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UNION

Lifestyle

From Beirut to Union, government to cafe owner, it’s been a great ride for Shalati.

Parents rely on phone calls during their son’s deployment to Afghanistan.

December 2013 / January 2014

Lake Park Lights have more in store for visitors this holiday season.

www.UnionLifestyle.com


Contents

UNION

Lifestyle Editor

Nancy E Stephen

Contributing Writers Sheila Crunkleton Luanne Williams Madison McCain

Photographers

Deb Coates Bledsoe Nancy E. Stephen

Union Lifestyle

A publication of Cameo Communications, LLC PO Box 1064 Monroe, NC 28111-1064 (704) 753-9288 www.UnionLifestyle.com

Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/UnionLifestyle

On the cover

Charlee Bragg helps her grandfather, Papa or Chris Bragg, decorate last year’s Christmas tree. Contributed photo

5

December 2013 / January 2014 t Vol. 3 No. 1

16

Away from

Lake Park Lights a

Jerry McGee.

dedication.

Public View:

6

labor of love and

18

Local merchants slay

From Beirut to

unparalleled service.

had a great ride.

9

20

‘big boys’ with

’Tis the season for

Union, Shalati’s

Life Lessons:

hostess gifts –

If you don’t have

10

22

Union County style.

passion. . .

I’ll keep my day job;

Phone and Facebook

car was enough.

son’s deployment.

12

24

one night in a patrol

help couple with

Young baker dreams

Hilltop’s a Monroe

desserts.

reason.

up delectable

tradition for a

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 3


I can’t replicate the holidays of youth, but I’ll always have the memories I was waxing nostalgic recently about Thanksgiving and Christmas when I was a child. Even to myself, I sounded like the verbal rendition of a Norman Rockwell painting Maybe that’s how childhood memories are for most of us – all pleasant, with nary a squabble or issue to be found. We laugh at the time my grandmother asked my grandfather the traditional Thanksgiving question: “Fred, is the turkey done?” Of course, it was not. Just say “No, Edith, I don’t believe it is,” and the Stephens start laughing. Back then, there were no microwaves or convection ovens to hurriedly solve the problem. We just ate the outside of the bird. Santa Claus always decorated the Stephen Christmas tree, although Daddy and my brother put up the tree and strung the lights on Christmas Eve day. I never questioned why Santa decorated our tree and no one else’s or why we got out the boxes of ornaments when he obviously had the power to magically decorate it on his own. I now understand that my parents had five children in six years, so at one point they had five children under the age of 6, or even worse, five ranging from a toddling 1 to 7, all wanting to help. Apparently, Santa doesn’t need help! Because my parents had different religious convictions, we had a

strong religious component to Christmas. Christmas celebration didn’t start until Christmas Eve and lasted for the 12 days of Christmas, per Daddy’s Catholic upbringing. While my friends’ families decorated their tree on Thanksgiving Friday and took everything down the day after Christmas, we were just getting started when they were through. Traditionally, I went to Christmas Eve service with Mother at the Presbyterian church, followed by midnight mass with Daddy when I was old enough to stay awake. As the youngest, I chafed for many years at not being allowed to go. On Christmas morning, before we could peruse our stockings or open a present, we lined up before one of many nativity scenes and sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. Only then was it on to stockings, followed by breakfast, and finally to opening presents. Everyone “had” to come to Christmas in pajamas, which we kids took so seriously as to make house guests put a robe over their clothes if they showed up in street clothes. My grandparents escaped this tradition because they drove across town. And I remember trying to be polite the time Mother switched my Christmas clothes with sister Jeannie’s, just to see our reactions. My parents are gone now and my siblings spread across the nation, so these memories have become very dear to me. Cherish the holidays you have with your family every year, and you’ll always have Editor@UnionLifestyle.com memories to put a smile on your face.

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The ‘real’ Jerry McGee

Away from public view

Dr. Jerry McGee, president of Wingate University for 22 years, has positioned the school as one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the South. He has led Wingate’s development of masters and doctoral programs, transition to university status, creation of a school of pharmacy, doubling of enrollment and addition of more than 25 new campus facilities. He has secured hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts and grants for scholarships, endowments and campus development during more than 40 years in higher education. McGee is almost as well known for his hobby of refereeing major college football games – 400 over 36 years. His postseason assignments included multiple stints at the Citrus, Rose, Gator, Orange, Liberty, Peach, Snow, Fiesta and Cotton bowls. McGee gave Union Lifestyle insight to the “real” Jerry McGee.

Childhood ambition: I wanted to play for the New York Yankees as a young boy but learned that I wasn’t talented enough to play for the team. Guilty pleasure: Late night ice cream or low fat chocolate milk. Guilty splurge: Turks and Caicos. My wife (Marcella) and I discovered Turks and Caicos and now spend a week or 10 days there each year, typically in March.

Inspiration: My teachers from first grade through college. I respected them and later realized that they showed me the way in life.

Challenge: I don’t have an off switch! I “go” all the time and don’t know when to slow down or stop. There’s so much to be done, and I want to be part of it. I can’t wait to get to work on Monday,

Lemons to lemonade story: During my childhood in Richmond County, families were categorized by where they lived and what jobs the parents had. It wasn’t mean-spirited, but people just assumed I wouldn’t go to college. They had lower expectations than I had. But my parents, who were textile workers, wanted their children to live a better life; they never let us give up. They were behind us all the way. It was a different time. (McGee earned an undergraduate degree from East Carolina University, masters from Appalachian State University and doctorate from Nova University.) Greatest joy in life: My sons – they are wonderful sons, husbands and fathers. And their children. (McGee has three grandchildren.) Being a grandparent is certainly not overrated. Being a grandparent has shown me a level of love that I didn’t know about. Most overused expression: It is what it is.


Fighting the ‘BIG BOYS’ Independent merchants slay chain

I

stores with unparalleled service

By Luanne Williams

t’s a classic David and Goliath story — small local businesses toiling in the shadow of big name chain stores with daunting advertising budgets.

But a number of Union County proprietors have found the right combination of sling and stones to land a solid blow against their giant competitors. One key weapon — unparalleled customer service. “The big boys can never hire enough people to compete with the customer service that we provide," says Lamar Wingo, who owns Indian Trail Hardware with his wife, Karen.

“With individual attention from the time you walk into the door until after your purchase when we load it for you, we can’t be matched by the big boys.”

At Faulkner's Drugs in Monroe, that service includes minimizing wait times. “Big box chain stores certainly have the name recognition and advertising budget, but often lack the personal service,” says David Jamison, pharmacist/owner. “We try to offer all the services chain stores offer – $4 generics, immunizations, accepting all third-party insurance cards — but without the wait and impersonal service.”

He says 20- to 30-minute or longer delays at many chain stores are designed to get customers to browse for more purchases. “We respect people's time and try to keep wait time to an absolute minimum.”

main way of fostering relationships with our patients is by spending time with them while they are here. We ask about their health and is there any information we can offer or any way to help.”

