Monthly Archives: November 2016

Winter Wonderland

Photos courtesy of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and Beech Mountain Resort

Photos courtesy of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, and Beech Mountain Resort

Sometimes the best presents of all don’t fit under a Christmas tree. Sometimes they come a little early. Anyone who would like to get a jump on the holiday season might consider giving someone on their gift list a memory-making trip to the holiday festivities in one – or all – of these nine mountain towns in western North Carolina. 

Forest City
Through January 6, Main Street will be decked out with millions of lights for “Hometown Holidays.” The tradition dates back to 1930 when the town hung its first set of lights on two trees. Now the display centers around the town fountain as lights are suspended overhead and wrapped around the live oak trees. On weekends, visitors can bundle up with a cup of hot chocolate and ride on a horse-drawn carriage or hay wagon through the display of holiday lights.

chimney-rockChimney Rock
Santa is pretty nimble when it comes to scaling up and down chimneys, but even the most experienced chimney climber needs a little practice before his annual Christmas Eve travels. On Saturday, December 3 and 10, Santa Claus practices his climbing skills on one of the most famous chimneys of all – Chimney Rock. Santa will rappel from the top of the 315-foot Chimney Rock every 30-45 minutes from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. while spectators gather in front of Cliff Dwellers Gifts for live holiday music, refreshments and children’s activities. Santa also will be available for photo opportunities, and Mrs. Claus will serve cookies and hot cocoa.

Named among the 10 Cleanest Cities in America this year by the travel website, this picturesque mountain village is no stranger to Hollywood. The 1993 blockbuster “The Fugitive” was partially filmed here, and Sylva is where the 2017 (expected release) movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” was filmed this past spring. Overlooking Main Street, the most photographed courthouse in North Carolina sits atop a hillside covered with Christmas trees. Visitors can explore the downtown shops and eateries, and they can sample seasonal brews at Innovation Brewing or Heinzelmannchen Brewery. 

This tiny village just four miles from Sylva has four extra festive nights for its Festival of Lights and Luminaries during the first two weekends in December. In an era of electronic gadgets and LED lights, Dillsboro’s celebration is a throwback to simpler times. Adapted from a Scandinavian custom of lighting the way for the Christ child, the festival includes more than 2,500 candles in white bags along the streets. There is no admission charge to the festival, which runs from dusk until 9 p.m. each evening. In addition to the luminaries, Sylva’s merchant “elves” trim their buildings – many of them date back to the late 1800s – in traditional white lights. Shopkeepers stay open late and serve coffee, warm cider, hot chocolate and homemade treats to visitors. The festivities also include sing-alongs throughout the town, horse and carriage rides, students strolling the streets in Renaissance costumes and children’s art in the courtyard. Santa and Mrs. Claus will set up shop in Town Hall as well. 

bryson-city-polar-express-trainBryson City
Head to the train depot and hop aboard the Polar Express train to the North Pole on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Through January 8, the 1.25-hour round-trip excursion leaves the train depot for a journey over the river and through the woods to Santa’s home. The trip is set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, and riders can enjoy warm cocoa and cookies while they relive the popular story by Chris Van Allsburg. 

More than 70,000 passengers rode the Polar Express last year, and a few special excursions will be available this year on the newly restored steam engine. Santa will board the train when it arrives at the North Pole, and each child will receive a silver sleigh bell.

Coach class ticket prices begin at $42 for adults and $38 for children ages 2-12. Children under age 2 ride at no charge. Crown class ticket costs start at $52 for adults and $38 for children. The cost is $10 for children ages 23 months and younger. First class ticket prices for adults start at $62 and $43 for children ages 2-12. Tickets for children 23 months and younger are $15. Smoky Mountain Trains Museum admission is included with the cost of all train tickets.

A special steam excursion is planned for New Year’s Eve. But regardless of which trip you take, don’t forget to wear your favorite PJs – even adults wear their jammies, too.

Lighted balls line Main Street, and Holly Days in the first weekend of December kicks off Art After Dark at many downtown galleries. On the second Saturday night in December, an old-fashioned celebration, “A Night Before Christmas,” includes caroling, wagon rides, Bethlehem marketplace and luminaries. 

Boasting the second-largest downtown in the mountains (after Asheville), Hendersonville offers plenty of local stores – including Mast General Store – and restaurants to explore. Stores stay open late for Old Fashioned Christmas on the first Friday in December. 

A towering Christmas tree stands guard over the stately courthouse on the town square, and local stores include the popular toy store, O.P. Taylor. The Holiday Twilight Tour will be held 4-8 p.m. on the first Saturday in December, following the 3 p.m. parade. 

Main Street also is home to the quirky Aluminum Tree & Ornament Museum (ATOM), the world’s only museum dedicated to vintage aluminum Christmas trees that reached their peak popularity in the 1950s. Dozens of trees and vintage ornaments are displayed in whimsical themes, and color wheels turn to provide a light show. The Atomic Sisterhood will sing original aluminum tree carols at 11:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. Saturday, December 3. 

ATOM is the perfect acronym for this museum. After all, the trees were produced during the “atomic age” of the mid-20th century. Millions of aluminum Christmas trees were produced by more than 40 companies in the United States, Canada and Australia from the late 1950s until the early 1970s. The museum is free, but donations are appreciated.

beech-mountainBeech Mountain
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas, then a visit to Beech Mountain might be in order. As the snowiest town in North Carolina, Beech Mountain also is the highest town in eastern America at 5,506 feet. Even if Mother Nature has other ideas and doesn’t oblige with a holiday snowfall, the ski resort offers plenty of other winter activities such as tubing and guided snowshoe tours. The Alpine Village features shops, restaurants and a 7,000-square-foot ice skating rink. A free sledding hill for children 12 and under operates next to the town hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, weather permitting. 

For more information, visit

By Todd Beck

In the Red

In The Home
Photography by Haley Lamb

Photography by Haley Lamb

A true-blue ’Bama fan sees red when she decorates for Christmas – and her flair for Yuletide decorating just might leave you green with envy.

It’s easy to tell when the holidays have arrived at the Stevens Pointe home of Marianne McCuller in Martinez. That’s when Marianne, a University of Alabama alum and avid fan, replaces her Crimson Tide paraphernalia with Christmas finery.

Most of the Crimson Tide décor takes up temporary residence on the back deck to make way for Christmas trimmings, and Marianne makes many of her decorations – including the wreath and swag on the side door – herself. 

“I have a closet full of stuff to make wreaths, but I have to do it when I’m in the mood,” she says. “When I get in the mood, I just put on the Christmas music and get in the dining room and make, make, make.”

cross-stitch-pillowAnd the red tones that dominate the Birmingham, Alabama native’s Crimson Tide decorations understandably spill over into her Christmas décor as well.

