Tag Archives: Benson

Horsing Around



Mule Days Outtakes

These are some pictures that didn’t make the final cut into my 2010 Mule Days photo gallery. Some of them didn’t end up fitting into the overall theme of the project, but I still liked them as individual shots. Others are similar to other pictures that made it into the gallery, but I didn’t feel like they really said anything new or added anything to the project.

Click any image to open up a fullscreen viewer. Click here to see the rest of the pics in the final edit.







Mule Days, Come and Gone

Finally, Benson is back to normal after a busy weekend of rodeos, street fairs and wagons backing up traffic. I’ve put together a photo gallery from the weekend that tries to show just a little bit of what Mule Days is about.

This is the third Mule Days festival I have experienced since Kristen and I moved to Benson. It was the first time I haven’t been working for a newspaper over the weekend, and so I decided it would be worthwhile to try and put together a photo essay of my own. My main goal in picture taking was simply to improve my photography skills. I had hoped to get pictures from throughout the week — before, during and after the main celebration Friday and Saturday — that show a comprehensive look at everything going on. As the weekend got closer, however, Kristen, Samuel and I got progressively sicker. By Friday night, our plans to go to the rodeo turned into plans to go to bed early, after loading up on ibuprofen and pseudoephedrine. It may have worked out better this way, however, as I never could formulate a solid plan for tying all of my pictures from the different events together. My current edit is more focused on trying to convey the atmosphere around the campgrounds and the street fair, which is really the hub of the event.

You can see the current collection of pictures here.

Our First Family Movie

Samuel Goes for a Walk

in High Definition

Mother's Day Memories: Pork Chops, Needlework & Zombies

Celebrating Mother’s Day has always been a regular event in my family, but this year offered extra cause to celebrate as Kristen prepares to join the ranks of motherly matrons in our clan. We were blessed with the opportunity to host both of our moms, as well as Kristen’s two grandmas, for a Mother’s Day dinner and a wonderful afternoon of family fellowship.

Mother’s Day also means I get an opportunity to cook for all of the women in our family — a task I really enjoy, but rarely get away with because everyone loves to cook so much. I prepared eight thick-cut, pan-fried pork chops steamed with red onions, squash, zucchini and asparagus. I topped the pork chops with asparagus, drizzled fresh hollandaise sauce over the vegetable-meat combo¹ and left the squash-zucchini-onion medley on the side. White rice and baked macaroni and cheese (which Kristen prepped before I could step in) rounded out the main course; Grandma Mayna brought a Hersey’s chocolate chocolate-chip cake for dessert.

A grand time was had by all.

After lunch, Kristen tried to teach our moms and grandmas a few new stitching patterns to incorporate into the quilt she is putting together for Samuel. I haven’t begun my own quilt square yet, but I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to bond with my brothers, Zachary and Jacob, as the three of us rarely end up in the same room together very often. We jumped head first into Resident Evil for some co-op light-gun action.

And no, those pictures were not posed; that’s just how intense my brother gets when the undead threaten to interfere with Mother’s Day.

Is there anything of greater import to a child than a mother who understands the struggles of life and gingerly guides her children down the path to adulthood? I don’t think so. Kristen and I were blessed with such mothers. It would be impossible to pick out what elements of our personalities, of our worldviews, of our lives, were impacted by our mothers. They deserve much more than a fun day and our heartfelt thanks, but I know that’s all they will accept.

I was reminded again about the critical role mothers play in shaping the perspectives of their children this afternoon while reading a short story. On this one particular street in this one particular village in South Africa lived a great diversity of people: a widowed concert pianists who had taught nobility in London; a retired colonel who had spent his life laying down roots in a multitude of countries across the globe; a few native Afrikaans; two families of American missionaries and a plethora of other expatriates from Germany, Sweden and Portugal. The children living on Kruger Park Street, as is typically the case with children everywhere, didn’t let their varied backgrounds stand between them. Gathering in the street for games and adventure became a regular afternoon ritual. On this day, the children’s game turned out to be knocking on doors, then hiding before the targeted neighbor could get to the door. The children took turns pranking different neighbors as the crowd looked on from a safe distance. As it would happen, one child’s mother found out about the game and was less than pleased. This child was forced to walk back to the house of the old colonel who she had pranked an hour earlier to confess her sin and beg apology. The worst part of the ordeal was that the other children, though equally responsible, seemed to get by unscathed. Still, at least one mother is intent on using the situation to teach her own child a lesson. The apology is offered.