At Madison’s Coffee House on Idlewild A Waxhaw resident, David purchased the pharmacy in Road in Hemby 1988.from father and son, Eddie and Gary Faulkner, Bridge, owner Dawn who opened the business at the corner of Jefferson Stodolski and her and Church streets in 1961. Well-known pharmacist five-member staff also Dawn Stodolski‘s coffee house has a warm, cozy ambience try to get personal Joe Black joined the staff last year, giving the (Nancy Stephen photo) with their patrons. with plenty of room to sit or meet. pharmacy a boost as has a recent remodel. “We learn our Other features that help set Faulkner’s apart include customers by name and ask about them. We know when they come compounding — creating a particular pharmaceutical product back from vacation or when they have a death in the family. tailored to a patient’s unique needs, such as changing a pill to a

liquid, avoiding a non-essential ingredient that a person may be allergic to, or flavoring medicines to make them more palatable — and delivery.

The pharmacy also goes the extra mile to help customers find manufacturer coupons to save money on prescriptions. “We try to treat customers as we would like to be treated,” David adds. “Our

6 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

“Community is the most important thing. Starbucks may write your name on your cup, but here it is more of a true community.”

A Connecticut transplant with no plans to ever leave the South, Dawn goes out of her way to get a requested favorite drink or ice cream flavors for her regulars. To make morning moms’ groups more comfortable at Madison’s than the chain stores, she set up a


and salsa and flatbread pizza during evening hours to help set it apart. It also sells Ashby's Sterling Ice Cream, a premium product made in Michigan, in addition to beer and wine.

“We have live music; we’ve tried karaoke – even added beer and wine since coffee houses don’t sell as much coffee at night,” says Dawn, who researches purchases and marketing strategies. “As an entrepreneur, my brain never stops.”

Madison's also has Cup of Humor night the first Saturday of the month and open mic nights as well. Its private patio is open to pets, and canine regulars, whose owners can purchase doggie ice cream to benefit the local ASPCA, get their pictures on the “dog wall.”

Dawn likes being able to try new things, something she said franchises frown upon.

Flexibility is also a key to the success at Indian Trail Hardware.

“Being a smaller store, we can react to the market quicker than the big boys do,” says Lamar. “We don't have a board of directors to get approval to drop or add lines. We strive to fill the niche of quality products at a competitive price. We look for items that meet this criteria.”

Lamar Wingo stocks a supply of Big Green Egg grills, which chain stores don’t sell. kids area with a bookshelf, chalkboard, games and magnet board. “We're very family friendly,” says Dawn, who opened the shop in February 2011 and has worked with local schools, sports teams, book clubs, church groups, Girl Scouts and others who have used the shop for gatherings.

Two of those lines are Stihl and Big Green Egg, which don’t make their product available at the “big box” stores.

“Both these companies recognize the importance of a one-on-one relationship between the company and the consumer,” Lamar says. “When you buy a Stihl product, you receive a fully-assembled running product. We go over cranking procedures as well as maintenance schedules.”

(Nancy Stephen photo)

Dawn landed in Charlotte after a job at Price Waterhouse had her traveling all over the country. While she said the coffee house is loads of fun and fits her extroverted personality, she admits competing against the chains has been extremely difficult.

Native Georgians, the Wingos purchased the hardware store from Karen's parents, Bill and Mae Workman, who bought it when it was primarily a plumbing supply store. After the Wingos took over in 2000, they purchased adjoining properties to expand the lawn and garden departments, expanded and reset the floor plan and switched from ACE Hardware to Do It Best co-op in 2010.

“When I hear Starbucks’ numbers, doing $3,000 or $4,000 in a morning rush hour, it makes me a little bit sick to my stomach. We don't do that much all week long.

Intense competition is nothing new to the Wingos and their eight employees. “We have seen a Super Walmart, two additional Lowe’s Stores added to the existing Lowe’s and Home Depot,” Lamar says.

‘Starbucks may write your name on your cup, but here it is more of a true community.’

“People see that big white and green logo and automatically pull in,” she laments. “Starbucks can give things away and give huge discounts. Our coffee is not marked up that high, so it’s hard to give discounts.” Madison’s has a drive-through and offers appetizers, such as chips

He said the big box stores spend a tremendous amount of money advertising to make the public believe they have the lowest prices.

“They do this by pricing high volume items at a very low price. The slower moving items are then marked up with higher margins. The perception is that all prices are lower,” he says, but that’s not true.

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 7


Another niche his business fills is supplying the hard-to-find item that large chains won’t stock and may take weeks to special order. “Our Do It Best warehouse carries around 70,000 items,” Lamar says. “We place an order every Tuesday and our truck arrives on Thursday . . . . We also have available online shopping that offers free shipping to our store with the same quick turn-around.”

Faulkner’s biggest issue with chain stores is that sometimes the pharmacy benefit managers that issue copay cards are owned by the chain and try to steer the patient to their stores.

“Also prescription mail order is a problem for all pharmacies,”David says. “The pharmacy benefit manager has a mail order center and tries to force patients to use mail order.”

Still, he says Faulkner’s, with its eight employees, has more flexibility in how it does business and a more focused view of how to survive in today’s economy.

“Decisions are made here and not in a corporate office 2,000 miles away,” he added.

Pharmacist David Jamison compounds a special prescription for a client.

Similarly, Lamar says, if an Indian Trail Hardware customer has a problem with a product, he can talk to a store owner to help solve the issue. “Also being a small business owner in the community, when we need products or services we try our best to use local products and businesses. This way our money goes back into the community rather than a corporate account in another state.”

small business community in Indian Trail is “pretty tight.” The group's “Shift $20” campaign asks residents to shift at least $20 a month to support local businesses. Based on a population of 28,000, if everyone 18 years and up did so, it would add more than $3.4 million to the local economy in one year, the group contends.

D

A 2012 study showed that local retailers return 52 percent of their revenue locally, compared to 14 percent for national chain retailers.

Dawn, a member of the Rely On Local Business campaign, says the

(Nancy Stephen photo)

“While our advertising budget is not as large as the big box, our donations as a percentage of our budget are much bigger than theirs,” says Lamar.

Luanne Williams, a former newspaper editor, is a freelance writer.

“Good food, reasonable prices and you always run into old friends!” - Union Lifestyle

is for Derby

and downright scrumptious dining!

1012 Skyway Drive in Monroe l www.TheDerbyOnline.com l 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. Mon.-Sat. 8 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014


’Tis the season for

Hostess Gifts Hilton Vineyard

Fruit-infused wines plus muscadine, $7.99-$14.99. 104 S. Main St., Monroe. HiltonVineyard.com.

Hand-crafted Notecards

Created by Haley Wilkinson, three-dimensional cards feature multi-media and raffia ties. Available for $2.50 each at Alice Jules or at (980) 328-4341.

Thank your hostess this holiday season with one of these Union County products.

Local Honey

Local honey can be found in many locations. This Dancing Bees Farm honey is sold at Treehouse Vineyards, $5.50 to $10.95.

Soy Candles

Made by Pranee Loffer. Features slow-burning wood wicks, 16-oz. jar is $12; two for $20. Custom candles also. Available at Alice Jules, 204 Lancaster Ave., Monroe or (704) 207-6347.

nual n A 22nd

m u l P r a g u S f f O Cook

Treehouse Vineyard Wines

Muscadine and viniferous wines, $12 to $39, 301 Bay St., Monroe, TreehouseVineyards.net

Monday, Dec. 23

Hendrick Chevrolet Cadillac on U.S. 74 in Monroe. 10 a.m. until all is sold. Benefits Hometown Heroes.

TO ENTER

Take items to the dealership before 9 a.m. on Dec. 23.

