A Spanish Spread – Whittington Style

The Northside Sun
November 2010

Click here for PDF of original article.

When it comes to cooking, Kay Whittington considers her husband of eight years to be the creative mastermind in the family. “I am a recipe follower,” explains Kay. “I like structure, whereas when Aven cooks, there is no recipe. He throws in a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”

Kay’s analytical thinking and Aven’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to cooking should come as no surprise considering their chosen professions – Kay is an environmental engineer for the Department of Environmental Quality. Aven is the catering manager for Broadstreet Baking Company. Because of their busy work schedules, Kay usually handles meal-preparation during the week. “My parents went through a health-nut craze when I was growing up,” explains the Alabama native. “Our weeknights are usually reserved for quick, easy, pseudo-healthy meals.” However, the couple enjoys spending the weekend hanging out in the kitchen of their North Jackson home. Adds Kay, “You would expect after working all week that we would just want a quiet evening at home. But it’s not unusual for Aven to come home and say, ‘Hey, let’s have some friends over this weekend.’”

The Whittington’s kitchen is painted a bright apple green, colorful funky artwork is displayed on the wall, and the most interesting feature are the tin tiles on the ceiling. “I can’t take credit for that,” reveals Aven. “It came with the house, but we like it.” The room sets the stage for a relaxing Sunday evening meal. Aven stirs a pot of braised pork shoulder simmering in the stove in a bright orange LeCrueset pot, while Kay helps chop ingredients for homemade guacamole. The couple’s son, four-year-old Charlie, swoops through the room dressed in a Spiderman costume just long enough to see what’s available to snack on. Two-and-a-half year old Elizabeth, a little more quiet and reserved, cautiously peaks her head around the doorway from the living room.

Raised in Greenwood, Aven has always considered good eating a way of life. “I remember eating out in New Orleans and grew up associating that with a good time,” he explains. Aven spent his summers working on his Dad’s farm outside of Schlater, MS. “I would come home for lunch and I had to eat something, so I just started throwing things together that I thought would taste good.” Aven still takes that approach to cooking today. “I go to the grocery store and start planning my meals around what looks good or what looks interesting.” He enjoys making one-pot meals such as braised meats and vegetables.

“And he makes really good chocolate milk!” Charlie chimes in.

The meal starts out with plenty of hors d’oeuvres to jumpstart everyone’s appetite. In addition to homemade guacamole, Aven prepares spicy black bean cakes with guacamole and chipotle crème. Several years ago, Kay and Aven traveled to Columbia, South America, with a mutual friend who was also a native of the country. It was there that Aven was taught to make patagones – fried plantains with garlic mash. Aven cuts the plaintains – which are a relative of the banana- into large bite-sized pieces while Kay makes a paste out of garlic cloves and salt. Aven spreads the garlic paste over the top of each plantain, then covers them with waxed paper and mashes them with the bottom of the plate. The plantain forms a small patty, which Aven fries until golden brown. Given that they look like bananas, at first bite you would expect these little patties to be sweet. However, with the addition of the garlic and salt, they are uniquely savory and delicious. Rounding everything out is a sweet salsa made of cherries, balsamic vinegar, chopped red onions, and basil served over large butterflied grilled shrimp.

Because the couple enjoys cooking such unique meals, one might wonder what kind of food they feed the kids. “We weren’t going to give up eating good food or eating at great places just because we had kids,” Aven says, just as Elizabeth creeps in and peers over the top of the butcher block, her little fingers searching for a tortilla chip to dip into the guacamole. “We’ve taken them to eat at all types of different restaurants to eat, like Alice Water’s restaurant Chez Panisse [in Berkeley, CA]. They are really adventurous eaters.”

Don’t fill up on hors d’oeuvres, because homemade soft tacos with an array of fillings and toppings are on the menu as the main course. Aven fires up his grill and shows off his latest kitchen toy – a red La Plancha Cast-Iron Griddle from William Sonoma. Aven uses the griddle to sauté chopped veggies and shrimp. On the side, he places a half a head of cabbage over the hot flame to char the outside leaves and steam the inside of the cabbage. As everyone sits down, wonderful aromas fill the air. Warm tortillas are passed and guests dress their tacos with a selection of braised Spanish pork and sweet potatoes, grilled flank steak with charred cabbage and chimichuri, or chili glazed shrimp with caramelized cipollini onions. A light dessert of Kay’s homemade mango ice cream adds the perfect finishing touch to this Spanish-inspired meal.

Adds Aven, “In my opinion, cooking is a lot about presentation and how things look. I like mixing colors. If two items look good together, chances are they are going to taste good together.”

