As if we didn’t already know that the American education system is seriously lacking, I read an article yesterday which said that 1 in 4 Americans believe the sun revolves around the earth instead of the other way around.

Say what!?! All this time I thought the earth revolved around me!

I suppose the realization that 1 in 4 Americans are, as my Aunt Belle would have put it, “dumb as a box of rocks” should be shocking, I can’t say I’m totally surprised. After all, this is the same nation who, for some reason unknown to those of us with at least one working brain cell, thinks Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are legitimate role models.

To be fair, I don’t think the entire blame for such blatant stupidity can be laid entirely at the feet of the educators. I think most teachers do their best to provide a quality education for their students, but it’s also the students responsibility to apply themselves to learn what their teachers are trying to teach. Unfortunately, it seems being rock-dumb has been the “cool” thing for so long that it has dumbed-down the American society for years now. This dumbing-down has caused a snowball effect on the educational system: students who graduate with less knowledge then go on to teach the next generation, then that generation graduates with less knowledge than their predecessors and they in turn teach the next generation with less knowledge, and on and on the snowball rolls until we reach the state we’re in as a society. Now, we’re in a predicament where 25% of Americans have the mentality of those in the dark ages. Pretty bleak, huh?

I have to wonder what might be in store for society if we keep getting dumber as the years go by. While I know I’m in no way the smartest person on the planet (as evidenced by that run-on sentence in the above paragraph), I do feel like I have a grasp on general concepts of science and other areas of educational study. Heck, even a kindergarten student could probably tell you the earth revolves around the sun. I hope, anyway. The way things are going, we might one day see a debate such as whether or not the stars are holes in the sky which aliens use to watch us as legitimate.

Aunt Belle would probably have a word or two for these types of people. Heaven help us.

So… all this week we were inundated with news about a giant snowstorm coming our way which was expected to bring an end to the world as we know it, and quite possibly, usher in the apocalypse. At one point, it was predicted we could get as much as 5 inches of the white stuff on the ground (and for southeastern North Carolina, that was a MAJOR amount of snow). Being someone who actually L-O-V-E-S snow (probably because living where I do, we hardly ever see much of it), I relished the idea and was waiting with baited breath for the big event to finally get here.

Well, after much hoopla and fanfare, all we seemed to get out of the deal was a sheet of ice with a dusting of the white stuff on the top. While it wasn’t the apocalypse, and no four horsemen have been seen riding around town bringing death and destruction with them, I did enjoy going out this morning taking pictures of what we did receive. So without further adieu, here are my pictures of what I’m calling “The Great Snow-Dusting of 2014.”
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There is a small restaurant tucked away in University Landing on College Rd in Wilmington called Bdobo Mongolian Grill that I simply had to tell you about. If you’re in Wilmington or the surrounding areas, it’s well worth your time to check this place out. Bdobo is a Mongolian grill that is an all-you-can-eat affair… and let’s face it – some of you, like me, can really pack it away when it comes to buffets!

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I was first introduced to Mongolian BBQ waayyyyy back in my days as a student at Campbell University. My friend, Jimmy, was introduced to it first, and took me to a restaurant named Bali Hai in Raleigh to try it for myself. Needless to say, I’ve been hooked ever since!

When you’re first seated in Bdobo, the staff will offer you a choice of egg drop or hot & sour soup, fried or white rice, and a small plate with sesame bread. The buffet line is filled with various vegetables as well as pork, chicken, beef, shrimp and calamari. After you fill your bowl with all the vegetables and meats you’ll want, you then move over to the sauces and ladle out which sauces you’d like on your dish. The sign at the sauce area suggests you use at least six or more ladles of sauces. The chef will then take your bowl and toss it onto the round grill where he cooks it up for you in a flash. You can go back to the buffet and do this over and over again, but I’ve found I simply can’t do more than two trips.

For me, the best tasting dishes are the ones where you use the most colorful vegetables on the bar; purple cabbage, carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, green peppers, etc. All the meats are tasty so, in my opinion, you can’t go wrong there.

