DeSoto Magazine November 2021

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November CONTENTS 2021 • VOLUME 18 • NO. 11

features

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Helping Veterans Recover Comfort Farms of Georgia

Dream Weavers DeSoto County Dream Center

Home Tours Return A Guide for the Holidays

departments 16 Living Well Mrs. Hippie Eats ​ 22 Notables 100 Women DBA

40 On the Road Again ​​Eureka Springs, Arkansas 42 Holiday Gift Guide 64 Homegrown A. Shelby Pottery

24 Exploring Art ​DeSoto Family Theatre 28 Exploring Books ​“How Y’all Doing?” by Leslie Jordan

66 Southern Gentleman Quail Hunting 68 Southern Harmony ​Kingfish of Clarkdale

30 Southern Roots ​Decorating the Table

72 In Good Spirits Drink Your Dessert

32 Table Talk ​Charlie’s Donuts 36 Exploring Destinations American Rose Center

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74 Reflections ​Tom Turkey

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editor’s note | NOVEMBER

Giving Thanks

​ Thanksgiving was always a hectic time for my little family unit, mainly because I worked for newspapers and deadlines became hectic before the holidays. Usually, Thursday was my only day off, which meant massive cooking Wednesday evening, rushing to Mom’s for Thanksgiving, then heading home with exhausted children in tow to begin a full workday on Friday. My husband worked in retail, so you know where he was first thing Friday morning. ​ But my mom loved Thanksgiving and always looked forward to having our entire, ever-growing family under her roof for one full day. Over the years, the group photos evolved from babies and toddlers to grandkids heading off to college. And our extended family never missed the importance of the American holiday: to give thanks. In my mother’s later years, my husband and I became the host, serving up turkey, green bean casseroles, and pecan pie to my parents, my visiting siblings, and occasionally a friend whose family lived elsewhere. I even inherited Mom’s miniature turkeys and pumpkins. ​ We lost my mom at the beginning of 2020’s lockdown, and this Thanksgiving my family will finally meet to give her a proper service. She deserved a more elaborate send-off, but in a way the timing couldn’t be better, for we’ll give thanks for the years we had with an exceptional woman on the day she loved most.

NOVEMBER 2021 • Vol. 18 No.11

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

​ We offer stories of other exceptional people doing remarkable things in our annual “Making a Difference” issue, including Army Ranger Jon Jackson of Milledgeville, Georgia, helping veterans struggling with PSTD and the DeSoto County Dream Center’s incredible work in the community. And to get you excited about what’s to come, our holiday home tours story lists some of the best — and brightest — historic homes open for the season, many of which have returned after being dark last year. ​ Happy Thanksgiving everyone, from our family to yours.

Cheré Coen

EDITOR Cheré Coen ASSISTANT EDITOR Casey Hilder CONTRIBUTORS Tom Adkinson Michele Baker Colette Boehm Cheré Coen Jackie Finch Jason Frye Judy Garrison Pamela A. Keene Karen Ott Mayer Tracy Morin Teresa Otto Elizabeth Tettleton Mason Kevin Wierzbicki Pam Windsor Karon Warron PUBLISHED BY DeSoto Media 2375 Memphis St. Ste 208 Hernando, MS 38632 ADVERTISING INFO: Paula Mitchell 901-262-9887 Paula@DeSotoMag.com

on the cover

Bring nature inside for beautiful and affordable holiday decor. Read more on page 30.

SUBSCRIBE: DeSotoMagazine.com/subscribe

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 desotomagazine.com.

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living well | MRS. HIPPIE EATS

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Heather’s Encore By Karen Ott Mayer | Photography courtesy of Adam Mitchell and Mrs. Hippie Eats

Hernando chef and baker enjoys a second restaurant incarnation as Mrs. Hippie Eats, offering grab-n-go holiday fare. When the pandemic arrived last year, many small businesses in Mississippi shut their doors. Some closed temporarily, some permanently, and others searched for a lifeline. The restaurant industry in particular felt the brunt. Often overlooked, however, are the quiet life stories of seasoned restaurant owners who had contemplated change long before 2020 forced their hands. Such is the story of Heather Ries, founder of LadyBugg Bakery in Hernando, Mississippi, which opened more than a decade ago. Ries, who moved her bakery from Memphis to Mississippi, quickly established a reputation for her fresh home-baked pastries, specialty cakes, breads, and lunch specials. Working alongside her family, Ries dedicated 12-hour days to LadyBugg, promptly arriving at dawn and heading home in the evening to her three children and husband. “My husband Joey always helped pick up the slack,” she says. In early 2020, Ries came to a decision. “I wanted to spend more time with my kids who had grown up while I was working.” As she contemplated how to shift gears, the pandemic forced her to shut the bakery doors in April of 2020. At that

point, she decided it was time to sell the business, and she did so that summer. Then, she went home. The funny thing about an energetic creative entrepreneur like Ries is that her passion for cooking had never been about a job or money. “Feeding people is my first love,” she says. So when boredom set in at home, Ries did what she always has done: she cooked. “I just started making food and would post what I was making,” Ries says. “Soon, people were asking if they could buy the extras.” Because so many people were at home during the pandemic, trying to figure out how to cook, Ries began posting her recipes online. She even filmed several LadyBugg cooking demonstrations. By early 2021, Ries heeded the demand and opened a new business. Unlike LadyBugg, her new venture, Mrs. Hippie Eats, grew from her desire to bring family and work closer together. She found the perfect spot for her meals-to-go establishment, a small central location in Hernando that was formerly the kitchen for Area 51 Ice Cream. DeSoto 19


“This [Mrs. Hippie Eats] is a grab-n-go business and we do meal prep so our customers don’t have to cook,” she says. Ries was busy from the first day she opened her doors. Serving up fresh soups, salads, freezer casseroles, and main dishes, Ries didn’t confine herself to a set menu. Gone are the specialty cakes and fresh breads are only available on Fridays and Saturdays. “All of our recipes are new and not from LadyBugg. We are not a bakery,” she says, although bakery items are sometimes on the menu. Ries’ loyal customers follow her Facebook page closely to learn about the daily specials and the menu reflects her single driving philosophy across her personal life and businesses. “We only use the freshest ingredients,” she says. “If I make cream of mushroom soup, it’s made from scratch, not a can. We’re not a health food store or vegetarian. We just serve good food.” While Ries has been a vegetarian since 1994, she incorporates many meat-based items in her repertoire. For instance, she often sells out of popular items such as chicken pot pie, pot roast, and her signature chicken salad. “We do a lot of pot roasts,” she says. “Even though I am a vegetarian, I have cooked so long I have gotten to know the right taste and seasonings.” Not long after opening, Ries recruited Amy Covey, who had worked alongside her at LadyBugg for six years. Originally from Rochester, New York, Covey enjoys watching customers experience new foods and, like Ries, she enjoys the flexibility of creating a daily menu. “When I first started with Heather, I prepared all the salads and Heather did all the baking,” Covey says. Today, Covey handles the baking at Mrs. Hippie Eats. Pastries include Ries’ own cinnamon rolls, salted caramel chocolate chip cookies, and French macaroons, among other sweet options. 20 DeSoto

Since opening Mrs. Hippie Eats, Covey encounters many of their loyal repeat customers, but she has also seen many new faces. She wants new customers to understand their menu fits everyone. “I like to hear people say ‘I never have to cook again!’ when they come into the store,” Covey says. In this new endeavor, Covey is following her passion. “I love being in the kitchen.” During the holidays, Ries will continue to change the menu, but will offer a pork tenderloin and seasonal pumpkin treats. She encourages customers to check Facebook regularly for menu updates. facebook.com/mrshippieeats

An award-winning freelance writer, Karen Ott Mayer lives in Como, Mississippi.


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Shop, relax, unwind.

Holidays in Senatobia The five star city 22 DeSoto


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notables | RACHEL DANGERMOND

Rachel and Constantin aka Tin ©JeanineConsoli

All Are Welcome Here By Teresa Otto | Photography courtesy of Teresa Otto and Jeanine Consoli

Rachel Dangermond continues community outreach and support with her 100 WOMEN DBA in Bay St. Louis. Ann Madden’s mural reads “Old Town Bay St. Louis, All Are Welcome Here.” Just a half-mile away stands the 100 Men Hall, a landmark on the Mississippi Blues Trail from the days of segregation. When Rachel Dangermond toured the 100 Men Hall in 2018, she knew in that moment that she intended to buy the Hall and move in there with her son. Dangermond and the subsequent nonprofit 100 WOMEN DBA that she helped form aim to make both the hall and Bay St. Louis places where all are welcome. ​ The 100 Men Hall is nearly 100 years old. Twelve African American men formed the 100 Members Debating Benevolent Association in 1894 and their bylaws stated as follows: “the purpose of this Association is to assist its members when sick and bury its dead in a respectable manner and to 24 DeSoto

knit friendship.” Their meeting hall, called the 100 Men Hall, became a place for Bay St. Louis’ Black community to gather for life’s celebrations. ​ “The 100 Men Hall tells a more nuanced story than what you will hear about Mississippi in this country,” Dangermond says. “It is a testament to the resilience and selfreliance the African American community had (in order) to create a place of civic activism and community joy in the midst of this country’s dark times of Jim Crow and segregation.” The hall itself has proven resilient. Hurricanes Camille, Katrina, and Zeta battered the building, but it survived. Over the years, the Hall hosted everything from weddings to bingo games. Most notably, it was a music and entertainment venue along the Chitlin Circuit — a series of Black-owned juke joints,


The 100 Men Hall is located at 303 Union Street, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Admission is open to anyone and dues are $30 per month.

