By: Lara Winburn

Have you ever stumbled onto your computer on a Friday night and realized that you were not having a girls’ night, date night or even a family movie night, but your 7,533 Facebook friends were? I have, and sometimes it can sting or at least give you pause about whether you are having enough fun and making enough plans.

I really do like social media-I love a silly survey, a funny post on Facebook, and I can’t resist a cute pic and a clever hashtag on Instagram. Occasionally, I will even tweet – though I often need more than 140 characters to express myself (as you can see). That said, it seems like in this “status-update” world when I feel that sting, all I need is a little dose of reality – not reality trash TV or a housewife from Fakeville (though I am not opposed to that, either).

FalsiesHere’s the little dose of reality that I think is worth remembering when the 13-year-old girl inside of me, and maybe even you, feels that “getting-left-out” sting:

There is a picture of me on Facebook, all lip gloss smiles and even a little eye make-up, too. I’m at a dinner party with a glass of wine in a real wine glass with a stem and everything. But here is what is behind that picture: The host of the dinner party burned a good portion of dinner (#theregoeshergoodmood); one couple had to leave early when the babysitter called with a sick child (#partysover); and it was an altogether underwhelming time (#exceptfortheeyemakeup).

I’m not saying that most life events shared on social media are not wonderful memories being made; they are. They are just are not ALL wonderful memories. Sometimes they are just a good camera angle and the Valencia setting on Instagram.

The truth is: we don’t put our frozen-pizza, park-in-front-of-the-tv, skip-the-bath nights out there for the world to see. You don’t want to see my 700 loads of laundry; you’ve probably got your own. (#whereareallthesocksgoing?!) And that’s the thing, isn’t it? We all have our own not-so-Facebook-worthy Friday nights. Or, better yet, we are having one of life’s actual precious moments and haven’t picked up the smart phone to share.

Maybe you have no idea about this false world that social media portrays and you have no idea what I am talking about and never felt the sting. If that’s the case, don’t mind me, just go back to your Pinterest-worthy parties and post some more really lovely selfies.

But we all know… most people crop out the not-so-pretty parts.

Monte….An Introduction

By: Shannon Shull

I had every intention of writing this blog entry on a different subject – one that I’ll have to save for another time, because I have been distracted and inspired by a unique creature that lives in my home. His name is Monte – the Count of Monte Cristo to be exact. Pronounced MON-TEE. I have a record of having dogs with an enormous amount of character. This latest precious pet of mine is living up to that record.

L'il Shannon &; her 1st cocker, Cookie

L’il Shannon & her 1st cocker, Cookie

When I was little, my very first official pet that was all mine, came to me Christmas morning in a wrapped box with a bow around her neck. My parents presented me, with total excitement and grandeur, with my last, but most special gift of Christmas morning. Out popped the little head of one of the most beautiful cocker spaniels ever. It was love at first sight. I was about 7 years old and I named her Cookie. I’ve had a love of cocker spaniels ever since.

Puppy Monte Saying Pick Me!

Puppy Monte Saying Pick Me!

So when it was time to get a new rascal to warm my heart and liven up my home after some big changes in my life, I thought it was time to revisit that love of a cocker. I contacted a family whose cocker had pups. They were looking for good homes for them and I lucked out…majorly. As I spoke to the lady on the phone, I asked if she could share a picture of the puppies. As we talked on the phone she took the picture – I remember this because she was talking to the puppies as we were chatting on the phone. Saying things like “Smile pretty! One of you is gonna get a new mama!” She emailed me the picture. Of course they were all precious. I mean they were puppies – what puppy isn’t super cute!? There was no way I could choose just by looking at the picture. I had to meet these little ones in person. When we met, I loved on those puppies and played with them all, but there was one that took to me. One that I knew I didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t until months later, after we’d taken home our l’il Monte, that I looked back at that picture and realized the irony of the shot – it was as if he was waving at me, raising his little paw, saying “Pick me! Pick me!”

The day my babies met Monte for the 1st time...

The day my babies met Monte for the 1st time…





Monte is almost two years old now and has consistently proven to be busting at the seams with character. From destroying supposedly indestructible things – (like the Kong dog toys… yea, believe it or not, our Monte cocker spaniel, demolished the Kong) – to consistently displaying an array of quirky mannerisms to having so much love and devotion that he gives new meaning to the quote, “A dog wags his tail with his heart.” We are all in love with our Count of Monte Cristo.

2014 Shannon & her current cocker, Monte

2014 Shannon & her current cocker, Monte

Monte Man, Our Count

Monte Man, Our Count

For me especially, the quote, “I may not be perfect but my dog loves me,” hits home something fierce. This dog has helped me survive some really tough times. His undying love and sweetness has helped keep me from going off the deep end. There’s so much I could say about this precious pet.