The garland that is wrapped around the stair bannister in the foyer is adorned with red and white berries as well as silver balls. The Christmas tree in the great room is trimmed with red and gold balls, but she never decorates it the same way twice.

“I do my tree a little bit differently every year,” says Marianne, who worked as a nurse for 35 years before retiring in 2012. “I added the flocked branches. A green tree is so boring.”

Signs of Welcome
Marianne not only enjoys celebrating the holidays with her decorations, however. She loves to entertain during the Yuletide season as well. Two years ago Marianne, an officer in the Stevens Pointe homeowners’ association, tried to organize an event where neighbors – who have a progressive dinner in the spring – visited each other’s homes to see their Christmas decorations. 

When the idea didn’t gain much traction, however, she simply opened her own home instead. She and her late husband, Don, who passed away in April, had a neighborhood association party at their house. They had another holiday party the following year as well. Not that this was anything new. “We had Christmas parties in this house many, many years,” says Marianne.

More than 50 people came to the party both years, and all of the neighbors brought a dish to share. The dining room table was covered with “real” food, and the kitchen table was filled with desserts.

“It makes it easier because we have some great cooks in this neighborhood,” Marianne says.

Family gatherings at the house during the holidays give Marianne the opportunity to experience the Christmas spirit through the eyes of her two young grandchildren, ages 2-1/2 and 6.

Of course, one of the surest signs that all – and we do mean all – are welcome at the McCuller house is right on the front door. That’s where a tiny bird’s nest is tucked in the wreath that hangs on the door. 

“The bird’s nest has been in the wreath for years,” says Marianne. “I didn’t want to take it out.”

Holiday greenery on the mailbox by the street sets a welcoming tone, and a “Merry Christmas, Y’all” flag in the yard (where an Alabama flag usually stands sentry) sends season’s greetings to anyone who passes by. 

Marianne also decorates a pair of small trees with Christmas ornaments in planters on the front porch. She wraps a 10-inch roll of foil around each planter and stuffs red mesh under the trees as well. 

“These are things that I already had,” she says. “I use the foil to make wreaths.” 

kitchen-1Reminders of Home
Marianne brings out many reminders of home for the holidays. She says her parents, who died three weeks apart in 2010 after 67 years of marriage, used to love to visit Williamsburg, Virginia, and she visited Colonial Williamsburg several weeks before Christmas last year. The trip inspired her to decorate a cone, which belonged to her mother, with fresh fruit in true Williamsburg style. The cone adds holiday cheer to the island in the kitchen, and an open Williamsburg cookbook is displayed on a stand on a kitchen counter. 

A trio of crocheted ornaments that a neighbor made for Marianne two years ago hangs from a planter in the great room.

“My mother used to make things like this,” Marianne says of the homemade ornaments. “They remind me of my mom.”

family-room-2The crèche on the piano in the great room came from her childhood home. “I remember that as a child. I still have the original box,” says Marianne. “And that was my mother’s piano. I learned to play on it.”

Her mother also made a cross-stitch pillow – claiming Santa is an Alabama fan – which Marianne has on a chair in the great room. Of course, she keeps many other reminders of home in the house throughout the year as well.

staircase-garland-1Her maternal grandfather owned a camera store in Birmingham, Alabama, so Marianne has shelves full of family pictures on a pair of built-in bookcases in the great room. In fact, to make room for the photos, a wet bar in the great room was replaced with a built-in bookcase that matches the original one. 

A vintage manual typewriter, which belonged to her mother when she worked as a church secretary, occupies a corner of the dining room.

Wit and Whimsy
The mementoes gathered through a lifetime, along with the Christmas décor, lend an air of comfort and coziness to the house during the holidays.

Red and green garland surrounds the front door in the foyer, and the Christmas tree is the perfect size for the space in the great room.

“I downsized from a big, huge tree to a skinnier tree so I wouldn’t have to move my furniture so much,” says Marianne.

dining-roomA clear bowl on the ottoman in the middle of the room is filled with red and white balls. Red and gold Christmas trees of staggered heights are nestled in garland along the mantel in the great room, and red and gold balls accent the garland. By the fireplace, a tall skinny white-spotted black cat sports a pair of reindeer antlers to showcase Marianne’s whimsical side.

Her wit extends into the kitchen, where a small Santa Claus figurine stands beneath a glass dome on a table. “My friends ask me why I’m holding Santa hostage in there,” Marianne says.

The kitchen was remodeled in 2010, and the room features stainless steel appliances, glass-front cabinets, pendant lights above the island, hardwood flooring and granite countertops. While the island features a black countertop, the rest of the countertops are light. Marianne also had her mother’s original hand-written recipe for Hawaiian Banana Nut Bread framed, and it hangs on a kitchen wall. 

A bottle, which was dipped in chocolate by La Bonbonnière, sits on a chest in the dining room. “My neighbor works there, and she brought it to me as a hostess gift,” says Marianne. “She knows what I like.”

Imagination and Creativity
Marianne went on a wreath-making binge a couple of years ago, and her handiwork is evident throughout the house. She made the wreaths on the double doors in the kitchen that lead to the deck and courtyard.

She also made a wreath in the sunroom, which overlooks the courtyard. To make the wreath on the sunroom door, she took off the decorations that were on a grapevine wreath she already had and made a Christmas bow for it.

place-setting“I just like to be creative. I think it’s just fun to re-imagine it every year and go out and find things you forgot you had,” Marianne says. “I can’t draw. I can’t paint. I’m not a good cook, so I just have to be imaginative in other ways.”

A red and white ball sits in each of three silver vases on the sunroom table to add to the holiday décor. 

Marianne also made the Alabama wreath that hangs on the back door during the Christmas holidays. The wreath includes ribbon with a black and white houndstooth pattern, ribbon with red and white chevron stripes and a “Roll Tide” sign. “I put a Christmas ornament on it, but it’s an Alabama ornament,” Marianne says.

Last year the weather was warm enough for Christmas party guests to stand outside on the deck, where the camellias bloomed. Red cushions occupy the chairs around the umbrella table on the deck, and an oversized green wreath with white lights and red bows hangs on the wall outside.

“I like to decorate for Christmas,” Marianne says, “but all holidays are fun.”

By Betsy Gilliland

Francisco Cruz


Francisco CruzFort Gordon Fisher House Manager

Number of years in position: 19

Family: Wife, Suvimol; a stepson, and a granddaughter

Why I’m Passionate About What I Do: I enjoy being able to continue serving our military — especially helping out when it is needed the most such as during a medical crisis of a military loved one.