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Try as I might, I’ve never been able to duplicate the exact taste of Bali Hai in other Mongolian restaurants. I think the obvious difference is in the way the sauces are prepared. Most all establishments of the Mongolian persuasion allow you to make your own sauce for your dish. Being somewhat handicapped in the kitchen area doesn’t lend to my culinary expertise – heck, I once set the fire alarm off in the house while boiling potatoes, so I’m not one to normally venture into becoming a sauce connoisseur and whipping a batch to perfection right off the cuff. I believe I have, however, come very close to the taste I remember. Here’s my recipe for pouring on the sauce once I have my bowl filled:

3 ladles Mongolian Sauce
3 ladles Teriyaki Sauce
1 ladle Curry Sauce
1 ladle Garlic Sauce
3 ladles Soy Sauce
1 ladle Hot Oil Sauce

If you’re one of these people who like your food really spicy you can opt for more ladles of hot oil sauce, but since I don’t want to have to call the fire department when I go to the bathroom, one is usually enough for me.

When you make your sauce, you can obviously use whatever mixture you’d like. While I was there, this one lady in line was telling the person behind her (rather enthusiastically, I might add) that she uses a ladle of everything in her bowl. For some that may be fine, but it seems to me a ladle of sweet water and a ladle of hot oil might not mix, but who am I to judge?

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The staff is extremely friendly, and if you have questions, they are more than happy to help you out.

I’d definitely recommend trying Bdobo out the next time you’re in the area and have a craving for something a little different. Who knows, you might just find your new favorite dinner spot!

I’ve always loved Halloween, and since it’s now October, I figured it was time to kick off the Halloween festivities. One of my favorite things of the season is carving jack-o-lanterns. Even as a child I’ve enjoyed it. Since I’ve recently discovered foam pumpkins in the last few years and the art of “shading” instead of cutting completely through a pumpkin, I’ve been trying out this new technique.

Thanks to the guys over at http://www.stoneykins.com, I’ve been able to get a bit more creative than I would have done on my own. There are hundreds and hundreds of pumpkin patterns over there, and some of the best people on the forum to bounce ideas off you’ve ever “met.” If you’re looking for something different to do with your pumpkins this year, that’s definitely the place to look! Some of the patterns you see here are from that sight. So here’s my offerings for this year:

“Jack the Ripper”
(What Anglophile like myself couldn’t start the season off without a good, English scare?)jack

“K-9″ from the 1970′s era “Doctor Who”
(Probably too obscure for most, but if you were/are a fan of the old Doctor Who, you might recognize this little fellow.)
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“Barnabas Collins” from the gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows”
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“Kermit the Frog”
(Since my mother LOVES Kermit the Frog for some unknown reason, I thought I’d make this one and give it to her.)011

Duran Duran’s “Rio” album cover
(Since I’m such a die-hard Duran Duran fan, I decided to try my hand at carving their most recognized album cover to date on a pumpkin. Not my best work, but it was fun!)rio

Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”
(This took longer than all the others, but I think it turned out rather well.)starry night

Like many people, Annie Bell always enjoyed a good ghost story. Even as a child, she would always listen intently whenever her parents or other adults would recite their favorite old tales of specters, ghosts and goblins, especially during the times people would gather close to Halloween. Annie Bell never admitted to believing in any of the stories she had heard, although she did seem to find a great deal of entertainment in them. As she grew older, her love of folklore and stories of various hauntings would wax and wane, but Annie Bell was always the one in her family who remembered the most about local ghost stories most people had forgotten.

One of Annie Bell’s favorite stories to tell others, especially those younger than her was a story surrounding a small bridge located, as she would describe, “a stone’s throw away” from the front door of her house. Buckle Bridge, as it was known due to the fact that it would buckle slightly if too much weight was on it at once, was no more than a makeshift bridge made of wooden planks thrown together, albeit strong enough to withstand the crossing of a horse and carriage. Those in the community who had the forethought to replace a board whenever they saw one that needed mending tended to its upkeep. Most everyone who had lumber or other materials to spare were happy to lend a hand in helping make sure the bridge stayed in working order.

