You Could Even Say it Glows
The Rihner family of Necaise Avenue takes pride in being the biggest – and brightest – Christmas display in the Bay.
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson
Gradually, the neighbors moved away and the kids grew up, but Lance just keep buying lights and accumulating extension cords and finding new pieces to install in the yard.
“There’s something new every year,” he said. “This year there’s a new Disney display.”
Lance uses photos from the year before to see where everything goes and tweaks a few setups. If something major is out of place, he said, he’ll hear about it from regulars who remember it from years past. “Some of the older stuff like Santa on the light pole has been a staple for 25 years,” he said.
He figures he’s got close to 100 pieces of yard decorations, though he’s never actually counted. Ask how much he’s got invested in the display and Lance laughingly says, “Way too much.” He guesses he’s put several thousand dollars into the project over the 28 years. “I always say the more the merrier.”
And it’s not just the decorations themselves. It takes more than 40 extension cords and some 200 smaller ones to power up all that Christmas stuff. After blowing a couple of circuit breakers early on, Lance upgraded all the wiring in the house and put eight receptacles outside to handle all those cords. “It’s like putting a puzzle together,” he said of assembling and unwinding and erecting everything.
Depending on the weather, it takes three to four weeks to install everything, starting before Halloween. His goal is to have everything in place to light up on Thanksgiving night, and if he’s running behind, his wife Melinda and grown children help him finish up. Each night the display is turned off at 10 p.m.
The takedown is faster, about three days. “It comes down pretty quick,” he said. “Everything is boxed up and goes back in the shed.”
Sometimes, he admits, the setup gets overwhelming. “But it does put me in the holiday mood. I put on CDs to motivate me. This is the best time of the year for me. We love Christmas."
The schedule is the same for Melinda, who handles the home decorations. “Inside it looks just like the outside,” he said.
Over the years, advances in technology have brought fancy laser lights and other improvements to Christmas decorations, but Lance stays mostly with the classics. “My lights are old school. They don’t dance to music.” He does have 3-D projectors, which have to be brought in if it rains.
Early on, before the advent of energy-efficient LEDs, the Rihners’ power bill would jump up about $100 during the holidays. “But it’s all worth it when you see the kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
“I have been surprised with a load of carolers from churches in town who sang carols to us. That happened twice. It was pretty neat."
Loving her “Senior Moments”
As director of the Hancock County Senior Center, Arlene Johnson has enriched the lives of our seniors for over 35 years.
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Lisa Monti and Ellis Anderson
La Terre Farms Brings on the Green
A new family business for the Wylys: greens from their Kiln farm create decor magic with fresh wreaths and garlands.
- Story by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson and La Terre Farms
Their first order came in late October, and a few others have followed. “Our overarching theme is, we’re selling fresh and local,” Teri said. “We only work when we get an order because it has to be fresh.” The finished product is boxed up and delivered by Connor.
Teri said their greenery is “free-flowing and natural, not a lot of pretense.” Orders can be customized with additions such as eucalyptus or unique flowers. Customers can also send a photo of what they’re looking for, and the Wylys will duplicate it.
“Everything we produce – garland, wreaths or just greenery bundles – will be custom made, again something that makes us a little different,” Connor said.
Since Teri and Connor both have day jobs, they work on the greenery mainly on weekends. Their venture has had a modest start with no social media or advertising yet, but they see potential beyond holiday orders. Products like theirs are in high demand among people who enjoy greenery in their homes and businesses. They’ll test the concept out for a few years to see where it leads.
This new venture comes at a time when Teri, an attorney, is nearing retirement and is looking forward to a second career, “something that’s exciting and that I am passionate about.”
The Wylys bought their first 80 acres in the Kiln 30 years ago from Judge Dan Russell. They were headed from a Biloxi conference back home to New Orleans on a Sunday when the car overheated. They found a realtor’s office open and went in to call for a mechanic.
Bubba asked about land for sale and learned the Russell property had just been put on the market. “We bought it that afternoon,” Teri said. The couple ultimately moved to Bay St. Louis and joined law firms in Gulfport.
The garlands and wreaths may turn out to be the start to expanding use of the farm. Teri said possibilities include you pick ‘em blueberries and sunflowers, harvesting honey from bee hives and eggs from cage-free chickens, and even creating an ecotourism retreat.
Connor works at INFINITY Science Center but is interested in one day being his own boss. “I always wanted to own my own business. Trying to think of businesses that would be a good fit for the farm, it seemed natural that it would be a family-based business.” Connor says his brother Grady, a born salesman currently working as a commercial insurance producer in New Orleans, will help on the marketing/sales side of the business.
