Life’s Funny

Cagey Character

Winging it with Gandalf the Grey

By Maria Johnson

I’ve always thought that anyone who uses “pansy” as a synonym for wimp knows nothing about pansies, which can be frozen under winter ice and come back swinging in the spring.

In a similar vein, you’d better think twice about the term “bird brain.”

Gandalf is why. I first met the 17-year-old African Grey parrot this past spring when I took our dog, Rio, to the vet.

He caught wind of Gandalf as soon as we stepped into the waiting room at Lawndale Veterinary Hospital, where the foot-long bird perched inside a large cage. Rio was curious. He approached slowly and planted his front paws on the cage to get a closer look.

Gandalf cocked her head and fixed him with a beady black pupil that floated inside a white iris. A sign on her cage warned she could bite, but she kept her distance as they calmly checked each other out.

At the front desk after Rio’s visit, I learned that despite her mostly gray plumage, Gandalf was a colorful character. She was new at being the clinic’s greeter, but she’d already gotten the hang of telling customers “hi” and “bye,” plus a whole lot in between.

She’d commanded one customer — an innocent bloke who’d caused no flap — to “shut up.”

“Did that bird just tell me to shut up?” said the guy, laughing.

“Keep moving,” said Gandalf.

You gotta admire a bird with that kind of comic timing.

On a more recent visit, I met Gandalf’s owner, vet tech Carmen Bowes, who recounted how Gandalf landed in her life. It started last November, when Carmen got a call from friends at the Greensboro Science Center, where she used to work. A zoo volunteer was looking for a new home for her African Grey. The woman and her husband were traveling a lot, and the bird had been chewing her feathers, a sign of stress. The couple hoped to find a loving, long-term home for her, although at the time they believed Gandalf, named after a wizard in Lord of the Rings, was a male. She had never laid an egg and, like other African Greys, had no visible sex organs.

Carmen, a former keeper of penguins at the Science Center, was interested in meeting Gandalf. She had a fairly birdy background and knew that African Greys could live to be 50 or older, that they were endangered in their native Africa, and that they could be, in her words, “temperamental and bitey.”

Sure enough, Gandalf nipped Carmen the first few times she visited. Carmen decided to let Gandalf make the overtures. She also introduced Gandalf to her husband, Drew, who wasn’t really a bird person. Gandalf took a shine to Drew, confirming what her owners had observed: She liked men more than women. Drew liked Gandalf, too, so he and Carmen took her home to their other “children,” three Great Danes and two cats.

Gandalf fit right in. She was sociable and sassy. She corrected the dogs with a sharp “Ah-ah!” She mimicked the microwave: “Bing!” When someone dropped something, she sympathized: “Oops. Sorry!” When night fell, she asked for her cage to be covered: “Gandalf ready to go night-night.” When she didn’t get what she wanted, she sighed loudly. Not only did she copy sounds, she understood context and generated responses that fit the situation.

“It’s like living with a 2- or 3-year-old child,” says Carmen. “She’s extremely smart.”

Gandalf and Drew were birds of a feather. She clung to his hand and recited rap songs with him. She let him dangle her upside. She cuddled against his chest. About a month into the adoption, a white, walnut-size egg appeared on the floor of Gandalf’s cage.

A wizard indeed.

For whatever reason, Gandalf had become fertile, but Carmen and Drew decided not to breed her. They also kept her name because that’s what Gandalf called herself, as in, “You’re a good bird, Gandalf.” With the blessings of her coworkers, Carmen started bringing Gandalf to work. The stimulation would be good for her, Carmen thought, and her antics might entertain the customers.

Gandalf seized the stage. Sometimes, she growled and barked as dogs entered. Other times, she whistled and called, “Come here!” She has been known to make her  “sick kitty” sound — a moaning mewl — when people bring in ailing felines. When music plays in the background, she steps and shimmies to the beat. She favors “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

When delivery trucks back up to the clinic, Gandalf alerts bystanders with the “beeeeep, beeeep, beeeep” of machinery in reverse.

She has pecked a handful who’ve ignored the warning about biting, but most people keep their fingers to themselves and enjoy the interaction. For many customers, stopping to speak to Gandalf is a part of the visit. Kids flock to her. And yes, she warms to men.

Several weeks ago, she flirted with a departing fellow. She preened and chattered. She said  “bye” to him four times. She turned to watch him walk across the parking lot.

“She was sad to see him go,” says receptionist Julie Hean. “It was funny because he wasn’t her type.” Big, furry and friendly, like the bearded Drew — that’s Gandalf’s type. Maybe that’s why, when Carmen freed her from her cage recently, she let Rio come close, sniffing. I worried she might take a chunk out of his nose. At least we were already at the vet.

Rio stopped a few inches away. What would happen next? Anticipation was thick. Gandalf read the moment.

A smooch sound filled the gap.

“She blew him a kiss,” said Carmen.  OH

To see video of Gandalf dancing, go to O.Henry’s Facebook page. Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. You can reach her at

Wandering Billy

Our Gal Friday

After 70-plus years, former local reporter Eleanor Dare Kennedy feels the pull of printer’s ink

By Billy Eye

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”
— Gore Vidal

I spent a wonderful afternoon at Friends Homes West visiting with Eleanor Dare Kennedy who spent three decades writing for the Greensboro Record and the Greensboro Daily News. Hired on full time in 1945 by Anne Cantrell White, she was an integral part of the team that made up the women’s section of the newspaper.

“We wrote the weddings, we wrote parties,” Kennedy told me. “The paper was full of bridal showers, things of that sort. Gradually I morphed into doing more features.”

The first real story she filed was about the Art Deco bus station built to replace the original depot, which had been in the basement of the King Cotton Hotel.  “I wrote all there was to say about it, which was four paragraphs. My city editor said, ‘This is not long enough’ so he showed me how to, what he called, ‘needle’ a story. Saying the same thing in three different ways to make it a little bit longer.”

Working on what was called the “day side” she could submit a story at 3:30 p.m. and, “It would be on your front porch that afternoon.” The newsroom Kennedy describes is reminiscent of those depicted in the movies; cigarette smoke clouding the air as news and sports writers in a central bullpen generated a constant cacophony of clacking keys. The women’s department was located in a smaller adjacent room, “There was no air conditioning; they had big fans that blew our papers all over the room.”

After a reporter finished an article, they’d stick it on what was called a “copy hook” on their desk where, Kennedy explains. “Copy boys came and picked that up, then it went to the City Editor [who] read through it. If he found an error, he challenged you.” Next stop was the linotype operators, who typed stories in “hot-type” machines, which cast lead blocks of type that would be used on a press to print the paper. “They were smart, knew the city, they knew the grammar, knew spelling, everything. If they found an error they’d come back, challenge you. When they got through, it went to the proofreader. Likewise.” There were, in her opinion, fewer errors in the paper in those days.

