Jamming Out at the Carolina Country Music Fest

Once an avid concert-goer, I have slowed down attending shows over the last few years. However, this past weekend I returned to the live music scene in a big way. To celebrate our anniversary, Sidney and I attended the Carolina Country Music Festival. A mammoth four day fest that attracts some of country music’s biggest superstars to Myrtle Beach, the CCMF is a big deal.

The CCMF was actually a first for me. While I have attended arena shows, outdoor shows, and even an awards show before, I had never went to a music festival. I was excited to sit outside, enjoy the vendors, and meet our 20,000 “neighbors”…

….I just wasn’t ready to do it for four days.

Sidney and I during the first day of the Carolina Country Music Fest.

Sidney and I attended the middle two days of the CCMF on Friday and Saturday. While we knew it would be nice to see acts that performed on Thursday and Sunday such as Jason Aldean, Montgomery Gentry, Chris Young, Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, and others, the two days we did go provided us with more than enough fun.

On Friday we arrived at 5: 30 p.m. and stayed until midnight. We saw Parmalee, Kip Moore, Billy Currington, and Darius Rucker. On Saturday we showed up at 4 p.m. and watched LANco, Chris Lane, Granger Smith, Lee Brice, and Kenny Chesney. It was midnight when we left on Saturday as well. So, for those keeping count, we saw nine different acts perform over the course of 17 hours. Talk about a lot of music!

A look at where we were standing on Friday night.

Before I address who we liked best, I did want to mention the fest itself. Although the CCMF is only in its third year, I must say that the organizers seem to have it down to a science. Getting inside the event area was quick and easy. The wristband system is extremely convenient. There was no shortage of food options. Beer stations were all over the place. Different sections at the fest (such as general admission, VIP, Super VIP) were clearly distinguishable and a heavy security presence was on hand to make sure everyone stayed where they were supposed to. Large screens were set up everywhere so those who were not close to the stage could still follow the action. Except for a couple instances, I never really saw much disorganization.

I didn’t understand the magnitude of the event until I walked through the gates the first time on Friday evening. The festival was absolutely packed! However, for the most part, people were really cool. Sidney and I had the opportunity to meet new friends while also enjoying people-watching at its finest. Although we felt really young and really overdressed at times, we had a great time being part of the crowd.

Here is an aerial shot of the CCMF on Saturday night. It is a massive event (photo courtesy of CCMF).

When it came to Friday night, my favorite performer was Billy Currington. He brought a lot of energy to the stage and it was fun to sing aloud to his songs (especially “People Are Crazy”). Darius Rucker was good but I had seen him before, and like I said then, he is pretty much no frills when it comes to his shows. Currington played his set during the period when it went from day to night so to jam out as the sun went down was pretty scenic/fun.

I enjoyed the music on Saturday better. Because Sidney and I arrived a little earlier this day, we moved much closer up in our section. We brought a blanket with us that allowed us to sit and relax during the early acts. Sidney loved Chris Lane’s act. Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by Lee Brice’s set. I saw him when he performed at Coastal Carolina last fall and I didn’t think the show was anything special. However, up on the CCMF stage with the ocean behind him, Brice put on an incredible show. The crowd was really into it and he touched the emotions of most of us with both his sad songs and his party songs. Although proposals at concerts are sometimes cheesy, the couple he had come up on stage made everyone go “awwwwwwwwwwwww” when the dude popped the question and the girl responded with “I absolutely will marry you.”

Sidney and I during the day on Saturday. The second day was our favorite.

But it wasn’t even a question of who the best performer was during the two days we were there. Kenny Chesney was by far and away the greatest entertainer that took the stage. He opened by performing “Beer In Mexico.” The moment he sang the song’s opening lyrics, starin’ out into the wild blue yonder, I looked at Sidney and said WOW.

Chensey’s voice was so distinctive, so clear, so effortless. After hearing the eight previous acts, he just stood out so much. We loved his set. He stuck with his more upbeat hits (so no, he didn’t perform “Don’t Blink”) and just entertained us. His band was awesome and he tried as hard as he could to convey that he was having a good time. He told funny and meaningful stories in between playing hit after hit. After waiting so long to finally see him, I can unequivocally say that Kenny Chesney did not disappoint.