Wendo and JoLean's Mural on the 100 Men Hall. Photo by Teresa Otto

dance halls, music venues, and nightclubs that operated during segregation from the 1930s to 1960s. ​ Jazz and blues singers played New Orleans on the weekends and continued east on the Chitlin Circuit during the week. Many greats entertained on the 100 Men Hall’s stage before they became famous. A blackboard lists dozens of entertainers, including B.B. King, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and Ray Charles. The whole-wall mural outside, painted by Wendo Brunious and JoLean Barkley, adds Etta James, Guitar Bo, and local musician Harry Fairconnetue to the list of legends. ​ When Dangermond bought the 100 Men Hall, she envisioned its return to a gathering place for the entire Bay St. Louis community. And the list of musicians has grown with outdoor performances during the pandemic. Beyond returning the Hall to a community center and music venue, Dangermond wanted to resurrect the nonprofit that had been the organization behind the building, and to honor those who had worked in the background. “After years of community work and activism, I knew in my heart that it is the women who do kitchen table organizing that make a difference in our communities, so the 100 WOMEN DBA was born,” she says. ​ Formed in January 2019, the 100 WOMEN DBA is 75 members strong. Their dues pay for the building’s upkeep and the programs they’re passionate about. The group’s original mission centered around helping underrepresented women of Hancock County start and grow their own businesses. But their mission isn’t static. It’s responsive to the times and the current environment. ​ More immediate concerns and community needs shifted the group’s focus in the past year. The 100 WOMEN

DBA hosted listening booths to allow people to talk about the pandemic and the all-too-prevalent violent loss of Black lives. Intolerance hit close to home when a young girl was handed a racist doll at a parade. The 100 WOMEN DBA responded by making her queen of their Mardi Gras krewe. ​ Dangermond and the 100 WOMEN DBA further supported racial tolerance on the June 19 celebration of the emancipation of the enslaved after the Civil War. “The best show of unity our 100 WOMEN DBA had was [on Juneteenth] when we gathered 250 people to form a Women’s March for Progress to speak out against the injustice and to support Black Lives Matter,” she says. ​ With their Food for Youth program, the 100 WOMEN DBA provided nonperishable food for children at risk for hunger and out of school due to the pandemic, filling a need normally met by school meal programs. Beginning in 2022, they’ll be awarding a scholarship to a young woman of color graduating from each of the two Hancock County high schools. ​ As Dangermond and the 100 WOMEN DBA hatch plans to elevate the community from their kitchen tables, embrace cultural differences, stand in solidarity against injustice and inequity, and knit friendships they’re showing all are welcome. Fellow 100 WOMEN DBA member, Ann Madden, painted a mural that rings true. 100MenHall.com

Teresa Otto recently moved from Montana to The Woodlands, Texas. She is a retired pediatric anesthesiologist, freelance writer, and waitress and housekeeper for two rescued cats and a dog.

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exploring art | DESOTO FAMILY THEATRE

Bye Bye Birdie

DeSoto Family Theatre’s upcoming productions: Cinderella, Dec. 3-12 Matilda Jr, Feb. 17-20, 2022 Mary Poppins, April 1-10, 2022 Grease, June 9-12, 2022

Captain Hook

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Beauty and the Beast

A Place for Plays By Elizabeth Tettleton Mason | Photography courtesy of DeSoto Family Theatre

DeSoto Family Theatre celebrates two decades of bringing stories to life for the stage. Twenty years ago, parents in DeSoto County of Mississippi were disappointed by the lack of local stage opportunities. They had to drive miles for their children to enjoy acting experiences in other community theaters. A few residents decided to change that scenario. Cindy Lipscomb, Donna Wieronski, Laura Moore, Mary Monteith, and Jeff Smith put their efforts together to craft DeSoto Youth Theatre, and in 2001, Wieronski’s daughter, Ashley McCormack, starred in their inaugural production, a rendition of the popular musical, “Annie.” The timing was perfect: McCormack had just returned home to Mississippi after having performed in the title role of the Broadway National Tour of “Annie.” McCormack is now DeSoto Family Theatre’s Company Manager. Since that first year, the board of directors has grown, the name changed to DeSoto Family Theatre, and the company has navigated a pandemic. However, the theater’s mission has stayed very much the same: to provide family-oriented community theater in the DeSoto County area. “In the beginning, the community thought we only cast shows with kids in them, and we weren’t getting enough adults auditioning for roles,” says Wieronski, noting that the name change helped improve that image and the theater grew. Today, the local community is passionate about DeSoto Family Theatre, and there’s plenty of ways to see that

love on display. From the families that participate, to the milelong list of corporate sponsors, DFT has nestled its way into the hearts of many. They’ve also honed the talents of young students who have left DFT to pursue Broadway stardom and beyond, including Eleanor Koski (Broadway’s “Les Miserables”), Caroline Murrah (“Fun Home” Broadway National Tour), Daniel Mueller (Broadway’s “Les Miserables,” “Frozen,” “Leap of Faith,” and more), and Katelyn Nichols, New York City acting coach and professional voiceover artist. “We have had a lot of people who have worked at DeSoto Family Theatre who have gone on to have professional careers in the theater industry,” says McCormack. In addition to “Annie,” McCormack has performed in the Broadway National Tour of “Finding Neverland.” DeSoto Family Theatre has filled a void that the community is proud to support with more than just their attendance. “We could not do what we do without the sponsors that we have,” says Wieronski. “Corporate sponsors invest in DFT and support us by coming to every show, as well as their monetary contributions. It really takes the support and the backing of our sponsors. We can’t just sell tickets to support a theater like this.” DFT encourages their sponsors to be hands-on, and sometimes offers them “walk-on roles” in the featured DeSoto 27


productions. For instance, in their production of “Annie,” when the character Annie meets President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a different sponsor appeared in that scene each night of the show. DeSoto Family Theatre has built and continues to strengthen a legacy in their area through the arts that could be seen on full display by the sheer turnout of their 2020 anniversary events. “We started off with an alumni night during our production of ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ in July and invited all past participants to come back for it,” says Wieronski. In addition, DFT kicked off the 20-year anniversary by welcoming the community at their business office at Tanger Outlets in Southaven, Mississippi. Moving past their 20th anniversary and the waning pandemic, the theater is focused on a lineup of events for fall and spring, and summer camps for students. DFT continues to seek opportunities to connect with youth to foster an unforgettable experience in the theater arts, as well as offer an internship experience and several scholarships for their camps. They also rent out costumes, props, and sets to small community theaters around the state, just as others did for them when DFT was first gaining its footing. Regardless of the struggles of 2020 and 2021, DeSoto Family Theatre plans to be here for the long haul, continuing to influence the next generation of performers and theatergoers. “I have a six month old,” says McCormack. “I really hope she has the bug for theater…that would be really incredible and a full circle moment for me to see her up on that stage.” dftonline.org

Elizabeth Tettleton Mason is based in Oxford, Mississippi, where she works at the University of Mississippi. She is a freelance writer and leads The Oxford Comma, a local creative writing workshop. Voted Oxford’s Top 20 Under 40 in 2021, Elizabeth will complete her MBA in May 2022.

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exploring books | HOW Y’ALL DOING?

Southern to the Core Pam Windsor Photography Credits: Book cover – CJ Armenta Blue shirt photos – Courtesy of FOX-TV’s “Call Me Kat” Emmy photo – Leslie Jordan Gold suit – Miller Mobley

Actor Leslie Jordan asks ‘How Y’all Doing?’ in his humorous, conversational memoir. Leslie Jordan is quirky, funny, and one of the most familiar faces in entertainment. He has a long list of TV, movie, and theater acting credits, but may be best known for playing Lonnie Garr on “Hearts Afire” and his Emmy-winning role as Beverley Leslie on “Will & Grace.” The Chattanooga, Tennessee, native also has a gift for telling great stories and his book, “How Y’all Doing?: Misadventures and Mischief from a Life Well Lived,” is full of them. “The thing about Southerners, I don’t know what it is, but we just love stories,” Jordan says. “You know, at family reunions people sit around and say things like, ‘Run get your Aunt Nita in the back room and have her come up here and tell us that story we love so well.’” His writing style is open, honest, and conversational, guiding readers throughout the book as he shares short, insightful accounts of acting or auditioning experiences, interactions with celebrities like Carrie Fisher, Jessica Lange, Lady Gaga, Martin Mull, Dolly Parton, as well as some personal stories and life lessons. Each one is written with heart, humor, and Jordan’s own unique take on what’s happening around him at the time. The idea to write “How Y’all Doing?” came during the pandemic. Jordan, who lives in Los Angeles, returned to Chattanooga to stay with his mother and sisters during the lockdown. With so much downtime, he soon became bored and started posting humorous, off-beat videos on Instagram. 30 DeSoto

Although relatively new to the social media platform, he quickly built a huge following. “I posted something,” Jordan says. “I don’t know which one it was, and a friend called me and said, ‘You’ve gone viral.’ I said, ‘No, honey, I don’t have COVID.’ And he goes, ‘No, not that viral. You’ve gone VIRAL.” Jordan soon had more than 5 million Instagram followers. His sense of humor in sharing bits and pieces of what was happening in his everyday life was resonating with a lot of people. “Harper Collins came to me and said, ‘We love your Instagram posts, and we want to set you up with an editor,” he says. He began writing and found he enjoyed the process. “I had the best time,” he says. “It was such a joy to write, a wonderful experience.” Jordan goes from one entertaining story to the next with chapter titles ranging from “The Time Debbie Reynolds Called My Mother” to “America Horror Storytime” to “The Mississippi Delta,” and more. He takes an easy-going, no-holds barred approach, whether he’s sharing memories about his time spent in Greenwood, Mississippi, shooting scenes for the


As far as his book goes, while he’s not making any promises now, it’s possible there could be another one down the road. After all, “How Y’all Doing?” made it all the way to No. 4 on the New York Times bestseller list. Besides, as with all good Southerners, there are still plenty more stories to tell. And though Jordan spends a lot of his time in Hollywood, he never strays too far from his roots. “I have friends that I’ll bump into in L.A. who are from my hometown, and they’ve gotten rid of their accent,” he says. “I’ll ask, ‘Why are you talking like that?’ And they’ll say ‘Well as an actor, I just felt it would limit me.’ Who cares! It’s not going to limit you. With me, especially, it’s what I am. Southern born and bred, to the core.”

