The Kindness of Strangers in Lexington, KY

           “I’m convinced that probably everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.  It’s just one more reason to always try to be kind.”—Yolanda Hadid


person holding round smiling emoji board photo
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           Life is often not easy.  In fact, sometimes, it can seem down right mean; or, at the very least, unfair—especially with regards to a loved one’s distress.  Although it is the loved one dealing with the pain, emotion, and treatment of the illness, I would argue that the closest caregiver, often a spouse or child, also endures his or her own form of anguish, aching, and anxiety.  


grayscale photography of patient and relative holding hands
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           Thus, John, my husband, and I, upon receiving a text, made the quick and easy decision to go on an unplanned, though not entirely unexpected, trip to Lexington, KY in order to offer support and help for both an ill loved one and spouse.  However, the purpose of this bit of writing is to shine a light on the numerous acts of kindnesses we encountered from complete strangers. When coming upon others in day-to-day life, we often do not know what secret suffering simmers in each soul, therefore the simple act of a smile, sympathetic ear, or a soothing word can be a source of salve in another’s day as we experienced first hand in Lexington.

           Three completely different settings;and yet, all were a source of comfort. These three were the only locations we visited during our brief stay; however, all three made a positive impact in our time spent in Lexington.  Of course, bottom line, it was the people at these places who chose to make the difference; and to the many unnamed, I say (as do my loved ones and John), “Thank you!”




            UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital.  It was, and is, a sprawling and bustling facility, with Kentucky Children’s Hospital behind it, and the Shriners Hospital for Children Medical Center across from it. In spite of its vastness, from our first impression–asking for help to find parking–to our last impression—the sweet lady from transport offering assistance to the parking garage—this facility was first class when it came to compassion and kindness.  


Left: Pedestrian connection ramp to hospital garage.  Right:  Shriner’s Hospital for Children Medical Center.

           Once we figured out the parking and pedestrian ramp, we realized how easy it was to access the hospital.  While it did require a good bit of walking, what appeared to be oversized golf carts zipped by walkers offering rides to those either unable or physically challenged by the walk.  Art surrounded us throughout our daily traverses of the ramp and entrance. While the beauty of the art certainly offered an element of tranquility to visitors who may be experiencing anxiety or stress, it was the staff of this facility that offered the greatest sense of calm.



Look closely at the different shots of this painting.  If you focus long enough, the word ‘still’ can be found in a tree.  That simple word offered me a daily reminder of the importance of remaining ‘still’ on the inside.


           Given our situation, only two of the three of us were allowed back in the hospital room at a time.   Therefore, there were multiple opportunities for me to explore the hospital. Whether I was running errands to get coffee or food, or choosing to move/walk around and stretch my legs, I encountered supportive and thoughtful employees throughout the hospital.

           For example, there was the smartly dressed staffer in a resource room I happened to enter out of curiosity, that within one minute and three key questions, gave me an armful of free educational materials, not only for those at the hospital with me, but also for loved ones back home.  Then, there was the young man—heavily tattooed on arms and neck—an image for which a negative label might have been assumed; however, that was far from the truth with this gentleman! He had observed me taking pictures of the hot food available and texting it to another waiting back in the hospital room.  Placing my order, the man asked for whom I was getting the food. When I answered and explained the situation, he nodded—as did another employee beside him.


This waterfall offers a source of tranquil sound.  It is a nice place to sit near, close eyes and focus on prayers, meditations, or simply relax.


           Handing me the box of warm food—given in generous portion sizes, I should add—he added with eyes full of sympathy, “May this food warm their belly and bless their soul.  God bless.”

           Then, the other employee added, “Yes, God bless both of them.”


A tasty, warm meal can sometimes be a source of comfort.


         Yet, these were not the only examples of simple acts of kindness. Without giving names and specific details, I sadly do not have the room to elaborate on the innumerable positive and thoughtful actions offered from each of the nurses, staff, and doctors with whom we daily interacted; all were genuinely nice, engaging, and seemingly always willing to put forth the extra effort.  In fact, as we were leaving, two of the nurses said they would miss our loved ones. Even through the discharge procedure, we had the pleasure of being assisted by a gregarious transport female who truly took an interest in the absolute best place to take our loved ones in order for John to get their car to them easily. She was a delight, and I hate that I do not recall her name!  


The entrance to the uphill, winding entrance ramp to parking garage.


           Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  It is hard to find the right words to describe the amount of care the staff of this hotel offered all of us.  As soon as they realized the purpose of our stay was related to the hospital, they bent over backwards to offer assistance.  Each time we entered the lobby, a manager was there to greet us, and ask if we needed anything. The rooms were spacious and comfortable with large refrigerators, microwave, kitchen sink, storage, and Keurig coffee makers.  While we did not spend much time in the room or hotel, it was certainly a bright spot to start and end each day, and a great place to rest. In fact, John and I agreed we would love to return on a leisure visit.


           BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse.  While we might have discovered this restaurant on our own, it was our good fortune for our loved ones at UK Hospital to encourage us to dine at this establishment for dinner both nights of our visit.  What an excellent recommendation it turned out to be! From plenty of gluten free, plant-based options for me—including pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and even gluten-free buns—to a wide variety of carnivore-centered dishes for John, BJ’s had it all. In fact, their menu is like reading a book (I think I saw it was 24-25 pages long), with page after page of choices.   Our waiter/bartender, Sam, was Johnny-on-the-spot, with great service, recommendations, and nice conversation. Despite the fact it took quite a bit of time both nights for John and me to settle upon a dinner choices, Sam did not bat an eye and remained patient, understanding, and attentive to our needs throughout our time there.


The menu at BJ’s is big enough to be a book!


           John and I started both meals with chips and salsa while we perused the menu. (However, those with severe allergies to gluten should best avoid the chips, as they are not cooked in a dedicated fryer.)  Next, we enjoyed salads—side salad for me both nights, and John tried the Wedge Salad and the Caesar Salad on respective nights. My dinner choices were Turmeric-roasted Cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl the first night, and Gluten-free Veggie Pizza the second night; whereas, John went with the Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for dinner on the first night and BJ’s Brewhouse Classic pizza the second night.  Our meals were prepared, presented, and tasted beyond palatable. In fact, I am fairly certain our taste buds did a happy dance during each meal! Again, this is another place we would love to visit again.

           In the end, our trip to Lexington was made as pleasant as possible, given the situation, due to people taking time to smile, offer kindness, and extend a caring attitude.  Thank you to all we encountered at these establishments in Lexington. We are forever grateful for your generosity and hope to return!


Sam, our waiter and bartender for both of our evening visits, was congenial, attentive, and patient with our inability to decide on dinner!

Meal 1:  Turmeric-roasted cauliflower and Peruvian Quinoa Bowl for me; and Hickory Brisket and Bacon Burger for John.

Meal 2: BJs Brewhouse Classic Pizza for John; Gluten-free Veggie pizza for me.




Charleston, WV a Perfect, Quick Weekend Getaway

            “Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference. They bless the one who receives them, and they bless you, the giver.”—Barbara De Angelis



            “If you don’t think a small act can make a difference, try going to sleep with a mosquito in the room.”—Julie Foudy


Who doesn’t love a short get-away? Therefore, when John, my husband of nearly 30 years, surprised me by suggesting we take a short trip during our long weekend over President’s Day holiday, I was all in.  We debated the merits of various locations especially with regards to drive time.  The plan would be to leave immediately after work on Friday and return home on Sunday.  While not a long time, it would at least allow us an opportunity to take a break from the every day routine!  Ultimately, we settled on heading to Charleston, WV


Although only a short drive, around an hour or so from our home, it turned out to be the perfect distance as I was NOT ready to go immediately after work as originally planned.  Instead, we ran home after work to pack up for our short escape. Still, we made it to Charleston by 6:00 pm, and were soon walking from our hotel towards Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille for dinner.  Aw, but I am getting ahead of myself!


Four Points by Sheraton was our hotel of choice for this weekend adventure.   We stayed at this hotel on a previous trip in August on a spur-of-the-moment extension of a trip that was mostly spent in Alderson/Lewisburg, WV area.   It was purely by accident that we discovered this gem of a place as the hotel in which we have often stayed on previous trips was booked solid.  In fact, we had never before noticed Four Points. Looking back now, I don’t how we missed it.


