Thursday, February 28, 2008

Montreat

Montreat, North Carolina is a special place for Charlie. When he was fourteen, two events that year led him to believe that God had called him to gospel ministry.

It began when he heard a chaplain speak at his father's church during a lay renewal conference. "He talked about ministering to soldiers -including those who were dying, and it gave me a real sense of urgency for the spiritual well‑being of men and women." The services were eight days, which Charlie thinks was important
because he had time to think about calling.

For many summers his family went to Montreat to enjoy the mountains and the teaching. Stuart Briscoe spoke at Montreat in 1972. Charlie said he couldn't tell me a single thing he said, but his earnestness and ability to expound the scriptures impressed him.

In 1979 Charlie went to Urbana. John Stott preached from Romans. "At that conference," Charlie said, "I learned the type of preacher I wanted to be - expository, preaching through books of the Bible."

While we were in Asheville, Charlie took us to Montreat so we could visit the same places he visited as a child. It was wonderful to go inside Anderson Auditorium with him; this was where he heard Stuart Briscoe. Thirty-six years later, God's call on Charlie's life and ministry are strongly confirmed: he has never wanted to do anything else - he thoroughly loves the ministry.

I love how he puts it in his biography: "It is my duty and joy to assemble with the church in response to God’s call to worship, to unite them in confessing faith in the God we trust, to hear the reading and preaching of his word, to gather in communion around the Lord’s Table, and to testify to the world of God’s redemptive love in Christ Jesus."

It is my joy to visit these places with him and see the Lord's good and gracious providence at work.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tupelo Honey Cafe

Can you tell I just downloaded my photos from the Asheville trip? So this is a little tardy...

We had breakfast Saturday morning at the Tupelo Honey Cafe in downtown Asheville.



I had their Smoked Salmon Hash for breakfast, and yes, I just had to take a photo. It was morning, so I would not be annoying flashbulb woman. Besides, our server said people take pictures of their food all the time - I had permission!

Isn't it gorgeous? The hash had smoked salmon, potatoes, leeks, peppers and kale. They topped it with poached eggs, dill hollandaise and sweet potato frites - how imaginative and pretty!

The restaurant was full of warmth and nice touches: high ceilings, pepper grinders on every table, honey in little confiture jars...like you were having breakfast in someone's home who really knew what they were doing. I also had the best Earl Grey tea ever - it was a brand called Mighty Leaf, which Fresh Market just started carrying (I asked), so I can have it here!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gargoyle Butts and More!

Some of these Biltmore photos may show you why The Rooftop Tour was our favorite. There's nothing like a gargoyle - I just love them! During the tour, we were able to answer one of the mysteries of the ages...





Folks wonder if Adam had a belly-button, but did you ever wonder if gargoyles had butts?

Wonder no more!

There were also girlgoyles, but that would turn this into a whole different website...



A gargoyle's-eye-view...








Stately gargoyles...








Not just an architectural embellishment, but an effective rainspout!

Gargoyles are both fun - and functional!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

No Boundaries

Okay, I'm putting this out there. I've signed up for the Cotton Row 5K on Memorial Day. I also joined the No Boundaries training program set up by the good folks at Fleet Feet Sports. I mention it only as a public accountability tool, so when you see me, you can/must say, "So, Lynne, how's your training coming?"

Be forewarned, though. Whenever I ask Charlie to hold me accountable he winces. Because as soon as he does what I've explicitly asked him to do, I punish him for it. Then he wonders why he bothers trying to hold me accountable when what I've actually done is ask him to absorb my wrath. Of course you understand his dilemma, which will help as you pray for him.

Anyhoo, the training program. It's designed for people who want to walk, run, walk/run, crawl, conga line or shimmy their first 5K. We meet every Monday for a group run (different groups based on your level of fitness or lack thereof) and then a seminar. I'm very nervous - our first group run is Monday, March 3. Suzanne (she's in charge of the program) told me that I don't need to be nervous because we're going to have A LOT OF FUN!