Spicy Grilled Shrimp Skewers with Balsamic Cherry Salsa

Shrimp Skewers:

  • Bamboo Skewers
  • 1 pound large shrimp (31-35 shrimp)
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Cajun Seasoning (ex. Tony Chachere’s)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper

Presoak skewers in water so that they don’t burn. Peel, devein, and butterfly shrimp. Thread shrimp long-ways on the bamboo skewer. Lightly coat shrimp with olive oil. Season with Cajun seasoning, paprika, and pepper. Grill quickly on a hot grill, allowing the shrimp to cook thoroughly and the seasonings to color. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Balsamic Cherry Salsa:

  • 1 medium purple onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, d iced
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • 10-15 fresh basil leaves – chiffonade (stack and roll the leaves together and slice thinly)
  • 15-20 fresh cherries, pitted and diced (substitute other berries for interesting combinations)
  • 1-2 Jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
  • 2 small sweet peppers, seeded and julienned
  • 1 Tablespoon lime Juice
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit overnight. The sugar and vinegar will breakdown the vegetables and fruit allowing the flavors to combine. Add hot sauce for an extra kick.

To assemble, spoon the salsa onto the shrimp allowing the butterflied shrimp to act as a spoon. Garnish with basil flowers.

Serves 8-10, around three shrimp per person


A Twist of Fate: Kalalou

Stages Magazine
November/December 2010

It was a simple little basket, perched innocently among other colorful wares for sale at the market square in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.  The year was 1984, and Clinton natives Doug and Susan Williams were vacationing on the island with their best friends.  Susan’s eyes landed on the two-dollar basket and as she examined it closer, realized it was identical to a basket she paid $40 for back home.  “You could see dollar signs ringing up in Doug’s eyes,” said Susan.   At that moment, the wheels of fate began to turn.

As a young married couple trying to make ends meet, the Williamses made extra money selling artwork at local flea markets.  The couple decided the baskets would make a great addition to their booth and recruited their friends to help them carry as many baskets as their arms could hold on the plane home.   The baskets were a success – flying off the shelves of the Williamses’ weekend booth.   It was then that the Williamses dove head first into the import business.  “We didn’t have enough money for both of us to make a return trip to Jamaica,” said Doug.  “I convinced the Jamaican Trade Council to ship a container load of baskets to Jackson with no money down and thirty days to pay.  That was miracle number one of many miracles to follow.”

Less than three years after Susan stumbled across that unassuming basket in Jamaica, the couple’s small venture would grow to become one of the “500 Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies” two years in a row according to Inc. MagazineEntrepreneur Magazine named Country Originals one of the “51 American Success Stories” representing Mississippi.  The state of Mississippi also awarded them the coveted “Business and Industry Super Achievers.”

Over the years, Country Originals evolved into Kalalou – a cutting edge collection of unique products that span the globe and come in a variety of colors, textures, and styles.  The name is derived from a Creole word describing a soup made of a variety of ingredients that is never made the same way twice.  Kalalou now does business in nine countries and features over 1500 product lines.

As if their business didn’t keep them busy enough, Doug and Susan have also developed several charity projects such as Doug and Susan’s Kids Foundation – an organization that provides medical care, education, food, and shelter for kids in Haiti, Colombia, Honduras, and right here in Mississippi.  The charity’s projects are funded through both Kalalou sales and outside donations.  All administrative costs are covered by the Williamses, meaning 100% of the donated funds go directly to support the organization’s charitable efforts.

The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti earlier this year hit particularly close to home.  The pair fund a charitable project in Haiti known as Sister Clara’s Clinic as well as import goods.  Doug and Susan immediately sent money to several families in need and then set out to raise enough money to assemble a shipping container full of care packages, medical supplies, and household necessities.  The goods were then distributed to the employees of a factory that the Williamses have worked with for the last 20 years.  The Williamses’ good deeds have not gone unnoticed.  They have received recognition from Oprah Winfrey for funding and building one of her Angel Network Habitat for Humanity Houses, were honored with the Tozzoli Business Leadership Award from the Mississippi World Trade Center Association, and were recognized by the Jackson Chamber of Commerce as a Super Achiever.

Life doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon for the Williamses.  In 2009, Kalalou experienced record breaking sales.  The couple has traveled the world in search of new and unique items to bring to market and even found time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.  The Williamses are still close with the couple that helped them bring armloads of baskets back to the U.S. twenty-six years ago.  Says Susan, “Often the conversation turns to the memories of that fateful vacation and that beautiful sun-drenched day in the colorful market square of Ocho Rios, Jamaica.”

Close to Home: When Disaster Strikes

Stages Magazine
September/October 2010

Shelter is one of our most basic needs. Your home not only provides protection from the elements, but serves as the hub of your entire life. When your home is destroyed –whether by fire, natural disaster, etc. – it can feel as if your whole life has been taken away. Feelings of depression, anxiety, and being overwhelmed are common as you try to pick up the pieces and rebuild your life. Where do you start?