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As the story goes, during the slavery era Buckle Bridge was used as a connection point for the Underground Railroad, which served as a network of secret routes used by black slaves in the nineteenth century to escape to free states in the north as well as Canada. Many slaves would wait underneath the bridge for a horse and carriage to come to a stop on the bridge around midnight. The driver of the carriage would tap on the floor of the bridge three times with his walking stick to let those hiding underneath know that it was safe to come out and board the carriage to be taken to their next stop in their travels to freedom. Normally, this would happen during the full moon so the slaves could at least have the best light possible in order to board the carriage.

The use of Buckle Bridge as a connection point lasted for quite a while. Whenever the slaves would leave to gather under the bridge, they would sing spirituals as code to others that the carriage would be passing by that night and to get their things together if they wanted to escape. When they would gather after dark, those slaves who were trying to head north would sit as quietly as possible, hiding underneath the bridge in order to not draw any unwanted attention to themselves. As a connection point for the Underground Railroad, Buckle Bridge was quite successful due to its distance from any major slave owners and the fact that it was so inconspicuous. It’s estimated that around five hundred slaves used it during its use as a connection point.

It was about two years into its use by the Underground Railroad that certain slave owners discovered Buckle Bridge was being used as a connection point. When they found out about it, some of them gathered together to decide what to do to keep their slaves from being freed. After discussing the situation, they decided they would send a spy to the bridge to see what transpired and what methods they used to escape. They sent one man out to the Buckle Bridge area to watch what happened after dark on the next full moon. As he sat hiding in the dark a short distance from the bridge watching behind a tree, he saw a covered carriage drive by being pulled by two horses. When the carriage began crossing the bridge, the driver had the horses come to a complete stop half way across. As the driver got off the carriage, the lookout came from behind the tree to get a better look at what was happening. He saw the driver take his walking cane and tap the floor of the bridge three times. Shortly thereafter, the slaves emerged from under the bridge and climbed into the carriage and hid under blankets in the back. The driver turned the carriage around and returned the way it came. The spy reported back to the slave owners everything he saw.

As the slave owners talked among themselves, it was decided that on the next full moon they would pose as the carriage driver and recapture their slaves when they came out to board the carriage and bring them back to their houses. When the next full moon appeared, the men drove a carriage much like the one the spy saw earlier to the bridge. They arrived about an hour earlier in order to not catch the original carriage driver by surprise. All the men hid in the back of the carriage, save the one driving. When they stopped the carriage on the bridge, the driver hopped off and tapped the floor of the bridge three times to notify the unsuspecting slaves underneath that their ride had arrived. Sure enough, after tapping on the bridge, the slaves began to emerge from underneath the bridge. After all seven of the slaves who were hiding that night were standing by the carriage ready to board, the men in the back jumped out and attempted to capture the slaves. A violent fight ensued between the slaves and the slave owners as they fought on the bridge. During the fight, five slaves were killed, although two escaped into the woods. The slave owners searched, but the two escaped slaves were never found. The slave owners took the bodies of the dead slaves back with them and hung them from trees near their plantations to dissuade any other slaves from trying to escape. Soon after the incident on Buckle Bridge, the Underground Railroad discontinued using the bridge as a connection point due to the slave owners discovering how it was being used.

Not long after this incident, folks in the community started reporting eerie happenings on the bridge when they would cross at night during a full moon. Reports of strange tappings, rustling in the nearby bushes and sometimes even a story of seeing shadows moving around on the bridge would work their way into the conversations of those who lived near and used Buckle Bridge frequently. Over the years, Buckle Bridge would become one of those sites around the area believed to be haunted by the slaves who died in their fight for freedom from their slave masters, struggling to be free even after death.

While she would never admit to actually believing in the stories, Annie Bell was always fond of this particular ghost story. She enjoyed telling the story to those she knew, especially on Halloween, and to those younger than herself who would need to cross Buckle Bridge that same day. She’d always get a mischievous grin on her face as she relished the apprehension in the face of those who listened to her story. She looked at their fear as a form of admonition that she had done well in relaying a ghost story to others.

