Wandering Billy

Mex ’n’ Match

No less than four new restaurants expand Downtown’s dining scene

By Billy Eye

“How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?” ― Julia Child

This month Eye offer up a Bento Box of brand-new places to dine and shop downtown that you may not have discovered yet.

Los Chico’s

Despite an oddly placed apostrophe, Los Chico’s brings great-tasting Mexican fare back to downtown for those who still yearn for the days of Tijuana Fats. Located in the old Meyer’s building at South Elm and February One, Tex-Mex lunch fajitas at Los Chico’s are a pleasing combination of carne asada strips and multicolored peppers wrapped in freshly made tortillas. I especially enjoyed the rich flavor of their frijoles. Street tacos, sopes, gorditas and tortas (Mexican sandwiches) are authentically prepared and taste muy deliciosos, as is does the menudo and caldo de res (traditional beef soup with potatoes, corn on the cob, squash and cabbage) available on weekends only.

Come to think of it, the last time I ate at Los Chico’s I didn’t eat there at all. No harm, no foul — the waiter took my order, that was handled efficiently enough, only my food never arrived so I tossed a few bucks on the table for the salsa and water then wandered farther down South Elm to dine at one of my fave new places, Bonchon. But I’ll be back!



A few doors north of Mellow Mushroom, Bonchon is an international Asian Fusion chain best known for their Korean fried chicken. To tell the truth, there are so many other delicious dishes on the menu, I haven’t sampled Bonchon’s signature dish yet. I savored their sesame-ginger salad topped with a crispy cooked serving of salmon. Another time I gorged on delicious bulgogi (thinly sliced marinated ribeye sautéed with mushrooms, scallions, and onions served with rice). Their Bibimbap was rated No. 40 in the 50 most delicious foods according to a CNN Travel reader’s poll. Bonchon’s menu is extensive; finally, a place downtown that serves a proper Udon noodle soup capped with sesame oil, nori and toasted sesame seeds. I particularly like the seafood version with shrimp, calamari and scallops that’ll warm you up from the inside out.




Located where Ganache once was, more recently LaRue Elm, I’m captivated with this restaurant even though I’m not a fan of smoked meats generally. The flavor profile can at times be overwhelmingly artificial but not at Smohk’d. Their brisket, St. Louis ribs, pastrami, pork shoulder and chicken wings are seasoned with a pleasing combination of garlic and herbs then smoked for about four hours for a well balanced taste. There’s even an “impossible” meatloaf for our meatless friends.

Order à la carte or assemble a plate consisting of your choice of protein, sauces, two sides and bread for around $12. I heartily recommend the Texas brisket with a side of homemade horseradish sauce, baked beans, collards, and sweet-and-spicy cornbread. Booths are wide, easily accommodating six to eight diners each with long, hardwood community tables for larger parties, as well as a private dining area upstairs for more intimate affairs.

One recent Sunday, our party lucked out when the chef was experimenting with prime rib, which may be added to the menu by the time you read this. If so, ask for the prime rib sandwich consisting of four large chunks of perfectly roasted beef wrapped in a hoagie roll with mayo, lettuce and tomato. Heavenly!


The Sage Mule

Restaurants can typically take months to build a following, if they’re lucky enough to survive at all. Not so with The Sage Mule, only open a few weeks, this comfy bakery and bistro has been buzzing with excited, hungry patrons from the very start.

Forming a triumvirate on Battleground, along with Preyer Brewery and Machete (where Crafted — The Art of Street Food used to be), The Sage Mule is open for breakfast and lunch beginning at 6 a.m. — although I doubt many of you are up that early to milk the chickens or whatever one does at such an ungodly hour.

It’s a casual atmosphere, you order at the counter then find a seat inside or on the large outdoor patio. How could you possibly go wrong starting the day with a simple Blue Plate Special, perhaps a breakfast cassoulet (white bean and stout ragout, Carolina chopped pork, fried eggs on focaccia), or avocado toast with poached egg? For lunch a friend and I truly enjoyed the Salmon Niçoise Sammie and old-fashioned flat top burger. Fresh breads and baked goods are also on the menu.


In addition to these new eateries, downtown is now home to four barber shops (at Rock’s Hair Shop you can enjoy a cold brew as you get a close shave) while work is nearing completion on a six-lane bowling alley/bar on the corner of East Lewis and South Elm, where that Hoarders-like junk shop had been doing business since at least the 1980s.

There’s also an ethically sourced clothing store, Mindful Supply Co., on the only strip of storefronts that survived the devastating 1980s fires that decimated South Davie Street (I can almost hear Old Photo Specialist Bill Heroy saying, “Why is Billy Eye so obsessed with those fires?!?”).

A UNC-TV documentary described Mindful’s supply chain as, “Dirt to shirt.” Co-owner David Grubbs tells me, “We offer completely sustainable goods, 100 percent North Carolina Cotton. The message is sustainability, traceability, knowing where your products come from.” Not only is the cotton grown in state, it’s ginned, dyed, and printed locally as well. David Grubbs and partner Derek Glass even design their retro-activewear on the premises at 335 South Davie, including T-shirts that celebrate The Boro. You have to check this place out. There’s something for the entire family.


