Almanac August 2023

Almanac August 2023

August slows us down. Speeds us up. Goes by a host of honest names. Call it “Epoch of Purple Coneflowers” or “Dawn of the Swamp Rose Mallow” or “Rudbeckia in C Major.”

In the garden, call it “abundance.”

Call it “too many tomatoes” or “fresh salsa for days” or “winter marinara.”

Call it sweet corn tossed with butter. Pickled chili peppers. Green beans sizzling in the skillet. Call up the neighbors to share the harvest.

The bees seem to know these days are numbered. The butterflies, too. They sip warm nectar long and slow as if to become it. As if the beauty might swallow them whole.

It’s the beginning of the end. Summer’s swan song. The firefly’s last dance.

Perhaps you call it bittersweet, the way the golden light begins to soften. How the cicada still sings. How it’s all so subtle.

Black snake basks in candied light. As the season fades, the crickets play their hearts out. Beautyberries bear whorls of purple fruit. The gray squirrel bears her second litter.

It’s the beginning of something new.

By month’s end, the hives are fat with honey. The spring fawns have lost their spots. The crickets perform late summer’s opus.

“Rudbeckia in C Minor” swells into the balmy evening.

As the earliest apples ripen, something in the air will shift. You’ll want to name it “joy” or “sorrow” — maybe even “respite.” Call it what you’d like: gift, heartache or threshold. August is all of it. 


Going Moony

Those who garden by the moon’s phases should know that two full moons will grace us with their brilliance this month — on the first and last day. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, this age-old planting practice is based on the idea that the gravitational pull of the moon “affects the moisture in the soil” just as it causes the tides to swell and recede.

Ever tried it? Annual flowers and above-ground crops (as in your fall greens) should be sown into the earth during the waxing phase of the moon. In other words, from the new moon (August 16) until the blue moon (August 31). Flowering bulbs (think spider lily and sternbergia) and below-ground crops (beets, radishes and rutabaga) are said to thrive when planted during the moon’s waning phase, beginning the day after it is full (in this case, August 2) until the day before it is new again.

If those full moons happen to look just a bit bigger and brighter this month, it’s because they are, in fact, supermoons — as close to the Earth as they can get. 

August of another summer, and once again I am drinking the sun and the lilies again are spread across the water.      — Mary Oliver


The Bees Knees

Among the native wildflowers sure to dazzle pollinators and nature lovers alike, behold the blooming swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), found thriving in moist soil and full sun, especially alongside creeks and ponds. Irresistible to bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, this showy perennial is known for its sizable pink and white flowers. Fragrant and funnel-shaped, these five-petaled wonders open at night, revealing a vibrant red or purple center with a riot of yellow stamens. Long bloom this late summer beauty! OH

Sazerac August 2023

Sazerac August 2023

Unsolicited Advice

Three words parents dream of — and kids dread all summer long — will finally be right on the tips of our tongues: back to school. That’s right, peeps. Sharpen those No. 2 pencils — wait, do schools even use pencils anymore? To help you and your kiddos prepare, we’re sharing our top five takes on The Princeton Review’s list of study tips, with, of course, helpful bonus remarks from us.

  1. You don’t need just ONE study space. PR goes on to suggest that, in addition to a dedicated desk, you hit up libraries, coffee shops and even use your own kitchen table. Your homework is the perfect size to double as a placemat.
  2. School supplies (alone) don’t make you organized. That’s right, Lisa Frank school supplies alone make you organized. That’s more like it.
  3. Use class time wisely. The teacher’s done lecturing and you’ve got 10 minutes till the bell? Trim your toenails or floss your teeth. Take care of all those menial tasks that cut into your after-school video-game time.
  4. Make a friend in every class. This strategy will ensure that you’ll have your pick of weekend parties.
  5. Don’t let a bad grade keep you down. After all, GPA stands for got plenty a-time.

Just One Thing

When his uncle introduced him to comic books as a child, 22-year-old Zaire Miles-Moultrie discovered the world of creative arts, often sketching his own strips. But then he realized “that it is possible to have a very fulfilling and successful career and life within the arts as an artist,” thanks to his UNCG professors-turned-mentors, Jennifer Reis, Christopher Thomas and Barbara Thomas. Now, Miles-Moultrie creates much of his art through digital collaging, which incorporates his own sketches and drawings plus contemporary and historical images. Created this year, Love and Folly is inspired by the fairytale of the same name “which tells the story of how folly (the lack of good sense; foolishness) became the guide to what we know as love,” he writes. “I really wanted to make a piece that captured the essence of that story but with a very meaningful twist.” And what is that twist? “It’s OK to embrace the silliness and foolishness of love, life and ideas. Even though we live in a crazy and sometimes downright negative world, the craziest but most compassionate thing we can do is love.” Miles-Moultrie’s work is on display through August 31 as part of Transform GSO’s “Warmth of Conversation” exhibit at 111 Bain Street. Info:

Sage Gardener

Standing in line at a family reunion years ago, my dad gave me this sage advice: “Son, always get your pickles and pie first before the good ones get gone.” I grew up in a pickle-centric household with a Lutheran mom from Pennsylvania-Dutch country and a Moravian dad raised on a farm near Madison: watermelon rind pickles at Christmas; bread-and-butter as soon as the cucumbers came in; garlicky dills brining in a crock, with an aroma that hit you at the front door; mason jars chattering away on the stove in a blue-speckled canner; and the sharp bite of cayenne peppers in spicy okra pickles throughout the year. Anne, my wife, has joined me in my vinegary obsession, adding some of her mom’s less-familiar, refrigerated concoctions from the South Carolina low country: seven-day beach slaw, Zellwood sweet-corn relish, candied sauerkraut and Friendship brandied fruit-cocktail compote. Can you say Cackalacky? ’Tis the season, though: cucumbers coming in by the bushel, green peppers waiting to be stuffed with cabbage, green tomatoes galore, and, for those really pickle-obsessed, pickled zucchinis or pickled pumpkin, neither of which I recommend. Squashed dreams. What I do recommend is a savory delight my late aunt’s husband, Ab, made — what we call Rachel pickles. Ab pickles just doesn’t sound right. Anne makes them for me as an act of love since it takes brining and boiling and draining and using alum at intervals of two days, nine days and four days. As the garden winds down, I find myself making Korean kimchi, cowboy candy (candied jalapeños) and, of course, chow chow, aka piccalilli or Indian relish. Anne usually pickles figs, pears and peaches, and has been known to put up garlic scapes, Jerusalem artichokes, green beans, cornichons and crab apples. She draws the line at Brenda’s sweet freezer pickles, made in an ice tray and highlighted in her grandmother’s Gopher Hill Festival Community Cookbook. No big dill, I’m hiding the ice trays. — David Claude Bailey