Attending the Carolina Country Music Fest was a great way to spend our anniversary weekend. If we do it again, we might opt for a VIP package and just go one night. One thing plainly obvious to Sidney and I over the course of the two nights was that we can’t hang with the young bucks like we used to. However, we did our best and had a very memorable time. Don’t Blink.

My Excitement For New Businesses in Myrtle Beach

If you get excited about national restaurant chains opening up, Myrtle Beach is a great place to be over the next few weeks. Just in time for the tourist season, several very well-known locations will open their doors. Luckily for Sidney and I, many of these places are within close proximity of our house. For tonight’s blog post, I wanted to feature five new restaurants that are within a ten minute drive of where we live. I will also rate my excitement for the opening of the business based on a 1-10 scale.

Business: Dave and Buster’s
Opening Date: June 5
Excitement Level: 9

I have watched commercials for Dave and Buster’s my whole life. However, despite being exposed to the chain’s marketing, I have never spent time in one. I am excited for that to change. I have had a ball at other establishments with the same business model as Dave and Buster’s but I have never played in the one that pioneered the concept. Located at Broadway at the Beach, a better spot in Myrtle Beach could not have been chosen. Can’t wait for those doors to open!

Business: Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen
Opening Date: June 12
Excitement Level: 7

When Sidney and I took a trip to Savannah a couple years back, we ate at Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen to celebrate our one-year anniversary of dating. Sid was extremely excited to eat there while I had never really known that Paula Deen had a restaurant chain. However, after that night I would never forget it! For those who enjoy Southern cuisine, this is your place. The biscuits they bring you while you wait for your food is the best part (and the food itself is really good so that is saying something). Also, having the option to order off a menu or go for a country style buffet offers the best of both worlds. I hope the Myrtle Beach location is bigger than the one in Savannah, however, because space was at a premium and the wait list was long.

Sidney and I at the Paula Deen restaurant in Savannah. I had a chicken pot pie.

Business: Panera
Opening Date: It opened yesterday (May 23)
Excitement Level: 5

Whenever a member of Sidney’s family would go to a city that had a Panera, they would always stop and clean that particular location out of its cinnamon chip bagels. Thus, over the past few years, I have had a cinnamon chip bagel or two. In fact, in celebration of the grand opening of the Panera that is now conveniently right in the middle of my commute from work, I bought a bag of bagels to surprise Sidney with when I arrived home yesterday night. Although I have not tried Panera’s sandwiches, soups, or salads, I am sure it will happen soon enough.

Yesterday, I surprised Sidney with cinnamon chip bagels from Panera.

Business: MOD Pizza
Opening Date: Today (May 24)
Excitement Level: 9

Yes, many of you know that there is a MOD Pizza in the general region of where I live. However, as of today, there is now one that is smack-dab in the middle of work and home. In fact, every night I will have to deal with this new MOD Pizza location calling my name as I drive by. Tempted to attend today’s 11 a.m. grand opening where the first 52 people got a free pizza,, I decided to hold off because I know I will have plenty of time in the future to satisfy my MOD fix.

A photo of me with the pizza that I built from scratch. I love MOD Pizza.

Business: Carolina Ale House
Opening Date: Beginning of June
Excitement Level: 3

This place is supposed to be the real deal. The creative menu supposedly takes pub food to the next level and 60 beers are available on tap. Adding to the intrigue, Carolina Ale House restaurants are supposed to be really cool inside and the atmosphere is supposed to make you feel right at home. However, believe it or not, I am not much of a craft beer guy. Because of that, I am not counting down the days until June.

Bonus Entry

Business: Dollar General
Opening Day: Last April
Excitement Level: 10!!

Okay, this isn’t a food place. However, a Dollar General recently opened up right outside our neighborhood. In fact, we can easily walk to it! Although not a traditional dollar store, these no frills locations have everything you need at a reduced price. Since the end of April, if Sidney and I need anything from batteries to beverages to bathroom tissue, all we have to do is make a short two minute trip to our local Dollar General.

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Any exciting restaurants or other businesses opening up where you happen to live? Let me know, I will share in your enthusiasm with you. Have a great evening. Don’t Blink.

Accepting Advice Before Buying The Ring

Two years ago on this date I walked out of the office into the bright sunshine. It was the first Friday of the summer hours schedule at Coastal Carolina University so it was just past 1 p.m. I hopped in my car and instead of driving back to my apartment to hang out at the pool I battled traffic en route to Coastal Grand Mall.

