Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cupcakes: Now in Convenient Blog Size

[caption id="attachment_175" align="alignleft" width="466" caption="Hot Pink Cake Stand."][/caption]

I wrote a review of Hot Pink Cake Stand for The Grove Project, a local blog focused on citizen journalism. You can read my review by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bringing Down the House

[caption id="attachment_165" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="I would sit on the swing while Tom would chew tobacco and tell me moonshine tales from his rocker or the top of the steps."][/caption]

When I was 11 or 12, we moved from Snap Creek to Pigeon Roost when Mom and Dad bought nearly 40 acres of land in the head of the hollow (pronounced holler if you're from where I'm from). I had half a mountain to explore: hand-dug coal mines, animal trails, springs, seeps, rocks to throw, rocks to climb, rocks to look under. In a trailer across the road lived Victoria Ferrell and her coal-truck-driving son, Johnny "Moondog" Ferrell. Next door to them lived Tom Ratliff, Vic's brother.

Tom had lived in Pigeon Roost all of his considerable life (he claimed to be 94 every year until he died when I was 22 or so), and had known my grandfather's brother Everett in the '30s and '40s. Everett had been a hell-raiser and had been accused in the '40s of murdering a woman while in a drunken rage. Supposedly Tom Ratliff had helped hide him after the murders. And supposedly Tom Ratliff had sold him the moonshine he was drinking that night. As far as I know, no one in my family is sure of the details. My grandfather had distanced himself from Everett at the time and many of the court documents were lost in a courthouse fire a few years later, but I digress.

On summer evenings Tom would sit in his rocking chair or on the porch steps and cut a chew from the plug of tobacco he kept hidden in one of his pockets. Many evenings I would join him and he'd tell stories about his moonshining business. I had a still here and he'd point to the mountain behind my house. And one there after the rev'nuers came and busted that one up and he'd point still higher behind my house. I learned how to load a car or truck with moonshine with false bottoms in the trunk or bed. How to chock the springs so it wouldn't sag under the weight of 100 gallons or more. That you fire your still with ash because it burns hot and with very little smoke. That you don't take the same path to your still twice.

Eventually Tom died, then Johnny, leaving Victoria alone. She'd wanted to sell her property to my dad for a while and, before she died, she sold it to him. Tom's house, Johnny's garage, her trailer and the mineral rights. They repaired her trailer and rent it out to the guy that works for my dad, but Tom's house was beyond repair. This past fall they started demolishing it. On our last trip to West Virginia I sat on his porch steps for a while then went inside and looked around for Tom's ghost. He wasn't there, but the remains of his stills are there and there, on the hill behind my parents' house, rotting beneath a drift of hand dug coal and leaves.

[caption id="attachment_166" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Tom's table, stove, refrigerator, sink and cabinets are long gone."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_164" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="This wallpaper was the last of several layers."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_159" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The heat from the coal-fired stove cracked the plaster and peeled the paint in the living room."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_155" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="These solid wood doors are original to the house and, although a little damaged, still beautiful."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_154" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Behind Door Number One: buckled ceiling, bare bulb, dirty walls."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_156" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="View from the kitchen. Tom\'s summer bedroom was through the door to the left (the cinderblock walls made it cooler he said), storage to the right."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_163" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="It was too big of a job for this one little broom."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_160" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Dirty white walls and the only picture left hanging."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_162" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="The stars would be beautiful from the porch."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_158" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Maybe he\'s in here, waiting to be let out."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_157" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="Tom buit the door from salvaged lumber and nails."][/caption]

Monday, January 4, 2010

Pho's On in Winston-Salem

On our drive to West Virginia for post-Christmas celebrations with my family we stayed in Winston-Salem, NC (one of only two hyphenated towns in North Carolina). While in Winston-Salem we walked around downtown in the bitter cold and found Soups, a Vietnamese restaurant specializing in pho (that's Vietnamese for soup). Since it was cold and we like Vietnamese food and what we wanted to eat was in the name of the restaurant, we went in.

When we walked in, the first thing that struck me was how normal it was. No oversized Chinese lanterns, weird gold-leaf wallpaper or Pier 1 fake asian decorations. The second thing that struck me was how small the place was. Not small in a two-tiny-booths-and-the-window-seat kind of small, but more of a cozy kind of small. Maybe 20 tables, all pretty close together, half of which were full. Then I noticed we were listening to Sirius 80s on 8 rather than that odd Asian Bluegrass many eastern eateries tend to play. We were taken to our table and given the menu. Like the restaurant itself, Soups' menu is small. And it's mostly soup. Lauren and I settled on an appetizer--spring rolls--and ordered a pot of tea to go with our soup.

[caption id="attachment_138" align="alignnone" width="300" caption="I\'m not sad, I just don\'t have any soup yet."][/caption]