Judges will select a grand prize winner and nine runners-up, who receive prizes. All bakers are entered into drawings for cash. The Mighty 1190 WIXE will broadcast the judging live. After judging, all items are auctioned off.


I’ll keep my day job, thank you. P

A night in the patrol car – front seat – was enough for me. By Nancy E Stephen

atrolling with a Monroe police officer is like lifeguarding a pool full of kids. It might be quiet now, but don’t let your guard down – it’s going to get exciting. And fast. And possibly funny. It’s a lot of calm – even boredom – punctuated with bursts of high energy. I spent nine fascinating hours riding with Patrolman Robert Hall this summer. A former professional EMT and current parttime firefighter in Wadesboro, Hall has patrolled Monroe for more than three years. “Some nights are uneventful,” he says, while “others make up for it.” Shortly before 7 p.m., our evening gets going. Hall clocks a driver going 49 in a 35 zone. A prompt U-turn, the lights and siren go on and we go after the driver – quickly, but not at the outrageous speed we often see in movies. A ticket is issued after the driver’s documents check out. Traffic stops often get argumentative, Hall explains. “How do you know it’s me?” speeders often ask, suggesting the “real” speeder went elsewhere. Don’t try that argument. The police have an electronic system that tags the suspect car. Contrary to popular belief, patrolmen don’t have a quota of stops, but Hall says he typically makes up to 20 stops in a night, giving a minimum of seven or eight tickets. Most are for speeding, expired tag and no child restraint.

While patrolmen do make rounds their entire shift for peculiar behavior and erratic driving, they also are called by radio to specific locations after callers dial 911 to report a problem. “Seventy five to 80 percent are the same individuals over and over,” Hall says. These calls can range from drugs to domestic violence to loud noise, a particular problem this night.

The weather was nice – not too hot, not too humid – and many families and blocks were partying outdoors. We respond to several calls regarding loud music which, when we arrive, seem inaccurate. “How do you know?” I ask Hall, who said it’s really a judgment call. Sometimes neighbors apparently (a) either

10 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Robert Hall and I play “tough” cops, above, before he explains the car’s extensive computer system.

(Deb Bledsoe photos)

weren’t invited or (b) just didn’t like the music.

Summertime is the biggest time for 911 calls, Hall says; “Heat and alcohol make a difficult combination.” A full moon doesn’t help, he adds. Friends may be playing basketball, but when they lose the game, they start a fight.

Our first few hours are slow, which is typical, Hall says. After midnight on the weekend is when things start hopping.

We stop by the police department, where I speak to Lt. Bobby Manus. Apparently I jinx the rest of the night by saying, “It’s quiet.” He responds, “We don’t use the Q-word.”

Within five minutes, I know why.

We are calmly cruising when the radio squawks – and truly I couldn’t understand what was being said, much less the codes themselves. Hall throws on the lights, and we head up Morgan Mill Road at, shall we say, a quick pace. I have no idea why.


A car turning from Olive Branch Road onto Morgan Mill Road, possibly at a high speed, had crossed the center line, run off the road and into a power pole, knocked a transformer loose, cutting power.

When the driver sees many blue lights headed his way, he bolts, running through a nearby field. Hall slams the car into drive and off we go to a nearby parking lot, where he again slams the car into park, jumps out and starts running full speed after the guy.

I would not want to be in a foot race with Hall. He had the suspect on the ground before I could have gotten out of the car. I didn’t move, chicken that I am, not to mention I didn’t want to get in the way and I might have been the only one without a gun.

The suspect goes facedown in the grass, and Hall cuffs him, walking him back to the parking lot.

“What did you do to get him to stop and hit the ground?” I later ask. “I just yelled ‘lie down, lie down,’ and he did,” Hall says.

Hall and Manus talk to the young man, apparently under the influence, blowing a .10 on a subsequent breathalyzer test. North Carolina puts over .08 as under the influence.

Hall puts on gloves to search him for drugs, then holds the man’s cellphone to his ear so he can make a phone call. Everyone is calm; there’s no screaming or aggressive behavior.

The suspect is placed in the back seat of “my” patrol car, and while he may be under the influence, he’s not so far gone that he didn’t know he’d made a bad decision.

“Damn, damn, damn,” he mutters dejectedly. “I f ’ed up,” he says repeatedly before being taken to jail. I agree, but sit mute. It turns out the suspect was released from jail that day under a significant bond, didn’t have a driver’s license and was intoxicated, not to mention causing property damage.

While working that scene, Hall gets called to – in quick succession – a domestic violence call, where allegedly a man with a knife flees in a car, then foot; a physical fight at a gas station, and another accident involving a power pole half fallen. Nothing comes of any of these calls except the power pole.

“It’s just part of the job,” he says, ever calm.

We check on a call where an occupied van was in a driveway of a house with no lights, but determine the car occupant lives there.

We checked on calls about intoxicated drivers, aggressive family members at the hospital (twice), commitment papers, plus a driver on a dead-end road in an industrial area that was closed for the weekend. The driver was being a good guy, driving an intoxicated person home while the drunk was giving apparently bad directions.

Hall sums up his hours of patrol as “I prepare for the worst and hope for the best.”

This was an easy night, he says as I leave at 3 a.m., an hour after bars are required to close and subsequent DUIs are through.

He has three more, potentially long, hopefully boring, hours to go on his 12-hour shift. I have a short trip to bedtime.

Stone Table returns with a market-style sandwich shop

Eat in or take out

If you’re stopped for DUI, don’t suggest the radar equipment is incorrect. It’s not. Before each shift, patrolmen check their equipment using tuning forks, and then test it after each usage, so the odds of it being off are miniscule.

Coming in 2014

On-site cooking classes by Chef Matthew Sganga

Gourmet soups, salads and sandwiches Casseroles and entrees for dinner at home Homemade breads, pastries and desserts Craft beer, wine to go Artisan cheeses Box lunches

8 - 6 Mon- Fri 109 S. Main St Downtown Monroe StoneTableMonroe.com

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 11


Y del 22nd

Jenny took to

J

By Nancy E Stephen

enny Hogan of New Salem is the sugar plum queen in Union County, at least until December 23. That’s when the winner of last year’s 21st Sugar Plum Cook-Off will whip her baking skills into a delectably sweet concoction or two or three for this year’s competition. But it won’t be the fresh six-layer coconut cake that took top honors last year. Maybe a new twist on her pecan praline cake. “I want to doctor up on it some more; I’m just not happy with the praline. I want to make it better – the cake a little more moist . . . Maybe a chocolate mocha cake.” Or maybe she’ll enter a totally new confection that she hasn’t even thought of yet. Not that the pecan praline cake or the cream cheese pound cake with a gingerbread house on top that she also entered last year weren’t hits, you understand. Those cakes, and more than 70 other contest entrees, were auctioned off after the judging with bids ranging from $25 to $500 to raise funds for Hometown Heroes. When the last speck of sugar left the building, the auction had raised about $10,000. Over the last 21 years, the event has raised more than $100,000 for local charities. Jenny promises to make the famous coconut cake again for this year’s event, but not for the competition, just the auction. “If it can raise more funds,” she says, “that’s all I need.” Taking top honors was exciting, but winning isn’t all that important to her. “I don’t care about winning; I enjoy doing it. And I love that the funds go to children. They take all the kids shopping on Christmas Eve . . . it about makes you cry.” 12 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

When Jenny talks about baking, her enormous blue eyes sparkle with delight. It’s obvious that baking is a big part of her life.