But, I was inspired to write this blog post (instead of the original one) because of my Monte’s latest heartwarming quirk that would make anyone’s heart smile. Within the last month, Monte has started communicating with us on a different level – we sing together, we chat, we converse…yes, we howl. And it’s great fun! Take a look at this video and enjoy! 

Monte lovin' Mama

Monte lovin’ Mama

Stay tuned for more marvelous Monte moments… And if you have a special pet at home that truly is one of a kind, give that angel a hug and take a moment to let him or her make your heart smile. I know I will always be thankful for all the angel pets I’ve been blessed with so far in my lifetime.

“Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend, never owned the right dog.” 🙂

Tell Your Age – Proudly

By: Chaunte McClure

Last week I celebrated my 38th birthday. Oops, did I just tell my age? Who does that? There are many women who won’t. Well, I’m not one of those women. I don’t quite understand why women (and I know some men do it, too) keep their age a secret. Does your age help crack the code to a master lock or a mind-boggling riddle? Could that number be the one to help the inquirer win the lottery? Or are you just ashamed of your age? Don’t be. Be proud of your age, whether you’re 18, 21, 50, somewhere in between or beyond. It’s great to age, you know. If you’re not getting older, you’re dead. Sorry to be so blunt, but it’s true. We should be grateful that we are living and have lived to see each birthday that has passed.  I’ve heard people say when their birthday comes around that it’s just another day. No, it’s not just another day. It’s your birthday, the date commemorating the day that God, who created you, allowed you to be a part of this world. That’s worth celebrating.

Happy BirthdayI usually don’t make a big deal out of my birthday, but this year was different. I wanted to do something for myself for a change. I wanted a change of scenery and to do something different. I decided to drive to Atlanta, even if I had to go alone. Fortunately, I didn’t travel solo. I was in good company with a friend I met in high school, whom I reconnected with last year. We had a ball! We shopped, ate, shopped and ate some more. I treated myself to a little pampering at one of the most popular salons in Atlanta, too. Besides, it was my birthday.

Well my birthday has come and gone, but I’m looking forward to turning 39, 40, and every age that follows. And every time I’m asked my age, I’ll proudly say it. Regardless of where you are in life right or how you feel about yourself, be proud of your age and be thankful that you’re still alive.

I’m Chaunte McClure, inspiring you to rejoice, be glad and tell your age.

Breakfast Potatoes

By: Brady Evans

A friend came to visit me and brought with her some eggs that her mom’s chickens had laid.

EggsI couldn’t think of anything besides eating these eggs for dinner, so naturally I planned our evening’s dinner around them.  Generally when I make breakfast potatoes I make a recipe that I remember from my childhood.  My mom would always make us rosemary skillet potatoes after chilly mornings browsing the local flea market.  And though I keep attempting to master the recipe, I just can’t.  I’m sort of a bad potato cooker and the fact that her recipe is cooked entirely stovetop means the potatoes, for me, never get soft enough before they get too dark on the outside (and by dark I mean burned).  Now, I can make do with an al dente potato.  My husband cannot.

This will be our family’s breakfast potato recipe.  It is cooked in the oven, which frees up the stove for egg frying, anyway.  The recipe calls for bell peppers and I think it is nice to add a little veggie to the potatoes when you can.  We loved this meal (partly due to these potatoes) so much that we had it two nights in a row for dinner.  The recipe as written makes a bunch but I just heated up leftovers on a sheet pan in the oven and they were good as new.

Breakfast potatoes

Breakfast Potatoes (adapted from The Pioneer Woman)


  • 4-5 pounds red potatoes, cut into chunks (1″ cubes)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 whole onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 red bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)


  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the potatoes, garlic, onion, red bell pepper, olive oil, butter, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper and some kosher salt and pepper.
  3. Pour potatoes onto two rimmed baking sheets. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, shaking the pan twice.
  4. Raise the heat to 500 degrees and bake until crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes, tossing twice.
  5. Sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper before serving.


By: Sherree Thompson

After my husband’s short visit to the emergency room with Cardiac-like symptoms, we opted to try an all carb-free diet. He had been reading a tri-athletes training guide and it just so happened that his symptoms matched what the book was saying in regards to having a Carb Intolerance. (The doctors ruled out anything heart related).

I had never heard of such intolerance and I didn’t realize which foods are considered carbs.  I’ve never really counted calories or been committed to specifically weighing meals and such. After all, I’m an “eat fresh and balanced” kind of girl.  Well, did I learn a thing or two. I had no idea how difficult it would be to totally eliminate a food group from our regular diet. Kudos to those who have to do so on a normal basis.

