Tag Archives: Belhaven NC

Under the Belhaven Sun

 

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It wasn’t how I had envisioned it. In the original script, my husband and I arrive in Alessandria, Italy. Unexpected, we ask directions to Luca’s farm in amazingly practiced Italian. Lenny, Luca’s Labrador retriever, greets us on the dusty road. Signaled by his dog, Luca shields his eyes with his hand and squints into the sunlight. A smile slowly comes to his face as he recognizes us. “Luca!” we yell, waving. The sky bursts into the thousand colors of Belhaven. “We’re here!” We kept our promise.

In the revised version – how it really happened – we are in Milan, Italy’s second largest city. It’s raining. Holding a map in one hand, an umbrella in the other, Alan and I are struggling to find our pre-arranged meeting point. The streets are crowded, and everyone is moving fast to get out of the rain. We are lost, and late. We stop to get our bearings. Someone nudges us from behind. It’s Luca! Our smiles radiate the thousand colors of Belhaven.

We settle into a neighborhood pizzeria, where we meet Luca’s girlfriend, Giulia, and catch up on life. She shares photos of the beautiful stucco farmhouse they are renovating, their creative display at last year’s farmer’s market, and a recent trip to Thailand. Luca talks about the difficulties of converting from traditional to organic farming, the bad weather that has delayed planting season and his latest venture — egg-laying chickens.

“It’s so weird seeing you in Milan,” Luca said. “When I think of you, we are in North Carolina.” Intuitively, I understood. Before Milan, our relationship existed in fixed space: a single Google Maps pin for the five weeks Luca spent as a Workaway volunteer at our bed and breakfast.  Fast-forward two-and-a-half years. Here we are, gathered around a new pin 4,341 miles away, eating pizza and gelato.

We recalled how difficult it was to say goodbye in North Carolina. At the time, we didn’t have a plan to re-connect, only a promise. Parting in Milan, we had neither plan nor promise. We had possibilities. And all things are possible under the Belhaven sun.

 

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My Long Journey to Andra Watkins

 

Written in gratitude to Anne Becker and in memory of Ruth Wilkinson, whose invisible hand has nudged together another generation of kindred spirits under the roof of her home-sweet-home in the tiny town of Belhaven, NC.

The river takes, the river gives. Which is exactly how the Wilkinsons, who lived at 367 East Water Street in Belhaven when the road was known as Front Street, long before their house became an inn, ended up with a collection of Blue Willow plates. Ruth Wilkinson, the family matriarch, arrived at the collection one plate at a time as they washed up on the shore of the Pungo, a bounty claimed by some Victorian-era hurricane, decades before hurricanes had names. Floatsam or jetsam, who knew? Who cared? The river practically delivered them to the Wilkinson’s doorstep.

The plates, I’m told, have graced the Wilkinson’s Thanksgiving dinner table, accommodating family recipes inspired by Ruth, for four generations. I know this from Anne Becker — Ruth’s great-granddaughter, author of the “Wilkinson Plates.

Although she now lives in Washington State, which might as well be a different country if not for social media, Anne’s connection to the river is strong. Eastern Carolina calls her home just about every year.

Aside from owning the same house in different lifetimes, my connection to the Wilkinsons starts with Anne’s Aunt Becky. Becky and her husband showed up at the inn one sunny afternoon. They were taking a drive down Memory Lane and wanted a look around the old homestead. They didn’t have much time; they wanted to get back to their home in southern Virginia before dark. Becky promised to return, and she did — always unexpected — gifting me with her memories, a copy of the “Wilkinson Plates,” and finally, before she died, connecting me with Anne. The river takes, the river gives.

While researching another book inspired by her Belhaven family, Anne spent a few days with us last summer, sleeping in the bedroom once occupied by her Aunt Iris. We became fast friends, bonding over our early political careers, writing, reading, gardening, baking, old houses and the spirits among us.

A few months ago, Anne surprised me with a package that contained a beautiful cowl she knitted while channeling the cold Pungo River breezes, and two novels written by author Andra Watkins. Without giving away any secrets, Anne knew I would love Andra’s novels, based on our shared fascination with Theodosia Burr Alston, Vice President Aaron Burr’s less-infamous daughter, whose death remains a North Carolina legend, as unsettled as the fate of the Lost Colony.

I had just started reading Andra’s second book when out of the blue, I received an email from Andra Watkins herself.  Anne Becker had suggested she contact me about hosting an author’s night at our bed and breakfast.