Community Groups and Charities I Love to Support: First is the U.S.O. because it was the first organization that supported my Army National Guard Unit when it was activated in the war on terrorism in February 2003. Second is the American Red Cross. Its disaster teams helped my National Guard unit in humanitarian missions after hurricanes Hugo and Andrew. I also support groups like the American Legion, American Legion Riders, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Fisher House, Association of the United States Army and wounded warrior organizations. They ensure that veterans and their families get support and assistance and are not forgotton.

Biggest Career or Life Obstacle I’ve Overcome and How: The loss of loved-ones. On my mother’s side, there were 11 brothers and sisters. On my father’s side, there were 14 brothers and sisters. After joining the military, I was unable to be part of their lives and connect with them as I did when I was younger. Later, I found that the true meaning of life is the love of family and friends. Their love helped me overcome and deal with the loss of family.

Accomplishment I’m Most Proud Of: Spending nine years in the U.S. Army and more than 10 years with the Georgia Army National Guard as part of the best Armed Forces in the world 

Favorite Christmas Carols: “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Little Drummer Boy”

Favorite TV Shows: “Person of Interest,” “Blindspot,” “Supernatural,” “CSI” shows, “Lucifer,” “The Strain”

Favorite Movie: Orignal Superman movie with Christopher Reeve

Favorite Sports Team: NY Yankees – but I have to give it up for the Cubs this year.

Favorite Comfort Food: This is a hard one for me since I like a variety of dishes from several different countries, but Spanish and Thai food are my favorites. If I have to choose just one, then it would be pasteles, a Spanish dish.

Favorite Apps: Local News App, Accu-Weather and Facebook

Last Book Read: The Return: A Field Manual for Life after Combat by David J. Danelo

Something That Has Changed My Life: My father’s death from cancer in 2001. We were fortunate to have him with us for an additional five years after he was given less than six months to live when he was diagnosed. It gave me and my brothers an appreciation of life and death and prepared us for the loss of our mother later in life. 

Best Thing I Ever Learned: Listen and try not to prejudge

Favorite Hobbies: Viewing new movies, flying small remote control helicopters

Best Christmas Present I Got as a Kid: A Big Wheel

Secret Aspiration: I’ll keep it a secret. 

Reality Show I Would Totally Win: “The Price is Right” 

Something People Would Be Surprised to Know About Me: I learned how to ride a bicycle by riding the edge of a flat two-story roof top in my youth. It’s not something I would recommend doing, though.

What person do you think we should know? If you’d like to suggest someone we should meet, email and tell us why.

Salvation Army Angel Tree


Salvation Army Angel TreeThis year more than 650 children will have a Merry Christmas because of the Salvation Army of Augusta Angel Tree program. Through the generosity of corporate sponsors and individual donors, the Angel Tree program brings the joy of Christmas to local children whose families otherwise would have difficulty providing gifts for them.

“There are many families that are in need this time of year, and we want their children to have a wonderful Christmas,” says Captain Elaine Canning of the Salvation Army. “Those of us who have been blessed can provide blessings for a child in need. As a nonprofit, we rely on the generosity of our donors to make Christmas happen for these children.”

Angel trees are located at the Kroc Center, Augusta Mall and area Subway restaurants, and gifts for angels are due by Friday, December 2. However, additional donated gifts will be accepted the following week at the Kroc Center, 1833 Broad Street, Augusta, as well. Volunteers also are needed to sort, organize, bag and distribute food, toys and stockings at the Salvation Army Christmas Warehouse. Various shifts are available. 

Salvation Army Angel TreeAngels range in age from birth to 12 years old, and each angel tag includes the child’s first name; age; gender; shoe, clothing and coat size; and three toy suggestions. Popular gifts include arts and crafts supplies, balls and other sports equipment, dolls and board games.

Parents completed an eligibility form to apply for the program, and each family picks up the gifts by appointment.

Salvation Army Angel TreeThe Angel Tree program was started in 1979 in Lynchburg, Virginia, and this program, along with the familiar red kettles, is one of the Salvation Army’s highest profile Christmas efforts. 

“We couldn’t have an Angel Tree or all of the programs that the Salvation Army offers throughout the year without the support of the community and our sponsors,” Elaine says.

For more information, visit

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce


Pumpkin Bread Puddingpumpkin-bread-pudding-with-rum-sauce

  • 1 large loaf challah or French bread, cut into cubes (about 10 cups)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups milk
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, whisk together cream, milk, eggs, sugar, cinnamon and pumpkin. Add bread cubes and toss gently to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes. Lightly coat a 10-by-14-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray. Pour bread and egg mixture into pan and press gently. Sprinkle pecans evenly over top. Bake 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serve warm or room temperature with Rum Sauce (recipe below). Makes 12 servings.

Rum Sauce

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons rum or 1 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 cup sugar 

Combine all ingredients in saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until mixture is smooth and sugar is dissolved. Do not boil. Makes about 2 cups.

By Ginny McCormack Ehrhart, Georgia cookbook author, radio personality and business

Herb Roasted Turkey

  • herb-roasted-turkey1 (12-14 pound) turkey, thawed
  • 1 stick butter, room temperature
  • 2 handfuls fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 handfuls fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 handfuls fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 handfuls fresh oregano, chopped (I love Greek oregano, if available)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 lemons, cut in half

Remove giblets from turkey. Rinse turkey well and pat dry with paper towels. Place turkey, breast side up, in large roasting pan. Set aside and allow turkey to come to room temperature, about one hour. Preheat oven to 450 degrees with the rack on the lowest level. In mixing bowl, combine butter with one handful each of rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano. Add salt and pepper and combine thoroughly. Using your hands, rub butter all over outside of turkey and pat down. Place remaining herbs and lemons inside the turkey cavity. Tie legs together with kitchen twine. Roast turkey for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue cooking for two more hours. Using a meat thermometer, check internal temperature at thickest part of turkey to make sure it is 175 degrees. If not, continue cooking until this temperature is reached and the skin is crispy. Remove turkey from oven and allow to rest for 30 minutes before carving. Makes 8-10 servings.

On Their Toes


nut-1-main-photoPeople who are on their toes know that if the holiday season is approaching, then Columbia County Ballet will present “The Nutcracker” at Imperial Theatre. 

In the familiar story, set in western Europe in the 19th century, a young girl named Clara falls asleep after a Christmas Eve party at her home. She drifts off into a fantastic dreamland – or not? – where toys become larger than life. She dreams of toy soldiers battling giant mice, and her nutcracker comes alive in time to save her. The Nutcracker then transforms into a handsome Prince and takes Clara on a journey. They travel through a land of snow and into the Kingdom of Sweets where they meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.

nutcracker-2015-battle-sceneFirst performed in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia, the two-act ballet with music by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a failure with its audience and with critics. The ballet, based on the book The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman, was performed for the first time in the United States by the San Francisco Ballet in 1944. It has since become an annual holiday tradition, and the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance with the Prince is probably the most famous pas de deux in ballet.