The 23-year-old doesn’t remember not baking. “I’ve been baking ever since I could reach the counter and get to the mixer. . . If I’m lying, I’m dying.

“Mama taught me everything I know. I remember baking pound cake; that’s one of the first things I remember. And some cookies here and there.

“I was following recipes, that’s one thing Mama and I like to do – try out recipes. I remember being on a footstool helping her.”

That certainly evokes a Norman Rockwell image; Jenny leaning over the counter stirring the batter as her mother stands by in the 100-plus year old house that still stirs memories of family togetherness at the kitchen table in front of the fireplace.

Join us at the Cook-Off

To enter, take your entry(s) to Hendrick Chevrolet Cadillac in Monroe before 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 23. The judging will begin around 10 a.m., and the auction will begin after the judging is complete. Event presenter, The Mighty 1190 WIXE radio, will be on-location for a live broadcast of the event, which is also sponsored by Union Lifestyle. The Cook-Off also holds many memories; Jenny started entering the competition while still in her teens. “It’s become a Christmas tradition,” she explains. “I do all my baking the night before, then usually go to Mama’s


Young baker dreams up lectable desserts for the d Sugar Plum Cook-Off

Hogan’s six-layer fresh coconut cake op prize in last year’s Cook-Off.

For Jenny’s pound cake recipe, visit www.UnionLifestyle.com

to listen to the WIXE broadcast with her.” How much she bakes each year “all depends on how much energy I have that night. “Mama used to enter, but now it’s more about me. I’ll get off work and bake throughout the night. I do my best work at night. I typically won’t go to sleep until 2 or 3, then get up early to deliver in the morning.” Last year’s tradition saw a change; Jenny was at work as hostess at Hilltop Restaurant when her mother was listening and called with the announcement. But that won’t happen this year; “I’ve already asked off that day!” While Jenny won’t reveal her recipe for the fresh coconut cake she and her Mama perfected, she does give a few details. It’s a three layer cake, with each layer split into two layers. She uses fresh frozen coconut plus dried coconut flakes and “a special spray syrup between each layer that we concocted that makes it really moist. It’s really fluffy, creamy icing, too, with coconut on top.” The cake stands about seven inches tall and could easily slice into 20 slices or so. “It’s very moist – sweet but not overly sweet, but you get the right coconut flavor. Despite its size, it’s not overly heavy. But you’ll need a big glass of milk. “ She doesn’t bake the coconut cake all that often, but she does bake all the time. “I normally bake simple items. The coconut cake is a lengthy process; I might do it two or three times a year. But a pound cake, you can mix it in 15 minutes, put it in the oven and it takes care of itself. “I spoil my coworkers. They’re always asking ‘Where are the goodies, why haven’t you brought anything’?”

Friday, Dec. 6 Believe

Union Symphony Youth Orchestra and Union County Youth Ballet 7:30 p.m. at Monroe Crossing; free

Sunday, Dec. 8

A Christmas Concert

Union Symphony with Central United Methodist Festival Choir 5 p.m. at the Monroe church; free

Valenti Celebrate

ne’s Day

nal o s r e P & . & auction U pClose gant at an ele

ance dinner, d

8 ebruary F , y a d r u t Sa 6 p.m. nter

lture Ce ty Agricu n u o C n Unio Orchestra mphony y S n io n U Music by

able. bles avail a t r ie m e rson. Pr 5 or $100 a pe ve at 704.283.252 e attire and whit Reser k c la B . g hony.or ionSymp www.Un

Sunday, March 16

Spring Concert, Reception and Art Union Symphony Youth Orchestra 4 p.m. at Marvin Ridge High School Season tickets or $15 at the door

Sunday, April 27

Czech and Balances

Union Symphony Orchestra 4 p.m. at The Batte Center, Wingate University Season tickets or $15-$25

Sunday, May 18

Pops on the Plaza Sponsored by City of Monroe

Union Symphony Orchestra with Youth Orchestra 6:30 p.m. on The Plaza in Downtown Monroe Bring a chair; free

(704) 283-2525 t UnionSymphony.org

This project is supported by the Union County Community Arts Council and the Grassroots program of the North Carolina Arts Council, a state agency.

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 13


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No exclusions

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(704) 291-3080

M-F 10-6; Sat 10-5

Kid’s Korner

Holiday Kickoff

December 7 t 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Union Jazz at 6 p.m. Downtown Monroe Tree Lighting at 6:30 p.m. And as always, there WILL BE snow!

Monroe.

100 N. Main Street M - S 11 – 8

25% off any one regular priced item.

owntown Monroe

Pictures with Santa Carriage,Trolley Rides Food Vendors Downtown Business Open House

$5 off $25 purchase after 5 p.m.

50% off all in stock Soffe shorts.

Strolling Carolers Christmas Petting Zoo Shake hands with Rudolph and Frosty And more!

Children’s and Maternity Consignment

20% off one item

200 N Main (704) 238-8077 M-F 10-5 Sat 10 - 2

20% off

any family dinner deal. Cannot be combined with any other offer.

354 E Franklin

(704) 635-8981

Tu-Th 11 - 8; F 11 - 9; Sat 12-9

25% off

one regular priced item*

132 S Main Street (704) 283-9640

*Excludes Vera Bradley, special orders & monogramming.

10-6 M-F; 10-5 Sat

Cannot be combined

with any other offer.

Abby Rose

Antique - Vintage - Retro 20% off any one item.

204 N. Main St

Free tire rotation or brake check with purchase of oil change.

St M-F 7:30-5:30

20% off

T-F 10-5; S 10-3

any in stock 138 S. Main

items!

(704) 289-2000

Mon - Thurs 10 - 7 t Fri - Sat 10 - 5

Free drink with any meal. 116 S. Main

M-Th 9-4, F 9-5, Sat 9-3

20% off anything

204-2 Lancaster Ave.

(704) 764-3062


’ . . . p o t f o ro e h t ‘Up on

David Brown begins his yearly installation of lights.

I

By Nancy E Stephen

t all started with a challenge eight years ago. David and Lisa Brown were with friends watching the Super Bowl when a Miller Lite commercial featured video of an Ohio family who decorated their house during the holidays with lights blinking to coordinate with Christmas carols. “I bet you can’t do that next year with your lights,” the friend said with a laugh. “Game on,” replied David. In that brief second, the Browns changed their Christmas traditions dramatically. “We had done Christmas lights, but up to that point. I could turn the whole house on and off with one button,” David explains. “This took it to a whole new level.” As the years have passed, that new level evolved into another new level and another and so on. Picture reindeer singing carols or dueling banjoes between the Brown’s house and the next. And that’s just the beginning. The 18-minute light show is difficult to describe, and still photographs don’t do it justice. The thousands of magnificent colored lights, twinkling to the beat of the music, must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The Browns have no idea how many lights they use, but they use more than 300 channels, which are individually controlled light circuits. They started with 56 channels and are always adding on, especially during the after-Christmas sales. The couple laughs as they recall the early light spectacles. “We pulled it together in three months the first year,” David says. “It was animated then, but we’ve gotten much more elaborate.” And they initially colored hundreds or thousands of lights by hand using colored Sharpie pens, which took a tremendous amount of time AND washed off after two days. “We didn’t do that again,” David says, shaking his head at the memory. Now they start work early in the New Year and pace themselves through the year. By June or July, David’s working on small projects and the music is selected. “We try to mix oldies and new music,” Linda says, “with different tempos. People really like the old music as much as Mannheim Steamroller. “We limit ourselves to just Christmas music, but that can be quite a chore because not all music is adaptable to this. We don’t want to repeat music so it’s become quite a challenge.” Linda gives David credit for being “the brains in putting the show together,” but she performs the musical wizardry, using a computer to control the lights for sequencing. For many, this would be tedious work, deciding which lights will flash with each beat of each piece of music. “Each of those 300 channels needs to be told what to do

Couple’s holiday light show brings joy to residents, funds to charity.