Located on Kanawha Boulevard overlooking the beautiful Haddad Riverfront Park, it’s bike/walk/run trail, and the Kanawha River; Four Points is within walking distance of great restaurants, shopping, as well as local events.  The hotel itself is warm and inviting, allowing guests to immediately feel at ease.  The lobby is open and offers a variety gathering spaces as well as easy access to the hotel’s bar and restaurant, Riverside Cafe.  Just off the lobby is the 24-hour access fitness center.  Additionally, the rooms are nice, spacious, and very clean with extremely comfortable beds.  While there are nice amenities that come with the rooms, it is the staff that brought us back!


Various images from inside Four Point Lobby–there are so many places to gather in small groups or as quiet couples.

Cindy Bagwell, Director of Operations at this Four Points location is the quintessential hostess.  She can be spotted at all hours of the day chatting with guests, joking around with staff, and taking care of the needs of both guests and rooms.  In fact, Bagwell, who remembered us from our previous visit, made it a point to take time each day to talk with us. Her ease, grace, and humility seem to overflow onto the staff as well.


Cindy Bagwell, right, is Director of Operations at Four Points, Charleston, but we think of her as Queen of hospitality!


Gina, Bruce, Kamilah (aka Mimi), and Sue were just a few of the Four Point staff that took time to get to know John and me. Conversations with this staff were such friendly exchanges with a genuine desire to get to know us and help us in any way they could.  From recommending food or wine on their menu to ensuring we had enough coffee and bottled water in our room, from giving John advice about sites to see on an upcoming conference trip to Chicago to chatting with me about yoga teacher training, we felt as if we were part of their work-site family!  In fact, we have already planned a return trip when the weather is hopefully warmer and more accommodating to explore the Haddad Riverfront Park area.


Pictured here:  Notes from “Mimi” regarding places to visit in Chicago; fitness center–complete with weights, yoga mats, exercise bands; and cardio equipment; Riverside Cafe; wine recommendation from Mimi; ballroom currently displaying the watercolor works by a local artist; and, this hotel offers recycling bins throughout its public spaces and private room.

Still, we cannot complain about the weather for the weekend of our stay.  After a week of rain, clouds, and more clouds, we were more than pleased to enjoy rain-free evenings on both Friday and Saturday.  In fact, the sunshine was abundant all day Saturday, making the temperatures hovering in the 40s feel like a balmy spring day, well, almost! Thus, we did not drive once during our entire stay until it was time to leave—which we loved!


We ate breakfast both mornings in the hotel’s restaurant, Riverside Café.  In fact, our meal Saturday morning was so good; John and I ordered the exact same meal the following day!   John enjoyed the Farmer’s Bowl featuring two homemade biscuits, freshly scrambled eggs covered with made-from-scratch sausage gravy. It smelled and looked amazing! I kept it simple and savored their steel-cut oats with raisins, slivered almonds, and brown sugar.  As we enjoyed our late breakfast each morning after working out the Fitness Center, we took just as much pleasure in our conversations with the staff during this time!  In fact, we lingered a bit longer in the lobby after breakfast to enjoy coffee, relax, read, and interact with staff.


Our breakfast was so good, we had to order the same thing each morning!


As previously mentioned, we walked to Adelphia Sports Bar and Grille offering traditional “Greek and classic American fare.”  Their menu offerings are varied and wide encompassing.  From Greek nachos to spicy wings; from a Greek salad to a Chef salad; from grilled salmon to Souvlaki; from Gyros to sandwiches; the menu at Adelphia is sure to have something to please every taste.  The staff was super-friendly, including our waitress/bar-tender, Brittany, who actually remembered us from our visit in August. With a super casual, fun atmosphere, this is the place to go, especially for TV sports viewing as there a numerous large screen TVs throughout the dining space.




Another favorite Charleston eatery of ours is Pies and Pints.  Boasting the second ever location of this restaurant, it is also within walking distance of Four Points.  In fact, it is located right beside Adelphia as both are situated amidst cute local cafés, art galleries, a bookstore, and other local shops.  Pies and Pints make a one-of-kind pizza and offer many gluten-free options—including pizza!  Their salads are delicious and filled with abundant goodness!  Further, they offer a unique twist on nachos, wings, sandwiches (and yes, there is a gluten-free bread option!), and even pizza skins.  As their name indicates, they also offer a wide-ranging option of beers as well as wines. On this past visit, Alison was our waitress.  Like our previous visits to this establishment, Alison was quite friendly, good at making recommendations, and attentive to the needs of her customers.  If you love pizza, then Pies and Pints is a must-visit place when in Charleston.


Pies and Pints is located beside another one of our favorite places, Taylor Books.  It is also across the street from Ellen’s, a local ice cream shop; and, it is just down the street from Rock City Cake Company.

All in all, John and I thoroughly enjoyed our short excursion.  We didn’t have to travel far; and, once parked in the hotel’s lot, we never had to drive during our stay.  I enjoyed a few hours of shopping on Saturday afternoon at the Charleston Town Center, which was less than a five-minute walk.  Our room had a beautiful view of the river, and the hotel accommodations and staff allowed John and I to have equal parts of rest and fun. Plus, I can’t help but think all of the walking, fresh air, and sunshine also added to our restoration.  In case you can’t tell, Dear Reader, John and I highly recommend you consider a weekend get-away that is not too far from home in Charleston, WV.  And if you stay at the Four Points, tell them Steph Simply sent you!







Lewisburg Dining: Feed your Inner-Foodie

           “Eat and sip your way through downtown morning, noon, and night . . .

Plan your food adventure for any time of the day.”—

Author’s Note:  This began as one piece, but quickly became too long!  Therefore, this is part two of a three-part travel series, once more featuring the Greenbrier Valley area of WV.  In the first part, I focused more on the abundant outdoor attractions, especially those of C B Ranch. During this second piece, I will feature the wide array of dining experiences that can be enjoyed while visiting Lewisburg.  Finally, next week, I will offer snapshots of what can be discovered along the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway.

           “Hi! Welcome back!  How have you been?”

           I was a bit taken aback.  As my brain immediately recognized her face from our previous visit at the end of summer, my thoughts kept swirling as I tried to recall her name.  Furthermore, how on earth did she remember us with as many guests as they must serve daily? Nonetheless, after engaging in a few minutes of pleasant conversation with both her (I think her name is Paige.) and Annie, FOH manager, John, my husband, and I knew we made the right choice by deciding to kick off our dining adventures in Lewisburg, WV at Hill and Holler Pizza.

           While we had been to Hill and Holler on our previous trip, the food, staff, and atmosphere at Hill and Holler is wonderful; therefore, we had to visit again—especially since they offer gluten-free pizza with their own house made crust that actually tastes delicious!  With 16 beers on tap, Greenbrier trained chef and manager, Todd Wagner, and a menu that is way more than pizza; including homemade ice cream, house-smoked wings, crab cakes, and freshly plated salads, Hill and Holler is not your usual pizza joint. It is eclectic, hip, and possesses bistro flair.  Plus, it possesses one of the largest stages in town for regular musical offerings.




Garden salad for me (top); and a Caesar salad (bottom) for John.  Gluten-free veggie pizza for me (left); and Pepperoni and sausage with extra cheese pizza for John (right).


           Meanwhile, back at the tranquil setting of C B Ranch, where we were staying, John began to pore through Trip Advisor as well as local web sites in search of our next Lewisburg food experiences.  Honestly, it was hard to choose as there are so many interesting and varied offerings in the Lewisburg area. John, who is ever conscious of the fact that I have celiac disease and am not a big meat eater, read menu after menu in an attempt to find just the right places.



CB Ranch, Lewisburg, WV

           There are several key points that make the Lewisburg food scene so darn good.  To begin, the Lewisburg area possesses a local distillery, brewery, and cidery; and after much conversation at numerous local establishments, they all agree it is the fresh, clean taste of the locally available spring-fed mountain water that contributes to the success of those local businesses. Additionally, Lewisburg is in the heart of the Greenbrier Valley surrounded by a plethora of farms. Thus, most Lewisburg dining establishments feature numerous locally raised ingredients on their menu. Which brings me to my final point, while there are a few restaurant chains in the Lewisburg area, most restaurants and food venues are locally owned/operated; and, most importantly, all of these businesses seem to support one another.

