working, he spent time in the Alabama woods. One day, a brother received a gift of 500 miniature statues of the Virgin Mary. Brother Joseph carved grottos for two of them. They were snatched up in the DeSoto 51


gift store, along with the next 498. A new hobby emerged as thousands of his creations sold worldwide. Soon, he took this divine inspiration a step further when a railroad wreck gave him a load of damaged Alabama marble. He began building permanent structures on the grounds of the Abbey. By 1934, Brother Joseph’s fairy godmother must have waived her magic wand. His creations were attracting too many visitors to the brother’s domain, so he got his wish to take over the adjoining quarry. He set to work and in the next 24 years, filled the four acres with his prolific art. The man deemed too frail for the priesthood drug marble slabs up hills. He teetered on the side of inclines while delicately stacking stones or pouring concrete. He stood on a ladder while forming concrete stalactites as he decorated a 27foot high, 27-foot wide and 27-foot deep Ave Maria Grotto. None of the ceiling fixtures have fallen on the statue of the Virgin Mary, who cradles the baby Jesus in her arms. As the fairytale hero, he completed a superhuman task beyond his age and strength. ​Today, 125 miniatures line a trail rambling through what is now the Ave Maria Grotto. The buildings range from the Alamo and Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the City of Jerusalem and events tracing Jesus from birth to death. The great majority of the structures are religious shrines, churches, and representations, such as the Garden of Eden. Brother Joseph included the great places in the world, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, castle of Tyrol, Great Wall of China, a pyramid 52 DeSoto

and aqueduct, and a shout out to the Statue of Liberty. The miniatures are even more remarkable considering he never saw them in real life. Only six of the 125 buildings ever crossed his visage: those from his hometown and St. Bernard. The rest were crafted from photographs and some from written descriptions. Brother Joseph’s imagination filled in the gaps. Few would say he missed the mark on any of his replicas. A close look at the buildings show a craftsman’s hand in the cutting of slender rock building blocks, connected by thin layers of mortar. Small tiles, probably hand cut as well, and hand applied, still shine in the sunlight. Marbles decorate columns and arches, with old costume jewelry atop doors. The entire effect is one of pure magic. The miniatures are so detailed, that it is easy to miss Hansel and Gretel and the chained dragon, the creatures in Noah’s Ark or the Castle Trausnitz from Brother Joseph’s home town. The latter name means “trust not,” a result of promises broken, a hint at the tragedy of his early life. One of the most touching scenarios is the American flag, crafted from colorful marbles. It is surrounded with real miniature flags honoring the “boys of Bernard,” who gave their lives in war. The real magic is seeing St. Peter’s Basilica rather than the old birdcage it is fashioned from or realizing the stunning blue cross in the Guardian Angel setting is made up of blue ink bottles. The Temple of the Fairies really does contain more than 12 cold cream jars, a testimony to the remarkably smooth


skin of great aunt Gem. Alabama enjoys a long and colorful history of folk art and found object art. Combined with Brother Joseph’s European perspective and German work ethic, this gift of art makes his dream of joining the priesthood come true. Few homilies reach 60,000 visitors a year. People from all walks of life can experience a quiet walk with God through his Biblical world. Brother Joseph worked on his grotto up until he was 80 years old. His final work was the Basilica at Lourdes. He died at the Abbey in 1961 at the age of 83. His heroic work stands as a testament to the man who overcame all adversities to shine his light into the world. avemariagrotto.com

Verna Gates is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama. She is the author of “100 Things to Do in Birmingham Before You Die.”

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Beale St. Bound By Kevin Wierzbicki Photography Credits: All hotel photos: Courtesy of Hyatt Centric. Beale Street Christmas shots: Photography by Frank Chin.

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Holiday or any day, the party’s on in Downtown Memphis. It’s not hard for a music fan to find good times in Memphis, Tennessee. The city is home to places like the legendary Sun Studios and Graceland, both of which offer peeks into the life and career of the late King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley. But if you really want to let loose and have some fun only one Memphis destination will do: Beale Street. DeSoto 55