At first, I was like – What? We can’t afford to host a New York Times best-selling author! I almost responded, politely of course, without opening her proposal. But I loved Andra’s books, so I couldn’t resist.  I opened the document, and my concerns amplified — What? We can’t accommodate 100 people! But then I thought about the flotsam-or-jetsam Wilkinson plates and how that one book connected me to Anne, and how one book connected Anne to Andra, and Andra to me. The river takes, the river gives. It’s my turn to keep it flowing.

Sponsored by Between Water & Main Bed & Breakfast, Andra Watkins will be coming to Belhaven’s Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Sun., Feb. 11, 2018, 3-4 p.m., to present “I Walked 444 Miles to Make a Memory,” a hilarious, motivational program about her New York Times best-selling memoir “Not Without My Father.” Book sales and signing to follow. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by calling 252-943-0367.

 

Loco Locavore

IMG_0387 I wanted to jump over the moon when the Simply Natural Creamery delivery truck, with its Jersey cow painted on the side, pulled up to our bed-and-breakfast yesterday morning.

When we opened our inn, one of my goals was to be a “locavore” bed-and-breakfast. Not necessarily organic, locavores are committed to buying a significant amount of locally produced food and other consumables. I had no idea just how difficult and time-consuming it would be.

Whispering Willow in Lincolnton, NC, while not quite local, supplies our all-natural soap, shampoo and body oil. We found local sources for eggs, pecans, breakfast meat, preserves and some fruit. We joined the CSA (Community-supported Agriculture) at Petals and Produce in Pinetown, where we also purchase homemade wheat bread every week. This year, we planted a vegetable garden, growing spinach, squash, tomatoes and herbs that often appear in our breakfast frittatas. We’re growing melon, too. We accomplished a lot in Year 1, but there was something missing in our locavore chain. Dairy. Breakfast ingredient staples like milk, cream, buttermilk and butter. Before I would confidently wave the locavore flag, I wanted to find a reliable local source for these perishables.

About 10 months ago, Jane Lassiter Boahn at Raised in a Barn Farm in Chocowinity, introduced me to Michael Fulcher of Simply Natural Creamery in Ayden, about 55 miles west of Belhaven. We emailed. We spoke by phone. We met at the dairy. Michael told me that he had to rustle up some customers before he could add a new delivery route. In rural, eastern Carolina, I understood it could take a while – until the cow’s come home. I imagined that it would be equivalent to herding cows – described as part art, part science and part psychology – three elements that, coincidentally, make the Simply Natural cream rise to the top.

Originally from the Channel Island of the same name, Jersey cows produce what is called the “Cadillac” of all milk. Here’s why: A glass of Jersey milk has greater nutritional value than milk from other breeds, specifically 13% more protein and 16% more calcium. Jersey milk also contains A2 beta-casein proteins that allegedly have more health benefits than A1 varieties, making it easier to digest. It also contains 20 percent more butterfat than other bovine milk, which quite simply tastes better. The cows at the family-owned creamery are pasture-raised, with plenty of room to roam. They are not treated with rBST or artificial growth hormones to increase milk production. They produce a lesser quantity, but higher-caliber milk. They also command a premium price, but it is so worth it.

Simply Natural Creamery welcomes visitors, often by the busload, to learn about their operation and to try out what is arguably their very best product: ice cream. They serve up about two-dozen flavors (including an assortment of toppings and homemade waffle cones) at their on-site ice cream parlor. If you haven’t tried this simply delicious brand of ice cream, you haven’t really screamed.

Lucky for Belhaven-area residents and visitors, entrepreneur Lindsay Clark just opened a Simply Natural Creamery ice cream shop at Attic Life at the Landing on Main Street. Attic Life carries about 18 flavors, and I am on a mission to try them all.

IMG_0389Now you know why I am jumping (and screaming) at 8:15 a.m. when Tim and Michael walk up to my doorstep with a small crate of dairy items. Not exactly like winning the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstake, but a significant milestone in this locavore’s journey.

In the U.S., food travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to consumer. Buying local equates to lower emissions. Most states have adopted policies and programs to promote local agriculture. North Carolina’s 10% campaign is helping to build the state’s local food economy by encouraging consumers to spend 10% of their existing food dollars with local producers. It’s fresher. It’s healthier. It’s sustainable.

It’s a challenge, but you can do it. One crate, one basket or one scoop at a time.