16 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014


Both admit to being a little tired of the same 18 minutes of Christmas music when the show ends. That’s 30 nights times seven shows a night. . . 210 times they hear the music. But for Linda, that’s on top of spending months hearing the music as she sequences the lights by computer. The music isn’t just piped outside the house; it’s broadcast over the couple’s radio station – 94.5 FM. Drivers tune the car radio in to hear the music, which is a benefit if it’s cold. No open windows required. But if it’s warm, “people will walk up to watch the show.” One of the Browns is always outside during the show. They hand out candy canes and have a bucket for donations to the Union County Christmas Bureau. Visitors have donated more than $18,000 through the years. “People always wanted to give us contributions to help with the power bill, which really doesn’t increase significantly. So we thought we’d harness this generosity and give the contributions to charity,” Lisa says. Kids love participating in the show. The couple has a microphone for kids, who are fascinated to know they are on the radio. But the microphone also comes in handy when a traffic issue needs solved – they can talk to everyone through the broadcast. “But the real reason we’re out there is traffic control,” David explains. Despite being on a cul de sac, somehow the traffic created by hundreds of cars that drive past – and stop for – the show is manageable. “We have a specific way to park people for those 18 minutes. We use the extra time to rotate the cars on the street. That timing has worked for us for eight years.” The show runs nightly through New Year’s Eve, with seven shows a night starting at 6 p.m. and running on the half hour until 9.m. on weekdays and 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. You might think the Brown’s neighbors would grow weary of the yearly spectacle, but they say, “We’ve Children sit in the driveway across the street to watch got the best of neighbors.” last year’s show.

with each beat of the music,” David says. “We try to do new songs every year, and a little bit more lights,” he says. “But there’s only so much room” on their house and the neighbor’s, who joined in after the first year. You can’t imagine the hours the Brown’ put into their yearly labor of love, and neither can they. And they don’t care. “Coming out of January, we’re energized,” David says. And they can’t imagine the money they’ve put into the yearly show. “I have no idea how much money is involved,” David muses. “Thousands by accumulation.” He’s found many ways to save money, such as building components himself instead of The Brown’s show features sacred and purchasing them secular holiday themes.

ready-made. You might think that the lights stay on the house year round to minimize the labor, but no. “I literally put up the lights the week of Thanksgiving, and we have a dry run.” He takes the week off from work to install the lights. “I don’t like them to be out there in the weather. Also it’s about not tipping our hand with what the show’s about,” he says, with a smile that suggests he knows there’s a big surprise in for everyone. While the Browns “know” how the light show is designed and can view the programming on the computer, “there’s nothing like hooking up the lights and seeing it,” David says. “We sit in our neighbor’s driveways and watch the dry run, making notes about what needs to be changed,” Linda adds. The show goes live the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And just as importantly, the show ends on New Year’s Eve and David takes down all the lights on New Year’s Day. “I’m ferociously OCD about that. All lights are down on New Year’s Day. Every trace of them is gone at the end of the day. “

Lake Park Lights Nov. 30 to Dec. 31

4019 Lake Charles Way, Indian Trail, NC (Lake Park community) Nightly shows start at 6 p.m. and run on the half hour.

View the 2012 show at LakeParkLights.com & Facebook/Lake Park Lights.

Lisa Brown works on the light sequencing for this year’s show.

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 17


I

By Nancy E Stephen

t’s a long way from Beirut, Lebanon, to Union County, NC, USA. And it’s just as far from civil engineering to county management to owning a café in Waxhaw.

Mike Shalati has made all those trips.

It may have taken him five decades and many jobs to arrive at Café Bliss, but Mike will tell you he has enjoyed the entire trip.

As a child in Lebanon, he wanted to be a civil engineer like his dad. When applying for college in the U.S., Mike was accepted at many northern colleges, also known as “cold weather colleges.” A friend of his father invited him to visit in Chapel Hill, reminding Mike that “you are from the Mediterranean. You’re not accustomed to cold weather.”

Fro m Beirut to Union, co unty manager to ca fe owner, Mike Shalati h as ha d a great ride

Mike started his college at Duke, but quickly transferred to UNC-Charlotte because Durham “was small to me. I said, ‘I want to go to the largest city’.”

While he wavered over which college, he had no indecision about his field – civil and urban environmental engineering. “I helped my father on his jobs and he was leading by example. I said, ‘This is what I want to be’.”

After college, Mike worked as a computer consultant, selling Wang, NEC and Texas Instrument computers in Union, Richmond, Anson and Lancaster counties. And he was good, quickly becoming top salesman.

One client was the City of Monroe school system, before it combined with Union County Public Schools. He submitted a computer proposal to then city manager Jim Hinkle, who asked, “Why don’t you come to work for me?”

Mike knew why not. He was married and concerned about taking a 50 percent cut in pay. But he also knew it was “a great opportunity to practice what I learned in school.”

The job, as engineering coordinator for the city, “was very rewarding. I have great respect for the opportunity that I had.”

Union County soon recruited him as public works director. During his 10-year stint, “we moved Union County from a county without major utilities to one with strong utilities. We really built it out of nothing. During my watch, we became the largest county-owned utility in the state.”

While he enjoyed his public work, he jumped at the chance to work with two private sector engineering firms. While opening an office for Arcadis in Charlotte, Mike got a call from a Union County commissioner who said his help was needed. “I thought they were asking about me as a consultant; I didn’t think they were talking about my coming back.”

But they were, and he did, returning in 2001 as assistant county manager in charge of facilities. “They made it attractive for me, but I took a significant cut in pay. My son was here, and I was in Atlanta. There are some things more important than money.

“I really love Union County. It feels like home.”

18 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Within six months, he was county manager, a role he filled for six years. “I’m extremely proud of my work; a lot was done under my watch. Obviously it takes a team, but I was a good contributing member.” When new commissioners were elected, Mike was asked to leave. “They wanted a new manager, and I was fine with that. I served at the will and pleasure of the board. I respected their wishes.” But what was he going to do? He consulted sporadically, but didn’t want to travel. “I wanted to spend the time with my (three younger) children. I enjoy doing their homework with them; that’s more important than anything else. So I decided to retire.” In the back of his mind, Mike had thought about opening a place in western Union County to serve multiple purposes. “When I was working in Union County and living on the western side, there was no place to meet for a quick business meeting. You had to go to Ballantyne or Matthews or Charlotte. “I said ‘I want to open that place, and I want it to be pleasant for people to have a cup of coffee, the day’s fresh catch or prime rib.’ “For a long time, even when in the private sector, I thought about investing in a place exactly like this. I knew our kids and community could benefit from it.” Café Bliss was born out of that desire. Open for less than six months, the café has found its spot. “We’ve been so blessed. Most of the people come because other people have told them about us. People like our food, and we


have great staff.”