If you are faced with losing your home, emergency services should first be notified. Then contact an organization such as the American Red Cross or Salvation Army to help with immediate needs like temporary housing, food, medications, clothing, and any other essential items. Next, contact your insurance agent.

In situations like this, having an insurance policy in place is a life saver. Even those who rent should have an insurance policy. While your landlord will most likely have insurance on the actual building, many renters mistakenly believe that policy also covers their belongings. “When shopping for an insurance provider, a customer needs to know something about the company they are going to do business with or obtaining quotes from,” says Greg Horne, a Hinds County agent with Mississippi Farm Bureau Insurance. “Take into consideration how long the agency has been writing insurance in your state, the reputation of their claims service, and the agent you are talking to.”

Renters insurance is available in three different types of policies – standard, broad and comprehensive. A standard policy is the most basic and provides coverage should your belonging be destroyed by fire, lightning, electrical damage, hail, ice, snow, etc. A broad form of renters insurance typically covers events included in a standard policy with some additional benefits that may include hurricane and flood damage. Finally, a comprehensive policy offers the most wide-range of coverage, includes the majority of natural disasters, and covers more expensive belongings. This is a general description and coverage may differ from carrier to carrier, so be sure to read over your policy carefully to get a clear idea of what is and is not covered.

If you own your home, most mortgage companies will require you to already have a homeowner’s insurance policy in place. If for some reason you do not have a homeowner’s policy, seriously consider

getting one immediately. Why risk losing one of the largest investments you will make in your lifetime? Homeowner’s insurance, also known as hazard insurance, takes into account numerous factors relating to losing a home such as the damage or loss to the dwelling, the contents, living expenses, and liability. There are several different types of homeowner’s insurance:

Most homeowner’s (HO) policies come in various forms and include:

  • HO-1, which is very basic coverage, and insures against fire or lightening damage.
  • HO-2, called “broad coverage,” and includes loss of or damage to property resulting from windstorm or hail, theft, explosion, smoke damage, removal of property, building collapse, falling objects, etc.
  • HO-3, also known as “special” form, is the most common form of homeowners insurance and covers your home and any detached structures against loss or damage from any peril except for those specifically excluded in the policy.
  • HO-8 may be issued for “older homes.” It is a modified replacement policy that will pay for standard building materials and processes in use now.

As with renter’s insurance, look over your policy carefully and discuss with your agent what is and is not covered under your agreement.

“Talk with your agent before filing a claim in order to get advice on the claims process and then report the claim promptly,” adds Horne. “Have a copy of your policy and know your deductible. Also, ask how long before you will get a call from an adjustor.” Once your insurance company has been notified of the loss, be sure to ask your agent about housing during rebuilding and what measures should be taken to prevent further damage such as covering open windows and doors.

Some policies may require you to make an inventory of damaged personal property that includes the quantity of each item, the description, and how much was paid for each item. This may seem like an easy task, but remember in the event of a disaster to your home you will be under a lot of pressure and may not be able to recall everything you own. Compiling an inventory will be easier if you take the time now to make a video or photo inventory of the contents of your house. Keep this along with your policy in safe place such as a safety deposit box. Once cleanup has begun on the property, do not throw away any damaged goods until after an inventory is made. All damage is taken into consideration in developing your insurance claim.

Now that a claim has been made and you and your insurance company have agreed on a settlement, it’s time to begin rebuilding and repairing. Suggests Horne, “Get all repair quotes made in writing. Ask for referrals if you don’t know the contractor.” As with building or remodeling a home, make sure to only use licensed contractors. A list of contractors can be found by contacting the Home Builders Association of Mississippi.

Many businesses are able to work directly with your insurance company and handle all billing, giving you one less thing to worry about. Upton-Neal Interiors, a 42-year veteran of flooring and interiors, recently joined forces with Carpet One to become Upton-Neal Interiors Carpet One Flooring and Home. Carpet

One, a national co-op of flooring and interior businesses, gives local businesses the luxury of more buying power among the major flooring brands, mills, and manufacturers. “We now have a direct pipeline open with several insurance companies,” says Susan Upton, co-owner of Upton-Neal. “Once your insurance company assigns a job to us, we are required contact the customer within 24 hours to set up an appointment. During that time we take pictures, get measurements and provide samples of flooring materials.”

Upton-Neal offers a wide variety of flooring options including laminate, hardwood, ceramic tile, and carpet. In addition, customers can also purchase rugs, blinds window treatments, and granite. Interior designers are also on staff to help clients choose the right look for their home. Adds Upton, “We understand that this is a very unexpected situation, so the faster we are able to get the area measured, installed and settled, the happier our customer will be.”

The majority of homeowners rarely experience a total loss. However, the longer you own a home, the more likely the occasion will arise that you will need to file a claim for interior or exterior damage. Even if you only file one claim over the life of your policy, having the right safeguards in place gives you peace of mind knowing that the roof over your head is protected.