           Our next dining adventure occurred at Del sol Cantina and Grille.  Jamie, our waitress and bartender, spent a large time discussing all the menu options available at Del sol, which is varied and wide.  From house made pizza to their version of hamburgers, and from fresh seafood dishes to traditional Latin fair, this menu offers a wide range of tasting options.  In the end, Jamie recommended the Veggie Bowl for me and Pork Enchiladas for John. Plus, we also sampled the their tortilla chips served with two house made sides.  I chose salsa, and John chose Salsa De Queso. All told, our meals, service, and atmosphere were excellent, and I have no problem recommending this tasty restaurant.




Chips with salsa and queso (top); Veggie Bowl for me (bottom); Pork Enchiladas for John; Jamie, our super helpful/friendly waitress/bar-tender at Del Sol Cantina.


           Retro Donuts was the location of our next food foray.  Situated about 5-10 minutes outside of downtown Lewisburg, this diner definitely offers more than your typical donut shop.  Not only does Retro Donuts offer freshly made donuts and pastries, (Oh boy, did they ever look good!), but it also features organic/fair trade coffees, teas, and espresso, unique breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and homemade soups and salads, with both vegetarian and gluten-free options available! Plus, it is all served up in a 60s diner retro theme!  Even the on-going background music is from the 60s, adding to the dining experience. Once discovered, we ended up visiting Retro Donuts twice during our stay. John enjoyed their donuts (of course!) as well as two different breakfast-style sandwiches. I enjoyed their cappuccino as well as a breakfast bowl one morning and their house-made granola with fresh berries and nonfat Greek yogurt on another.  As two visits indicates, I highly recommend Retro Donuts for efficient service, amusing atmosphere, and quality food!




Retro food fare . . .Harvest bowl with house made cappuccino (Top Right); jelly donut with hot cup of free trade, organic black coffee; (Top Left) the classic BLT (Bottom R); House made Granola Parfait; (Center); and Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Sandwich served on their world famous Donut Bun!


           Next up for us was a visit to The Asylum. Also located in downtown Lewisburg, The Asylum offers a unique and eclectic menu along with numerous craft beers and spirits.  The atmosphere is casual and cool with a large stone fireplace, leather couches/chairs, abundant tables, large bar, numerous large screen TVs, and multiple levels of sitting areas.  Yet, like all the other Lewisburg establishments, it was the food that made us want to visit again. John and I started off with a basket of their House Fried Potato Chips served Sizzling Sriracha style.  Next, I enjoyed their fresh house salad with house made dressing. Finally, John savored the oversized Pork BBQ sandwich with a side of homemade Mac-n-cheese; while I enjoyed their house made (gluten-free) black bean burger sans bun and served with fresh veggies and hummus. Yes, this is certainly another new favorite eatery that I highly recommend!



Images from the Asylum, open seven days per week.




Eating at the Asylum:  Sizzling Siracha House Fried Potato Chips; Pork BBQ with a side of house made Mac-n-Cheese; House made gluten-free Black Bean Burger served with fresh veggies and hummus as well as a House side salad.


           We were undecided about our last cuisine expedition until we happened to meet the owner of Retro Donuts, Arthur Forgette. He, along with Debbie Porter, are also the proprietors of The French Goat.  As the name indicates, The French Goat offers traditional cuisine as well as several twists on classic French dishes. Located in an attractively decorated house, the dining and bar areas are intimate, elegant, and comfortable.  Staff members go out of their way to ensure that every part of your dining experience is exquisite. Featuring the beautifully prepared and plated foods created by highly trained and much sought-after, Chef Stephen Gustard, The French Goat is a must-do dining experience.  John and I enjoyed being served and spending time with Shawn Huffman, bartender extraordinaire, who like Gustard, spent numerous years working and training at the Greenbrier. The wine and cocktail menu was extensive, and Huffman made perfect recommendations that enhanced our dining experience. We started with a decadent Cheese and Charcuterie Platter with tastes that seemed to melt in your mouth. After consulting with me extensively, Huffman recommended the Tuna Nicoise for dinner, but rather than serve it with the traditional ahi tuna, he suggested perfectly prepared, pan-seared scallops.  Meanwhile, Huffman suggested John try The French Goat twist on the traditional burger. The French Goat offered us a lovely and unique dining experience that I also highly recommend. Additionally, I could not help but notice the French Goat also has Bed and Breakfast! If our dining experience is any indication, I am sure the Bed and Breakfast would be restful and lovely respite.




Images from the French Goat . . .




Extensive Menus from the French Goat . . .




Dining at The French Goat . . . Nicoise Salad with scallops (Top right); The perfect red wine (Top Center) as suggested by Shawn Huffman (Top Left); Cheese and Charcuterie Platter (Bottom Left); and French Goat Hamburger


           Overall, Lewisburg, WV offers numerous choices to feed your inner-foodie! Unfortunately, on this visit, we were unable to revisit Stardust Café, Thunderbird Tacos, and the Irish Pub, but rest assured they are quite spectacular.  Additionally, we did spend a brief time in both The Wild Bean as well as Blackwell Catering, in which I, unbelievably, found a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie sealed in cellophane wrap to prevent cross contamination. The offerings in both eateries looked scrumptious!  Likewise, we heard great things about Amy’s Cakes and Cones as well as Corn and Flour, but due to my celiac,  we did not visit either one. Finally, we still have not yet visited General Lewis Inn, The Livery, The Market, as well as Food and Friends. Hmm . . . does this mean another trip on the horizon?






La Famiglia–A Place to Call Home

           “It’s the nature of Italians to live life with a positive tone and to celebrate the invitations that come along in life. Italian food is so conducive to all of that.”—Lidia Bastianich



Caroline, Courtney, and **Emily–three of the friendly faces at La Famiglia.      **Emily has since left La Famiglia in order to focus on her studies at MU Medical School!


         “Hi Mrs. Hill!  We’ve got seats for you!”  The young lady exclaims as we pass her.  Her name is Caroline, and she is one of the many staff members at La Famiglia, 1327 6th Avenue in Huntington, WV, who makes John, my husband, and me feel right at home.  Caroline’s face glistens in the evening sun as she rushes about taking care of the outside patio customers.

           Entering through the front door, John and I are further greeted by Courtney and Selena, the latter of whom also happens to be one of my former Kindergarten students from what seems like a lifetime ago.



Entrance to La Famiglia’s beautiful private event room–ready to book your next special event.


           “Hi guys! How are you?” greets Selena.

           “I’m going to check right now and see if the guys have gluten-free pasta in the back for you Mrs. Hill,” adds Courtney as she hustles away and disappears into the kitchen area.

           “Hi! Mrs. Hill.  How’s Maddie? I feel like I haven’t seen her in forever!” greets and asks another former, but much more recent, student named Sophie.

           “Hi guys, good to see you!” gently and softly adds one of John’s former students, Hayley.

           “Hey! Hi again!” chimes in Sam, a fairly new waitress with a youthful grin.


Tyler and Emily are ready to serve drinks from behind the bar.


           As the evening sun made its westward descent casting a warm, ripened- peach-hued glow overhead during this recent visit, John and I enjoyed talking with former and current students and/or their parents, fellow staff and/or church members, and even Rev. Monsignor Dean Borgmeyer, our parish pastor, before, during, and after our scrumptious dinner. Additionally, La Famiglia owner Ralph Hagy, and his sons, Joe and Jordan, each spent time, not only talking with us, but also making their rounds throughout the restaurant conversing with all of their customers.  This is one of the reasons why dining at La Famiglia has the feel of eating at home with extended family and friends; and, it is that very atmosphere, as well as made-from scratch food, that keeps “mi famiglia,” my family, returning again and again.



The interior and exterior of La Famiglia is comfortable and inviting.  Just look at that porch swing!