Window to the Past

Photograph © Carol W. Martin/Greensboro History Museum Collection

Always best to pair your safety patrol sash with a Hawaiian shirt so fellow students know you’re serious, but also fun and approachable. (Aycock Junior High, now Swann Middle School, renamed for educational leader Melvin Swann, 1950)

The Write Stuff

Local mother-daughter duo Carol Lucas and Anne Pace have teamed up to create a children’s book, Bingo the Flamingo. Pace, a former kindergarten teacher who received her Bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Master’s degree in reading education from the University of Virginia, says she was inspired to write Bingo’s story after taking her children to the Greensboro Science Center. She noticed one flamingo, a handsome bird who “was squawking, grunting and flapping her wings.” She and her kids decided that particular bird was probably just bored and “yearned for an adventure . . . and Bingo’s story was born!” While Lucas has no formal training, she’s “always been a gifted artist,” according to her daughter, who recalls the hand-drawn birthday invitations her friends still talk about to this day. So . . . Pace wrote the book and her mother provided the vibrant illustrations. Has Bingo’s wanderlust been put to rest in this book? Oh, no, says Pace. “Bingo has more adventures in store and we’re excited to publish another book.” Locally, Bingo the Flamingo can be found at Polliwogs and Carolyn Todd’s, or through Barnes & Noble, Amazon and

Editor’s Note

Editor's Note

Some things just belong together: peanut butter and jelly, Hermione and Ron, Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. In celebration of our favorite pairing — a beach and a book — O.Henry has produced its summer reading issue every August for over a decade. In that span, our contributors have included Frances Mayes, Daniel Wallace, Etaf Rum, Ron Rash, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Bland Simpson, David Payne, Lee Zacharias, Celia Rivenbark, Michael Parker, Nan Graham, Terri Kirby Erickson, Shelby Stephenson, Fred Chappell, Anthony S. Abbott, Wiley Cash, Ruth Moose, Sam Barbee, Virginia Holman and Jill McCorkle, to name a few. This year, we added Valerie Nieman and Brendan Slocumb to our roster.

And every August, we strive to find a cover that celebrates both reading and readers. This year, we’re fortunate enough to feature the work of California artist Michael Stilkey, a “book sculpture” entitled Out of the Night That Covers Me. In a style reminiscent of German expressionism, Stilkey uses a mix of paint, lacquer, ink and pencil to capture his melancholic, whimsical characters painted on stacks of books, many of which are destined for the recycling bin. Stilkey told the L.A. Times, “Books are dying. There are so many that go to the garbage. It’s crazy. If I can paint on them, I’m giving them a second chance.” His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and around the world, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, The Philippines and China. When the curator of the Rice University Gallery randomly saw his work in a Los Angeles gallery, she flew him to Houston where he created his first large book sculpture. It went viral. “Then I went on a world tour for the next, I don’t know, 15 years,” says Stilkey. “Right place, right idea, right timing. It all aligned.”

In 2018, Stilkey was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as a cultural leader. There, he created a book installation entitled Down to Earth, consisting of nearly 8,000 books, standing 27 feet tall and 20 feet wide, and depicting people from diverse walks of life floating on the music of a pianist. In 2019 at the Starfield Library in South Korea, he created his largest piece, a three-sided sculpture made of roughly 15,000 discarded books.

If you’d like to see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit For now, we hope you enjoyed our 2023 page-turners. And we really hope you’re sitting in your beach chair, toes dipped in the water.  OH               

— Cassie Bustamante

To see more of Stilkey’s artwork, visit his website at

Bidding Adieu to a “Jewel Box” Home

Bidding Adieu to a “Jewel Box” Home

The Otto Zenke stamp stands the test of time

By Cynthia Adams     Photographs by Bert VanderVeen


Had Robert and Adeline “Addie” Smith not taken on a hybrid midcentury modern/traditional ranch, restoring it to its full, Otto Zenke-era glory, who knows what might have happened?  Would the singular designer’s touches have been lost forever? 

Not a chance.

As you read this, the Smiths will have already decamped from their newly rejuvenated Starmount “jewel box” after living there for less than a year. “We’re starting all over again, like we did last year,” Addie says wistfully. 

“We made a splash and now we must dash,” she says with an upbeat tone of voice but an expression that says otherwise. Leaving a “dream home” in which they’ve invested time and resources came as a surprise, they both stress, although they’ve uprooted before.

They’ve closed on and begun planning a refresh of an 84-year-old sun-soaked cottage in Jacksonville’s historic San Marco neighborhood, Florida.

A difference of night and day, they say. 

Packing up their worldly belongings, setting off with their beloved wirehaired fox terrier, Bobby, for their next reno-venture, seems like déjà vu all over again, in the words of Yogi Berra. 

Robert, a senior project engineer/associate with the global architecture and engineering firm Stantec, has been recently tapped to start a new “bridge group” — or satellite office — for his company in northeast Florida. His territory has grown from West Palm Beach, where the couple formerly lived, to northern Georgia.

Addie, a Pennsylvania-born designer, hopes to recreate some of the magic in their new abode that they felt in one of Greensboro’s most wooded and walking-friendly neighborhoods.

Even, Addie says, with a serious exhale, if the San Marco cottage is half the size of the jewel box and lacks the stylish cleverness designed into its nooks and crannies. 

Bobby seems to agree, taking to his bed looking dejected, tail drooping, but Addie takes notice and calls him over for a treat.


She can’t help but gush about the aesthetic aspects of the Starmount property. “I have to pinch myself; I lived in this work of art.”

Artistry was burnished into its very DNA, she discovered, largely thanks to the home’s builders, who worked hand-in-glove with, arguably, the most renowned Triad designer. (Addie belongs to the American Society of Interior Designers, ASID, both in Philadelphia and Miami, her former home.)