This is the 19th year that Columbia County Ballet will present “The Nutcracker,” and the ballet company strives to keep its performance fresh and new every year.

nutcracker-2015-angels“New dancers, new energy, new choreography, costume upgrades and new scenery continue to bring new and improved elements to our ballet each year,” says Ron Jones, owner of Columbia County Ballet and the artistic director of the Columbia County Ballet Performing Company.

This year will see changes to the production as well. For instance, after several years of recovering from two hip replacement surgeries, Jones will return to the stage as Herr Drosselmeyer.

“We have brought in new choreography for several of the dances,” says Jones. “’Snowflakes’ continues to take on choreographic complexities as our dancers continue to grow in strength and skill.”

Renee Toole of Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School re-choreographed “Waltz of the Flowers,” one of the ballet’s most popular dances, as well as the Arabian dance last year, and they will be part of the performance again this year.

nutcracker-2015-chineseThe “Trepak,” or Russian dance, in Act II will feature an ensemble of 12 female dancers to back up the male lead, Gabriel Hughes, who will entertain the audience with tumbling tricks as well as his dancing skills. He also will perform as the Arabian Prince.

Other principal roles include Kelci Walker as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Justus Alicea as her Cavalier. Lead soloists are Emory Allen as the Dewdrop Fairy, Anna Moldovan as Clara, Cameron Singletary as the Nutcracker Prince and Corrie Polhill as the Arabian Princess.

Jones says the ballet is beloved for several reasons – Tchaikovsky’s music, the youthful energy on stage, the beauty and color of the costumes, the diversity of the second act dances. Those aren’t the only things he wants audience members to enjoy about the performance, however.

“We hope they appreciate sheer joy from the warmth of family and Christmas,” he says.

If You Go:

What: “The Nutcracker,” presented by Columbia County Ballet

When: 7 p.m. December 1-2

Where: Imperial Theatre

How Much: $15 – $35

More Info: (706) 860-1852 or


Make Yourself at Home on the Range


getaways-southern-cross-horsesHelp herd cows, tend a garden or just retreat from urban noise to a quiet porch at three Georgia ranches. 

Whether you spend your days feeling tied to a desk or wearing down your heels running from one sales call to another, you may find yourself sometimes longing for a simpler time and place. If your escape fantasies from the working world include visions of greener pastures, then a farm stay may be just the vacation you need.

At a farm you can break away from your routine, breathe fresh air and learn something. You can opt for a solo retreat or family getaway, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, or sit back and watch animals graze.

These three ranches offer a glimpse into the cowboy life plus a comfy place to kick off your boots. Yippee Ki-Yay!

getaways-hunter-cattle-coHunter Cattle Co.
At Hunter Cattle Co., named for the owners’ youngest son, you’ll quickly be invited to feel like one of the family, whether you help pluck brown leaves from the organic garden and then feed them to a lamb or pull up a chair to join the lunch table and get in on the teasing banter. 

Family-owned and -operated by three generations, this 350-acre farm in Brooklet raises cattle for beef, hogs for pork and chickens for eggs — all without antibiotics, hormones or cages. Other animals such as horses, rabbits, goats, donkeys, turkeys, lambs, ducks and guinea hens roam the pastures as well. The farm is committed to the humane treatment of all its animals.

In the 12 years the farm has been operating, it has grown from a hobby to a business. “We wanted to raise and grow our own food,” says eldest daughter Kristan. “Family and friends began asking to purchase our grass-fed beef, and the rest is history.” As demand continued to grow, the family expanded operations, eventually adding a processing facility.

Ambitious farm guests can help feed animals, collect and clean eggs, herd livestock, repair fences or tend to the garden. If you’re seeking a more leisurely stay, then you can fish in the pond, walk the trails, take a nap or rock in a chair.

Property tours of the pastures, herds, chicken coop, garden, vermiculture beds and other operations will continue to evolve along with the farm itself. “This farm is a work in progress,” says Hunter. Don’t miss “Moo Ma’s Farm Store” to stock up on the farm’s own grass-fed beef, pastured pork and free-range eggs as well as products from neighboring farms. “Night on the Farm” events feature live entertainment and dinner.

Stay overnight in the Tobacco Loft or Roost. Both guestrooms are atop an old tobacco barn and outfitted with retro treasures for homey comfort. One overlooks the pasture, one the chicken yard. Rent either room for up to four or six guests or both for a group of up to 10.

After a night of deep sleep awake to the sound of roosters crowing, feeling reinvigorated.

getaways-southern-cross-guestSouthern Cross Guest Ranch
At Southern Cross Ranch in Madison you can feel like a ranch hand during the day and pampered royalty at night. Owned and operated by Inge Hartley Wendling and her family since 1991, this horse breeding and sales farm is combined with a 16-room bed and breakfast for hands-on luxury. 

On these 400 acres of rolling green fields and mature woodlands, horses outnumber guests by more than six to one. The philosophy is, “It can’t be a horse lover’s paradise if it’s not a horse’s paradise first.” Whether you’re already a horse fan or want to learn more about them, there’s a guest package designed to suit your needs.

Home to nearly 200 Paint and Quarter horses, Southern Cross is best known for its horseback riding opportunities, which include beginners’ lessons, guided tours and unguided riding opportunities. Every guest has unlimited opportunities to photograph and interact with horses — the horse barn is never closed so you can interact with horses any time during your stay.

As an overnight guest you can book a package that includes rides or not. Day visitors can join the 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. rides, too, space permitting (reservations required). Before a ride, you’ll help groom and tack your assigned horse. Whether you want to take a leisurely ride through lush woods or to canter across open pastures, there’s a horse to suit your needs and skill level. “We have horses for every level of rider,” says David May, guide. “Every horse a guest rides has first been trained by us for at least a year.”

Since the horse you ride as a guest is yours for the duration of your stay (unless you request a change), you’ll grow more comfortable each journey on the six miles of trails. Guided rides are in small groups of three to seven riders on average, with riders grouped by skill level. While children under age 4 are not permitted to ride, children age 4 to 9 may ride tandem with an adult.

When not riding, you can enjoy the pool, hot tub, game room, biking and hiking trails, or just sit and gaze out across the pastures. More than two dozen foals are born on the ranch each year from March through May, so it’s possible to see a mare giving birth.