Hyatt Centric CIMAS Restaurant

Beale Street Holiday Parade

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With the opening of the new Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis earlier this year, the first-ever hotel right on Beale Street, revelers now have a classy new headquarters that’s just steps from the fun. Beale Street, located in Downtown Memphis, has been a hive of Southern music and culture for more than a century. But tourists might not have wanted to hang out there 100 years ago when the area was a hotbed of gamblers, pickpockets, prostitutes, and voodoo practitioners. About the only thing that Beale Street of the 1920s has in common with today’s Beale Street is that the blues players are still recognized as Memphis royalty. Without their continued presence, Beale Street in modern day would likely be just an ordinary stretch or road filled with mundane businesses and not a place where locals and visitors alike can find dozens of unique venues, anchored by the world famous B.B. King’s Blues Club. Live blues music is the main Beale Street hallmark, and many visitors come to hear it at B.B. King’s Blues Club where they can also chow down on another Memphis specialty: mouthwatering barbecue. King’s is just one of the places to hear live blues music on Beale Street; fans can also boogie down at Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café and Honky Tonk, Club Handy, Blues Hall Juke Joint, Rum Boogie Café, and Silky O’Sullivan’s, which is housed in a building that was around way back in the bad old days of the Memphis strip. Also on Beale are one-of-a-kind eateries like BBQ joint The Pig on Beale, soul food restaurant Miss Polly’s Soul City Café, Blues City Café where you can “dance your meal off” to live music, and for wrestling fans, Jerry Lawler’s Hall of Fame Bar & Grill. Perhaps the most unique of venues on Beale Street is Tater Red’s Lucky Mojos and Voodoo Healing where, unlike those untamed days of yore, there will be no hexes or nasty spells cast. For those who want to learn about where the music they love came from, a visit to the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum is a must. Visitors will see a selection of Elvis Presley’s stage outfits and one of B.B. King’s guitars, but the displays go much deeper than that. Self-guided tours of the museum feature in-depth commentary heard on headsets as visitors navigate through “the complete Memphis music story,” including the Smithsonian Institute-created “The DeSoto 57


Birth of Rock ‘n’ Soul” exhibit. Tours begin with a short film, after which museum-goers can move through the exhibits at their own pace, which likely will be slow enough to marvel at the memorabilia that came directly from the musicians themselves. “Memphis has historic sites and a lot of tourists come for Graceland and Sun Studio, legendary places where rock and soul exploded,” says John Doyle, the executive director of the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. “But Beale Street is pretty much the backbone of the whole thing.” Doyle offers a vivid snapshot of the nascent Beale Street music scene. “Beale Street was a social and entertainment district for African Americans in the early 1900s and music was a part of it,” Doyle says. “We always call it ‘the home of the blues’ but actually on Beale Street jazz was performed in clubs and blues was performed on the street. Blues was considered a lower form of music. “The people who could afford to do so, who were traveling or staying at the hotels on Beale Street would go to those clubs and listen to great jazz by the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington,” he continues. “Then the blues performers, in order to pick up tips, would perform outside on the curb. That’s where white teenagers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, who lived nearby, would walk to Beale Street and listen to those blues performers and be exposed to rhythmic Black music.” This time of year, all the bluesy Beale Street fun continues with a special emphasis on the season. The 2021 Memphis Holiday Parade will take place Dec. 11 on Beale Street. “We’ll have elementary and high school bands, cheerleaders, dance groups, car clubs, community organizations, and even Santa Claus with all of his reindeer,” says Jon Shivers, the director of Beale Street at Beale Street Management. While that’s a family event, the Beale Street New Year’s Eve Party is for ages 21 and older. “We used to drop a guitar at midnight on New Year’s Eve but now we just use a ball,” says Shivers. “Our Memphisinspired party begins at 10 p.m. and will feature live music, dancing, food and drink, and more. At midnight the ball drops and then there’s a beautiful fireworks display.” Entrance to the street party is free. So now if you’re in Memphis and you think 58 DeSoto


you see Elvis walking down the street singing his hit “Let’s Have a Party” you know exactly where he’s going: to Beale Street.

Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis

When visiting an exciting place like Beale Street in Memphis, visitors want to stay somewhere that is just as much fun. That ideal is realized in the new Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis, the only hotel located right on Beale Street. That means all the action at places like B.B. King’s Blues Club and Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café and Honky Tonk is just steps away and visitors won’t have to hail any ride-share services to explore the area. The lobby features decorations made of iron, a nod to the William C. Ellis and Sons Ironworks and Machine Shop building, a space attached to the hotel that has been refitted to serve as meeting spaces (Beale Street wedding, anyone?). The lobby is a warm and welcoming place where cocktails can be had at the CIMAS lobby lounge, as a stand-alone treat or before dinner at CIMAS where the menu is inspired by Latin American cuisine but prepared with Southern cooking techniques. With floor-to-ceiling windows, the dinner tables at CIMAS offer a spectacular view of the Hernando de Soto Bridge (commonly referred to as the M-Bridge) that spans the Mississippi River connecting Memphis with Arkansas. That view is even more precious at the hotel’s rooftop bar, Beck & Call, which offers an unprecedented display of the bridge as it puts on its nightly light show. Offering both rooms and suites, the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis also has a resort-style pool; the perfect place to rest up for another evening on Beale Street. hyatt.com