“Very well. Your apology is accepted,” the colonel replied. “And you may thank your mother for caring enough about you to discipline you.” ²

Thanks mom.

1. To give credit where credit is due, Zachary did help cut zucchini and mix up the ingredients for my hollandaise recipe.
2. Patricia Coble, “Legogote: Tales from the Bottom Township,” (Bloomington, Ind.: Wordclay) 2008. 1-11.

Coffee in the Mule City

Sunday evening Kristen and I took a walk (as we often do) through our neighborhood and into downtown Benson. We noticed signs around the neighborhood pointing towards a new coffee shop on Railroad Street, so we strolled down to check it out. The store was closed, but looking through the windows it was obviously a place somebody had put a significant amount of work into — lots of soft seating, a new floor, fresh paint, a cavernous lounge space and did I say lots of soft seating?

We were excited to see the new business, Crossroads Coffee, downtown as there really is not a good place to just go grab a cup of coffee and hang out in Benson. In fact, if you’re not in the mood for bar hopping or Italian food, there really isn’t anywhere to go in Benson after 6 p.m. The downtown community seemed to be on the verge of a serious renewal just a year ago. Several new business have opened in recent months and the Main Street area has received some long awaited upgrades, including new benches, improved landscaping, the opening of a new town history museum and full renovations of several neglected building facades. Still, for every step forward the downtown area has made, it seems like Benson has fallen two steps behind. Some key stores have closed and, this winter, a group of business owners successfully halted plans to create a unified historic district downtown.

With that in mind, it’s definitely a pretty cool thing when a nice, snazzy, spacious, comfortable coffee shop opens just three blocks from our home.

On our walk today we noticed the store had an open sign and a couple of cars out front. Kristen and I walked over. Abigail, our 5-month-old Doberman, was with us, so we took turns going in and seeing what Crossroads was really like. As it turns out, Crossroads Coffee is not just a coffee house. It’s actually called Crossroads Church. Pastor Scott Betts organized the church plant several months ago. About 60 regular worshipers have been meeting in the back of the building while the coffee shop was being built. The building, on the corner of Railroad Street and Parish Drive, has a relatively large sanctuary, a game room and a nursery area separate from the coffee shop, which takes up about half of the building. Betts just completed his M.Div. program in 2008, so we talked a little about school and about what he hopes to see happen at Crossroads.

The church is officially non-denominational but has a doctrine grounded in the Baptist tradition. Crossroads has a regular Sunday morning worship service in their building on Railroad Street, men’s and women’s Bible study groups on Monday nights and a midweek gathering at Betts’ home. On the coffee shop side of things, they are open Monday through Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., although hours may be extended once the shop gets established. Proceeds from the coffee (which comes from Larry’s Beans by the way) goes back to support the mission of the church. Betts said the church has just hired a worship director, although he continues to work as an electrical contractor and does not yet take a salary from the church. This Friday, at 7 p.m., Crossroads Coffee will host its first musical act — a local bluegrass/gospel band. Betts said he plans to make concerts and open mike nights a regular event. Entertainment will be a blend of religious and secular, but always family-friendly.

Regardless of your church persuasion, the coffee shop atmosphere really is top notch. It’s worth supporting ventures like this to help Benson develop into a more vibrant place to live.