While Mike isn’t chef, he is a vital part of everything in the café. “When I was in school, I was a bartender. That and this are about dealing with people. If you use common sense and treat people like you want to be treated; that’s half of it.”

It’s been hard work, he acknowledges readily. “Like everything I do, I try to give it 100 percent. I spent very long hours in the beginning, putting my hands on everything. I wanted to know anything that has to do with this facility.”

The café certainly has a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flair to its menu, but the trite phrase “something for everyone” comes to mind. It features traditional breakfast fare, plus an egg and avocado sandwich with spinach and tomato.

Lunch and dinner have salads and sandwiches, including nontraditional shawarma and falafel sandwiches, as well as fresh fish, lamb, beef and pork. Don’t forget dessert, with traditional treats and Middle Eastern coconut basbooseh, baklava and esh al bulbul. Mike’s wife makes many of the Middle Eastern desserts.

Café Bliss also has extensive menus of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free foods.

Café Bliss 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. Cureton Town Center 8163-A Kensington Dr., Waxhaw, NC 28173 (704) 843-1333 www.CafeBlissWaxhaw.com


If you’re wit you’re missing

{ P

life lessons By Sheila Crunkleton

}

assion |ˈpaSHən| (noun)

American Red Cross, which I feel undeniably passionate about every day. My family and friends sometimes may believe I’m too passionate – or obsessed – about the Red Cross, but I don’t think that’s possible.

My lifelong desire to help others was developed at an early age. My mother believed giving back was expected of those who had the means and ability. My sisters and I started volunteering early. I can remember church fundraisers, helping needy families at the holidays, school fundraisers and so much more, and enjoying almost every minute.

From the earliest memories, my passion was to be a teacher. I had so many wonderful teachers and wanted to be the one who would change the life of a child. I wanted to be a high school English teacher, so I could be a club sponsor and involved with all the extracurricular activities.

Throughout high school, I joined many clubs, church activities and anything social where we would make a difference. College was the same way. I loved being part of a sorority where we helped others. I loved all the ways we raised money for the Ronald McDonald House.

Life is what you make of it, and if you make it full of passion, you’ll have a full life.

After several retail jobs, I began a 16-year career with The Charlotte Observer in advertising sales. Growing up with a mom who worked my entire childhood for a newspaper, ad sales was certainly NOT my passion, but it encouraged me to participate in community events – United Way, Arts Council, Chamber events and town festivals.

My need to help others has altered and changed me over the years and eventually landed me working for one of the largest humanitarian organizations in the world.

One day at work I saw a flyer on being foster parents for Thompson Children’s Home. I remember telling my husband “Guess what we are going to do.” Anyone who knows me, and my sweet, loving husband Roy does, knows that you may as well get out of my way if I am determined to do something.

• strong and barely controllable emotion

• a state or outburst of such emotion

• an intense desire or enthusiasm for something

• a thing arousing enthusiasm

I cannot imagine a life without passion, with everything in a grey zone, no intense feelings about anything. But you hear many adults moan about their job and their life. Where is their passion?

Did they have passion for their job and life once but lost it? Or are they always looking at a glass half full? Is the grass always greener?

It’s not surprising that youths out of school don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They’re young and naive; they haven’t lived enough, typically, to have developed a viable passion for a career. I didn’t; it took me 16 years to find the career I am so passionate about.

It took me 16 years in advertising sales to get to my career at the

20 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Sheila Crunkleton’s passion for the Red Cross including husband Roy and son Steven.

Growing up, I had pictured my life with six children, white picket fence and everything that came with this. God had a different, but no less important, plan for me.

We went to the meeting and moved forward. We fell in love with


hout passion, a big part of life

our foster daughter and knew immediately this was a permanent relationship. We adopted Marie and found out she had a much younger brother. In walks the cutest redheaded, freckled faced 4 year old – Steven, who we adopted a year later.

Throughout Steven’s entire school career, Roy and I were chronic volunteers at any school or sports event or anything else in need of assistance. We were passionate about helping our child, his friends and his school. We got great satisfaction from our efforts – we were making a difference.

’Tis the season to look radiant!

At a school PTO meeting, I meet Kathy Bragg, whose level of passion at least rivals mine. She worked with the Red Cross, and when she asked me to join the board, I leaped at the opportunity. This was something I knew I could feel passionate about.

I have always loved what the Red Cross does around the world and across our country. I can remember telling Roy, “One day when we retire, this is what I want to do. I want to volunteer for this organization and help those after disasters.”

Forget waiting for retirement. My family jumped in wholeheartedly and adopted my passion.

Six years later, I became development director for the Union County chapter. This was an opportunity to follow my passion. When Kathy left three years later to follow her passion with another non-profit, I became the community chapter executive serving four counties.

I am completely in awe of the volunteers who give of their time, talent and treasures, all to help people they do not know. These volunteers take passion to an all-time height.

Night-time fires, no problem. Three weeks away from home, sure they’ll do it. Missing birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas because of Red Cross deployment? This is true passion.

Our volunteers have taught me a lot about having passion and living a passionate life. I have never worked harder or spent so many sleepless nights as during times of disaster, but I would not change a thing. Deploying last year to help those impacted by Hurricane Sandy proved to me that I have found my passion.

s has spread to her family,

When you give in and embrace your passion, it is the best feeling ever!

Sheila Crunkleton is community executive at the American Red Cross in Union County and also serves Anson, Stanly and Montgomery counties.

‘I look and feel younger and

still look like me.’

Waldman Dermatology

Certified by the American Board of Dermatology 1423 E. Franklin St. Monroe, NC 28112 (704) 289-9448

10512 Park Rd., Suite 113 Charlotte, NC 28210 (704) 542-8018

www.garywaldman.com

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 21


D

Parents focused on calls from son deploye By Luanne Williams

eployed, shipped out, serving overseas — no matter how you say it, the idea conjures up images of soldiers setting out for foreign lands while loved ones stay behind.

With thousands of members of the U.S. military spread over some 150 countries, stories abound of spouses and children striving to keep the home fires burning. But parents who rear soldiers have a different set of emotions.

“The bad thing is when your child goes away, you can't mother or father them anymore. If they get cut, you can't put the bandage on. You can’t be there to comfort them when they need comfort,” said Ann Sutton, 58, of Wingate. “That's really the hardest thing, to let go and not be able to do the things that mothers and fathers normally do for their children when things don't go right.”

She and her husband, Frank, 57, saw their 22-year-old son, Stephen, head to Afghanistan in 2011 with the Army National Guard in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and endured their own season of watching and waiting until he came home safely in May.

Equally proud of his service, they dealt with the deployment in different ways. “I focused on work, but it was always in the back of my mind. I could never let it go that he was over there in harm’s way,” said Frank. “I would worry about everything.”

Stephen Sutton and a Romanian buddy.