Local party band Grand Ole Uproar will be performing at The Crown above the Carolina Theater on February 9th, opening for Nashville’s The Southern Gothic, who were named “Artist on the Verge” in Billboard’s Best Bets after debuting at No. 1 on its Heat Seekers List.

Grand Ole Uproar describes their style as a musical gumbo conjuring up, “the Texas twang of Waylon Jennings and Doug Sahm, the electric carnival of Dylan, the improvisational impulses of the Grateful Dead, and the laid-back swampy sound of JJ Cale.” This promises to be a terrific night of original music.  OH

Billy Eye is a major contributor to a 600-plus page oral history just published by Mikey Bean entitled Phantoms: The Rise of Deathrock from the LA Punk Scene that details the emergence of the Goth scene in America. Go figure. . .

In The Spirit

Rum Discovery

Straight up sugar cane

By Tony Cross

In the spring of 2018, I was able to get into the five-year anniversary party at the mezcal bar Gallo Pelon in Raleigh. It was a fun night shared with close friends at one of my favorite bars. What made the evening even more special was my introduction to Oaxacan Agricole rum.

Near the end of every year, I place my order online for different spirits that aren’t available through our state’s ABC system (which would be many). It’s basically my Christmas present to myself. Copious amounts. It never dawned on me to search for rums from the Oaxacan region until that night. So I did, and grabbed a bottle from Haiti while I was at it. I drank both bottles bone-dry, and couldn’t remember my name or how to do times-tables for three days.

I’m lying. I was the first kid in my third-grade class to remember their multiplication tables; that will never fade from my memory.

Paranubes Oaxacan Agricole Rum

“Made in the northern highlands of Oaxaca, where a sparsely inhabited sub-tropical climate produces some of the best sugar cane on Earth. Third-generation distiller Jose Luis Carrera works with several local varieties of cane grown organically and minimally processed during distillation, using only the fresh, lightly pressed cane juice.”

That’s the first thing I read about Paranubes rum. The next thing I noticed is the whopping 54 percent alcohol by volume. Yeah, I had to give this one a go. When it arrived (along with the other types of spirits I purchased), it was the first bottle I opened. On the nose, I could definitely smell sugar cane as soon as I popped the cork. But once in the glass, there was a peppery smell to it that I couldn’t quite nail down.

The next day, my buddy Carter gave it a go, and before his first sip, he said, “Hmm . . . smells like ketchup.” That’s it! I should’ve gotten that; I eat ketchup on almost everything. We both agreed it was a beautiful rum, from the nose, to the back of the palate. Just straight-up sugar cane. No additives. I read on their website that Jose Luis Carrera is able to produce 85 liters a day — the bottle is one liter. He could distill more for a faster production time, but doesn’t want to compromise the balance of his rum. Talk about quality.

The first drink I made with this was the classic Ti’ Punch: just a touch of organic cane sugar, lime, and Paranubes rum made my holiday week a little less stressful. I’ll give a recipe below.

Clairin Sajous Haitian Rhum Agricole

What struck my curiosity with this bottle were two things: One, it’s only been on the market for a couple of years; and two, I’ve never tasted clairin before. It was introduced to me as an eau de vie, similar to white Agricole rhums. So, what exactly is clairin? In a nutshell, it’s a distilled spirit made from sugar cane juice that is produced in Haiti. It gets its name (kleren in Haitian Creole) from its clear color. This clairin comes from an independent distillery that sits in the northern high-altitude village of Saint Michel de L’Attalaye and is run by Michel Sajous.

Just like the distillery of Paranubes, the Sajous Clairin is organically cultivated. Sajous uses the cristalline variety of sugar cane. This type of sugar cane doesn’t yield as much juice when pressed compared to larger production rum companies, but the juice that it does hold has a ton of character. In fact, this type of cane comes from small villages that use machinery without electricity. The sugar cane is also cut by hand and transported by ox carts or donkeys to the distilleries.

Wild beasts and sugar cane. That’s it, folks. It smells stronger than it tastes: grassy, slightly fruity, and very clean. Don’t let the 107 proof on the label scare you — indeed, this is high-octane, but there is so much flavor to decipher, and the clean finish makes this a new staple in my bar. I’m ordering three bottles next time. I recommend the Clairin Sajous definitely in a daiquiri, or on the rocks.

Are you a fan of rum? I feel like there are two groups: Those that like common, molasses-based rum (Molasses is made by boiling sugar cane juice, and then skimming off the top while it’s boiling. After this process is repeated many times, the end result is a thick and sweet liquid.) and those who like Agricole rhums that are made from sugar cane juice. I say that the first group likes “common rum” because that rum is everywhere and is always sweeter. Agricole rum can be more effluvious or funky, and that’s the rum I prefer.

Ti’ Punch

1 teaspoon organic cane sugar

1 fat lime wedge (not that half-moon, sliver-of-a-lime nonsense)

2 ounces rhum agricole (I use Paranubes)

Place sugar and lime into a rocks glass. Gently muddle lime into the sugar. Release the oils of the lime into the juice without pulverizing it. Add rum and ice. Give it a quick stir. Take your time and enjoy. OH

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

True South

Dog Days of Winter

Because, well, outside dog

By Susan S. Kelly

You knew that sooner or later, there’d be a column on dogs. February may seem a strange choice, but when it comes to my dog — a black Lab named Babe — it’s appropriate, because February is a cold, dreary month, and I get a lot of grief about Babe because she’s always outside, no matter the weather. Listen, you strollers and walkers and joggers and drive-bys: She is an outside dog.

