Naples, Florida, a Great Beach Get Away from it all

           “I like anywhere with a beach.  A beach and warm weather is all I really need.”—Rob Gronkowski

 

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           Author’s Note:  This is part one of a travel focus on Naples, Florida.  This piece solely features overall highlights of the Naples area.  More tourist attractions, including dining points of interest, will follow in another piece.

 

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A beautiful shell I found along Vanderbilt Beach in Naples, FL.

 

           For many people, summer means travel time. Mountains, lakes, and, yes, beaches, are all popular spots for couples and families alike.   In fact, summer travel is often scheduled and planned months in advance in order to get the best deal. However, what if you are planning a trip at the last minute?  Are there ways to still get a good deal on a vacation spot? Absolutely!

           There are so many wonderful apps and websites that can help you do just that!  Two of our favorites are VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owners) and, the ever popular, Airbnb.   From secluded, rural destinations, to frenetic urban locations and all areas in between, today’s traveler has a multitude of ways to find their own ideal, last minute vacation spot.  It was, in fact, VRBO, that helped John, my husband, and me find our most recent get away—which was, indeed, scheduled just a couple of weeks in advance of our departure.

 

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          Without belaboring the details of why, we had not really set in stone in formal plans for the summer travel, despite the fact this is the summer of our 30th wedding anniversary.  Therefore, when John and I actually began discussing, in more concrete terms, potential locations, one spot kept entering our conversations:  Naples, FL. With its miles of white “sugar” sand beaches and calm waters, Naples’ Gulf of Mexico location makes it a great spot to relax and unwind.  Plus, during the summer months, vacation property and rentals are actually less expensive than most beach areas! In fact, we were able to spy numerous budget-friendly properties, including the small condo we ultimately settled upon renting.

 

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           One of the great advantages of renting directly from property owners and/or managers, rather than a realty company, is the fact that arrival/departure days, and length of stay are typically quite flexible.  Thus, by using VRBO, we were able to compare and select property based upon our budget and location desires, but also look at each location’s date availability in order to narrow down our field of possible candidates.  Then, once we settled on a vacation property to rent, we could directly communicate with our chosen property’s manager, Osi Germann, and start our stay on a Monday, and rent for ten days, rather than the usual Saturday or Sunday start to a traditional seven-day stay!  Germann was a pleasure with whom to work; she was prompt and courteous in her communication and ever the consummate professional.

 

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           As a life-long resident of the Tri-state area (WV, OH, KY), of which many of my early years were spent in KY, I found it of interest to discover that Naples, Florida was founded by two Kentuckians, Water Halderman, then owner of The Louisville Courier, and John Williams, then a prominent politician and senator, in 1885.  By 1888, Naples Pier was first built and has become one of the city’s oldest symbols, popular for its views, particularly dolphin sightings, as well as fishing.  Even now, Naples’ historic downtown, often called “Old Naples,” still has Victorian era-buildings, including the Palm Cottage, which was built in 1895 and is still open for tours.

 

Naples Pier, a must visit part of Naples, FL, is known for its dolphin sightings and fishing.

 

 

          Naples is part of Collier County, the largest county in Florida, and even with the population continuing to rise in Naples, and its surrounding neighbors, 80% of the county is a natural preserve!  One such example is Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. A 13,000-acre preserve, this Sanctuary welcomes visitors to traverse along its 2.25-mile boardwalk that winds over and through pine flatwoods, wet prairie, marsh, and into the largest Bald Cypress forest in North America.  Other natural sites of note in the Naples area, include: The Bird Gardens of Naples, whose sole concern is parrot welfare, which allows visitors to interact and view numerous varieties of parrots and other wildlife; The Bird Rookery Swamp Trail, which offers 12 miles of walking, hiking, biking trails built from old logging tram roads—it also has a small boardwalk and allows visitors numerous views of cypress trees and bird/animal varieties; The Conservancy of Southwest Florida, which allows visitors to interact with nature and experience their electric boat tours; The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, though technically not a preserve, is a non profit zoo focused on conservation of endangered species as well as a nationally accredited garden. Additionally there is Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Clam Pass Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, and that’s only scratching the surface of the numerous nature attractions, parks, and preserve areas available to visit in the Naples area.

 

Images from Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park.

 

           Lest you think Naples is only for nature lovers, Naples is considered the golf capital of the world, with more golf holes per capita than anywhere else.  It is also home to Swamp Buggy Racing, which began in 1918; and, visitors can even see the original swamp buggy that started it all at the Naples Depot Museum.  Naples is also known for its art, with over 100 art galleries in the area! A water taxi shuttle can be found at Naples Dock with stops including multiple downtown waterfront destinations for shopping, dining, and/or drinking—just $10.00 allows visitors to hop off and one throughout the day.  Of course, shopping and dining opportunities are endless while staying in Naples. Plus, there is, of course, that gulf-side beach for those who just really want to relax, unwind, and get away from it all!

 

Images from Naples City Dock, home of the water taxi shuttle serving multiple downtown locations.

 

           This was not our first trip to Naples, FL, nor do I think it will be our last. However, Dear Reader, in spite of all there was/is to do in Naples, especially with the abundant nature-centered activities, I barely ventured beyond the beach—which was true for this most recent trip.  John and I arrived during the last few days of May, a month that had been overloaded with a flurry of long hours and activities. Therefore, this trip to Naples was more about resting/recovering, reconnecting, and most of all, celebrating our 30 years of marriage.  (Plus, we enjoyed numerous good meals; and I enjoyed visiting several yoga studios, while John found a great conveniently located gym facility).  More about that in my next piece!) Our condo, which was perfectly situated, allowed us to do just that, as it overlooked a peaceful bay and was one short block away from the beach. Additionally, it was conveniently located to ample dining and shopping opportunities, especially those found at nearby Mercato.

 

 

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pocket-friendly summer travels!

  

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Picture taken on Naples Pier, Naples, FL.

        

           

           

           

 

A Visit to Blenko Glass Co. is Worthwhile Outing

           “We all need, now more than ever, handmade possessions that are unique and inspiring.”–as seen on blenko.com

           “Magnificent color, skilled craftsmanship and creative design

make Blenko the most colorful name in glass.”—As seen on blenko.com

           When I scheduled the tour, I had no idea the cultural significance and rich history of what our students and staff were about to experience.  Sure, I had heard of it, and I had even been given a couple of pieces of it as gifts. However, from the time our bus entered the parking lot, until the time we had to return to the bus, I was enthralled with the hand-blown art form created at Blenko Glass, “proudly located in (nearby) Milton, WV, since 1921.”

 

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The entrance to Blenko Glass, Co.

 

           According to the travelchannel.com, writer Jeff Stafford, Blenko Glass Co., a family owned and operated business that began in 1893, is one of the top ten factories to tour.  Stafford ranks Blenko Glass Co. with factory tours of such notables as Boeing, Steinway Pianos, Crayola Crayons, and Harley Davidson to name a few—not bad company to say the least!  After our visit and tour of Blenko, I can certainly see why!