Anyways, we eliminated carbs for two weeks. We only did it to see how he would respond and to see if it was something we needed to adjust. Thank God it was not a permanent change, because I had already been cheating by day four. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was snappy, tired and downright hungry! And who really wants to live without sweet potatoes and corn? Not this momma.

At the end of the trail, my husband agreed that he felt tired a bit, but felt better overall. I really thought he would want to make this a normal thing, but he didn’t. Instead, he said that he thinks, for him, cutting back would be beneficial but that entirely cutting them out was not the answer. (Apparently he eats way more carbs than I do).

I am very thankful the carb-free-life is not for us and that I get to indulge in my beloved pasta! Okay, indulge isn’t the right word, but enjoy is.

Last night I made a simple Linguini and Spinach in a garlic cream sauce. All I used was fresh spinach, garlic, salt & pepper, about 2 table spoons of cream cheese and about a half teaspoon of real butter.

Steak with pasta

Several people have asked me for recipes for the dishes I cook up. The problem is, I don’t usually have one. I tend to use a pinch of that and a dash of this, so it is always a tough chore for me to get a precise recipe. I will, however, give you all the ingredients and hope that you find the blend that works for your pallet. After all, cooking is an art and only you can tell when it’s just right.

Here are a few of my recent combinations:

Poached Eggs sprinkled with Smoked Paprika and a dash of salt:


Chicken Salad Sammy: Roasted chicken breast, mayo, grapes, red onion, salt and pepper, and a dash of stone ground mustard. This is actually a really fun dish to make as you can play around with almost any ingredient combination.

Chicken salad sammy

Beer Bathing Chicken: Chicken, sweet onion, poultry seasoning, ground cardamom, salt & pepper and a bottle of beer

Chicken in the pan

In The Giving, We Receive

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

As many of you may know, Columbia College is an institution that is very near and dear to my heart.  The years between August of 1996 and May of 2000 were life changing for me and I owe it all to those hallowed grounds. When I wanted to obtain a Masters degree, and after trying an “online program” from another institution, I migrated back to that same North Main Street/Columbia College Drive campus. I successfully completed the Master in Organizational Change and Leadership program in August of 2013.

In late October, I was contacted by the Director of Alumnae Relations and asked if I would be interested in speaking at Mom’s Day.  Mom’s Day is a tradition that dates back about 40 years and is a day on which Moms (or other important female influences) join their Columbia College daughters on campus for a chapel program, lunch, and other activities.

Unfortunately, I did not plan ahead well enough, so I do not have a live recording of my presentation. However, I would like to share with you here the written version of my speech: 

SONY DSCGood morning and welcome to Mom’s Day 2013.  It is such an honor and privilege for me to come and speak with you all today.

I am a Columbia College woman, twice over, in fact.  I’m a blogger.  I’m a daughter, sister, and friend.  But, my favorite job title is mom.  I am blessed to be the mother to two beautiful, precious, and mischievous little boys.  Yep, no little girls for me to groom and send to CC; but that’s okay, I am just trying to work hard and do my best to show my boys that the best women are Columbia College women.  So, maybe I’ll have Columbia College women for daughters-in-law one day, a very long time from now!

I have really struggled with what to say to you all today that will matter, that will make a difference to at least one of you sitting in the pews in front of me, and it is my prayer that you will be able to take a little something from the words I share with you now.

Then it came to me, just share your story. 

Last weekend, I attended a Christian Women’s Conference called the Magnificent Mess and the theme was “Embrace Your Story.” I firmly believe that we can learn a lot from each other when we share our stories. They can provide validation; they can provide comfort; they can provide inspiration.  I can only hope that you will allow me the indulgence of embracing my story and my prayer that you will find some measure of inspiration within my words.

Let me tell you how I came to stand before you today; it is probably not what you think.

5 ½ years ago, I thought that my world was pretty near perfect.  I was happily married, two beautiful children, a job I was happy with, a house, a few cats, and a couple of dogs.  What in the world could possibly go wrong with this story?

Oh what a difference about six months can make.

My world, as I saw it, started to crumble around me as my eight year marriage starting falling apart right in front of my eyes.  I didn’t know how to react.  I didn’t know what to do.  I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with my husband.  I begged, pleaded, and tried to bargain with God.  My marriage was part of my identity and I was terrified of who I would be, or really who I wouldn’t be, if I didn’t have that as part of my identity anymore. 

Everywhere I turned, though, God kept showing me a Bible verse: Jeremiah 29:11.  Many of you may know it.  “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you, and not to harm you; to give you hope and a future.” 

