Posted in In Our Own Backyard

September Oaks Revisited

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Last Saturday I revisited September Oaks Vineyards— a small but incredibly beautiful boutique winery in Ridgeland, SC.  On my first trip to SOV about a year ago, I fell in love with the place–as well as the fun and friendly folks who work there, especially Nikki Davis …

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… a kindred spirit, who at the time of my first trip (and the above pic) worked part-time at September Oaks and taught high school English in Ridgeland.  Thus, we hit it off as fellow English teachers right from the start.  Nikki has since become a faithful blog follower and happiness promoter.

For this second visit, good friends Robert and Edward (such strong, classical names–who names their child “Neal”?  And with an “a”?) accompanied me along lazy U.S. 17 on the forty-five minute trip from Savannah.

The entrance to September Oaks is as beautiful as the place itself.

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So I motored down the old oak-lined entryway and parked Skedaddler.  (My little car’s name.  What?  You don’t name your vehicles?  Well, why not?  And, what?  You think “motored” sounds a little silly and pretentious?  Well, I would too under normal circumstances, but those ancient oaks and the incredible fall weather made me want to talk British-fancy.)

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A special event was going on that day:  A Novel Wine Tasting & Literary Festival, featuring readings and book signings from over two dozen authors.  Such fun!  (More about that later … with a Princess Diana twist.)

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So we sauntered (there I go again) into the tasting room, paused just inside the door because the place was booming with folks at the counter, and glanced around.  But not for long–because suddenly I heard a hooting and hollering, and saw Nikki rushing toward me and giving me a big hug, as if I were, oh I don’t know, a World Famous Blogger or something!  It was so cool to see her again.

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We waited our turn for the tasting and then belly-ed up to the beautiful new counter …

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… which is made from crushed wine bottles poured in layers to give the appearance of a flowing river amid vineyards.  WHO thinks to do creative stuff like that?!  When I think of crushed bottles, I always remember the time as a kid when I stepped on a broken Coke bottle and had to have a terribly painful and tear-producing tetanus shot.  And let’s be honest, nobody wants to see THAT scene worked into a wine tasting counter!

Anyway, we met our pourer Annette (delightful), who led us through three whites and three reds, from dry to sweet.  We were asked to score each wine on a scale of 1-5 points.  And I probably don’t need to tell you, but wine has alcohol in it!  Edward and Robert were SO much better at the taste scoring than I.  Really.  They swirled the wine around, smelled it deeply, commented on its color, and even had exaggerated expressions on their faces after each tasting which somehow seemed to register their definite approval or casual dismissal.  They even made comments such as, “Oh yes, I would serve this one with fruit and chocolate” or “This white would pair perfectly with fresh, local seafood.”  Me?  What was I doing?  Well, before I answer, look at the picture below.  Although the photo is a bit dark, here I am with Edward and Robert.

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My biggest concern during our tasting was not wine aroma or pairing possibilities … but that woman in the right edge of the picture.  See her?  You can’t tell from the pic, but she’s really close (too close in my opinion) to the two heavenly smelling featured dishes at the tasting–southern seafood gumbo, and shrimp and grits–and she’s actually somewhat blocking my path to the food.  All through the tasting I kept glancing over my shoulder and worrying about how I could get past her.

Here’s a lighter picture of Robert and Edward.  I took it mainly to get a better perspective on how to get past that lady.

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I did it!

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Here’s Nikki with Evie Woods, wife of September Oaks owner Grady Woods:

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And here I am with Evie:

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And here’s Evie between two wine bottles:

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And here’s Evie eating gumbo:

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And here’s Evie feeding me gumbo:

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After the wine (and food) tasting, Annette asked if we would like a tour of their new barrel room.  Well, who’s gonna turn that down?

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On your visit (and of course you’re going to visit soon), look closely and you’ll see my shadowy spirit protectively overseeing the oak barrels.

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Oh my gosh.  Look what showed up next in the warehouse area:

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A set of drums!  So of course I had to play a while.

