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I just realized that our photos from Biltmore aren’t yet ready for public viewing (aka I have no idea where they are), so in lieu of Gilded Age Smoky Mountain grandeur, I present to you a filthy mongrel, fresh off of a digging fest in a baseball diamond, enjoying a sunny afternoon.

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Speaking of hearts, valentines, and love in general, I have a new favorite place to add to an ever-growing list of great locales:  the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Thanks to Suzanne’s wonderful parents, I transformed from never visiting the Biltmore in my life to holding a season pass for 2011. My initiation into the Biltmore fraternity was made official by the snapping of a ridiculously awful photograph of myself to put on my brand spanking new identification card.  I wanted to place my thumb over my face every time I presented it.  If you’re lucky, I’ll post the whole thing on here sometime.  Just know that you will probably be unlucky.  And know that you would ultimately thank me for that.

Being swanky season pass holders afforded us 4 free grounds/house passes through the end of February for guests of our choosing, so we were able to explore the wonders of this great estate with a couple good friends from Kentucky, Jenna and Jon.  A departure from Holy City content for a couple days of Biltmore posts is forthcoming.  The place is worth every minute of the measly 4 hour drive and is a perfect for a short getaway from Charleston.  But more on that later.

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Impending Rainy Day Blues

Yeah, Fin, I have them too.

Although it hasn’t quite started to deluge the sadness of a cold rain on the streets of the Holy City, it might as well judging from the tepidness outside right now.

Can please go back to last weekend?

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Behold, our regular-sized Christmas tree, absent of underlying gifts due to a certain dog’s propensity for shredding paper products.

The tree is pretty busy but that’s how we like it.  It’s covered in the typical hand-me-down ornaments, embarrassing baby pictures, more embarrassing completely crappy craft ornaments made in elementary school, and a few pieces that solicit a reaction of “what is this?  I have never seen this before in my life.” Oh, and there are some actual nice ornaments as well.

Thankfully, Finley has not mistaken the tree as a major supplier for her home construction business.

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This guy never got much opportunity to seize the spotlight in our house.

At first, he was surrounded by a macabre group of vampires, tombstones, and spooky pumpkins.  Then the Santa Clauses arrived, followed swiftly by Christmas trees and assorted holiday season decorations.

But he never once complained, squawked, or gobbled about his plight.  He stood steadfastly amidst the schizophrenic seasonal homages.  For that, we are thankful and his perseverance has paid off in the form of his very own post.

Today, we are thankful for many things.

We are thankful for our families and the support and love they demonstrate to us each and every day.

We are thankful for our relative health (although I am trying to kick a wicked poopy cold right now).

In that vein, we are thankful to still possess all of our limbs and most of our epidermis despite being dragged down the street at breakneck speeds by an ogre dog.

We are thankful that the house has not been literally chewed off its foundation by an ogre dog.

We are thankful to have not been served with charges of involuntary manslaughter because our ogre dog jumped on someone and licked them to death.

And I guess, ultimately, we are thankful for that ogre dog, who alternates between the persona of Marmaduke’s protegé and the lovable sweet Finley, a now 10.5 month old golden retriever who has more than enriched our lives with her ridiculousness.

But she’s still not getting food from the table today.

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The era we live in is full of quizzical reverences that take a precedence in our lives that also should solicit a resounding question of ‘why do we do this?’ from the majority of well-meaning American citizens.

Part of our American experience is participating in traditions whose meaning or lineage you might not really grasp.  You might understand the original intent of such traditions, but your experiences with forms of these cultural staples leave more questions of “how?” than answers of “that was the most unreal eating experience of my entire life!”

Which brings us to the pot luck luncheon, a commonality around major holiday season in the South.

You have all seen the email sent to you a week and a half in advance of the subject office event, which you resign yourself to participating in at a whim, committing yourself to a dish, and then promptly forget the entire thing ever happened.  You have received the subsequent emails detailing what each participant has signed on to bring.  Most of you have felt that twinge of angst the night before the pot luck when you suddenly remember what that you have indeed committed yourself to making said on-a-whim dish for the following lunch and have experienced the work/grocery shopping that ensues under a blanket of discontent.

And then at some point, after your labors have been endured, whether it be right after the fact or right before the revelatory moment in your work morning that it is, indeed, time to congregate for the lunch, you are more than likely hit with the face-planting obviousness of “I really don’t want to go eat a bunch of random people’s food concoctions.”

Regardless of your location in this country or status as an employee, there are some indomitable truths about pot lucks:

1. The variety of food contributed to a typical pot luck luncheon invites questions of “who are these people making this stuff?” and “what are these people’s kitchen environments like?”