 

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Blenko Glass, Co. as seen on blenko.com

 

          Entering the Visitor’s Center Gift Shop is like diving into a colorful bowl of jelly beans.  The colors throughout the shop were vibrant jewels. Shelves sparkled and shimmered with a rainbow of colors and a wide array of shapes, sizes, and textures.  From the exquisitely designed decorative pieces, to beautifully crafted functional pieces, Blenko glass offers one of a kind treasures, trinkets, and gifts for everyone!  I have to admit, though, as clumsy and easily distractible as I am by all that is shiny and sparkly, I was a bit nervous walking around the shop afraid I might accidentally trip, stumble, or bumble.  In fact, visions of cascading glass, falling like dominoes in a line, kept me on edge while walking through the visually stunning gift shop!

 

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Blenko Glass, Co. Visitors Center as seen on blenko.com.

 

          Fortunately, I was traveling with staff and students of St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, so I quickly reported our arrival to the front desk, learned where the staff was to lead the students, and walked quickly (and without falling) back outside to assist with leading our students through the gift shop entrance and immediately up the stairs just inside the door and to the right.  Still, as we trekked up the open staircase, my eyes were continually drawn to the colorful glass below in the gift shop—that is until I reached the top of the stairs and saw all the glass art in Blenko’s historic glass museum.

 

          Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum. 

 

          The small, but lovely museum area, is filled with memorabilia of Blenko’s historic pieces and works.  Most, if not all, of the small pieces are safely tucked behind glass panes. From delicate pieces; such as bowls, vases, and other smaller works of art worth hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars; to breath-taking larger glass panels and stain windows, visitors are surrounded by hundreds of pieces of hand-blown, WV crafted, art.  Additionally, examples of glass making tools throughout the years, historic story boards, and iconic, once only designed pieces, also line the gallery. Our tour guide was affable, knowledgeable, and engaging as we made our way around the museum; however, given the nature of supervising a large group of kids, in spite of how very well behaved they were, I could not always hear or focus on what he was saying—making John, my husband, and fellow co-worker, want to return.  

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum. 

 

           Once the museum had been thoroughly explored, our group was led outside, along a covered walkway, lined with beautiful glass panels, and out to the glass factory.  Talk about a fascinating experience! With furnaces burning at temperatures above 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, watching what is mostly composed of sand, turn to a liquid, and then altered through the tools, talent, and time of the local artisans to a solid, uniquely designed piece of art is, in the words of one of our students, was mind-blowing!  In fact, there were times that our students broke out into applause at the seemingly magical transformation appearing before their eyes.

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum.

    

       In fact, according to an April 18, 2019 writing on the company’s blog, Blenko has eight furnaces under fire, allowing them to create glass pieces of eight different colors.  Once lit, these furnaces burn around the clock for years until they burn out. Additionally, when a change of color in a furnace does occur, the artisans must melt a batch of glass between the two colors to “clean out” the furnace.  Thus, they use this as an opportunity to create matchless, unique works, filled with whimsy and interest, out of the never-can-be-recreated hue. According to the writer, the quintessential Blenko water bottle is a reoccurring favorite creation of these one time only colors.

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Only eight furnaces burn at Blenko Glass with temperatures soaring above 2000 degrees Fahrenheit in each as seen on blenko.com.

 

           A nice fact about the Blenko Glass tour is that once you are in the factory area, the tour guide does not rush you. Even with our large group of students, and other tour groups simultaneously occurring, we were still encouraged to stay as long as we wanted.  In fact, this glass making process held our students’ attention for a significant period of time—which is saying something for 12- 14 year olds!

 

Beautiful works of glass art surround visitors at the Blenko Glass museum.

 

           From the factory, we walked the students once more over the walkway, through the museum, and down to the gift shop. Several of our students had brought money in order to purchase gifts to take home.  Since thoughts of my Papaw saying, “Stethie, you’re like a bull in a china shop,” when referring to my awkwardness, kept running through my head, I had no problem volunteering to take students who did not have money outside to the “garden of glass” area along the shore of a man-made lake. This colorful trail and park/picnic area is filled with colorful works of glass art, both large and small. It was, and is, the ideal way to end a tour of Blenko Glass Co.

 

Garden of glass as seen from inside the museum, looking out a window.

Images from the garden of glass at Blenko.

           I highly encourage you, Dear Reader, if you have the opportunity to travel to Milton, WV, stop by and visit Blenko Glass Co. and/or schedule a factory tour.  You will walk away amazed! And, tell them Steph simply sent you! In the meantime, be sure to check out their website, YouTube videos, or find them on your social media spot!

           From my home to yours, I wish you safe, happy, and art-filled travels!

 

          P. S.  Thank you Blenko Glass Co. for your wonderful treatment of SJCMS!  We appreciate you!

Images from the garden of glass at Blenko.

Trip to Washington DC in 2019, still a Wonderful Experience

           “You want a friend in Washington?  Get a dog.”—Harry S. Truman

 

 

           **Authors Note:  Unless otherwise noted, all quoted information comes from Fun Facts About Washington DC as created by Old Town Trolley Tours.

           It was before 7:00 am when our bus rolled out.  John, my husband; the school counselor, Breana Moore; her husband, Patrick; 20 eighth graders; one bus driver named, Bennie (who, three hours later, would be replaced by Allie); and I were ready to begin St. Joseph Catholic Middle School’s annual 8th grade trip.  Destination? Washington DC. Months of planning by Moore and her husband had gone into this trip. Now, the fruits of their labor were about to come to fruition.

 

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Students standing in line to enter the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.

 

The Hope Diamond and Topaz as seen in the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History

 

           “Washington DC is missing “J” Street.  The city uses letters instead of numbers for their streets, but because DC was planned before the letter J existed, there is no J Street.”

           I always find traveling to DC an interesting and adventurous trip, as I never know who or what will be encountered in our nation’s capitol city.  For example, on this particular trip, George Washington University was holding their commencement ceremony on the lawn of the National Mall. Thus, we were able, throughout the weekend, to gain glimpses of the staging and seating area as it was set-up and broken down—both of which appeared to be a major undertaking requiring what appeared to be hundreds of people.

More interesting images from Museum of Natural History.

    

       “All roads in the city lead to the capitol building.  It’s the dividing center for all quadrants of the city, so all roads actually do lead there.”

           We arrived in DC around 3:00 pm, thanks, in part, to Allie, our DC savvy bus driver.  Our afternoon/evening began with visits to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History and the Air and Space Museum.  Our time was limited for each museum, but the students took full advantage of the time given as they took in the sites. Highlights included the Hope Diamond; a crater formed in Arizona by a meteorite; an elephant thigh bone which was taller than me; John Glenn’s space capsule and other early flight ships/planes; and, images from Mars and other planets, to name a few.

 

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SJCMS 8th grades students at the entrance of Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.

 

 

           “There was a typo in the original etching of the Lincoln Memorial.  It’s been touched up since, but the letter E was accidentally chiseled into the beginning of the word Future on the north wall of the memorial.”