Phoenix-based music and travel writer Kevin Wierzbicki enjoys marinating in the blues and otherwise spending time on Beale Street. Also a big fan of Memphis barbecue, sometimes Kevin has to be rolled back to his hotel after a feast of meaty goodness.

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Bringing Stories to Life By Karon Warren Photography courtesy of New Orleans City Park

At New Orleans City Park’s Storyland, kids of all ages can see their favorite storybook characters in larger-than-life sculptures and interactive exhibits.

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CELEBRATION IN THE OAKS Celebration in the Oaks at New Orleans City Park continues to be a time-honored holiday tradition with locals and visitors alike. While Shannon DalPozzal was raising her children in Baton Rouge, she often took them to New Orleans City Park for Celebration in the Oaks. “Celebration in the Oaks is an ethereal holiday experience,” DalPozzal says. “Walking among the old oak trees and hanging moss illuminated with fairy lights….breathtaking!” During 2020, the event centered around a 2.25-mile driving tour that takes visitors through the park’s majestic live oaks, which are adorned with more than a million twinkling lights. Along the way, LED light displays showcased holiday themes and local favorites such as the St. Louis Cathedral and French Quarter. Due to its popularity, the driving tour is back this year. Visitors also can enjoy the spectacle as part of the new walking experience, which includes the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park with unlimited rides on 18 attractions and the Botanical Garden Beer Garden. Other activities include a new festive train experience, a “snow” area, dancing light shows, and a tree of poinsettias in the Conservatory of the New Orleans Botanical Garden. Celebration in the Oaks is open nightly through Jan 2. Tickets must be purchased online in advance at neworleanscitypark.com/ celebration-in-the-oaks.

Storyland Rocket

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Open in the mid-1950s, Storyland at New Orleans City Park has long been a destination for children and adults who love seeing their beloved childhood stories transformed from their imaginations into life-size characters they can actually touch and interact with as if they are part of the story. Imagine running up the hill with Jack and Jill, or climbing aboard Captain Hook’s pirate ship. Who doesn’t want to slide down Puff the Magic Dragon, or chat with The Three Little Pigs about the best building materials? And climbing into a pumpkin chariot is a must for every child, young or old. ​ “Storyland has been one of the most beloved attractions at New Orleans City Park for generations,” says Cara Lambright, New Orleans City Park CEO. “We think it is a one-of-a-kind place for adventurers of all ages and a must-do for any New Orleans itinerary.” ​ It certainly has been a frequent destination for Tom and Stacy Finicle of Metairie, Louisiana. They have been visiting Storyland over the past 20 years, bringing their three sons to explore the park. ​“The boys enjoyed the fire truck, the Peter Pan ship, the whale mouth, the rocket and the big dragon slide,” Tom says. “Our oldest son said Mother Goose reminded him of [my mother].” To increase the fun, in 2019, Storyland underwent its first major renovation in 35 years, adding four new exhibits. Those included Jack and the Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Boudreaux the Zydeco Gator. Eighteen current exhibits also were updated, including Alice in Wonderland, the Little Mermaid, Peter Pan’s Pirate Adventure, The Three Little Pigs, and Old King Cole. ​ The goal of the renovation was to incorporate STEM educational methods and interactive play for the whole family, as well as increase ADA accessibility for more exhibits. As part of the Hey Diddle Diddle exhibit, visitors can find educational information on the history and diversity behind NASA. Highlights include Mae Jemison and Guion Bluford Jr., the first African-American female and male astronauts in space; Sally Ride, the first American female in space; and Dorothy Vaughn, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, the African-American females known as NASA human computers DeSoto 63