Slumbering in Style: Lazy Bones Beds

Mississippi Magazine
July/August 2010

Most people dream of being able to take something they enjoy and turning it into a career.  What started out a fun side project for Jackson natives Hilary Armstrong and Elizabeth Winkelmann, owners and co-founders of Lazy Bones Beds, quite unexpectedly blossomed into an exciting new business venture.  As their success has begun to take on a life of its own, the two business partners have found themselves making plans to become the leading provider of fashionable dog beds that merge both practicality and elegance.

“Both Hilary and I are dog lovers and owners,” explains Winkelman, who is the proud owner of a Bernese Mountain dog named Linus.  “Like most southerners, we are attuned to the décor of our homes.  However, Hilary and I were particularly frustrated by the limited options in dog beds –we were tired of bringing in these ugly brown beds!”

Winkelman credits Armstrong –owner of Riley, a golden retriever – as the creative genius behind the business.  Armstrong began covering her old dog beds with colorful upholstery fabric.  During a get together at her home, friends took notice.  “They commented on how great the beds were and really encouraged me to do something with the idea,” she commented.

Armstrong approached Winkelman about the possibility of taking the idea retail.  However, both women hold demanding full-time jobs – Armstrong as a nurse practitioner and Winkelman as an airline pilot.  “We knew we couldn’t sew the beds in our homes!” explains Armstrong.

In their spare time, they researched local manufacturers that would be open to taking on the production.  Both were adamant that only Mississippi manufacturers and suppliers be used.  “We think our state is so special and we wanted to bring more attention to the region,” said  Winkelman.  “We know how special our home is and we think more people need to know about it as well.”

Each bed is covered in upholstery weight designer fabrics that come in a variety of patterns and colors.  A waterproof liner protects the inner core, making the bed not only pretty but functional.  The beds are overstuffed to ensure they hold their shape over time.  Armstrong and Winkelman  decided to take the connection to their Southern ties even further by naming each design after Southern writers, towns, and landmarks.  Customers can choose from the multi-colored Eudora, named after the brightly colored gardens found at Ms. Welty’s estate; the stately Mark Twain design, inspired by the brown and blue waters of the Mississippi River; or the muted colors of the Natchez, named for the trellises and latticework found on many of the old homes that have made the town famous.  Other patterns include the Peabody, Mardi Gras, Mr. Faulkner, Charleston, and the St. Francis.

Once the finished products were in hand, the two decided to test the waters at the 2009 Mistletoe Marketplace.  “That was really our debut,” adds Armstrong, “and we had such an amazing response!  All the vendors were very helpful and made great suggestions on how we could build on that momentum.”  After an encouraging response at Mistletoe, Armstrong and Winkelman applied to the January 2010 Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market.  There they were able to secure several wholesale accounts across the country including retail outlets in Jackson Hole, Wyo.; Aspen, Colo.; Austin, Texas; and Asheville, N.C.

Says Armstrong, “This really just started as a fun project and we are surprised at the success we have already had.”  The pair have since launched a website – and are planning to make an appearance at the Dallas Home Market in July.  They are also looking to expand into Nashville, Boston, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina.

In five years, both would like to see LazyBones Beds become one of the top retailers of dog beds.  “I don’t think we want to quit our day jobs because we both really like our jobs,” laughs Armstrong.  “But it would be nice to see the brand take off and become a viable source of income.  It started as a hobby – a creative outlet for us both.  I would like to see it become a career, but stay fun at the same time.”

Lazy Bones Beds, LLC

Home Sweet Home

Stages Magazine
July/August 2010

It seems lately the simple act of watching the news is enough to make prospective or current homeowners long to crouch in the corner and hope the turmoil of today’s economy will blow over very soon. With all the talk of overspending and markets sinking, one would assume that building a new home or remodeling and existing home would be the last thing on a person’s mind. However, consider this: the price of real estate – including land – has never been more affordable and the cost of building supplies is the lowest it has been in years. If you have considered building or remodeling a new home, today may be the best time to take the plunge.

“Remodeling has been where most of the residential construction has occurred the past couple of years,” says Marty Milstead, Executive Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi (HBAM). “There is still a strong remodeling market, but builders are beginning to gradually put new inventory back into the market as financing comes available.”

Custom home builder Paul Graham, owner of Paul Graham Homes, LLC, has also noticed an upswing the in the demand for custom homes since the beginning of the year. “Within the past six months I have had several people inquire about building a custom home,” says Graham. “The interest has definitely increased.”

There are several advantages to building a new home. Since the home is brand new, you don’t have to worry about replacing an old roof, air conditioner, appliances, etc. Many builders offer a home warranty, so if something should go wrong the warranty may cover the cost of repairs. Also, you and your family will have the piece of mind knowing that you are the first people to live in the home. There will be no “surprises” left by previous owners. “The home owner has more control of building exactly what they want and need,” adds Graham. “Also you get a new product with a warranty and all the features are up-to-date. In an older home, you might have to do some updating. There is also the satisfaction that many people get from starting from scratch and seeing the finished product.”