Pam Windsor is a freelance writer and journalist based in Nashville, Tennessee.

2011 film “The Help” or his love of horses (he had a brief career in the equine industry), growing up as a gay man in the South, or his years of struggling with alcohol. And he has a way of finding the humor in all of it. “I’ve been in recovery for, I think it’s been 25 years now,” he says. “And a big part of recovery is telling the story. You begin with what was it like, what happened, and what’s it like now? Well, I was drunk in a ditch, I got arrested, and now I’m just living the good life.” He laughs, then gets serious for a minute, as he reflects on how the lessons of the past tend to pave the way for the future. “You know, I didn’t get sober until I was in my late 40s,” Jordan says. “Forty-seven, I think. And I don’t think any of this could have happened if I’d continued on the path I was on.” And now, he’s having the time of his life. At age 66, it seems like things should be winding down, but Jordan feels like it’s all beginning. He’s busy shooting his FOX TV show, “Call Me Kat” starring Mayim Bialik, and earlier this year he released a hymns album featuring duets with some of country music’s biggest stars, including Dolly Parton. DeSoto 31


southern roots | HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Go Natural for Holiday Décor By Pamela A. Keene | Photography courtesy of Olive Branch Florist

The materials to make your most stunning holiday centerpiece may be right in your own backyard. A trend toward natural materials is one of the more pleasant outcomes associated with the increase in home gardening throughout the pandemic. ​“More people have taken up gardening in the past couple of years,” says Dee Dee Erfurdt, owner of Olive Branch Florist in Olive Branch, Mississippi. “As such, we’re seeing more natural and home-grown plant materials being used for weddings and for holiday decorations.” ​ Pampas grass, palm spears, and dried flowers add texture to arrangements, and they can lend a traditional look to Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Erfurdt also likes to incorporate feathers and other natural components into her tablescapes. ​“Feathers and birds are especially popular because they introduce such wonderful rich colors in nature’s palette,” she says. “And this season, our floral suppliers have also crafted 32 DeSoto

a wide choice of birds with natural colors, from cardinals and gold finches to lovely pheasants and chickadees. They come in all sizes and can be used not only for tablescapes, but in garlands, wreaths, and the family Christmas tree.” ​ Rick Pudwell, director of horticulture at the Memphis Botanic Gardens, says holiday decorating with natural materials has long been popular in the South. ​ “Evergreens, such as plum yew and cryptomeria, make a fabulous foundation for arrangements,” he says. “Not only are they beautiful, their fragrance accentuates the holiday spirit.” ​ Other options known to grow in residential landscapes include holly, ivy, juniper, osmanthus, and magnolias. ​ For fresh-cut greens, Pudwell suggests clipping them and immediately putting them into a large bucket of water to keep them fresher for a longer period of time.


“Bring them indoors and let them sit for 24 hours before arranging them,” he says. “And if you’re using floral oasis, be sure to soak it thoroughly so that it absorbs the maximum amount of water. This will also help your arrangements last longer.” ​He also uses natural pods such as dried okra, pine cones, or the bare branches of deciduous holly with only the berries. ​ Table décor can assume many shapes, from an assortment of taller slim vases to low spreading floral arrangements that wind their way from one end of a dining room table to the other. Selecting a colorful runner can help pull either style together. ​ “When I’m doing a tall centerpiece, I’ll wind colorful ribbon throughout the branches that provide the structure, then I cluster other items together to make it look like they’re growing naturally in place,” he says. “For lower tablescapes, make the center slightly higher, then repeat the composition on a smaller scale as it progresses down the table.” Fruits, like apples, pomegranates, and oranges also add interest and can be interspersed among greenery for a traditional, colonial look.​ As for this season’s colors, both Erfurdt and Pudwell say that reds and greens are here to stay, although shades may vary. ​“I’m seeing shades of green vary from bright Kelly green, olive to deep forest green, and reds can range from bright Chinese red to deeper burgundy,” Erfurdt says. “Much of the colors chosen depends on the home décor.” Erfurdt says that blue and navy are often requested, and people are asking for golds and silvers to be included in their designs.

​“Take your color cues from the room where it will be displayed,” Pudwell says. “You can either elaborate on the room’s palette or choose complementary colors for your décor.” ​Another key thing to remember when decorating a dining table is to look up. ​“Carry the theme of your tablescape up to the light fixture above,” Erfurdt says. “It doesn’t need to be large or overdone, but bringing some of the elements from the table upward to the chandelier is a wonderful way to bring the décor into another dimension. It will give your table a finished look.” ​ She also recommends echoing the elements of the design into handcrafted napkin rings. “Purchase basic napkin rings, then make small boutonniere-type clusters and attach them with ribbon,” she says. “Even a few sprigs of evergreen with a narrow ribbon adds a festive tone to your table.” ​With the trend toward natural materials and décor from the home landscape, a tablescape can be easily freshened throughout the holiday season as individual elements begin to fade. ​ “When you look to your own backyard for your holiday décor, you’re bringing part of the outdoors inside and you’re economizing,” Erfurdt says. “And your arrangements will reflect your personal style even more.”

Avid gardener and Atlanta-based journalist/photographer Pamela A. Keene collects unusual Christmas ornaments for her tree. Some of her favorites are replicas of the German-style hand-painted animals like those from her father’s parents.

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table talk | CHARLIE’S DONUTS

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Sweet Treats By Colette Boehm | Photography courtesy Alys Beach & Charlie’s Donuts

Charlie’s Donuts, a veteran-owned venture, brings colorful breakfast items to the Florida Panhandle. Traditions come in many forms. On Florida Scenic Highway 30A, they come in many flavors, too. And with sprinkles. For more than 16 years, a visit to Charlie’s Donut Truck has been a morning tradition for vacationers to Alys Beach in northwest Florida. What many don’t realize is that Charlie’s Donuts is much more than a repurposed Sunbeam Bread truck. It is a growing collection of outlets along 30A and beyond, the realization of the vision of two disabled veterans who met by chance and struck up a conversation about their future. Sweet Origins Charlie Mingus was born and reared in Enterprise, Alabama. After graduating high school, his army career began with training at Fort Rucker, a nearby training base. “I went to flight school at Fort Rucker and was in

the army for 20 years to the day,” Mingus recalls. “I flew the whole time,” he says of his career as a helicopter pilot, which included deployments in Vietnam and Turkey. After leaving the army, Mingus went on to a 15-year career with a government contractor, then retired. He and his wife were building a farmhouse in northwest Florida when he met another army veteran by chance. The result has been sweet. “This guy showed up delivering lumber,” Mingus says. “I asked him, ‘What are you gonna do the rest of your life?’ He said, ‘I always wanted to own a doughnut store.’” That man was John Smith, who went on to tell Mingus that, while in the U.S. Army, he served in Germany and worked part time at a German bakery. The very next day, Smith brought Mingus a business plan and the two disabled veterans started the business venture that is now in its 16th year. DeSoto 35