Storyland Humpty Dumpty

and featured in the movie “Hidden Figures.” ​ In tandem with this exhibit, guests can see the Charles Bolden Jr. LES Space Suit in the Oscar J. Tolmas Visitor Center at the main entrance to Storyland. A NASA astronaut for 14 years, Bolden was the first African-American to permanently hold the title of NASA administrator. Of course, there’s no shortage of photo opportunities around Storyland. Turn snapshots into mementos with pictures of the kids on Anansi the Spider, pretending to be a mermaid, posing with Alice in Wonderland or dancing down Gingerbread Man’s Candy Lane. For more entertainment, guests can explore New Orleans City Park’s 1,300 acres, which includes the New Orleans Botanical Garden, a Train Garden and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. Right next door to Storyland is Carousel Gardens Amusement Park and the park’s historic carousel. The carousel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior, is known to locals as the “Flying Horses” and dates to 1906, although some of the animals were crafted as far back as 1885. The animal figures, 56 in all, were carved and hand-painted by Charles Looff and Charles Carmel. In addition to 53 horses, visitors will find a camel, giraffe and lion, as well as two chariots. ​Due to their popularity, the animals must be repainted by hand every year or two. This year, the carousel closed down for additional repairs to the building and surrounding deck of the carousel. It reopened in the fall to the delight of park visitors. ​Not surprisingly, fans of Storyland are quick to plan their next visit. Stacy Finicle, who says one of her favorite memories of taking her children to Storyland was watching and helping her boys hop on the stone mushrooms, is now looking forward to bringing her grandchildren to the park. Of course, given her first grandchild is on the way, she may have to wait just a bit longer. Anita Arguelles

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​ When they do make it to Storyland, rest assured New Orleans City Park and its staff are ready and waiting. “We relearned during the pandemic how essential this green space is to the well-being and delight of people in our community, and we want to share it with our neighbors across the South and beyond,” Lambright says. “No trip to New Orleans is complete without a stroll through our oaks, a jaunt through Storyland or a hike in Couturie Forest. In our 1,300 acres, we blend nature, recreation, culture, and entertainment in a way that is accessible to all.” neworleanscitypark.com/in-the-park/ storyland

A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren loves New Orleans City Park, although she has yet to visit at Christmas. Hopefully, she’ll mark that off her bucket list next year.

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homegrown |

MOONDOG MAKERS & BAKERS

Moondust is a popular seasoning created by Moondog.

Moondog Rising By Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch and Joey Thompson

Corinth Chef Joey “Moondog” Thompson makes and bakes for special dinners. With a childhood nickname like “Moondog,” Joey Thompson says the popularity of his business “was written in the stars.” His reference, however, is not to some astrological enterprise, but to something that most people seem to enjoy — eating. Thompson is owner and chef for Moondog Makers & Bakers. Founded in 2015 in Corinth, Mississippi, Moondog Makers & Bakers caters delicious food to events and private residences or visits sites where Thompson does the cooking and serving. That might sound surprising to people who knew Thompson as a kid. “I never cooked. Ever,” he says. “The most I ever cooked was to put a Pop-Tart in the microwave and put a slab of butter on it.” What got Thompson started on his path to becoming a chef was moving to Corinth and applying for a job at the newly opened Pizza Grocery restaurant in 2006. “They asked if I had cooking experience and I said ‘yes,’ which wasn’t entirely true,” he says. “That’s how it all began.” 66 DeSoto

His past “cooking experience” was working at a gas station from the time he was 14 years old to age 21. When the gas business was slow, Thompson would help in the deli, mostly cutting meat and making sandwiches with an occasional turn working the fryer. “That was it,” he says. “I would happily eat fried chicken, shrimp, and French fries back then, but I wouldn’t have eaten an olive or a mushroom if you paid me. Nothing different to eat for me.” What turned his taste buds around, Thompson says, was working at Pizza Grocery with Chef Andy Lipford. “I remember being amazed at seeing him thumb through a cookbook and make something really great off the top of his head,” Thompson says. “I kind of shadowed him and applied what he was doing and married it to my own process.” After work at Pizza Grocery, Thompson furthered his culinary journey by “jarring and jamming and canning things” at home. “I didn’t do it to make money,” he says. “I just wanted to have fun at home and do something cool and creative.”