As Halloween approached one year, Annie Bell’s brothers decided it would be fun to play a prank on her. TJ and Benny decided between themselves that since Annie Bell would always cross the bridge in the evenings during her walk from Guthrie’s, her suitor at the time, they would attempt to reenact the Buckle Bridge haunting, just for Annie Bell’s pleasure. Naturally, Guthrie would accompany her and, being the practical joker he was, was in on TJ and Benny’s plan.

As the evening sunlight began to fade one Saturday afternoon, Annie Bell and Guthrie decided it was time for her to return home, so they began their half-mile walk from Guthrie’s to Annie Bell’s home. Guthrie knew TJ and Bennie would be lying in wait under the bridge, so he knew things were about to get interesting.

Guthrie made sure they walked slightly slower this particular day in order for it to be a bit darker as they arrived at the bridge. As they walked, Guthrie made a point to turn the topic of conversation to the upcoming Halloween weekend, and what could possibly be going on in the area to celebrate. When they arrived at the bridge, Annie Bell was in the midst of reciting the list of things that would be going on at the church during the gathering they were planning, when a strange rustling noise next to the bank of the creek by the bridge caught her attention. She stopped in mid-sentence and looked in the direction of the noise. “What’s wrong, Annie Bell?” Guthrie asked. Not sure exactly as to how to answer, Annie Bell shook off the uneasy feeling the noise caused and looked at Guthrie and said, “Oh nothing, must have been an animal in the bushes. I could have sworn I heard a rustling over there.” Just as soon as she said that, she heard a distant moaning coming from the same direction. Startled, she looked at Guthrie and asked, “Did you hear that?” Guthrie, knowing it was TJ hiding behind a bush but not wanting to let the cat out of the bag, replied, “No, I ain’t heard nothing. Whatever you heard, it was probably just that animal you said rustled the bushes.” Seeing that his explanation made sense, Annie Bell accepted it as a plausible explanation.

As they started to make their way across the bridge, Annie Bell heard the distinct sound of three taps coming from the floor of the bridge beneath her feet. Startled, Annie Bell jumped a step or two back, and shouted to Guthrie, “Oh my God, Guthrie, did you hear that?” Looking puzzled, Guthrie looked at Annie Bell and replied to her, “Heard what, another animal?” Guthrie did his best not to expose the fact that it was actually Benny hiding under the bridge and banging at the bottom of the bridge with a broomstick. By this point, Annie Bell wasn’t exactly sure what she heard before was an animal at all. As she stood there, Annie Bell was starting to remember all the stories of the bridge being haunted, the tapping sounds and the other noises and sights that coincided with a ghostly sighting from the bridge stories. Was she actually experiencing one of the paranormal events herself that she had heard about all these years? Annie Bell was becoming more frightened by the second. “My God, Guthrie, I think it’s the slave ghosts! Let’s get out of here, pronto!”

As she grabbed Guthrie’s arm to hurry him across the bridge and run to the safety of her house, she saw a dark shadow out of the corner of her eye by the bushes in the darkness. “Lord Jesus, it’s one of the slave ghosts!” Annie Bell shouted, turning on a dime and starting to run toward her house. Just as she started to take her first step, however, her left shoe became caught between the boards of the bridge. In her heightened state of fear, Annie Bell believed one of the ghosts had grabbed her ankle. Shrieking in fear, Annie Bell twisted around, losing her balance and falling head first over the side of the bridge and into the creek. TJ, who had now come from behind the bushes wearing a sheet over his head, saw her fall into the creek. As he rushed to her aid, TJ forgot he was still wearing the sheet he used to dress as a ghost in case he was seen. Still in a heightened state of fear, all Annie Bell could see after coming up for air in the creek was a white specter running towards her. Screaming and trying to run, Annie Bell almost passed out from fear. By this time, Guthrie and Benny had joined TJ in trying to get her out of the creek, and tried to calm her down. TJ took off the sheet in order to not frighten her any further.

