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What does it mean to be a Southerner in the 21st century?

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8 Things I’ll Miss About Living in North Carolina

My family’s roots are in North Carolina. My parents were raised and went to college there, and I was born in a small town in the southeastern part of the state. We moved from North Carolina when I was 5 years old, but my extended family still lives here; my parents and I visit several times a year.

I spent the last year at Elon University, which is about 25 minutes east of Greensboro. Even though I’ve visited North Carolina several times a year for my whole life, living in the area has reminded me of what makes this state so special. Now that I’m moving to Tennessee for my first job out of grad school, I’ve been reflecting on my home state and what I’ll miss about living here. I’m definitely excited to move to a new city, but maybe I’m not quite ready to bid adieu to the great Tar Heel state.

Here are eight top reasons I’ll miss living in North Carolina.

barbecue

Mmmm, Smithfield’s.

1. Barbecue: If you meet anyone from North Carolina and they claim they don’t like barbecue, they’re not telling the truth. Everyone in this state loves barbecue, and everyone has a staunch opinion on what kind of barbecue is superior. Lexington style (more common in western parts of the state) is sweeter and smoky, often topped with a tomato-based sauce. Eastern style is tangy and accompanied by a vinegar-based sauce. I’m a Lexington girl, but I will never say no to some Smithfield’s Chicken & BBQ (which is more Eastern). And down here, “barbecue” is a food, not something you do in the back yard.

Hey Smithfields, can y’all air-drop me some ‘cue once a month or so?

2. Beaches: To me, nothing beats a North Carolina beach. My dad grew up going to Holden Beach on the southern coast, and my parents and I went there in the summers until I was 13. My grandfather then sold his beach house, and unfortunately we haven’t been back. I have the fondest memories of body-boarding in the playful waves, teaching myself to skimboard and hunting for the perfect seashells on the white sand. While I didn’t make it to the beach in the last year, it was nice knowing I was close enough to go if I wanted to.

biscuitville3. Biscuitville: I’m not kidding, y’all. Try one of their hot, delicious pimento cheese and bacon biscuits and tell me it’s not amazing. Watching the bakers knead the dough and cut out biscuits makes your mouth water in a hot second. Nothing beat a bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit with cheese grits on a Saturday morning. Biscuitville over Bojangles, always.

4. Close to Family: This is the closest I’ve lived to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins since my parents and I lived in NC ourselves, way back in the 90s. My mom’s family all live outside of Charlotte, so they’re only about 2 hours from me at Elon. Weekend visits were easy and relaxing. It’s been so nice to be able to see them more often.

5. College (ACC) Basketball: With UNC, NC State, Wake Forest and Duke (barf) all close by, November through March or April (depending on how the seasons finished) are crazy with blue, red and gold. It’s a sin to like more than one North Carolina college team, so you learn to answer accordingly. We’re in the heart of ACC country so during those months there’s a game on my TV every day. I hope the SEC faithfuls in Tennessee won’t mind my ACC fandom. Do I have to learn to sing “Rocky Top” in return?

6. Southern Charm: This goes without saying. We’ll always smile and wave, even if we don’t know you from Adam. I know that’s all over the South, but I do love seeing it around here. North Carolina has so much charm to offer, from its cities to its small towns, from its mountains to its coasts, and everything in between.

7. Weather: Can we say “yes” to having all four seasons? The summers are stunning, if not a bit humid, and the winters are (usually) mild. We get a clear spring and a clear fall, even if they are a bit prolonged. My boots and scarves do get worn! And only some of us lose our minds when it snows…not all of us.

And lastly…

Red & white wines from Stony Mountain Vineyards, Albemarle, NC

Red & white wines from Stony Mountain Vineyards, Albemarle, NC

8. Wine & Beer: I’m not a big beer person, but oh my goodness, North Carolina wine is awesome. Traditional NC wine is made from scuppernong and muscadine grapes, which are sweeter than regular grapes, and twice as delicious. I loved exploring wineries in the Triad and tasting all of their varieties and blends. As for beer, Red Oak is king, followed by Natty Greene’s. Both are brewed fresh in Greensboro, and can be found in every grocery store’s beer aisle in Guilford and Alamance counties. If I could take Red Oak and some scuppernong wine to Tennessee, I totally would. Dearest North Carolina, you’ve always been good to me. This won’t be a goodbye, just a “see you later.” Plus, when my parents’ lake house is done, I’ll be visiting you a lot more often than twice a year.

 

Kate RobertsonKate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern and a Virginia Tech alumna. She also holds an M.A. in Interactive Media from Elon University.

Born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia, Kate hopes to further her career as a social media maven and kick-ass writer in the lovely southeast.

Follow Kate on Twitter @kate3robertson and check out her blog, A Thought and a Half.