What was Kennedy’s favorite opening paragraph? “It was pretty nervy. My lead said: ‘Two dozen North Carolina women put on their fur coats and diamond earrings and came to Greensboro yesterday to talk about poverty.’”

As for working alongside legendary society columnist Martha Long (who died in 2016), “She and I became very close friends. She was the best editor I ever had; she brought out my best work. Martha was a very good creative writer.” Multitalented, Long not only wrote eye-catching headlines she actually laid out the Women’s section herself. And she never hesitated to do what needed to be done, no matter the hour: “She very graciously would respond at 1 a.m. and go back downtown to the layout department to correct a mistake or whatever.”

Kennedy wasn’t confined to the women’s section. She also covered hard news stories. “I would go to Federal Court in the morning. If there was a story worth reporting, when they adjourned for lunch, I would walk back to the office on Davie Street, write my story, go back to the courthouse when they reconvened at 2, leave say at 3:30, go back and update my story and it would be on your front porch that afternoon.”

Once while digging through files at the Federal Building, “I found the lawsuit filed by Kenneth Lee to be admitted to the law school at the University of North Carolina. That was a scoop,” Kennedy remembers. Word had not yet gotten out that the African-American student was attempting to break the color barrier at UNC-Chapel Hill, she explains. “I wrote that story but I was never told to pursue it. Nowadays it would have been followed up.” Future Supreme Court jurist Thurgood Marshall represented Lee, who successfully enrolled at Chapel Hill in 1951, then went on to be a prominent civil rights lawyer in Greensboro.

In 1968 Judge Elreta Alexander became the first African-American woman ever elected district court judge. Kennedy was first to interview her, “She was good copy! I remember she quoted Esther from the Bible. She told me, ‘And who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’”

Kennedy was particularly fond of fellow Greensboro Record scribe Anne White. “Very eccentric but she was a wonderful person. She was covering the golf tournament out at Sedgefield and her doctor had told her to take a nap every afternoon. So out there at the golf tournament she’d just lie down on one of the greens and take her nap.”

When Eleanor Kennedy served for a year as president of the North Carolina Press Women, “This one lady, who was editor of a small town newspaper, asked Anne, who was very liberal, ‘Anne, what are you going to do when a black girl comes up here and wants to announce her engagement?’ Anne said, ‘Do what we’ve been doing, just get the information, write it up, and put it in the paper.’”

After Anne White passed away it was stipulated there would be no service of any kind but, says Kennedy, “Martha Long led the pack and all of us in Anne’s old department decided we would have a memorial service for her in the chapel at First Presbyterian Church. Rich Preyer was the facilitator, and we all just told stories about Anne.” Eleanor’s husband Sol donated the money for a plaque for the church’s columbarium.

“I liked the paper better when the Jeffress family owned it.” Kennedy retired in 1975 after the Record and Daily News were sold to Landmark Communications, based in Norfolk, Virginia. “It wasn’t all bad. We had a managing editor I thought was great but, I don’t know, it got to where it was changing and it wasn’t that much fun anymore.”

Eleanor Dare Kennedy reads the newspaper every day, printer’s ink still coursing through her veins, “For example, they just finished doing restoration on the Julian Price home, Hillside. I would read those stories and say, ‘If I was still working, that would be my job.’”  OH

Billy Eye plans to once again participate in the New Garden Friends Cemetery tour on Halloween night conducted by Max Carter, where famous folks from Greensboro history come alive, an event that gets more popular each year. See you there! 


Everything in its Place

Meg Brown Home Furnishings offers pearls of wisdom in choosing and arranging furniture

By Nancy Oakley

We’ve all been there. You dream of the perfect room, certain that the image conjured in your mind’s eye will materialize as you imagined it, or as it looked on the Pinterest post you so admired — only to discover the sofa doesn’t fit. Or the upholstery doesn’t quite complement the rug. Or that groovy piece of pottery you just had to buy from a flea market seems, well, off. What to do?

Well, you might stop at a place like Meg Brown Home Furnishings in Advance, where owners Meg and Davin Brown, and their in-house designer, Hannah Wood, can offer some advice. “There are so many things, so many pitfalls that we can help you avoid if we talk to you, so many things we can educate you about in the store,” says Davin, whose family has deep roots in the furniture business. “We troubleshoot and ask lots of questions,” adds his wife, Meg, a designer and the store’s namesake.

They built the 10,000-square-foot space 12 years ago on an empty lot just a stone’s throw from Bermuda Run, which, Meg explains, “felt right.” At the time they were looking to tap into a younger demographic: 30- to 45-year-olds busy raising families. “We tried to be a lot more hip. Didn’t have the older stuff. But we found that older people in their 60s and 70s didn’t want the traditional anymore,” Davin says. And, let’s face it, older customers, especially those with kids out of the house, have more motivation and cash to spend on furniture and furnishings. “We got lucky that we appealed to both,” Davin continues.

Their inventory is far-reaching but consists mainly of upholstered furniture, with a healthy supply of case goods (pieces with hard surfaces such as tables, end tables, bookcases and so forth), rugs and various accents, from lamps to decorative pieces. Their merchandise is artfully arranged in roomlike scenarios by Wood (“a fun job,” she says). Though it speaks to current sensibilities, there is one bit of tradition you’ll find here: good old-fashioned, face-to-face customer service. “Right now we really don’t want to sell online,” says Davin. “If you just look at a picture on our website and click it, you don’t know if that wood’s distressed. If you touch it, feel it, sit in it, know it’s comfortable, it’s just a lot easier to get it right.”

Buying furniture in person also minimizes returns on sales. And as Meg and Wood, whose other responsibility is in-home consultations, allow, you can pinpoint the dimensions of the pieces so that they’ll fit your space.

What are some of designers’ considerations when walking customers through the buying process?

“How are you going to live in your space?” Meg posits. As parents of two boys, 11 and 14, she and Davin know firsthand that a family with young children is going to use a space differently from a retired couple. “You’re going to want to pick upholstery and pieces that are comfortable, durable, things that are going to last a little bit longer,” she says. “Cleanable,” Davin chimes in, adding that high-performance fabrics are popular among their clientele, who’ve done their research before entering the store.

Traffic patterns, says Meg, also figure into the equation. “Is this room going to be just for conversations? Is this going to be a TV-watching room?” she’ll often ask. “It’s so personal!” Wood emphasizes. “They’ll be living there, not me!”