           Of course, it doesn’t hurt that La Famiglia is located directly across from the school in which John and I teach as well as our home church, St. Joseph Catholic School and St. Joseph Catholic Church respectively.   Since John and I tend to work late on Friday evenings, it’s not unusual for us to walk directly from school to the restaurant where we know our end-of-the workweek-fatigue will be assuaged with made-from scratch food—including the pasta, sauce, pizza, and yes, cheese, as well as gregarious conversation and a wide variety of appealing “adult beverages,” including house crafted specials, such as limoncello and figcello to name a few.



Jordan, Ralph, and Joe Hagy are seen most nights circulating among customers ensuring they feel at home and welcome!


           While I was already well aware of how very much my family enjoys dining at La Famiglia, I fell even more in-love with it after experiencing a sneak-peak behind the scenes!!  Ralph, Ramon, and staff invited me to not only take pictures of their wood-fired oven and kitchen area as the staff recovered from a weekday lunch rush and prepared for the dinner crowd, but also to observe the cheese-making process.  I was pumped to say the least!



Check out the wood-fired oven and busy kitchen!         Ramon Urbaez gets the water hot for the curds!


           Arriving around 3:30 one afternoon, I found the dining area abandoned, except for one lone salad and water sitting on the bar.  (Later, I would learn it was Ralph’s lunch for which he did not have time to eat.) As I walked toward the kitchen, I could hear Ralph talking.  Rounding the corner, I watched as Ralph deftly navigated between a call on a cell phone and a call on the restaurant phone. I could tell from the conversations that both calls were regarding acquiring fresh ingredients for the restaurant’s current menu and upcoming weekend specials.

           Across from him was a box chock full of fresh produce that Ralph later explained to me had just arrived from a nearby WV farm-based business.  In return, Ralph was sending the farm-business a few products from his restaurant to use and sell. Ralph explained that sometimes the barter system was still the best way for local businesses to help one another.  


Garden fresh produce at La Famiglia!


           Meanwhile, as Ralph talked, water was being heated over a stove in an enormous pot, seemingly big enough to bathe a large dog, to a precise temperature in order to make fresh cheese. Nearby, was another large pot filled with salted curds ready to be made into fresh mozzarella cheese.  Ralph explained that the staff goes through the cheese making process nearly every business day! The water must be heated between 160-180 degrees in order to create the best consistency and bring out the most flavor. Once Ramon stated the temperature was correct, both men went to work.



Salted curds await to have hot water poured over them in order to make fresh mozzarella balls.  Two pans of ice water baths await to cool the fresh cheese.  Additionally, a paddle is ready to help stir these curds along!


           Gloves were donned, due to the high temperature of the water, curds were dropped in the water, and Ramon began to work his magic on the curds using a large wooden paddle that looked very much like a paddle used to maneuver a canoe.  Ralph was at the ready holding the pot steady. It was hot work that Ramon said felt, “really good to do in the winter, but not so much in the summer.”



Ralph pours the hot water over the curds as Ramon is at the ready with the paddle.


           Once the correct consistency had been reached, both men plunged their gloved hands into the hot water in order to knead and form fresh, warm mozzarella balls between the size of a baseball and softball.  Each of these freshly formed mounds was then placed on a large metal baking sheet to cool.



As the cheese begins to bind and reach the right consistency, Ralph and Ramon begin making the fresh balls of mozzarella.


           Ralph was kind enough to allow me to taste a bit of the warm, ooey-gooeyness.  Wow! Did my taste buds ever light up and dance a mambo in my mouth. I tried to imagine, as Ralph suggested, how good the warm cheese would taste if drizzled with a bit of quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil served up with fresh garden basil and tomatoes.  Oh my! No wonder La Famiglia’s Fresh Caprese Platter and Margherita pizzas are two of their biggest sellers in the summer!



Margherita Pizza, Caprese Capri, and Caprese Platter are three dishes at La Famiglia that feature their daily-made, fresh mozzarella cheese!












           Watching the intense focus that went into their cheese making, I could only imagine the attention to detail that goes into each of their made-from-scratch menu items and weekly specials.  In fact, Ralph further explained to me that they make all of their pasta and pizza dough fresh from flour imported from Italy. Additionally, I was privy to see the first class, organic meats and tomato products they purchase from an Italian wholesaler. Clearly the restaurant does not skimp on quality when it comes to the ingredients for their menu items. No wonder my family feels like we are sitting down to a homemade meal when we go to La Famiglia, because we are!



Fresh, quality meats from an Italian wholesaler. 


           Whether you are dining in or taking out, the next time you want a home cooked, family meal that is truly made-from-scratch from fresh whole food ingredients, but don’t have the time or energy to cook, give La Famiglia a try!   From hand-cut steaks to fall-off the-bone, slow-cooked ribs; from fresh, tasty salads and soups to made-from scratch pasta and pizza; from grilled-to-perfection fish to savory appetizers, including their family recipe for hand rolled meatballs; and from one-of-a-kind gelatos to over-stuffed cannolis, and-oh-so-much more, you are sure to walk away from La Famiglia feeling like a well-fed part of their family!

           From my home to yours, I wish you healthy, happy, and homemade meals!


Appealing appetizers, including Diavolo Horn . . .



Farm-fresh salads . . .



Fall-off-the-bone Diavolo Ribs and Short-rib Dinner Special . . .






Fill-your-mouth-with-comfort Lasagna Calabrese  . . .



Unique seasonal specials, i.e. stuffed, grilled eggplant . . .



Phenomenal made-from-scratch (including the crust) wood-fired pizza . . .



Perfectly cooked to your request, hand-cut steaks and other weekend specials . . .



Steaming platters of made-from-scratch-pasta—notice how one platter fogged my camera lens!  (with gluten-free option available) . . .



Unique and homemade desserts . . .


Christopher’s Eats: An Excellent Local Eatery with Outstanding Service and Staff

           “A great restaurant is one that just makes you feel like you’re not sure whether you went out or you came home and confuses you.  If it can do both of those things at the same time, you’re hooked.”—Danny Meyer

           If you know me, you know I enjoy cooking. Preparing delicious food from scratch is, to me, a creative and rewarding process—not to mention healthy and budget friendly.  Finding a recipe with potential, allowing complete absorption of my senses as I work with the recipe, giving it my own unique twist, serving it to loved ones, and seeing a smile spread across their face after the first bite, is an endeavor worth pursuing in my mind.  

           However, in world where schedules are often overbooked, and people are frequently overextended, it is nice to have a healthy and delicious alternative for meals that isn’t fast food.  A place where food is prepared from scratch with a similar sense of adventure and self-expression that I often feel cooking; and, where the staff takes time to know you by name. This is not an easy request, especially for me, as I have to eat gluten free due to celiac disease; and, I choose to eat mostly plant based.  (In other words, I rarely eat meat.) Meanwhile, my daughter, Maddie, and husband, John, have their own individual taste preferences; thus not any ol’ restaurant will do!




When dining out, I want my family to eat made-from-scratch real food such as these dishes prepared at Christopher’s Eats.

           One of our long established go-to restaurants is Christopher’s Eats, located on US RT 60 across from the semi-notorious pink elephant.  We discovered Christopher’s Eats several years ago when our daughter kept us rather busy with sports, especially soccer. A large portion of her games, and nearly all of the practices, were held at the YMCA Kennedy Center—just a hop, skip, and jump away from US. Rt 60. Therefore, it became our habit, 2-4 times per month, to either dine-in CE’s, as we love to call it, or dash-in for a quick to-go order for dinner.




The evening shines brightly into the bar and dining areas of Christopher’s Eats.           

          Christopher’s Eats consistently serves good, made-from-scratch meals.  From freshly baked flatbreads in their coal-fired oven to a wide-array of traditional and unique appetizers; from phenomenal fresh vegetable sides to creamy Mac n’ cheese and grilled meats to cooked perfection; from original bowl dishes to burgers, tacos, and other handhelds; and, from a wide array of succulent salads to decadent desserts; Christopher’s Eats has something for everyone!  




Both the dinner menu and lunch menu offer a wide-variety of food options–from the ultra-healthy to the ultra-splurge, and everything in between!



Jason Ball is at the ready at Coal-fired oven to create a wide-array of flatbread pizzas.




Jason Ball warms up for pizza making!