I walked inside the shopping center and went straight to a certain store. I approached the counter, pointed at what I wanted, and made the purchase. For the price and significance of the item, the quick way I went about doing my business surprised the clerk just a bit. However, I was a man who knew what I wanted.

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The buying of an engagement ring is not something a guy takes lightly. As I mentioned above, it carries with it far more than just financial implications. The act of purchasing that rock is the first step to securing a life of happiness with the girl of your dreams.

Buying the engagement ring allows you to take a huge step toward marrying the woman of your dream.

With so much riding on the big purchase, the added anxiety of wondering whether you are getting your hopeful fiancé something she actually wants to wear the rest of her life could send any dude over the edge. Because I wanted to prevent a heart attack, I had picked Sidney’s brain beforehand to gauge what type of a ring she might want.

Well, to be honest, “picked Sidney’s brain” doesn’t truthfully describe it. It was more like tell me exactly what you want.

This photo is from the night I asked Sid to marry me. Because I asked Sid exactly what she wanted, I didn’t stress over whether she would like the ring or not (instead, I stressed over whether she would say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’).

Some men are fly. They have great fashion sense, smoke expensive cigars, and speak numerous foreign languages. They also know jewelry. This type of guy can discuss the finer points of diamonds and identify a ring his partner will waste no time showing off to all her friends.

This is not me. Until my wedding ring was slipped on my finger, I had never worn a piece of jewelry in my life. Because of this, Sidney and I started talking about engagement rings the moment we thought our relationship might be heading in the direction of “til’ death do us part.”

Luckily this wasn’t an awkward discussion. Sidney was very honest and told me exactly what she wanted. At first, she had a ring picked out online that she wanted. However, fear of purchasing something so important from the internet combined with the advice we received from a jeweler friend turned us in a different direction.

This is the actual photo Sidney took inside of Zales once she put the ring on for the first time. She then sent me the photo so I knew exactly what she wanted.

Sidney found a ring she liked at Zales. She went to the store by herself, tried it on, and took photos. A short time later we went to the mall and looked at it together. The ball was now in my court.

A few weeks later on that sunny May day, I confidently purchased the ring. The moment I walked out of the store I had an overwhelming fear come over me…You better not lose that little box. After taking my own photos of it when I got home, I stuffed it into a corner of my apartment closet. About six weeks later, I presented it to Sidney.

I had a celebratory beer after I bought the ring when I got back to my apartment. I thought it was a really cool idea at the time to take a photo of the ring with the bottle.

Listen up guys, don’t be embarrassed to ask your girlfriend about her ring preference. It is imperative that you get it right. Sure you will show your cards a bit about your future plans but at the same time it will give your girlfriend reassurance. Be sure not to neglect that important conversation. Don’t Blink.

Sloan’s Day Out

When you have a baby, especially your first one, there is a tendency to be overprotective. One way this can be acted on is by keeping him or her safe and sound in the comfort of your home. With Sloan, we kept her happy and nourished inside our Myrtle Beach home for the majority of her 6-week life.

It is true, Sidney did take her on an errand here and there. We did take her off the premises for pediatrician appointments. Our baby did make regular trips to the house of family members. But it was never like we took her out on a “SLOAN MEETS THE WORLD” day-long tour. That changed yesterday.

This past Saturday, our little family went on a series of “adventures” through the Grand Strand area. I put ourselves at the mercy of Myrtle Beach traffic (one of the greatest fears I have is something happening while we are driving with Sloan) as we embarked on a packed day for our baby daughter.

We first went to the mall. If the trend of online shopping miraculously goes out of style in the next several years, it might be a place where Sloan spends time without us. We put her in the stroller and took her from one end of Coastal Grand Mall to the other. She did awesome.

Sloan enjoyed cruising the Coastal Grand Mall.

From the mall we headed to the Market Common, an impressive lifestyle area packed with restaurants, shops, condos, and entertainment options. There is also a giant park. Yesterday, the Myrtle Beach Dragon Boat Festival took place in this particular park. Sloan experienced her first ever fest as we introduced her to the throngs of people who had gathered on the 80 degree day for the popular event. I got some great practice maneuvering the stroller in a congested area, only managing to run over the foot of one stranger. We kept Sloan in a shaded area for most of the afternoon but we did move her up to a “front row seat” for the championship races.