Each guestroom is individually decorated in either a Western or Southern theme. All rooms have an upscale vibe and plush furnishings; some boast Jacuzzi tubs, fireplaces and other luxuries. Three meals are served buffet-style in the dining hall every day.

“We’re old fashioned,” says Karen Roggenkamp, office manager. “You must call to make a reservation because there are so many variables.” A package tailored to your needs sets the tone for the gracious hospitality you’ll enjoy as a guest.

getaways-white-oak-pastures-2White Oak Pastures
The livestock at White Oak Pastures in Bluffton roams picturesque land that has belonged to the Harris family for five generations. In its 150 years, the farm has come full circle in its production, moving to and then away from industrialization. “In 1995 we started transitioning the herd and ultimately obtained a production system that is better for the environment, our cattle and the health of the people who eat our beef,” says owner/operator Will Harris of his Serengeti approach, which means that large ruminants (cows) in pastures are followed by smaller ruminants (sheep and goats) and then birds (including chickens, turkeys, geese, guineas and ducks), all calmly grazing and pecking.  

White Oak Pastures is the largest certified organic farm in Georgia and the only farm in the United States with both USDA-inspected red meat and poultry abattoirs on site — so these animals are born, raised and slaughtered on the farm. The family takes care to ensure that all of its production practices are economically practical, ecologically sustainable and humane. During a one-hour walking tour, you can see the whole process plus witness egg candling and see the six-acre vegetable garden that was added to the property in 2009. Farm tours are $10 per person for day visitors and free for overnight guests.

getaways-white-oak-pasturesAs a guest you can chat with family members, cowboys, butchers, cooks and farm hands. Feast on fresh fare in the dining pavilion, which is open every day for lunch, Wednesday through Saturday for supper and Sunday for brunch. All of the ingredients come straight from the farm.

Overnight guests also can enjoy guided horseback rides, go fishing or kayaking, watch for bald eagles and relax in the picturesque setting. Accommodations opened last August and were “always a dream of mine,” says Jodi Harris Benoit, tourism manager. “People would ask for the closest place to stay but there was nothing as cool as our farm.” There are now four cabins on the property, each a true rural respite.

Once here you’ll never look at food the same way. Before you depart, be sure to visit the farm’s on-site shop to stock up on artisan products.

By Hope S. Philbrick

Style & Grace


Style & GraceFor cookbook author Ginny McCormack Ehrhart, there is nothing better than gathering her family around the table for dinner, especially during the holidays, to encourage conversation and togetherness. However, her affinity for hearth and home might never have blossomed into a business enterprise if the end of a meal hadn’t started her love of cooking.

When she was in fifth grade, she recalls, she watched a classmate pulled a slice of chocolate cake out of her lunchbox. “It looked decadent. I went home and asked my mother to call that girl’s mother and get the recipe from her,” Ginny says. “And that was the first thing I ever made – Gooey Chocolate Fudge Cake.”

Fresh is Best
Despite her early adventures in the kitchen, Ginny didn’t really get interested in cooking until she had children of her own. “I’m a cook, not a chef. I went to the culinary school of ‘Mom, what’s for dinner?’” says the mother of four grown children and two grown stepsons.

Now that she and her husband, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, are empty nesters, however, she is reinventing herself in the kitchen. “When I had children, I had to step up and cook for a family. It’s different for two instead of six,” says Ginny, who lives in Powder Springs, Georgia.

Regardless of the number of people that are gathered around the table, however, some things never change.

“A good Southern cook doesn’t try to be something she’s not,” Ginny says. “Our food is a reflection of our culture. We show our love for our family and friends by cooking and preparing food for them. Cooking for others is the sincerest expression of love.”

Ginny relies on good-quality oils and vinegars, and she is drawn to simple, fresh Southern ingredients that enhance, rather than hide, the natural flavors of food. Declaring herself “through with boiling vegetables,” she likes to lay pan-seared meat on top of roasted vegetables and sprinkle fresh herbs on the finished product. “It makes a wonderful presentation,” she says.

And she is happy to let the calendar dictate her kitchen creations.

“My favorite thing to cook is to follow the lead of what’s in season. It’s hard to mess up seasonal vegetables,” says Ginny. “A good recipe is simple to prepare, and it packs in a lot of flavor power. That gets me excited.”

Culinary Confidence
Ginny also enjoys the creativity that comes with cooking.

“I wasn’t as bold in my 20s as I am now. I enjoy the freedom that comes with culinary confidence in the kitchen. I am not afraid to mess up in the kitchen now,” she says. “I really want to inspire people to be bold in the kitchen and to bring their families back to the dinner table. When you reconnect with your family at the dinner table, it doesn’t need to be fancy. It just needs to be meaningful.

Ginny likes to relax in the kitchen on weekends. “I put on music, pour a glass of wine and start playing with whatever I picked up at the farmer’s market on Saturday,” she says.

Her love of cooking and entertaining has led her to several business ventures as well. She shares her favorite recipes and secrets to Southern hospitality in her two cookbooks, Sunday in the South and Seasons in the South. Ginny, who was the home life consultant and chef on an Atlanta television show for three years, decided to write the cookbooks after people started asking her for her recipes.

The cookbooks are full of simple recipes made with fresh ingredients, and each book contains Southern stories and hundreds of photographs. Her first book is about rediscovering the lost art of Sunday dinner.

“I love the concept of Sunday dinner. A lot of families weren’t sitting down to dinner. Fried chicken from a drive-through doesn’t count for Sunday dinner,” says Ginny. “If you have your grandmother’s china, then use it to set the table. Put fresh flowers on the table – even if you put them in a Mason jar. Put away your cell phones and talk to each other.”

Her second cookbook showcases recipes and table settings that are inspired by the seasons.

The cookbooks are available on her website,, and at gift and boutique stores across the South. “My books are not sold in bookstore chains or in big box stores,” says Ginny. “I have a heart for small businesses.”

She is working on a third book, Holidays in the South, although, Ginny says, “Most of it is still in my head. But so much of Southern culture and family gatherings are centered around the holidays. Southerners do the holidays with particular style and grace.”

Success Breeds Success
Of course, an integral part of Southern hospitality is setting a beautiful table, and in 2015 Ginny founded Southern Sisters Home. Through her home-based business, she designs and sells easy to care for, Southern-made linens including dinner napkins, placemats, tea towels and pillows. “There Is such a demand for products made in the South,” Ginny says.

A speaker and a food columnist, Ginny also is the host of the Southern Sisters Radio Show on 590 AM in Atlanta. “The tagline is ‘Southern women and the men who adore them.’ We talk about all things Southern from etiquette and lifestyles to relationships and travel,” she says. “I close each hour with ‘Southern Narrative,’ which is a recitation of an article or story that reflects life in the South.”