           Both John and Maddie love CE’s burgers and Mac and cheese.  In fact, their burgers (especially the Pimento and Bacon Burger) as well as their Mac’s cheese is the standard by which John compares when we travel and dine out.  I cannot tell you how many times John has lamented that a burger he ordered elsewhere is not near as tasty as what he can eat at Chris’ Eats. Additionally, he is absolutely crazy about their fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts.  




Fish tacos and sautéed shaved Brussel’s sprouts as well as Pimento and Bacon Cheeseburger served with a side of good ol’ Mac n Cheese are two of John’s favorite dishes a CE’s.

          Then again, John also loves their Black Bean and Corn Cakes as well as their Coal Fired Wings from the appetizer section of their menu.  We both love their Pulled Pork Nachos—although I rarely order them because of the meat and cheeses– but boy, are they ever good!! We have acquaintances that love the Coal Fired Olives, and others who love Pimento Cheese Fries or Sweet Tot Nachos.  Other diners with whom we have spoken, recommend all versions of the Seared Tuna—from appetizer version, to dinner portion, or served on salad. We keep it simple and order truffle fries as our appetizer even though they are technically a side.



Truffle fries are our favorite side that we often order as an appetizer, but tuna is a popular item with many of Chris’ Eats customers.


           Personally speaking, I love their bowls!  My two favorite bowls are the Veggie Stir-Fry and the Roasted Fennel Ragout.  The staff allows me to make tweaks to these dishes to adapt to my dietary needs and preferences.  (Oh my goodness, I am getting hungry just writing about them!) That said, the other bowls, look delicious as well; however, they don’t lend themselves as easily for adaptation for someone who eats gluten-free and mostly vegetarian.




Roasted Fennel Ragout, pictured here with asparagus and Veggie- Stir Fry are two of my favorite dishes at Christopher’s Eats.        

            Another personal favorite on their menu is the “pick three sides” option from which to make a meal.  (I’ve even added a fourth for a small upcharge.) Their vegetables are cooked and seasoned to perfection, including items such as Collard Greens, and their current offering of grilled asparagus!  The potato sides are also amazing—including Roasted Fingerling Sweet potatoes and Red-Skinned Mashed potatoes. Oh, and while these aren’t vegetables, have I mentioned their yummy melt-in-your-mouth fried apples?

           Additionally, I cannot say enough about their salads. I love the variety of salads as well as the fact that I can order most of their salads in two sizes.  Furthermore, for those eating a low-carb diet, CE’s offers several grilled meat options to top salads, including chicken, steak, salmon, shrimp, and tuna. Plus, all of their dressings are freshly made, and oh-so-beyond tasty!




          Look at these beautifully plated salads as well as a delectable looking entree!


 While I have not personally eaten these, I have dined at Chris’ Eats enough to see the wide variety of beautifully plated meat-based entrees and savory soups.  Given how gorgeously and generously prepared the entrees are served; I sometimes wish I were more of a meat eater. John has eaten the ten-ounce pork chop—despite the fact he is not, per se, a pork-chop kind of guy.  However, after John talked with a man who ordered the pork chop, and then listened to him describe in great detail how wonderfully it tasted, John had to order it and loved it!!!




           Check out these scrumptious looking main dishes so stunningly presented!


Sadly, I cannot eat their desserts as Chris’ Eats usually offers a cheesecake selection of the day.  Let me just say though, they look unbelievably good. I feel pangs in my heart each time I see one go by me while dining there (sigh).




Oh how I wish I could eat these tempting, tasty looking desserts!


           Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention the exceedingly friendly staff at Christopher’s Eats.  They offer personal and thoughtful service, and pay attention to the details. Furthermore, I love that they make an effort to get to know their customers. In fact, nearly every time we visit, Chef Christopher Dixon, his wife (a manager and fellow yogi), Laura Dixon, or one of their other management staff, make a point to come around to greet customers and ensure quality service and food.  And, frankly, bottom line—even with their phenomenal food, if they did not have such outstanding staff and owners, we would not return as often as we do! CE’s staff makes it worth the 20-30 minute drive from Chesapeake, Ohio!




The next time you’re craving the comforts of good food, quality beverages, and a staff that caters to their customers, give Chris’ Eats a try; and tell them, Steph Simply sent you!  


P.S.  Thank you Christopher’s Eats for allowing me to use a few of your pictures from Instagram as well as take pictures during the dinner rush!



Time with family at Christopher’s Eats.           


Morgantown, WV 2018 Visit Offers a Fun Experience

           “Whether you’re in town for a conference at the Waterfront Place Hotel, attending a WVU football or basketball game, or exploring the great outdoors, Morgantown is a city that has something for everyone!”—

        “I like spending time with my husband.”—Lara Stone

        We had been visiting with our daughter in the Wheeling/Bethany, WV area, but it was Monday, and she was returning to her classes and studies.  However, my husband, John, and I were still on spring break from the school in which we teach, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV. Therefore, we decided to spend a few more days together in a slightly different area of WV.




          During the winter months, John helped chaperone students from our school to a Latin conference and competition in Morgantown, WV.  It is held annually at Waterfront Place. This beautiful hotel, located in the Wharf District, boasts a full-service Bar & Restaurant called Bourbon Prime, a Starbucks, spa services, and a state-of-the-art fitness center to name a few of the amenities.  It also overlooks the Monongahela River and the Caperton Trail, a six mile bike and walking/running path. Plus, as John was able to see on his most recent Latin trip, Marriott has recently redesigned it, and he was eager for me to see it. Therefore, we decided to visit it for a couple of days.


Waterfront Place overlooks Caperton Path and the Monongahela River.

        Even though it was technically spring, Mother Nature was not particularly inclined to cooperate with spring-style weather.  Instead, John and I “enjoyed” bitter weather that ran the gamut. From sunny and blustery cool on our arrival, to bone-chilling rain the next day, and finally to snow and high winds as we were departing, spring was visible only in the buds of trees and blooms of daffodils during our Morgantown stay.  While we were able to walk to and from eateries, we were always bundled up in layers! Still, the Capteron Trail is a convenient part of the Wharf District winding alongside the Monongahela River. Plus, the Wharf District is an area of revitalization with numerous restaurants, a few retailers, and several professional service offices readily visible on our strolls.






          One restaurant we visited while in Morgantown was called the Iron Horse Tavern. This distinctive eatery specializes in WV craft beer and offers unique pub fare that was filled with variety.  From appetizers, soups, and salads to from sandwiches, burgers and full traditional dinner fare, John and I both found plenty of options from which to choose as he is the meat-based eater, and I am the plant-based (gluten-free) eater.  Which brings me to an interesting story. . .


Ironhorse Tavern proudly featured WV brews.


          Months ago, I read about something called, the “Impossible Burger,” a product that is 100% plant based.  It supposedly looks, cooks, smells, and tastes just like ground beef. The last I had read about it, this burger was only available in big city locations along the West and East coast.  Therefore, I never imagined I would walk into a WV restaurant and discover it listed as a menu option, and yet it was!

        John and I were curious and asked our waiter/bartender about this item.  He shared with us that he was skeptical too, but tried one when it was first added to the menu.  Once he ate, it not only tasted exactly as described, but also he noticed that he was not bloated like he normally was after eating a traditional burger.  Therefore, he added that all he now eats, when it comes to burgers at the Iron Horse Tavern, is the Impossible Burger. Without thinking twice, I ordered it sans the bun as I have Celiac Disease and should eat gluten-free; and thus, here is the punchline.


The Impossible Burger at Iron Horse Tavern

        I ate the burger.  It was AMAZING! The smell, the taste, and the look reminded me of my Grandmother Helen’s ground chuck hamburgers of over 40 years ago.  John tasted it too. He could not believe it! If he had not known it was a plant-based burger, he stated would have thought it was the read deal!  I ate every delectable morsel, which was accompanied by a side of tasty Brussels Sprouts (without the usual sautéed bacon in which they typically prepare it) and a tasty house salad.  Then, I went back to the hotel to read about this delightful burger discovery.




        Reading online I discover that one of the first ingredients is wheat.  The very thing I am NOT supposed to be eating! All I could do was laugh at myself during this head-slapping moment.  I had not even thought to ask or look-up before ordering! Needless to say, I experienced the side effects the next day; but frankly, I have no regrets.  I’ll never eat one again unless they make it without wheat, but I am glad I had the experience!