Literally, I kept seeing this verse everywhere.  God was slamming it in my face to remind me that while I was in this mental and emotional turmoil, He knew already what I would face and He already knew the outcome.  But, even better was that He already had a hope and a future planned out for me and my children; and that He intended no harm to come to us.  But, I had to seek Him first. 

Not easy for someone who has always liked just a slight bit of control over her own life; who liked to plan things weeks and months in advance.  It was a little too “fly by the seat of my pants” for me, but in the end, what could I do? 

I recently heard, at the aforementioned women’s conference, the very best analogy for dealing with our lives when something isn’t going the way we want it to. 

Have you ever been reading a book or watching a movie that has a twist to the plot that you just don’t really like?  Maybe things are going too slow in the story?  You are ready to close the book, put it aside; turn the movie off in the middle?  Yeah, sometimes our lives can be like that too.  Often, we find our lives at a juncture or twist in the plot that we, as humans, are not really very fond of.  Lord knows I was not really comfortable with where I was in early 2009.

But, who wrote our stories?  


And He reminds us at several points in the Bible that He knew us before he knit us together in our mother’s womb.  He reminds us that He already knows what is going to happen to us and that He has that future all mapped out.  We just sort of have to let go of that little issue of control.

Okay, so I tried to sit back and do what I thought God would want me to do.  While everyone around me pushed me to go ahead and end my marriage; I sat tight.  God impressed upon me the importance of not taking the easy way out; He impressed upon me the fact that I needed to wait and be confident in saying that divorce was a very last option for me.  I really felt like that is what I was supposed to do.  So, I did.  I tried to wait out the storm. 

Now, I’ll be honest, there were a lot of times that I thought by sticking it out, God would answer my prayers and heal my marriage. 

But, that didn’t happen.

I have been divorced for almost three years now.  My final divorce hearing was, literally, only three days shy of being two years from the date my husband first said he wanted a divorce.  Two years!

At that point, I had to make a decision: Would this bump in the road, this game changer, this plot twist – would it make me bitter or would it make me better?  Would I try and close the book or would I simply push through and keep reading the story until I could turn the page?


Now since we are in church, I am not going to stand up here and tell you an outright lie; that I was never, ever bitter.  My mama raised me not to tell a lie and since she’s sitting here with us today, I have to be honest; I was bitter at times; very, very bitter.  But, I did make the decision that even when I was bitter, I was going to learn from this experience; that some good would come of it; that it would not have been in vain; that I would become better and brighter and I would share my story and pray that if I could help only one person it would have been worth it.  I was so very fortunate to have had some wonderful friends and family who encouraged me, shared their stories with me, allowed me to laugh, cry, and rage on occasion during that time.  I wanted to pay it forward.

And in seeking that desire to help someone, God has really given me some wonderful gifts over the last five years.

He allowed me to reconnect with some old friends and make some wonderful new friends who have been so very supportive of me, even when they thought I was absolutely insane at points over those two years of waiting. 

He helped create a bond between me and my brother that had never really been there before. 

He created a bond between me and my in-laws that had not ever been present before during my marriage. 

He also gave me the courage and the tenacity and the drive to do things that I had long forgotten I could do or that I loved.

The first of these was writing; I have always loved to write. In the late summer of 2011, I decided to enter a blog contest being sponsored by Lexington Medical Center for a new blog they were creating; the EveryWoman blog, it would be called.  For women, written by women.  I took a giant leap of faith and even though I was terrified of rejection, I entered the contest.

And I was one of only 10 women chosen to be a featured writer for them.  And that has been a wonderful experience for me.  I have met some wonderful ladies from different parts of the Midlands and formed meaningful friendships.  I got to participate in Lexington Medical Center’s 2012 entry for the Pink Glove Dance, which they won for the 2nd year in a row.  Fortunately, you couldn’t see me in the video, but I was there and it was an awesome and inspiring event to be a part of. 

As the result of one of my blog articles, I was contacted by the editor of Mamapedia, which is a national online mommy network and was blessed to have written several articles for them, as well.  I gained a lot of courage and backbone through that process because my articles were seen by thousands of people. Not everyone agrees with what I think, and I’ve learned that’s okay.  I also gained new friends that I’ve never met.  We correspond through Facebook mostly, sort of like new age pen pals.  But, we encourage each other and pray for each other and empathize with each other over being single mothers of little boys.

Then, God renewed a drive and desire for education in my soul.  I had always considered going to back to school to further my education, but honestly, never really thought it was a possibility when I was a working wife and mother.  Oh no, I waited until I was a single, working mother to decide that it would be just the perfect time for me to get my Masters degree.  Brilliant move, right? 

I know, don’t say it.