Moondog fixes pizza in his mobile pizza oven

One of his most popular early creations was “Moondust,” a 17-spice blend meat rub that is flavor enhancing, but light on unnecessary and inexpensive fillers like salt and sugar. “It’s true spices and pretty much one of my staples,” Thompson says. “I think that every other house in the county now has it in their pantry.” As for that “Moondog” name, Thompson says his uncles pegged him with the moniker because the kid was so gung-ho about professional wrestling. “I used to try to wrestle with my uncles,” he says. “Now it’s just what people call me — Moondog.” For his cooking, Thompson describes it as a mix between Southern and fine Italian with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. A baker’s dozen of 13 chickens running around the family yard provide the eggs and a farmers’ market down the road offers inspiration as well as fresh-grown fruit and veggies for his dishes. One of the family chickens named Betty was adopted during a major ice storm over Valentine’s Day. “We were iced over for seven days which is very unusual here,” Thompson says. “A neighbor a mile down texted me if I was missing a chicken. I wasn’t but she said her hens weren’t getting along with the visiting chicken and asked if I wanted to foster the chicken until we could find her owner.” Poor Betty suffered frostbite on her feet as a chick while she was homeless. She lost the toes on one foot and the claws on the other, plus no one ever claimed her. “She hobbles around just fine,” Thompson says. “We open the coop in the morning and she kind of flies out. My wife holds her and feeds her meal worms. She’s part of the family.”

Joey’s wife, Kaylin, is a nurse at the local Magnolia Regional Health Care Center. The couple has three children: 9-year-old Gordon, 5-year-old Elliott, and 3-year-old Adalyn. Moondog Makers & Bakers has become so successful that Thompson left Pizza Grocery in June 2019 to devote his culinary talents to his fulltime business. In addition, Moondog Makers & Bakers has catered many weddings, family reunions, business gatherings, fundraisers, and other events. “The biggest group I’ve cooked for is probably 250 to 300 people,” Thompson says, adding that “dinner-for-two” has been particularly requested during the pandemic as a night out without leaving the house. “I do a four-course meal for that.” A mobile wood-fired pizza oven recently added to the business has made pizza a much-loved menu item. “Fire up that oven and the crust on the pizza is fantastic,” he says. “That is not me tooting my own horn. It is the pizza talking for itself.” In the future, perhaps, Thompson says he might write his own cookbook interspersed with interesting food tales. He also hopes someday to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “What we are doing now is really working for us,” he says. “But someday, my own restaurant would be great.” facebook.com/MoondogMakersAndBakers/

An award-winning journalist, Jackie Sheckler Finch loves to take to the road to see what lies beyond the next bend.

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southern gentleman | A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO GIFT WRAPPING

A Gentleman’s Guide to Gift Wrapping By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Laura James from Pexels

Creating the perfectly wrapped gift, clean corners and all, might be a talent of the few. ​ Show of hands: who among us knows how to properly wrap a gift? This is no “every eye closed, every head bowed” altar call, I want everyone to know if you’re a giftwrapping master. So, if you can wrap a gift like you grew up in Santa’s workshop, raise your hand. ​No one? ​Great, it isn’t just me. ​When I wrap a gift, it looks like one of three things: 1) a sweater-sized Tootsie Roll, 2) I was assisted by my cat, 3) pretty good on one end and like I gave up on the other. This is surprising as I’m neat in the kitchen (the key is to clean as you go); manage to remain relatively charcoal-, grease-, and sauce-free when making barbecue; and I can even eat ribs without leaving too much of a snack in my mustache. But I cannot wrap a gift to save my life. 68 DeSoto

​ My father in-law, Bob D, he can wrap a gift. He’s so good at it I think he could give Martha Stewart some pointers. ​ Three pieces of tape. Crisp, sharp edges. Perfectly folded, tucked, and taped ends. He even matches the wrapping paper pattern so the whole thing looks utterly seamless. ​My mother in-law, she fills out the name tags and hands him everything — even his own gifts. My wife, well, the apple fell far from the tree as gift wrapping goes. And my brother in-law? Jay is as bad as I am. In fact, for the last 8 or 9 years, he and I have used the same carefully preserved gift bag — emblazoned with a golden retriever in a Santa hat holding a “Merry Christmas” gift bag in its mouth — to swap Amazon gift cards. Anything and everything that looks presentable under the tree was wrapped in the store or by Bob D. ​I used to work for, then with, Bob D. He and my mother