While the show is broadcast every Saturday afternoon in metro Atlanta and north Georgia, podcasts of the shows are available anytime on her website.

NOTE: Columbia County Magazine readers will get 30 percent off of all merchandise sold on Ginny McCormack Ehrhart’s website,, through December 25. To receive the discount, use the promo code COLUMBIA at check out.

Take the Fall

In The Home
Photography by Haley Lamb

Photography by Haley Lamb

An Evans couple enjoys decorating their Sunbury at Bartram Trail home together – especially this time of year. 

Sometimes the house hunting process uncovers hidden surprises that drive potential homeowners away. Other times it offers pleasant surprises that bring house hunters back for another look. Of course, the desire to see more usually has something to do with the house.

Then there’s the story of Amanda and Steve Latham.

When Steve was house hunting a couple of years ago, the leasing agent at the model home in Sunbury at Bartram Trail, who was Amanda Russell at the time, showed him a house in the neighborhood. On his first visit to the home that definitely piqued his interest, Steve had his Realtor and a lady friend with him. (Emphasis on friend.)

When he went back – alone – to see the house a second time, however, he had an ulterior motive. “He wanted to let me know when we met that he was single,” says Amanda.

Well, not anymore. Steve, who serves in the Air Force, bought the house, and Amanda moved in with him in April of 2014. The couple got married in October 2015.

“We like to joke that he bought such a nice house from me that I had to move in with him,” says Amanda.

Finishing Touches
And making the house even nicer is something that the couple enjoys doing together. The house was 85 percent complete when Steve bought it, but he was able to choose the wall colors and the fireplace. He also added stone columns and a 16-by-20-foot patio. 

“The back patio gets afternoon shade this time of year. It’s perfectly cool, and you get a breeze,” says Steve. “It’s such a tranquil, fun spot.”

home-patioNo wonder they spend so much time on the patio, which overlooks the 14th fairway of Bartram Trail Golf Club. “We wanted an outdoor living space because we spend so much of our time out here,” Amanda says.

The patio includes a ceiling fan and a flat-screen TV on the wall, and they have been making improvements to the outdoor living space since Steve had it poured while the house was under construction. They added a cedar pergola above the patio and the garage this past summer.

home-patio-tableThey also wanted an outdoor dining space, and that area of the patio gets lots of use. Amanda belongs to a running group, and she and her friends, who run in 5k and 10k races, jog three miles every Sunday. With 3.5 miles of trails and 200 acres of Audubon International-certified wilderness preserve in the neighborhood, the runners have an ideal place to jog. The Lathams’ patio is the perfect place for them to reward themselves.

“After we run, we usually have mimosas and bacon and pancakes on the back porch,” says Amanda. “We’ll run for bacon.”

Steve and his 18-year-old daughter, Lauren, made the farmhouse table on the patio after taking a photo of another table like it. He says it took them two weekends to build the frame and paint the table. “We had a good time making it. It was something for my daughter and I to do together,” says Steve.

To mix textures, Amanda surrounded the table with metal chairs that she found online. A rustic orb between two clear vases of fall flowers line the center of the table. The tabletop also features oversized monogrammed beige napkins, silverware tucked in burlap pockets, placemats made up of a pattern of decorative leaves and a gourd or an ear of golden corn on each plate. Steve also made the chandelier above the table with a pulley they got on eBay.

“Amanda and Lauren are more creative than I am, but I can execute the plan,” says Steve. “I grew up building houses and laying brick in Tennessee and Kentucky.”

Mergers and Acquisitions
While most of the patio furniture and décor are new, it was a bit of a challenge to combine two households when they got married. “We were both established, and we both had fairly substantial four-bedroom homes,” says Steve. 

home-kitchen-dining-areaHowever, they came up with a simple solution to furnish their home. “We kept the good stuff and got new furniture together,” Amanda says.

The wine cabinet in the dining area belonged to Amanda before they got married, and she had the idea to add a wine and coffee bar in the adjoining kitchen. “That was a dead space in the kitchen, and when I moved in, I needed more storage space,” she says.

Steve says he likes the coffee bar because it makes the kitchen feel larger. “Everything she does elevates the house,” he says.

The master bedroom also illustrates the couple’s deft handling of the mergers and acquisitions required to furnish their home.

The sleigh bed with an upholstered headboard and footboard, along with a chaise in the corner, were new purchases. However, the entertainment center was part of Steve’s former bedroom set. “We kept the entertainment cabinet, but we sold everything else,” he says.

The bedroom also features custom-made window treatments and bedding. In fact, the entire house has custom window treatments and custom lights. The master bath includes granite countertops, a soaker tub, a walk-in shower, tile flooring and two sinks.

home-living-roomFall Guy
The couple has learned to blend their contrasting styles in their home décor. While Amanda describes her style as “Southern traditional,” Steve prefers wrought iron, natural woods and rustic or French country pieces with texture. 

She likes spa colors. He likes earth tones. However, Steve says, “Fall is our favorite time to decorate together because it fits with my color palette.”

In the dining area, a bow-topped lantern on a decorative tree cross section serves as the centerpiece for the table. Pumpkin napkin rings hold natural-colored napkins, and a burlap tablecloth is angled across the table.

“We have different tastes, but there are a lot of common themes in our personal styles,” says Steve. “Burlap blends both of our styles.”

Other seasonal touches throughout the house include fall-themed pillows, linens and signs; miniature pumpkins and pebbles in glass containers; grape vine pumpkins; twists of burlap; decorative leaves and fall floral arrangements by Amanda’s friend, Brandon May, who owns Brooks Haven Floral & Flowers.

“Being a Realtor, I go into a lot of different homes,” says Amanda. “When I see a good idea, I like to try to recreate it in our home. I think that real estate and decorating go hand-in-hand.”

Personality Plus
Steve and Amanda also like to cook together, and their kitchen offers plenty of amenities for them to practice their culinary skills. The kitchen features double ovens, a gas cooktop, a pot filler, granite countertops, ceramic tile backsplash and stainless steel appliances. Pendant lights with mercury glass and Edison light bulbs, which make the light softer, hang above the island. 

The plumbing, light fixtures and door handles in the kitchen – and throughout the house – have an oil-rubbed bronze finish. All of the doors in the house are paneled, except the maple pantry door, which has frosted glass. 

The living room opens to the kitchen and dining area, and the room features a two-story ceiling, ceiling fan, stone fireplace with a cedar mantel and coffee bean-colored, engineered wood flooring with a hand-scraped look, which also is found throughout the house. One of the Lathams’ two rescue dogs, a 6-year-old Spitz named Cody, likes to perch on a pillow on the curved couch and watch the Food Channel. Their other rescue dog, Hamilton, is a 7-year-old Shetland sheepdog. 