My husband and I had a knockdown drag-out about this years ago, with a different Lab, named Sis; so much so that I called the vet to find out the facts. “A Lab is made for cold weather,” he said. “They can go down to 2 degrees.”

We’ve tried, I promise. We’ve had the wooden doghouse, with the cedar shavings inside. We’ve bought the expensive plastic “Igloo” house, outfitted it with towels and more cedar shavings, pitched bones and peanut butter-coated chew toys inside. We’ve put a fluffy bed inside the tool shed, next to the water heater, and left the door open so she can come and go. We’ve tried dragging her indoors by her collar.

But . . . no dice. Babe has extreme canine FOMO. Babe is like Ariel in The Little Mermaid: She wants to be where the people are. The mailman. The UPS guy. The garbage men. The yard armies. And especially the dog walkers. They know her by name. They bring treats. They let their dogs off leashes so they can rodeo around the front yard with Babe. One dog walker, whose name I’ve never known, moved from the neighborhood but still drives over weekly and brings her French bulldog specifically to hang out with Babe.

Babe has more friends than I do. I have to give them Christmas presents. My husband’s daily walks with her around a six-block radius is so regular, making Babe so familiar, that when he’s out of town, and I’m left with the walking task, people stop and ask me if my husband is sick. Babe doesn’t want to go to the dog Hilton if we go out of town. Besides, a legion of neighborhood kids have depended on Babe’s needs for adolescent income.

Of course, having an outside dog, especially if the dog is a will-eat-anything Lab, has its problems. Collateral damage, if you will. The French drains, chewed to plastic bits, piled in the monkey grass? Dog. The screen door whose lower half is brown from fur dirt? Dog. The terrace furniture cushions, whose corners are raveled and spilling upholstery guts? Dog. The dirt clods scattered all over the driveway/front walk from a recent dig? Dog. The Pieris japonica shrub in death throes with a hollowed-out cavity at its root base? Dog, seeking shade from the summer sun. The multitude of slobber-encrusted, thread-dangling knotted ropes and bristle-bones and otherwise unrecognizable pet toys in the natural area/driveway/patio? Dog. Never mind the ruined hoses, which look like 20 yards of bubblegum to an outside dog. Because you can have a decent yard, or you can have an outside dog, but not both.

Same applies to packages. A neighbor called to report that the front yard was dotted with scraps of blue fabric and bubble wrap. That was my Rent-the-Runway dress for a black tie party. (Despite a dangling cap sleeve, I wore it anyway.) The teeth marks all over the $2-per-card stationery. The borrowed-and-returned books with no covers left on them — hardback and paperback. I need a delivery drone that aims for chimneys instead of doors. And if you are delivering, watch where you place your feet, because . . . dog. Go, Dog, Go.  And they do. Anywhere. Everywhere.

Through five decades of dogs, I’ve always wanted one that, like Lassie, would put its head on my lap and do that “I love you” whine. I’ve finally got one. Babe is such a people-person dog that I can no longer sit on the (raveled, ruined) terrace furniture with a (coverless, chewed) book because she’s got her head in my lap, doing the “I love you” whine and jiggling my arm, and therefore my glass, and I’ve got a half-dozen wine-stained shirts to prove it. It’s been said before in this column but bears repeating: Be careful what you wish for.

Still, she’s perfectly happy to gobble down all my boiled peanut shells. She’s perfectly happy to gobble ice cubes, for that matter. And I have a yard full of birds who feel perfectly safe raising their young in my pyracantha and wisteria vines because Babe in the yard means no cats or snakes in their nests.

You know those T-shirts that say my parents went to wherever and all I got was this lousy T-shirt? My Master of Fine Arts cost $20,000 and the only thing I really learned or remember is this advice from a Pulitzer Prize-winning professor: No one wants to read about dreams, dogs, or how you lost your virginity.

Well. Two out of three’s not bad.

By the way, did you accidentally drop your white, knitted toboggan in my yard? Here it is, resembling Swiss cheese. Because . . . (outside) dog.  OH

Susan S. Kelly is a blithe spirit, author of several novels, and a proud grandmother.

Featured Artist

“Homewoods, Winter”, 2019, oil on canvas, 48 x 48 inches

Jeremiah Miller: Finding Solitude

Jeremiah Miller used to paint models, posing them in front of windows. Eventually, he became more enchanted with what lay beyond the panes.

“I thought painting landscapes was more liberating,” says Miller, “It’s about finding solitude . . . When I’m painting, I’m positing my own personal ideas. That’s the way I communicate.”

GreenHill, a Greensboro showcase of North Carolina art, hung three of Miller’s communiqués in its recent Winter Show.

For inspiration, Miller wanders the woods around his home in Belews Creek, as his painting Homewoods, Winter, suggests with its striped birch trunks, clinging beech leaves, and veins of shadows stretched across pillows of white.

“I’m always fascinated with the color of snow shadows. They go from blue to gray to lavender,” says Miller, whose background in photography helps him to see deeply.

His brush follows where his heart leads.