in-law retired to the South to escape Connecticut’s winters, and when they did, he thought he left a career as a cabinetmaker behind. After a few months of golf and sun and discovering that the humidity in North Carolina is not something they mention in relocation guides, he reopened the woodshop. He brought me on because I’m good at lifting heavy things and I can read a tape measure, then he taught me the finer points of cabinetmaking from design to cuts to install. So, I figured that if there’s any person who can teach me to wrap a gift, it’s Bob D, the man who kept me from chopping off a finger in the woodshop. ​ Was I ever wrong. ​ As with any lesson, Bob D started off with a demonstration. An intimidating one. ​First, he eyeballed the gift box and the paper, whipped out a pair of scissors and, in one move, cut the paper with laserguided precision with a 1/4-inch margin on all sides. Then, as if he was part of a pit crew whose driver is half-a-lap down and needs four tires, he grabbed the box and paper and aligned them by the long edge, brought the end of the paper to the center line of the box and wrapped it. I didn’t blink and I missed the whole thing. One second it was just a box and a flat rectangle of paper, but suddenly the gift was 90 percent wrapped. The paper’s crisp and tight and there’s not a wrinkle to be seen and a 1-inch strip of tape holds the whole thing together. ​It was like watching a Three Card Monte dealer. ​Before I can ask how he did that, he spins the box, folds what looks like an impossibly small fringe of paper over itself with two fingers, secures it with his thumb, wraps the bottom up over the now-folded first edge, and — BAM — tapes it shut.

Voila, a perfect corner. He spins the gift again and repeats the process and in all of 18 seconds, he’s finished. ​ “Where’s your mother in-law with that name tag?” he asks. ​I say nothing. I don’t understand what happened. Where did the tape come from? Where did he stow the scissors? How did he manage to do this so deftly and dexterously and swiftly? ​ When I tried, I had seven pieces of tape stuck to one hand’s worth of fingers. Two pieces of tape got stuck to the paper prematurely and one ripped a hole in it and I’m sweating because there’s no way I’m wrapping a gift with only five pieces of tape. I fold the paper and it’s slightly out of square and one long edge positively billows with the gap I’ve left, but that’s better than the other edge which has developed a hole and now requires one of my remaining pieces of tape. My ends are no better. Though I was careful with my cut, it’s like I have an extra square foot of wrapping paper and the first end requires some origami-like paper gymnastics to make it work. The other end, oh boy, I’ll just spare you what happened on the other end. ​But does it really matter if half the gifts look like they came from a gift-wrapping professional and everything else is in a gift bag or was wrapped by a pack of preschoolers? I hope not, because everything I’m buying for everyone this year is coming in a bag. Jason Frye prefers a gift bag to wrapping presents because it leaves him more time to explore the South and write about what he finds in his guidebooks to North Carolina, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Blue Ridge Parkway (all of which make fine gifts, and maybe the bookstore will even wrap them for you).

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southern harmony | LAINE HARDY

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Laine Hardy By Pam Windsor Photography courtesy of Robby Klein, ABC/Eric McCandless, and Chris Hollo

Louisiana ‘American Idol’ winner hits the ground running with album release, tour, and a stint on ‘The Bachelorette.’ Laine Hardy has been busy since winning Season 17 of “American Idol” in May of 2019. Soon after appearing on the show, the Louisiana native headed to Nashville to start working with producer Michael Knox — whose credits include Eric Church, Jason Aldean, Thomas Rhett — on an album. The pandemic slowed things a bit, but even when with much of the music industry at a standstill, Hardy released several new songs and even did a virtual tour to connect with fans. This year, he’s back touring, appeared on ABC’s “The Bachelorette” in July, and in September, released his long-awaited debut album “Here’s to Anyone.” “I’m really excited and glad the album’s finally out,” Hardy says. “And Michael Knox is a wizard in the studio. It’s the first album of my career, so it’s a big moment for me and I’m really grateful.” The album showcases his vocal talents, with many of

the songs highlighting some of his story. The video for “Ground I Grew Up On,” was shot in and around his hometown of Livingston, Louisiana, and features scenes of him on the bayou, driving his truck, and hanging out with friends. “These songs like ‘Ground I Grew Up On,’ ‘Tiny Town,’ ‘Let There Be Country,’ ‘Authentic,’ and ‘Here’s to Anyone’ kind of tell a story in a way,” he explains. “They’re about my lifestyle, what I do, and who I am. I’m just a smalltime, country boy from a little town in Louisiana.” Hardy’s interest in music started early. He was just six years old when he began asking questions about a singer he’d heard on the radio. “My mom told me about Elvis Presley and after that, it kind of inspired me to start learning how to play guitar. And I took lessons for about eight years.” In high school, he became more serious about his music and one day, when he arrived home from school, his DeSoto 71