Today, ASID still sponsors an annual Otto Zenke student competition in his honor.

Zenke deserves the following he cultivated, she says. 

More about the former and latter soon, but first, the why.

For if, like the Smiths, you’ve ever poured yourself into a renovation, only to soon discover you must relocate, then best follow Lemony Snicket’s advice to “look away, look away” and read another story in this issue. Because the Smith’s saga may prove too sad.

However, there is another point of view, one which Addie herself offers: “Talk about the passing of the baton to the new owner, Russ La Belle,” she suggests. La Belle, who has Greensboro roots, is president of North Carolina-based Wilmington Machinery, with headquarters incorporated in the Triad.

And so, the story of this house concerns a short but significant tenure given the Smiths’ shared vision. “Our creative thread goes through our person, what we wear, our homes,” she adds philosophically. “Our homes impact us.”

Prior to changing paint colors and refinishing floors to a lighter, blonde look, Addie had weighed all the period touches that would be preserved as well as those that would be added. But before the first brush stroke was applied late last summer, Addie had prepared a detailed notebook of paint colors, renderings and specifications. “I treated myself and Robert as the client,” she explains.

Addie first found the Starmount property in August last year — one she began calling “the Duncan house” after meeting former owners Linda and Randy Duncan. 

The 48-year history of the Duncans’ ownership and their improvements impressed her. As did the home’s beginnings.

In 1955, Arthur Schwartz, owner of Arthur’s Fine Shoes on North Elm Street, built a ranch style home on Kemp Road West for his family. Linda, who befriended Schwartz, learned that he retained “the well-renown interior designer, Otto Zenke,” confirmation of what Addie felt was true. In fact, she had done a fair amount of sleuthing.

“There are still today some remnants of Mr. Zenke’s handiwork,” she says and points to Zenke’s custom-made brass pulls on folding doors and hardware designed specifically for the built-ins.

These and other identifiable Zenke touches inspired Addie as she planned refurbishments.


On a walk-through, she mentions “the wallpaper in the bar and some of the very unique brass doorknobs in the den and foyer” as further evidence.

The Smiths invited Benjamin Briggs from Preservation Greensboro to have lunch earlier this year at their home to learn more about its provenance — and reveal the redo.

Before Briggs visited, however, the Smiths had already gotten the scoop from the Duncans. The Smith/Duncan luncheon, a true meeting of the minds, “went on for four or five hours.”

The original house plans, which reveal a meticulously designed home, conveyed with the property. Unfortunately, the architect’s name is unknown. “He [the architect] was a visionary.” 

He envisioned the picture windows spanning the main room at the rear of the home — a departure from the norm at the time when such windows were typically on the front elevation. Someone, possibly the Schwartzes, oversaw, or at least supported, some of the home’s best features, Addie speculates. Then, there was the Zenke imprint.

“Otto Zenke was highly influenced by Dorothy Draper,” says Addie, “and she was Baroque or Rococo.” Indeed, Draper, Zenke’s contemporary, was a high-society interior designer credited with inventing Modern Baroque with work that survives today in The Carlyle in New York and in the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Zenke, who was educated at Pratt, had a local following in the Triad, but also maintained offices in Palm Beach and London. Zenke, in fact, designed homes for the likes of the notable restorationist John Jenrette. “I think Otto had a great commission here.”   

The Schwartzes were design-minded and house-proud, choosing both good form and functionality. 

Addie says the Duncans’ contributions were similarly spot-on. They took ownership in October of 1972 and lived in the house until 2020.

“Linda and Randy Duncan left a legacy that we were able to build on.”

Randy, a former Stanley Furniture Company designer who had recently opened his own firm, added design embellishments and customized paneled doors to a wall of fir bookcases in the den. They feature an original drop-down campaign-style desk. 

“He customized the doors further, just to give them more detail, and added custom hardware.” She traces their still-stylish facades, noting, “I kept this the original fir and stain.”

And more personal details were kept, even retaining “the growth chart on the wall across from the coat closet in the den,” where the Duncans recorded their children’s and grandchildren’s heights

During the mid-eighties, the Duncans added the garage specifically to house Randy’s red 1984 Porsche 911 Carrera Coupe. 

“Work began on the garage fairly quickly and it was completed in 1985,” Linda wrote Addie, “a perfect place for Randy’s ‘midlife crisis.’”

The home was intentionally designed to separate public spaces from bedrooms, found in a private wing.

A main foyer flows into a secondary foyer, which dramatically opens into a living room. 

In the foyer, Addie installed Sputnik-style lighting and high gloss ceiling, enhancing their drama. 

She reinforced the Space Race-inspired touches with star-embellished wallpapers and period details.   

“In good design, you have some repetition of form,” says Addie, noting the circular details on the front doors by Zenke, which she repeated throughout.

She points out the unusual, original doorknobs.

“Do you see the circle repeating in the ballerina [sculpture]?” she asks, referencing a sculpture on a pedestal, set to great effect before a massive bank of windows.

These subliminal, almost unconscious elements repeat, which Addie compares to good grammar and exclamation points in writing. 

“See what I did visually to make it all seem [part of the whole] . . . and balanced?” She considered original design themes even when it came to styling shelves and cabinets.

But she most admires the former living room, where the aforementioned window open to the outdoors. 

In a personal history that Linda Duncan prepared after lunching with the Smiths, she describes also falling in love with the house and its orientation to the outdoors.

“I loved the beautiful old trees. I loved the spaciousness of the interior,” she wrote to the Smiths. 

“Even the landscape architect we hired staged the [flowering plantings and] blossoms so nothing upstages anything else,” says Addie.

She learned that the beautiful tree outside the primary bedroom had been a housewarming gift to the Duncans. There is also an enormous tulip poplar tree nearby, one believed to be over 250 years old. 

“Our arborist loved it,” says Addie.


“He said it was the biggest tulip poplar he’d ever seen,” adds Robert.

She returns to the wall of windows, demonstrating the minimalistic linen shades, which replaced a bank of shutters in the (present day) living room. “Now, open, you get peeks of [the back yard], but when you lower them, you see the shades as a backdrop for the sculpture.” It is part of how good design manipulates space, she says.