So there's a picture of me, having a lot of fun.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Easter Dinner Dilemma

I need some help. The Wingards do Easter Dinner in a big way. When we lived on Cape, we had Greek Easter feasts. Our friend George is Greek Orthodox and gave me his momma's recipes. Unfortunately, they were all greek to me! and George had to translate. We hosted about 30 friends - the group changed from year to year depending on who was traveling our way - which was quite a challenge in our small house. Easter on Cape Cod meant snow on the ground; no crocus, no daffodils, just cold, cold wet. So we all were quite cozy inside, eating lamb and moussaka, dancing to George's bouzouki music and working ourselves into an Achaean food coma.

Imagine our delight when we moved to Huntsville and bought a house with a huge yard! And when easter comes, the weather is mild! And we can have as many friends as we want because of the back yard!

So the first year, we had 60 people for dinner. With large groups, it's always BYOLC - bring your own lawn chair. We have an easter egg hunt for the little ones, and then the big feed. Fun, fun, fun.

Last year was something of a nail-biter. Easter was April 7 - a wee bit early, we thought. Charlie and I wondered if it would be too cold for dinner in the back yard. Then it occurred to us: if people think it's too cold, then they will opt not to come. Well, more than 100 people came! As it turned out, it was a little chilly - but the sun was shining! Our friends came dressed for the weather, and the sunshine made it lovely. As soon as the sun began to set, the less hardy (read me) went inside and called it a day. I know you've all heard me whine before, but let me say it again: I hate the cold.

This year it gets even trickier. Easter is March 23. Now we could have a great day with lots of sun. Or it could be cold, rainy and miserable. Hosting 100+ people in the back yard is easy. Hosting 100+ people inside would be, er, interesting. Though we have a rock star yard, our house is a modest 1900 square foot ranch. Let's see, we could put some card tables in our walk-in closet, some kids could eat in the bathtubs, we could move all the furniture out and sit on the floor...

You understand my dilemma. Help me out here. Should I err on the side of caution and pass this Easter? Or should I boldly go gonzo and make my plans. I'm inclined to move ahead, but am trying to imagine 100 people in my house. Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Training or Trying?

A friend of mine wanted a book that would help her with some challenges that she faces in her marriage. So I asked Counselor Extraordinaire Jayne Clark (on staff with CCEF for 17 years) for a recommendation, and she suggested: How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong, by Leslie Vernick.

I bought two copies - one for my friend and one for me. I wanted to read the book first, so if she had any questions I would know what the heck she was talking about. In addition, I wanted to make sure I could give it the Lynnekeeping Seal of Approval. My biggest beef with the book is the title - yikes! How can my friend take it home? How would you feel if your beloved walked in the door with "How To Do Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong?" Talk about a firestarter!

"What are you reading?"
"Nothing."

It's a very helpful book, designed to help the hurting spouse. It is not a fast-paced twelve step book to success - just the opposite. As a wise counselor once told me, "The goal of biblical counseling is Christ-likeness." The author says:
"Learning to respond rightly when we are wronged and wounded takes maturity and wisdom - and hard work. God is interested in developing the character of Christ within us. Merely learning some tricks or techniques will not be enough to deal with the heart issues that rise to the surface of our lives when our spouse doesn't act in the way we desire. Although the quick fix looks appealing, many of us have already learned (often the hard way) that the path that appears easiest turns out to be the more difficult in the long run."
My only issue with the book is small - I think an example the author uses to illustrate forgiveness is confusing and needs more explanation.