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Benny and TJ apologized between fits of laughter, but their humor was lost on Annie Bell during that moment. All she could feel was foolishness for being terrified as much as she was, and the pain in her ankle from where she had twisted it. Guthrie, Benny and TJ helped her hobble back to her house, soaked from head to toe from falling into the creek. The entire time, Annie Bell scolded all three of them for trying to scare her, and attempted to make them feel as much guilt as she possibly could for causing her to twist her ankle.

Thomas, Annie Bell’s father, looked at her as she entered the door and was surprised to see her soaking wet. Thomas looked at the boys quizzically and asked, “What in God’s name is going on? Annie Bell, what in tarnation are you doing soaked to the bone?” Annie Bell huffed. “I’ll tell you exactly why!” she said, hobbling to the kitchen table chair to take off her shoe and examine her ankle. “These fool boys tried to scare me to death on Buckle Bridge, making me think the slave ghosts were coming after us and caused me to twist my foot and fall into the darned creek!” Thomas looked at her ankle. “Does it hurt much?” he asked. Annie Bell tried to move it around as much as she could. “No, not too terribly bad, I don’t suppose,” she said, “but I don’t think I’ll be standing on it for any length of time for a few days.”

Thomas asked for the details of what happened. After the boys and Annie Bell recited the story from the beginning, Thomas did the best he could to stifle his laughter at imagining Annie Bell’s face as everything was happening. He sent Annie Bell to her mother to get changed and have a look at her ankle. Thomas did his best to admonish the boys not to play practical jokes on their sister all the while keeping a straight face, but the boys could plainly see he was amused with the story as well. He gave them extra chores for the rest of the week as punishment, but it wasn’t as severe of a punishment as Annie Bell had hoped. He sent Guthrie back home, and instructed him to not get involved in any of TJ or Benny’s antics again. As Guthrie was leaving, he checked in on Annie Bell on last time to make sure she was okay, and headed home.

As Guthrie began his walk back home, he felt terrible for Annie Bell having fallen over the side of the bridge, but at the same time, couldn’t help but laugh at the humor in the incident. He didn’t think much of it as it started, but as he was crossing Buckle Bridge alone to get home, the wind picked up, blowing the bushes around the creek. It was an unusually chilly breeze for that time of year, so Guthrie hurried his pace home. Almost as soon as he was across the bridge, he could have sworn he heard three taps behind him on the bridge. Knowing TJ and Benny were at home, he wondered who could be playing around under the bridge. He walked down the embankment and looked underneath, but to his surprise, no one was there. The breeze once again started to blow, and was even colder than before. Guthrie decided that it would be best for him to pick up his pace rather quickly and get home before he found out if the stories he heard all these years about the ghosts of Buckle Bridge were actually true. Running into man-made ghosts were one thing, but he had no desire to come face to face with a real one.

When I was a child, the building that sits on the corner of 3rd and Greenfield Streets in Wilmington was a Hardees. If I remember correctly, it was the first Hardees in Wilmington, but I could be wrong about that. Through the years, many different businesses have occupied that space. Now, a restaurant called The Harp is located there, serving authentic Irish food to the hungry masses.

As you walk into The Harp, you’ll notice the staff are very laid back, and the atmosphere is quite casual. I’ve only been during lunch times, and during lunch you seat yourself wherever you’d like. It’s been my experience that the wait staff are usually very prompt in coming to your table to take your drink orders and pass out the menus. Lately, they’ve attempted a breakfast buffet during the weekend and, according to our waitress, they’re still “working the kinks out on the timing.”

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The breakfast menu has what you would come to expect during breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, waffles, fruit, grits, etc. The lunch menu, however, is what I’ve always ordered from. They have such items in the appetizer section as Irish Potato Cakes, Scottish Smoked Salmon, Prince Edward Mussels, Carolina Crab Dip and a few other items that sound tempting. The main entrees are where I usually drift. I’ve tried their Bangers and Mash, Fish and Chips, Corned Beef and Cabbage and Reuben Sandwich. My personal favorite has been the Corned Beef and Cabbage, although there are other items on the menu I’ve yet to try. I’ve always received what I would consider a generous portion of corned beef, cabbage and mashed potatoes each time I’ve ordered this particular dish. The corned beef has always been well prepared. The cabbage, at times, might need a little salt, but that’s just my personal taste. The mashed potatoes have always been flawless.