On the second story the Lathams have a family room, which has been furnished primarily with pieces that Steve found in his travels. The furnishings include a leather circular couch that he got in Italy and a French antique wine rack that he bought in Germany. The room also includes a wine refrigerator and a vaulted ceiling. A collage of photos of his three daughters in different places around the world hangs on a wall.

The second floor also include his younger daughters’ bedrooms, where they stay during summer visits. Two of the rooms, separated by a Jack-and-Jill bath, showcase the personalities of Emily, 16, who lives in Iowa, and Lauren, an Iowa State University freshman who is studying in the apparel, merchandising and design program. (His 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, is married and lives in Maryland.)

Emily’s beach-themed room, featuring aqua, gray and white décor, includes a collection of starfish above the bed and a trio of framed shell pictures on one of the sand-colored walls. A full-length mirror leans against another wall. “This is a reflection of her,” says Steve.

Lauren’s room includes a sleigh bed, a chair in one corner and an ottoman covered in chevron fabric. “We did this when I moved here. I found Pinterest pictures of things that felt like her. We put this together,” says Steve.

home-patio-table-closeupA large textured picture of a ballerina occupies one wall. “Her mother was a ballerina, and this picture inspires her,” Steve says.

Curb Appeal
The Latham home is full of inspiration, and the house’s appeal begins outside with the porch scape that Amanda creates for every season. 

“The front porch is the first thing people see when they come to the house. I think curb appeal means so much,” says Steve. “If it’s not inviting outside, you’re not going to want to go inside.”

The front porch décor includes a wine barrel and an all-weather bench that are decorated with pumpkins, plants and pillows for fall. A fall wreath occupies the front door, which features wrought iron over glass. A bale of hay and a large wooden “Happy Fall Y’all” pumpkin sit on the porch next the bench.

“We encourage people not to sit on the bench because it might fall, but it’s perfect for decorating,” says Amanda.

The house also has a courtyard entrance, stacked stone columns, a stacked stone garage and hardy board shake on the second story. While these features remain constant, the same cannot be said for the rest of the house. “Every month-and-a-half, Amanda changes everything,” says Steve.

And why not? After all, she is full of ideas.

“I get on Pinterest, and I get inspired by stuff I want. I have a Pinterest board for every room,” says Amanda. “This house has evolved in two-and-a-half years.”

By Sarah James

Photography by Haley Lamb

Fair Play

A & E

fair-1-main-photoGet ready for a whirlwind of entertainment as the 51st Columbia County Fair kicks off November 3 for ten days of pulse-pounding midway rides, outlandish stunt shows and wacky fair food. 

This year’s lineup includes returning favorites such as the Sea Lion Splash, Galaxy Girl Aerial Motorcycle Stunt Show, demolition derbies and petting zoo.

New attractions include Chase’s Racing Pigs, Farmily Feud Agricultural Game Show and sanctioned bull riding with the top 25 bull riders in the Southeast.

The Merchants Association of Columbia County, a non-profit organization of local business volunteers, presents the fair each year at its fairgrounds on Columbia Road across from Patriots Park. Special amenities include free parking with security, free golf cart shuttles, free nightly entertainment and free admission for kids 3 and under.

fair-carousel-horseProceeds from the fair benefit many local charities and provide scholarships to seniors from each Columbia County public high school. For more information, visit

2016 Fair Schedule:

Thursday, November 3
Hours: 4-11 p.m.
Admission: $7; free admission 4-5 p.m.
Unlimited Ride Special: $15
FFA Judging: 6 p.m.
Musical Entertainment: Donna Jo
Bull Riding: 7:30 p.m. 

Friday, November 4
Hours: 5 p.m. – midnight
Admission: $7
Unlimited Ride Special: $20 from 9:30 p.m.-midnight
Musical Entertainment: Tony Howard Motown Review
Bull Riding: 7:30 p.m. 

Saturday, November 5
Hours: Noon – midnight
Admission Special: $7
Kids’ Day Special: Kids ride free noon – 1 p.m.
Musical Entertainment: Will McCranie Trio 

Sunday, November 6
Hours: 1 – 11 p.m.
Admission Special: $7; $1 off with church bulletin
Unlimited Ride Special: $20
Musical Entertainment: Little Roy and Lizzie, 5-7 p.m. 

Monday, November 7
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.
Admission: $7
Unlimited Ride Special: $20
Musical Entertainment: Brandon Shane Reeves
Demolition Derby: 7:30 p.m. 

Tuesday, November 8
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.
Admission: $7 or free admission with 5 non-perishable items per person for the food bank
Unlimited Ride Special: $18
Apollo Talent Night: Ages 1-12 

Wednesday, November 9
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.
Admission: $7
Unlimited Ride Special: $20
Musical Entertainment: Ippie Music
UGA Georgettes Dance Team: 6 p.m.
Student Appreciation Night 

Thursday, November 10
Hours: 5 – 11 p.m.
Admission: $7
Senior Night: $3 admission for adults 55 and older with ID card
Military Appreciation Night: $3 admission with military ID
Unlimited Ride Special: $20
Apollo Talent Night: Ages 13 and up 

Friday, November 11
Hours: 5 p.m. – midnight
Admission: $7
Musical Entertainment: Tim Cardiere
Demolition Derby: 7:30 p.m. 

fair-chainsaw-artistSaturday, November 12
Hours: Noon – midnight
Admission: $7
Kids’ Day Special: Kids ride free noon – 1 p.m.
Unlimited Ride Special: Buy unlimited ride stamp between noon-3 p.m. for $25 and come back later
Musical Entertainment: The BTUs
Chainsaw Carving Auction: 9 p.m. 

Sunday, November 13
Hours: 1-11 p.m.
Admission: $5
Unlimited Ride Special: $20

Show Time

A & E

annie-moses-bandIt’s not the same old song and dance with the variety of shows that Augusta Amusements is bringing to the area for the holidays.

On Monday, November 14 at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., the Annie Moses Band pays tribute to the most treasured love songs of the last century in “The Art of the Love Song.” The epitome of old-school elegance, the band — which scores an impressive double chart entry on Amazon’s Classics chart and Billboard’s Classics/Crossover chart — performs music that is reminiscent of the Great American Songbook of the 1940s and 1950s and borrows from artists of the ’60s and ’70s such as Don McLean, Paul Williams and John Lennon.