Even though I don't have a spouse who does wrong (as a matter of fact, in our house it's the opposite) I've learned a great principle: Trying versus Training. Do you try to be more self-controlled, loving, forgiving, patient, etc. - or do you train for it? Ms. Vernick says that when you simply try and fail, you resign yourself to trying and failing. When she wanted to become a runner, she noted that if she tried to run a mile she would never succeed, but if she trained herself to run a mile, then she would.
"The same process that we use to train our bodies to become stronger applies to spiritual growth and maturity as well. For example, we have already learned how important it is to think about the right response when our spouse displeases us. However, we must start to train ourselves in what that right response might look like. For some of us it may mean learning to keep our mouths shut tight until we've had a chance to think and to pray about how we want to respond."
So I've given up trying - now I'm in training.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Covenant Reformed PCA - Asheville

One of the most difficult aspects of traveling is finding a church for Sunday worship. Even in our denomination, we've seen our share of costume-clad ministers, jumbotrons, movie clips, bad drama, silly songs and ghastly sermons. One of the worst sermons we've ever heard used a 20-minute illustration from the movie Finding Nemo. So 20 of the 30 minutes were spent talking about a cartoon that was supposed to reference the theme of community from 1 Timothy. The sermon made me long for a Pixar film!

All this to say that when we find a good church, it is time for rejoicing. If you're in Asheville, worship with the saints at Covenant Reformed PCA. In this crazy, small PCA world we saw people we knew! That was an added delight - to catch up, hear news, prayer requests - it is a blessing to be part of their lives, even if they're 300 miles away.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Zambras!

While searching the internet for restaurants in Asheville, a few names kept popping up - one of them was Zambras, a super-cool downtown tapas bar.

I love tapas - and I knew neither Charlie nor Tommy had experienced Spanish food, so I made reservations for 7:00, thinking that would be plenty of time to see Biltmore and get downtown. The place is so neat inside. Imagine a tapas bar with a Moorish influence - banquettes with exotic pillows, minaret-shaped doorways and rich colors. I was in heaven!

Charlie and Tommy, however, were not in heaven. It was very dark, dimly lit with candles, and all kinds of cracks were made: is the place dirty, we can't see our food, read the menu, know what we're ordering, blah, blah, blah. I was so ticked. They thought they were hilarious and I was furious. I told them they were bumpkin Philistines and if they didn't straighten up they could eat at chain restaurants (alone, I might add) for the rest of their lives.

Thankfully, our server arrived before blood could be shed. She was great, and steered us toward our choices. I wanted to try the small plates, Tommy wanted seafood paella (a full-sized entree and a 40-minute wait because they made it to order) and Charlie didn't care one way or the other, so she constructed the perfect menu plan: order a sucession of small plates, and by the time they're finished, we could share the paella. Brilliant.

Let the tapas begin! Tapas #1: grilled Tasmanian salmon w/mustard mojo and crisped leeks, served on a bed of peppered orzo. Wow! Salmon is one of my favorite things, and this was perfect. The grilled salmon with the mustard spice mix was beautiful, but I wondered how the rest of the meal would stack up against it. I mean, perfectly cooked and seasoned salmon is hard to beat. I was dying to take a pictures of the food, and even had Charlie bring the camera. But the place was so dark, I wondered what could be more annoying than flashbulbs going off while folks were trying to eat their dinner. If you could have seen all this beautiful food! Anyhoo, I digress.

Tapas #2: sesame crusted scallops - these were served on the most fantastic fennel slaw with grapefruit and avocado - a lovely combination.

Tapas #3: cornmeal crusted oysters with orange-saffron sauce served over pomegranate slaw. Okay, this is getting redundant because these were great, too. But OH MY GOSH that pomegranate slaw. I could have eaten a bowl of that alone. Flawless.

Do you see a fish and seafood trend here? There's a reason for that: the server and I picked the menu! Yee Hah! I did order some meat-centered tapas for Charlie, so just in case you thought I was insensitive...

Tapas #4: hickory nut gap farm house albondigas. This is a six-word description for: meatballs! Meatballs served in a coconut-curry sauce over chopped kale, with wood-fire grilled bread on the side. They were very good, but you know I'm not a huge meat fan. The bread, however, was another matter and I could have had a plate of that - hold the meatballs please. The meatballs - excuse me, albondigas - were a huge hit with the guys.

Tapas #5: pomegranate braised pork spring rolls served with avocado and mango dipping sauce. Again, good stuff, but not my thing, and all these plates were making my head swirl...