​ “I said, ‘How much is it going to cost?’” Mingus says. “When he told me, I said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ So, we opened up in Bonifay, Florida. We started there and then it just took off. Now our doughnuts are up and down 30A, in Panama City Beach, and in Bonifay.” ​ Now made daily in Vernon, Florida, thousands of doughnuts are driven each morning to the truck in Alys Beach, as well as to cafés and some popular restaurant and retail outlets. Mingus visits at least one location every day, and through conversations with customers, in addition to sales data, he knows what flavors are most popular. Women, he says, prefer sour cream doughnuts while men most often want the apple bear claws. For children, chocolate-covered doughnuts with sprinkles are a favorite. His glazed doughnuts, he says, weigh 3.5 ounces, more than twice that of a popular national chain, yet because of the handmade process, are fluffy, with air pockets. Naturally A-Glaze-ing The process starts around noon daily, using John’s “old school” recipes. Employees roll, cut, fill, and dip doughnuts until 2 a.m. the following morning, when the delivery rollout begins. The process and the recipes haven’t changed in 16 years. “We make over 15 different types,” Mingus says. “They’re handmade. We don’t use a machine to kick them out. Ours are hand cut and proofed with real yeast. That really separates us. It’s a labor of love, actually. It really is.” That, along with some trade secrets he will not divulge, makes Charlie’s Donuts the best they can be, Mingus adds. “What really separates us from everybody else is that we use quality products,” he says. “Our glaze is handmade. The reason why our product does not last like other products is we use no preservatives. You’re only going to get about 24 hours out of our glazed doughnut.” Luckily for patrons, there is a new batch every 24 hours. In his 16 years at the Alys Beach location, there have been fewer than 10 days the truck has not been open, all closures due to storms. Showing up every day is part of the philosophy of Mingus and Smith, along with staying true to a recipe and a process they believe in. “You can take shortcuts, but John won’t allow it. He will do it his way. John was a drill sergeant, and I was an aviator,” Mingus says, noting that their military training is something they employ to this day. “That’s what’s kept us alive.” The lines of 20 or more patrons most mornings indicate Charlie’s Donuts is definitely alive and well in Alys Beach. In fact, it’s getting a new life next year. The business will be moving to a building nearby and expanding its offerings to include ice cream, candy making, and, as Mingus puts it, “all the frou-frou coffee drinks.” The shop will include both indoor and outdoor seating and a small “donut truck” for children to sit in and have their picture taken. Amid the mostly white Mediterranean style architecture of Alys Beach, the antique truck with no engine and colorful bouncing doughnuts painted on the side has become a staple here. Mingus says his and Smith’s commitment to the business and the community won’t change with the new location. And neither will the recipes. alysbeach.com/merchants/charlies-donuts/

Colette Boehm is a freelance writer and photographer living in coastal Alabama. She provides lifestyle and travel content for various regional publications.

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exploring destinations | SHREVEPORT’S AMERICAN ROSE SOCIETY

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Christmas in Roseland By Pamela A. Keene | Photography courtesy of American Rose Society

Shreveport’s annual holiday event lights up the gardens of the American Rose Society. Most of the year, roses are center stage at America’s Rose Garden in Shreveport, Louisiana. And as the headquarters of the American Rose Society, why shouldn’t they be? ​However, when the roses become dormant in winter, the elves come out to play, transforming the 118-acre garden into a holiday fantasyland filled with tens of thousands of shimmering lights, light displays, and a Christmas spectacular. Carillion bells peal out, choirs sing, and Santa makes wishes come true during the event, which is held Nov. 26 through Dec. 23. ​“Over the past 38 years, Christmas in Roseland has become a family tradition, with people who visited as youngsters now bringing their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren,” says Jon Corkern, executive director of the American Rose Society. “Our display is not a drive-through; it’s a close-up walk-through look at the light displays. You can stand there right in the middle of the lights and just take it all in.” ​ Nightly entertainment by area church choirs, musical groups, bell choirs, and dancers is complemented with storytellers, clowns, and puppeteers. Fun foods include corn dogs, funnel cakes, and hot chocolate, plus roast jumbo marshmallows from the roasting station.

​School children from elementary through high school create oversized Christmas Cards to the Community, which are on display throughout the garden. ​ “We provide the 4-by-8 plywood canvas, and [school] art classes decorate them with their holiday greetings. The only requirement is that the design include a rose,” says Beth Smiley, editorial director for The American Rose Society. “The amount of talent in our youth just keeps getting better every year, and this is a wonderful way to share holiday messages from the heart.” Part of the garden’s restoration project that began in 2017 is the Clockworks Gardens. ​“Still in progress, the brand-new Clockworks Gardens will be decorated with twinkling lights and holiday displays,” says Corkern. “Designed in four overlapping circles, it will tell the history of the rose like it’s never been told before when it opens in March.” ​Conceived and installed by rose grower Jackson & Perkins, the first circle is planted with modern hybrid tea roses bred between 2000 and 2020. The second circle’s show roses were developed between 1900 and 2000. ​“The third circle will highlight old garden roses and shrub roses,” says Corkern. “And finally, more old garden roses, DeSoto 39


like those your grandmother grew, and species roses will be on display in the fourth circle. The Clockworks Gardens is the first of its kind to capture the history of one of the world’s most captivating plants in a living display.” Events and holiday wishes ​ Open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through Dec. 19, and nightly Dec. 20-23, Christmas in Roseland hosts special activities on select dates. Royalty visits on Sunday, Nov. 28, Dec. 5, and Dec. 12, when Princesses in the Gardens gives youngsters a chance to meet fairy-tale princesses. During Market Nights held Dec. 3-5, local artists and craftsmen offer an array of handmade items. “This is a perfect time to shop for that one-of-a-kind gift for the special people on your list,” says Corkern. “And remember to visit our two gift shops open during Christmas in Roseland: our seasonal Santa holiday store and the garden’s permanent gift shop.” ​ The holiday celebration’s grand finale will be a candlelit sing-a-long with the old-time Southern string-and-percussion band Magnolia Mae. “We’ll be singing all the Christmas classics and holiday favorites,” says Corkern. “It’s one of the most popular nights of Christmas in Roseland.” ​Christmas in Roseland is featured on the Louisiana Holiday Trail of Lights, comprised of five locations throughout the Bayou State: Alexandria/Pineville, Minden, Monroe/West Monroe, Natchitoches, and Shreveport/Bossier City. The trail includes several community Christmas festivals, a tour of homes, shopping, and holiday foods. ​Admission to Christmas in Roseland is $5 per person or $20 per carload; ages 2 and younger are admitted free. ​“This is the only time each year that we charge admission to America’s Rose Garden,” says Corkern. “It’s our major fundraiser that allows us to provide free admission the rest of the year. Of course, donations are encouraged at any time.” rose.org Journalist and photographer Pamela A. Keene’s favorite flower is the hybrid tea rose. At her home, Rose Lane northeast of Atlanta, she grows 60 named varieties of long-stemmed fragrant hybrid tea roses.

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on the road again | EUREKA SPRINGS, ARKANSAS

, s g n i r p Eureka nSsas Arka

8:30 a.m. Fuel up for a day of fun and exploration at Mud Street Café with house specialties like veggie grits or the traditional Mud Street breakfast complete with two eggs, hash browns, bacon or sausage, and toast. 9:45 a.m. Head to the grounds of the Great Passion Play to view the seven-story Christ of the Ozarks statue, the most visited attraction in the Ozarks. Take in the various museums on site for an in-depth look at Christian history. Also, from May through October, catch an evening performance of “The Greatest Story Ever Told!” in the outdoor amphitheater. 11:00 a.m. The Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge seeks to care for abandoned, abused, and neglected big cats including tigers, lions, leopards, and cougars. During the half-mile guided tour, visitors can see the cats’ habitats, and then visit with the refuge’s other animals during a self-guided tour of the Discovery Area. 12:00 p.m. Join locals at Sparky’s Roadhouse Café for everything from gourmet burgers and tuna steaks to a selection of vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Remember to save room for dessert in the form of Mary’s homemade cheesecakes, pies and cakes, a milkshake or malt, or the ever-popular Roadhouse brownies. 1:00 p.m. For one of the best introductions to Eureka Springs, hop on a Eureka Springs Tram Tour. These 90-minuted narrated tours take visitors by many of the town’s historical homes and buildings, as well as several of the healing springs that led to the town’s name. 3:30 p.m. Who doesn’t love a little pampering in the afternoon? Head to the New Moon Spa at The 1886 Crescent Hotel & Spa, where you can choose from a spa menu of massages, body treatments, and facials, plus a full range of nail and hair services. 5:30 p.m. Stop by the Crescent’s Top of the Crest bar (the hotel is claimed to be haunted!) and enjoy Theodora’s Spicy Secret cocktail made with Ghost Pepper vodka, Midori and watermelon-lemonade as you take in the breathtaking mountain scenery. 6:30 p.m. Enjoy a grilled vegetable charcuterie board followed by the Arkansas “Hawg” ribeye, a panseared Berkshire pork chop served with port wine apple butter and sweet potato gnocchi at Grand Taverne Restaurant.

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To plan your visit: eurekasprings.org mudstreetcafe.com greatpassionplay.org turpentinecreek.org sparkysroadhouse.com eurekaspringstramtours.com newmoonspa.com crescent-hotel.com/top-of-the-crest.shtml eurekagrand.com/grand-taverne escaperoom13.com

Upcoming Events:

Porsche Palooza & Parade Nov. 11-14 Join Porsche owners from around the country for a celebration of the cars they love. Events include tours, Porsche drives, dinners and more. www.pca-palooza.com 74th Annual Original Ozark Folk Festival Nov. 11-14 A wide variety of folk and Americana musical acts will be on hand at venues throughout Eureka Springs at this, the longest-running folk festival in the nation. Musicians include Todd Snider, Arkansauce, Jonathan Byrd, Melissa Carper, Gangstagrass, and Sam Baker, among many others. www.facebook.com/OriginalOzarkFolkFestival Christmas in Eureka Springs A drive-through light display at the Great Passion Play, a Christmas Parade, shopping events, holiday music, and special dining experiences are all ready for visitors coming this month and in December. www.eurekasprings.org/christmas A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, Karon Warren now lives in north Georgia.