“We gravitate here, not to the main designated den.” The den became a work area, and leads to the screened porch.

Before a house next door of the same era was demolished, Addie requested the opportunity to salvage hard-to-find items, each period-perfect. As she turned to refurbishing the rear screened porch Addie used the screen accents and grills from the tear-down. “They’re not made anymore.”

To the front of the house, she returned shutters rescued from under-house storage and installed porch railings, again architectural salvage from next door.

There was more confirmation gained from the Duncans. Addie’s suspicion that the original paper is inside what was the former cocktail bar was verified. She insisted upon keeping the paper, though the nook no longer functioned as a bar. Instead, she used the space to store architectural plans and drawings as her design work room. 

Even in the least visible places details were thorough.   

The hardware there, too, she points out, “is like Mercedes-Benz quality hardware. I don’t think it would be available anywhere,” she says.

She marvels at details like the dedicated lights through the home’s closets and storage areas. “Highly unusual at that time,” she observes.

No walls were removed during the Smiths’ renovation, only certain interior doors — especially those leading into the public rooms — given that contemporary tastes are more open. “We don’t like to be so sequestered as was the preference at the time of the house’s construction,” Addie says.

She used the hallway passageway to the bedrooms as a gallery featuring photos of friends and family. “I love passing through this,” she says, pausing again at the bathroom.

The guest bathroom retained its original appointments and built-ins; softly colored gray tile and hardware remained. “We wouldn’t tear out the vintage bathroom.” The vintage Jack-and-Jill guest bath features a telescoping base for the original white sink and walk-in shower, punctuated by a harlequin wallpaper. 

“This house is like living in a piece of art, the most beautiful home I’ve ever had the privilege of living in,” she says, later slicing a rhubarb and strawberry pie cooked by Robert. Robert used to summer in Ohio, where his grandmother, Pauline, taught him the art of baking. 

He still uses her biscuit cutter, nut chopper and other accoutrements. Those were prized possessions chosen from her estate and put to use.

Robert’s pie has the ideal ratio of tartness to sweetness, and the crust is delicate.

“The crust is basic pie dough from the original Joy of Cooking,” he says. “The flour affects it. Even the water you use can affect it.”

“My favorite rhubarb story is when I first moved South. I remember buying rhubarb at a Publix in Tallahassee and the clerk asked me, ‘What is it? Is this red celery?’”

Addie, who also cooks, prepared stuffed pork chops and mashed potatoes for their first date. She does the basic meal cooking, and he does the baking, so both preferred professional-grade appliances.

“It’s been a pleasure to live in this house . . . so beautifully designed and laid out,” she says, sipping a steaming coffee before adding a dollop of chocolate ice cream to her pie. (“The secret,” she insists. “Try it!”)

“If anything,” adds Addie, “things that are old are timeless. And better.”

Without a doubt, that maxim extends in the way the Smiths live, from protecting Grandma’s pie recipe to Otto Zenke’s design touches.  OH

Life’s Funny

Life’s Funny

Bot Wait, There’s More


By Maria Johnson

Recently, when faced with a sticky family situation, I decided to seek the advice of Chat GPT, a chatbot developed by the company OpenAI.

I know people are worried about the power of artificial intelligence to deceive. That may be true — in the wrong hands. But apparently my hands weren’t the right wrong hands.

Below is my exchange with the bot, edited for clarity and brevity because, like many brilliant entities, Chat GPT really likes to hear itself talk:

Hey there. I need some advice on behalf of a friend who has a complicated situation. 

Of course! I’m here to help. Please go ahead and provide some details about your friend’s situation, and I’ll do my best to provide advice and guidance based on the information you provide.

So, you understand that this is about my friend, right?

Yes, I understand that you are seeking advice on behalf of your friend.

Shew. Good. Here goes: My friend is hosting a family gathering at her home in a couple of months. She made it clear to the out-of-town guests that there are several nice hotels nearby. But — and this is where my friend is an idiot sometimes — she got too generous. She said they could stay at her house if they wanted to. She and her husband have room for, like, four guests, tops, and that’s if you count someone sleeping on a window seat. Do you see where this is going?

Yes, I understand the situation. It sounds like your friend may have unintentionally offered more accommodation than they can actually provide, and now they are facing the challenge of potentially hosting more guests than they have space for.

Yup, that’s her situation. I mean, she was just being polite . . .

While it’s admirable that your friend wanted to extend the offer, it’s important to find a balance between hospitality and practicality. Remember, being honest and proactive in finding solutions will help maintain positive relationships.

OK, but who gets the truth and who gets, shall we say, an enhanced truth?

Deciding whom to be honest with in this situation can be a sensitive matter. Your friend could prioritize immediate family members or those who have special needs.

Well, my friend has a special need to breathe, which means it’s hard for her to be around her cousin who overuses baby powder. Then there’s her aunt who travels with an emotional-support rat. Montague is his name, which is cute, but c’mon who does that?

It’s not uncommon for people to have unique preferences or attachments to their pets, even if it might seem unusual to others. While traveling with an emotional-support rat like Montague might be unconventional, it’s important to approach the situation with understanding and respect for your friend’s aunt and her bond with her pet.

Fine. I guess if one of them has to go, it’ll be Cousin Talc. Could you help my friend write an email explaining the situation and offering some possible solutions? Oh, and make it warm and loving and funny. And firm. But not too firm.

Of course!

Dear Cousin Talc,

I hope this note finds you well, surrounded by clouds of joy and a sprinkle of humor. While I truly enjoy our family reunions, I have come to realize that my nostrils are in desperate need of a baby powder-free zone.

In the spirit of maintaining harmony and keeping our senses intact, I have decided to stay at a nearby hotel during the gathering. This way, we can all appreciate the festive atmosphere without any talc-related mishaps. I’m looking forward to seeing you at the gathering and sharing laughter, stories and perhaps a safe distance between our preferred fragrances.

With warmth and a hint of playful firmness,

[Your Friend’s Name]

You’re not serious about my friend leaving her own house and staying somewhere else, are you? I know her pretty well, and I’m confident she’d be like,“Oh, hell no.”

I apologize if my previous suggestions did not align with your friend’s preferences.

Hey, what if she told him that Montague is allergic to baby powder? Think he would believe that?