Bubba’s family has a farming operation in North Louisiana. Teri says, “Much of the farming advice comes unsolicited from my lawyer husband, but is welcomed nonetheless.” Over the years Bubba has enjoyed his work on the property that Teri jokingly calls the “Bubbarosa.”
Still firmly rooted in Bay St. Louis, the Wylys’ ultimate goal is to spend more time in the country and expand the greenery business to the nearby New Orleans market.
“As we grow into different products like blueberries and flowers, we think our location close to the interstate gives us a solid market with access to the Gulf Coast as well as New Orleans,” said Connor.
“From what we can tell, there aren’t a lot of others providing fresh local greenery in the area. We think we have a chance to offer something unique to the public.”
Said Teri, “We feel confident there is a demand and not just for the holidays. And we’re well placed to do that.”
To inquire about ordering garlands and wreaths, call Teri at 228.369.4438.
Sycamore House Restaurant
With a nod to cuisines from the bayou to Asia and beyond, the elegant Sycamore House has become a coast favorite.
– story by Lisa Monti
– photos by Ellis Anderson
Today, the Sycamore House is known for its eclectic choices on the hefty menu ranging from New Orleans and Southern classic seafood and steak entrées to pizza and Asian dishes.
That variety is what first-time guests in our group noticed quickly after settling in at our table in the Mauffray dining room recently. Across the hall is the larger Provence dining room with French accents and access to the large screened porch.
The menus haven’t changed much over the years, but there have been tweaks here and there. “We added a new salad, but I can’t tell you when that was,” she said. An aged Black Angus New York strip was added to the dinner menu, and the desserts (all made by hand at the restaurant) change up a bit depending on the season.
The menu reflects the two chefs’ backgrounds. “I’m from New Orleans and my husband is from New York. And because we’re in the South it’s hard not to have a lot of Cajun/Creole-type dishes.”
They also enjoy eating and cooking Asian food, a nice additional layer that fans are happy to find in Sushi-grade local yellowfin tuna with ginger-soy sauce.
A quick rundown of the menu shows the range of influences, from barbecue shrimp and turtle soup to Thai scallops and Saigon Chicken Tacos appetizers. The flavorful Cuban style slow-braised beef brisket also shines in a poboy variation. Turtle soup and Thai-Indonesian style curry are two of my favorites for brunch, as well as the Garlic Boursin BLT on sourdough with sweet basil mustard.
Pizza and sushi may be the most surprising finds at The Sycamore House, at least judging from the response of our group. About half ordered pizzas and the others went for sushi (which is available only on Wednesday nights as a special).
And one restaurant regular chose a favorite from the menu, the crabmeat and mushroom cheesecake. My Meat Lover's pie topped with pepperoni, andouille, Canadian bacon and grilled chicken made for great leftovers. You can get a cheese pizza with your choice of toppings, or you can go for one of eight specialty pies including BBQ shrimp and Mediterranean.
Pizza fans can thank Chef Michael for its addition to the menu, something rarely found in fine dining restaurants.
“After Katrina,” recalled Stella, “We were one of the only restaurants around for a while. My husband is from upstate New York and he was dying for New York-style pizza. We converted one of the ovens for pizza and it sort of stayed with us.”
Pizzas are popular for carry-out meals as well as dine-in. They’re available Wednesday through Sunday.
In the 17 years the couple has operated The Sycamore House, they have earned many a loyal customer among locals and weekenders. “Some come in every night we’re open, some two nights a week and we see some at least once a week,” she said.
“As with any restaurant, once you get to know a customer, you know what they like, you make their drinks the way they like them. It’s the old New Orleans way, we have that same sort of thing.”
With the holidays coming up, The Sycamore House is preparing for their special Christmas Eve and New Year’s Even four-course dinners. Watch for them on Facebook and Instagram – but be quick.
“A lot of times we’re sold out before we get to that point,” Chef Stella said.
The Sycamore House
210 Main Street
Bay St. Louis
Wed-Thurs 5:00 - 8:30 pm
Fri-Sat 11:30 am - 9:30 pm
Sunday Brunch 11:00 am – 2:00 pm
An inaugural event for writers, aspiring writers and illustrators brings together some of the Gulf Coast’s most talented and noteworthy storytellers, including literary superstar, Jesmyn Ward.