I plan on going back. Let’s meet up some time.

looking at the world with fresh eyes

Looking Ahead

So, my photography has nearly dried up completely. On the way to the airport, at the end of my vacation in Colorado last summer, my camera fell out of its bag, landed on its lens and took some damage. Whenever I felt the need to take a picture over the past few months, I have typically turned to my iPhone, which is a terribly addicting habit I plan to break.

I’ve gotten a new lens for my camera body, which survived the fall, and I hope to get back to taking pictures. Image making is such a stress relief for me. It doesn’t carry any of the burden or stresses of writing, and typically I feel much more satisfied with the results. Don’t take this to mean I think my photography is anything special. I just enjoy making it and looking back at it more than I do my writing.

My new lens is a Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime. It’s my only focusable lens, so it is the one I will be using for the foreseeable future. I haven’t used a camera without a zoom lens since I got my Polaroid Captiva for Christmas in fourth grade. I have heard photo-type people say over the years that using prime lenses is one way to become a better photographer, helping you focus more on the subject of the picture rather than worrying so much about the cropping. It also helps you appreciate a good point-of-view more, because you have to move your body to get it right. I don’t know if this will turn out to be helpful or not, but I do know that if you’re looking for high-quality optics, prime lenses are a heck of a lot cheaper than zooms. That was my primary motivation. I wanted to get a lens with crisp optics, a sharp focus and a wide aperture, and the only way I could afford one that fit the bill was to give up something — so no more zoom for me.

So far the lens has been great. It’s my first experience getting to use a very wide aperture, which opens up a whole knew world of possibilities for image making. Now I can take pictures in very low light, outdoors at night or inside with little artificial light, and avoid having to use the flash, preserving more of the natural colors of the image, not to mention the mood created by varied lighting.

One example of this is my night-time shots taken a few days ago in the snow. I got these pictures in my front yard, hours after sunset, using only my porch light for illumination. The pictures may not be spectacular, but doing shots like this without cranking out the ISO to an unnatural level would have been completely impossible with my old setup.

I hope to take some photo trips to downtown Raleigh, Durham or a nearby park soon, but I haven’t found much time for getting away this close to midterms. For now I’m just cruising the block trying to look at things from new perspectives. Here’s a few of my recent favorites.

Surprise Snow

Yesterday morning as I was getting ready for school, I glanced out the window into the backyard and was totally caught off guard by a steady stream of snow charging towards the ground. I had heard there may be some snow in areas west of us, but the latest weather report I saw for our neighborhood called for temperatures in the 40s and no precipitation. Granted, that had been a few days before.

When I lived in Blowing Rock, checking the weather forecast was a daily — and often hourly — ritual. Unpredictability was the nature of the game, and a little change here or there could have a huge impact on my plans for the day or business flow at work.

Working at a newspaper, I saw it as part of my responsibility to stay as informed as possible about as many things as possible, including national news and politics, local government, behind-the-scene politics, crime, social happenings, school issues, and weather. Always trying to stay a few steps ahead of the game has a way of sapping the excitement out of surprises. Now that I no longer spend my days in a newsroom, I try to avoid the over-saturation of information that has characterized my life for so long. Sometimes, I may even go a whole week (or two) without glancing at the weather report. I might not be able to get by with this in some places, but for right now, facing a few rainy days here and there without an umbrella is well worth the occasional surprise snowfall…not to mention the peace of mind.

Sundown in Downtown

Just one week after moving to Dunn to begin my journalism career, I was sent off to the slightly smaller neighboring town of Benson to cover a free concert sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. I was impressed.

Families of all shapes and sizes get together for community concerts. Kids run and play, parents rekindle romance on the dance floor and old timers just take it all in.

Families of all shapes and sizes get together for community concerts. Kids run and play, parents rekindle romance on the dance floor and old timers just take it all in.

Kristen came along for company. I snapped pictures, chatted up the event organizers and got to know the residents of the new community I would be covering; all the while enjoying the not-too-hot-yet spring air and the cool tunes that carried on into the sunset. In short, it was one of those moments where I questioned reality: “Am I really getting paid to be here?” I asked my wife as we grabbed a cup of homemade ice cream churned out by a John Deere engine.