And let’s not forget that not only was I a single working mom, I was also involved in our church and I was the Secretary and then co-chair of the Parent’s Association at my children’s school. 

Crazy, right?

Now, I’m going to tell you that graduate school here at CC is no joke and there were many nights that I thought to myself, there is no way on earth I can finish this program; I need to just drop out.

No, I couldn’t do that.  I had to finish the program.

God led me back to my educational roots for a reason; and I had to finish my Masters from Columbia College. 

You see, Columbia College is where I originally found my voice; nurtured by some of the very best professors, like Belinda Gergel, Anne McCulloch, Bob Moore, Seldon Smith, Tandy McConnell, and the rest of the folks in the History and Political Science department as it was known back then.  When I was allowed the chance to participate in one of the first Washington Semesters and this girl from small town South Carolina walked the streets of Washington, DC and realized that she could be anything and do anything she wanted.

And on August 4th, 2013, I walked up that aisle and across the front right here, received my Masters degree, and my children helped place the hood around my neck, with my parents, my brother, and my in-laws all sitting in these very pews to witness it. 

Never, when I was married, did I think that I could write on a semi-professional level. Never, when I was married, did I think that I had the courage or willpower to go back to school.  Never, when I was married, did I think I would have the courage and the confidence to stand before you today and share my story.

But, God knew that all of those things were important to me – recall His words from Psalm 37:4, “delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And He granted them to me.

But, not in my time; in His time.

And that is what led me to stand in front of you today.

I had to persevere and push through, get through that trying period, finish that part of the book and get to a point where I could turn the page; and start a new chapter.  And what a chapter it has been for me.

But my story isn’t finished and neither is yours.

You might be facing a struggle right now; roommate or suitemate problems; problems with one of your courses; decisions regarding your major; boyfriend issues.  They all seem so major in the moment.  Not to diminish them at all; they are major for the point that you are at in your life.

But, never, ever put a period where God has only placed a comma.

Allow the mess you are in today turn into a message.

I just did.

And you can too.

Never before have I been so overwhelmed at the response to something I have written or spoken; mothers and daughters stopped me and thanked me for my words of encouragement, of perseverance.  I was truly touched and honestly think that I received more encouragement and words of affirmation and perseverance than anything I gave. I felt free; I felt invincible; I felt confident.  I finally felt like I had been able to give back to the institution that originally gave so much to me.

It is in the giving that we receive.

Be A Couch Volunteer!

By: Sydney Yarbrough

Sydney YarbroughVolunteering is very important to me. The act of selflessly doing something to help an organization in need reaps so many rewards!  Many think that volunteering takes up a lot of time and energy, or that they’re too busy to fit it into their schedule, but there are so many ways to volunteer and help people in need, even from your own home! Here are some easy ways that you can use your time to make a difference for a non-profit or cause that you support:

  1. Share their posts on Facebook. I don’t mean just “like” the post. I mean click SHARE, write a message to your followers, and encourage them to support your cause, too! Of course, not all of them will catch on immediately, but at least you’re helping to get the word out!
  2. Find Small Organizations to Support. There are plenty of non-profits that you see regularly in the media and on the news. Many hold events, galas, fundraisers, etc… The truth is, not every non-profit can afford to do these things. Many fund their causes from their own pockets, making an event nearly impossible for their budgets. I encourage you to find a lesser-known non-profit and follow their page on Facebook. Retweet them. Interact with them on your computer at least once every few days.
  3. Donate Your “Clutter.” When you’re doing spring cleaning, instead of putting everything in the trash, separate usable items into a bin and take it directly to a non-profit. Many animal rescues need items like blankets (or old clothes that could be used for blankets), detergent, cleaning supplies, etc. Coupons are a great thing to donate, too! Many assume that donating automatically means writing a check, but not always. Gift cards are also a big help.
  4. Reach Out. Wondering what the best way is for you to help? Pick a cause you’re curious about and send them an email or a Facebook message to see what they are currently most in need of. Ask if they have an Amazon wishlist that you could view and send them a gift, or if they need help hosting an information booth in the future. 

I like to encourage everyone to support smaller non-profits and rescues. Even if that just means “Like”ing their Facebook page. Every little act makes a difference and sometimes you don’t even have to leave your couch!

Main Street Revitalization is Happening!

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

The phrase “it’s a small world” isn’t just a cliché.  At least, not if you live in the South.  It’s a FACT. This phenomenon is probably true in all areas of the world, but I can attest to its omnipresence here in the southern United States. It would not be an exaggeration to say that at least once daily I meet someone that I have a connection to, in one way or another.