When opting to build a house, one can choose to build either a semi or a fully custom home. When building a semi-custom home, the builder usually presents the client with several house styles and floor plans to choose from. Clients are given the option to select what type of flooring they want, in addition to cabinets, appliances, lighting fixtures and lighting locations. Often, builders will include a “budget allowance” that gives the owner the option to choose fixtures, appliances, etc. Anything in excess of the budget allowance must be purchased at the owner’s expense. A semi-custom home is a compromise between building a fully custom home and purchasing a pre-built spec home where the layout and design is already predetermined. Building a semi-custom home provides an owner with the ability customize some of your home’s features while keeping expenses at a reasonable level.

Building a fully custom home gives the owner the freedom to choose every single detail, from lot selection and the style of the home to the floor layout and room sizes. Owners also have the final decision on cabinet and flooring selections, windows, doors, siding material, paint colors, and lighting. Depending on the features of the house and how unique the client wants their new home to be, custom home builders can expect to spend 2 to 3 times more per square foot on construction costs.

If your current home doesn’t fit the needs of your family but building a new home is just out of the question, remodeling may be the solution. Remodeling will allow you to make custom additions that fit your needs without the expense of building a custom home or dealing with the stress and cost of moving. It is also a great way to add value to your house. According to an annual report conducted by Remodeling Magazine, updates to the kitchen and bathrooms provide the best return on investment. However, experts warn that a remodeling job should not raise the value of your house to more than 10-15% above the median sales price in your neighborhood.

Whether you choose to build or remodel, the hardest part may be finding the right builder. Says Graham, “First you need to look for a professional home builder whose main line of work is home building. Find out information about the builder and if he or she a member of your local home builders association. In Mississippi, there is a Certified Professional Builders Program that promotes professionalism in the building community.” Graham also encourages prospective clients to make sure their builder carries all the required forms of insurance such as general liability, workers compensation and builders risk. “Look for someone you feel comfortable with and want to go through the process of building with. From planning through building, there is much communication between home owner and builder. Find someone you enjoy doing business with. Don’t always go with the lowest bid. A bid is only as good as the amount of attention to detail that goes into it.”

Milstead encourages prospective home builders to utilize the resources his office has available. “A home is the largest investment most people make in their lifetime,” he says. “Why would you hire someone that is not insured and licensed to build it? Our office can help find builders that are licensed and insured.”

May want to include this as a sidebar

Helpful links:
• Certified Professional Builder
• Home Builders Association of Mississippi
• Mississippi State Board of Contractors

The Home Builders Association of Mississippi offers these helpful tips when choosing a homebuilder or remodeler:
• Is the Builder or Remodeler licensed by the State Board of contractors?
• Does the builder/remodeler have workers’ compensation and general liability insurance? If not, you may be liable for any construction-related accidents on your premises.
• Get it in writing. Will the builder/remodeler provide you with a complete and clearly written contract, a document signed by both parties? the contract will benefit bot of you. Review it carefully.
• How long have they been in the building business? It usually takes three to five years to establish a financially sound business. Will they be around after the construction is complete to service any warranties?
• Will the builder/remodeler provide you with names of previous customers? As them if they would hire the builder/remodeler again.
• Have you seen the builder/remodelers work, both completed and in progress? Check for quality of workmanship and materials.
• Are you able to communicate with the builder/remodeler? Remember you will be in close contact with them throughout the construction process and afterward as you live in your new home.
• Be cautious of usually low-priced bids. If the builder/remodeler is unable to pay for the materials and labor as the project proceeds, this may indicate a potential problem.

Brick by Brick: The Story of David Smith

Stages Magazine
July/August 2010

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  That’s exactly what home builder David Smith did in the early 90’s when he and 350 other IBM employees were faced with a massive statewide layoff.  Building on his knowledge as a construction project manager for IBM, David decided to take his expertise and launch his own business.  Eighteen years later, David Smith Builder, LLC, has become one of the top builders of custom homes in the Jackson-metro area.“I have always thought of myself as a high-quality builder,” relates David.  “I am a very trustworthy individual that can deliver on a project from start to finish.”

Smith’s favorite part of the job is the way it allows him to use his creativity.  “Each job is a challenge, but also very rewarding,” he says.  “I like meeting new people and everyone on my team works close together to makes our clients happy during and after the project.”  Recently, he has noticed clients leaning towards building a more family friendly layout with special details being paid to expanding the kitchen area, adding a keeping room, and including additional outdoor amenities.

Obviously, building homes has become a passion for Smith.  Since the market is constantly changing, he continues to stay abreast of current trends by staying active in the industry.  He has served as President of the Home Builders Association of Jackson, Region Vice President of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi, and Director of the National Association of Home Builders.  He also currently serves on the Mississippi Board of Contractors.