So we finished our small plates and poof! Out came our seafood paella! Perfectly cooked saffron rice with peas and veggies topped with mussels, squid and shrimps. Fantastic. Tommy was busy spearing all the shrimp (I guess afraid that we would leave him with nothing but squid) but it didn't matter.

At this point we were all very happy. The good thing about sharing small plates and one entree is that you have the proper level of contentment - but it was not to stay that way! No! Tommy said, "This food is so good we really shouldn't leave without trying the desserts."

So much for the perfect level of contentment. We ordered three different desserts (I know, I know, but can’t I say it’s because we could share?). Cardamom and rosewater flan, bittersweet chocolate torte with blackberry coulis and a gorgonzola tart with marinated strawberries. And we had coffee, too.

But we did not eat the mints.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Biltmore

"Oh, my."

We parked the car and walked a short distance to the gate to see this. Mind you, I've seen lots of photographs, but it did not prepare me for the in-person experience.
George Vanderbilt employed Richard Morris Hunt (architect) and Frederick Law Olmstead (landscape architect) to make his dreams of a french chateau in the North Carolina countryside come true.
As you can imagine, the house is overwhelming in every way. But I was more overwhelmed by Olmstead's work in the placement and execution of the surrounding landscape. You drive in to the estate on a winding, narrow woodland path. Several miles of roadway bordered with huge rhododendrons, and even some bamboo. He designed the approach so that you would not see the house. And you do not see the house until you reach the gate. Then, "Oh, my." There it is.
It struck me how thankful I was to be able to see this place. I would never had been a guest of the Vanderbilts. But there I was, walking on the grounds, touring the gardens, making my way all through the house!
Our first tour began at 10:30 - the Behind-the-Scenes tour. We met at the carriage gate to go in the "side" door. Our guide (and all the guides told us this) said we would see things not on the house door, and that we would be taking over 200 steps during the hour, and that he had a radio in case we needed assistance. I began to wonder if anyone had ever been lost on one of these tours...
We saw the north side of the house, the bachelor wing (single men and women traveling alone stayed at opposite ends of the home), the basement with boilers (they had central heat) and electrical systems (what an operation!), refrigeration systems (they had ice, too!) Mrs. Vanderbilt's bathroom and closet (the storage!), the servant stairwell (the only stairwell that connects every floor of the house), the elevator and the extra libraries. It was a great look at how the house functioned. Biltmore was the most technologically advanced home of the day.
We had an hour to kill before our next tour at 12:30, so we hit the former stables which are now shops, restaurants and bathrooms. The weather was beautifully mild - you would have never imagined it was the middle of February - and we drank coffee outside before we hit the shops. There was a gift shop, a book store, a toy store, a candy store, a bakery and an ice cream shop (closed for the winter).
The gift shop had everything from chi-chi decorative items ("Take Biltmore home!") and porcelain, to shot glasses with the mansion on the front. I'm not kidding. I wanted to ask the clerk if these were reproductions of shot glasses that George and Edith used with guests - or maybe they were just the everyday shot glasses! So here's Biltmore in all its glory, juxtaposed with Biltmore shot glasses, key chains and cocktail napkins. Well, even the Vanderbilts need to pay the bills.
Our next tour (The Rooftop Tour) met inside the front door at the big table. But they're all big tables! Thankfully, signs and helpful people are all over the place. This may have been our favorite. We saw more behind-the-scenes stuff like servants' rooms and hallways, but going outside on the roof was fantastic! Bending, turning, twisting and ducking our way around tiny stairways and outside railings - it was exciting. We walked along the roofline, behind the stone bannisters that held the gargoyles - to be able to see all that up close was astounding. I mean, there we were, next to the copper flashing, way up high!
It was 1:30, and we had 90 minutes before our last tour - The guided House Tour. The Biltmore folks actually tried to talk me into the audio tour instead of the guided tour - they said it was better! It didn't seem to make sense to take a family vacation only to stick earphones on - how is that a shared experience? The three of us, going our own separate ways, listening in our own private world? No. I wanted a person who loved what they were doing to take us around the house. I wanted us to look at the same things at the same time, to ask questions and enjoy everything together. Is that so unusual?
We had lunch in the Stable Cafe (where once were Vanderbilt horses are now hungry tourists) and dined on ridiculously expensive hamburgers. A pet peeve of mine that whether you're in a movie theater or Disneyland, captive audiences and sightseers pay crazy prices for the most mundane food. $15 hamburgers? $3 sodas? It usually puts me in a bad mood, but I was having too much fun to let a $15 hamburger ruin my day.
At 3:00, we met in the hallway by the "big table" (I knew, this time) to meet our guide. We saw all the public rooms and then some. One of my favorite places - the kitchen (or kitchens plural if you're at Biltmore) - was on the house tour! Vegetable pantries, storage, canning, a pastry kitchen, a rotisserie kitchen, the main kitchen - I wish I could have seen and experienced more of this. The place was limitless - I could work in these kitchens now, and the house opened in 1895!
By the end of the house tour, I was beginning to hallucinate and lose feeling in my legs. But I hadn't seen the conservatory - I love orchids - and I needed to see the plants while I was there. So I crawled down the hill on my hands and knees (just kidding, I was almost ready to have Charlie push me in a wheelchair) through the gardens to the conservatory. Even though the flowers were not in bloom, save for a few pansies and jonquils just beginning to push their way through, the bones of the garden were perfect. I can't wait to go back. The conservatory was impressive - palms everywhere, exotic plants side-by-side with impatiens and geraniums. Unfortunately, there were no guides, except a few plant markers in the big palm trees. I could not identify several orchids, and would have loved the help, but oh well - it was a lovely place. The Garden Shop was closed for the season, which only enhanced my exhausted crankiness.
So now it was time - time to go back UP the steps, UP the hill and down the trail to the car. I didn't think I would make it; I had reached my expiration date. Just earlier that morning, I was practically jogging and singing my way to the house! Now it was 5:00, and I was dragging and snarling my way to the parking lot. Where was my chariot? Where was my gurney? Charlie, sensing possible violent activity, ran ahead to the parking lot to get the car and minimize our walk back. How sweet! His kindness convicted me of my snarkiness and I was re-energized! Well, not really re-energized until I saw the gift shop on the way out.
"Stop!"
"I thought you were dead!"
The Gift Shop at the gate house was my favorite. I picked up a few things and felt like a new woman. Charlie wouldn't let me linger, because our dinner reservations were at 7:00, so it was off to the hotel. Snaps to Charlie for getting me through the day without hurting someone - now where's that Motrin?