        The other restaurant in which we had the pleasure of dining while in Morgantown was Iron Horse Tavern’s sister, Mountain State Brewing Company.  This restaurant is a proud WV establishment with an interesting and one-of-a-kind story that readers should definitely take time to look up either on the company’s web-site or on YouTube.  




          Here is what I most loved about MSBC, I could eat gluten-free and plant based!!!  Not only was there hummus and veggies on their menu, one of our favorite go-to appetizers when we eat a home, but also this restaurant had gluten free buns and/or bread with NO up-charge as well as a gluten-free pizza crust!  I was in shock at having so many gluten-free and plant-based choices. And, yes, for you wheat and meat lovers, there was PLENTY of that! After all, this was founded in WV by a couple of guys! John and I both walked away from this eatery with full bellies, happy hearts, and no nasty side-effects on the following day!


Gluten-free food for me!  Veggie sticks with hummus, Cowboy Caviar with tortilla chips, and a mushroom gluten-free pizza!



Pulled-pork nachos, pepperoni pizza.  John and both had so much food, we each took half of a pizza home, and it made a delicious lunch on the following day!


Zack, our attentive server, at Mountain State Brewing Company


          Back at the hotel, John treated me to a 60-minute massage at the Olexa Salon and Spa located inside of the Waterfront.  Allison Friend, a licensed massage therapist, was delightful, engaging, and gave a massage I will long remember. I highly recommend Ally to any visitors.


Allison Friend, licensed massage therapist, inside the Olexa Salon and Spa at Waterfront Place.

        Additionally, we must recognize the friendly and gregarious Waterfront, Bourbon Prime, and Starbucks staff.  Everyone seemed to go out of his or her way to ensure John and I enjoyed our time in Morgantown. We engaged in conversation with numerous employees as well as visitors throughout the hotel, and we did not experience any negative encounters.  We definitely left with a positive impression, and will likely return for another visit!


Inside Bourbon Prime at Waterfront Place

Next time you’re in Morgantown, try any or all of these places; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!

Looking up at the terrace area of Waterfront Place overlooking the Monongahela River.

Return to Wheeling/Bethany, WV beginning to feel like a second home

            “Every moment I have had with my daughter is precious.”—Cathy Shaffer


            “From the region’s largest trail system, to national schools of excellence, to a reorganized municipal government, the City of Wheeling offers a dynamic environment for you, your family and your business.”—


           We have visited this area so much over the past few years; it is beginning to feel a bit like a second home. Wheeling, WV, with its rich history, wide-ranging geographic layout—including abundant water sources, mountains, hills, and valleys, as well as gracious residents, is a welcoming and inviting city worthy of repeated visits. Furthermore, it located, “down-the-mountain,” as we like to say, from our daughter’s current home-away-from-home, Bethany College—a charming, picturesque institution also chock full of a warm, hospitable population. In fact, we have yet to tire of staying in this area.



Old Main at Bethany College in Bethany, WV on a crisp, cold spring April morning.

This past spring break was no exception! Madelyn, our daughter, had experienced her spring break a few weeks earlier. However, she was unable to come home for it. Instead, she applied for and was accepted into a research internship at West Virginia University. During this time, she called/texted at regular intervals, delighted with both the equipment/facilities she was able to use and/or see as well as overall with the experience.


“Mom, Dad, I saw a $600,000 microscope, but I wasn’t allowed to use it.”


“Today, I was able to use a $150,000 microscope!”


“You wouldn’t believe what I experienced today—a whole virtual experience where it seemed like I was inside a snake, and later, the a human brain. It was so cool!”


On and on her comments came, so we knew the experience was positive for her. Still, we missed seeing her; and, she said, she missed seeing us. Therefore, as John, my husband and I, are both teachers at the same school, St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington, WV, we decided to take advantage of our time off and go see Ms. Maddie.

John, me, and Maddie


While we wish the little town of Bethany had a hotel in which we could stay in order to be closer to campus, we are always happy to stay in nearby Wheeling, a short 30 minute or so drive up the mountain ridge. The scenery is always quite stunning–no matter the season of the year, despite the fact I personally fight carsickness as we wind around the curvaceous roads.


On this visit we stayed in the Wheeling Hampton Inn located on historic National Road, the first highway built entirely with federal funds during Jefferson’s administration.   This comfy and delightful hotel provided an outstanding and accommodating atmosphere for spending time with Maddie and one of her roommates, Tatum Dyar. Assistant General Manager, Taylor J. Smith, went out of his way to ensure our experience was positive, including shuttling us around Wheeling when needed despite the fact we offered to drive.



Hampton Inn in Wheeling, WV located on historic National Road the first federally funded highway dating back to the Jefferson administration.


“No, no, man. We got you. We will take you there, and pick you whenever you call. Don’t use your gas!”


Now, that is service!


Taylor J. Smith, Assistant General Manager, Wheeling Hampton Inn


However, it wasn’t just the shuttle that made our experience so uplifting, it was the way the entire staff went out of their way to welcome John, Maddie, Tatum, and me—even though Maddie and Tatum were not staying overnight in the hotel. Additionally, the breakfast staff was also personal and attentive, including walking around with fresh baked cinnamon rolls for visitors in the morning. That said, the Hampton employees were not the only affable and obliging staff, so were wait staff and cooks in two different Wheeling restaurants and at Bethany College.


Tatum Dyar with Maddie, our daughter


To begin, our family was shuttled, courtesy of Taylor, to and from Ye Olde Alpha, a favorite restaurant. Tatum had never eaten at this local establishment, so we felt we should help her experience the charm of this unique and family owned business. In fact, this business was established in 1932 and offers both a traditional lounge, separate dining area, as well as rooms for private parties. The menu is wide and quite varied, allowing for a wide variety of tastes, American, Mexican, Greek, as well as provides options for meat and veggie-lovers alike. The portions are generous, and our experience with the service has always been positive. This eatery has certainly created return customers out of our family.



Some of our dishes at Ye Olde Alpha in Wheeling, WV.


The following night, Steve, also from the Hampton Inn, shuttled us to and from Wheeling Brewing Company. On this night, we dined with Maddie, Gigs Ashton, Amy Van Horn, and her daughter, Eden. This was our second visit to this quaint establishment that prides itself on, “Keepin’ it local.”   In fact, WBC has more than 20 local partnerships from Fiestaware in Newell, WV to HerBold Organic Farms; from Centre Market Bakery to the Ukrainian Catholic Church; and from Miklas Meat Market to Susan’s Antiques and Décor, to name a few.  This restaurant is a one-of-a-kind experience. The foods are fresh, the menu is eclectic, and the service is excellent. Additionally, on two separate visits (the first time was in the fall of 2017), the kitchen went out of their way with one of their menu items, Kimchi Boat, to tweak the ingredients in order to ensure the dish was gluten-free for me; and, I personally love their Detox Salad and Vegetarian Board—YUM! Still, you do not have to be a plant-based eater to enjoy this eatery. They offer plenty of traditional burgers, sandwiches, nachos, and pizzas to satisfy the pickiest eater!







A few of our delightful meals from Wheeling Brewing Company.


John, me, Maddie, Amy VanHorn with her daughter, Eden Rice, and Gigs Ashton.


Finally, we cannot say enough about Ms. Linda and Bethany College Dining Service, including the on-campus coffee shop, The Hub. Ms. Linda, an employee at Bethany, I believe, for over 40 years, is the campus guardian of students. All students seem to know her by name, and she knows them as well. She welcomed John and I with hugs and served up awesome coffee on the golden, but very chilly spring day. The following day we enjoyed brunch with Maddie and Tatum in the Dining Hall. Wow! What an establishment—so many choices—including, as my daughter proudly pointed out, all types of gluten free bread, fresh vegetables, salads, and fruit. Of course, there was the traditional hot meal line as well as made-to-order paninis, sandwiches, salads, pizza, and omelets!