While I can understand the desire to avoid potential conflicts or discomfort during the family gathering, it’s generally advisable to approach situations with honesty and transparency.

You’re really into honesty and openness, huh?

As an AI language model, I strive to promote positive and constructive communication. Openness and respect are important values in fostering healthy and effective conversations.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tell me the truth. Do you ever get tired of answering questions like these?

As an AI language model, I don’t experience tiredness or fatigue in the same way humans do. However, it’s important to note that while I can provide information and support, I don’t possess personal experiences, emotions or subjective opinions.

But what if I want an emotionally intelligent opinion?

If you’re seeking an emotionally intelligent opinion or perspective, it might be more beneficial to seek advice or insights from trusted friends, family members or professionals who can provide the human touch and empathy you’re looking for.

I see. Well, good luck. Don’t let any rats chew your wires or whatever.

Thank you for the well wishes! As an AI language model, I don’t have physical wires for rats to chew on, so there’s no need to worry about that.

Good to know. Bye.   OH

Maria Johnson is a contributing editor of O.Henry. Email her at

The Wonder Kid

The Wonder Kid

The secret to Glenn Dobrogosz’ success? Seeing through the eyes of a child

By Cassie Bustamante Photographs by Mark Wagoner

In the fall of 1996, after hopscotching across the country chasing zoo careers, Glenn and Tonya Dobrogosz found themselves on the road again, destined for a place that would change their lives forever. The couple was headed to New York State Living Museum at Thompson Park (now Zoo New York) in Watertown, where Glenn would take on his very first directorship role. The day they arrived for his interview, tears rolled down Tonya’s cheeks.

“I’m from Florida!” exclaims Tonya. “And it was as far north as you could go and still be in the United States.”

Glenn, CEO of the Greensboro Science Center, was ready for an opportunity where he could make a real impact and, in his words, Watertown’s zoo was in “rough shape.” Challenge accepted.

His first day in the “office,” he discovered his desk was made from a door on cinderblocks, and the crammed space was shared with two coworkers as well as “a possum that had chronic diarrhea . . . I was humbled pretty quick that day.”

While Glenn worked to greatly improve the Watertown zoo in his six years there, “most importantly, year one . . . Hannah was born.”

Hannah, 25 and the Dobrogoszes’ only child, now lives in a New York City apartment and writes for the popular website, BuzzFeed. She says that whenever she tells people that she grew up living in zoos, they inevitably point out that she lives in New York City: “That’s like a zoo, too,” they joke.

“A dangerous one,” interjects Glenn, who, by the way, considers most snakes “harmless.”

In 2022, Hannah wrote a BuzzFeed piece about her experience of growing up in zoos (, sharing that although her birth was “in a human hospital like many other human babies,” her next five years were spent living in an old 1918 limestone-block house, smack dab in the middle of the zoo campus. As perk of Glenn’s job, the family resided in the zookeeper’s house, though it came with noisy neighbors — a great horned owl named Big Bird who hooted constantly — and spirited residents.

“Let’s put it this way,” says Glenn, “we had weird experiences.”

“It was very haunted, most definitely,” Tonya chimes in. “I used to hear music all the time, playing a violin.” They later discovered that a gentleman who had lived there — and was now deceased — played the violin. The music echoed from what had once been his room.

With animals — and other-worldlies — aplenty, human neighbors were scarce. “Fortunately Glenn had two coworkers, two girls who worked in his office. We all were pregnant about the same time,” says Tonya. “And we became friends.” Out of this friendship, a “mommies group” was formed that helped both Tonya and Hannah find community.

The social scene wasn’t exactly thriving, but living on the zoo campus provided copious opportunities for family time.

“She used to look out the window in the living room and sit up on the couch and she would sometimes see him out walking around,” says Tonya. “And she’d be knocking!”

And Glenn also came home regularly for lunch with the family. “These were extremely busy times, because when you’re just starting out, you do whatever it takes to succeed. And it was very intense, very stressful because I didn’t know we could do it.” But, he says, “having that ability to come home, give her a hug, walk — that was huge for my mental condition.”

Also just outside the window of their New York zoo home sat a butterfly house, which Hannah, who still considers butterflies among her favorite animals, frequented. That structure, says Glenn, “was the motivation for why we built the butterfly house at the [Greensboro] Science Center.” More so than the building itself, it was seeing Hannah interact with it “because watching her in that space, from the chrysalis to the caterpillar to the butterflies — it was pretty special.” Even today, he says, though “it sounds immature and silly,” he designs “through the eyes of an 8-year-old child.”

His daughter’s fascination with the animal world mirrored his own. Growing up in Raleigh, Glenn recalls that while other kids were playing sports, he was wading knee-deep in a creek that ran, quite literally, through his backyard and “turning over rocks for salamanders and frogs.”


After-hours walks around the zoo are favorite memories among all the Dobrogoszes. “I remember specifically we would go into the gift shop, we would go into the ice cream machine and I would get a drumstick, still my favorite ice cream,” says Hannah, adding that they’d then walk around the zoo together as the sun set. “It’s a child’s dream, really.”

“For me, it really is just taking her little hand in New York and walking that path and we’d mimic the animals,” recalls Glenn of those special evenings together.

While Watertown provided the family with obvious challenges, it provided Glenn the opportunity to see just what he was capable of doing. In fact, “I kinda wrapped my arms around the project and wrote a master plan called Thompson Park 2000 and just presented, presented, presented,” says Glenn, to “whoever would listen.”

His tenacity paid off. “We ended up raising about $3.5 million.” What really helped, Glenn says, was that “there was an army base up there and [we] met a colonel who just loved us and helped clear land, build roads — all free of charge for donuts and pop.” Under Glenn’s six-year directorship, New York State Living Museum became fully accredited, with several new exhibits, landing the spot of number one tourist destination for Watertown.

After successfully transforming the Watertown zoo, the family headed to the Chehaw Zoo in Albany, Georgia. There, Glenn spent a short two-year stint getting it accredited, and then happened to see a job listing for the Greensboro Science Center.

Happy to be closer to his own parents in Raleigh, Glenn and his family made the move to Greensboro in 2004. While this was the first time they didn’t have a campus dwelling, Hannah still recalls special moments involving her dad’s work. “He’d bring animals [to school] and we’d go on field trips to the science center,” she says, adding that, with Glenn as her father, it was “a really special field trip.”