We went to nearly every public show the town put on that summer and each time walked away more than satisfied with the free entertainment, but also awed at the sense of community the outdoor event created. Here in a municipal park in the center of the town, around 350 people (more than 10 percent of Benson’s citizenry) came together, put aside the cares of their days, sat, listened, talked, danced and relaxed. Many people drove from nearby towns to enjoy the show. Others simply walked a few blocks down Main Street, plopped down in the thick grass and soaked up the rich sounds of beach music. It was then, during my first full week of work at The Daily Record and less than two weeks since we’d unpacked our first box into our rental townhouse in Dunn, that we decided Benson was were we wanted to lay down roots.

Last Thursday night the first Sundown in Downtown concert of the season got into full swing just before 6 p.m. This was the first show since Kristen and I bought our house in Benson; we had been waiting for a night to walk to the park, setup some lawn chairs and pass the evening in classic Southern style ever since we signed the dotted line. Expectations were high but The Coastline Band didn’t disappoint.sundowncrowd Ben Murphrey, Benson’s downtown development coordinator, was more than pleased with the attendance at the first show of the summer. The park was packed. The music was good. The weather was perfect. I brought a book to read while the band played in the background. Kristen graded papers in between sets and Dulles tried to make friends with every child and dog that passed his way.

sundownsuburtsBy 8:10 Dulles — a friendly but overly energetic Doberman — was getting bored with sitting and we had to head home. The music followed us. Dulles got to stretch his legs in the backyard, but Kristen and I hung out on the sofa in the living room, opened the windows and, on this perfect evening, the simultaneously soothing and energizing beats of beach music wafted into our home alongside the familiar sounds of night.


    I can’t help but ask, why don’t other communities stage monthly events like this? By ‘other communities,’ I mean every other community. Sure it takes some planning on the part of a town employee and sure someone has to foot the bill (in Benson, a long list of local businesses sponsor the concerts, getting a quick plug-in halfway through and gaining access to pedal balloons, t-shirts and other freebies emblazoned with their logos to the crowd). It really is a small price to pay for seven high-quality monthly concerts, all free to the public. But the real benefit is the sense of community the events create and the neighborly relations they help build. It’s tough to put a price tag on these things. Especially during a recession.


The Joy of Spring

Lawn MowerThis week has turned out to be one of the finest, weather wise, since Kristen and I bought our home in Benson last November. Of course, having seven straight days of sun and temps in the low 70s doesn’t come without a price. I couldn’t put off mowing the lawn any longer.

After years of neglect, our yard was unquestionably the worst in our otherwise picturesque neighborhood. We have big plans for our yard, but they involve tons of stone, lumber, fence posts and fresh flowers — things just out of reach for a first-year teacher and a lazy writer. Most of our efforts thus far have been focused on ripping up the old and making room for the new, and that has kept us plenty busy. We’ve already cut down seven trees on our 1/4-acre lot, cleared a dump-truck load of hedges, storm debris and beer bottles from the gutter that surrounds our house and reshaped our existing fence to more than double our backyard. Still, all small things compared with taming the jungle that was our front yard.

My tool set available for the task at hand included an old-fashioned reel mower I bought to trim the patch of grass around our rented townhouse — clearly it was no match for the weeds and fire ants I was preparing to battle — and an ancient push mower my mother donated to our cause. After much coaxing, priming and adjusting the twine rope that was attached to the engine in place of a long-gone throttle control, the mower coughed to life. The impromptu throttle control put the mower in the same sound class as a strung out, oil-thirsty Harley. It fought diligently, but three tanks of gas later, it tapped out. Though more than half of their comrades had fallen, the weeds had won…or so it seemed. As the broken mower limped into the shed, Phil, our next door neighbor, offered me his new Cub Cadet mulching mower to finish the job.

It was a wonderful act of mercy, and a great way to build neighborly relations, but I’m sure Phil was just as glad to have our weeds out of sight as we were.