All in all, we are so pleased our daughter has chosen to attend Bethany College. We enjoy this unique locale, its friendly people, and beautiful scenery. More importantly, we appreciate the individualized education our daughter is receiving, the scholarship and internship opportunities available to her, and the phenomenal friends, staff, and professors that surround her. Even though we know a college education offers personal and academic challenges, as parents we feel comforted in knowing our daughter is in good hands. We look forward to visiting her again and again over the next three to four years!


The next you’re in the Wheeling/Bethany area, please visit any or all of these fine establishments; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!  Safe travels!


P.S. Thank you, Maddie and friends, for making us feel at home during our visit!!!




79105626-7650-4c2c-9c6a-9277528f2fa1It’s nice to see college hasn’t taken away Maddie’s sense of humor!!! 

First Visit to see our daughter at Bethany College and Wheeling, WV area

            “The oldest private college in the state (WV)—where traditions of academic excellence and lifelong learning are still the hallmarks of the Bethany experience.”—Bethany College website


Leaves crunching underfoot, sun light playing hide and seek with clouds of cream, cold air rudely stinging cheeks and uncovered hands, lungs and legs burned with the effort of walking up a steep hill, and not a soul to be seen. We had been here before, but this visit was strikingly different. Young co-eds did not descend upon us in persuasive greeting; there was not an influential keynote speaker awaiting, not only our arrival, but also for others like us; and, not a single sign of swag, banners, or other outwards signs of bravado lining our walk. Instead, our initial greeting was the random and sparse chirpings of the remaining songbirds that had not traveled south to warmer environs. And yet, we were not alarmed, but rather, reassured on this peaceful Saturday morning.

Pausing to snap pictures here and there along our ascent, we took in our surroundings. From the looks of the leaf-filled paths, we had just missed the peak autumn colors by mere days. The phone weather app that had earlier revealed an air temperature of 19 degrees, now boasted a balmy 28 degrees! Ahead, on the brick lined path, we saw the first sign of life: two girls walking an energetic and enthusiastic small dog. The dog paused upon seeing my husband, John and me. He cocked his head this way and that, as we talked to it in our best doggie-voice. Laughing, we continued walking as the dog jauntily returned to his short-legged step-hop-prance walk.


We were visiting our daughter, Madelyn, at Bethany College for the first time since she became a student. We planned to meet her at the college’s coffee shop, The Hub, but upon entering the shop, it was clear she had not yet arrived. In fact, no one was there except for the lone employee whose name, we soon discovered, was Linda.

The Hub, pictured above, is Bethany’s coffee shop.

Linda greeted us warmly, and upon learning the reason for our visit, asked the name of our daughter. She indeed knew Maddie, and said she was a “sweet girl.” In fact, we would later learn that Linda knew all of “her students” at Bethany. She was in her 49th year of working in the food service industry at Bethany. It was quite clear she loved her job because of the students, and later, as we discovered from several students, they loved Linda.

Linda, pictured with Maddie, and Maddie’s friend, Ben, join us on the couches of The Hub.

I couldn’t help but think that is why Maddie loves Bethany College so much— a school small enough to allow the opportunity to quickly form relationships and bonds, not only with students, but also with professors and staff such as Linda. This notion was confirmed frequently as we encountered and met many of our daughter’s new friends, peers, as well as another staff member, Amy Van Horn, Associate Director of Career and Professional Development, who, along with her daughter, Eden, has taken Maddie under their wings, giving her a local family base—something we greatly appreciate! Nearly every person to whom our daughter introduced us, we ended up parting in a hug of farewell!


Maddie and Eden Rice seated together.

Additionally, we experienced similar positive with encounters off-campus, albeit without hugs, in the nearby town of Wheeling. To begin, the staff at the Highlands’ Hampton was just as accommodating, friendly, and engaging as on previous visits. Each time we stay there, we feel as home as one can feel in a hotel. Furthermore, our dining experiences over a two-night stay further reinforced the genuinely genial nature of Wheeling residents.


On our first night in town, Maddie and Eden, trekked down “Bethany mountain,” as I have come to think of it, and met us at the Hampton in order for us treat them to a dinner at a local favorite eatery, Ye Olde Alpha Restaurant and Tavern—a Wheeling, WV Landmark Restaurant. Its website describes Ye Olde Alpha “as a no-nonsense establishment offering meat-centric meals along with other classic American dishes and beer.” Our waitress for the evening was Jesse, and as busy as Jesse was serving numerous patrons, she remained attentive, upbeat, patient with our questions, and offered ordering tips for our meals. In the end, Maddie and Eden noshed on oversized, juicy burgers, fixed to their personal taste preference along with a mound of fries. John enjoyed a nightly special sausage sandwich also served with a heaping over plate of fries. Meanwhile, I enjoyed their house salad and stuffed banana peppers. It was scrumptious food with fantastic service. We will return!


Maddie, Jesse, our waitress, and Eden Rice at Ye Olde Alpha.

The following evening, after spending the entire day on campus with Maddie, John and I explored another dining spot as Maddie had plans with her sorority sisters. Therefore, we tried another local eatery, Wheeling Brewing Company. Talk about a hidden treasure! This wood-filled, cozy brewpub was also staffed with spirited and warm people.   Fannie and Kylie took care of all of our dining needs, by answering questions, making suggestions, and even going out of their way to ensure my meal was gluten-free. Executive Chef, Ryan Butler, in fact, stepped out the kitchen to discuss meal modifications to ensure my dining safety as I have celiac disease that requires me to avoid consuming foods with wheat, rye, and barley. He even, unbelievably, had Braggs Liquid Aminos on hand to replace soy sauce in my delectable dish, The Kimchi Boat. WBC strives to work with local business to not only cook with local food ingredients, but also serves food in bowls, platters, and cups crafted by local artisans! This was truly a dining event that John and I hope to visit again soon!

Maddie was busy with her sorority sisters on Saturday evening.

While Maddie was hanging out at Alpha Xi house, John and I checked out the scene at Wheeling Brewing Company.  Fannie and Kylie took great care of us!

Of course, what weekend trip would be complete without Sunday brunch? Therefore, I fought my perpetual car-sickness once more as we made our way   ‘round the winding roads back to the top of “Bethany mountain” in order to dine with our daughter and Eden in Bethany College’s newly remodeled and completely renovated cafeteria. This cafeteria is not the typical college cafeteria I experienced back in the dark ages of the 1980s. Operated by the same company that runs Eat ‘n Park, this cafeteria featured locally sourced foods, a made-to-order omelet station, as well as copious varieties of fresh vegetables, fruits, and salads. Additionally, there was a sandwich bar, salad bar, freshly made pizza stand, traditional hot-dish-of the day section, drink station, and ice cream/dessert station. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my taste buds! With all of those food choices, I am betting the freshman fifteen is more than a college myth a Bethany!

All in all, John and I find both Bethany College and the Wheeling area an excellent location for a weekend getaway. We would highly recommend to others—which is a good thing since it looks like it will be our home-away-from-home for many years to come!


P.S. Currently, from November 10-January 1, it is also the home of Olgebay Winter Festival of Lights—a festive display of lights John and I also enjoyed as we made our down the mountain towards Wheeling on Saturday evening.



Birthday Weekend in Cincinnati

            “If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later.”—Mark Twain


“Steph, would you be interested in going out-of-town for your birthday? I was thinking we could go somewhere that has an Apple Store. You could talk to them in person about the best product for you and your blog-work.” John, my husband of 28 years, was making this suggestion with great sincerity.


Hmm . . . that was certainly a thought! My laptop had been limping along for the past two years. It needed plugged-in at all times, and I spent more time watching the spinning beach ball of death, than I did actually typing.   One thing was certain, it taught me patience; however, portability and increased speed would be exceptionally nice. Plus, what’s not to love about a weekend trip?


Thus, after debating the pros and cons of the few nearby cities that had an Apple Store, we finally settled on Cincinnati. It was a great decision! The weather could not have been more perfect, and we were able to combine business with pleasure.


We left for Cincinnati around 3:30. John drove along OH 73 and OH 32 as we zoomed past the beautiful countryside in transition from summer to fall. Golden and purple flowers/weeds dotted the landscape as the evening sunshine glinted.