22 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Ann said she knew that worrying wouldn't help, so she reminded herself that her son’s journey was the chance of a lifetime. “I said, ‘Hey, this is an adventure. You’re getting to do something a lot of people don’t do. And no matter how hard it is, and no matter how mundane you think it is . . . think of the skills you are going to have when you get home’.” A member of the National Guard since late 2009, Stephen deployed to Afghanistan, with 93 members of the 151st Mobility Augmentation Company. Known as the Trailblazers, the unit conducted more than 300 route clearance missions and also trained their Afghan National Army counterparts on engineer and route clearance operations. While Frank said his level of patriotism soared “1,000 percent” with his son's deployment as did his interest in U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, he didn’t find his need for play-by-play details equal to his wife’s. “I figured what I didn’t know wouldn't hurt me. I kept up with the news generally, but I didn’t look at it every day.” On the contrary, Ann was “digging” through the Afghan News, Military Times, the Army Times, and U.S. News and World Report for any mention of the troops, and also using the Web to look up whatever weapons or vehicles Stephen’s unit was using. Both Suttons found support in friends and family and, mostly, from Stephen’s regular phone calls and Facebook posts. Although he was limited in what details he could share about his unit’s whereabouts or activities, he called home at least once a week, often between four- or five-day patrols. “If we hadn’t heard from him for a few days, we would assume he was on patrol. Then when we would hear from him, we would know he was probably back at his home base,” Frank said. “It was very comforting just to hear his voice and know that he was OK,” he added. “We talked to him more when he was in Afghanistan than when he was living in Charlotte.” Ann friended some other soldiers in his unit on Facebook and kept up with their posts as well. “I really kept involved in his life, even if he was 12,000 miles away,” she said. Both found the holidays difficult, despite a Christmas Skype session. ”We didn't even put up a real Christmas tree,” Ann said. Even as they missed their son and wished him home, they were blessed to see their friends reach out to him via social media and


ed to Afghanistan care packages. “That meant a lot to him that people that he barely knew were praying for him,” Frank said.

Tax collector for the Town of Waxhaw, Ann said the community couldn’t have been more supportive. Three units in Afghanistan, including Stephen's, received snacks, candy, razors, socks and more from the “Support the Union County Troops for Christmas” effort. Plus, she said she got encouragement from folks on the street.

“I was bad to expound to everybody. I would go to the grocery store and be buying Yoo-hoos and whatnot for a care package, and the cashier would ask how I was doing. I’d say, ‘I'm doing really good. This is for my son in Afghanistan. Look at what all he’s getting’!”

Less gregarious than Stephen and Ann, Frank still found value in talking with others facing similar experiences, including families of other soldiers in Stephen’s unit. He and Ann attended briefings and post-deployment events offered by the National Guard.

While they shared their anxieties with each other, they were advised by the military to keep conversations with their son upbeat and light to not create unnecessary worries or keep him from focusing on work. Ann took that advice a step further. “I encourage parents to make the lines of communication between them and their children strong, even here, because it is so

important when they are over there,” she said. “Encourage them to make that phone call home now, and then make sure the conversations are good and positive because if you are going to be down and upset, they are not going to want to call back.” While they mailed care packages about every two weeks and eagerly awaited his return, Frank said he also learned to let go a little bit. “I was always kind of hovering over him, trying to help him make decisions, and this kind of broke me of that because obviously I had no influence at all during the deployment. It helped me some to let him get his own wings.” Ann said this year’s Memorial Day event in Waxhaw brought Stephen’s experience full circle. At the 2012 service, as he readied to deploy, he was asked to accompany Korean War veteran Billy Watts, a two-time Purple Heart recipient, in placing a memorial wreath in front of the town’s Military Wall of Honor. This year, the town asked Stephen back and presented him with the flag that had flown over the memorial. Luanne Williams, a former newspaper editor, is a freelance writer.

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 23


Spiro’s Hilltop: A Monroe tradition for a reason

G

reek-operated restaurants seem to be more successful than most – better food, greater selection, consistency and good value.

Spiro’s Hilltop Fish Fare & Steakhouse in Monroe absolutely fits that mold.

Eating Out in Union

A long-time favorite, situated at the intersection of U.S 74 South and U.S. 601 South, Hilltop offers a wide variety of good ole Southern cooking, but also French, Italian and Greek.

Our party of six celebrated a birthday dinner recently on a weekday night. To say we went home pleasantly full is a misnomer – we went home with “to go” boxes.

It was half price wine night, so we enjoyed a bottle of Beringer merlot, which complemented the “Taste of Greek Trio” appetizer.

8-ounce prime rib with homestyle green beans.

Three spreads of hummus, roasted red pepper with feta and taramasalata, a spread of

Ambiance: 4.5 stars. The restaurant is features multiple sitting areas: counter, buffet room, bar, dining room and downstairs oyster bar. One is sure to suit your needs.

Menu: 4.75 stars. Very large dinner menu

with a wide variety, including southern, French, Italian, Greek, plus a few Chinese and Mexican dishes. You can get anything you want from the breakfast and lunch menus, plus enjoy daily buffets. Friday night’s seafood is a favorite, but almost everything is fried. There’s something to suit most any palate and price range.

Quality: 4.75 stars. You always know

you’ll get a good meal at Hilltop. Spiro’s consistent high quality is rivaled by the

cured and salted fish roe with olive oil, were served with grilled pita bread. Maybe we were enjoying the spreads daintily, but we ran out of bread quickly. No problem, the waitress cheerfully brought another plate for us to share. At $7.95, the appetizer can easily be shared by multiple diners.

Most meat entrees come with two sides, and we can recommend the house salad. Hilltop always serves fresh, crispy salads, whether it’s a dinner accompaniment or one of the chef’s dinner-size salads. The ample-sized house salad features cucumber, onion, cheese and croutons.

We had no takers on a dinner salad that night, but from past experience, we give the “Blazin’ Bleu Chicken Salad” a big thumbs up. Chicken tenders are tossed in a spicy wing sauce, than placed on a full-sized chef salad with all the makings. ($8.95) Be prepared to eat only half.

The entrée specials called our names during our review night. Prime rib, cooked to order, was offered in several sizes, but even the smallest, eight-ounces, required a take-home box. The meat

chefs’ ability to cook every meat to the desired degree and not overcook fish. A nice selection of sides includes zucchini fries with dipping sauce and the grilled vegetables are tasty as well.

Service: 4.5 stars. Staff hustles all the

time, not surprising since there’s always a crowd. The waitress was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, without being intrusive. Courses are brought in a timely fashion; drink refills occur without a request. No attitude here.

Value: 4.75 stars. You really can’t find

better value. Entrees are sized for Americans, not Europeans, so take-home boxes are typical. Prices are moderate, not too high for a family outing.

24 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Filet mignon topped with crab meat.

Will we return?

Absolutely. The Hilltop has been a Monroe favorite for a long time, and it's easy to see why.

It was a delightful evening to celebrate a good friend’s birthday, and the atmosphere and food presentation helped to make the evening memorable.

Spiro’s Hilltop Fish Fare and Steakhouse 1602 E. Roosevelt Blvd. in Monroe (704) 289-3733 Monday - Thursday, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday - Saturday, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday, 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. www.HilltopBistro.com


Death by desserts?

was cooked perfectly to medium rare and melted in your mouth. ($13.95)

Hilltop’s desserts are in the $5.95 to $6.95, which balances out to about a penny per calorie. Nothing diet here. But what a great indulgence!

The filet and crab cake combination also was deemed delicious. No filler in the crab cake atop the filet, our diner said, and the accompanying mushrooms and shrimp sauce were flavorful accompaniment.

Bistro medallions ($15.95) were a hit with other diners. All said they were tasty, tender and cooked appropriately.