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It would have been so much more enjoyable for myself and the others if I knew how to play drums.  Oh well, we moved on to the big steel barrels.

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Next, we ventured outside to the vineyard and the literary reading.

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Here’s Jack and Robin Firestone, authors of Chasing Diana.  The Firestones were in Paris on the night of Diana’s fatal car crash sixteen years ago … and were in the tunnel … and saw the wreck!  Chasing Diana is their fascinating story.  Here they are reading excerpts from the book.

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And here I am harassing them.

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Evie and Grady, SOV’s gracious owners and hosts.

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What a joyful Saturday afternoon.  I hereby declare September Oaks to be the Official Winery of NealEnJoy.com!

A special thanks to Robert Smith for taking most of the pictures in this post.

Read the blog post about my first visit here:  SOV 1.

Posted in Where Happiness Finds You

Neal’s Neverending New York PhotoNotes Post

[Warning:  If you’re going to read this one, you might want to go get a snack.  And maybe a cushion.  Wear loose-fitting clothes, comfortable shoes.]

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I traveled with daughter Amy, son-in-law Orte and grandsons Daniel and Gabriel to Manhattan last Thursday, returning yesterday.  This trip has become our annual spring rite of passage.  Except spring didn’t cooperate this year–cold!  Brrr!  Even a little snow.  But what a Grand Time as our Vagabond Shoes left Savannah and headed to the Big Apple.

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Easy, FUN flight, even with five- and three-year-olds.  No, BECAUSE of five- and three-year-olds.

Cool suite on Park Avenue:

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And of course, the first thing the boys want to do upon our arrival in New York?   Watch Gravity Falls on TV.

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(Okay, maybe it was pretty interesting, all about Dipper’s sister Mabel having a crazy-about-boys summer–at one point she sees a young fella holding a turtle, runs up to him and exclaims, “You like turtles?!  I LIKE TURTLES!  What’s happening here?!” as she moves her hands back and forth between her and the boy.  Finally Mabel sorta falls for a trenchcoated pyramid of Gnomes who want to marry her and make her their Gnome Queen.  I had no idea Gnomes could be so pushy.)

Gabriel looking out on the NY skyline from our 27th floor:

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The Children’s Museum of Manhattan (on the Upper West Side):

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A walk in Central Park, playing with dirty snow.  (But we’re from the south–we’ll take what we can get.)

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Delicious Waldorf Salad lunch for me–at the Waldorf:

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Touring = Tiring:

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Dinner at Victor’s, our favorite Cuban restaurant in Manhattan:

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Neat day, after Gabriel’s “breakfast” …

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… we taxied to another great museum: the Children’s Museum of the Arts in SoHo.  What an interactive place!

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My work:

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(Now do you see why I teach part-time at an art school?!  I call it Morning Glory and Green-Haired Cory.  Bids start in the upper thousands.  Thank you.)

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Daniel’s Dragon:

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(Those aren’t my blue fingernails.)

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First of two Broadway plays: Newsies.  Just incredible energy!  Google it.

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Newsies ticket

And here’s a pic of the stage/curtain thingy, right before I got yelled at for taking pictures inside the theatre.  (I’m sure they didn’t realize they were talking to a world-famous blogger and all.)

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I’m thinking about becoming a Broadway star.  All that’s holding me back is that you have to sing and dance and memorize lines and get up in front of people and not stutter because you’re so nervous.  AND not fall off the stage when you have to walk close to the edge.  That part TERRIFIES me.  But still.

The most incredible coincidence happened next.  Walking back to our hotel to join the fam, I saw Andaz.  No not a person, a very cool hotel.  We have an Andaz on Ellis Square in Savannah where they give you the MOST delicious Candied Bacon I’ve ever tasted.  (Okay, it’s the only candied bacon I’ve ever tasted but SO good.)  Of course I had to shashay in to compare Andazes’ (plural possessive?).  This sign greeted me when I walked into the lobby:

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Hooting Hyenas!  SCAD is where I teach as an adjunct.  So I hopped on the elevator to the second floor!  Wouldn’t you?  Why?  Well, duh, a reception, and receptions mean one thing … free food.  The first person I saw was Joseph; he’s in a writer’s group I sometimes attend:

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(I’m not sure why I look so huge and bloated in that picture.)