A good example: Today I overhead a man mention a “swing dancers club” and then it hit me that I’d met this guy before.  Sure enough, he was one of the organizers of a swing dance celebration a few years ago during which Neil’s grandmother was honored.  Why, you ask?  Betty Wood, or “Nana” as we called her, was one of the original Big Apple kids.  She WAS swing dancing.  And sure enough, this was the guy who arranged a weekend-long celebration during which Nana taught Lindy, Big Apple and Jitterbug classes and received the key to the City from former “Mayor Bob” Coble.

Michael'sAnother example of the small-worlded-ness to which I refer?  Michael Fusco.  Mike Fusco was (is) the older brother of my high school buddy Dave Fusco.  When we were in college, the Fuscos’ opened Irmo’s first gourmet, upscale restaurant called Restaurant 1-2-3. To this day I believe it was truly the only high caliber restaurant Irmo has ever enjoyed.  Later, the Fusco family moved on to open yet another high quality restaurant, this time in Lexington…Cinnamon Hill.  And then they hit the Vista with the Rhino Room. All of these ventures were successful, top quality, something-to-talk-about restaurants that we Columbians were fortunate to experience. Now, Mike has hit Main Street and true to form, we are all going to benefit from his experience and his talents.

Michael’s Café & Catering officially opened last Tuesday for breakfast and lunch.  They are located at 1620 Main Street.  Yes, that’s the “Mast General” block.  For those of you who work downtown, you might be interested to know that just around the corner is a 24/7 gym.  You can work out, pop into Michael’s for a coffee, juice or smoothie, and grab breakfast to eat or take with you to your office…granola, yogurt parfaits or a hot breakfast burrito.  There’s something for everyone.  And, as you’ve certainly surmised from the title, Michael’s provides catering services, including a full service, tech-outfitted conference center adjacent to the café for your big events.  And for those of us who attend downtown churches, Sunday brunch is on the near horizon!

Tuesday night, Michael was über generous and opened his café up to me and some of my friends from the food blogsphere.  We were able to tour the beautiful, shiny new kitchens, the sharp conference center, and the hip yet warm café. We also tasted some of Michael’s menu treats!  We tasted, photographed, tweeted, instagrammed and otherwise bragged to our friends about the experience.  Let me tell you this…if you are ever invited to a restaurant preview, dry run, soft opening, whatever you want to call it, GO!  They are so fun and you really feel a connection to the place when you’ve been included in something so special.

So, anyway…you want to know about the food, right?  We sampled lots of goodies.  Here goes:

  • Greek saladFrieda’s Special: this is a Greek salad, but it’s a killer Greek salad.  Know why?  Frieda is a wonderful Greek lady who is a mutual friend and the salad is reflective of her; high class all the way.  Quality lettuces, ample feta, pitted Kalamata olives, tender & spicy pepperoncini, outstanding dressing.  Not your typical iceberg lettuce salad, for sure!
  • White Russian sandwich: OMG! It’s not complicated.  Turkey, bacon, swiss and a homemade “not your typical” Russian dressing.  This is a fabulous sandwich, friends.
  • Pimento CheesePimento Cheese: We had this as a dip and also as a grilled cheese sandwich. Let’s face it…pimento cheese rocks as long as it’s homemade and made with really good quality cheese.
  • Philly Cheese Steak:  I’m super picky about Phillies.  This is it.  Lean, well cooked “grilly” tasting steak, spicy peppers and yummy onions and cheese.  Add a high quality hoagie roll and, well, I don’t need to say any more.
  • Pasta Salad:  We tried two.  The first was bow-tie pasta with pesto, artichoke hearts (I mean, can you go wrong with artichoke? NO!) and red wine vinegar/olive oil vinaigrette.  The other was a multi-color fusilli with a rice wine vinegar vinaigrette…my fave!
  • Shrimp Salad: Ok, see, we live in the South.  If anybody can work with shrimp, it’s those of us in coastal states.  This is a great example.  The shrimp are what my dad and I call “creek size” shrimp. They are just the right size for a salad on lettuce, in a cup, on a croissant.  Large, stuffable sized shrimp are not right for this job.  They are flavored with herbs and mayo, but lightly so.  It’s not heavy; it’s just what shrimp salad should be.
  • Breakfast Burrito:  Ok here’s the one place I have to insert something personal.  When I heard that Michael was opening a new place, I told my 7-year-old about it.  I’m proud to say that she is a very adventurous eater and loves to participate in the “grown up world.”  As soon as she heard about Michael’s, she said, it “must” have a breakfast burrito. So, I told Mike about it and Viola! he added it to the menu.  Viv is so proud.  If only it were titled the “Breakfast Vivverito” or something…Just kidding Michael!
  • Veggie Hummus Wrap: My girl April is a vegetarian.  If you have veggie friends, you know that there are varied types.  Some are vegan (NO animal products at all…this is a very hard, rigid lifestyle), ovo-lacto (ok with eggs, cheese, milk), pescetarians (fish, shellfish ok), you get the idea.  My friend April describes her vegetarianism very simply as “no flesh.”  That, I love.  I don’t have to think for 10 minutes about what she can or cannot eat.  So, Michael’s has several offerings for our veggie friends.
  • And last, but not least…SMOKED TOMATO RANCH. Holy mother of Krypton.  The mere description doesn’t sound like much, it’s true.  But after hearing a few others comment about this dressing, I had to make my way down the table to try it out for myself.  I don’t really know a better way to say wow, other than wowza, shazamm, holy something…  We all know that in many cases, a salad is only as good as its dressing.  This is fantastic.  You just have to trust me and try it for yourself.  I loved it so much, I asked Michael if he could think of using it as a base for a pasta salad. And, I think this would be the ideal dressing for any salad, even Frieda’s, if you want to deviate from the norm!