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holiday gift guide | FOR HER

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1. Cozy wrap, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 2. Earrings, Community Pharmacy, 100 N Front St, Senatobia, MS 3. Hats, Community Pharmacy, 100 N Front St, Senatobia, MS 4. PJ Harlow Pajamas, Upstairs Closet, 309 E Main St, Senatobia, MS 5. Hobo wristlet, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd Suite 102, Southaven, MS 6. Pave Diamond Necklace, Custom Jewelry, 2903 May Blvd Suite #105, Southaven, MS 7. Purses, Upstairs Closet, 309 E Main St, Senatobia, MS 8. Jennifer Thames bracelets Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 9. Scooples Jewelry, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 10. Purse, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 11. Julie Vos jewelry, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 12. Women's sweaters and jewelry, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS

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holiday gift guide | FOR HIM

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1. Big Green Egg BBQ Tool Set, Complete Home Center, 32 E Commerce St, Hernando, MS 2. Books, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 3. Brumate toddy mug, Retro Rooster, 125 S Market St, Holly Springs, MS 4. Cornhole set, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 5. Camp Craft drink mixes, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 6. Jon Hart shave kit, Community Pharmacy, 100 N Front St, Senatobia, MS 7. Myra leather duffel bag, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 8. Apron and seasonings, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 9. Local farm raised beef, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS

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holiday gift guide | FOR KIDS AND TEENS

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1. Bath balm Set, Blairhaus, 208 Main St, Tupelo, MS 2. Chala crossbody purses, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 3. Earrings, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 4. Step 2 Outdoor Grill, Complete Home Center, 32 E Commerce St, Hernando, MS 5. Happy face rings, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 6. Melissa & Doug craft kit, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 7. Neoprene purses, The Speckled Egg, 5100 Interstate 55, Marion, AR 8. Santa Pajamas, Merry Magnolia, 194 E Military Road, Marion, AR 9. Slippers, Mimi’s on Main, 432 Main Street, Senatobia, MS 10. Kendra Scott gift set, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 11. Figets and Pop-its, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS

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holiday gift guide | FOR THE HOME

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1. Annieglass, Ultimate Gifts, 2902 May Blvd Suite 102, Southaven, MS 2. La-Z-Boy recliner, Wilson Furniture, 225 Washington St, Collierville, TN 3. Charcuterie Boards, Keep It Casual, 106 S Industrial Rd, Tupelo, MS 4. Cookbook and tea towel, Bon Von, 230 W Center Street, Hernando, MS 5. Hernando pillow, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS 6. Driftwood table lamp, Magolia Lighting, 470 US-51 N, Hernando, MS 7. Paulownia vases, Cynthia’s Boutique, 2529 Caffey Street, Hernando, MS 8. Nest candles, Keep It Casual, 106 S Industrial Rd, Tupelo, MS 9. Pattee Tray Set, Magolia Lighting, 470 US-51 N, Hernando, MS 10. Barefoot Dreams Blanket, The Pink Zinnia, 134 West Commerce Street, Hernando, MS 11. Huge selection of rugs, House To Home, 8961 US-51, Southaven, MS 12. Home decore, Commerce Street Market, 74 W Commerce St, Hernando, MS

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Never Forgotten By Judy Garrison Photography courtesy of Seeing Southern Photography

A Georgia farm aims to assist veterans to regain strength and confidence and learn new skills. DeSoto 49


Jon Jackson never forgets. Although Jackson was home in Milledgeville, Georgia, his heart was in Afghanistan. Our conversation’s purpose was to unearth the story of Jackson’s Comfort Farm, a working farm he began as therapy for veterans reentering life post-war. On the day we spoke, there was an urgency in his voice; he spoke of the struggle to help his friend along with his family escape Kabul during the final days of the summer’s withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. For weeks, he had attempted to get them on a flight manifest, only to succeed and then encounter defeat when his friend became trapped at the airport gates between the thousands trying to flee and the many who lay on the ground, dead. As Jackson continued our conversation, his grief became palpable and his words, more compelling. Time was running out, and as that window began closing, Jackson became more passionate and anxious in his narrative. And it was in this moment, that understanding the mission of Comfort Farms was as obvious as listening to the heart of its architect.

FINDING AN ANSWER

After six deployments in Afghanistan as a U.S. Army Ranger, Jackson returned home to Georgia. In 2013, he was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury due to combat, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other complications. Once home, he realized he needed help to deal with his brain’s perpetual motion — a consequence of war, constantly running in overdrive, interfering with his quality of 50 DeSoto

life. Where could he put that energy? “I struggle with toning myself down,” says Jackson. “I’m intense. It’s my trigger to see bad people hurt innocent people. I have to fight to contain myself.” There was yoga and meditation, practices much too sedate for this muscular man. It might make today better, but what about for the long haul, he asked? And if Jackson needed help, certainly, others did as well. He became empowered to create a resolution after seeing too many veterans suffering with PTSD carry the battlefield into the home, thus losing everything. A Band-Aid fix wouldn’t do, he thought; it had to be a long-lasting solution to the demons living inside. In 2016, he started Comfort Farms as the nation’s first acute veteran’s crisis agriculture center. Its name honored Army Ranger Captain Kyle A. Comfort, a friend and fellow Ranger of Jackson’s. It was Jackson who carried Comfort off a helicopter after an IED killed him during an operation in Afghanistan in 2010. Jackson honors Comfort with the center’s name, as well as its holistic approach in aiding those with “invisible disabilities.” The center provides immediate care with a short-term stay lodge, offering the basic necessities to help each veteran gain strength and confidence. Two-fold, the Milledgeville location prepares veterans for a career in sustainable food production that integrates profitability, stewardship, and healing. The farm operates under the STAG VETS INC umbrella, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to providing care and


treatment for veterans who are homeless, in need, and suffering from PTSD. According to its website, Comfort Farms focuses on “rehabilitation, reintegration, teaching and rekindling the strength to achieve greatness that is at the core of the (STAG) philosophy.” STAG stands for Strength to Achieve Greatness. Every person that comes to the farm comes for a different reason, but they must want to help themselves. Some spend a few days, a weekend, or a few weeks. When they arrive, they are put to work; there’s no dawdling here. They wrangle pigs, gather eggs, harvest vegetables. Jackson works alongside them, putting in the work as he continues his own path of healing. Jackson believes that as the veterans focus on the farm, and the job at hand, they forget their problems and work for the farm’s greater good. The self-paced program allows those who want to be there to remain and give back to the farm and to those who come after them. Many who have gone through the program return to help the next vet find his or her greater purpose.

COMFORT FARM IN THE COMMUNITY

On Saturday mornings, the fruits of the worker’s labor are spread out for the folks of Milledgeville. Not only are there fresh vegetables like beans, okra, potatoes, and tomatoes available but also a menagerie of hogs, chickens, turkeys, and ducks. Locally sourced meats like beef brisket, sirloin steaks, and lamb chops round out the menu. The farm also partners with local farmers, and local and metropolitan Atlanta restaurants to provide fresh Georgia-grown products. Order a premium heritage turkey for Thanksgiving and process it yourself, or they’ll do it for you. Realizing the power of food and gathering, Jackson brings together more than 30 chefs from around the world for his Le Pied du Mont Boucherie Festival held each January in Milledgeville. The three-day event welcomes everyone as the butchers, farmers, and chefs take guests from the butchering process to the stove, giving the farm-to-table concept a different meaning. The proceeds from the weekly market and the boucherie festival go back into the running of Comfort Farm. Building a bridge back to life is at the core of Comfort Farm’s mission. With DeSoto 51


the help of the community who support the weekly market and food events, the bridge is growing. Jackson wants “hard conversations over food and music to break down the 20-foot walls” that separate us, and on the farm, these conversations are arduous, and the healing, complex. But without this sanctuary, the alternative is shameful. A single look at Jackson makes one think he has the weight of the world on those broad shoulders, and on any given day, he might. Never forgetting does carry a price. Taking it day-by-day, moment-by-moment, seems to be the ticket to coming out the other side. At the farm, life for every veteran that chooses to walk through the gates is approached the exact same way. And if Captain Comfort could see what is being done in his name, what would he say? “If Kyle could see me now, he wouldn’t say a word,” Jackson says with a smile. “He would probably just walk up to me and bring me in and hug me for this work. I would see how proud and honored he would be to see the integrity and grit in the work we are doing every day.” stagvetsinc.org

Judy and Len Garrison are the team of Seeing Southern. Both freelance journalists and photographers, they travel the world in search of stories that define people. They are based in Athens, Georgia.

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Governor's Mansion Jackson, MS

HOLIDAY HOME TOURS RETURN 52 54 DeSoto

By Michele D. Baker Photography Credits: Mark Coffey (The Towers, Natchez); Visit Natchez (Sunnyside B&B, Natchez); Graceland (Graceland, Memphis); Rachael Leigh Photography (Natchitoches); Mississippi Department of Archives and History (Governor’s Mansion, Jackson); Liz Jurey, Preservation Resource Center (NOLA)


Some of the South’s historic homes dress up for the holidays and invite residents to take a peek inside.

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Natchez

New Orleans

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During the holiday season, many Mid-South cities pull out the stops, and the homes and streets sparkle with lighted trees, holiday wreaths, trumpeting angels, and giant tinsel snowflakes. From Memphis to New Orleans, there’s something for all ages to get in the Christmas spirit. Here are just a few of the many homes that will be decorated this festive season and open for viewing. Happy holidays!