Asheville

We were trying to think of something special to do with Tommy over Presidents' Day weekend (school's out Friday and Monday) and thought Williamsburg might be a good idea. But when we figured we'd be in a car two whole days with only two days to enjoy the place, it was time to re-figure. We need more time for Williamsburg.
For some reason I thought of Asheville, North Carolina. Charlie lived in Western North Carolina for a few years and speaks so fondly of the area. I've always wanted to see the Biltmore House and winery - as well as the town - so I made our plans. We'd only have two half-days of driving, with time to relax on the way in, and time to get settled when we got home. I bought our Biltmore tickets over the phone, always preferring to speak with a human than click buttons online. It was exciting! I purchased a guided house tour, a behind-the-scenes tour and a rooftop tour. So many tours! But if I'm going to be at the Biltmore, I want to SEE the Biltmore!
I managed to do all the things at home that make me happy before I leave on a trip. I love to clean the refrigerator - well, no, I don't love to clean the refrigerator - but I love to have a clean refrigerator. It's too long ago to remember which trip, but I'll never forget coming home with the boys to find, fuzzy, foul food growing in the petri dish of my fridge. If you've ever just thrown out the tupperware rather than deal with the contents, then you understand. Anyhoo, my fridge, house and sheets (I just love coming home to clean sheets on the bed!) were clean and we left on time - unbelievable.
The only concern was getting through Knoxville at rush hour, but that turned out to be nothing. We made it through and entered the Smokies with plenty of daylight to see the beautiful hills. Even in the winter with their loss of green, the Smokies have their beauty. I love driving through the park. We arrived in Asheville by late dinner time, only to forget one major detail: it was Valentine's Day! Have you ever tried to get into a restaurant without a reservation on Valentine's Day? Oy vey. Even bad restaurants are full!
Providence knew, so we ordered pizza and salad from a local place and had it delivered. Thank-you to our friends at the front desk! Dinner was great, and Tommy and Charlie hit the pool. I hit HGTV. Those who know me know I don't have TV at home - haven't for more than a decade - but when I'm travelling, I'm addicted to House and Garden Television. On our last trip I watched so long I got a headache. Charlie would come in to talk and it was "SSSHHHH! He's sponge painting!"
So we had a fun and safe car ride (Charlie and I just love to talk in the car; sometimes he reads to me, or I to him), a great pizza (alas, hard to find in Huntsville), and HGTV before I konked out. Victory!