           Next up, we explored many of DC’s monuments. This required a lot of walking, and it was hot.  However, it was a beautiful afternoon, the sun was on its downward decent, and the breeze was light and continuous, making the walk much more bearable.

 

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SJCMS 8th grade students on the National Mall in Washington DC before embarking on a walk to see many of the major monuments.

          Images from the Washington Monument and the World War II Memorial.

           SJCMS 8th grade students in front of the Washington Memorial.

 

          We began with the Washington Monument, and continued on to the World War II Memorial.  Next, our group moved on to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, followed by the National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  Then, we trekked onward to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and finally journeyed to the Jefferson Memorial. By the evening’s end, we had put in eight or more miles; but, wow, what a magnificent evening filled with inspiring sites!

 

More images from Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Korean War Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial (as seen at top of page), Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial.

SJCMS 8th grade students at the Lincoln Memorial.

           The next morning began with mass, church service, as it was Sunday.  The church we visited in Virginia was warm, welcoming, and a completely new experience to our students.  Parishioners of all backgrounds filled the pews, speaking several different languages, with English spoken via strong accents, reflecting the diversity of this wonderful church.  The hand clapping that accompanied the upbeat praise music pleasantly surprised many of our students; however, they could take comfort in the fact that the liturgy was the same. All of us walked away feeling blessed for having spent time in this house of worship.

          SJCMS 8th grade students attended mass just outside of DC in a nearby town in Virginia.

 

           “One of the unknown soldiers has been identified.  In 1998, a soldier buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was identified.”

           Back on the bus after church, Allie deftly maneuvered the bus to Arlington National Cemetery. Once there, we walked the path to the JFK burial site, home of the eternal flame, and then we made our way to witness the changing of the guard. In between those two locations, it was humbling, to say the least, to observe the sea of graves and names.  By the time our group was present for the changing of the guard, tears were welling in my eyes by the presence of all the fallen surrounding us. It truly felt like a sacred moment. Afterwards, our group devoured their lunch, and made their way to historic Ford’s Theater, the location of Lincoln’s assassination.  While the Ranger-narrator gave an interesting talk regarding the events leading to Lincoln’s untimely death, my mind still kept drifting back to Arlington.

Images from historical Ford’s Theater and Arlington National Cemetery. 

 

 

 

           “There are underground tunnels beneath the capitol.  Miles and miles of tunnels are for senators and members of the House only and are never seen by the public.”

           Later that evening, our group enjoyed an evening cruise along the water of the Potomac River.  No, nothing educational, per se, about this adventure; but, hey we had teens with a great deal of energy to burn.  This was, by far, a favorite experience for many of the students.

             SMCMS 8th grade students danced the evening away on a cruise of the Potomac River.

   

      “There are elevators in the capitol building that are off limits.  This is because they are reserved for senators.”

           Our last day in DC, before hitting the road for home, was spent in three completely different locations.  First stop, the capitol. Congresswoman, Carol Miller, had a couple of staffers meet our group for a personal tour.  We were even able to use the “off-limit” elevator that is typically reserved for congress members. After riding this elevator, we traversed at a clipped pace along one of the many underground tunnels.  It was during this long walk, our group was informed of the all of numerous businesses and other perks located along this sub-terrain paths, including, but not limited to, a Dunkin Donuts and other food vendors, bank, private gym facility with showers, meeting rooms, and so forth to accommodate congress members’ busy schedules.  In fact, one staffer told us that many congressmen and women spend four days, or more, per week in their offices, rather than pay for housing in DC, and then they travel home on the weekends!

 

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SJCMS 8th grade students inside the Capitol Building listening to our tour guide.

 

           Images from our tour of the Capitol.  (On a personal note, I had to take a picture of phone booths as it had been 30+ years since I had last seen this style of phone booth.)         

 

           “There are marble bathtubs in the capitol building.  They were installed in 1859 to keep senators from stinking: during that time, they lived in boarding houses that had no running water.”

           Once our Capitol tour was completed, our last stop of the day, before lunch, was a visit to the National Museum of the American Indian.  This was a very interesting stop, rich with history, artifacts, and culture. As an added bonus, it also brewed up strong and delicious coffee; something John and I were both in need of consuming by that point of the trip!

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SJCMS 8th grade students in front of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Images from the National Museum of the American Indian.

           Although I did not take any pictures, it worth noting that our third stop, before leaving DC, was Fogo de Chao, an authentic Brazilian Steakhouse.  What a dining experience for our students, and frankly, John and me! As a person who needs to eat gluten-free, and prefers to eat plants as well as avoid meat, I didn’t think this establishment would offer much in the way of options for me beyond salad. Boy, was I ever wrong!  John and I would highly recommend this place to the meat and veggie lover alike. If you walk away hungry from this eatery, that’s on you as the food is plentiful and prepared deliciously!

           All in all, the trip was a positive experience for staff and students.  

Even when our bus had two belts break in the mountains of WV and sat on the side of the road, our students made the best of it by creating “tents” with their blankets and edges of bus seats! DC left us smiling, and rekindled a sense of connection to what it means to be an American.

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe and happy travels this summer!

P.S.  Thank you, Breana, Patrick, and SJCMS for making this trip happen!

 

On a final note, John snuck this picture of me taking a picture of a totem pole carved by Tlingit indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America.  I was doing this in honor of my 6th grade students who were not on this trip as they learn about the Tlingit people when reading the book, Touching Spirit Bear, by Ben Mikaelsen.

Lexington, KY, revisit April 2019, Part 2

           “Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune.”—Daniel Boone

           Author’s Note:  This is part 2 of a travel piece regarding my recent trip with my husband, John, to Lexington, KY.

           After a good meal the night before at Pies and Pints and a sweet snack from Trader Joes, we were up early, ready to go at Homes2 to Suites by Hilton Lexington, KY.  First priority though, we both squeezed in a workout. While I would not say, the fitness center at Home2 to Suites offers full gym experience; it does possess enough of the basics to maintain some semblance of a fitness routine.  Of course, after the workout, we took time to enjoy the hotel’s expansive breakfast bar while we mulled over our plans for the day.

           It was over our second cup of coffee that we decided to visit Fort Boonesborough State Park, about a 30 minute, or so, drive away.  We were fortunate to visit in April, the start of their season, which runs from April 5-October 31. This Kentucky State Park offers a campground, pool, and a reconstructed fort built in honor of the original Fort Boonesborough, a frontier fort in Kentucky founded by Daniel Boone and his men following their crossing of the Kentucky River on April 1, 1775.  This reconstructed version is a complete working fort with cabins, blockhouses, and furnishings offering visitors a glimpse into pioneering life in 18th century Kentucky. Throughout the year, Fort Boonesborough offers numerous special events with different historic emphasis. Although there were no special on-going events during our visit, we were able to still get a taste of those early pioneering days.

 

         Images from the entrance area of Forts Boonesborough, Ky.