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The only drawback that I have seen is in the amount of wait staff. Not to say that they aren’t attentive, I’m just not sure there are enough of them, especially during times they are very busy. As I sat there during my last visit, I noticed they were running back and forth, doing the best they could to accommodate everyone while trying to get everyone’s orders correct. I wondered a couple of times if they were going to trip over each other, but thankfully, that never happened. They were busy, and they met the challenge head-on without a second thought or hearing any of them complain under their breath.

So if you’re in Wilmington and looking for a place off the beaten path for lunch with a definite Irish flare, I would highly recommend you give The Harp a try if you’re in the neighborhood. Who knows, it might become your favorite hangout!

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There’s so much I want to say, but ironically, there’s so few words to describe exactly what it is I want to convey. Perhaps it’s too personal to say anything, but at the same time, maybe it could be cathartic to at least try.

As I sit here trying to work through the reality of my Grandma’s passing, sometimes my hands literally shake, I tear up, I scream, I cry, I sit silently in shock and a million other things which slip my mind. I scream at God, demanding an answer to why this happened, but no answer comes. I cry, although I’ve cried so much over the past couple of weeks I wonder how I have any tears left. I sit silently in shock over how she’s no longer here in the flesh, feeling absolutely dead inside. There are so many things I feel, and at the same time, I’m numb to everything around me. My world has been completely shattered.

Grandma, as I’m sure anyone who knows me can tell you, was one of my closest friends in the entire world. Even though I knew in these last days I was going to have to let her go, it was something my heart couldn’t, and still can’t, fathom doing. Grandma was such a major part of my life that I pictured her living forever, or at least until I passed away myself. I realize how unrealistic and selfish that may sound, but it was part of my coping tactics to avoid the reality of one day losing her. That reality, however, has now hit me and here I am left with a void I can’t describe, and trying to make sense of it all and trying to muddle through each passing day.

There are so many memories I have of Grandma, especially during the times she would baby-sit me while my parents worked. I can attribute my love of the soap operas to her. My sister and I love to tell the story of how she would make us either take naps or sit quietly just as soon as “the stories,” as she called them, would start. I always remember her going back-and-forth from the kitchen to the living room watching the antics on whichever soap opera was on at the time as she was cooking. If we became too loud or disruptive, I can still hear her threatening “to get the fly swatter after us if we don’t behave!”

I remember how protective Grandma was over me, especially one instance where I had fallen and cut my head while at her house, requiring me to have stitches. I remember she was worried sick and crying until she knew I was okay.

Grandma was also very crafty. Quilting was probably her favorite pastime in my younger years. I couldn’t count how many times her sisters would be there helping her “put in a quilt,” as she would say. So many times I came into her house to find everything in her living room pushed to the side, with a large quilt in a frame in the middle of the room.

As I grew older, Grandma began to depend more on me. I would be the first one she would call on to take her shopping or to run various errands. While most of these trips would be rather mundane, there were also plenty of times I would have some random funny story I would be able to share with my Mother as to what Grandma either said or did during the trip.

Even though I have the memories of our time together, it’s incredibly hard to admit to myself that she has passed. I try to muddle through the day, forcing myself to try to be the person I was before she left, but in the end, all it leaves me is exhausted from putting on a false front. My faith reassures me she’s in heaven with God and those we love who have passed on before us, but to be honest, it doesn’t help me to cope with her loss here. I suppose in time that will come. I long for the day, however, I can be reunited with her. I hope that one day, I can make her proud to look down from heaven on me. I hope that one day, I can have half the character she had. I hope that one day, I can look back and be thankful to have had the chance to love someone as much as I loved her instead of falling apart each time I think of her.

Now that she’s with God I know Grandma realizes how much I really love her, and I hope I was able to show her while here on earth just a glimpse of that love. I pray God would let me somehow feel her with me during my time on this earth, and I can’t wait for the day we’re reunited! I love you, Grandma!