 
 

Get Fit at Freedom Fit Gym

Summer is coming, and that means swimsuit season is coming, too. Everyone wants to get in great shape to turn heads at the beach.

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Joel (center) and his family celebrate Freedom Fit Gym’s grand opening!

For Joel McCauley, being fit and healthy isn’t just for summer. It’s an all-the-time routine and lifestyle. It’s this belief that lead Joel to open Freedom Fit Gym in Ashland, Va. He’s extremely excited about his small-business venture, and I’m so excited to share it with y’all here on Pretty Southern! After all, we do love our small businesses.

Joel is one of my close friends from college. He’s a certified personal trainer (CPT), and has wanted to open his own gym since he was a teenager. Helping people is in his blood. Operating his own gym gives Joel the opportunity to help people achieve their personal health and fitness goals and teach them about living healthfully. And going the small-business route lets him do it his way. He started working as a personal trainer just one month after graduating from college. He’s competed in baseball and track, and has also done bodybuilding competitions. All of his experience, combined with years of studies and research on the best methods, diets and healthful habits will help him help his clients at Freedom Fit Gym reach their goals.

“My hope is to create a space where people feel like they can come to better themselves,” Joel says. He wants Freedom Fit Gym to be a place “where people can come to make progress” toward their fitness goals and personal health.

ffgym-1At the gym, Joel offers open workout space with a wide variety of machines and equipment, personal training sessions and small-group bodyweight and powerlifting classes. In addition, he can craft custom nutrition plans to optimize clients’ diets for the best results.

Most of all, though, Joel knows that movement is a gift that should be celebrated. We are made to move, and Joel wants us to be able to celebrate our gifts to the best of our abilities, all year round.

“Now is the perfect time to get my dream started,” he says. “I can grow my business as long as people come to me.” And that’s just what we want, too!

Want to follow Joel’s journey and learn more about Freedom Fit Gym? He’s on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and has a website and blog!

All photos courtesy of Joel McCauley.

 
Kate RobertsonKate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern and a Virginia Tech alumna. She also holds an M.A. in Interactive Media from Elon University.

Born in North Carolina and raised in Georgia, Kate hopes to further her career as a social media maven and kick-ass writer in the lovely southeast.

Follow Kate on Twitter @kate3robertson and check out her blog, A Thought and a Half.

 
 

How to Survive Winter: a Guide from a Southerner Trapped in the North

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If there’s one thing (most) Southerners are terrified of, it’s winter. Three months of cold temperatures, bitter winds and questionable weather forecasts is no one’s idea of a good time.  Gray and brown take over, as most flowers, plants and other vegetation have died or gone into their “hibernation.” Sometimes the sun doesn’t come out for a week; when it comes back, we’ve forgotten what it was.

And Heaven forbid it snows. What is snow, anyway?

After living in the Great White North, I’ve learned how to deal with winter and how to get through those long, gray days without losing my sanity. I’m no expert, but nine years (ugh) of experience in blizzards, subzero wind chills, icy roads and shoveling driveways has provided me with plenty of insights to share.

Here is my best advice on how to survive winter, straight from a misplaced Southerner.

Invest in a snow blower. My parents never had one for six of our years in Pennsylvania; our neighbors have one, and they graciously clear our driveway when snow strikes. But a few years ago, Mom broke down and bought one of our own. And you know what? We haven’t had a rough winter since. Omen? I’d like to think so.

Don’t buy cheap shovels. They break too easily. No one wants to hear that snap! in the middle of shoveling the driveway. It’s the worst. Shelling out for a sturdier shovel will be worth it later. Buy them early, too. The early bird gets the good shovel.

Don’t leave the house unless you absolutely have to. “I drive good in the snow,” said no Southerner ever. Cabin fever will eventually set in, and you’ll have to make a choice. For me, that choice is easy. As long as it’s cold and/or there’s snow on the ground, I’m staying inside.

Pull out all the thick, soft blankets and keep them within reach. Snow is much nicer when seen from inside, wrapped in a blanket, sipping on hot chocolate (or a Hot Toddy).

Stock up on the essentials well in advance (if possible). Sometimes icky winter weather strikes with little to no warning, and you may not have time to refill your supplies. If you do, though, bread, milk, eggs, peanut butter, soup and non-food items like batteries run out fast. May Publix be ever in your favor.

Check your flashlights and charge your electronics. Put fresh batteries in your flashlights and lanterns, and make sure your cell phones, tablets, etc. are fully charged. Power outages can happen, and they aren’t always resolved quickly. Be prepared.

And most importantly, be careful. I joke about snow and driving and cabin fever, but winter weather makes for treacherous driving and travel conditions. If you feel uneasy about being on the roads, by all means, stay in.

Remember, winter is short. Come March, the grass will be much greener on the other side…literally.