We made sure Sloan had a front row seat for the championship races at the Dragon Boat Festival in Myrtle Beach.

Sloan’s greatest challenge of the day still awaited her, however. After the Dragon Boat Fest we all went home where we showered and changed. We then headed off to church…

This was a big deal. We were taking Sloan to her first ever mass. I have written about crying babies in church before. Would the Lord take me to task for my prior comments and make Sloan cry out and scream the entire service? Hardly. She was a perfect angel as she rested in her mom’s arms for the whole service, gaining the admiration and hearts of everyone seated near us. When we went up for Holy Eucharist, our new parochial vicar at St. Andrew, Fr. Jose Quilcate, broke into a large smile and commented “what a cute baby” before he blessed her. After the mass concluded, we talked to Fr. Jose again. We told him he had presided over the first of many masses for Sloan and that she would be officially inducted into the Catholic faith at her baptism in June. As we walked away, he called out to us, “You have a great baby!”

Sloan wore her Sunday’s Best to mass at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Myrtle Beach.

From St. Andrew, we headed off to a favorite restaurant of ours, Carolina Roadhouse. A large and noisy establishment (but incredibly delicious) we didn’t know exactly how Sloan would react. But she made us proud just like she did the entire day. We fed her a bottle while we waited for our food but for majority of the meal she peacefully sat in her car seat allowing her mommy and daddy to have some special time. After dinner, we troubled Sloan once more when we took her out of the car and up to a Redbox kiosk where she helped her parents pick out a movie. Her decision of “Collateral Beauty” was a good one.

Sloan hung out peacefully in her car seat during dinner last night.

Needless to say, Sloan slept GREAT last night. Even though stressful at times, it was so nice to get Sloan out in the community. She made everything so easy on her parents! Don’t Blink.

What More Restaurants Should Do

Yesterday, I ate lunch with Sidney’s family out on the patio at a popular Myrtle Beach restaurant. With temperatures reaching into the 70s, it was a great afternoon enjoying the atmosphere that River City Café provides. Part of the charm of the place is the ability to use provided crayons to color on the paper table cover. My niece and nephew certainly let their creative juices flow over the course of the lunch.

Enjoying our lunch at River City Cafe during the gorgeous Myrtle Beach afternoon (photo cred to Brenda).

This reminded me of my favorite restaurant in Spokane. Tomato Street is a well-known Italian restaurant in the north part of the city that offers amazing food and, just like River City Café, a one-of-a-kind atmosphere. In addition to the cans of tomato sauce that line the walls, the chalkboard stations that are installed around the restaurant, and the servers who take “flair” to a whole new level there is another “experience building” part of Tomato Street. Whenever a family sits down at a table, it is covered in a fresh white sheet of paper. A cleaned out can of tomato sauce filled with color crayons waits upon the blank slate. Customers go nuts letting their inner artist run wild.

Tomato Street in Spokane is my favorite restaurant.

When drawing on a Tomato Street table, you always want to do your best work. Why? Well, the restaurant will take the very best pieces of dinner art and display them in a glass showcase located in the very large waiting area. When we were younger, it was always a thrill for my family to go to Tomato Street and see if the drawings we did on our previous visit made the showcase. Before social media, it was one of the very best and creative examples of user generated content.

A drawing my dad did of me a couple years ago at Tomato Street. No, it did not make the showcase.

So, what is so special about coloring on the top of a table? Thousands of restaurants across the country do it, right? Yes and yes. However, these days I am surprised that more restaurants don’t do it, primarily because of the phrase I used to end the previous paragraph.

Besides being cost effective and besides serving as a way to entertain guests, Tomato Street utilizes paper table covers as a way for customers to help promote its restaurant (aka user generated content). When someone is drawing/coloring at a restaurant, the common tendency is to create something that is somewhat related to that restaurant. It was not a coincidence that the drawings that made the Tomato Street showcase had something to do with Tomato Street. Each piece of art hung was basically a testimonial for the restaurant.

Now we are in the age of social media. No longer do these pieces of user generated content need to be sheltered inside the walls of the restaurant for people who are already customers to see. Social media can now take these ultra-creative works of art and broadcast them out to an audience that could potentially reach millions. Forget marketing slogans, forget corporate designed logos, and forget staged photos…table cover art made by actual customers is where it is at!