NOV. 19 – DEC. 31: JEWELED CHRISTMAS TOURS NATCHEZ, MISSISSIPPI

Architecture and history buffs can marvel at the splendor of this majestically restored home year-round, but each winter, the historic Towers Mansion in Natchez decks the halls with handmade and vintage costume jewelry. Holiday vignettes adorned with magical jewels transform the home into a sparkling wonderland. Admission is $25 (children under 8 admitted free). On select Saturdays, exclusive evening tours by candlelight include music and refreshments. $45 per person, adults only, reservations required. TheTowersofNatchez.com/tours

Nov. 26 – Dec. 31: “Do You See What I See?” Natchez, Mississippi

Sunnyside is an elegant, 1850s Greek-Revival cottage situated on 10 lush acres near historic downtown Natchez. During the Christmas season, the historic home — which is also a bed-and-breakfast — decorates more than 30 trees with holiday fashions in graceful southern splendor and opens its doors twice a day for its Christmas at Sunnyside “Do You See What I See?” tours. Tours run daily at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Admission is $20 (children under 12 admitted free). VisitNatchez.org

Dec. 1-20: Graceland Christmas Ultimate VIP Evening Tours Memphis, Tennessee

​The annual Graceland Christmas tradition is to put up the decorations around Thanksgiving and keep them up through Elvis’ birthday in January. New this year, guests can experience fit-for-aKing Christmas VIP after-hours guided tours of the gardens and curving drive flanked with hundreds of blue lights, a lifeDeSoto 57


size Nativity scene, Elvis’ Santa and sleigh lawn decorations, and more. The interior is beautifully decorated for Christmas with the traditional red velvet drapes and Presley family Christmas artifacts. These limitedsize holiday tours are part of the inaugural Graceland Christmas Ultimate VIP Evening Tours packages. Tickets are $250. Graceland.com/christmas-at-graceland

Dec. 1-31: Tours of The Corners Mansion Inn Vicksburg, Mississippi

Enjoy views of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers on your tour of this delightful B&B. Fusing influences from the Greek Revival, Italianate, and Victorian movements, The Corners boasts parterre gardens, period antique furnishings, ornate crown moldings, and Vicksburg pieced columns on the generous front porch. At Christmastime, the mansion is bedecked for the season with twinkling lights and winter greenery. Call (601) 636-7421 for tour reservations. Admission is $10 (children under 2 admitted free). TheCorners.com

Dec. 3: Old Jackson by Candlelight Jackson, Mississippi

​The Governor’s Mansion, one of the finest surviving examples of the Greek Revival style of architecture in the United States, has been the Jackson home of Mississippi governors since 1842. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, it is the second oldest continuously occupied governor’s residence. At Christmastime, the first family welcomes visitors from across the globe to see the period furnishings and vintage decorations. Free Candlelight Tours from 5 to 8 p.m. MDAH.ms.gov/explore-mississippi/ governors-mansion

Dec. 11-12: Preservation Resource Center’s Holiday Home Tour New Orleans, Louisiana

The Preservation Resource Center’s 46th annual Holiday Home Tour showcases the homes of famous New Orleans residents in an Art Garden Tour. Private yards and secret gardens in New Orleans’ Garden District are transformed by local artists into winter wonderlands filled with custom58 DeSoto


made, larger-than-life decorations. The tour highlights the incredible diversity of New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods and architecture and includes fascinating details about the history of each house and the community around it. Also, a festive virtual tour series peels back the wrapping on four exquisite houses filled with gorgeous art collections, historic architectural details, and masterful interior design. PRCNO.org.

Dec. 9, 10, 11 and 16, 17, 18: Christmas Tour of Historic Homes Natchitoches, Louisiana

​ Experience the charm of historic Natchitoches during the annual Christmas Tour of Homes sponsored by the Natchitoches Historic Foundation. This is a self-guided walking tour, but docents at each location will guide you through the interiors and provide historical commentary on the homes and their unique holiday decorations. Begin at any of the properties and walk the entire circuit. Thursday and Friday tours are from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday tours are from 1 to 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 (includes map to all homes on the tour). Proceeds benefit restoration of properties in Natchitoches Parish. NatchitochesHF.com

Natchitoches Michele D. Baker is a freelance travel writer and blues music aficionado in Jackson, Mississippi. She also loves cats, books, and holiday decorations with lots of twinkly lights. Read more about Michele at www.MicheleDBaker.com.

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Dream Weavers By Tracy Morin Photography courtesy of DeSoto County Dream Center

With a focus on food, clothing, education, and healthcare, the DeSoto County Dream Center offers a range of outreach programs to uplift the community.

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As campus pastors at Compel Church, Audrey and Lee Smith have long felt that some of its greatest work happened outside of the church building and in the community. That instinct led the husbandand-wife team, now directors of DeSoto County Dream Center in Horn Lake, Mississippi, to create their nonprofit just as the pandemic was poised to impact American communities in January 2020. ​ “COVID allowed us to have a greater opportunity to serve our community, and there are four main areas we generally focus on,” says Audrey Smith. “We exist to build hope in DeSoto County by feeding, clothing, and assisting with educational and healthcare needs.” ​ For educational help, DeSoto Grace (located inside the Dream Center) works closely with the school system and teachers, offering an education and activities program for children in grades three to five, as well as a mentorship program for grades six to 12. Children receive homework help and tutoring, with a focus on math and reading. ​“We also assess the families as a whole to see how we can meet the needs of the entire family, not just the educational needs,” Smith says. “What are the family dynamics? Is it a single-parent home? How can we help them? Does mom or dad need a job? We can make that connection. It’s all about building relationships with these children and their families.” ​In the healthcare category, DeSoto County Dream Center works through Trinity Heath Center, an on-site medical clinic offering full-family care for the working uninsured. The fees are based on a sliding scale determined by income and family size to make quality healthcare available to all. ​ Meanwhile, launching their organization at the outset of the pandemic revealed a massive need for helping to feed the county’s hungry more than ever before. They first arranged a drive-through food distribution site, serving about 100 cars twice weekly, doling out boxes of perishable and nonperishable food items. ​“It was heartbreaking those first few weeks, because everybody we talked to had just lost their job, or they were sick, or had a family member in the hospital with COVID — the need was great,” Smith says. “Then we found out through a partner agency about the Farmers to Families food distribution program offered through the USDA.” 62 DeSoto


​ Smith was asked if she could distribute enough food to fill a semi-truck trailer, the equivalent of serving 1,000 families a week. She wasn’t sure, but she jumped at the opportunity, believing the community need existed. The Dream Center contacted the school system for permission to set up in the parking lot of Horn Lake Middle School. ​“It was absolutely amazing, what we were able to experience and the stories we heard,” she says. “A couple of months in, they asked if we could handle another location, so we set up in the Olive Branch High School parking lot. Every Saturday morning, we were distributing two semi trucks of food to people in need, with 1,400 boxes on each truck. And we did that for 14 months.” ​ The USDA eventually ended that program, so the Dream Center now stocks an onsite emergency food pantry to provide nonperishables to families who have an immediate need, while those with ongoing needs are referred to an organization with a larger inventory. In recent months, the Smiths have also been working on their new program to provide clothing for the community, planned to start in October. ​“This will be a clothing ministry for children in Title I schools in DeSoto County, which most of our county’s schools are,” Smith says. “In working with teachers, we discovered the most requested items were jeans, coats, and shoes, so those are the three we want to focus on.” ​Two of the Dream Center’s core values are dignity and honor, so Smith stresses how important it is to provide kids with brand-new, not used, clothing items, with the tags still on, in a “first-class atmosphere” that families can visit to select their needed items. ​ Ultimately, however, Smith wants her organization to function as a resource center, connecting people who need help with the local organizations that can best meet their needs. ​“We have a big homeless population in our county that nobody knows about,” Smith says. “So, while that might not be our main area of focus, we want to make sure people find those resources and are taken care of. There are people in need of jobs, and we know that companies need employees, so let’s connect the two. We want to be that resource center that, if you have a need and don’t know where to go, call us DeSoto 63


— we’ll help you find it. DeSoto County has so many great resources; we just all need to partner together and make it work.” ​ Since the Dream Center launched, Smith has heard stories — both heartbreaking and uplifting — from the people she has helped. As people showed up to receive food distribution, staff would gather information to find more ways to help, asking about their needs and challenges. ​ “My husband and I are lifelong residents here, and DeSoto County is such a beautiful place that we forget, because we don’t see it every day, the homelessness or hunger,” she says. “But it’s there. We partner with the DeSoto County school systems heavily, and I’ve gotten a call every week from a social worker that a kid is hungry in the classroom. We want those people to know they are valued and worthy, and break the chain of poverty and the poverty mindset.” ​The Dream Center is funded strictly by donations and through unpaid volunteers. Hence, Smith stresses that additional help is always in demand: for medical personnel at the clinic, for helping children in the DeSoto Grace program, for food pantry workers to help organize and assemble food boxes, or for tackling administrative tasks and special projects. ​The nonprofit has also been hosting Saturday block parties for the community, with sports, music, and family-friendly activities for all ages, concluded with fresh produce boxes distributed to attendees. Then, on Sunday mornings, Compel Church inside the Dream Center welcomes local kids to spread some extra love. ​ “It’s a great way for us to meet people in the community, to find out what the needs are and how we can help meet those needs,” Smith says. “So many people are in survival mode right now — so focused on the needs of today they can’t even think of the future. On our trucks, we have the phrase ‘Dream again.’ We want to help them with the needs of the moment, and help them get to the place where they’re not just worried about surviving today, they’re knowing that they can thrive and dream again for the future.” desotodreamcenter.org Based in Oxford, Mississippi, Tracy Morin is an award-winning freelance writer and editor with a passion for covering food, beverage, beauty, and boxing.