Meg suggests that one start by editing existing pieces. “I’m not saying throw everything out,” she clarifies. Otherwise, your home might start to look like a showroom. She suggests combining old and new, to give a space a layered look and personality. And since you’re more likely to keep those case goods for a while, refresh them with new upholstery. As for the “edited” pieces? They don’t have to go into a box in the attic. Meg says you can arrange them in “collections,” in a single area, rather than scattered throughout, so they aren’t lost. “Not everything has to be on show,” she adds. “You can have a little shrine. I like that people build a spot in their closet that means only something to them.” (She keeps her race medals and trophies from running in a special place in her own closet, believing “not everyone needs to see that junk.”)

And what about finding that sofa to fit your space? Again, it goes back to how you intend to use it. Age, says, Meg, is a factor. “Are you just going to have friends over and you just want to sort of flop into it? Some people have health needs, where they need to sit up and don’t need to be super slouched back.” These concerns may seem obvious, but they can affect whether you buy a couch that’s 40 inches in depth, for slouchy comfort, or 38 inches, if you need something firmer, to sit upright. And the dimensions can also affect how intimate the space is. “People are wanting a sense of connection,” says Meg. “They’re feeling a little bit out of control and the world is going around really, really fast. But people are wanting some intimacy and they’re wanting to reconnect.” Best, then, to bring sofas and chairs toward the center of a room, rather than around its periphery, which is a natural tendency for novices.

To pull everything together, Meg maintains that art is a great option. “You just kind of need to find a focal point in your room,” she says, and that can be an original piece of art, something that’s been in the family for a while or maybe just a stock piece of art. That can be a bit of a challenge, in this day and age of open floor plans, which produce multiple focal points — fireplaces, televisions and kitchen islands — not to mention a dearth of floor plugs for lamps (Meg’s and Wood’s preferred way to light and soften a room, rather than using the glare of overhead lighting). Otherwise, you can unify a space by choosing metallics in some of the case goods — and don’t be afraid to mix tones. That old rule of separating gold from silver is a thing of the past. “You can do it,” Meg asserts, pointing to two attractive lamp bases in the contrasting colors. “Rules were meant to be broken,” she says.

Last but not least in achieving a harmonious setting are rugs. With hardwood floors being more popular, wall-to-wall carpet isn’t as common as it once was. So how to choose an area rug? “You need to have a rug that’s at least 8-by-10 minimum with upholstery,” says Meg. For a cohesive look, Wood advises tucking it under the sofa “at least halfway.” If they’re placed in front of the sofa, she says, “they’re sort of floating and they look so small.” As with upholstery, cleaning is a big factor. Meg says that wool is still easiest to clean, with a combination of wool and viscose being another good option (but avoid an all-viscose rug, which is harder to clean). Nylon is less expensive, especially for families with young children, but Meg feels its look isn’t as “luxurious.” And what about the trend toward seagrass, sisal and jute? “I love them. I think they are always in style. It’s a designer look,” Meg enthuses. But here again, cleaning is a challenge: They require a powder, and inevitably when they come in contact with water, they acquire brown spots. “They’re disposable rugs. If you’re planning to do a seagrass or sisal, you’re going to have to plan on getting rid of it in two years,” she says, casting a knowing look toward Davin. “We did it, remember?” she asks. “It’s uncomfortable,” he replies with a grimace. “Especially for kids crawling around and playing. It hurts.” But, “It’s good for cats!” Meg offers.

It’s this kind of personal interaction you’ll find at Meg Brown Home Furnishings, “a small furniture store,” Meg says, compared to many. “I feel like we have a wide array of what’s out there,” she says. Larger stores, as Davin observes, might overwhelm some customers with their wealth of choices. The Browns’ potential customers “can shop at a 100,000-square-foot store” but ultimately, they predict, they’ll return here.

`“We’ve fine-tuned our assortment,” he says. “Curated it,” Meg adds. In other words, they’ve learned the art of editing.  OH

Info: Meg Brown Home Furnishings, 5491 U.S. Hwy 158, Advance; (336) 998-7277 or

Reimagine, Repurpose, Refresh

Reimagine, Repurpose, Refresh

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Amy Freeman

Dabney and Walker Sanders’ stunning Fisher Park renovation

Walk by the handsome and historic Fisher Park home of Dabney and Walker Sanders and don’t be surprised to find them on the porch. Furnished with roomy seating and a vintage chicken coop used as a table (a design nod to their chickens, Betty, Flora and Violet who live out back), it’s a favorite place for  sipping a bourbon and decompressing.

The two have a lot to decompress from. Walker heads the far-reaching Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. Dabney is project manager of up-and-coming Downtown Greenway, a 4-mile urban cycling and walking trail project developed by the City of Greensboro and Action Greensboro. Both are also involved in a variety of community-based initiatives.

All of which might lead you to think that the two might not have much time for porch-sitting. However, when networking is almost a job requirement, it puts a different light on your front porch and the rest of one’s house. Which might explain why sometimes there’s a bar at one end of the porch and a dozen or so of Greensboro’s movers and shakers sitting and standing up and down the porch.

And what a porch it is — 114 years old, just like the house, a real standout in an historic district known for two-story beauties.

The house possesses more than just a handsome face, it has great bones, with features the Sanderses admired at first sight. It also has historic provenance, having been owned in the 1970s by Brooks Lumber Company, which for over a century, sold wood and provided custom woodworking to area residences and commercial projects, such as the Grandfather Mountain Observatory.

“We have deeds going all the way back,” says Dabney.  Hence there are special woods (like pecky cypress and tongue-and-groove, narrow heart pine flooring), unusually-detailed bookcases, and mantels that handily mingle original details with later upfits that are discretely blended.

The house lent itself to antique pieces the couple inherited and to their artistic tastes. It contained flexible space, rare for a historic house.

For the Sanderses, it was almost perfect. They could easily walk to work on sidewalks connecting the close-knit neighborhood to churches, restaurants, the Greenway, ballpark and downtown. In addition to accommodating the couple’s antiques and streamlined, artistic tastes, it boasted another feature that Dabney particularly loves: the generously sized foyer, not only because it’s visually appealing, but because it, too, can be apportioned for entertaining. (Dabney says they have seated as many as eight in the hall when the dining room is full.)

However pleasing their surroundings, late last year, the Sanderses agreed it was time for some upfitting to make their house a better venue for those they entertain and for one of their passions — cooking. It all began with a kitchen redo/updo, as it was largely unchanged since a 1970s renovation. They sketched out plans and hired a draftsman to draw them up.

“I was able to crank a lot out of this kitchen before,” says Dabney. “But we were just ready for a little upgrade.”

But like most projects, one thing led to another. As in, a new rear addition that makes the 2,500-square-foot house read larger, accentuating its original positives.