 

           We began at the orientation building, watching a nearly 30-minute long documentary on the rich and unique history of Fort Boonesborough.  Afterwards, we took our time on a self-guided tour visiting as many of the cabins and blockhouses that were open, as well as listening and interacting with resident volunteers and artisans who make crafts and/or answer questions/offer information about life inside the fort.  These living history staff members were appropriately dressed in 18th century attire, and offered much insight into 18th century pioneer life.

 

      Cabins are arranged in a circle.  Visitors are encouraged to turn left past the entrance and begin at the Orientation building. John purchases entrance tickets for us.

 

Beautiful, historical paintings line the walls of the orientation room.

A small snippet of the the introductory video that is quite informative.

 

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Even the bathrooms have bits of 18th century history for visitors.

 

           In fact, we learned a few random, but fun facts.  For example, at one cabin, we were able to view how yarn was made from locally harvested wool and dyed, using native plants, such as walnuts, black eyed-susan flowers, and goldenrod, the state flower of Kentucky.  We further learned that women’s dresses were purposefully made without fasteners because an 18th century woman, living at Fort Boonesborough, would have only a couple of dresses her entire adult life, and those dresses needed to be able to accommodate her ever changing body size and shape.  Additionally, women were often better shots with guns than their husbands, as the men could be gone for extended periods at a time; thus leaving the women to defend themselves and their children. Furthermore, as soon as a child was old enough, male or female, they were put to work weaving, spinning yarn, or other such ongoing chores as young as the age of two years!  Plus, nearly every plant in the surrounding woods served some purpose to these pioneers! Additionally, nothing inside the fort was wasted, and all materials that could not be consumed were reused, recycled, or repurposed.

 

  Yarn color variety created by plants grown locally.

Fort Boonesborough’s meeting hall, tavern, and all purpose gathering place.

Other random images from Fort Boonesborough, KY.

           After a complete tour of the fort, we decided to explore one of the hiking trails.  This meandering, downhill (and uphill on the return) path led us down to a beautiful cool area with running water and the not-so-natural sounds of a distant highway! Along the path were numerous tiny white and violet flowers, vibrantly green mosses, and oversized mushrooms. Additionally, birdsong followed us all along the trail adding a melodious backdrop.  By the end, according to my tracker, we had hiked over four miles at a pleasant and conversational pace.

 

The trail starts off as a concrete path, which leads to a crushed limestone path, which leads to two paths that diverge . . .we chose what appeared to be the path less taken as it was narrow and did not show much wear.

Beautiful tree canopy images.

More beautiful images from the trail.

Three short video clips capturing the sights and sounds along the trail.

           Back at the hotel, hungry, tired, but relaxed from all of our time spent out-of-doors, we debated our plans for the evening.  Lexington has a Distillery District along Manchester Street, and John is a huge bourbon fan. However, John is also passionate about finding restaurants in which I can easily dine due to my celiac disease and my commitment to eating mostly plant-based foods.  As he perused through a number of local menus, he came across a place called, Carson’s, not in the Distillery District, but not too far away either. Doing what John does best, he zeroed in on the dishes he thought I’d like and began reading them aloud to me.  I was sold!

           According to the founder, Mark Fichtner, Carson’s is . . .”a rustic, yet refined concept with chef-driven recipes paired with prohibition cocktails, hand-selected wines, and craft beers.”   After a beautiful Uber drive through downtown, we walked into an industrial style setting with abundant leather, wood, brick, and over-sized crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. As odd as that sounds, the atmosphere worked, and put us right as ease.

Water is chilled and  served in repurposed bourbon bottles; chandeliers hang from the ceiling; ample wood and leather; and an attentive and friendly staff make Carson’s atmosphere fun, casual, and yet, refined.

           Our servers for the evening, Cassidy and Madeleine, (I hope I spelled her name correctly!) were attentive, thoughtful, and full of advice/suggestions regarding food and beverages.  Additionally, we were able to meet and spend time talking with Kyle Limmerman, General Manager. He was a wealth of knowledge regarding food, beer, and bourbon, as well as was an on overall great conversationalist!  However, the biggest “talker” of the night, was the food!

 

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Kyle Limmerman, General Manager, at Carson’s in Lexington, KY>

 

           The menu of Carson’s is expansive; spanning all taste ranges from burgers to steaks, ribs to seafood, from salads to gluten, free vegan options, and nearly everything in between.  After much debate, discussion, and advice, we began our meal with béarnaise truffle fries. Oh my heavens, made with béarnaise, white truffle oil, shredded Parmesan, and scallions, John and I could have shared this with four other adults! The taste, scent, and texture were out of this world delicious!  

 

 

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We began with an appetizer, béarnaise truffle fries.

           For the main course, John enjoyed the Pork Belly Beer Cheese Burger.  Topped with lettuce, fried onion strings, spicy aioli, and finished with their sriracha bourbon BBQ sauce, this burger is sure to please!  John ordered it with a side of smoked Gouda macaroni and cheese that looked as if it were swimming in cheese sauce! Needless to say, after eating all of those fries, John ended up taking half of his dinner back to the hotel with us.  

 

           Meanwhile, I ordered the Portabella Vegetable Stack. This beautifully plated meal started with a bed of Bibb leaf lettuce and added grilled tomatoes; asparagus; red, yellow, and green bell peppers; red onion; and jalapeños sautéed. Then, it was topped with sliced avocado, marinated Portobello mushroom, and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, cilantro lime vinaigrette, and sriracha. HEAVEN!  What a gluten-free, vegetable delight for me with so many gorgeous colors, tastes, and textures blended into one perfect dish! Unlike John, I ate every last morsel of my meal!

 

 

           Sadly, our stay came to an end, as it was a short, but sweet stay.  We did do a quick stop at Lexington’s Whole Food Market situated in a gorgeous, and seemingly newly developed area, called, The Summit at Fritz Farm, just minutes from the hotel.  While there, I met a super-infectious barista who educated me on all things I did not know about coffee and the use of non-dairy milk to make various coffee drinks. He was quick to offer John and me both samples and made an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk that tasted as good as it looked.

 

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At Whole Foods I enjoyed an aesthetic looking cappuccino out of espresso and almond milk for the chilly and rainy ride home! 

           We drove home in a chilly rain, but the route was still guarded by ample red buds waving goodbye as we made our way home with warm thoughts of the possibilities for our next food/travel adventure!

From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and pleasant travels!

 

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Revisit to Lexington, KY, Part 1

           “There is nothing like Southern hospitality.  It’s such a beautiful and genuine thing.”—Abigail Spencer

           We had to go back.  The lure of its hospitable people, and the family ties to this state that run deeply in both of our families, acted as sirens beckoning for our return.  Of course, there’s no denying our love for a good meal—especially dinner; and, there were so many unexplored eateries vying for our attention. Sigh, yep, we had to go back—even for a short visit.

         It was love at first encounter for John, my husband, and me despite it occurring under a rather stressful situation.  In fact, like an old friend, Lexington, KY was, during our first visit, the calm in the chaos; the salve for the wound; and, the lullaby for the colic.  Okay, I’ll stop with the corny metaphors and get straight to the point. You, Dear Reader, should add Lexington to your short list of towns to visit for a weekend getaway.  