(Does anyone know how to Photoshop me standing about two feet behind Joseph so I don’t look so very big?)

I chatted with other SCAD folks and even a few newly accepted students and their parents.  A fun NY surprise.

Next morning, Grand Central Terminal …

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… and waiting for Kidding Around (a very cool toy store) to open–we did F. A. O. Schwarz the day before:

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Street vendor hot dogs, of course:

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Second Broadway play: Cinderella (with a new spin, including lots of humor and an evil stepsister who turns good).

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Orchestra pit (we had second-row seats!):

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Afterwards off to Ellen’s Stardust Diner where the wait staff … SINGS!.  So cool:

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Snack on the walk back to the hotel:

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The Apple Store in Grand Central Terminal for a new case for my iPhone:

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Last morning.  Daniel and Gabriel reennacting the final scene from Gravity Falls (we watched the same episode three times over our stay) when Dipper rescues Mabel from the Gnomes, and the brother/sister engage in an “awkward sibling hug” with “pat, pat.”  (Hulu it.  I think the episode is called “Tourist Trap.”)

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Blustery/snowy/rainy weather on the way to LaGuardia.

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For some reason, less-than-ideal weather always makes me feel better when it comes at the end of a trip.  (Reminder to self: therapist talking point.)

While we were waiting at the gate for our flight, a Big Red Heart sauntered up.  No clue why.  But D is never one to miss a photo op.

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Oh, if you were that Big Red Heart, looking where he seems to be looking, you would see this:

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It’s an iPad cafe–you order your food right from the iPad.  (“Hip” should be my middle name.)

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A wonderfully joyful New York trip.

As we waited on the runway, while an animal-like machine de-iced the wings, Daniel looked at me fiddling with my phone and yelled (loud enough for his dad and the rather stern flight attendant to hear), “Abu is not turning off his electronic device!”

Great memories to think about.

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Posted in Five Friday Happy Bringers

Five Friday Happy Bringers (3/22/13)

It’s Friday again, and I’m in New York City with daughter Amy, son-in-law Orte, and grandsons Daniel and Gabriel. That in itself is reason enough to be HAPPY. But here are FIVE more reasons:

1.. Still filled with memories of last weekend’s beautifully fun St. Patrick’s Day.

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2.. Finding this cool driftwood-and-found-objects ship sculpture at Habersham Antiques and Collectibles in Savannah.

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3.. Realizing that so much about being joyful in life is a result of CHOICE.

4.. Flying to New York with a five- and three-year-old.

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5.. It’s freezing here in Manhattan, but here I am last week down on Amelia Island

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Have a great weekend and take care of business while I’m away.

Posted in In Our Own Backyard, Where Happiness Finds You

Mr. Happy Goes to Charleston: A Photo Essay

Some of you may remember Mr. Happy (who is sort of my blog mascot).  Technically he is jointly owned by me AND grandson Daniel.  He lives in the back seat of my car (Mr. Happy, not Daniel) and helps me pick up Daniel from kindergarten a couple of days a week.

For months now, Mr. Happy has been nagging me for a train ride to Charleston, so early last Saturday morning, we hopped on board the 8:15 Amtrak bound for a one-night stay in the Holy City.

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Less than two hours later, we arrived  in beautiful Charleston, SC. (sister city of my hometown of Savannah).

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From the station, our Charleston taxi driver (who “drove” like a wild New York cabbie) whisked us to our hotel, the Best Western King Charles Inn in the historic district ( a very nice hotel–stay there sometime).