When Dabney’s parents departed Greensboro for a months-long world cruise, the couple swung into action, taking advantage of a window of opportunity that would allow them to renovate and live away from the construction mess. “We took everything out of the dining room and moved all the furniture and took all the artwork down,” she says.

On December 15, the Sanderses decamped to Mom and Dad’s with dogs Hudson and Scout; three days later Phase One had started.

Once demolition was underway, the kitchen was opened up, creating yet more space to accommodate larger numbers of guests. But what distinguishes the space is the couple’s personal stamp. They were determined to reuse and repurpose. For instance, Dabney points out the kitchen’s open shelving, which has a past life from another historic property.

“What we’re really excited about is that these shelves are reclaimed,” Dabney explains. She called her friend Andy Zimmerman, who owns and renovates properties in downtown Greensboro.

“He used a lot of recycled materials,” she continues. “I like his aesthetic. We just had the idea. Andy said, ‘You know, I think I have some old floor joists from the building I’m not going to use. Let’s look and see what we have.’”

The joists came from a factory once used by Blue Bell and Hudson Jeans before it was converted to The Gateway. The building was constructed in 1919, meaning the materials are actually younger than the Sanderses’ home.

“Walker refinished them himself at The Forge,” says Dabney, referring to Zimmerman’s downtown facility that provides tinkerers and inventers with tools and machinery.

“He replaned them and cut them down to size,” she continues. Walker also fashioned the brackets. Once the shelves were installed along two walls above lower cabinets, replacing upper cabinets, it lent an air of rusticity to the kitchen.

“I wanted it to be industrial-ish, but to fit into the house — not to look like a fancy modern kitchen,” Dabney explains.

She and Walker edited every choice in the house’s refreshed interior. “We did not use a decorator. Both of us have strong tastes,” she says. “We are 99 percent in sync.”

Their choices reflect their discriminating taste for organic materials and colors, and a special fondness for art. “It’s not “just a show kitchen,” as Dabney stresses. “This kitchen gets a lot of use.”

The first idea was to use concrete countertops. When that idea stalled, they had another. “We ended up finding this honed quartz; it looks like concrete from a distance.” She indicates the island.  “We also wanted this stainless-steel on the island, and initially thought about doing it everywhere.” 

Dabney explains that it’s not easy to find someone who fabricates stainless steel. “But we found a guy who does commercial work and who was willing to work with us because we had a contractor.” Thanks to the experienced installer it’s all one piece with no seam.   

“We were in a friend’s house,” she adds, her forefinger tracing a mark probably left by chopping veggies. “They had just redone their kitchen and they had a stainless-steel topped island. She said, ‘you’re going to freak out when you get the first scratch. Then, you’ll get over it.’”

True enough: Dabney says she likes grooves and chop marks —  reminding her of satisfying meals and parties.

The gas range is professional grade, with commercial appeal. The Sanderses liked the appliances they had used for years. Rather than throw out anything that was still functional, they kept what they had.

“It’s a 20-year-old stove we bought from someone in the neighborhood. We reused the refrigerator and the dishwasher. The only new things were the sink and we put in an icemaker.”

As a Delancey Street mover pointed out as they were moving back in, there is no microwave to be seen. Dabney says she was impressed that he noticed. “He said it was a sign we are serious cooks.”

Once upon a time, the couple’s many cookbooks were stored above traditional cabinets. Now, a wall is devoted to floor-to-ceiling bookcases. “My mom’s idea,” Dabney says.

Since the renovation called for relocating the laundry room upstairs, there was room to install new French doors as the back entrance. An echo of the double front doors, they open onto a wide rear porch with a table and more seating. The former pergola was covered with a metal roof, further expanding the porch’s space. 

At the rear of the kitchen, a work desk was created near double dog doors tucked below. Both are discretely placed out of sight.

“As you move in, you think of things you might have done. We’re still in this phase,” Dabney confesses. “I felt good about having a vision and sticking with that. I would renovate again.”

They displayed crockery and pottery on the customized shelves and hung art (most of which has been purchased from favorite benefit auctions) throughout the house. 

In the dining room, a chair sketch by M. C. Barrett, purchased from a Guilford Green Foundation auction, has a place of pride over a sideboard. It is the first thing one notices when entering through the front doors.

“A lot of the art we’ve acquired was through events to benefit nonprofits,” says Dabney. “The bowl [beneath] was a Collector’s Choice purchase at GreenHill.”

By April, the kitchen was completed, and Phase Two of the renovations began in May.

This phase included relocating the aforementioned laundry room to an upstairs bath, creating a guest bath with a soaking tub, and building an upstairs master suite, with his-and-her closets, and master bath with an open shower and customized console and sink. The addition would require new windows, which, like the kitchen shelves, would be sourced to reflect the house’s status in a historic district.

This time, the couple stayed in place during renovations, living in the downstairs guest room and taking full advantage of their new kitchen. 

A single glitch with flooring created a slight delay. Otherwise, the process went as planned. They have only just begun hanging art and moving into the upstairs suite. 

The master overlooks the backyard with a view of a terra cotta roof, which reminds Dabney of Italy. Her closet, off the master bath, is artfully arranged in a color-wave of earth tones, all natural, organic materials, which she favors.

“In Catholic school I wore a uniform,” she says, explaining her preference for simplicity. 

Walker’s closet is also tidily organized. However, Dabney confesses her things have begun creeping into his closet. 

She is an organizer, and apologizes for a spread of jewelry, which she is winnowing down as she deletes the extraneous. She favors handmade statement pieces, sometimes items found on travels or in museum shops. But the piece of jewelry she is most known for is one she wears daily. It is her father’s POW bracelet, stamped with “LCDR Porter Haylburton.”

Lieutenant Commander Haylburton left for Vietnam when Dabney was 10 days old. He returned eight years later.

The bracelet is made of stainless steel.  Durable. And, in her case, especially meaningful.

A traveling exhibition of artifacts will feature her father’s collection of POW bracelets, which were mailed back after the war ended. “We had about a thousand POW bracelets,” Dabney explains — so many that they fashioned a makeshift chandelier from them. 

Back downstairs, she looks around the new kitchen, a place where they spend so much of their home time. 

What was their best idea?

“The icemaker,” she says suddenly. “It was such a nice addition.  We decided to have a small bar installed in the kitchen for the standards that we drink. We spend a lot of time at the end of this island. On a nice day, we have both of those doors open to the outdoors,” she says, casting a gaze through to the back porch.

Here they sometimes have cocktails, especially in cooler weather, as they have ample cover from the rain and outdoor heaters to warm them. 