More recently, Smith became the first home builder in Mississippi to become a Certified Green Professional under the National Association of Homebuilders Green Building Program.  He was also appointed by Gov. Haley Barbour to serve as Chairman of the State Board of Contractors Building Green Works Program for the Home Builder Association.  Explains Smith, “I became interested in building ‘green’ because essentially you are building a better house.  It doesn’t take more effort, but it does require more attention to detail.”  Smith has noticed an interest in appliances that run more efficiently and help to save the client money in the long run, such as tankless water heaters, high efficiency HVAC units, and better lighting.    “People are becoming more attuned to building ‘green’ houses because information about the concept is everywhere – the president is talking about it, more and more companies are adopting green policies.  Building a ‘green’ house may cost more initially – it really depends on the size of the house.  However, the cost savings you see in the long run will pay for itself.”  If you decide to go green, Smith recommends using energy efficient appliances, insulation, windows and heating systems designed to work together to lower utility bills; installing measures that will help conserve water and improve indoor air quality; and using recycled materials and effective waste management during construction.  Smith is also trained in how to prepare and develop a lot to ensure it leaves a light footprint on the earth and educating his clients so that they know how to operate and maintain their new, more eco-friendly  home.

Smith’s work has not gone unnoticed.  Over the years, he has been the recipient of numerous accolades within the industry.  He was named the 2008 Spring Parade of Homes Winner and again in 2009 for his “Miracle Home” built for the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital.  He has also been named Builder Member of the Year by the Home Builders Association of Mississippi and Jackson.

Adds Smith, “I love making people’s dreams come true.  You start with nothing and end up with a jewel.  It’s a lot of fun.  If it’s not fun, it’s not worth pursuing.”

Lofty Aspirations

Mississippi Magazine
Home & Garden 2010

Click here for PDF of original article.

Ten years ago, when Mike McRee made arrangements to take over the Old Elks Club Building in downtown Jackson, he had big plans for the unassuming, three-story Neoclassical Revival brick building.  Located at 119 South President Street, the structure was originally built in 1912 and served as Jackson Lodge 416 for the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.).  The founder of Investek Timber Management quickly moved his office into the second story and opened Highlands Gallery of Art (now Gallery 119) – a contemporary fine art gallery specializing in the works of Mississippi and Southern artists – on the first floor.

In 2008, McRee decided to convert the third story into a luxury apartment.  The third floor of the building originally housed the Elk’s grand ballroom and provided a wide open space for architect Ann Somers of the Jackson-based firm Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons.

“The building possesses a lot of historical elements,” explains Somers.  “As we were laying out the plans, we wanted to create a livable space but also keep the characteristics of the existing building.”

Early in the process, Somers opted to keep with the wide open, loft-like feel while creating separate vignettes for the living areas and private spaces towards the back of the apartment.  When deciding how all the elements would tie together, Somers decided to keep the original plaster walls, exposed ductwork, and tongue-and-groove beadboard wainscoting that runs along the outside perimeter of the space.  Two adjacent dividers were constructed to create a living area, grand foyer, and dining area.  The walls stop just a few feet short of the twelve-foot tin ceilings.  Somers kept the two dividing walls open and utilized multi-colored stained glass panels in an effort to keep the separate-but-open effect.

To help tie the new layout together, McRee also enlisted the help of Sarah Nelson of Sarah Jones Interiors.  Nelson drew her inspiration from an antique cream-colored Oushak rug she used in the living room.  The trim, moulding, and wainscoting were painted vibrant white to directly contrast with the cream color of the walls that were selected to coordinate with the rug.  Matching tuxedo-style couches from Edward Ferrell flank either side of the living room while two reclining chairs, upholstered in Calvin fabric, provide a relaxing sitting area.  Granite counter tops allow McRee to showcase his unique collection of antique oil cans and fire hose nozzles.  Floor-to-ceiling Zoffany drapes accent large glass windows and a wooden door- also original to the building- which opens onto a tiled balcony with views of President Street below.  A small office just off the living room provides a quiet and comfortable reading area and space for a small studio for McRee, who is an avid art lover and collector.

Behind the living area is the formal dining room and raised galley kitchen featuring a large open island where McRee can keep an eye on guests while he entertains.  A Wolf range, contemporary stainless steel appliances, steel-grey glass mosaic wall tiles, and cream-colored granite countertops round out this gourmet kitchen.  Dark cabinetry was utilized throughout the apartment and richly colored cork flooring was selected for the kitchen to coordinate with the beautiful heart of pine wood floors already featured in the apartment.  Because McRee enjoys entertaining, Nelson selected a large 10-foot wooden dining table from Englishman’s Fine Furnishings. “The table is actually made from an old piece of wood that was redesigned to create a new table,” adds Nelson.  Nineteen-thirties inspired Baker art-deco chairs with Barbara Barry upholstery from Kravet seat up to twelve dinner guests comfortably.  A bar area allows for additional seating.