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The folks at the hotel treated us like royalty–especially Michael, Rhonda and Richard–and even gave us a beautiful upgrade … with rocking chairs on a balcony:

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After reading up on some sites to visit, Mr. Happy and I hit the road walking.

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We learned a bucketful of area history from guide extraordinaire Boyd Schuler when we toured the historic Edmondston-Alston House on the Battery overlooking the bay.

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I want that house to be MY house!  (If you have about four million extra dollars, please PayPal it to me ASAP.  Thank you.)

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We devoured some DElicious seafood at Hank’s.

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Went back to the hotel for a little rest …

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… before going to Godiva’s for some high-end chocolate.  Here’s Becky telling us about the latest Godiva and Charleston news:

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And co-worker Chris making chocolate strawberry footballs (WHY couldn’t the Falcons have won!!!):

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More touristing (is that an okay word?):

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And here we are at the Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street.

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Pretending to preach:

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Time to go.

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A really fun trip for both of us.  See you next time.

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Posted in Breaking News, Where Happiness Finds You

Breaking News–Sir Riboclavin’s Castle!

Buddy Riboclavin (see #3 in yesterday’s Five Friday Happy Bringers) just sent more pics from his Irish holiday.

And.  He.  Is.  Staying.  In.  A.  Castle.

I just assumed he would be lodging at Ireland’s equivalent to Motel 6 or Sleep Inn.  But no–a real, live castle!  It’s called Ashford Castle.  When Ribo told me where he was staying, I hooted and asked him to find a throne or something to sit on and snap a pic, but so far these are what I’ve gotten:

I wanna be in a castle!  With a moat around it.  Maybe sitting outside in tweed, drinking mulled cider or grog.

Or perhaps wearing this:

Maybe listen to some music:

Rustle around a bit:

Eat a huge turkey leg:

Rest:

If you have a moated castle, let me know ASAP.  Thank you.

Posted in Joy in Nature

Elephant Ears & Spiritual Readings

Is there a botanical specimen you’re just WILD about?  There certainly is for me!  It’s the Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta in plant taxonomy).  And not just because they make my big ears look smaller (though, of course, that’s part of it).  Elephant Ears also exude a mysteriously mystical and magical quality.

Okay that sounded rather silly and new age-y.  So I’d better explain.  But when you hear the WHOLE story, DO NOT JUDGE ME!  Or at least do not judge me too harshly.  Deal? 

Well, I have always simply adored the Elephant Ear family of luciously leafy plants.  But my REAL love affair with EE’s heated up last October when I trekked to New Orleans to make an academic presentation at the Popular Culture Association in the South annual conference.  Really, I’m telling the truth.  Okay, fine, here’s proof:  a blurb from the conference program:

Saturday 11.8 Pedagogy

“A Presentation Software By Any Other Name: The Light and the Dark of Shakespearean Powerpoint Presentations in College English Classrooms” Mark King and David Janssen, Gordon College

“The Visual Essay: Thinking and Playing Outside the Paragraphs” Neal Saye, Georgia Southern University

“Teaching Students to Write for TV and Film: A Comprehensive Plan for the Undergraduate Dramatic Scripting Course” Michael Moeder

So maybe mine doesn’t sound quite as smart as the other two.  But I had lots of visuals, with continual streaming over two screens!  And handouts!  And samples of student work!  And I gave out colored construction paper and had everyone do little projects!  (My hypothesis is that a few bells and whistles, along with hands-on tinkering, can make up for intellectual depth.  And besides, it was Saturday morning, for heaven’s sake.)

[The Elephant Ear connection is coming, I promise–just give me a minute or two.]