 

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           First stop, back to Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center.  During our previous visit, about a month earlier, John and I were with family, supporting a loved one at Albert B. Chandler Hospital a few blocks down the road from the hotel.  Due to the fact our stay was hospital related, we received a steep discount from Home2 Suites for our rooms—a considerate policy for customers who require a long term hotel stay in order to remain near loved ones receiving treatment/services at UK hospital.  Plus, the hotel staff could not be nicer. They go out of their way to ensure you have a comfortable, warm and welcoming stay; and we discovered the same was true on this return trip!

 

This is the out-of-doors patio complete with grill, numerous tables/chairs, and it is located just outside the salt water pool of the Homes2 Suites in Lexington, KY.

 

           This time, we did not have the discount; however, we took into consideration the following facts regarding the price: 1) Home2 Suites offers large, comfortable rooms with full size refrigerator, sink, dishes, glasses, cups, utensils, microwave, thus permitting us to bring along a few food items (mostly for me), but also allowing us to store any leftovers from dinners for later consumption.  2) Breakfast is included in the price, and it includes a wide array of food choices. In fact, I think the hotel advertises that there are over 400 breakfast combinations that can be created. 3) Therefore, the only meal for which we would need to buy was dinner. Plus, at Hilton hotels, fresh fruit, afternoon cookies, as well as hot and cold beverages are always available to the customer at no extra cost. 4) Plus, we were only staying two nights, making this stay budget friendly.

 

This is the just the oatmeal/cereal station section.  It is the section of the breakfast bar I visited, but there is soooo MUCH more offered here.

 

        The comfy lobby and breakfast area of Homes2 Suites. 

 

          We left on a Wednesday, immediately after school, because the school in which John and I teach, St. Joseph Catholic Middle School, was closed in honor of Easter for a few days.  Of course, that meant we hit Lexington at the height of rush hour. Ugh! By the time we navigated traffic, and what seemed like an unending sea of stoplights, we made it to the hotel after 6:00 pm.   Once settled in our room, we quickly made plans for an early evening, in order to be more rested and fully ready to enjoy the following day’s activities.

           We quickly decided to use Uber and head to Pies and Pints, a favorite of ours–though we had not visited this location.  Using Uber is something John and I enjoy doing when traveling because it allows us to ask questions, fully view the town, and gain insight into the location in which we are staying. As we drove through the heart of Lexington, the driver highlighted different spots along the route, noting those popular with University of Kentucky students versus spots favored by locals.  The weather was fine and students, professorial types, as well as all walks-of-life were strolling the walks of Lexington soaking up the last of the evening sunshine.

 

Menu from Pies and Pints.  Notice all of the gluten free options.

 

           As it turned out, Pies and Pints is next to Lexington Visitors Center in the square just across the street from the Convention Center and Triangle Park as well as within walking distance of Rupp Arena! The ambient sound of the nearby water fountains filled the air with a satisfyingly serene sound.  A man sang and danced across the street on the sidewalk opposite of ours, and colorful flowers sprouted along the walks. It reminded us of the drive to Lexington that afternoon as we passed one red bud tree after another—a long purple parade of petaled soldiers standing at rapt attention as we drove past one colorful roadside display after another.  Scents of spring abounded all around, followed by aromas of. . . . pizza, of course!

 

 

           Just like other Pies and Pints, this Lexington location offered the same menu staples with plenty of gluten free and vegetarian options for me, along with plenty of carnivore choices for John! However, for those who enjoy beer, each location of Pies and Pints features a unique menu of craft beers, many of which are local to the location.  In fact, Lexington Pies and Pints offered 35 beers and root beer (non-alcoholic) on tap, plus an extensive bottled beer menu.

 

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Devan, our bartender/waiter for the evening, was courteous, efficient, and attentive.

 

           Devan (I think that was our waiter/bar-tender’s name!) was courteous, attentive, and prompt with service.  John and I decided to relax and take our time with dinner. Therefore, we gave their chips and salsa a try while enjoying conversation before ordering our meals. Big mistake!  Why? Because their salsa is so stinkin’ delicious that we ate MUCH more than we needed, but boy, was it good!!

 

Chips and salsa for an appetizer hit the spot!

 

           We eventually decided upon our meals. I had to have their simple salad.  Maybe it’s the way they thickly cut cucumber slices and hollow out the center before cutting each piece in half, but there is something special about their simple salad that I cannot get enough of it!  Of course, it could also be their creamy Gorgonzola dressing that I always get served on the side. Whatever it is, it all comes together in deliciously tasting salad.  But, did I stop there? No!

 

This salad . . .

          I also ordered the Black Bean Speciality Pie with a gluten free crust.  This pizza is served with black beans, cheddar, jalapeños, salsa, cilantro & crème fraiche.  If you like a spicy beans and salsa, then this pie is sure to please! Plus, the gluten-free crust is actually quite good!

 

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          Meanwhile, John ordered a small pizza pie with traditional red sauce.  He had it topped off with pepperoni, sausage, and extra cheese. Boy, did it look and smell good!  Unfortunately, he was so full from all of the chips and salsa we had noshed on earlier, that over half of his pie went uneaten that night.  Of course, it made a delicious lunch for him the next day!

 

 

          Throughout our time at Pies and Pints, our service was excellent, and the atmosphere was relaxed and yet upbeat.  I can only imagine the number of pizza pies made, and pints drank on afternoons/evenings of UK basketball games! What an ideal location for this tasty food venue!  John and I would certainly return, and we would highly recommend it for fun and a festive food atmosphere with friends and family!

 

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          After the Uber ride home, taking in more of the sights of Lexington, we decided to amble across the hotel’s parking lot to Trader Joe’s Grocery.  John and I cannot help ourselves! We love to visit grocery stores that we cannot find at home in order to see what’s trending food-wise outside our local area.  As with the one other Trader Joe’s we have visited, this one wasn’t large, but boy did it offer a wide variety of items not necessarily available in our local grocery market at fairly reasonable prices.  We found a few treats to try in the true spirit of further food adventures, and I could not help but feel a envious of the gluten free, non-dairy, and vegan options available there, but not available here locally.  Oh well . . . that’s what made it special!

 

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          Thus, the end came to a great first, albeit short day, in Lexington.  Part 2 of our Lexington stay will follow next week. . .

          

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Tippi Tail, one of our cats, was not happy we were leaving. Thus, this must be her attempt to keep us from packing!

 

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

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           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.  

 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

           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!”

 

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            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.

 

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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.

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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.”

 

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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!  

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBX Dreaming, Part 2

           “We know what it means to feel over-extended, to be raising a family, running a household, managing a career (and all simultaneously) . . .. We know what it means to be aging gracefully and with intention.  And, we believe . . . There is time for this.”—Outerbanksyoga.com

           This is part two of a travel series regarding the Kitty Hawk area of the Outer Banks (OBX), North Carolina.  In this piece, I will focus on tourist attractions and dining establishments that my daughter, Madelyn, one of her friends, Tatum, and me discovered and enjoyed last summer.