Just off the kitchen, a small breakfast nook provides the perfect spot for entertaining a smaller, more intimate group of friends.  Guests can sip a beverage from the loft’s fully stocked wet bar or a glass of wine from the large stainless steel wine cooler.  Music lovers will enjoy a tune from the black K. Kawai baby grand piano.

“The apartment also serves as an extension of the art gallery,” Nelson explains.  Mike often splits his time between the loft and his home in Flora and enjoys volunteering the space for use by many local charity organizations and non-profit events.  Paintings from the art gallery below are rotated out on a regular basis and feature work by artists such as Melissa Neville, William Dunlap, and Patterson/Barnes.  Mike also enjoys showcasing his own personal collection by some of his favorite artists including Ginger Williams and Mississippi native Derek Blanks.

A long rear hall leads to the apartment’s two bedrooms.  The master bedroom features an eclectic mixture of old and new furniture styles.  The smoky blue wall color stays true to the masculine theme in addition to the modern wall sconces and contemporary custom made iron four poster bed from Old Biscayne Designs.  These elements are paired with French antique nightstands and dresser.  Directly behind the bed, a raised dressing area and large master bath were added.  The chic master bath features a glass enclosed steam room and white porcelain vessel sinks.  Sandy-hued tile floors and earth-toned glass mosaic tiles on the wall help to create an air of serenity in the room.

A comfortable second bedroom at the rear of the apartment provides a private area for guests.  The structure’s original bathroom was redesigned with a modern twist, featuring a large garden tub and vessel sink vanity.

Renovations to the loft were completed in 2009.  “Redesigning this space ended up being a really fun project that posed several good challenges to myself and the other designers,” adds Somers.  “We had to figure out how to touch the space as lightly as possible while creating something that would make sense in the existing area.  I think we ended up with something the owner would really enjoy.”

“I really enjoy the location of the apartment the most,” comments McRee, who recently opened Underground 119, a restaurant/club featuring live blues, jazz, and bluegrass music, in the building’s basement area.  “However, the open floor plan and the spaciousness make it great for entertaining and when the weather is warm, I enjoy having my morning coffee on the balcony.”

King of the Carnival: Paul’s Pastry

Mississippi Magazine
January/February 2010

King cakes have been a long-standing tradition for generations.  Originating in France during the 12th century, the circular cakes represent the journey of the three kings to Bethlehem to honor the Christ child.  For Sherri Paul-Thigpen, owner of Paul’s Pastry Shop in Picayune, king cakes are a way of life.  The second generation baker has been creating these colorful rings of sweet cake and cream cheese for almost 40 years.

Paul’s Pastry was founded by Thigpen’s parents, Harry and Shirley Paul, in 1970 when Thigpen was thirteen years old.  “I spent many afternoons after school and weekends helping out,” she recalls.  At the time, the Paul’s operated their bakery in an 855 square-foot facility.  When Thigpen officially took over the bakery in 1989 she began making expansions.  The bakery now operates in a 5,000 square foot facility and employs approximately 35 employees.

The season for king cake begins twelve days after Christmas and extends to Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday. “Fifty-percent of our business is generated between December and February,” Thigpen explains.  She estimates they sell 52,000 king cakes during those months through in-store sales, off premise wholesale, and shipping.  Thigpen has shipped her cakes all across the United States, including a shipment every year to North Pole, Alaska.  For the last six years, Paul’s Pastry has shipped a king cake to every state on Fat Tuesday.

“We have even gotten requests to ship internationally,” she says.  “However, we like our cakes to reach their destination within 1-2 days to ensure freshness.  By the time the cakes make it through customs, they are usually four to five days old and well past their prime.”

While original king cakes were very simple with little to no decoration, today a typical king cake is brightly decorated with traditional Mardi Gras colors – gold, representing power; green, which represents faith; and purple for justice.  In 1972, Paul’s Pastry became the first bakery to fill their cakes with fruit and cream cheese.  They now offer the largest selection of flavors in the United States, with over 30 different varieties of filling such as Reece’s, Pina Colada, Pecan Praline, and Mississippi Mud.  Paul’s doesn’t just limit their king cakes to Mardi Gras.  The bakery offers brightly colored cakes for every season and special event including 4th of July, Christmas, birthdays, Mother’s Day, graduations, and wedding or baby showers.  Each cake includes the signature Mardi Gras “baby” hidden inside.

When asked what makes her cakes stand out from the rest, Thigpen credits a secret family recipe. “It’s not traditional pastry dough,” she explains. “It’s more like a sweet bread that really holds in the filling.  When you cut into the cake and take a bite, you get fruit and cream cheese in the same bite.”  Thigpen’s cream cheese filling is also a closely guarded secret recipe.