It’s like eating at a restaurant.  Probably a very a poor restaurant.  If DHEC inspected these people’s kitchens, how would they grade them?  How refined are their mother’s taste buds, which serve as the foundation for the cook’s own opinions, who exclaim things like “these green beans soaked in marmalade and tabasco sauce are truly wonderful!”  Do they have a hairy dog? (We do.) Do they check to make sure the hairy dog’s wispy hair isn’t flying around the room, landing in pans with reckless abandon and what not? (We wish we did but we don’t.)

Do you ever lay your paper plate down on the table, survey it, and ask “What in the hell is this stuff that I am about to ingest?  It looks like Alf threw up on a Picasso reject.”

You might, but that would breach pot luck etiquette, which is an etiquette rooted in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

2. No one follows the predetermined list of assigned dishes.

The intimidation factor from the pot luck’s organizer, usually an aggressive breed, does not deter this ubiquitous phenomenon from occurring.  Most tables are strewn with multiple bags of chips and a plethora of the same flavored dips, sprinkled with a few carbohydrate-loaded pasta dishes.  In essence, someone either forgot what they originally signed up or (most probably) didn’t give a rip about being accosted by the pot luck organizer and erred on the side of laziness.  Regardless, everyone suffers.

3.  The people that neglect to bring anything are the first in line to partake in the pot luck goodness.

These are the only people, for the most part, who are actually looking forward to the luncheon.  In the days preceding, these people will either avoid the obligatory conversation about the pot luck in the break room or express some sort of faux-disappointment at themselves that they haven’t remembered to get their contribution in order sooner.  Regardless of circumstance, they bolt to the front of the line, seldomly giving kudos to the actual providers of their hodge podge luncheon.  Fortunately, within the scope of a couple events, these people are normally identified and are the subject of at least a dozen ridiculing comments about their consumption exuberance vs. participation equivalent, so verbal revenge assuages all ill feelings.

4.  “The Famished Vagrant” appears and promptly leaves, only to appear again at the next pot luck.

These are the people who show up like forlorn guests from a distant land stricken with no access to adequate quantities of foodstuffs that you have never seen before in your entire life, yet they seemingly work within a couple dozen feet of you on a daily basis.  This person emerges from their workly space and devours a ship’s load of assorted foods in mere milliseconds, leaving as fast as they came and leaving you perplexed.  Either you haven’t paid enough attention to your surroundings or actual ninjas exist in the very fabric of our corporate community.  You won’t see them again until the next one.

5.  The “Pot Luck is its own office holiday” crowd will turn a casual lunch into a casual afternoon of gossip and shirking.

The pot luck ended at 12:30, yet here it is 1:45 and two of the accounting assistants and “that weird guy down the hall” are still sitting idly by in front of a half eaten plate of food, talking about God knows what.  They might say they are ‘still nibbling’ or they might not say anything at all.  In their minds, it’s rude to comment on the situation at hand, for the pot luck lunch somehow signifies a complete break from typical office decorum and becomes its own paid holiday.

6.  An awkward speech will be reluctantly espoused prior to most people beginning their lunch.

I say “most people” because of the inevitable overzealous eaters who graze on a bit of everything a few fifteen minutes before the rest of the office shows up, but in general, you feel obligated to wait until someone says something. Anything.  Just a few words about the food and the fellowship.  This person is normally not the pot luck organizer, although they may chime in at the end to steal whatever thunder there is (hint:  there is not much) from the original speaker, who is typically the manager in some shape or form.  The speech could not possibly be more monotone, less heartfelt, and more chore-like, yet still sounds slightly like a pontification.  It is probably going to be the most half-assed assemblage of words you will hear all year…that is, until the next pot luck.

7.  Guys are always praised for bringing something they noticed on sale at the store while they were picking up their week’s supply of beer.

I’m actually ok with this truth, being a lazy, hungry young male human being. While not all guys completely blow off their pot luck contribution in an Old World-esque “cooking?  That thing that women are supposed to do?”, it has been my experience that showing up with a 2 liter of soda or some pretzels that are on the verge of expiration elicits just as much praise from many as a painstaking and expensive chicken marsala dish prepared by one of the only actual good cooks in the entire office.  And somehow, no one gets annoyed at this tradition.  Expectations are set very low for you if you are a young male office worker.  If you do attempt to bring in something you prepared yourself at home, at least half of the office will stare at you blankly, thinking you are literally insane.

The pot luck dinner.  Unavoidable, predictable, but also strangely alluring.  Make sure to (try to) have fun at the multitude of bountiful mystery dishes coming your way this holiday season.

What other indomitable truths did we miss?

*Note:  the accompanying photographs were not taken by us.  Thankfully.

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