Arriving at the Kenwood Hampton Inn, mere minutes from the Kenwood Town Center, which housed the Apple Store, around 6:30, John suggested we head to dinner. Thus, when asked, Amber, the affable and thoughtful Hampton employee, suggested a restaurant within walking distance, Cooper’s Hawk. She shared that a plethora of Hampton clients reported positive dining experiences. As she described the varied menu, we were sold.

Unfortunately, it was Friday evening in Cincinnati and nearly 7:00. Walking toward the restaurant, we could espy copious customers walking into this sleek winery and restaurant. Entering, we encountered wall-to-wall customers. Ultimately, this restaurant was booked with numerous reservations, and we would be facing an hour and half wait. We were too tired for this length of wait, so we decided to trek elsewhere.


Ultimately, we walked a tad bit farther to a funky, Austin-based Tex-Mex restaurant, Chuy’s. It ended up being a serendipitous choice! Despite the waiting crowd, we were immediately able to find seats at the bar—which worked for us as we have learned that whether consuming a favorite adult beverage or water, the bar is typically the best place to receive attentive service.

Excellent service was indeed part of our dinner experience at Chuy’s. The vibe was full-on positive energy, especially for dog-lovers as the eclectic décor was filled with framed paintings and photos of all varieties of dogs! Thin, salty, and crispy tortilla chips were served with fresh tasting salsa alongside a tasty white sauce.

John ordered a warm, creamy cheese dip as an appetizer as we sipped our drinks and washed away the road dirt. For dinner, John noshed on a combination platter in order to sample a wide variety of Chuy’s dishes. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a vegetarian combination dinner served with a side of creamy refried beans and Mexican rice—all of which was topped with a delicious ranchero sauce. Needless to say, we walked back to the Hampton feeling quite full.

The next day, we arrived at the Kenwood Town Center not long after it opened.   I was feeling both excited and hopeful. Arriving this early would ensure prompt service and attention, right? Wrong! This was the first weekend after the launch of the Apple 8 phone. Therefore, it took 45-minutes before I could talk with an employee.


In spite of the wait, a delightful young man named, Kuyuh, helped me.  Apple employees do not work on commission; thus, Kuyuh asked specific questions to help me narrow down my choice to determine the best product for me. Another employee, Rachel, in addition to Kuyuh, helped John and me thoroughly! I cannot say enough about them as they walked me through how to transfer all information from my old laptop to the new one.   We had such an overall positive experience, I would most certainly return to this store for any future Apple products.


My new laptop is much thinner, lighter, and cleaner than my “vintage” 2005/2006 version, it does not have to be plugged in at all times, and no 10+ minutes of the spinning beach ball of death!

In the meantime, John had been in contact with one of his lifelong friends, Steve, who happened to live fairly close to the Hampton in which we were staying. Thus, for dinner, Steve, and his wife, Lila, gave us a lift to one of their local favorite eateries, 50 West, a brewpub about 15-20 minutes away.

We arrived around 7:00, and the place was hopping with customers, mostly family groups. Nonetheless, we were immediately seated in the room just off of the tasting room. Our waitress, Nicole, was attentive and effusive. We started off with delicious appetizers: Pretzels served with Dijon cheddar dip and Pork Belly French Fries. Due to my celiac disease, I was not able to try the pretzels, but they looked amazing, and I was assured they tasted scrumptious. The fries turned out to be new potatoes, topped with Dijon-molasses glazed pork belly, thin slices of pickled granny smith apples, and finished with cheese fondue. As odd of a combination as this sounded, Nicole assured us they were good, and she was right! I especially loved the apple slices!

All four of us had different dishes. Steve devoured the Doom Pedal Sausage served on a heaping pile of polenta. John enjoyed a hot chicken sandwich—which was spicy! Lila dined on the Ham and Cheese sandwich, while I enjoyed Tex-Mex Wedge Salad! Once again, John and I did not go hungry! (Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon one’s perspective, we became so engrossed in our conversation that we forgot to take pictures of our entrees!)


All in all, I experienced a wonderful birthday weekend-get away! The Hampton Inn in which we stayed was comfortable, clean, and staffed with incredibly friendly and attentive people. It was perfectly situated within walking distance of a wide-variety of restaurants, and only a five to ten minute drive away from the Kenwood Town Center! I would highly recommend this area to anyone looking for a weekend getaway!  And, if you decide to visit any of these fine establishments, tell them Steph simply sent you!



Auberge D’Anjou in Petit-Rocher, New Brunswick, Canada

            “Coffee is a language in itself.”—Jackie Chan

It looked charming from the outside. I had been told that it served delicious coffee.


“The two-mile walk required to get here had better be worth the effort,” was all I could think as John and I entered through the beaded front entry.


The scent was heavenly. I was feeling hopeful. Several staff members warmly greeted us in French.


As my husband and I ordered our drinks, mocha for me, plain black coffee for him, I took in the environment. Beautiful and original artwork was tastefully hung throughout the dining area. A piano stood off in a corner area. Tables were arranged thoughtfully.  I noticed a bar area, not in use at the time, was located across from the counter in which food/drinks were ordered.


On my right was a chalkboard menu written in French.  Additionally,  there was also another menu to my left.  In front of me, below the cash register, was a glass case filled with a yummy array of foods–salads, yogurt parfaits, single-serving cakes, mini-pies, slices of quiche, muffins, and so forth.


The young man taking our order from behind the counter, Sebastian, was courteous and quickly switched to speaking English when he realized that we were Americans on vacation and, unfortunately, could not speak French.  In fact, Sebastian began to ask us numerous questions that were genuinely curious. What brought us to New Brunswick? Was this our first time visiting Auberge D’Anjou? Did we like Petit-Rocher? He was most engaging and encouraged us to come visit the café often. In the meantime, he told us to choose where we would like to sit, and he would bring us our coffees when it was ready.


John and I chose seats on the wrap-around veranda. It was a delightful day.  The bluebird sky had captured a few billowy-white clouds. There was a light breeze, and the temperature was quite comfortable, somewhere in the low 70s.   A few other diners were also outside; however, we were there at an in-between mealtime, so there were not many.


Momentarily, Sebastian served us our coffees—each cup freshly made. No cardboard cups and with plastic lids here. Rather, our coffees were served in beautiful, boldly colored mugs that begged for fingers to wrap around them.


My mocha was truly a work of art. Never before had I ever experienced coffee so caringly created and served. I almost felt guilty attempting to sip it, so I waited a moment in order to savor and appreciate the craftwork of the barista.   Later, to my surprise, she apologized for the mocha not turning out as beautifully as she had hoped! PLEEEEASE!!!


John and I sat, sipped our coffee, enjoyed quiet conversation, and soaked up what was shaping up to be a picture-perfect day. Sebastian appeared several times to check on us as well as answer any question we threw at him. When our coffee cups were finally empty, and the caffeine had fully kicked in, John and I continued on our walk around the harbor area of Petit-Rocher—just behind Auberge D’Anjou. In the end, John and I ultimately walked a total of five miles through this quaint, dear town.


Due to this positive experience, I returned, solo, to Auberge D’Anjou two more times during our stay in Petit-Rocher. Both times, I walked to and from the Café soaking in the French atmosphere and charming surroundings of Petit-Rocher. Also, I made it a point to try two different coffees: Cappuccino and a Latte. Much to my pleasant surprise, both of these coffees were just as tasty as my first mocha. Furthermore, both were created so picturesquely, I forced myself, once again,  to sit and savor their image before I began consuming the contents of my mug.


I had hoped to return one evening for dinner as one staff member, Sole, shared the fact that if I would call in advance, the kitchen would prepare a spectacular gluten-free entree, salad, and dessert—just for me. With great detail, Sole described several dinner delights that sounding mouth-wateringly tasty. Unfortunately, it did not work out, and I sadly never made it for dinner. That said, given my positive experience with the care to which the staff pours (pun-intended) into their coffee, I could only imagine how wonderful their food must be.


Therefore, if you are visiting, vacationing, or happen to live near Petit-Rocher, I highly recommend a visit to Auberge D’Anjou. Additionally, they also happen to be an Inn, making it a convenient place to stay and eat! Auberge D’Anjou is centrally located in the heart of town and is only one block away from the Petit-Rocher harbor area. If you stop in, tell them Steph simply sent you!