           My family and I love traveling!  My daughter, Maddie, spent a good portion of her summers, spring breaks, and sometimes, even holidays, on the road traveling with my husband, John, and me.  We have traveled as far west as Colorado/Wyoming area, as far north/east as Prince Edward Island, Canada, and as far south as Florida. That said, one of our often-repeated travel destinations is OBX, NC.

 

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Maddie and I visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial at the OBX of NC.

 

           As I explained in my last piece, this love affair with the OBX began around 40 years ago with my first visit as a teen with my parents, siblings, and grandparents.  Over the years, the OBX has grown in popularity and expanded in scope/size. Thus, I do not get there as often as I once did, but it is still a great spot for a vacation get-away as we were reminded.

 

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Fly away to the OBX for your next vacation!

 

           Last summer (2018), I returned to the OBX for the first time in several years.  John was spending time in Canada fishing, so Maddie, and one of her friend from college, Tatum, and I left the Tri-State area early one Saturday morning.  While it is less than a nine-hour trip without stops, we planned to drive easy, stopping every two–three hours. Therefore, we allotted about ten hours of drive time.  

 

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Maddie and Tatum at Jockey’s Ridge at OBX, NC

 

           Thankfully, we made good time, and arrived earlier than planned—leaving us with plenty of time to unload, unpack, stow away perishables, and still managed to get to the beach for a couple of hours.  I made the executive decision, that while this was a budget-friendly trip with most meals eaten in the cottage, we were splurging that first night on dinner at one of my OBX favorite restaurants, the Black Pelican, Waterfront Café.   With an extensive menu–that includes both gluten-free and vegetarian options, plenty of fresh seafood-based dishes, and a wood-fired pizza oven—this eatery has something for every taste! Additionally, Black Pelican offers a kids’ menu, and all kids’ meals are served on a Black Pelican Frisbee.  (Maddie used to own several of these Frisbees when she was young from our annual summer visits.) Our food, as usual, was amazing, and the service was outstanding!

 

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The Black Pelican is one of my favorite dining spots at the OBX, NC.

 

             The food, as pictured here, at the Black Pelican is always delicious with plenty of gluten-free and vegetarian/vegan options too!

 

        Another restaurant, a bit closer to the house in which we stayed, that I tried and immensely enjoyed, was Vilai Thai Kitchen.  I ordered take-out from there on a night that Maddie and Tatum also grabbed take-out from Subway after they spent an afternoon shopping.  Once inside this charming eatery, the menu blew me away! In fact, Vilai’s describes their vast menu offerings as, “Thai with fresh OBX twists.”  With plenty of sushi options; traditional Thai dishes; seafood, pork, chicken, beef, and/or noodle-based dishes; as well as numerous vegetarian and gluten-free options, there are plenty of options for all diners as I soon discovered.  My meal, Vegetarian Pad Thai, by the way, was delicious and quite generous!

 

          Vilai’s Thai Kitchen was a cozy restaurant within blocks of our vacation cottage.  I ordered take-out and dumped my dish in a bowl before remembering to photograph.  It was actually artfully arranged in the take carton before I messed it all up!           

 

           Later that week, in honor of July 4, we decided to visit both the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Jockey’s Ridge State Park.  What a day we enjoyed! The WBNM is part of the National Park Service. While there, we were able to enjoy an interpretive tour of the story of the Wright Brothers with special emphasis on their time in NC.  Afterwards, we made the long walk to the Wright Brothers National Memorial—commemorating their first successful airplane flight on December 17, 1903.

 

          The Wright Brothers National Memorial is a national treasure for all; and, in case you didn’t notice a great place to play around with the camera!  Click on each picture to enlarge.

 

 

Breath-taking views from the top of the WBNM from land to sea.  Click on each picture to enlarge!         

 

          Next, we drove a little further down to road to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home of the tallest active sand dune system in the eastern U.S.  This park covers 426-acres, and it is the most visited of all NC state parks. It’s no wonder it is so appealing to visitors. Jockey’s Ridge is filled with places to walk/explore, hand glide, ride ATVs, camp, and even go sand-sledding.  Plus, we can attest to the view from the top of the highest dune—just spectacular—especially when we were visiting due to the clear, bright skies. Both WBNM and Jockey’s Ridge are definitely worth the time to visit when staying at the OBX.

 

          Cooling down and goofing off, just a bit, in the parking lot of Jockey’s Ridge before we began our hike all around this natural wonder!

Learning the science and history of the dune before trekking all around this marvel.

 

         The views from the top are so worth the hike in the hot afternoon sun, and they were a bit inspiring as well!  (The right angles of triangle pose, and the rootedness of tree pose are in strong contradiction to the soft, shifting lines of the sand of Jockey’s Ridge.)

           After an afternoon filled with walking, climbing, and exploring, we were ready for a good dinner!  Maddie and Tatum chose Plaza Azteca. Described as, Mexican, Southwestern, Vegetarian and Vegan Friendly on Tripadvisor, it seemed like the perfect spot for all of us. We noshed our way through chips, salsa,  and freshly made guacamole while spending time chatting with our waitress. I wish I could remember her name, but she was a young college student from one of the European countries staying in NC on a student visa.  She described to us with great awe the overwhelming abundance she was experiencing while staying in NC. Ultimately, she knew she would not remain in the US; however, she did not wish to return to her home country either because of the social restrictions on women and unrest. Bottom line, while the food at Plaza Azteca was unbelievably delicious with abundant portions, our conversation with this friendly student was a real-eye-opener to how much all of us take for granted as Americans.

 

          This meal was so delicious, especially after all the walking/hiking we completed on that afternoon/evening.

 

        Our waitress, pictured between Tatum and Maddie, was a delightful, curious, and friendly young college student who opened our eyes to the abundance of our country, ironically on July 4.

 

           One of my favorite daily spots to visit while staying in Kitty Hawk was Outer Banks Yoga and Pilates Studio–only two-three blocks from the cottage in which we were staying.   Offering, both yoga and Pilates mat classes, as well beach yoga, and more, I found this studio to be a beautiful place of restoration, renewal, and relaxation. The weekly beach yoga class was a one-of-kind experience for me, and the staff at the studio, and beach location, was knowledgeable, sensitive, and encouraging.  This is one yoga studio I hope to make a return visit one day!

 

Images from OBX Yoga, “There is (was) time for this,” whether in their beautiful studio or enjoying one of their unique beach classes.

 

Anne Howard,  Manager and Director of Yoga Teacher Training, at the Amalam School of Yoga at Outer Banks Yoga, was a unique, creative, and sincere yoga teacher from whom I had the pleasure of taking two of her classes during my stay at the OBX.  I highly recommend this studio!

           Finally, I would miss amiss if I did not mention the Tanger Outlets in nearby Nags Head, NC.  While Maddie and Tatum spent two-three afternoons at the discount mecca, I only visited it once, as I am not a big shopper.  That said, I did find some real bargains, (like 75% off name brand leather bags and clothing). Therefore, I was certainly glad the girls convinced me to go shopping with them.