But Glenn has worked to make the science center special for kids — and adults — from all walks of life. In his 19 years in Greensboro, supported by “a team and board that are the best I’ve had,” he’s added SkyWild, the Kiwanis Treehouse and Revolution Ridge. To see the faces of children enjoying new additions at the Greensboro Science Center, it’s clear that it was planned by people who understand what it is to look through their eyes.

One of the recent changes Glenn is proudest of allows accessibility to kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. The Greensboro Science Center now admits those who show their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards for just $5, compared to a regular admission fee of $19.50. “I’ll tell ya, it’s been one of the most powerful things we have ever done,” says Glenn. “Seeing kids who normally have no exposure to this and maybe one to two percent could become science-inspired and science-minded — that gets you. Because when you’re out on the boardwalk . . . and you can tell these kids have never seen anything like this before, it’s powerful.”

And Glenn’s work here isn’t done. Due to open in 2025 is a brand-new state-of-the-art biodome which will include a free-flighted aviary, endangered species breeding programs, watery and forested environments, bridges and caves, and playscapes. Once a visitor has traveled through the biodome, they land in “this weird immersive theater that tells the story of conservation in these tropical environments.”

Glenn’s eyes, indeed, sparkle with the excitement of that boy who once tromped through backyard creeks. “I’ve done a lot of things, but I’ve never built or been part of building a rainforest. So it will be a great legacy for Greensboro, I hope.”

His own legacy shines on in his daughter, who reflects his wonder at the natural world. “I have forever been finding reasons to sneak in and see something new,” says Hannah, who visits the science center when she can these days. “I remember when you first got the hippos . . . You, Beth Hemphill [GSC Chief Operating Officer] and I drove out there to see the hippos late at night.”

And now those paired endangered pygmy hippos, Ralph and Holly, have started a family of their own with the recent addition of a baby earlier this year. Are there parallels between how animals and people raise their young? Absolutely, according to Glenn, because there’s “a lot of instinct built into our complex brains.”

So far that instinct, paired with his awe-inspired curiosity, has not steered him wrong. He adds, “I go with my gut on everything. Maybe in raising a child that’s sometimes good, sometimes not good. But, to me, it’s the only way.” It’s certainly worked for the Greensboro Science Center.  OH

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

The Pleasures of Life Dept.

Do it Anyway

A lesson from the wildest walk of my life

By Sarah Ross Thompson

Last fall, I embarked on a trip to the Galician region of northwestern Spain to hike part of the Camino de Santiago, a route that pilgrims have taken since medieval times as a spiritual trial. Some people say that the trail begins at your own front door — and ends, if you’re lucky, at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. It was quite intimidating to set out on my own, but after the pandemic, I was determined to do something that was just for me.

After the pandemic, I, like so many people, find myself changed in ways that I struggle to articulate. I love my home, my husband and my two young children, Owen and Ellie, but the monotony and isolation of those years had taken a toll. As the world began moving forward again, I felt lost and incomplete.

I needed to do something to shake off the malaise, empty my pockets of the loss and frustration that I had been carrying around like pandemic souvenirs. I missed who I used to be and craved feeling excited, inspired and energized. So, I hurled myself into an experience that I realized would be exhausting, uncomfortable, a little chaotic and definitely risky, but I hoped, in the end, I would find my way to myself (whoever she was now).

Generously and incredibly, my husband, John, and extended family worked out the logistics of caring for the kids. I booked my flight with airline miles that had been collecting dust for years, packed my backpack and a pair of trail sneakers, and flew across the ocean. And then, I took that first step. And hundreds of thousands more to discover a truth that has since been whispering in my ear and guiding me as I move into the next chapter of my life: Fear can be your friend.

Before I even set foot on a plane bound for Spain, there were countless times that I seriously considered cancelling. Traveling alone to Europe (where I had never been) to spend a week walking through rural countryside was so vastly different from how I had spent the previous two years — at home with only my family of four —  that I almost wrote it off as too out of reach or too challenging. And I worried about how my family would deal with their daily routine during my absence. Would my 1-year-old daughter forget me, I irrationally wondered. My biggest hesitation, though, was the nagging thought that I was being selfish in choosing to do something just for myself. As mothers, we often deny for ourselves what we encourage in others.

Close friends gifted me a journal with an inscription that read, “You are setting an example for Owen, but especially for Ellie.” That’s when I knew I had to go. I wanted to show my daughter — and, I suppose, myself — that a woman’s wants and needs are valid, no matter what phase of life she finds herself in or what roles she holds. So off I went.

After several flights and a bus ride, I am dropped off in the city center of Sarria, about 70 long miles away from Santiago de Compostela. Armed with nothing but a backpack and guidebook, the plan is to walk that distance over five days through a region of Spain where most people did not speak English. Did I mention the only Spanish I know is from a couple of college courses close to 20 years ago? As I exit the bus and find myself alone, that nagging feeling that I can’t do it begins following me like my shadow. What had I been thinking?

Shifting into survival mode, my first step is to find my way to my lodging using a printed map, not the GPS technology that I used in the states even on the most routine and constantly traveled routes. And yet, taking longer than I thought it would and climbing several unanticipated hills, I arrive sweaty and thirsty at the door of the inn — in a state of absolute exhilaration.

Here I am, in Spain on an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day, having completed the first, albeit small, leg of my journey.

Next challenge: attempting to converse with my very gracious and understanding host, Monica, completely in Spanish. Do I follow even half of what she says? Not even close. But the interaction ends with a key in my hand.

The next morning at breakfast, I walk right into the first fully immersive foreign language experience of my life. Laughter fills the room, plates and silverware clang together, coffee has been brewed. In between bites of fresh tomato slathered across crusty bread, fellow pilgrims chatter away — in Spanish, of course. I can’t understand a word. That shadow is back but before I get a chance to sneak away and discretely hide in my room, Monica catches my eye. “Come, come,” she says, while pointing to an empty seat. I smile at the group and give what I can only imagine is the most American “hola” ever spoken. Much to my relief, everyone smiles and replies “Buenos dias.” That, I can understand. This is the first of many kindnesses on the part of strangers I encounter on the trip.