When I got to the Hotel InterContinental on St. Charles to check in, I used the Winning Strategy a friend taught me years ago: ALWAYS ask if an upgrade is “possibly available.”  But BEFORE you ask, set the stage: say something either Pitiful with a Touch of Humor (“I’m SO glad to FINALLY get here to your BEAUTIFUL hotel. My flight was SO turbulent!  I prayed more in those two hours than I have in the past two decades!  But what a peaceful aura both in this gorgeous lobby AND coming from you!  Thank you so much!” or something excitedly exuberant, again with an attempt at a tad of humor (“New-Party-Orleans!  I’m HERE!  And you’re my INCREDIBLE host/hostess!  Can you show me around when you get off work?  THANK YOU for having me!  You RULE this city!).  Then smile like you’re high on beignets and plead for the upgrade.  IT WORKS.  SO VERY OFTEN.  Try it.

I did.  And Bam!  I was given a Club Level upgrade with full food and drink privileges and a nifty elevator key card that whisked me up to the exclusive Executive Floor.  (Another thing, always buy a thank you card and give it to your benefactor during your stay.  It’s good karma.)

Swinging from chandelier in “the club”:

So the second night in Nawlins, after Wandering around Bourbon Street and Wondering, both quietly to myself and out loud to my fellow conference attendee friends, “Do those people on that balcony KNOW they are sorta naked?” and “Why am I catching all these beads?  I have forty strands now”  and “That’s a real alligator that monkey is holding, isn’t it?!” I left the decibels and the adult circus, and meandered over, first to sweet Cafe Du Monde, and then to Jackson Square.

With powdered lips I walked the square’s perimeter, taking in the colorful display of late night street performers, vendors and musicians.

My watch yawned midnight, but my heart gave me the injunction: walk around the square again, and if I make “comfortable, knowing” eye contact with a spiritual reader, I will stop and, uh, be read or whatever.

I walked slowly, my footfalls methodical and audible.

Two-thirds around, I saw her.

A tiny, wisp of a woman from the islands wearing a bandana and clenching a shawl in the sticky October heat.  She sat at a card table.  Breaking eye contact first, I walked on, feeling silly.  So we made eye contact–but “comfortable and knowing”?  I don’t think so.  Looking back confirmed my foolishness.  Her gaze had dropped.  Nothing but a bird-like woman beginning to close up shop.

Until she turned her body toward me and smiled.  A caramel Mona Lisa.  An inviting mystery.

Thirty minutes later I walked away from Ms. Michelle with 1) a small elephant ear plant wrapped in wet paper towels and 2) ears resounding with what I had heard.

“You live near moving water, a river, an ocean, which is good.  Go embrace it often.  You need the movement of water.  You’re too rigid.”

Many other words and images left me, not shocked or awed by their relevancy and accuracy, but at peace with the connectedness of us all, the encouragement of strangers who are not strange after all.  Oneness.

“What do you want to ask?

I had two queries.  The first concerned the number four (my favorite number).  I loved her mathematics.  They confirmed what I knew–that all is well.

The second, as I took in the sight and smell of her small display of Mason-jarred summer leftover blossoms and greenery: “May I have that elephant ear?”  The green beauty had caught my eye from the start, small but holding its own, even without vibrant yellow or red.

“Of course.  It’s for you.  Take it.  Plant elephant ears, pick them.  Put them under your pillow.  They are health and good to you.”

Maybe I gave Michelle all the answers by coming to her, by asking questions.  Maybe I heard what I knew already.  Maybe I embraced the sugary night too tightly.  But I walked away buoyed by knowing.  Knowing that encouragement takes a myriad of forms.

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Unexpectedly I saw Michelle the next day in the sunlight.  We hugged and smiled, amped up in the brightness, having taken care of deep talk the night before.

Later in that final day of my New Orleans stay, I stumbled across the Jean Lefitte National Historic Site and Preserve.

But what was REALLY cool is what I found there:

Water.  And Elephant Ears.  Across the street from the mighty Mississippi River.

Back home in Savannah, one day I strolled the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University, and here’s what I found:

Huge Elephant ears.

Oh, I planted my own Elephant Ears.  This summer they grew beautifully:

(Excuse me for looking a bit like Captain Kangaroo in the above pic.  Google him, kids.)

Moral of story (at least for me):  Listen.