 

My Year of Conjugal Visits

The headline is racy, but the reality is not nearly as fun.

My husband and I had the brilliant idea that I would move to North Carolina a year ahead of him to start our bed and breakfast/yoga studio. That year will be 62 weeks, almost one year and a quarter, but who’s counting? After commuting from New Jersey to North Carolina almost every weekend, and I mean arriving in the wee hours of a Saturday and heading back most Sundays, Alan finally turned in his resignation letter. After 23 years with the same company, he drew a line in the sand: No more conjugal visits.

I sometimes worked with executives who lived apart from a spouse who simply did not want to relocate. I was sure I could never do that. I would never want to live that way.

Never say never. God just laughs.

Today I ran into Ed Wall, a Belhaven resident who, on his own dime, was airlifted into Alaska’s Northwest Passage. Looking back, he said, “I don’t know why I thought that would be such a great challenge. It wasn’t even that beautiful. I have all the wilderness I need right across the river.” As he lamented about the cost of his great Alaska adventure, my friend and I encouraged him to think of something worthwhile he gained from the experience. What did he learn? “To survive, I couldn’t sleep for more than 15 minutes at a time,” he recalled. “Sleep deprivation is hell. I also realized that I like people too much to be isolated for so long.”

IMG_0028Ed’s revelation prompted my own self-examination. What did this year teach me?

I learned to rely on my instincts to assess situations more quickly and call-in lifelines as needed. I learned that I could rely on others, especially my new girlfriends. I could write an entire blog about them – women who keep confidences, who aren’t afraid to share a different perspective, who are there when you get in over your head or when you lose it. I learned to share living space with a revolving door of “volunteers” (courtesy of the Workaway program) who brought with them not only helping hands, but also new ideas. They have added so much joy to my life and the inn, making a lasting impression on our guests, our business, our community and us.

I wish I could say, “Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing,” but that would be a big fat lie. One night recently I called Alan at 1:30 a.m. I did it in my sleep. I don’t even like talking on the phone, but it’s the best way for us to communicate during the week. I wonder what I would have said had I been coherent? Maybe I whispered it in my dream: “I miss you.” This year of going it alone, I learned just how much those words mean.

 

 

 

Adventure is Worth the Challenge

IMG_1778Ed Wall is a man on a mission – a mission to build a boat, from scratch, in a garage barely visible from Main Street in Belhaven. He is so passionate about building his boat that he really doesn’t want to talk about the other parts of his adventurous life, such as the fact that he kayaks on the Pantego Creek or Pungo River at the crack of every dawn, even if he has to break some ice with his paddle. He barely glances over the three weeks he spent backpacking, alone, in the Arctic Refuge pursued by bears and wolves.

He wants to talk about his boat, and you can’t blame him. He started it seven years ago in Ohio and brought the pieces with him to Belhaven in July 2009. His dream is to live on the narrow, 38-foot flat-bottom sharpie sailboat, designed by Phil Bolger of Gloucester, Mass., so he can explore even more out-of-the-way places. Bolger’s sharpie is a relatively inexpensive, high-performance boat that is capable of crossing the Atlantic. Not that Ed plans to test those limits. “I’m building as much as I can handle by myself,” he said.

With the bulkheads already in place, Ed uses some of the boat’s completed sections, as household furniture; other sections are stacked against his garage walls. It reminds me of a balsa-wood boat-model kit on steroids, only Ed is crafting every piece by hand out of marine-strength plywood. This is the real deal. The boat even has a name: Argo, for the mythological Greek vessel with the magical talking prow, piloted by Jason and the Argonauts.

Sitting in his “thinking chair,” something Ed says every boat builder does, gives him perspective as he ponders his work.

If he could just hang up his kayak, he says, he would have fewer distractions and be able to complete his boat in maybe two more years. That would mean the self-taught wildlife expert, who has kayaked the Florida Everglades, the coast of Maine and Alaska’s Inside Passage, might miss the diversity of land-use patterns he sees paddling along the shoreline and “the best density of wildlife anywhere” not far from his Belhaven front door: bear, bald eagles, alligators, otters and, once, a mountain lion.

The conversation comes back to his boat. The lure of adventure is dangling before him like the ram with the Golden Fleece.