Sure, any restaurant that converts from a traditional table cloth to one that allows customers to draw on it is not reinventing the wheel. The ploy has been around forever. But from what I have seen, businesses have yet to monopolize on this quirky method inside of the digital world. For the Instagram or Facebook account of any restaurant looking for fresh content to post, I think a gold mine awaits with customer produced table art. Don’t Blink.

Sub Zero Ice Cream

Sidney and I just didn’t eat pizza this weekend. We packed on the calories by indulging in another beloved treat as well: ice cream.

Because I love ice cream, I naturally like all the recent industry gimmicks such as Dippin Dots, froyo, and ice cream prepared on stone/marble. As long as it is cold enough to induce a brain freeze, I don’t mind if it is a couple scoops of the classic stuff served in a cone or a cup containing a mixture of flavors and toppings weighed on a scale.

I once ate seven scoops of  ice  cream in five minutes.

I once ate seven scoops of ice cream in five minutes.

This past Saturday, just a couple hours after our MOD Pizza experience, we tried the newest ice cream craze. Not really craving ice cream since we were still full, we went inside of Sub Zero Ice Cream just out of plain curiosity.

Sidney and I visited the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream shop on Saturday.

Sidney and I visited the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream shop on Saturday.

Sub Zero Ice Cream puts quite the spin on the classic dessert. You order which flavor of ice cream you want along with the mix-ins desired at the counter. Then, the magic occurs. The staff makes your order right in front of you by using the science of liquid nitrogen.

Let me back up and explain this process a little better by using our order as an example. Because Sid and I were so full from lunch, we decided to just split a regular sized cup. Although Sub Zero has several creations with many mix-ins available for customers to choose from, we decided to go simple. We wanted just vanilla ice cream and Oreo cookies.

But even the simple is complex. We now had to decide what type of cream we wanted as our ice cream base. Given options such as low-fat, vegan, yogurt, lactose-free, and more, we chose original. The staff member poured the cream into a big silver bowl, added the Oreos, and then placed it under a liquid nitrogen shower/gun contraption. As the nitrogen engulfed the cream, puffs of vapor rose up, creating a pretty cool scene. After a couple more shots with the gun and after some serious mixing, our ice cream was ready.

A look at the set up behind the counter at the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream location. If you look to the left, you can see the staff member pouring the cream into the silver bowl.

A look at the set up behind the counter at the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream location. If you look to the left, you can see the staff member pouring the cream into the silver bowl.

As I paid for our dessert at the counter (it was around $5.50), I thought to myself how it was pretty cool that basic liquid cream could be turned into actual ice cream in just a couple minutes.

With the cup now in front of us, Sid and I dug in. It took just one bite to realize that we were eating some very rich and very heavy ice cream. Of course in the ice cream world that description translates into a taste that is nothing short of delicious. You know how with some ice cream you can dig out a spoonful and you can just see the creaminess and texture in it? This is what Sub Zero Ice Cream is like. Because our vanilla and Oreo cookie mixture was so flavorful and rich, we couldn’t help but think what a chocolate type of ice cream would taste like with multiple mix-ins.

This was our ice cream cup. As you can probably tell, it was very creamy.

This was our ice cream cup. As you can probably tell, it was very creamy.

While we were impressed with the ice cream, I don’t know if it is a place we will frequent that often. Besides the steep prices, it takes a long time for orders to come out, which is semi-understandable since they are making the ice cream right in front of you. But it took us at least 10 minutes from the time we walked through the doors to get our order, and there was just one person standing in line in front of us.

My photography skills are lacking in this photo because I failed to capture the intense vapor that is produced when the mixing occurs. However, you can still see a little bit of it.

My photography skills are lacking in this photo because I failed to capture the intense vapor that is produced when the mixing occurs. However, you can still see a little bit of it.

Also, part of the reason why I like ice cream places so much is because of the ice cream atmosphere. I love the fresh smells, the quirky décor, and the tubs of ice cream visible under the glass. At Sub Zero Ice Cream, you obviously don’t physically see all the flavor choices because everything is made to order. Also, the chain adheres to a science theme so instead of pleasant colors and neon signs, you have depictions of molecular formulas on the walls and liquid nitrogen tanks lining the floor area. It just doesn’t feel that welcoming.