Six layer carrot cake

Triple chocolate cheesecake

House salad with added egg and bacon bits, accompanied by fresh hot bread and a dippng sauce.

Before our dinner was served, our waitress brought out a loaf of hot bread with a slightly sweet Greek dipping sauce. We knew better, but we indulged.

We also indulged with our desserts, which almost put us in a sugar stupor. We sampled five: molten chocolate cake, carrot cake, lemon meringue pie, baklava and triple chocolate cheesecake. OMG, as the young crowd would say. They were absolutely wonderful, not to mention very large. We shared them all, as well as some strong coffee.

Hilltop is known for its Friday night seafood buffet as well as breakfast and lunch buffets. You will never go home hungry from these! And there’s always an extensive menu to choose from, plus daily specials.

We’re fond of Hilltop’s vegetable soup, a chipotle turkey wrap and the bleu cheese wedge salads. You might not think of stir-fry in a Greek restaurant, but the chicken stir fry ($8.95) is delicious and hearty.

Molten chocolate cake

Lemon meringue pie

James Michael & Co. Stafford Place Executive Offices 1201 Stafford St, Suite A-2 Monroe, NC 28110

Restoring Historic Downtown Monroe . . . one building at a time. Office and retail space available John Wiggins, 704.242.4393 www.UrbanMonroe.com

Mon-Fri 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Sat 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. 704.296.5531

www.JamesMichaelCo.com

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 25


20 things to do in Sweet Union

24

Union County Christmas Parade

2 p.m. l Free Floats, marching bands, princesses, special appearance by Santa Claus. Presented by Alliance for Children. Historic Downtown Monroe www.historicdowntownmonroe.org

Nov.

29

Holiday Festival of Lights/ 12 Days of Christmas

Nov. 29 l Free Nov. Starts More than 75,000 lights illuminating the historic buildings and landscape. Strolling Victorian singers and Santa visits on this night. Continues on weekends through Dec. 22. www.waxhaw.com

30

Kid’s Crafts at The Museum

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tired of shopping? Come and play at the museum.Free crafting activities with museum ticket. Museum of the Waxhaws www.museumofthewaxhaws.org

Nov.

1

Christmas Tea with Mrs. Claus

6

Weddington Christmas Tree Lighting

Extraordinary young c

Sat.,

Batte Center a

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. $20 per person. Call for reservations. (704) 843-1832 Museum of the Waxhaws www.museumofthewaxhaws.org

Dec.

5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Music and special performances by school and church groups, cookies and hot chocolate. Please bring a new toy, non-perishable food item and/or stocking stuffer to be given to the Union County Christmas Bureau and receive a ticket to be entered to win a prize. Pictures with Santa available for $5. Weddington Town Hall,1924 Weddington Road www.townofweddington.com or (704) 846-2709

Dec.

with support from National Endowment f

Believe

Union Symphony Youth Orchestra with Union County Youth Ballet Dec. 7:30 p.m. Guest Artists: Marvin Ridge Advanced Chorus, Union Jazz and Marvin Ridge Jazz Tom LaJoie, music director Bonita Simpson, ballet director Free l Monroe Crossing Mall www.unionsymphony.org

6

6

Stallings Christmas Tree Lighting

7

Monroe Christmas Tree Lighting

6:30 p.m. l Free Tree lighting, Santa, hot cocoa and sweets and live music! Stallings Municipal Park www.stallingsnc.org

Dec.

6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Union Jazz at 6 p.m. Tree lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m Activities until 9 p.m.: Pictures with Santa, Rudolph & Frosty; food vendors; Carriage and trolley rides; live carolers; Christmas petting zoo Downtown business open house Historic Downtown Monroe www.historicdowntownmonroe.org

Dec.

7

Dec.

26 Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014

Santa's Clay Workshop

10 a.m. – Noon All "elves" will be busy creating gifts for friends and family on their list.

Ages 5-12 $20, includes all tools materials and firing fees. Register online www.artsdelivered.com or call (704) 618-2222 Indian Trail Cultural Arts Center www.indiantrail.org


8

Lake Park Christmas Tree Lighting

6 p.m. l Free Dec. Gazebo Park, Lake Park www.lakepark.org

classical musicians perform live for broadcast on NPR.

Nov. 23 t 7:30 p.m.

at Wingate University t $15 & $28 Sponsored by

UNION

Lifestyle

for the Arts

Stallings Parade of Trees

6:30 p.m. l Free Enjoy free entertainment; local food Dec. vendors with treats to purchase. Stallings Municipal Park www.stallingsnc.org

7

7

Pearl Harbor Day at the Museum

10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Dec. Displays from local historians, reenactors and much more. Museum of the Waxhaws www.museumofthewaxhaws.org

8

Indian Trail Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting

8

Lake Park Annual Christmas Home Tour

15

Dec.

Waxhaw Christmas Parade 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. Historic Downtown Waxhaw www.waxhaw.com

Red, Green and Bluegrass!

A Celebration of Our Musical Heritage Dec. 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. Dr. Tom Hanchett, Donny Murray and Tom Estes will perform a musical history of bluegrass in the Charlotte area. Cash bar, beer, wine, hors d’oeuvres, coffee, dessert $50, (704) 737-5654 to reserve Museum of the Waxhaws www.museumofthewaxhaws.org

19

1

Jan.

Happy New Year!

Dec.

8

Dec.

Christmas Concert

Union Symphony Orchestra with Central United Methodist Church Festival Choir & A Community Holiday Chorus

5 p.m. l Free Christmas Cantata, James O’Dell, music director Central United Methodist Church, Monroe, NC www.unionsymphony.org

Submit your activity with all the details: who, what, when, where and cost per person – to Editor@UnionLifestyle.com for inclusion in the magazine and/or online.

Learn to skate and play like the Olympians!

2 p.m. – 5 p.m. l $10 Five decorated homes will be open

for tour. Refreshments at Community Center Get tickets after noon at Lake Park Community Center Sponsored by Lake Park Garden Club

Got an event the public would enjoy?

Olympic dreams begin here!

3 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. Parade at 3 p.m. Tree lighting at 4:30 p.m. Holiday music, activities and Santa and Mrs. Claus!!! Indian Trail Road and Crossing Paths Park www.indiantrail.org

Dec.

Shotgun!

By John Biguenet Jan. Presented by Storefront Theatre Four months after the collapse of defective levees in New Orleans, a white man and his teenaged son, rent half of a shotgun duplex from an African-American woman whose father has moved in with her. The two families live under one roof but they find a wall still runs between them. January 25 • 7:30 pm January 26 • 2:30 p.m. $12.50 Waxhaw Presbyterian Church 8100 Old Waxhaw Monroe Road, Waxhaw www.thestorefronttheatre.org

25-26

Skating and Hockey classes available for all ages Public Skate Birthday Parties Fitness Center Curling Broomball Corporate Events Group Outings Center Ice Tavern Summer & Winter Camp

4705 Indian Trail-Fairview Road, Indian Trail, NC (704) 882-1830

www.xicenter.com

/xicenter

Union Lifestyle l December 2013 / January 2014 27


James Michael & Co. Stafford Place Executive Offices 1201 Stafford St, Suite A-2 t Monroe, NC 28110 Mon-Fri 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. t Sat 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. 704.296.5531 t www.JamesMichaelCo.com

Make every day sparkle!

Union Lifestyle Dec Jan 2014  

For and about Union County residents; interesting people, places and things to do.