mother greeted him with a question. “I walked up to the porch and my mom was sitting in the rocking chair and she said, ‘Laine, what do you think about trying out for ‘American Idol?’” At first, he was nervous about the idea because he’d only recently combined singing with playing the guitar. So, he said he wasn’t sure, walked into the house, put his books down, but then walked back outside. “I said, ‘Okay, sign me up.’ I’ll try it at least one time for Momma. So, we went to New Orleans, I auditioned, and got the golden ticket,” Hardy explains. But he only made it halfway through the season before getting sent home. It was the next year, when a friend asked him to play guitar for her, that he was encouraged to try out for the show a second time. For the second season, he went all the way to winning. He still can’t quite believe how it all turned out. “Yeah, I didn’t expect to win at all,” he relates. “I just went through the whole show, having fun, enjoying life. Not a lot of people get to do it. It’s crazy.” While Hardy’s humble about winning, it’s clear he consistently wowed the crowd and the judges with dynamic performances of songs like “Johnny B. Goode” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Today, his live shows on the road feature original music with covers of songs from a variety of other artists. “I play all the songs on my album, they’re all kind of placed throughout the set list, but I’ll also do some cover songs. I’ll pick up a guitar and sometimes it’ll just be me. I’ll sing 4 Non-Blondes’ ‘What’s Up’ or like an Elvis medley with ‘That’s Alright, Mama,’ ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ and others.” In addition to the release of his first album, Hardy marked another music milestone in August when he debuted at the Grand Ole Opry. “That was unbelievable,” he says of playing the historic Nashville live and radio show. “I never would have thought I’d be on that Grand Ole Opry stage. It was a surreal kind of moment. And the timing was crazy because it was right before the hurricane (Ida) hit. My whole family drove up to see me, then drove home that night so they could go and secure some things. But the Grand Ole Opry was amazing.” 72 DeSoto


Extremely close to his family, Hardy looks forward to taking a break and spending time at home to celebrate the holidays. “On Christmas, we all get up real early because my nieces and nephews wake us up,” he says, laughing. “My mom will make some coffee, then she and my dad and everybody will sit on the couch and open presents. Later, I’ll call my buddies and ask them what they’re doing, and we’ll all get together and show each other what we got.” For Hardy, who recently turned 21, winning “American Idol” has paved the way for so many amazing things to happen and he’s grateful. “I’m excited to play music again, and release new music, but I’ve made it since day one,” Hardy says. “Even before ‘American Idol’ I had my family and friends, and my dog. So, I felt like I’ve made it my whole life. Some people aren’t lucky, I know that. But for me, I just try to spread the joy to everybody I can.”

Pam Windsor is a freelance music, travel, and feature writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.

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in good spirits | COCKTAIL LOVER’S GIFT GUIDE

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Spirited Holidays By Cheré Coen | Photography courtesy of Q Mixers

There’s something fun and new for every cocktail lover on your holiday gift list. Gifting a bottle of a person’s favorite wine or spirit is always a solid bet during the holidays. So is bringing the right spirits to a holiday party — or serving them yourself. Spirits to go has been a trend with no end in sight. What started as a way to bring alcohol to events and outdoors activities such as camping and tailgating has evolved to include innovative cocktail creations and clever uses of wine. ​ Colorado-based Wander + Ivy released this year a collection of limited edition wine varietals packed in single-serve glass bottles that are as lovely as the wines inside. The collection includes a 6.3-ounce serving of California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a French rosé and a Spanish red blend. For each vintage it offers, Wander + Ivy partners with sustainable wine producers using certifiedorganic grapes. The company ships to 39 states. ​ For those wanting wine by the glass in a convenient package, Copa Di Vino sells a four-pack of the most popular flavors in the market: chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot grigio, and merlot. The plastic single-serve bottles are shaped ergonomically to prevent spillage. ​ Cathead Distillery in Mississippi sells vodka sodas in individual packs that are perfect for holiday parties and lateseason tailgates. Flavors include limeade, lemonade, cranberry, and mandarin. ​ Q Mixers offers carbonated mixers perfect for mixing up a quick cocktail. Their tonics range from the classic tonic to flavored tonics such as elderflower — a delicious Blackberry Fizz recipe follows — and a range of ginger beers, ideal for a refreshing Moscow Mule. There’s even a “Kola” that’s perfect for a convenient addition to rum or whiskey. ​ Two new spirits on the market to note are Beignet Vodka out of New Orleans, with a flavor sending those who imbibe to Café du Monde, and the 2021 release of Cathead’s Old Soul straight bourbon whiskey, a small-batch distillation