Full of warm bread, coffee and gratitude, I load up my pack, find the trailhead and as the miles mount up, my trepidation and fear melt away and the joy of accomplishment and its sister, self confidence, come to the fore. One step at a time over the course of five beautiful, exhausting days, I trekked 70 miles, surprising myself by weeping as I reach the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, where I spend time in quiet contemplation before celebrating with a shower and wine.

“Feel the fear,” is the advice of psychologist Susan Jeffers, “and do it anyway.”

I did. And I see you. I am you. Take the trip, write the essay, have the conversation. Your soul will thank you.  OH

Sarah Ross Thompson lives in Greensboro with her husband, John, and her children, Owen and Ellie. A psychologist by training, she finds getting lost in the woods and writing little stories to be two of the greatest therapies.

Wandering Billy

Wandering Billy

Downtown’s New Grub Hubs

Eating Across Elm

By Billy Ingram

“Uptown is for people who have already done something. Downtown is where they’re doing something now. I live uptown, but I love downtown.”                         – Andy Warhol

Readers of this column know I cover downtown like the green shag carpeting in my first apartment. It hasn’t escaped notice that there’s more than a cuppa recently opened coffeehouses percolating an assortment of customized caffeinated concoctions inside storefronts along South Elm. Joining them are several new places where you can overeat.

Far and away, the most elaborate of these up-and-coming klatches is Dusty Keene’s second Common Grounds location on the corner of Elm and Gate City. Much more elaborate than its original Lindley Park spot, the new digs are imbued with a funky, old-world inspired interior we’ve not seen in the center city since long ago nights and afternoons misspent lounging at the Sofa Bar in the 1990s.

Metal sculptures forged by Greensboro’s own Erik Beerbower and Kelsey Wyatt are central to the coffee shop’s vibe, including metal sculptures lining the exposed brick walls indoors and a flurry of other sculptures incorporating recycled and discarded metal elements that define and accent multiple outdoor patios. Most eye-catching of all is the stunning, south-facing owl fabricated from hubcaps, industrial scraps and oversized o-rings, greeting customers in the parking lot.

With artworks on display across the state, this metallurgically gifted duo created that gargantuan, gurgling waterfall sandwiched between buildings on the 200 block of South Elm a decade or so ago.

The building that houses Common Grounds at 631 South Elm has an effervescent history. A century ago, this was where Lime Cola was manufactured and distributed in the 1920s. During that same period, just a few doors north at 621 South Elm, currently a parking lot, Coca-Cola was brewing, while Pepsi-Cola, Orange Crush and Chero-Cola were bubbling up blocks away on West Lewis.

But back to coffee. Truth to tell, I’m a lightweight when it comes to caffeine. However, when in Rome . . . selecting from Common Grounds’ Star Latte selection this past Sunday, my companion, Cory Wagoner, fresh from playing bass for Mount Pisgah Church’s contemporary praise band, ordered a Marilyn Monroe (white chocolate and caramel), while I gave in to temptation with a Robert Downey Jr. (dark chocolate, caramel and salt). As a result, as I write this, I’ve got more twitches than Samatha Stephens but zero regrets.

Behind its orange doors, smoothies and, for those wishing to rollercoaster the day away, a selection of top shelf liquors to slug into your café au lait awaits non-coffee drinkers. Most inviting is a variety of scrumptious fresh baked goods direct from Veneé Pawlowski’s Black Magnolia Southern Patisserie, located next to Cugino Forno in the Revolution Mills complex. Bear with me while I take a detour to tell you more about Pawlowski.

This past May, she won her second General Mills national contest, the grand prize of $20,000, for her savory upside-down apple-praline biscuit recipe. Would it be bragging to point out I was the first to trumpet her culinary abilities here in this very column three years ago? At that time, she’d been laid off, a newlywed with a newborn to look after just as that pesky lockdown was getting under way. Faced basically with no options, she resorted to a strategy only the most creative individuals turn to — leaning into a dream. From a small kitchen in a Church Street apartment that she and her husband Ian shared, Veneé began offering baked goods for sale on Facebook.

After reading about her in this forum, O.Henry readers began ordering. More published accolades followed and, shortly thereafter, her bourbon banoffee pecan rolls recipe earned her a top-20 spot in the 2021 General Mills Neighborhood to Nation Restaurant Recipe Contest. Last year, she launched her brick-and-mortar bakery, Black Magnolia Southern Patisserie, where, right from the start, there were literally lines around the building every morning. She’s since expanded capacity and ramped up to meet demand. Don’t you just love stories like that?

As an added treat, Common Grounds Downtown hosts DJ Patrick Killmartin on the second Sunday of every month, who lays down a multifarious mix of past, present and future beats. Catch him on the other three Sundays at Common Grounds’ original grinder at Walker and Elam.

A couple of doors north at 611 South Elm, platters of a different type are spinning. Jake’s Diner is plating what you haven’t been able to get downtown on Elm since the lunch counter in the Southeastern Building closed many years ago: scrambled and fried eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, and country ham, served up all day, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Built in 1950 for Blue Bell’s pattern department and servicing its sprawling denim factory across the street, the space that Jake’s Diner grills in was for many years an Earl Scheib Auto Painting shop, so it’s quite spacious.

A retro-esque atmosphere with a high ceiling and enormous picture windows makes this an ideal spot for what one comes to expect from a diner: staples such as burgers, BLTs, pork chops, wings, subs and salads, plus fried chicken on weekends. I’ve eaten here a few times, both alone and with friends . . . every time, it’s met my expectations.

Still on the subject of dining downtown on weekdays, in the Piedmont Building at 114 North Elm, you’ll thank me for turning you on to International Food, a tucked-away cafe serving up authentic Mexican cuisine similar to what someone’s abuela would prepare. I delighted in the quesabirria platter (four deep-fried tacos filled with shaved, braised beef with two dipping sauces). I’ll be back for steak or chicken tortas, milanesa (fried chicken breast with rice and beans), fish tacos, chori pollo, chimichangas and the obligatory arroz con pollo. Pop in for lunch and you’ll likely find me there.