Out back, too, there is a view of the charming chicken coop for their three chickens. The enclosure — another one of Walker’s construction projects — is dubbed “Close Enough,” Haylburton’s joke that the coop wasn’t plumb, but “close enough.” The chickens are friendly, and one darts underneath the chicken wire enclosure as Dabney chides it.

She briefly admires the improved rear elevation of the house, which now more neatly echoes the front.

Post renovation, what is their favorite thing?  “Right now, it’s all our favorite!” says Dabney.  “It’s such an upgrade from where we were.”  OH

Cynthia Adams is a contributing editor to O. Henry

Pastel Perfect

Pastel Perfect

The spirited works of Laura Pollak

By Nancy Oakley

always joke that using pastels is like playing the piano with a sledgehammer,” says Laura Pollak. You wouldn’t know it from looking at her vivid, finely wrought works — a fiery lake at sunset, a wedding tent set aglow by the soft light of a lantern, the brilliant blue of a starlit sky. She adores working in pastels, which she likens to “painting with a tube of paint.” Mastering the craft requires “getting a feel” for where the crayon will hit the paper, the artist explains. “You don’t exactly know where that mark is going to end up.” The medium, she says, “is very, very direct.”

And very forgiving, which is how Pollak came to it in the first place. She had been taking a watercolor class from another local artist, Alexis Lavine (featured in the May issue of this magazine). “You know how watercolors are transparent, drippy and melting colors?” Pollak suggests. “Mine got chalkier and thicker, darker, muddier,” she recalls. At Lavine’s urging, she signed up for a few classes with pastel artist Adrien Doss. “And I fell in love,” Pollak remembers. “If you work on computers you can hit “Command Z” and undo anything,” she offers. With pastels, “you can do the same thing,” she says. “You don’t like an area? You can brush it off and say, ‘I need to redo that.’”

And gripping the pencil, or big block of pigment (for pastels come in all shapes and sizes, depending on what an artist chooses to draw), harks back to Pollak’s childhood in Detroit, when at age 3 or 4 she would grab “whatever device was around,” and sit at the kitchen table, drawing mountains. “I was enthralled that I could create distance,” the artist remembers.

From then on she was perpetually involved in the visual arts, going on to earn a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s in Fine Arts from Michigan State University, and continuing with some post-graduate work at the Motor City’s Center for Creative Studies. “However” she adds, “with the encouragement of my parents saying, ‘You need to have a career and earn a living,’ I went into advertising and graphic design,” Pollak explains. She landed in Chicago, working at big agencies like J. Walter Thompson, on accounts for household names such as Sears, Kraft and former telecommunications giant Northern Telecom, later Nortel. By then she’d met her husband, Jeff Petrinitz, who had gotten a medical residency in podiatry back in Detroit. Disappointed at having to relinquish the “cool Mad Men–style” culture she’d led in Chicago, Pollak decided to take a break from the rat race and get back to fine arts, learning glass-blowing and ceramics. “I love to get my hands dirty,” she confesses. When her husband acquired a second residency in Detroit, Pollak, reluctant to have another gap in her resume, took a job at a downtown agency working on the General Motors account.

But urban living and Midwestern winters began to take their toll. “We wanted to get the hell outta Dodge. So, we started looking around the country, and turned to North Carolina — and made Greensboro our home,” she says. That was 33 years ago.

In that time, the artist set up her own agency, Pollak and Associates. But running a business while raising two boys, Jonathan and Matthew, proved too much. “So I pared it down a little bit, and then I said, ‘You know, it’s time for me to paint.’” Pollak says. In the last decade, devoting her energies to art full-time has been “great fun,” she says. “This is the job I was meant to have.”

Her avocation quite literally shines through in her works, whether a vineyard bathed in golden light or downtown cityscape burnished at sunset, each imbued with an otherworldliness. They reflect, not so much a moment in time, as a place seemingly outside of time. The effect is deliberate on the artist’s part. Recalling a cycling trip to Japan’s Noto Peninsula, she found inspiration in a temple atop a hill. “It was palpable,” she says, describing the spirit of the place. “It just felt very holy . . . a sacred space. It was beautiful.”

Pollak continues to explore the intangible through her oh-so-tangible medium, taking classes and workshops, and serving as president of the Pastel Society of North Carolina, which, last spring, presented a show of all pastel societies across the Old North State at The Art Shop. A more recent online show led her to a new genre, abstract drawings, which “very few pastel artists are doing,” Pollak says. “They’re very freeing, playful,” she adds, estimating that about 50 percent of her work is now abstract. Several of them are currently on view at Beth David Synagogue until month’s end.

With an eye ever toward the distance, like those distant mountains in her childhood drawings, Pollak continues to explore and expand her repertoire. She began teaching about a year ago, and just last month was anticipating a return to painting — this time with oils. “I love using brushes,” she says. But she’ll never relinquish the immediacy of pastels, and its seemingly endless avenues to what some call “the other.” She says that she’s determined to learn how to translate words and music into visual space: “I want to translate The Moldau by Smetana into pastels. I want to be able to translate a beautifully written passage by rhythm, by color, the words,” Pollak says. “I still haven’t figured out how it works. I’m getting closer,” she allows. And how lucky for us when she does.  OH

Laura Pollak’s abstract pastels will be on view at Beth David Synagogue (804 Winview Drive) throughout the month of October. For more information about the artist visit

The Accidental Astrologer

Stars and Star-Makers

Dazzling, yet old-fashioned, Librans treasure their nearest and dearest

By Astrid Stellanova

Star Children, our October-born enjoy longer lives and a better chance of becoming President; they are more romantic and athletic than the rest of us average Joes. Famous October babies are either stars themselves or star-makers: Julie Andrews, Kim Kardashian and that acid-tongued Simon Cowell with the angelic grin.

Pumpkins, bonfires and harvest moons are enough to make anyone grin; if not, then you may be an alien child. Before sending your DNA off to, consider that our ancestors celebrated the deep connection with Mother Earth in late fall and were grateful for this golden time. As the days grow shorter, enjoy hearth and home  — and chill, Baby. — Ad Astra, Astrid

Libra (September 23–October 22)

There’s no shame in your game, Sugar. You are old-fashioned, just as accused. But you know how to love what you have and to make your nest a welcoming and special place. When you take stock of all the things in your plus column, notice how many old friends and long relationships you have made. That, Birthday Child, is a fine gift.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21)

You’re tetchy, and more self-critical than normal. Don’t shave an eyebrow off trying to fix a tee-ninesy mistake. Nobody else sees you through the same harsh lens. In fact, those who know you feel they can’t live up to your standards. Relax, Honey, and realize you are no ordinary creature.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Somebody you trust seems to be goading you toward a step you don’t want to take. Don’t that just grind your gears? Are they friend or frenemy?  Buttercup, hitch up your britches and grin and bear it. They mean well, they just don’t speak your language.