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Art of Simple Food

You know my love for all things Alice Waters. For those of you who care about good food and where it comes from and how to prepare it perfectly and simply - this is your book.

I often buy it as a gift. Few people write about food with this much care and passion. If you listen to her, you will see, taste and appreciate food in a completely different way.

She taught me to only begin with excellent ingredients and to eat seasonal foods. These are simple truths we should all know, yet we continue to purchase pink tomatoes (neither excellent nor seasonal, discuss) in February.

The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I Love Charlie...


...and not just because he can recite the 116th Sonnet. But I must admit that I am impressed with his ability to recall lengthy bible passages, sonnets, soliloquies and the worst country songs of all time.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved."

Happy Valentines Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cornichons

I often make important decisions based on fantasy. For instance, this year I ordered Parisienne Cornichon de Bourbonne. Cucumbers. French cucumbers. You pick them when they're teeny and make sour pickles. For pate. I have this vision of Charlie and I dining al fresco in the French countryside. I set a glorious feast of pate, bread, mustard, wine and...cornichons that I planted, nurtured, harvested and preserved myself!

So yes, I am planting seeds just so I can make my own tiny pickles. For pate. And I wonder if I am the only delusional gardener out there.

Oh, that goofy gadget in the corner is a cornichon slicer. I saw it on Sur la Table. Perhaps I should post a picture of my cornichon slicer. It's a knife...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Italian Seed and Tool

Visit one of my new favorite sites: Italian Seed and Tool. This sweet little harvesting knife is $8.95 and folds into the handle - great for greens, lettuces, spinach, etc.

You'll be amazed with their selection. I mean, ten varieties of radicchio! Five kinds of fava beans! Cardoons! The head swims with possibilities...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Garden Time Again

It's time to get back to my garden after a furiously busy winter. Once again, I've gone overboard: planning way beyond my means, energy and ability. But if by God's grace I can pull it off, we'll be eating better than ever.

First my onions, spinach, broccoli and peas. Then on to extending my existing beds - so much pulling up and tearing out. And did I mention bermuda grass? The bane of my existence, sort of. Last year, John whacked at the stray bermuda with a pick axe while I yanked and struggled to eliminate the runners. I didn't get all of them, and I thought my arms were going to fall off - or I wished they would.

I'll take before pictures so you can see where I'm going and get a good look at the extent of my kingdom. It's a lovely kingdom, three-quarters of an acre. The Lord was kind in His provision. I hope my garden reflects my gratitude.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Dismembered Tennesseans

Boy, did we have fun last night. Charlie and I drove to Lookout Mountain to visit Thomas at Covenant College. It was Parents' Weekend, and the first time we've been able to make it. They begin with a nice dinner, and then it's across the way to the chapel for a concert.

What a treat - Charlie loves bluegrass music, and the DTs did not disappoint. He got to hear Wabash Cannonball, Tennessee Waltz AND Rocky Top. CW was so happy...

We also stayed at a great little inn called Chanticleer. It's on top of the mountain, right near Rock City. Quiet, comfortable, charming - we'll definitely stay there again.