The evening was just fantastic and I know that the downtown community will love and support this new eatery. I want to thank Mike, Rebecca and Lisa for inviting all of us in and giving us the opportunity to try out the menu. Michael’s is focused on good quality, culinary talent and supporting other local culinary businesses along the way. Those of you who read my blog posts know my opinion of the importance of supporting local people and local businesses.  Try out Michael’s Cafe. For a few reasons: because you love and appreciate good food, you need an efficient space for parties/meetings, and need a fantastic caterer for your special events.

And, because I said so.  🙂  

Elizabeth writes Gastronomy (by a Wanna-be Chef) to record cooking thoughts, successes, failures and whatever crosses her mind. You can also find her on Facebook.


Here’s to Friends, Facebook & Orange Push-Ups

By: Lydia Scott

My dearest and oldest friend, Diana (who is cringing as she reads me calling her “oldest,” but she’s younger than I am, so that makes it okay, right?), lives in Florida now. She and her little family come up to Columbia a LOT to visit with family and for events. They were coming up the first weekend of March, and she decided it was time to see her old dear friends that we grew up with in our little hometown of Blythewood, SC.

Me, Diana, Diana's daughter & our math teacher

Me, Diana, Diana’s daughter & our math teacher

We grew up in Blythewood waaaaaaaaaaayyyyy back when it had just gotten its infamous one stop light, and that, my friends, was the excitement du jour! We had Wilson’s Mercantile (I think that was the name), which was a real, old-fashioned general store with creaky old wood floors. The owner, Mr. Wilson, had a ready smile and a tab you could put your groceries on and pay later. Mama would often take me by Wilson’s on a hot summer day so I could get an Orange Push-Up. Good grief, those were good to slurp down while sitting on the hot vinyl car seats, windows down, famously hot Columbia wind in my face, trying to finish my Push-Up faster than it melted. We all went to school together, knew our neighbors, spent all day (and sometimes part of the evening) outside, and came home either when we heard our moms calling for us, or it got too dark to see. This was how small town friends were made.

A Little Puddin’, A Few Friends, and Some Detention Slips Nowadays, we stay in touch on a daily basis through social media. It’s odd how social media both disconnects us and brings us together, isn’t it? So, Diana put out an event for us Blythewood friends to get together for a mini-reunion luncheon. And where better to have our little reunion than at the newly opened Blythewood restaurant that one of these wonderful friends scrimped, saved, and sweated to start all by herself  last summer: Eve’s Southern Gourmet Restaurant and Catering (check out the restaurant’s Facebook page). We’d all been drooling over the yummy country food specials we kept seeing her talk about, and Eve herself was totally thrilled to open at lunch on Saturday especially for us. She and her sweet staff fixed up what was an absolutely delicious buffet of pulled pork with her secret sauces, roasted herbed chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, potato salad and banana puddin’. Yeah…wish you’d been there, dontcha? I’m still having dreams about my plate full of pulled pork and tater salad, yum!!

Eve's Restaurant

Eve’s Restaurant

Anyway, let me stop fixating on the food (but seriously…go to Eve’s and see for yourself!). We had several of our elementary and middle school classmates make it for our luncheon, as well as three of our teachers! They promised not to divulge too many of our grades or detention visits, right ladies? What a treat to get to sit down to a country lunch prepared by one of our friends in her own restaurant, and enjoy catching up with not only some of our sweet classmates, but some of our teachers, too! It’s funny all the things that each person remembers, but in a different way from what you remember. We talked about how some of us had recently visited the hallways of our elementary school and marveled at how tiny it had become, or at least, compared to how we remembered it as little first graders. Those hallways seemed huge when we were six years old!