Capricorn (December 22–January 19)

Hearing the truth is like drinking from a firehose. Hard to swallow. Hurts.  Yep. But here you are, swallowing another needed dose of reality. Now, Honey, it will require you to take another step and face one more test of your resolve and backbone.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

You’ve had to power through a challenge that tested your nerve — and sexy verve — on every level. But in the background, an ally has got your back like a wool sweater. They know you better than you know yourself, and don’t want to see you fail.

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

You took two steps forward and one backwards in a weird shuffle regarding health matters. Is Chick-fil-A your secret sponsor? Your devotion to habit and fast foods are at war with your best interests. Something has to give, Sugar. (And sugar and fried food are a good start.)

Aries (March 21–April 19)

False flattery is no reason to marry a prison pen pal. The power of a good line is indisputable, but Darling, you can’t trust your bedazzled self this month. Snap out of it and ask yourself why you need a yes man or woman so much.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Open mouth and exchange feet, Sugar. If you weren’t so charming, a lot of your best pals would not be so forgiving. If you can do one more crucial thing, Sugar Pie, share the credit for a project completed and don’t hog all the credit.  Baby steps.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Lordamercy! Take the next exit off the Ho Highway. Have you lost your grip? Think nobody has noticed? Well, Darling, they did. I’m not saying your standards are slipping, I’m saying they have conveniently disappeared.  Chin up, head high and don’t look back!

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

Sugar, time to learn how to mine gold from whatever you learned from whoever ticked you off. Actually, a few too many did. You’ve been unable to settle, get rest, find a comfy place with yourself lately and it’s taking a toll. Turn that crazy train around.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Is Boss Hog your role model? If you watch TV, you begin to think that everybody has lost their ever-loving minds. Raised voices don’t make for stronger arguments, Honey. Somebody has to set a better example — and why not a natural leader like you?

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Feeling duller than a plastic fast-food knife? By the end of the summer days, you’ve battled to get your game back. Mix and mingle with a friend you look up to, and energize yourself again. You are very affected by the company you keep.   OH

For years, Astrid Stellanova owned and operated Curl Up and Dye Beauty Salon in the boondocks of North Carolina until arthritic fingers and her popular astrological readings provoked a new career path.


Jay Day

There’s more to the ubiquitous blue jay than meets the eye

By Susan Campbell

The blue jay is one of those species most of us can instantly recognize. But how well do we really know this medium-sized raucous bird found at feeders or flying around in the treetops at any time of the year? Though their behavior may not seem particularly remarkable at first glance, they are complex and unique creatures.

Jays are closely related to crows, a highly evolved species. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that they exhibit an advanced degree of intelligence and have complex social systems. Blue jays remain together as a family for a relatively long period and also mate for life. And here’s a species that communicates not only with their voices but also with body language. The telltale bristling of a jay’s crest is one of the most obvious ways they express themselves. Look for a raised crest whenever an individual is alarmed or intimidated.

Although the bird’s underparts are a dingy gray, the jay’s bright blue coloration and its distinctive blue crest give the bird a cocky, imperious air. A unique brindling pattern specific to individuals also makes each bird distinctive. (Interestingly the pigment found in jay feathers is produced by melanin, which is actually brown. It is the structures on the barbs of the bird’s feathers that cause light to reflect in the blue wavelength.)

In addition to their bright coloration, jays attract attention with their loud and piercing calls. They make a variety of unusual squawks and screams, often from a perch high in the canopy. Jays are well known for mimicking other birds’ calls: especially hawks. Whether this is an alarm tactic or whether they are trying to fool other species is not clear. The great early ornithologist John Audubon interpreted this behavior as a ploy that allowed blue jays to rob nests of smaller birds, such as warblers and vireos that instinctively scatter whenever they hear the terrifying sound of a hawk hunting for prey. But modern studies of blue jay diets have not found that eggs or nestlings are particularly common foods.

Another mystery is why, in some years, these birds migrate. Blue jays are particularly fond of acorns. It may be that in years when oaks here are not very productive, jays move southward in search of their favorite food. So the number of blue jays that remain in the Piedmont and Sandhills this winter will likely depend on the mast crop — especially the abundance of white oak acorns. These acorn-lovers have a specialized pouch in their throats for carrying acorns and other large edibles, which they stash in holes and crevices for later delectation.

Blue jays also have interesting nesting habits. While males collect most of the materials — live twigs, grasses and rootlets — females create a large cup, where they incubate and brood the young birds. All the while the male feeds the broodking female — and then forages for the tiny hatchlings. Once the young have developed a good layer of down, the female will join the search for food for the family. It is not unusual for young jays to wander away from the nest before actual fledging occurs. But the wise parents are not likely to feed the begging youngsters unless they return to the nest. It is during this period that some people are convinced they need to “rescue” the wayward youngsters.

Finally, reports of “bald” blue jays are not uncommon. Do not be surprised if you see an odd-looking individual at a feeder or bird bath with virtually no feathers on its head: just dark skin. At first this was thought to be caused by feather mites that can be found on all birds to varying degrees. But now it seems there are simply individuals that lose all of their head feathers at once instead of in the normal, staggered fashion. It appears this is more likely in adolescents who are undergoing their very first molt

The next time you notice one of these noisy, crested birds take a closer look. Blue jays are fascinating — and full of surprises!  OH

Susan would love to receive your wildlife sightings and photos. She can be contacted by email at

Simple & Southern

Simple & Southern

A kitchen remodel and refreshed décor open up an Oak Ridge home

By Nancy Oakley

To remodel or not to remodel? Given the choice of living through a complete kitchen overhaul or walking on shards of glass, many homeowners would choose the latter. But if you’re running your own business, raising children, and you like to cook, at some point, you just have to take the plunge. Ginger Ayadogdu (pronounced “EYE-uh-doh-doh”) didn’t waste any time shortly after she and her husband, Giorgio, and their three children moved into their Oak Ridge home. “The kitchen had a dark countertop, a huge island with only two barstools and a tiny refrigerator,” Ginger recalls. In addition, the wood-stained cabinetry was dark and a bit dated, and the breakfast area was separated from the aforementioned island. “There was no flow,” Ginger says. She needed something more functional.