“I believe in aesthetic emotions,” he says. “There’s something that might attract me. It might be the pattern of the light or textures. Usually, if I have a really strong feeling about that, it’s going to be a painting I feel good about.”  OH

— Maria Johnson

Info: greenhillnc.org

Short Stories

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

With one exception: Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony! A musical joke so typical of the maestro, Symphony No. 45, as it’s also known, was composed as a plea among the musicians in the retinue of Niklaus 1, the Hungarian Prince of Esterházy, to end their unusually long stay at his summer palace and return home to their wives. Greensboro Symphony Orchestra will perform the piece on February 20 and 22 at 8 p.m. at Dana Auditorium (5800 W. Friendly Avenue). Before saying good-bye, they’ll entrance you with Puccini’s Capriccio Sinfonico for orchestra and Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Guitar concerto, with guest Artyom Dervoed strumming guitar. Tickets: (336) 335-5456 ext. 224 or greensborosymphony.org.

Puff Piece

Which is not to imply the lack of substance of a lecture/workshop at Paul J. Ciener Botantical Garden (215 South Main Street, Kernersville). On February 20 at 10 a.m., Nicolas Askew will present “From Farm to Charm,” a discussion of his life on he family farm and the business of harvesting and storing cotton and creating cotton wreaths. In addition to learning how to use one, and you’ll take home with you an 18-inch wreath, which you can use year round. Cost for the workshop is $80 per person. Space is limited. To register: (336) 996-7888 or cienerbotanicalgarden.org.

Coup de Gras

What’s it gonna be? Étouffé and a filet gumbo? Beignets? King cake? Find out at 6 p.m. by signing up for “Welcome to New Orleans,” at Reto’s Kitchen, (600 South Elam Avenue). The class takes you on a tour of NOLA cuisine as a nod to Fat Tuesday, but what we’ll call Thick Thursday, February 27— before you relinquish any culinary indulgences for Lent. For now: Don a mask, and some purple-green-and-gold Mardi Gras beads, and laissez les bons temps rouler! Tickets: ticketmetriad.com.

With a Song In Your Heart

And on the lips of a tuxedoed quartet of gents from the Greensboro Tarheel Chorus! Time’s a-wastin’, but if you hurry, you might have a chance to send that special someone a singing Valentine on February 12, 13 or 14, courtesy of a genuine barbershop quartet, belting out classics, such as “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” in four-part harmony. Music, after all, is the food of love. To schedule, go to greensborobarbershop.com.   

Net Worth

Weatherspoon’s got game this month with the opening of To the Hoop: Basketball and Contemporary Art (February 1–June 7). This intersection of art and sport explores themes ripe for visual interpretation: urban versus rural settings, fashion and merchandising, race, gender, economics — not to mention the balletic grace of athletes. But then, we’ve always known Michael Jordan was poetry in motion. Info: weatherspoonart.org.

Bodies Electric

That would be the acrobats, flying through the air with the greatest of ease, twirling aerialists that make your head spin and the pretzel-like twists of contortionists performing in Cirque Diabolo. With added panache of colorful costumes, music sound and light effects, the spectacle, which comes to Carolina Theatre (310 South Greene Street on February 13 at 7:30 p.m., is sure to enthrall. Tickets: (336) 333-2605 or carolinatheatre.com.


One of the world’s greatest love stories is Americans’ passion and devotion to their cars. Express your, uh, auto erotica by admiring the souped-up, tricked out, fancified wheels on display at the Shriners’ Drag Racing & Hot Rod Expo on February 14 and 15, (5:30 p.m. and 9 a.m., respectively) at Greensboro Coliseum’s Special Event Center (1921 West Gate City Boulevard). Admission is available at the door.
Info: greensborocoliseum.com.

Royal Flush

Don your black tie — or not — and bet big on a guaranteed winner: the arts. From 7 to 10 p.m. on February 8, High Point Arts Council is bringing back its fundraiser, Casino d’Arts 2020 at High Point Country Club Emerywood (800 Country Club Drive), featuring casino games, heavy hors d’oeuvre, a cash bar and entertainment. Cash in your chips at the end of the evening for the chance to win a door prize, or bid in a silent auction on furniture, jewelry, vacation trips and more. Aces! To reserve: (336) 889-2787
or highpointarts.org.

Ogi Sez

Ogi Overman

Well, now that I’ve broken all those well-intentioned New Year’s resolutions, it’s time to make a new list of more reasonable, doable ones. Ergo, be it resolved that I, Ogi Overman, will attend live music shows and support live music in general more than ever before. Hey, I can do that even though I’m still overweight, haven’t finished my book, haven’t landscaped the backyard, and will never learn to play the accordion.

• February 9, Durham Performing Arts Center: In this month’s installment of “Hurry Up, Tanger!” I present to you the one and only Tony Bennett at DPAC.  Mercifully, in a few months we can eliminate those jaunts down I-40 East to see top-level talent. Of course, I’d travel farther than that to see the greatest living crooner.

• February 11, Cone Denim Entertainment Center: Although there have been a couple dozen Wailers since Bob Marley’s death in 1981, the continuity remains intact with guitarist Donald Kinsey, who performed with Marley and Peter Tosh, as well as such notables as Albert King. They still claim the biggest-selling reggae album of all time and continue to be the most popular international touring act of the genre.