A look at one of the walls inside the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream location.

A look at one of the walls inside the Myrtle Beach Sub Zero Ice Cream location.

Sub Zero Ice Cream hits it out of the park with its product. However, the atmosphere, and, to an extent, the experience, just doesn’t justify me becoming a regular customer. Don’t Blink.

Finding Bethlehem In Surfside Beach

Those of us who love the holidays all have images ingrained in our heads of Christmas magic. For me, I have a few that jump right out: the Christmas tree farm my parents would take us to each year, the festive looking trolley my family rode through the streets of Walla Walla one Christmas Eve, and the fireplace at my grandparents’ house where we would lay out cookies for Santa. I can close my eyes right now and conjure up a vivid image of each scene.

This past weekend, Sidney and I enjoyed a very special Christmas visual that from now on will always resonate within me.

We were traveling back to Myrtle Beach from Murrells Inlet where we had just finished up a 3D ultrasound. About 10 miles separate the two areas. To be honest, the drive is an eyesore. Throughout stretches of the trek you are treated to very uninspired landscape. No colors, scattered trees, little architecture. Since it was 5 p.m. it was starting to get dark, making the trip even that more dreary. As we were driving along, we saw police lights flashing on the side of the road. Thinking the cop had pulled someone over, we drove past without thinking anything of it. After we had passed the police car by about 30 feet, something caught the corner of both our eyes…

In the dark, unimaginative area we were in, we saw a sight that transformed everything. To our right and off to a distance we saw lit tiki torches, white Christmas lights, and high powered lamps. We saw structures made to look like a town from about 2,000 years ago. Sidney squealed when she could make out the shapes of a camel and other animals (you just don’t see that type of wildlife in the Grand Strand area). Finally, you saw people that looked like they had jumped right out of the Bible.

From a distance, we could see a makeshift town complete with biblical characters and animals. We knew we had to go check it out.

From a distance, we could see a makeshift town complete with biblical characters and animals. We knew we had to go check it out.

Seemingly in the middle of nowhere on a dark highway, we had just seen a very unusual site. However, it didn’t take long for it to click for Sidney. She immediately identified it as a Drive-Thru Nativity. Overjoyed by the scene, we didn’t need much convincing. Although not the easiest thing to do, we managed to turn left down a street so we could reverse course on the divided highway and head in the opposite direction back to the Nativity. Once we were going toward the scene, we had to reverse course again once we passed it so we could get on the side of the highway where all the excitement was happening. As we approached the flashing police lights we saw earlier it became obvious…law enforcement was helping out with crowd control. We turned right past the car as a cop waved us in.

Sidney and I had managed to drive by the Church of the Resurrection at just the right time so we could see its Return to Bethlehem Drive-Thru Nativity.

Sidney and I had managed to drive by the Church of the Resurrection at just the right time so we could see its Return to Bethlehem Drive-Thru Nativity.

We had arrived at the Church of the Resurrection, a place of worship I never knew existed. Even though the church was a tall structure with an impressive steeple, it had never popped out to me while driving the monotony of Highway 17 Bypass in the past. On this particular weekend, the congregation was putting on its “Return to Bethlehem” Drive-Thru Nativity. As we drove by the church up to the gates of Bethlehem, we stopped at several stations. Each of these stations had a board with scripture written on it setting the stage for the different scenes we would encounter after going through the gates.

This was our view right after we turned into the property of the Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach. The church itself is on the left and the board you see right in front of our dash has scripture on it, describing one of the seven scenes of the Drive-Thru Nativity.

This was our view right after we turned into the property of the Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach. The church itself is on the left and the board you see right in front of our dash has scripture on it, describing one of the seven scenes of the Drive-Thru Nativity.

Church members arranged cars into one of three lanes in front of the Bethlehem gates. When we were given the go-ahead, we slowly drove forward. Two teens dressed as guards in armor halted us.

“Are you here for the Census?” one of the teens questioned.
“Yes we are!” replied Sidney.

We convinced the guards at the gates of Bethlehem to let us in so we could see the Drive-Thru Nativity put on by the Church of the Resurrection.

We convinced the guards at the gates of Bethlehem to let us in so we could see the Drive-Thru Nativity put on by the Church of the Resurrection.