Especially considering her full days as co-owner along with her husband, of Simply Southern, a national wholesaler of T-shirts, hats, bags and an assortment of gifts — key fobs, lanyards, cupholders, phone sleeves and the like. The business started in 2005 as a modest kiosk at Four Seasons Town Centre, where Ginger and Giorgio sold “instant gratification” gifts — items like T-shirts, mugs, and such, almost inevitably imprinted with a customer’s photograph. The operation expanded to a chain of stores, Dazzle Up, in area shopping centers, and by 2010, the Ayadogdus decided to “cut out the middleman” and produce their own T-shirts. Emblazoned with colorful, whimsical designs and taglines — (“Living the Mom Life,” “My Y’all Is Authentic,” “Suck it Up, Buttercup,”) — the gear is popular at vacation destinations, particularly the beach, “our ultimate destination spot,” says Ginger. “It’s like, ‘Aaaaah!’ You can relax,” she adds. With the obvious exception of recent hurricane victims, she maintains “there aren’t many people [for whom] the beach isn’t a happy place.

She desired a similar sort of clarity, and lightness and brightness from her surroundings at home, not only in the kitchen, but also in the adjoining den and dining room. But how to effect that relaxed, open coastal vibe without replicating the bright palette so prevalent in the merchandise from the  Ayadogdus’s workaday world? The answer, as it turns out, was right in the family’s own backyard: Maria Adams of Maria Adams Designs was a sponsor of Oak Ridge Elementary School, which the Ayadogdu children attended. “Who better than someone local and someone you know?” Ginger posits. “Her vision was like mine. She was very open about what she wanted this to be — and open to our suggestions.”

“Function was first,” Adams says, reiterating Ginger’s concerns about the kitchen’s lack of flow. Her solution? “I designed an island to include a banquette in one piece,” she explains. She went with a white color scheme (actually a tone called “linen” with a gray wash) to create airiness in the space, which, given the deck just beyond the back door, appears larger. Ginger had hoped to repaint the old cabinets, but new cabinetry fashioned by Marsh Kitchens turned out to be “a better long-term solution,” Adams says, in part because she was able to create yet more illusion of space by extending them all the way to the ceiling, and because new cabinetry provided her client with better storage. Indeed, the culinary-minded Ginger is delighted with a pull-out drawer for spices, another for utensils, and yet another for the all-important Kitchen-Aid. As for managing during the construction phase, “We have a microwave and a hot plate in the basement,” Ginger shrugs. “It was winter.” (February 2017, after the company’s busy holiday season). “Soup and pasta are pretty easy,” she says with a laugh.

For all its functionality, the kitchen has some pleasing aesthetic touches: A few geometric chandeliers sans glass panels hang over the new island, which is topped with Macaubas quartzite that has a linear pattern, and is framed with Cambria quartz in solid gray. The showstopper is the backsplash with an interlacing design. “It’s ceramic tile but it looks hand-painted,” Adams says, pointing out the 15 different designs in the tiles, each placed in such a way so as to look random. “Since the kitchen is so neutral, the backsplash is where we gave it some ‘wow,’ taking it behind the hood to the ceiling,” she adds.

She picked up the neutral tones in the tile and wood floor extending into the open floor plan that includes a den, where as Ginger notes, Adams “blended grays and browns” that echo the shades in the stone fireplace. But first, the designer consigned the dark blue sofa and chairs to the basement. As a focal point, she chose an area rug, “with pretty shades of blue, raspberry and cream that added color, but not too much,” and continued the reddish-pink hue in some throw pillows that added more pop to the new, gray-and-white furnishings. Gray and white for a family with three children ages 13, 11 and 8? “They’re covered in a performance fabric, which is very kid-friendly and resistant to spills,” Adams says, acknowledging the necessity of designing for “real lives, real spaces and real messes.” A point that Ginger reiterates. “We’re in there every evening,” she says. “Family time is very important.” And the beach is never far away: As a final touch, Adams replaced the print over the mantel with a soft seascape in similar neutral tones.

The coast — and family — are themes that echo in the adjoining dining room, as well. Using existing pieces — a table, chairs and a cabinet with glass doors — Adams made some simple changes by replacing two captain’s chairs with upholstered ones in a coral-and-white print that she repeated in the window treatments. “It feels like a casual room,” she says. “The coral really warms it up,” as do her signature light fixtures: two round chandeliers that cast a soft glow throughout. Her other suggestion was to replace a console with another cabinet identical to the existing one. Standing side by side, they give the room balance and symmetry. And, they allow for a bit of personal expression. “I’m more of a minimalist in terms of knick-knacks,” says Ginger, but she enjoys displaying some Turkish porcelain, from her husband Giorgio’s family, handed down through the generations. “Some of it was in the drawers of the console,” Adams recalls. “I said, ‘This needs to be displayed.’” Alongside the pieces are other “old different things you don’t see every day that I picked up,” Ginger says, pointing out a vintage honeycombed plate (used for actual honeycombs) and a pancake batter pitcher. Placed between the two china cabinets is yet another reminder of Giorgio’s family: a print of a Turkish landscape he picked up during his travels. Adams had it reframed “to give it a home and remind the family of their Turkish heritage.”

Family and function come together in this happiest of places, with its seamless backdrop of soft neutrals, punctuated with the occasional bursts of color  . . . like rare shells washed upon a sandy beach with the ebb and flow of the tide. OH

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.


Sentimental Journey

Chris Stamey’s musical love letter to the Gate City

Photograph and Story By John Gessner

“As a child, Greensboro seemed like a magical place to me, where we’d climb aboard behind the great locomotive in the evening and watch as all that was familiar slowly dissolved out the window,” says Chris Stamey, recalling family trips from North Carolina to New York or Boston, where his dad, a Winston-Salem pediatrician, had gone to medical school. “When the sun came up, we’d find ourselves deposited in an alien land, full of skyscrapers and taxi cabs,” Stamey remembers. After I finished school in N.C. and moved to the North, I’d still travel back sometimes by train, and it became a different voyage, where arrival in Greensboro would mean I was truly home once again.”

It was New York City where Stamey and another Winston-Salem native, his elementary schoolmate Peter Holsapple, formed the dB’s. They were (and still are) pioneers in the music industry who came together during a time of great change — the late 1970s and early ’80s. Around this time I heard their single, “Black & White,” and forever associated the band with the Big Apple. But Stamey owes Greensboro a great musical debt, describing it as “an oasis of nascent indie-rock culture, based around the vibrant, tiny club Fridays,” not to mention UNCG concerts, and, as he’s come to learn, the city’s musical legacy as “a sanctuary” for Piedmont Blues. “For me, the city’s mystique has grown,” he says. His memories, starting with those childhood trips by train served as inspiration for the recently released single, “Greensboro Days”:

Greensboro Days the leaves are calico and brown and I am New York bound. .  .

The song is a sentimental journey by rail, wonderfully filled with Kodak moment snippets from the early days of his stellar career. What strikes me in most of Stamey’s lyrics, and in this song particularly, is his genuine love of place. He is able to distill fond memories, folks he has met, places he has been, into the few minutes of well-crafted songwriting and singing. He puts you there in the train to sit side by side with the uncertain excitement of leaving a familiar place for unknown territory.