 

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Experiencing the urge for warm sand between your toes, plan your next vacay for OBX.

 

           All in all, I still love the OBX!  It has changed dramatically since my teens, but at its heart, it is still the same sweet sand, ocean dunes, and waves. As the damp chill of February continues this week, maybe you’ll take time to plan your summer vacation. If so, be sure to consider the OBX, NC as a potential spot for your next beach adventure; and tell them, Stephsimply sent you!

           From my family to yours, I wish you safe, budget-friendly, and relaxing travels for your next upcoming trip!

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As I type this, I haven’t seen sunshine in over a week . . .I can almost feel the sunshine from this picture offering a warm embrace of Vitamin D.

 

 

OBX Dreaming: Reflections of 2018 trip, Part 1

           “Located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, the Town of Kitty Hawk offers year-round residents and visitors alike a unique and relaxing environment. The town consists of a thriving village that has been around for generations, a newer beach community of residential cottages, and a maritime forest called Kitty Hawk Woods, featuring a wide variety of plant and animal life.”—kittyhawknc.gov

           While this was originally supposed to be one cohesive travel piece, as I wrote it, it became clear that I needed to break it into two-parts.  Therefore, this is part one of a two-part travel series featuring the OBX of NC, in particularly, the Kitty Hawk-Kill Devil Hills-Nags Head areas.  While this piece will mostly focus on the advantages of staying in the town of Kitty Hawk, next week’s piece will focus on the tourist attractions and restaurants.

           “Mom, that was such a great trip, you know? So relaxing and nice.  Tatum and I had such a good time!”

 

 

           I smiled with sweet remembrance as Madelyn, my nearly 20-year old daughter, spoke of our trip last summer to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or OBX, as most locals call it.  We stayed in an adorable cottage in the town of Kitty Hawk that was ideally situated between the two main thoroughfares. We were less than a three-block walk to direct beach access, and about three blocks from the business route that easily leads to all of the unique attractions the OBX has to offer.

 

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Our cute beach cottage–just the perfect size for a family or small group such as ours.

 

           Maddie was right; it was a fantastic trip last summer.  And, right now, in the middle of February, especially after such a brutal week of cold, ice, and snow, a trip to the beach sure sounds wonderful.  In fact, now is the ideal time to begin to make those summer plans and reservations! This is especially true if desiring to rent in a certain area and/or type of living space!

 

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After this week of brutal winter weather across North America, who wouldn’t want to warm their face in the morning sun?

 

           Last summer’s Kitty Hawk trip was not our first trip to the OBX by any means.   We have frequently made trips to various spots of this 200 mile-long stretch of barrier islands that splits off the coasts of both North Carolina and Virginia.  When my family first discovered the OBX, I was around 14 or 15 years old, and it was a well-kept secret. In fact, I recall our first few trips to the northern beaches, somewhere between the areas of Duck and Corolla, required passing through a guard station and keeping a visitor’s pass visible in our front windshield for the length of our stay.  At the time, it was a fairly easy drive, but also seemed so remote the closer to Corolla we traveled.

 

A cup of coffee in the morning and a glass of chilled glass of wine in the evening from the cozy crows nest with a view of the ocean and quiet neighborhood of Kitty Hawk.

           Since then, I have had the pleasure of staying on the northern beaches on the 4-wheel drive beach near the VA border, all the way down to the Hatteras/ Ocracoke areas, and numerous spots in between. However, I do not ever recall staying in Kitty Hawk, just beyond the intersection where one must choose whether to turn right to travel to the southern beaches or to turn left to travel to the northern beaches.  

 

Like many of the OBX beaches, they are not crowded with room to roam, lounge, play, soak, sun, read, sea-shell seek, and all other favorite beach activities. 

 

          In the past, once reaching this main, congested intersection, we could still count on a good 30-90 minute drive, depending upon the location of our vacation rental home.   Staying in Kitty Hawk, however, is completely different. Once you cross that intersection, you are only minutes away from your vacation cottage! I tell you, I am now 53 years old, and there was nothing like turning right off that intersection, and realizing, “Wow, we are already here!”

 

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Who doesn’t want to sink their toes in the sandy shores and warm waters of the OBX?

 

           In fact, had we known when we first arrived, we could have gone straight, then made a quick right onto NC 12, traveled two or three blocks, then made another right, we would have been two blocks or so away from our vacation cottage for 2018.  Despite not knowing this, we still had to drive to our realty company to check in with them, but depending upon from whom you rent, this may be a completely unnecessary step—making it easier than ever to get started on your beach vacation!

 

 

           What made our 2018 OBX vacation different than previous other trips, in addition to staying in Kitty Hawk, was the fact that John, my husband of nearly 30 years, was not traveling with Maddie and me. He was with several of his buddies fishing in Canada; thus, Maddie and I were accompanied by one of her college roommates of last year, Tatum Dyer.  What’s more is that Tatum had never before been to the beach, so that made the trip seem even more special!

 

Tatum’s first trip to the ocean was such a delight for my daughter, Maddie, and I to share!

 

           Keeping the trip pocket-friendly was, and still is, a must, especially when your child is attending college.  The cottage was priced quite reasonably, but still full of all the amenities we required. It had a full kitchen/dining/family combined area perfect for preparing nearly all of our meals as well as hanging out, playing games, or working puzzles. Additionally, this three-bedroom location also had two full bathrooms—one for the girls to share, and one for me—a large wrap-around porch, a crow’s nest (My favorite spot for reading, sunning, beach and star-gazing.), and a ground floor laundry and outdoor shower as well as an ample carport space for parking two-four cars.

 

I spent several morning enjoying the sunrise from the crow’s nest while the girls slept on.

 

           This cottage was not only within walking distance of direct beach access, but also shopping, dining; and, my personal daily spot, a yoga studio!   However, we were also a short drive to all those attractions we had wanted to visit for years, but had not gone to them because of all the beach time that would be lost in order to have ample time to drive.  Ironically, while we could see the OBX intersection from the crow’s nest if facing the back of the house, the neighborhood in which we stayed, however, was an extremely quiet, mostly residential area.

 

One of the attractions to which we were close was the famous Kitty Hawk pier.

 

           As I hope is evidenced by my enthusiasm, I wholeheartedly recommend the town of Kitty Hawk as an ideal location for your next OBX adventure.  While there’s no denying the wonder, beauty, and uniqueness of all OBX towns, if you’re looking for convenience, nearby shopping, restaurants, and tourists’ attractions as well as uncrowded beaches, then consider staying in Kitty Hawk for your next beach trip.  As previously mentioned, next week, I will feature several of those nearby OBX highlights. Trust me on this; they are worth your time to visit!

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A view from the top of Jockey’s Ridge, one of the sites we visited, but more about that next week!

 

           From my family to yours, I wish you safe, budget-friendly, and relaxing travels for your next upcoming trip!

 

These three empty chairs were arranged from the previous night in which Maddie, Tatum, and me sat as we watched fireworks going off up and down the beach areas in honor of July 4 holiday.

 

One day we watched a wedding take place on the beach directly out from the beach access we used on a daily basis!