With that the gates opened and we entered the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

For the next ten minutes or so, we were treated to several scenes that told the story of the birth of Jesus. So much effort was poured into the presentation. Each scene was built with care and craftsmanship. The church members serving as actors had microphones so you could easily hear from the comfort of your car. Church members not playing a part gave us clear directions on when to drive up to the next scene. The animals did not disappoint. Besides the camel we also saw goats, llamas, and sheep.

A look at some of the scenes we saw at "Return to Bethlehem," a Drive-Thru Nativity put on by the Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach..

A look at some of the scenes we saw at “Return to Bethlehem,” a Drive-Thru Nativity put on by the Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach..

All the special moments from the actual birth of Jesus to the angel appearing to the shepherds to the visit of the Magi were depicted. My personal favorite scenes were the first and the last. Starting off the Drive-Thru Nativity was the angel telling Mary that she would conceive the Son of God and concluding the display was a joyful performance by a choir of angels singing Angels We Have Heard on High.

My two favorite scenes included the angel telling Mary that she would conceive Jesus and then the choir singing "Angels We Have Heard on High" at the end.

My two favorite scenes included the angel telling Mary that she would conceive Jesus and then the choir singing “Angels We Have Heard on High” at the end.

The presentation was perfect, as was our timing. Not knowing about this event at all, we had arrived right when it started on the first of the only two nights that it was offered. It certainly was special.

But as I mentioned above, what will really stay with me from last Saturday night was the scene we saw while passing in our car. In the dreariness, we saw the town of Bethlehem fully illuminated, inviting us to stop. I won’t forget the image of the people, the animals, and the light that seemed to cry out to us as we drove by. Thanks to the Church of the Resurrection for doing such a cool thing. Don’t Blink.

Go Out For Breakfast!

This past Saturday, I asked Sidney to go out to breakfast with me. Kindly, she sacrificed some of her well-deserved sleep and obliged. At 8:30 a.m. we drove to one of the many breakfast houses that line Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach. This particular one was called Southern House of Pancakes and we made sure to bring our appetites.

We sat in a worn booth inside the busy but warm restaurant. It was the type of place that had the silverware placed in plastic sacks, waitresses that called you “hun,” and a system where you brought your check up to the cashier when you finished. This particular place had a little more personality than your typical breakfast joint though. The owner joyfully mingled with staff and customers on the restaurant floor and the walls were lined with colorful southern phrases. Sidney made me laugh by saying each one with an exaggerated accent (which is very exaggerated considering she already has a thick southern accent).

I took this photo of Sidney with our food on the table at the Southern House of Pancakes in Myrtle Beach.

I took this photo of Sidney with our food on the table at the Southern House of Pancakes in Myrtle Beach.

I ordered pancakes, eggs, and sausage. I also ordered a hot chocolate complete with whipped cream that seemed to reach as high as a foot above the mug. Sid got a waffle and hash browns. We traded bites of our food and had a delightful morning.

A close up look at our food that we enjoyed at the Southern House of Pancakes in Myrtle Beach.

A close up look at our food that we enjoyed at the Southern House of Pancakes in Myrtle Beach.

I say this not to promote the Southern House of Pancakes nor to go off on another pancake tangent. Rather, I am writing just to say this: go out for breakfast every now and then.

I advocate eating breakfast at a restaurant for a few reasons. First, doing so helps get the day off to a great start. Sleeping in on the weekend is nice, but getting up when others are sleeping and sitting down for a warm meal is even nicer. Second, breakfast is more of a treat than anything. When you go to a diner for the first meal of the day, you aren’t eating salads and fancy hors d’oeuvres. Rather, you are eating pancakes, French toast, waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon, and crepes. It is your time to indulge in something hearty and sweet. Third, breakfast is just low key. Prices are cheaper and people are more relaxed.

But the main reason why it is important to go out for breakfast every now and then is simply because of the experience. Most of the time when you go to these breakfast houses, it is just pure nostalgia. Many of these places haven’t been updated in years. At the cash register you can grab a mint or an issue of some strange alternative newspaper. Glassware is simple, the menu is straightforward, and the atmosphere is warm. Even for people who don’t drink it, the rich aroma of coffee dominates the inside of these places bringing a soothing feeling. The butter is whipped, the milk is from a machine, and the syrup is homemade. To me, the yummy food is just a small part of the breakfast appeal.