Joining Stamey on the single, which was produced on his own Car Record label, are his buddy and co-founder of The dB’s, Peter Holsapple, on harmonies, and John Teer of Chatham County Line on fiddle and mandolin. Drummer Dan Davis (6-String Drag) and Jason Foureman on acoustic bass provide a catchy beat for the conductor of this ride, Chris Stamey, playing guitars.

I often refer to him as “The Wizard of Chapel Hill” (his birthplace, incidentally), given his numerous projects with musical luminaries of every stripe. Stamey’s vast creative palette as a musician and a producer includes albums such as Lovesick Blues and Euphoria, as well as Falling Off the Sky with the dB’s, and collaborations with the likes of with Ryan Adams, Alejandro Escovedo, Flat Duo Jets, Skylar Gudasz, Tift Merritt, Le Tigre, and Yo La Tengo. When he’s not on stage, Stamey can often be seen tuning guitars and pulling ropes in the background for his fellow musicians.

But for the few minutes of “Greensboro Days,” he is once again the young indie rocker, embarking on an adventure, eager to embrace the bright lights of the big city, while smaller ones pass before his eyes. “In this song I’ve used the specificity of the Gate City’s name as a totem for all the great Carolina towns, each reservoirs of mystery and romance to this day,” Stamey reflects.

Greensboro Days of endless summers, a North bound train rolls out of town. Greensboro Days, the leaves are covering the ground and I am New York bound. OH

Photographer John Gessner whole-heartedly suggests going to so you can catch Chris next time he rolls into your town. Until then you can hear “Greensboro Days” on Spotify, Amazon, iTunes, watch the video on You Tube, or scan the bar code (right) on your cell phone.

Wine Country

The Chardonnay Way

Finding the right fit for fall

By Angela Sanchez

There are as many reasons why so many people, in so many places, love chardonnay as there are, well, chardonnays. It’s highly adaptable and easily grown in many soil types and climates. It’s easily influenced by where it’s grown and by the winemaker’s hands, with as many styles and price points as its broad range of appeal would suggest. But does anyone really know what chardonnay should taste like? If we compare chardonnay-to-chardonnay (like apples-to-apples), there are styles ranging from Golden Delicious to Pink Lady to Granny Smith. If you like big, rich, round and citrus; or bold, oaky and tropical; or lean, mineral lemon-lime characters (my favorite), there is a chardonnay for you. Oak bomb, butter bomb, or classically elegant and restrained, chardonnays in all these forms, and more, are out there.

Chardonnay’s origin is in the Burgundy region of France, where I believe it’s at its very best. Burgundy is where you find chardonnay based on true terroir. In Chablis, a cool climate with limestone soil, the chardonnay is crisp, lean and clean. Minimal oak aging is used. Those who like Domaine Dauvissat use it as a complement to the natural flavors of chardonnay and to round out its natural acidity, pronounced by Chablis’ cool climate. Others, like Domaine Louis Michel & Fils, use no oak on any of their chardonnays, leaving them in their pure form, racy and mineral driven. A mix of soil types and elevation in Burgundy make the malleable chardonnay grape show different characteristics from one growing region to the next. In Meursault, chardonnay is rich, buttery with some honeyed notes, while in the neighboring region of Puligny-Montrachet, hazelnut, lemongrass and green apples are the primary characteristics. North of Burgundy in Champagne, we find chardonnay used as a blending grape in styles like brut and sec. Or it can stand alone in its yeasty, nutty, racy beauty in blanc de blanc, a 100 percent chardonnay. In regions with cooler climates and limestone-driven soils, chardonnay lends structure and backbone to the blends and bright, focused acidity to the blanc de blancs.

Chardonnay is grown all over the world, in warm climates, cool climates and those that have heavy coastal influences. Each country and region produces a chardonnay of a different flavor. Add the light or heavy hand of a winemaker and chardonnay becomes something else altogether. California chardonnay is a great example. Cooler climates in Northern California, like Carneros, produce chardonnay with higher acid and more structure than those from warmer climates in the south around Santa Barbara and Santa Lucia Highlands. Whether naturally higher in acid or more round and lush (depending on the growing region), the winemaker can greatly influence the wine as well. For many years winemakers in the New World were heavy-handed with oak “treatments,” or aging in barrels and manipulating the fermentation process, creating wines that were overly weighty, with buttery notes and vanilla, or predominantly oaky. Big, mostly over-the-top California chardonnay became the norm. Nowadays winemakers show more restraint with their influence on the wines, resulting in cleaner styles that allow consumers to taste a difference from region to region based on elevation, climate and soil — the terroir. The trend is due both to consumers’ move to a fresher, lighter style of chardonnay and to their consumption of imported chardonnay from areas like France and Italy. Winemakers are also keen to let their region, vineyard and their own house style show through rather than producing and manipulating chardonnay to be oaky, buttery and slightly sweeter.

Something about chardonnay has always reminded me of fall; maybe it’s the golden-hued color, like the turning leaves and afternoon autumn sun. With cooler weather, I still like to drink white wines, maybe just not as crisp and light as in late spring and summer — something with a bit more weight and viscosity. Enter chardonnay. As a personal preference I choose to drink Burgundy. If I’m going big on spending and style, I’ll choose a Chablis or Puligny Montrachet or, for something more budget-friendly and offering a lot of wine for the money, a selection from the Mâconnais or Côte Chalonnaise. As always, I add a cheese to snack on with the wine. Stick to the old saying “if it grows together it goes together.” Triple cream Brie, with fresh cream added during the production process, produces a spreadable butter-like cheese that matches nicely. Brillat-Savarin cheese made in the Burgundy region is a classic example of the triple cream style. Small wheels, about one pound in weight, made from cow’s milk with a bloomy white rind, resemble perfect little cakes when whole and fresh. Cut into them and you’ll find a delicate soft cheese with sweet butter and slightly nutty notes. A little stronger cheese, but still with the same elegance and beauty, is Delice de Bourgogne. The addition of cream fraiche to the cheese makes it even more decadent and luscious with added notes of mushrooms and earth. Not to mention it is a dream companion with Champagne.

As you ponder the rows and rows of chardonnay at your local wine shop, or the wine list at your favorite restaurant, be bold and try something new. If you always drink California chardonnay, try Burgundy. Or vice versa. Grab some triple cream Brie and you just might find a chardonnay style that’s right for you. OH

Angela Sanchez owns Southern Whey, a cheese-centric specialty food store in Southern Pines, with her husband, Chris Abbey. She was in the wine industry for 20 years and was lucky enough to travel the world drinking wine and eating cheese.