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homegrown |

A. SHELBY POTTERY

Labor of Love By Jackie Sheckler Finch | Photography courtesy of April Shelby Crowell

A Mississippi potter found her life’s calling at college and decided to use her talents to bring comfort and joy. When April Shelby Crowell entered Mississippi State University, she found her future. Although she had always been interested in art and was registered as an art major, it was during her college years that Crowell initially tried her hand at creating pottery. “The first time I set foot in pottery class, I loved it,” she says. “I had never done it before and feel so blessed that I discovered it and get to do what I love.” Today, Crowell is owner of a popular pottery business in Flowood, Mississippi. Every piece is handmade by Crowell and signed with her artist name — A. Shelby Pottery. But Crowell is quick to point out that the valuable assistance she received on her art journey is what helped bring her to where she is today. As a senior at Mississippi State, Crowell received an entrepreneurship grant. She used the money to buy a single kiln and start a part-time pottery shop in her garage. She also had the help of a business counselor in college to assist her on her way. “I didn’t know anything about how to set up a 66 DeSoto

business, how to get it registered with the state, how to do all the legal work that has to be done,” she says. “It all seemed very overwhelming at first, but my business counselor guided me through it and made it seem simple.” In March 2019, Crowell took a leap of faith and became a full-time potter. Having a supportive husband — she married J.R. Crowell in 2015 — and a lack of personal debt also was an important part of the decision to become a fulltime business owner. “It’s a risky move to open a business so you have to be sure you have the financial freedom to take the risk. I couldn’t do it without my husband’s support and encouragement.” Now located in a large warehouse space, Crowell creates high-quality stoneware that is functional enough for everyday life but also special enough to add beauty to a home. “As I like to say, ‘It’s Art for Everyday Use,’” she says. Crowell crafts a wide variety of both general pottery and commissioned pieces that can be found in local gift shops across Mississippi. In 2018, Crowell began making pottery adorned with Bible verses to raise money for a mission trip


she and her husband hoped to take. Not only did she meet her financial goal, but Crowell also discovered that her Bible verse pottery had become a thoughtful gift from those who purchased them. “I never expected this to happen but people have been buying the Bible verse pottery for friends who are grieving or going through a hard time or just need some comfort,” Crowell says. “It’s wonderful to know that what I make can bring a little bit of comfort to someone during difficult times.” Another favorite piece of A. Shelby Pottery also came from an unexpected request. “My pottery studio is in the same building as a gift shop,” Crowell says. “One day the gift shop owner came to me and said she wanted someone to come in and make pottery for people with handprints of their children.” At first, Crowell thought the handprint pottery market was already filled by others and she didn’t want to change her personal pottery style. “But I thought about it a little more and decided I could do it and still stay true to my style.” The result? “Children are little for such a brief time so it’s nice to have this beautiful reminder of their little hands,” she says. “It has also given me a chance to meet my clients one on one. So many stories, so many struggles some of them went through to bring their child into this world.” Although Crowell and her husband don’t have children yet, she did make paw prints of their two canine family members: a Goldendoodle named Potter and a Feist mixedbreed named Gabbie. One of her newest consignments is to make pottery adorned with the dome of the Mississippi Capitol Building in

Jackson. “I’m doing that for the gift shop at the Capitol Building,” she says. “A lot of people like to buy those for souvenirs and they also like the state Christmas tree ornaments.” In fact, her most popular Christmas tree ornament is made in the shape of American states. “I’ve probably done at least 25 different states now and will be doing more,” she says. “I like to get a Christmas ornament from every place I visit and other people seem to like that, too.” Regardless of what kind of pottery she is making, Crowell says she feels blessed to have found the perfect niche in life. “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing,” she says. “I love it and realize every day how very fortunate I am.” ashelbypottery.com

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 | QUAIL HUNTING

On the Trail for Quail By Jason Frye | Photography courtesy of Little Q Ranch

Fall means prime hunting time in the fallow fields of Mississippi.

When November dawns in Mississippi, it’s best not to be a quail on the wing in that soft morning light. You’ll cut too fine a silhouette and the beating of your wings as you explode into the sky will draw too many eyes in your direction because November means quail hunting season. Each and every one of you fine Southern Gents who hail from Mississippi, went to school in Mississippi, or find yourself transplanted into that fertile soil knows this. There’s something to the chill in the air and the sight of stubbled cornfields that lets you know it’s time to oil up your shotgun, don your shooting vest, grab the dog, and head out into the frosty morning to bag a few birds. ​I grew up in West Virginia, hunting on the 160 acres or so my parents own, and all it took for me to disappear into the woods was a short walk across the yard, then I’d return hours later with the pockets of my hunting jacket bulging with squirrel, pheasant, or grouse. It wasn’t until years later that I hunted quail and from that first statuesque pause-and-point from the dogs I wondered why my dad didn’t clear out a dozen acres for quail hunting. Then I remembered that flat land is as precious and rare in West Virginia as mountains are in Mississippi and I settled in to hunt. 68 DeSoto

​ As it turns out, Mississippi is a fine place for birding. I’d heard the tales of epic duck hunts on the Delta, fishing and shooting trips along coastal marshes and creeks, and day-long quail hunts in winter fields that always concluded with a feast and a bottle of something to warm you from the inside out making its way around the group. But I’d heard these things said around barbecue pits late at night when that bottle might not be the only thing passed from hand to hand, and I figured they were just that: stories to tell around the fire, something to recall while making yourself just a little bit more of a hero than you really were. ​ Turns out I was wrong. And it turns out that Mississippi is loaded with land where you can quail hunt, family land and hunting preserves alike. ​Just a few minutes east of Oxford, Square Books, and the University of Mississippi, Little Q Ranch Quail Hunting Preserve gives you the chance to bag birds throughout hunting season (from November through March). Guides and some mighty fine bird dogs join you in the field for a half-day or fullday of hunting. You’re just about guaranteed to bring home at least one bird as guides allot 12 birds released per hunter for half-day hunts and a full two-dozen on daylong hunts.


​ Now, not everyone wants a guide, and some of you Gents might want to see how well training has been going with your dog and that’s fine at Little Q , where you can arrange a half-day self-guided hunt. You’ll still get that dozen birds per hunter, but after that it’s you, your hunting companions, and your four-legged friend. ​If Oxford is a haul and you’re making this an overnighter, Little Q has the Tin Can Lodge, a little spot where up to 10 folks can spend the night and get their fill of quail hunting. You can bring your own shotgun, or you can rent one at Little Q; shells and other gear are available to purchase if you need it. ​ A little further north, in Holly Springs, Fitch Farms has more than 8,000 acres of field and woods where you can hunt quail, white-tailed deer, and turkey. But it’s not your typical hunt. It’s a bit more old-fashioned, a little more elegant, more Southern Gentleman-ish than many expect. It’s a beautiful place, but one where it feels a little out of place to spend the day with your phone in your hand, so you won’t be checking your email. Instead, you’ll pull the phone out to snap a few shots of the hunt, the haul, or your meal for bragging rights and Instagram. ​ Fitch Farms keeps it rustic by getting you into the field the old-fashioned way: on horseback or by mule-drawn wagon. Once you’re there, expert guides and championship bird dogs do half of the work — finding the birds and letting you know where they are — then it’s up to you, just point and shoot. It’s never that simple, though, which is why you start your day with some time at the shooting range, where wobble traps will make those clay pigeons a little more challenging and prepare you for the day. ​ You can spend the night at Fitch Farms, and you should. If you do, your hunt will start off with evening cocktails and dinner, a night in one of their restored Civil War-era cabins and lodges, breakfast, a hunt, lunch, and cocktails before you depart. Leave the bird-cleaning up to them — guides and staff will clean and pack up to 12 birds per hunter — and leave the driving to Fitch Farms too: they’ll pick you up and drop you off at the Memphis Airport. They keep all the things you need for a successful hunt on hand: firearm rentals, hunting license sales, clothing, gear, and shells, all right there where you need them. ​ So, Southern Gents, show of hands. Who’s ready for a day in the fields?

Jason Frye writes about food and travel in his home state of North Carolina and across the South. He’s the author of Moon North Carolina, Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip, Moon Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and other travel guides.