When Sidney and I went out for breakfast this past Saturday, it was our first time doing so since our honeymoon. It proved to be just what we needed. Are you overdue for a warm breakfast at a family restaurant? Perhaps this weekend is your chance. Get up a little early and enjoy yourself. Don’t Blink.

Our 2016 Voting Experience

Today it was the pleasure of Sidney and I to perform our civic duties and vote. We went to Ocean Bay Elementary School in Myrtle Beach to cast our ballots.

We voted at Ocean Bay Elementary in Myrtle Beach today.

We voted at Ocean Bay Elementary in Myrtle Beach today.

We quickly learned we weren’t just poking our heads in to vote. With the line stretching outside the school, it made for a long afternoon. Inside, the line stretched and curved all around the school’s cafeteria.

The turnout at our voting precinct was heavy. The line snaked around the entire cafeteria and out the door.

The turnout at our voting precinct was heavy. The line snaked around the entire cafeteria and out the door.

We passed the time in line by talking to our neighbors in front of us and in back of us. As South Carolina is very much a red state, I overheard a lot of people voicing their support for Trump. One man said he would “wait all day to vote for Trump” while another commented that he didn’t care about the rest of the ballot, he just wanted to vote for Donald.

After we checked in at the voting precinct, we were given these little "vote" cards that we eventually would give to the voting official at the front of the line.

After we checked in at the voting precinct, we were given these little “vote” cards that we eventually would give to the voting official at the front of the line.

After two hours and 20 minutes in line, Sidney and I finally reached the front of it. A main reason for the long wait wasn’t just because of the strong turnout, it was also because out of the seven voting machines installed, only three were in working order.

After two hours and 20 minutes, we finally reached the front of the line.

After two hours and 20 minutes, we finally reached the front of the line.

Once we submitted our ballots we received our coveted stickers and took the obligatory “we voted” selfie. Then, hungry from the long wait in line, we went off to lunch.

Wearing the stickers to prove it, Sidney and I posed for this selfie outside of Ocean Bay Elementary after casting our ballots.

Wearing the stickers to prove it, Sidney and I posed for this selfie outside of Ocean Bay Elementary after casting our ballots.

My story, along with the millions of other voting experiences shared by others today, is a major example of why the United States of America is the best country on the planet. To have the opportunity to voice our opinion for the top leader in the nation along with our preference on many other races and issues is an extraordinary right that we all need to appreciate and take advantage of. I voted and I am proud of that. Don’t Blink.

Proud To Be A Myrtle Beach Local

Last night, Sidney and I attended Taste of the Town, a Myrtle Beach event where over 40 area restaurants set up booths and offer food samples. As we walked up to the convention center I looked at Sid and said, “Can you believe this is the third year we have attended this?”

This was Sidney and I at Myrtle Beach's Taste of Town last night. The event is sponsored by the St. Andrew Catholic community.

This was Sidney and I at Myrtle Beach’s Taste of Town last night. The event is sponsored by the St. Andrew Catholic community.

Although I have come to realize it for at least a year now, when I asked her that rhetorical question the truth couldn’t have been more obvious to me: I am a genuine Myrtle Beach local.

Of course I was immediately a Myrtle Beach local the day I moved here by way of my address but I don’t think from a psychological standpoint I was. Now, almost exactly two and a half years since I arrived here in a U-Haul, I don’t think they come much more local than me.

Besides still messing up on directions every now and then, I would say I am a solid Grand Strand citizen. I work here, got married here, and our baby will be born here. I know about all the popular restaurants, the diviest bars, and the best ice cream parlors. I am familiar with all the local high schools, car dealerships, and putt putt courses. I have spent enough time on 501 to last a lifetime and enough time in the surf shops to know that if you have seen one you have seen them all.

But back to Taste of the Town real fast. It really is a fabulous event. Besides the restaurants I mentioned above, there is also entertainment, a beer garden, activities for kids, and much more. It is a major Myrtle Beach event and it is all put on by the St. Andrew Catholic community. As Sid and I walked around during the peak period of the event and admired what seemed to be the entire city inside that convention center, we felt very proud to be members of St. Andrew.

But you know what else I am proud of? Being a Myrtle Beach local! This place is my home and it is much more to me than just a popular tourist town. Don’t Blink.