 

Bear Lake Wilderness Camp: A Boat-in Fishing/Hunting/Canoeing Adventure!

           “The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.”—John Buchan

           “There are always new places to go fishing.  For any fisherman, there’s always a new place, always a new horizon.”—Jack Nicklaus

 

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Scottie Duncan holds a bass he caught and released at BLWC.

 

           For fisherman and hunters alike, January and February is the time of year when many outdoors enthusiasts start planning their spring, summer, or fall fishing or hunting trip(s).  Many larger cities host annual hunting and fishing shows in attempt to bring together outdoors enthusiast with those organizations that who support their endeavors either through goods or services.  In fact, the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show is scheduled for January 25, 26, and 27 of 2019.

           This is the 32nd year for this local treat sponsored by the West Virginia Trophy Hunters Association. According to the show’s website, proceeds from this event, other than the costs to run the show and operate the club, “are donated to programs that promote or protect hunting, fishing, wildlife, conservation, and related educational activities.”  This show prides itself in offering the outdoor adventurer quality products and services related to hunting and fishing with first class exhibitors from as far away as Alaska, New Zealand, Spain, and Africa as well as the United States and Canada.

 

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Another nice bass caught and released at BLWC.

 

           One of those first class businesses is Bear Lake Wilderness Camp.   Owned and operated by Pendleton, KY resident, Major Bill Drane (US Army Reserve), this camp offers opportunities for both fishing and hunting adventures, depending upon the season.  Located in the La Cloche Mountains in the heart of Ontario’s Killarney Wilderness Park, this boat-in camp is situated in a picturesque, pristine natural setting sure to please the pickiest outdoors person.  In addition to abundant hunting and fishing opportunities, BLWC is also a great location for swimming, wildlife photography, hiking, rock hounding, camping, as well as multiple canoe excursions, including portage routes.

 

 

 

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Welcome to the peace, quiet, and seclusion of BLWC.

 

 

Cooper, the camp’s husky; Manly, the camp’s rottweiler; along with dockhands, Rheal Quinn and Stewart Jordan are ready to take to your cabin at BLWC, so that you can start your next fishing adventure!

 

           Located on Bear Lake, the most remote lake of a chain of ten connecting lakes on the northern boundary of Killarney Provincial Park, campers can expect a 15.5 mile boat ride from the only road in the area of the lodge!  Due to this remoteness, Bear Lake offers fishermen and women the opportunity to fish for smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, lake trout, walleye, northern pike, whitefish and perch. Given its location, BLWC may have the best largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in all of Ontario!  Furthermore, this lake is especially known for its trophy walleyes.

 

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Who’s ready to fish?

 

 

Scottie Duncan, Travis Lane, and my husband, John Hill last summer (2018) at Bear Lake Wilderness Camp.

 

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Notice all the lakes and waters (red, yellow, green, and blue areas of map) that can be explored in BLWC

 

        This past summer (2018), John,  my husband and diehard fisherman, along with two of his buddies, Travis Lane and Scottie Duncan, visited BLWC for John and Scottie’s 3rd visit and Travis’ 2nd.  All three fishermen agree that BLWC is the ideal location for budget-friendly fishing (or hunting) adventure.  Lane especially could not say enough about the friendly and helpful staff. “They are all around good guys who are willing to go the extra mile to help their campers.” Duncan added that it’s the camp’s seclusion that grabs his heart with each visit.  “You can’t find a place more remote or more beautiful than BLWC, especially the remote portage lakes. Bill goes out of his way to help campers get to those isolated areas with no fishing pressure whatsoever.”

 

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Taking a lunch break on the shore of a secluded Canadian island after several hours of fishing in the pristine and private wilderness found at BLWC.

 

 

 

           For sure, opportunities for off-the-beaten path fishing are a special and unique feature of BLWC.   With 35 other lakes surrounding Bear Lake, BLWC has canoe or boat caches on 25 of those remote lakes!  According to John, these lakes are virtually un-fished and untouched by man except for the few adventurous fishermen and women willing to take the time to explore those areas.  Furthermore, John added that the immense peace and quiet, as well as the wild, natural beauty, of those remote lakes must be seen to be believed! “When you realize that no other human is around; it’s just you, your fishing buddies, and nature, it is a feeling like no other!”   A few of those lakes, he added, even offer the opportunity to fish for brook trout or lake trout

 

 

Are you ready to go fishing yet?

 

 

 

           That said, if spring and summer fishing/ canoeing aren’t your preferred out-of-doors adventure, BLWC also offers hunting for moose, black bear, duck, and grouse.   Can’t decide between fishing and hunting? Talk to Bill about the “Cast and Blast” special. This offers campers the opportunity to fish and hunt during the fall. When hunting, campers can expect to hunt over baits from tree stand or from ground blinds; and, BLWC offers hunting specials both during bow-only season as well as gun/bow seasons.

 

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AW . . . the peace and quiet of watching storm clouds rolling in . . .

 

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Living the dream of wilderness fishing away from the hustle and bustle of contemporary life.

 

 

Random images captures while exploring abandoned cabins found on several remote islands of BLWC.  If only their walls could talk, what tales might they reveal?

 

          As a boat-in camp, BLWC doesn’t have those challenging weight-limits that fly-in camps have.  However, it still offers the same desired level of remoteness that fly-in camps possess. Located on a small island, BLWC offers both American (dinner only) and housekeeping plans.  Each cabin comes with a refrigerator, stove, lights, and sinks with running water. The kitchen area of each cabin is stocked with all the pots, pans, and utensils needed to cook up favorite camp meals.

 

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Who’s ready for a fish fry? Plus, extra to freeze and take home!

 

 

Hungry after a hard day of fishing . . .

 

           With regard to fishing, every two paying customers get the use of a new 16-foot Lund boat with Honda four-stroke outboard motor; and, BLWC pays for the gas!  Plus, the camp has a fleet of portage boats and canoes on the surrounding lakes at the disposal of campers—something John and his buddies highly recommend taking advantage of!

 

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The excitement of your buddy and you catching a fish at the same time!

 

           Want to take your child along to BLWC? Kids under 14, when accompanied by a paying adult, are offered a reduced rate.  Studies indicate that kids who hunt and/or fish with their parent(s) have a greater appreciation for nature, wildlife and conservation efforts.  Thus, BLWC could be the perfect destination for parent/child outdoor adventure!

 

 

The splashing joy of catching fish . . . 

 

           John and I highly encourage you to visit not only the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show at the end of this month, but to especially make sure you visit  Bill Drane at his BLWC exhibit! You won’t find a nicer gentleman who is ready to make your Canadian fishing and/or hunting aspirations become a reality. Tell him Steph simply sent you!

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you happy, safe, and adventurous travels in this upcoming year!

 

 

 

           P.S. If you have any questions regarding this camp, feel free to email me at hill992@zoominternet.net, and I will put you in touch with John.  Additionally, you can directly check out BLWC.com for more information!

 

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Just imagine sounds of the shoreline water lapping the dock and boat and the moon blesses the sky above.