- by Steve Barney
The event is not targeted only to seasoned professionals; aspiring writers and artists are especially encouraged to attend. Promoting engagement and participation, the Exchange will provide a friendly environment to ask questions and get advice from experts working in the trenches, get creative and have some fun.
Ducomb added, “The goal is to create an open exchange between those with a desire to create and those who can mentor and coach them in the process.”
The library reached out to an interdisciplinary team of community stakeholders, including The Arts, Hancock County, the Hancock Performing Arts Center, the Shoofly Magazine and the Hancock County School District to develop and produce the ambitious program. Additional support for marketing the event came from Visit Mississippi and the Hancock Tourism Bureau.
Earlier this year, Ocean Springs author Johnnie Bernhard presented in Bay St. Louis as part of the libraries’ ongoing speaker series. Bernhard is a traditionally published author and winner of multiple prestigious awards for her fiction. Bernhard’s work has appeared in newspapers and magazines, both nationally and internationally.
Ducomb shared with Bernhard the vision of a unique gathering of writers and artists from across the Mississippi Coast. Bernhard had actually been trying to get a literary event going on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for some time. She enthusiastically joined the planning team, recruiting other well-known authors and adding panel discussions. Publisher pitch sessions were added as well, giving unpublished authors the invaluable opportunity to receive critical feedback from editors and prospective publishers.
Bernhard explains, “I always thought when I was an unpublished writer, if the dream came true for me and people actually read my work, that I would find a way to pay it forward by sharing what I learned in my journey to become a traditionally published author.”
Going beyond author presentations, the Exchange includes a variety of workshops in a number of disciplines encompassing writing and the visual arts. On Friday afternoon (November 22), Lazy Magnolia Brewery will become an art studio with hands-on workshops focused on book illustration at the intersection of literature and visual art.
From 1:00-2:00 pm, Melissa Carrigee will share her experiences and facilitate a workshop on illustrating children’s books. Her first book, “I Dream of Dragons,” was written while attending college during an illustration class. Not being much of an illustrator she decided to trace pictures. The story took on a life of its own, and soon it became apparent that writing for children would become a passion. It was written for her young son, Logan, to show him that he could become anything he wanted to be if he dared to dream.
The afternoon continues with a workshop from 2:00-5:00 pm featuring self-published author Albert Ghergich, who has written several books under the moniker John Albert. Ghergich’s stories of the Deep South cross genres of science fiction, horror, comedy and non-fiction.
Ghergich will team up with noted Bay St. Louis portrait artist and illustrator Michelle Arnold. In the session Arnold will work with participants to create illustrations using a variety of techniques and styles for Ghergich’s Mother’s Eye, which features an ancient, mystical Rougarou creature, the last of its kind, driven by a vengeance-fueled rage, who is unwittingly drawn into a supernatural journey where past and present collide.
Back at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, from 3:00-5:00 pm, aspiring writers can review their manuscripts in literary pitch sessions with representatives from Texas Review Press and Dogwood Press, offering a unique opportunity to get direct feedback from experts in the publishing industry.
The first day culminates at 7:00 pm with a free performance featuring an eclectic mix of literature and visual arts. Held at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, this performance is open to the public. In the lobby, well known mural artists from across the coast will be live painting their interpretation of classic scenes from Mississippi literature.
The artists include: Michelle Arnold, Scharonne Herrington, Lucinda Perniciario D’Enfant, Greg Noll and Andrew Switzer. Illustrations created earlier in the day will be displayed as Ghergich reads excerpts from his book, “Mother’s Eye.”
On stage, the Hancock High School Theatre under the direction of Scott Gladfelter will perform a dramatic interpretation of Eudora Welty’s classic “Where Is The Voice Coming From?”
Building on the “homegrown” theme, the evening will also preview videos produced by local school groups comprising a 360-degree videographic “quilt” of the communities in Hancock County. The work is the result of a grant from the Mississippi Museum of Arts’ Center for Art and Public Exchange (CAPE), enabling a residency for Jackson State professor Mark Geil.
“The metaphor of a community quilt,” Geil states, “is to explore the varied narratives and histories of Hancock County. The project will explore what is special, vital and challenging about living in Hancock County, while capturing the amazing vibrancy of our communities.”
On Saturday, November 23, the program is focused on the nuts and bolts of storytelling, writing and editing from some of the region’s best fiction and non-fiction authors.
Johnnie Bernhard will lead an in-depth seminar entitled, “Fiction and the Editing Process.” Margaret McMullen will discuss the process of memoir writing and will read from her new memoir, “Where The Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Loss, Exile, and Return.”