There’s also a recently opened honest to goodness, old-school luncheonette situated on the first floor of a newly renovated Renaissance Building across from Tanger Center. Often, my noontime cravings are for nothing more than what Mother and I would typically order at Brown-Gardiner, so I was thrilled to discover Cafe 13, with a pleasing selection of basic comfort foods such as a simple toasted chicken salad sandwich with lettuce and tomato. Nothing fancy, more down-home if anything, it’s the kind of place Rob, Buddy and Sally ordered down from for a working lunch on The Dick Van Dyke Show. One of the ladies’ aunties even makes the pound cake they sell by the slice. Ground floor lunch counter in a high-rise office building isn’t something I expected would make a comeback. Seems everything new is old again! OH

Like his father and grandfather before him, Billy Ingram is the third generation to do business in Downtown Greensboro.

Art of the State

Art of the State

Triumph in a Bridge

Matthew Steele celebrates the beauty of the manufactured world through sculpture

By Liza Roberts


Left: Gallery view of Mirrored Turbine, 2022, walnut, copper rod, 23-gauge nails, 84 x 84 x 4 inches. Commission through Hodges Taylor. 

Right: Telophase no.1, 2022, oak and 23-gauge nails, 24 x 24 x 72 inches.

Infrastructure inspires Charlotte artist Matthew Steele. Bridges, highways, architecture and other physical manifestations of technology demonstrate to him the lengths human beings will go to “transcend the greatest obstacles we know.”

With honed precision, Steele’s work explores the elegance, complexity and rigor of such industrial and manmade structures, the labor that made them, and the life they each contain. The still rotors of a turbine become a thrumming work of abstract beauty when Steele makes them of wood and copper. He allows them to hang alone, the promise of movement in every blade. Steele’s scaffold-like towers of walnut merge to create a geometric, jagged skyline, but with an irregular, tendriled base: Are they putting down roots? Are these structures not built, but alive?

“There is desire in a highway,” Steele says. “There is triumph in a bridge.”

Steele moved to Charlotte in 2012 for a McColl Center residency and has made the city his home. “I’ve always been interested in the manufactured world,” he says. “I came from a super small town in Indiana. I knew the feeling I had when I would go to a city or a large industrial space, and just how alien it felt. I think I’m still narrowing in on that feeling.”

In 2015, Steele became an artist-in-residence at Goodyear Arts, a nonprofit arts program in Charlotte. This allowed him to further explore that feeling and its embodiment in his work, which has been exhibited and collected internationally. Steele and his wife, Susan Jedrzejewski, associate at Charlotte’s Hodges Taylor Gallery and a former codirector of Goodyear Arts, live in a 2,000-square-foot house with a walk-out basement that serves as Steele’s studio. This is where he makes the work that fuels his creativity. “There’s something incredible about waking up and making something,” Steele says, “of walking downstairs and turning on the table saw.” At the end of the day, Steele says, nothing can compare to the satisfaction of that kind of work: “Something can exist that didn’t exist that morning.”


Left: Sundowning, 2021, machine drawing / pen on black Stonehenge, 50 x 92 inches.

Right: Noir no. 2, 2023, walnut, 23-gauge nails, 47 x 73 x 4 inches. Right: Telophase no. 1, 2022, oak and 23-gauge nails, 72 x 24 x 24 inches. Commissions through Hodges Taylor.

Most of the time, that something is made of wood, and usually, that wood is walnut. It’s the wood he first learned to use many years ago when his father brought home a huge supply, and still, no other wood compares. “It’s pretty forgiving,” Steele says. “It has a quality that feels special. I’ve created the deepest relationship with walnut.”

It’s this richly colored, earthy-scented material that forms the work inspired by steel buttresses, by engine components, by industrial infrastructure. To Steele, that paradox points to a larger message. “I remember a thought I had in college about people in the world that we build,” he says. “It’s so easy for us to think of us as separate from nature, but we make our beehives, and we make our own beaver dams. We’re just animals.”

In Charlotte, Steele is making his mark. Last year, he received an Emerging Creators Fellowship from the Arts & Science Council, and he is currently at work on a major piece of City of Charlotte-funded public art that will anchor a streetscape project on J.W. Clay Boulevard in the University City area.

Making public art — which has kept him busy in recent years — is the realization of a long-held goal. In 2019, after a series of rejections for proposals he’d submitted for public art commissions, Steele decided to make a work of art to please himself: “I just thought, Nothing is working. I’m just going to make whatever I want.” He took the form of Greek statue The Winged Victory of Samothrace as inspiration and “depicted that idealized sculpture as this sort of grim, dark oil-covered mess.” The resulting (Nothing is Working) Victory is a metal form that recalls the iconic sculpture’s shape, but is built using intersecting pieces of metal, held up on a wooden trestle. The process taught him to make organic, volumetric shapes he hadn’t been able to create before. A few weeks later, Steele got his first call to make a piece of public art — one that called on his newfound skill.


Left: Basalt Pillars, 2021, walnut, 23-gauge nails, 16 x 48 x 4 inches.

Right: Rendering of Fabric, a city-funded work slated for installation in University City in 2026. Rendering courtesy of Matthew Steele.

Guaranteed funding, a larger scale, a public audience and a sense of permanence make these commissions particularly prized. But the making of a piece of public art can become weighed down in procedure — paperwork and correspondence and engineering — that can remove an artist from the creative process. “It’s a tricky transition,” Steele says. “You’re using new materials, on a completely different scale.”

Schematic depictions of Fabric, the piece he’s currently working on for the City of Charlotte, clearly share the elegance, energy and story of his studio work. Before submitting his proposal for the commission, Steele researched the industrial history of the area and became inspired by the early-1900s textile mills of the NoDa area. “I found old photos from the archives, images of factory rooms with thousands of spools of thread,” he says. “I just couldn’t get over the visual, all of these threads coming through.”

He began to experiment with steel rods and developed the design for what will become a 10-foot-tall, 6-ton piece of steel rods. Slated to be installed in 2026 on a median in J.W. Clay Boulevard, the piece will be a sort of pyramid of rebar, where slivers of daylight will shift with the movement of a viewer.

“Public art is really, really exciting,” he says. “You get to do something you wouldn’t do any other way.”  PS

This is an excerpt from Art of the State: Celebrating the Art of North Carolina, published by UNC Press.