• February 20, Ramkat: As anyone who saw him at the recent N.C. Folk Festival will attest, Booker T. Jones easily lives up to his Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. Yes, he plays all the hits — “Green Onions,” “Time Is Tight” and the rest — but his show is a litany of all the hits on which he has played along with fellow legends with whom he has collaborated. And with apologies to Steve Cropper, son Ted Jones is a bona fide monster.

• February 21, Upstage Cabaret: While he is not as well-known as Jerry Douglas or the late Mike Auldridge, it is Dobroist (yes, it’s capitalized) Rob Ickes who is the most awarded instrumentalist in the history of the International Bluegrass Music Association. His current touring and recording partner, Trey Hensley, has a voice made for bluegrass. The duo was nominated for a Grammy in 2016. BTW, the venue is the third floor of Triad Stage.

• February 23, Carolina Theatre: OK, after two rescheduled shows, this is the last time I’ll send folks to see Gordon Lightfoot. Still, if you could read my mind, you’d know I’ll be there by sundown. Again.

February Poem

The Arrow

I tried to explain Cupid to a 4-year-old today. 

He was making a Valentine for his grandmother, 

festooning a pink paper heart with stamps and stickers, 

writing ‘I love you’ across it in big, shaky letters. 

Then he asked about one of the stickers: 

Why does that heart have an arrow through it? How sad.

Even after I told him that it was more like being ‘struck by love,’ 

he held his hand over his chest. 

I don’t want Cupid to shoot me, he said. 

That would hurt.

I couldn’t disagree.

— Ashley Wahl

Creative Crossroads

For artist Kelly Rightsell, home is an ever-changing canvas

By Nancy Oakley     Photographs by Amy Freeman

I always have this feeling: It would be great to have this blank place to work where there are no distractions,” Kelly Rightsell admits as she starts a tour of her house near Latham Park, her boisterous yellow Lab, Mary following close on her heels. “I do go through and try to get rid of stuff.” But with her youngest son, Ben at home and a full plate teaching art part time at Canterbury School, the artist admits it’s hard to find the time to “scale back” and start purging. “I probably need to but haven’t,” she adds with a self-deprecating chuckle.

But where Rightsell sees a “mess” in her light-filled studio, converted from a screened porch on the second floor of her home of 20-plus years, a casual observer immediately sees a colorful explosion of the artist’s restless muse within. On a compact work counter, jars of paints and paintbrushes flank a small landscape in greens, pinks and grays; more canvases reminiscent of Matisse or Cézanne are propped up on easels or a counter on the wall opposite — a colorful interior scene here, a seascape here, an abstract or figure painting there. Tubs of paints and other tools from the artist’s toolbox and stacks of vintage children’s books, such as a dog-eared copy of Uncle Wiggily, (named for the floppy-eared rabbit and main character of popular kids’ books at the turn of the 20th century) fill a couple of bookcases.

The art supplies and books are a telltale indication of the long days Rightsell and her husband, Brian, put in for nearly 15 years: creating and selling a line of wallpapers, trim, rugs, ceramic sets, among other items, for children’s bedrooms under the handle Kelly Rightsell Designs. “This is my wallpaper book from years ago,” she says, flipping through a tome of pages with patterns featuring fanciful animals rendered in a light hand — rabbits, bears, lions, frogs — in various settings. “This was one of my favorite ones,” Rightsell says, pausing at a page depicting a cheerful menagerie in an entirely blue palette reminiscent of Delft china. “Then we did catalogs,” she continues, picking up a publication from the late 1990s that includes one of her earliest designs: an elegantly rabbit clad in a Harlequin suit, replete with ruffled collar, and a companion print of an elephant.

Rightsell designed the prints about 25 years ago, shortly after her first son, Owen, was born, when the family was living in Kirkwood. “I couldn’t find anything I liked for his nursery,” she recalls. She remembered that her high school art teacher in South Carolina had created prints, so Rightsell reached out to her former instructor and figured out how to mass-produce her own paintings. She and Brian then took them to the gift show in Atlanta. “And we sold $10,000 worth of art,” she remembers. Tapping into an unfilled niche, they expanded the line to include rugs and other home accents sold through children’s specialty stores. The business thrived, with Kelly on the creative side of it and Brian tending to daily operations and marketing. “It was really a neat thing. We could do it together,” the artist reminisces. “We had so many stores all over the country . . . and they just all went out of business.” The Great Recession would require the Rightsells to create a new life.

But recreating and revising is part and parcel of any artist’s journey. The family had by then moved to their forever home near the park. Early on, Kelly used its standalone garage as her studio, but relinquished it to accommodate an addition to the side of the house where a spacious den is now situated off an equally spacious kitchen. “Now I kind of miss my studio,” she says, her easygoing laugh returning. “I mean, I love this room, it’s nice. But you know how it is, the grass is always greener.”