 

Deeper Than Our Harbor: Part 2

There are greeters at Wal-Mart, Verizon and the Apple Store, and there are greeters in my tiny town of Belhaven, NC. It’s not a paid job per se, but rather integral to what they do on a daily basis. These are the people who visitors are most likely to meet when they arrive in Belhaven. There are two if by land; two if by sea. Together, I like to think of them as the Welcome Wagon – passionately rooted to the place where they live and work. They don’t hand out coupons or freebies, but they do help to connect visitors to all that the town offers. It’s part of the balance that makes Belhaven “the coolest place in the world,” according to Diana Lambeth (see below), who vowed when she was a little girl traveling the ICW that she would live here one day.

There are many Belhaven residents who support the unofficial Welcome Wagon. Belhaven is a friendly town. People wave. They smile. They say hi. They offer help. I hope to share their profiles one day. Until then, allow me to introduce you to:

IMG_1637Executive Director, Belhaven Community Chamber of Commerce. Veteran realtor. Grandmother of seven. Often seen with Charlie, her beloved Shih Tzu. Works to ensure a prosperous future for Belhaven. Captain. First mate and chef of M/Y Windrush. Diana Lambeth, Deeper Than Our Harbor

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Owner of Riddick & Windley/Ace Hardware. Naval officer. Entrepreneur. Self-trained French sous chef. Worked in San Francisco as an electronics system designer before bringing cable TV to Belhaven. Loves history and classical music. Harvard MBA. Guinn Leverett, Ph.D., Deeper Than Our Harbor

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Owner of Belhaven Waterway Marina. Certified electronics engineer, rescue diver, and diesel mechanic. Licensed captain and airplane pilot. Built his own ultralight. Wears his accomplishments in body ink. Self-described gypsy. Born to boat. Aspiring musician. Les Porter, Deeper Than Our Harbor

 

IMG_1664Dock master and part-owner River Forest Manor and Marina. Born and raised in Belhaven, left and returned to raise a family. Real estate and insurance broker. Developed Dowry Creek Marina. Judicial magistrate. Percussionist for alternative country band Refried Beans. Henry Boyd, Deeper Than Our Harbor

 

 

 

 

 

Living the Dream

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I’ve started three businesses in my life, but this one – the one I put off as an early retirement gift to myself – the one I dreamed about for more than 10 years – is just about killing me. I am housekeeper, manager, purchasing agent, chef, server, bug killer, gardener, marketer. I am a little bit of everything I have ever done in my life all rolled into one professional hairball. I am living the dream. I am an innkeeper.

Soon after I graduated college, actor Bob Newhart had a successful TV series in which he played an author who moved to rural Vermont to open an inn with his wife. He made it look easy to balance his writing career with his Vermont inn, spiced with all the characters that made it interesting. That show, in addition to the old movie Holiday Inn, likely fueled my passion for this seemingly crazy undertaking that I have dubbed “a fast-track to poverty.” Writing is just about the last thing I’ve had time to do, which is why I have gone blog-silent. For the last month or so, I thought of blogging as a luxury; I simply did not have time to spare.

Many nights I contemplated writing about the 20 or so words that became my soundtrack. Words that described just how tired I was: exhausted, spent, drained, wiped out, etc. But I refused to succumb to that pity party. I had to get ready to pass a Board of Health inspection that would grant me a license to operate. And by some sort of miracle and a lot of sweat equity, I was ready.

IMG_1507We had our soft opening this past weekend, with our first guests arriving just before our sign was hoisted into place. Fortunately, they didn’t need a beacon; they were pirates. And jolly company, indeed. One of our pirate-guests came from Hunterdon County, NJ, my home for more than 30 years.

On Sunday, after my guests and help left for the weekend, a man showed up on my doorstep drinking a bottle of beer. A barn-sign in rural Pittstown, NJ, came to mind: R U Lost? No. He was a friend of a college friend (also from NJ) who I hadn’t seen in decades, but keep in touch with through the wonders of Facebook. She knew he was sailing into town and asked him to stop by. It was a welcome surprise.

These and other small graces have made up for the achy muscles, a damaged product order that leaked soap over glass bottles, a washing machine mishap involving a piece of cardboard mixed in with brand-new white sheets (I swear I had removed it all), a leaky skylight, a delayed shipping order and so many other spit-in-your-face obstacles I didn’t prepare for impeding my progress.

For those readers old enough to remember, the Newhart show ended with Bob Newhart waking up from a dream with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from his successful 1970s sitcom, reducing his eight-season TV inn-experience to a bad-dream sequence. It’s a classic ending that set a new bar for series finales. But all I can think about is that I watched it for eight seasons.

Welcome to my first season of living the dream.