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southern harmony | CHRISTONE ‘KINGFISH’ INGRAM

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Dialing up the Blues By Kevin Wierzbicki Photography credits: CD cover by Justin Hardiman. Performance shots by Laura Carbone

Clarksdale’s Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram honors Mississippi Delta people and their stories with his latest album, ‘662.’ If you get a phone call from an unknown caller and you see that it’s coming from area code 662, go ahead and answer. There’s an off-chance it won’t be a solicitor; it might just be the blues calling. 662 is the area code for Clarksdale, Mississippi, and surrounding area, home of the famous crossroads immortalized

in song and a place that legendary blues musicians Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, and Son House all called home at one point in their careers. Those greats are all long gone, but the blues remains in the 662 big time, carried on by many players including Clarksdale's hottest young talent: Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. DeSoto 71


Ingram’s latest album, released on the vaunted Alligator Records label, is called “662.” The guitarist and singer is, of course, not paying homage to the numbers that make up the area code with the title, but to the people of the area and their stories, their history and traditions. Ingram’s love for his home in the Mississippi Delta is obvious throughout the album and especially on the boogieing title cut which also reveals some of his own history. “662” sets the scene with the lyrics “The Mississippi Delta, birthplace of the blues/I was born right here in the 662,” before getting more personal with “Daddy worked at Cooper Tires, my mama was raised in the hills,” and “I’m still kickin’ these blues down in the 662.” Ingram’s guitar picking is countrified for most of the song except for an incendiary solo that closes the cut. On 662 song “Too Young to Remember” Kingfish sings about a salient aspect of blues culture that mostly doesn’t exist anymore, “I heard about those juke joints / Homemade whiskey used to flow / Well I’m too young to remember / But I’m old enough to know.” Ingram echoes a similar sentiment when reflecting on how the scene in the 662 has changed in his lifetime. “All of the old legends that I grew up hanging around, watching and listening to, all of them are gone,” Ingram says. “But what I’ve noticed for sure is that Clarksdale will always be a blues city, even with all the legends dying.” Ingram remains humble, even though his star is shining brightly right now as his fame beyond the Delta burgeons. One of the biggest rock stars in the world, Elton John, knows all about Kingfish. The Rocket Man recently interviewed Ingram for his podcast. “Elton is a great guy,” says Ingram. “He has a natural style of conversation and I could talk to him all day long. I hope that I get a chance to do something with him again.” Ingram has also collaborated with funk master Bootsy Collins on a song called “Creepin’” where he plays psychedelic guitar throughout the song while also handling a good portion of the lead vocals. A video has been made for the song and sharp-eyed viewers from the 662 may notice, through all the visual effects, that Ingram’s contribution to the video was shot in Clarksdale at Red’s Lounge. “Bootsy called me in I think 2018 and said ‘I have this song’ and originally I was just supposed to play a solo on it,” Ingram explains. “Then he said ‘can you write a verse, I want you to sing on it.’ So he told me the subject matter and I got together with my team and we wrote the verse. It’s a psychedelic masterpiece of funk and rock for sure.” Kingfish goes way back with Buddy Guy, who he has been on tour with. “Buddy told me, ‘your guitar is like your American Express card — never leave home without it,’” Ingram says with a laugh. Roger Stolle, the owner of Clarksdale’s Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art and a mover and shaker in the 662, has been following Ingram’s progress for more than a decade. “The crazy thing about Christone is that he’s always been impressive,” says Stolle. “When I first saw him around age 10 or 11, it stopped me in my tracks. A true musical prodigy, he took his lessons at the Delta Blues Museum very seriously, then he took his hours of practice to the Clarksdale proving grounds, places like Red’s Lounge and Ground Zero Blues Club where he played with older musicians for tough juke joint crowds. These are folks who will tell you what they think regardless of your age. It’s this combination of natural talent, practice and field-testing under real-world conditions that bring us to today’s Kingfish phenomenon.” While he spends a lot of time touring these days, Ingram still lives in Clarksdale and has no plans to leave the 662. Now that he’s more famous, can he go out to eat or to a club in Clarksdale without being mobbed? “Sometimes when I’m at Red’s or Ground Zero I’ll get approached by a tourist or a local but I don’t get mauled or anything,” Ingram says. “But that would be cool! I could handle that.” Kevin Wierzbicki is a music and travel writer based in Phoenix in the 602, but he has had the pleasure of visiting the 662 where he saw Kingfish rip it up at Ground Zero.

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in good spirits | HOLIDAY SPIRITS

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Holiday Fun in a Glass Story and photography by Cheré Coen

Cool spirits and unique fall flavors can add a little sparkle and sweetness to the holidays. On a visit to Frankfort, Kentucky, I acquired a fun “Apple Martini” cocktail recipe from Buffalo Trace bourbon distillery that mixed 2 parts bourbon, 1 part praline liqueur and 1 part Apple Pucker in an ice-chilled cocktail shaker. The result was the perfect Thanksgiving drink, a delicate cocktail tasting of fresh apples and just the right amount of sweetness with the sensation of a warm fireplace on a chilly fall day. I served it every year. ​ This holiday, I tried something new after discovering Runamok maple cocktail syrups and bitters. The Vermontbased company produces a unique line of products that taste as good mixed with spirits as they do on pancakes and waffles. ​For instance, mix apple cider with a few tablespoons of Runamok Maple Mule Cocktail Syrup and warm in a small pot and you’ll end with the perfect non-alcoholic drink for a fall afternoon. It’s appropriately called “Warm Your Cockles.” ​ For those who’d rather have a bite to their refreshments — and, in this case, a dose of entertainment — we recommend Runamok’s Shimmering Champagne Cocktail. The main attraction to this drink is the Runamok Sparkle Syrup, pure maple syrup that’s enhanced with food-safe pearlescent mica sourced from the United States. Shake the bottle and the maple deliciousness sparkles as if by magic — and it makes for a delightfully brilliant cocktail that’s perfect for the holidays as well as other special occasions, such as weddings and New Year’s celebrations. Want to have more fun? Spin the bottle’s holographic flavor medallion in different lights to check out its many colors. Shimmering Champagne Cocktail 1 tablespoon Runamok Sparkle Syrup 4 to 6 ounces dry sparkling wine 2 dashes of Runamok’s Aromatic, Orange or Floral bitters Lemon twist (optional)

Directions: Put a teaspoon of Sparkle Syrup in a champagne flute or wine glass. Add sparkling wine and bitters. Gently stir and serve with a twist. The sparkles will rise and flow throughout the glass, making a wonderful display. Note: Despite its name, the recipe calls for dry sparkling wine instead of champagne due to the heavy sweetness of the syrup. ​ On a recent trip to the liquor store, I was treated to a sampling of Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur, which marries distilled and aged brandy with American pecans — and we suspect those nuts hail from the Deep South, since that’s where the best pecans originate from! It’s a delicate spirit — albeit sweet — that makes for a nice after-dinner liqueur perfect for sipping. ​ For the holidays, however, you may want to finish meals with the Rivulet Kentucky Pie, a combination of Rivulet, Kentucky straight bourbon (we used Four Roses Small Batch) and Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur. A word of warning: it’s as sweet as a pecan pie, but the bourbon helps bite through the sugar. It will make the perfect accompaniment to a slice of pecan pie. Better yet, a bourbon pecan pie. Rivulet Kentucky Pie 1 part Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur 1 part Kentucky straight bourbon 1 part Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur Directions: Combine ingredients over ice in a rocks glass. Or combine ingredients over ice in a cocktail shaker tin and shake, then strain and pour into a martini glass.

DeSoto Editor Cheré Coen loves the holidays and the spirits they bring. She’s always up for learning new cocktail recipes.

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reflections | TOM TURKEY

Tom Turkey:

The Perpetual Thanksgiving Guest By Tom Adkinson

The list of possessions I would grab if my house catches on fire is short. I want my eyeglasses, my car keys, my passport, and Tom Turkey. I want my eyeglasses for obvious reasons, I want my car keys to make my life easier, I want my passport because it would be difficult to replace, and I want Tom Turkey because my family would expect me to save the one item that unites us all. Tom Turkey has no intrinsic value. It’s a couple of pieces of flimsy cardboard and a wad of crepe paper that popped off a Hallmark production line sometime in the 1960s. Manipulated very carefully, it unfolds every Thanksgiving to create a Butterball-sized holiday decoration. It is positively regal after its body — preserved for yet another year like Flat Stanley — expands like an accordion to become the centerpiece of every Thanksgiving reunion photo. I’ve known Tom Turkey probably since grammar school and certainly since high school. That means Tom Turkey is at least 50 years old and most likely almost 60. He was a whimsical purchase those many years ago by my great aunt. Considering that Aunt Ruth was a high school English teacher in a tiny Kentucky town, Tom Turkey probably was an extravagant purchase. Aunt Ruth didn’t have money to spare. Over the years, I realized my father subsidized the Thanksgiving feast when a dozen people would encircle Aunt Ruth’s massive dining room table. Regardless of what Tom Turkey cost, Hallmark executives never expected that combination of cardboard and crepe paper to acquire such value. Tom Turkey became a touchstone through the decades for a family scattered at various 76 DeSoto

times through Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington. Regardless of where the family had outposts, we all tried to make it to Aunt Ruth’s for Thanksgiving. Year after year, she would put out a spread (“The buffet is open for seconds, but remember we need turkey for sandwiches tomorrow”) and make sure Tom Turkey got a prominent spot in the after-dinner family photo. Most years, that photo was the only moment when everyone was assembled. Sometimes, one of us would have to leave immediately to get to an airport or drive hundreds of miles because of work obligations. One Thanksgiving, my brother flew from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Louisville, Kentucky, after work on Thanksgiving Day, arrived in time for dinner and the photo with Tom Turkey, and left before dawn to fly back south for his next shift. Thanksgiving dinner and Tom Turkey were that important. For the longest time, Tom Turkey lived with Aunt Ruth. When Aunt Ruth died, guardianship of Tom Turkey wasn’t specified in her will, but his well-being was a topic of discussion. My parents had Tom Turkey for a few years, and then my sister stepped in. Because I often was the organizer of the Thanksgiving dinner that no longer had a permanent home, Tom Turkey came to live at my house. I know exactly where he is in case of emergency. Tom Adkinson is a Marco Polo member of the Society of American Travel Writers, and author of “100 Things to Do in Nashville Before You Die.”



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