And who wouldn’t love the airy space, thanks to a series of long windows that let in the afternoon light? Or the comfy sectional and oversized ottoman, animal print cushions, which, along with more of Ritsell’s paintings, many of them abstracts, lend a collective vibe to the classic room with its handsome built-in bookcases? On these are several volumes, family photographs and a series of charming painted, wooden figures. “An uncle carved these people,” Rightsell says, pointing to yet more figures occupying a shelf in a nearby hutch. “We have a whole lot of artists in the family,” she adds, reeling off a South Carolina cousin who makes jewelry, another who paints portraits, and her own daughter, Kathleen, who’s eyeing a career in art therapy. And then there’s Rightsell’s mother-in-law, Helen Farson, who lives in Greensboro, who is also a working artist. The two have taken painting workshops together and often joke that “Our children aren’t going to get anything but art when we die!” Kelly says, laughing yet again. “But that’s fine with me; I love art.”

So it will come as no surprise that there are D.I.Y. projects waiting in the wings all around the comfortable house: maybe reverting the dining room just off the front hallway back into a den, as it was when the Rightsells first moved in. “It is so cool to have that fireplace,” Rightsell says of the wood-burning feature. She would have to find another place for her grandmother’s furniture — a long dining table and chairs, and a stately china cabinet atop of which sits a smirking Staffordshire dog, both traditional counterpoints to the more casual straw rug, a chandelier from the Red Collection, yet more of the artist’s paintings and what’s this? An old-timey brass cash register perched on a sideboard? “My grandfather was a barber and had this in his barbershop. I couldn’t get rid of it,” Rightsell says, mentioning her fondness for estate sales, dating back to visits to flea markets with her grandparents and cousins. “I’m sure nobody has one in their dining room,” she adds wryly. “But I can’t get rid of this stuff.”

Of course not. It’s fodder for that restless muse, who deems the house as much a canvas as those used for Rightsell’s paintings, including the latest inspiration that has taken hold of the artist’s imagination: one day painting a mural in the front hall with motifs of trees and birds similar to those on a chinoiserie vase or screen.

But that will have to wait, like a lot of other things, although she loves teaching art to the kindergartners, first-, second- and third-graders at Canterbury. The part-time position is the perfect solution for now to the demise of her design business post-recession (Brian has since gone on to work full-time in sales at Browns Summit’s paper-and-packaging giant Morrisette). “It’s nice to have that rejuvenation being around kids,” she says of her charges’ unbridled creativity. She nourishes their budding talents by submitting their works for publication in the newspaper from time to time, recalling the thrill of her own work published when she was a girl. And her efforts are bearing fruit: Their works caught the eye of Downtown Greensboro, which will reproduce them on electrical boxes downtown as a part of a student art project. “They’re so excited!,” Rightsell says, channeling their enthusiasm.

She has worked with her students on other community projects, such as soon-to-be-unveiled mural in the women’s wing at Cone Health and a painting auctioned off at the annual JDRF gala a few years ago. Rightsell describes it as an “Impressionistic background” consisting of thumbprints of children with Type 1 diabetes that set into relief figures drawn in her own hand. “I was really nervous,” she says of the gala, “because it was a live auction.” She needn’t have been: The painting sold for the tidy sum of $7,000. “I’ve always wanted to do stuff that helps or affects children,” Rightsell adds. “It’s a great thing to be able to use your talents.” She’s also lent her artist’s brush to United Way of Greater Greensboro’s Handbags for Hope, along with Hands for Hearts, a nonprofit founded by her good friend Kathleen Little, that supports research into congenital heart defects.

Even so, her muse keeps calling. “Our business was great when it was going,” Rightsell reflects. “But I’m trying to figure out the next big thing,” she says. “It’s such a big range, the things that I do,” she says, nodding at a figure painting of four young girls standing against an open sky, their backs to the viewer. And there may be yet another turn in the artist’s path owing to the one vestige of her children’s line: needlepoint kits for Christmas stockings. Holding up a pattern adorned with a congenial, smiling bear, Rightsell explains that she’s had several inquiries about the festive items.

Like any artist, Rightsell expresses what’s in her heart, but having run the design business for so long, suppressing her entrepreneurial instinct is challenging. “What do I want to paint without thinking: ‘What does somebody want? What’s cool?’” Rightsell posits. “It’s hard for me to shut that off, because for so long that’s what I did: What do I have to have new for the next season?”

Whatever it is — a rabbit, a frog, a smiling bear — she’ll surely pull it out of her hat to the enchantment of all . . . including her mutable but never muted muse.  OH

Info: kellyrightsell.com

Nancy Oakley is the senior editor of O.Henry.


Speed Dating and Mating

For mallards, timing is everything

By Susan Campbell

For some birds — like mallards here in central North Carolina — spring comes early. While other birds are simply eating and sleeping to survive the worst of winter, with little else on their minds, the drakes sporting their finest feathers, and the hens are on the lookout for a safe neighborhood to raise the next generation of ducklings.

Mallards are familiar to just about all of us — found nearly worldwide, thanks in large part to their popularity as a game bird. The males, with their glossy green heads, curly tail feathers and well-known, loud voices are perhaps the most readily identified fowl on the planet. Females, on the other hand, are much less noticeable but still readily identifiable given their mottled plumage, yellow bills and stereotypical “quacks.” The affinity for living and nesting near people is unparalleled. Although a large percentage of mallards found throughout our state have been domesticated to varying degrees, many behave more like their wild cousins than barnyard fowl.