Poses and Smiles

All of the Blythewood Girls

All of the Blythewood Girls

We chatted about our families, our jobs, our health issues and triumphs. We lamented the absence of some of our friends who couldn’t make it to the luncheon, even though they wanted to so badly (we love you Becky and Pam!) We laughed as we posed for pictures and tried to find the most flattering light and positions, we hugged, and we all drove away in smiles. There’s something about a small, country town that just makes you want to keep those friends close to your heart. It brings back a touch of the joy and innocence you felt every day when you saw their smiling faces.

That’s what friends are for, right? Smiles? Must be, because mine have brought me endless smiles, and for that I will always love them!


By: Leah Prescott

For better or worse, I am a thriftaholic. I just can’t help myself. There is something so thrilling about sorting through veritable junk to discover something surprising or unique. Or just incredibly CHEAP. Most of my friends scratch their heads at my shopping habits. But some are curious when they see the irresistible deals I haul home. I try to share the love with my friends, so they often ask me to search for particular items. When I stumble across something specifically on my “in search of” list, I feel like I’ve won the Gold Medal in bargain hunting! (Too bad shopping doesn’t actually tone the body; if it did, I’d be super buff).

Retro Radio Flyer Trike $7.50

Retro Radio Flyer Trike $7.50

My personal strategies for thrifting:

  1. Frequent, quick visits are usually most productive. Occasionally, I will spend an hour sorting through clothes, but in general, my stops are usually 10-15 minutes, tops, when I am out running other errands. I move quickly through the perimeter of the store, hitting the hot spots of interest to me: housewares, toys, shoes, kids’ clothes. I don’t even look at books and adult clothing unless I have time to sort, sift and try on.
  2. Consider locations. Thrift stores operate on donations. Therefore, some of the best items can be found close to wealthier areas of town, even if the location itself may not be considered prime retail space. Though the storefront may not look appealing, the contents could be fantastic, so keep an open mind. While traveling, I once found some high-end children’s shoes and boutique toys at a hole-in-the-wall location. That’s part of the fun!
  3. Know your brands and keep a list. If you know what brands are worthwhile, you will save yourself some time. This is especially true of kids’ clothing. I have expensive taste, with a modest budget, but that’s ok. I have learned to quickly scan through a rack and can typically spot the quality items from cut, texture and sometimes pattern.
  4. Be patient. With my quick stops, I often leave empty handed. But when I do find something awesome, it makes all the other trips worthwhile. Like the time I stumbled across a gorgeous blue Le Creuset Dutch Oven, in pristine shape for $8. I thought I had died and gone to bargain heaven. Even though my next dozen trips to the housewares section might be fruitless, that bargain goes down as one of my best finds to date. So don’t be discouraged, be persistent! Even if this trip is a bust, next time you might have your $8 Le Creuset moment.
Le Creuset dutch oven $8

Le Creuset dutch oven $8

Now, I admit it, I’m tempted to keep some of my tips to myself, but, out of the goodness of my heart, I’m about to share with you my very favorite thrifting spot in the area: Palmetto Thrift on Fernandina Road. I love this store because it’s clean, organized and reasonably priced. The staff is incredibly helpful and friendly, and best of all, they support a wonderful local cause: Children’s Chance, a charity that helps children right here in our area who are suffering from cancer. Even if you aren’t a thrifter, please consider donating to this fantastic organization. They even offer free pickup and, of course, donations are tax deductible!

Vintage Candyland $1.50

Vintage Candyland $1.50

Convinced yet? Need some examples of bargain finds from local thrift stores? Here’s a sampling of my favorite steals: TOMs shoes ($4 each), kids Crocs ($1.50), Le Creuset dutch oven ($8), Hanna Andersson kids clothing (90% or more off retail), vintage housewares, Emu boots, homeschool curriculum, Twinkle Toes, retired American Girl dolls and other items (less than $10 each), vintage My Little Pony toys for pennies, Bunn Coffee Maker, stainless steel kids’ cups for a fraction of retail, Learning Tower (one of my favorite kid items ever), Rody pony, large plastic kids’ toys for a buck or two, wooden Thomas train items, and a surprising amount of matching clothing for my twin girls! Most of my clothing is thrifted as well (brands I couldn’t typically afford like Ann Taylor, Garnet Hill, White House Black Market, NYDJ, Lucky Jeans). And books, oh the books! The abundance and variety of childrens books for pennies will amaze you.

Baby Board Books $.25 each

Baby Board Books $.25 each

So if you run into a mom with twin curly headed girls and a precocious toddler at Palmetto Thrift, be sure to say hello. Just don’t take my vintage Corelle dishes. I will fight you for them.