Attention to detail and a passion for quality have helped the family-owned bakery gain notoriety among the rich and famous.  Well-known patrons include Reba McIntyre, both President Bushes, Garth Brooks, and the cast of the popular Discovery Channel show Mythbusters.

In addition to their nationally famous cakes, family is another long-standing tradition that has now touched three generations.  Thigpen’s daughter works as the office manager and her son-in-law serves at the production manager.  It is a tradition Thigpen hopes will continue for another 40 years.

Paul’s Pastry Shop
1 Sycamore Rd # A
Picayune, MS 39466-2666
(601) 798-7457

Ocean Springs teen triumphs over near-fatal traumatic brain injury

Methodist Rehabilitation Center
December 21, 2009

2009 was to be the year that Karen and Paul Hasley said good-bye to worried vigils in hospital waiting rooms.

Their son Shane had endured the last of 10 surgeries to correct his congenitally deformed feet, and life was looking up for the outgoing Ocean Springs High School senior.

Then came the Feb. 24 phone call that sent the couple rushing to Ocean Springs Hospital. The 18-year-old had flipped his truck and suffered a life-threatening brain injury.

Preliminary tests revealed little or no activity in both frontal lobes of the brain, and doctors doubted Shane could survive. But his parents refused to give up hope.

“I leaned down and whispered in his ear, ‘Shane, you are going to have to fight harder than you’ve ever fought in your entire life,’ ” remembers Karen.

“Take a seat,” Paul told the doctors. “You are about to witness a miracle.”

Today, the Hasleys are in awe of the progress their son has made. After months of therapy at Methodist Rehabilitation Center in Jackson, Shane is taking high school courses at home. He hopes to be back in the classroom come fall.

“I will never tell anyone there is no such thing as miracles,” Karen says. “If we had not made the trip to Methodist … I think he would have been bedridden for the rest of his life.”

Shane is used to overcoming the odds. He underwent his first surgery at age 6 months, and his mom says: “He never wanted help from anybody.”

But even she worried whether her son had the resiliency to face a post-accident setback that was particularly heartbreaking. While Shane was still unconscious, medication used to regulate his blood pressure collapsed blood vessels in his left foot. Doctors had no choice but to amputate.

“That was very difficult,” recalls Karen. “After everything he has been through – to lose that left leg. But it came down to his life or the limb.”

When Shane transferred to Methodist Rehab on May 26, he arrived unable to sit up on his own, and he had a tracheotomy and a feeding tube. The normally talkative teen also had not spoken in three months.

“When they asked me what my goal was for him, I told them, ‘I just want to hear his voice,’” Karen said. “He has never met a stranger. To go from being so outgoing to not talking, it was so strange.”

Dr. Zoraya Parrilla, medical director of Methodist Rehab’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program, evaluated Shane and decided to administer Amantadine, a psycho-stimulant medication that can increase brain activity.

“Amantadine is a powerful stimulant and it’s my first choice in cases like Shane’s where a patient is minimally conscious,” Dr. Parrilla said. “I could see a strong correlation between the time when the agent was initially given and the time when Shane responded. The results in this case were remarkable.”

After almost three weeks, Shane still appeared unresponsive and physical therapist, Katie Daniels, had to push hard to draw any kind of response.

“Shane always wore a hat,” explained Daniels. “One afternoon, I took his hat and put it over his face. I told him, ‘Shane, if you don’t like this then you need to do something about it.’”

Daniels watched as Shane reached up, grabbed the hat, and replaced it on his head. It was the breakthrough everyone had been praying for. “That was when I knew we were finally reaching him,” Daniels said.

Soon after, Karen began to notice small improvements in her son every day. One afternoon, a therapist informed Karen that she needed to come to the therapy room right away. “I was nervous,” she remembers. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

When Karen walked into the room, she overheard speech therapist Holly Radicioni ask, “Shane, what is your mother’s name?”

“Mom,” he replied.

“What is your father’s name?”


Two months prior to his accident, the family adopted a new puppy. Since the accident affected much of Shane’s short-term memory, Karen was curious if he remembered the dog’s name. “I leaned over to Holly and said, ‘Ask him what the dog’s name is.’”

Without hesitation, Shane replied, “Desiree.”

“I lost it at that point,” his mom recalls. “He was back. And once he started talking, he had three months of silence to make up for.”

Shane is now able to breathe and eat on his own. He has also received a prosthetic leg from Methodist Orthotics & Prosthetics and is undergoing intense physical therapy to build up his strength so that he can progress to getting around with a walker.

It will be a long, hard road, but Shane remains optimistic about the future. He is working on completing his school curriculum and hopes to graduate from Ocean Springs High School next year.

“When this is all over,” he says, “I want to become a professional fisherman or a game warden.”