Truly wild mallards are indeed wary and are unlikely to waddle up to arm’s length for handouts. These so-called “puddle ducks” favor forested areas with ponds and small lakes that provide plenty of emergent and submerged vegetation. While foraging, it’s bottoms up for mallards who are given to feeding heads’ down on leaves, shoots and roots in the shallows. You can also see them diving for food below the surface. They’ll feast on invertebrates when abundant, as well as fruits that may fall into the water. Mallards can also digest mast and so may be seen gobbling up nuts (such as acorns on land) in fall and winter too.

Like all waterfowl, mallards pair by early winter. Pairs may be seen swimming in tandem, and you may even catch them copulating, early in the calendar year — well before the mercury begins to rise. Also watch for drakes defending their mates from unmated males in duels that can be quite violent as well as loud. As winter turns to spring, expect the behavior to escalate — not unlike their human counterparts. In the world of waterfowl, males outnumber females by as many as four to one — so competition can be fierce.

By early March the hens will have found a suitable nesting site. Wandering away from the water’s edge, sometimes as much as a quarter mile, a female mallard will create a simple scrape in a protected spot to start her family. She will lay an egg a day until the clutch is complete. She may lay more than a dozen eggs by the time she’s satisfied with her stash. Each morning, after each egg is laid, she will add down from her breast to the clutch to insulate them from the cold. She will also cover them with pine needles or other vegetation that is present in the proximity of the nest to protect them from the elements. But what’s most important is the blanket that will hide the nest from the eyes of potential predators.

Nest placement for mallards is the key to success. Should she be spotted by crows, the eggs will be eaten in short order. If the nest is sniffed out by raccoons or foxes, it will be consumed in no time flat. Therefore, many hens have learned to lay eggs within the thickest of vegetation — or to nest very close to human habitation. I had a mallard nest in the flowerbed literally right outside my front door for several seasons while living on a lake in the Sandhills.

So should you happen to witness mallards courting nearby in the coming weeks, it could mean the appearance of fluffy yellow ducklings by early spring. Indeed the days are lengthening and these well-known birds are quite aware of the importance of timing, even in the absence of a calendar — or smart phone. Imagine that!  OH

Susan would love to hear from you. Send wildlife sightings and photos to susan@ncaves.com.


The Accidental Astrologer

The New and the Proud

Transformation is the name of the game

By Astrid Stellanova

The new year’s percolating, the stars are circulating and a new you is brewing. . .  Or an old you looking like it is walking back, doing the Benjamin Button reverse strut.

Time to make self-renewal an inside job, Star Children. It is a brutally difficult process, true enough, but ignore at your own peril. Otherwise, we will be tsk-tsking all of 2020 about how nobody has ever done so little with so much.

Aquarius (January 20–February 18)

In simple terms, karma is best put: “Ha, Ha, Ha!” Someone has made your life complicated, and it appears they have wedged themselves into your reality and have started occupying more than a little space in your head. Evict them. Honeybun, you don’t have to be a cactus expert to recognize a real prick. 

Pisces (February 19–March 20)

Hush up, Puppy! You got what you want, and like the dog chasing the car, you gotta figure out what to do now that you’ve caught it.

Aries (March 21–April 19)

If it’s the thought that counts, Sugar, you could be sitting in jail. You’ve had to face off with a worthy adversary, so now find your inner peace before they shred that, too.

Taurus (April 20–May 20)

Good heart, bad mouth. That would just about fit on your tombstone. A kinder, gentler world may begin with small things, like you giving up cussin’ and swearin’.

Gemini (May 21–June 20)

Time to get your own health and life on track to avert scary stuff. The seesaw you’re on has you stewing in your own stress, and believing a balanced meal is a cookie in both hands.   

Cancer (June 21–July 22)

This month offers chances to alter your life from status quo sis boom blah, to va-va-voom! The changes you crave are reachable; begin at the beginning. Choose differently.

Leo (July 23–August 22)

Yankee or Y’all? Pick a team. Influences have made you question your roots, values, sense of self, even your identity. Honey, get grounded, meditate and re-evaluate.

Virgo (August 23–September 22)

Under threat, you tend to hide in your comfort zone, which is like a sleeping bag kind of comfort; but with no style. Even Norma Kamali couldn’t make over this schleppy look.

Libra (September 23–October 22)

Obsession looms large for you this month. A hobby overtakes you. Were you crazy even before the goat yoga? Check that tendency to overdo anything worth doing.

Scorpio (October 23–November 21

Time to plunge both hands into the cookie jar. Get piggy with it. Allow yourself to get totally wrapped up in something. Immersion will finally cure an old itch for you.

Sagittarius (November 22–December 21)

Y’all ain’t right. But it has been so much fun playing, you might not want to stop. In the meantime, pay attention to numbers around you. Sugar, seven signifies something.

Capricorn (December 22–January19)

Attitude adjustment: Yeah? No. Say the word, often and firmly, to a very stubborn close one who thinks they will always, and should always, get their way. It stops now.  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.

Simple Life

The Winter Gardener

There’s plenty of life stirring beneath the season’s snows

By Jim Dodson

As you read this, the first winter of the new decade is drawing to a close.

Like a certain fabled snowman who danced with the village children until he began to melt away, I rather hate to see it go.

Winter, you see, is my favorite gardening season.

Perhaps this is because I am a son of winter, reportedly born during the height of a February snowstorm on Groundhog Day way back in 1953.