The concert is a memorable collection of some of the greatest love songs written, including “Evergreen,” “And I Love You So,” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “And I Love Her,” among many others.  The band’s corresponding 60-minute PBS Special has been airing on PBS stations across the country since early 2016. Tickets are $39 for the matinee and $49 for the evening performance.

The holiday season kicks off with “A Very Electric Christmas” by Lightwire Theater on Thursday, December 1. Performed in complete darkness, the show tells the story of a young bird named Max who tries to get home for Christmas after being separated from his parents while flying South for the winter.

The storyline features Nutcracker soldiers with candy canes, naughty rats, an electric Christmas tree surrounded by presents, glow worms, dancing flowers and other creatures that light up the stage. Audiences of all ages will enjoy timeless Christmas songs from Nat King Cole, Tchaikovsky, Mariah Carey and others. Shows start at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $28.50 for adults and $14.50 for children under age 12.

“Merry Christmas Darling: Carpenters’ Christmas,” starring Michelle Berting Brett, celebrates the biggest hits of one of the most successful recording duos of all time. The performance, a natural offshoot of the “We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered” show, features a full complement of Karen and Richard Carpenter’s classic repertoire.

Brett takes center stage accompanied by her 7-piece Nashville band and performs songs like “Close to You,” Yesterday Once More” and “We’ve only Just Begun” along with holiday favorites. The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, December 8. Tickets are $39.50.

All performances will take place at Jabez S. Harden Performing Arts Center. For more information, call (706) 726-0366 or visit

Carlton Deese


pysk-nov-webAssociate Director, Georgia War Veterans Nursing Home, Augusta University

Number of years in position: 3 years

Family: My wife, Courtney, and I have a daughter, Caroline, and a son, Camden.

Why I’m Passionate About What I Do: I consider it a privilege to serve the veterans who have sacrificed so much for this great nation. It is truly an honor to wake up every day and care for the veterans who have served during WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and the Gulf War. Georgia War is a treasure trove of military experience and wisdom, but these men and women are not only veterans. They are proud family members, pillars of the Georgia community and have had long, successful careers. To be able to give back to this population is an honor.

I also find it rewarding to be involved with the clinical and medical education of Georgia’s future healthcare professionals. Georgia War is a training site for Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, Dental College of Georgia, College of Nursing and College of Allied Health Sciences. We also support training opportunities for Fort Gordon’s Eisenhower Army Medical Center and Augusta Technical College. It is a joy to work with these future healthcare professionals.

Community Groups and Charities I Love to Support: I am an advocate and huge supporter of all of our veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, just to name a few. There are so many other groups like the Knights of Columbus who volunteer their time as well. These organizations do so much for the veterans in our community, especially at Georgia War and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center.

I also like to volunteer and give back to the American Heart Association and United Way. The United Way does so much for the CSRA by leveraging resources to improve our community. The American Heart Association gives back to the community through healthcare, education and research, especially at Augusta University. I’m proud to support these community groups.

Biggest Career or Life Obstacle I’ve Overcome and How: My biggest career/life obstacle was a blessing in disguise. Finding a job in the middle of the 2008 recession was not so easy. After graduating from The Medical University of South Carolina, I found myself in Charleston with very few options. I went into the program originally for hospital administration, but many of the entry-level executive positions were cut during the recession. Fortunately, though, an administrative fellowship opened at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and that opportunity ended up being the foundation to not only my professional life, but my personal life as well. This is where I met my wife, who also works with many of these same veteran service organizations.

Accomplishment I’m Most Proud Of: Personally, I’m a very proud husband and dad. My wife and kids are truly a blessing. Professionally, I am honored to be named one of Georgia’s Top 40 Under 40 this year by Georgia Trend magazine. They recently held the awards presentation at Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

Favorite Way to Spend Saturday Afternoon: I am an avid college football fan, so Saturday afternoons in the fall are pretty much booked. Luckily though, watching college football is something we do as a family. I also like the outdoors and camping out at the lake, something I look forward to doing more of when my kids are a little older.

Favorite TV Show: “ESPN College Game Day”

Favorite Movie: Forrest Gump

Favorite Sports Team: Clemson — Go, Tigers!

Favorite Comfort Food: Country fried steak, fresh collard greens, okra and squash.

Favorite App: Probably Google Maps. This app prevents me from getting lost relatively often.

Last Book Read: The Little Engine That Could — one of my daughter’s favorite books

Dream Vacation: Spending a couple of weeks in the Caribbean visiting the British Virgin Islands and U.S. Virgin Islands. I’ve never been, and they seem like the perfect vacation spots for a little bit of R&R.

Best Thing I Ever Learned: The harder you work, the luckier you will be. I was taught that at a young age and have found it to be true over the years.

Something That Has Changed My Life: My parents, no doubt, have had the most impact in my life, but playing sports has really changed my life, especially playing college baseball. There are so many life lessons that can be learned through sports. Professionally, having the opportunity to work under a great man and leader, Charles Esposito, executive director at Georgia War. I owe so much to Charles for taking a chance on me three years ago and allowing me the opportunity to serve in a leadership capacity at Georgia War.

Favorite Hobbies: Exercising, camping, kayaking and being out on the lake.

Secret Aspiration: I would like to one day teach business at the college level and be involved with the professional development of aspiring young folks. Looking back at all of the professors who made an impact on my life is motivating and makes me want to give back.

Reality Show I Would Totally Win: “Big Brother” — I find it a fascinating social experiment. It’s interesting to see people with different backgrounds live in the same environment while competing for the same goal. I think it would be a neat experience.

Something People Would Be Surprised to Know About Me: I grew up on a 64-acre farm in South Carolina with all the animals you can imagine. I look back now at how special those times were. I especially enjoyed being around horses at a young age.

Rockin’ the Country

A & E

big-richThere’s nothing shy about Big Kenny and John Rich. If you’ve ever been to one of their hard-hitting concerts you know what we mean. If that fortune has escaped you, here’s your Big — and Rich — break. The high-energy country music duo is bringing the party to Evans Towne Center Park on Friday, November 4. 

Along with a set list that includes crowd favorites such as their first No. 1 hit, “Lost in This Moment,” the duo will perform their most recent hits from Gravity, including “Look at You” and “Lovin’ Lately.” With any luck fans will also hear a tribute to our military with “8th of November,” a patriotic crowd singalong of “God Bless America” and a blistering version of “Rollin’ (The Ballad of Big & Rich)” before leaving the park.

Cowboy Troy will join the duo onstage for several songs that featured him, including “I Play Chicken With a Train” and — don’t you know it — “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy).” DJ Sinister, who has the #1 Internationally Syndicated Country Remix program on radio, and hometown Southern rocker Eric Lee Beddingfield join the party and put the icing on the cake. 

For tickets or more information, visit