* This might be more applicable to our friends in Maryland and Virginia, where snow is a little more common. 

Kate RobertsonKate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern, a Virginia Tech alumna, and a current graduate student at Elon University in North Carolina. She’s working toward her MA in Interactive Media, and afterwards hopes to further her career as a kick-ass writer.

Originally from Atlanta, Kate enjoys exploring the Piedmont region of North Carolina, especially its wide offerings of wineries. Follow her on Twitter @kate3robertson and check out her blog, A Thought and a Half.

 
 

Split Allegiances

 I am the only Hokie in a family of Tar Heels. I was born and raised wearing that beautiful hue of Carolina blue, and in college traded most of it for the unique but equally beautiful palette of Chicago maroon and burnt orange. Explaining my allegiances to the Hokies and the Tar Heels always garners some confused facial expressions the inevitable question, “So what do you do when they play each other?”

family

My “TarHokie” Family

The question wasn’t always met without hesitation, especially in my younger Hokie days. I essentially had to learn how to cheer for another team. But now, I don’t even think twice, especially regarding football.

For the last several years, my family has attended the VT-UNC football games, in both Chapel Hill and Blacksburg. Games in Chapel Hill are like homecomings for my parents, and memories of my childhood in Carolina blue become suddenly vibrant. I see kids dressed in full UNC gear; the little girls in UNC cheerleader outfits remind me of myself at that age. I look at them and think, “I remember when I had an outfit like that.”

Then I see a Hokie family with their kids rocking the maroon and orange, Hokie Bird hats and Hokie cheerleader outfits, and I think, “That will be my kids one day.”

A few weekends ago, we went to the UNC-VT football game in Chapel Hill; my cousin Alexis, also a UNC alumna, joined us. I was outnumbered three to one, but I like to think my Hokie spirit made up for the numbers. When we got to our seats in Kenan Memorial Stadium, I added a dash of maroon and orange amidst the sea of Carolina Blue. A few other Hokies were seated nearby, so I waved to them and flashed my best VT hand signal. We high-fived after touchdowns and made sure we sang “Tech Triumph” extra loudly when appropriate.

One time, I might have yelled, “Get him!” a little too loudly on a Hokie defensive play, and an older lady a couple rows down turned around and gave me a stink eye. Naturally, I yelled even louder on the next play. Even my parents and Alexis laughed.

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Hark the sound of Hokie victory

The game ended in the Hokies’ favor with a 34-17 victory. As is tradition, the UNC band and spirit squads led the remaining Tar Heel fans with the singing of “Hark the Sound” and “I’m a Tar Heel Born.” I hummed along to the tune I’d heard since birth; even as a Hokie, I couldn’t resist the melody. For a small moment, it felt like I was turning on my Hokie allegiance. But that feeling faded quickly. Yelling, “Go to hell, Duke!” feels good no matter what colors I wear. Everyone hates Duke.

Mom always says that, when it comes to these games, “Our family can’t lose,” and she’s right. Since I became a Hokie in 2010, my allegiance spread to them, and they cheer for the Hokies almost as much as their alma mater. Our allegiances aren’t really split. They’re just varied. Besides, maroon, orange, and Carolina blue don’t look so bad all together.

And maybe next time, I can introduce Alexis to football weekends in Blacksburg.

Kate RobertsonKate Robertson is a features writer for Pretty Southern, a Virginia Tech alumna, and a current graduate student at Elon University in North Carolina. She’s working toward her MA in Interactive Media, and afterwards hopes to further her career as a kick-ass writer.

Originally from Atlanta, Kate enjoys exploring the Piedmont region of North Carolina, especially its wide offerings of wineries. Follow her on Twitter @kate3robertson and check out her blog, A Thought and a Half.

 
 

Southern Girl, Northern Shore

I grew up going to Holden Beach on the southern North Carolina coast. My grandpa had a house there for a long time; that’s where my dad always went as a kid. We vacationed at Holden until 2002, when my grandpa sold his house. Since then, we’ve been back to Holden once, and we’ve stayed at Hilton Head, North Myrtle Beach and St. Simon’s Island. My family loves our Southern beaches.

My boyfriend Kevin, who I met at Virginia Tech, grew up in northwest New Jersey. His family’s favorite beach spot is Cape May, on the southern-most tip of the state. When he invited me to spend a weekend with him at Cape May, my mind raced with rumors and stories I heard about New Jersey beaches from kids at my high school. In my eight years (ugh) living above the Mason-Dixon Line, I had never ventured to any of the popular shore spots (they call it “the shore” up here), like Cape May, Wildwood, Ocean City or Stone Harbor. Delaware and Maryland beaches didn’t catch my attention, either. I told Kevin I’d never been to a beach farther north than North Carolina.   (more…)