Or maybe my wintry affection stems from two decades of living on a forested hill in Maine, where the snow piled up before Christmas and I learned most of what I know about resourceful living and “making do” — as they say in the North Country — including the art of keeping the home fires burning and loved ones warm.

The light of winter is another of the season’s charms. Clear winter stars over our hilltop provided a dazzling show of celestial beauty, and the feel of the winter sun on your face on a cold, clear afternoon is like a benediction in Nature’s chapel.

Whenever I’m having difficulty falling asleep, I remember cold clear nights when I donned my red wool Elmer Fudd coat and toted a 50-pound bag of sorghum pellets to the spot at the forest’s edge. There, a family of whitetail deer waited patiently for their supper in the arctic moonlight during the hardest nights of year — a memory of fellowship with mythic creatures that never fails to ease me into sleep on my own winter nights.   

It’s possible that my fondness for what poet Christina Rossetti called the “bleak midwinter”  is simply written in the stars. Both my parents were Aquarians with midwinter birthdays just days before my own in early February. Ditto my firstborn child, a beautiful baby girl who appeared during a January blizzard that left the world quilted in white as the golden morning sun spread over Casco Bay, moments after young Maggie’s debut.

When we carried her home to Bailey Island, our unplowed lane lay so deep in snow we were forced to park at the village post office and slide down a steep hill to our back door just steps from the cobalt blue sea. The memory of my newly arrived Southern mother giddily whooping as she tobogganed down the hill on her bottom still makes me smile. Maggie made the trip all bundled into my arms — and claims to remember the journey to this day.

Winter’s other gifts included our annual winter solstice party where friends and neighbors came out of the frigid night to sing and dance for their supper and — because I married into a clan of real Glaswegian Scots — a Hogmanay celebration on New Year’s Eve that included dancing to fiddle reels and toasting with good Islay-made Scotch with Big Ben dialed up on the shortwave radio at 7 p.m. — and sing in bed by nine. The drunks in Times Square could never compete with that.

To some extent or another, of course, every one of these seasonable pleasures can be found in North Carolina winter as well, including cold nights, clear stars, holiday lights, good Scotch and fiddle reels and — despite global warming — the occasional surprise snowfall that stops a madding world in its tracks.

But winter here has one significant advantage over life on a snowy hilltop in Maine.

In the North Country, once the deep cold and snows arrived, I could only tend the fire, browse seed catalogs and picture the ambitious things I planned to do in my garden once the frozen ground thawed and was fully in view again — generally around Easter time, if we were lucky.

Thanks to kinder and gentler Southern winters, however, I am able to get to work planning and digging even before Hogmanay arrives. With Nature at parade rest and stripped to bare essentials, I not only can see the architecture of my garden, but also take stock of last summer’s botanical successes and bonehead miscues.

This year, for example, with the new decade just hours away, I spent five blessedly solitary hours getting gloriously dirty in my winter garden on New Year’s Eve. To briefly review my loves’ labors, I dug up and transplanted seven rose bushes and nine ornamental grasses; moved a mophead hydrangea to a shadier spot and six Russian sages to a sunnier one. I also planted a splendid Leland cypress, raked up the last of the autumn leaves and spread a dozen wheelbarrows worth of new hardwood mulch.

By the time I was finished — and the work finished me — the mistress of the estate required me to strip bare at the side door before entering her gleaming New Year’s kitchen, though she’ll flatly tell you that she never sees me happier than after a few well-spent hours digging in my winter garden, headed for a good soak in the tub or a hot shower.

Dig in the soil, goes the old gardener’s ditty — delve in the soul.

Even William Shakespeare seemed to find this time of year irresistible for contemplation of life’s passing seasons.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed, whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.

His theme, of course, is the brevity of life.

As February dawns, such wintry thoughts come naturally to my mind as well, for I reach my mid-60s this year and am both amused and astonished how quickly the notion of “old age” has arrived.

Save for a pair of dodgy knees that make gardening’s up and down a bit more challenging, I honestly don’t feel a day over 40 — yet I know I’m in the midwinter of my allotted visitation time, with scarce time to waste for being present in my own days, whatever the season.

“Tho’ I am an old man,” as Founding Father Thomas Jefferson wrote to his friend Thomas Willson Peale in August of 1811, “I am but a young gardener.”

Two and one-half decades ago, when I really was in my 40s, I spent the entire month of February by my own founding father’s bedside, serving as his caretaker as he slipped the bonds of Earth.

What a fine and joyful life he’d led — my nickname for him was “Opti the Mystic” — and what a privilege it was to simply sit by his bed talking about this and that, weather and wives, golf and grandchildren, nothing left unsaid, saying thank-you as his life gently ebbed away.

The end came a few days into March, after a night of sleet gave way to a stunning spring morning full of sunshine and birdsong.

My oldest friend Patrick turned up, seemingly unbidden, suggesting we go play the old goat farm golf course where we learned to play as kids.

I have no memory of how we scored or even what we talked about, though it was the perfect thing to do. Opti would surely have approved.

That afternoon, I dug up some of my mom’s peonies to take home to my snowbound perennial beds in Maine.

I planted them as the spring thaw finally arrived — sometime around Easter.  OH

Contact Editor Jim Dodson at jim@thepilot.com.