in Mississippi and Indiana that’s then aged several years in “Southern heat and humidity,” according to Cathead. For a quick and easy holiday cocktail to warm the cockles, try an Old Soul Old-Fashioned mixing 2 ounces Old Soul bourbon, a quarter ounce simple syrup, and three dashes of Angostura Bitters, then garnished with an orange slice. ​ Two new books on the market make for excellent gifts to the cocktail lover. “Distilling the South: A Guide to Southern Craft Liquors and the People Who Make Them” by Kathleen Purvis includes six liquor trails through 11 Southern states. Dr. Harris Cooper, an emeritus professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University discusses how distilled spirits and popular music shaped a nation in “American History Through a Whiskey Glass.” Blackberry Fizz 1 1/2 ounces rye whiskey 1 ounce lemon juice 1 honey sprig 4 blackberries 4 ounces Q Elderflower Tonic 1 blackberry and lemon wheel garnish Directions: Muddle blackberries in the bottom of a mixing glass. Add all other ingredients and shake. Strain the ingredients of the glass into a large champagne coupe or martini glass. Top with Q Elderflower tonic. Garnish with the blackberry and lemon wheel.

New Orleans is Cheré Coen’s hometown, so cocktails are in her blood. Family and friends reading this column are welcome to bestow on her cocktail gifts.

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reflections |

REMEMBERING AN EVENT FROM BEFORE I EXISTED

Remembering an Event From Before I Existed By Tom Adkinson | Photography courtesy of aerocorner.com

I was born one decade and a few days after the “day that will live in infamy.” That means I have no personal story to tell about the day “the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” catapulting the United States into World War II. That doesn’t mean the reality of the long-ago surprise attack on Pearl Harbor doesn’t dwell inside me. Just think about it. Dec. 7, 1941, was 80 years ago this month. America is three generations removed from that terrible event, but the simple words “Pearl Harbor” still resonate. As a youngster, I read about World War II, and I certainly watched war movies and saw newsreel clips. I viewed the grainy film of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech to a joint session of Congress. I was captivated by the spectacular photo of the explosion on the USS Shaw. I was riveted reading “Guadalcanal Diary.” I marveled at the daring in “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” I tried to comprehend the horror of “Bridge Over the River Kwai.” My encounters with stories of the war in the Pacific had great impact, but they were only modest preparation for the solemnity and emotion of finally seeing Pearl Harbor and visiting the USS Arizona. It was 2014 before I got there. The USS Arizona was my first destination after adjusting to a six-hour time change. I was not going to let Waikiki, Diamond Head or anything else get in the way. A landside program included recognition of an aging and proud survivor of the attack. Those recognitions don’t happen now. The few remaining survivors are frail, and the pandemic is real. 76 DeSoto

Then came a short motor launch ride to the sunken battleship. A white memorial structure with a gently curving roof rests over the ship that is just a few feet under water. The circular rear gun turret sticks slightly above the surface. It is simultaneously tranquil and disquieting. At 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, the first of 183 Japanese warplanes roared across the mountains north of the harbor. They struck with a vengeance on a quiet Sunday morning in paradise. Ninety minutes later, it was over — the Arizona and the Utah were sunk, six other battleships and many more ships were damaged, and 188 aircraft were destroyed. Military and civilian fatalities totaled 2,403, according to the National Park Service, which safeguards the Arizona and other sites in cooperation with the U.S. Navy. Gentle breezes flowed through the memorial the day I visited, and a tiny sheen was visible on the water as I gazed through one of 14 vertical portals. Every day, a small amount of oil escapes from the ship, a hollowed tomb for more than 900 of the 1,177 crewmen who died in the attack. Protected at one end of the memorial structure is a gleaming wall of Vermont marble, inscribed from floor to ceiling with the victims’ names. Just seeing the names guarantees that visitors will remember the lives they represent — this year, 80 years from now, forever. I was humbled to be there, and I felt the weight of history. I also felt the uplifting spirit of peace and reconciliation that has evolved over the past eight decades. Tom Adkinson, a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, travels widely from his Nashville, Tennessee, home. His book, “100 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die,” is available on Amazon.



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