A recipient of a 2010 NEA Fellowship in literature, a 2010 Fulbright at the University of Pécs in Pécs, Hungary, and the National Author Winner of the 2011 Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, McMullan is the author of nine award-winning books.
The afternoon continues with a panel discussion entitled “Writing About What You Know” led by award-winning area author and publisher Ellis Anderson of Ellis Anderson Media (The Shoofly Magazine and French Quarter Journal), Anderson’s book, Under Surge, Under Siege, chronicles life in Bay St. Louis in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Anderson will be joined on the panel with Pass Christian author Rheta Grimsley Johnson. A former syndicated columnist for King Features Syndicate of New York, she has won numerous journalism awards. The author of eight books including Poor Man's Provence: Finding Myself in Cajun Louisiana and Hank Hung the Moon and Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts, she wrote the only authorized biography of "Peanuts" cartoonist Charles Schulz. Currently she writes for French Quarter Journal and serves as the publication’s editor.
The panel also includes Louisiana author and Texas Review Press editor Dr. J Bruce Fuller. Fuller is a Louisiana native whose books include “The Dissenter's Ground,” “Lancelot” and Flood, and his poems have appeared at The Southern Review, Crab Orchard Review, McNeese Review, Birmingham Poetry Review and Louisiana Literature, among others.
The Homegrown Literary and Arts Exchange builds up to Saturday night’s keynote presentation by Jesmyn Ward, with a lecture, book reading, Q&A and book signing. This lecture is free and open to the public.
Ward has been called “the new Toni Morrison.” She is the first woman and first person of color to win the National Book Award twice, joining the ranks of William Faulkner, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Philip Roth and John Updike. Her writing, which encompasses fiction, nonfiction and memoir, is “raw, beautiful and dangerous.”
Ward’s novels, primarily set on Mississippi’s gulf coast, are deeply informed by the trauma of Hurricane Katrina. Ward edited the critically acclaimed anthology The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, a New York Times bestseller. Her newest novel, the critically acclaimed Sing, Unburied, Sing, won the 2017 National Book Award. Sing has been called “a searing, urgent read for anyone who thinks the shadows of slavery and Jim Crow have passed” (Celeste Ng).
Sing was named one of the best books of 2017 by The New York Times, Time, The Washington Post and Publisher's Weekly. Sing was also nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Aspen Words Literary Prize.
An associate professor of creative writing at Tulane University, Ward received the 2016 Strauss Living Award and a 2017 MacArthur Genius Grant, and was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018. She is the winner of the 2019 American Voice in Literature Award.
For more information and to purchase tickets for the workshops, visit the Homegrown Literary and Arts Exchange website at https://hancocklibraries.info/homegrown.
The evening sessions, which are free and open to the public, will take place at the Hancock Performing Arts Center, 7140 Stennis Airport Road, Kiln, Miss. 39556.
Fri., November 22, 7pm: Literary and Visual Arts Performance
Sat., November 23, 7pm: Jesmyn Ward lecture, book reading, Q&A; book signing
The article’s author, Steve Barney, is the president of The Arts, Hancock County.
Coffee Culture Opening Soon in the Bay
Successful Pass Christian business owners are starting a new venture here in Bay St. Louis.
- by Lisa Monti
That’s when they opened Sea Level, a tiny but complete kitchen inside a beach cottage on wheels that operates seasonally in the West Pass Christian Harbor. It’s known for its award winning tacos and burgers, hand-cut fries and homemade spinach and artichoke spring rolls.
Sea Level closed Oct. 30 for the winter and will reopen in January. Dana, Thomas and their employees are now focused on getting Coffee Culture up and running. “We have such fantastic employees we wanted to keep them year round,” Dana said.
They’re leasing the space for their new coffee shop to test the waters in a new location. “We’ve never done anything over in the Bay and wanted to get a feel for it first,” Dana said.
Coffee Culture will offer a variety of hot and cold coffee, Chai tea, breakfast pastries and sandwiches, scones and bagels, most of which will be made from scratch. It will feature Coast Roast coffee, a local favorite based in Long Beach. The coffee will be sold either in whole beans or ground at the coffee shop.
The Barretts will start out staffing Coffee Culture with their Sea Level employees but would hire locals as the need arises. “Being a part of the community is very important,” Dana said.
Coffee Culture will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. There’s seating inside for 18 customers and a screened-in porch in back that’s dog friendly. There’s also a handy drive-thru window where orders and dog treats will be dispensed.
Watch for Coffee Culture on Facebook and Instagram.