Once More, Charleston, WV Makes for a Relaxing, Pleasant Anytime Getaway

            “I think it’s nice to age gracefully.  OK, you lose the youth, a certain stamina, and a dewy glow, but what you gain on the inside as a human being is wonderful:  the wisdom, the acceptance and the peace of mind. It’s a fair exchange.”—Cherie Lunghi

 

            “My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”—Michael J. Fox

 

            Walking down the sun soaked sidewalk absorbing all of the Vitamin D goodness, I felt full of vigor and vitality.  Sleep had been quite restful the night before, lasting nearly eight hours—which was remarkable for me. My morning workout at the hotel’s fitness center felt great; and the late, but freshly made breakfast that followed afterward with my husband also at the hotel, was tasty, hearty, and nutritious.  All in all, I was feeling full of positivity as John, my husband, and I walked hand-in-hand toward the quaint, brick covered sidewalks of Capitol Street, Charleston, WV.

 

Workout in Four Points’ fitness center in Charleston, WV; breakfast with John in the hotel’s restaurant, which included oatmeal and fruit for me and bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich for John; and then, out for a walk with John along quaint Capitol Street.

 

           As we walked by the window of one shop, I caught a glance of John and me in the window.  Wait. What? What the heart and mind feels, I am learning, compared to what the eye sees, are often two different narratives.  The two people holding hands in the shop window looked middle aged, but John and I were in our thirties, right? Wrong! The window shouted quiet loudly back at me.  Hmm . . . 

 

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          Charming Capitol Street in Charleston, WV.

 

            It was the weekend after my birthday.  John had offered to take me out of town for a couple of days, but realistically, I did not want us to drive too far for a number of reasons, including our upcoming trip with St. Joseph Catholic Middle School seventh graders on their annual trip to Camp Magis that was looming ahead in three days.  Ultimately, we settled on Charleston, WV for my birthday get-away.

          

            Yes, I know that technically, Charleston, WV is only an hour away from home, but I was working late Friday at school with my writing club.   On Monday, we would be riding on a school bus for three to four hours traveling to Huttonsville, WV with our students. Besides, who wants to be in a car for several hours after a long week/day?  

 

             As one of my Brown Dog Yoga co-workers Janice, pointed out, “You won’t have to make the bed, cook, clean, or worry about laundry for a couple of days, who cares how close, or far, away?  Just go and enjoy your birthday weekend with your husband!”

 

            Thus, we arrived at our destination, Four Point by Sheraton in Charleston, WV, late, tired, and very hungry on a Friday evening.  We had stayed at Four Points previously, a year or so ago, and we had found the service, cleanliness, and the location of the hotel ideal for our purposes.  Beautifully situated on Kanawha Blvd. overlooking the Kanawha River, Four Points is within walking distance of numerous restaurants (several of which are personal favorites), bars, and shops.  We stowed our car safely in their garage and never drove again until the return trip home on Sunday.

 

                       Four Points by Sheridan in situated alongside Kanawha Blvd. 

 

            Once situated in our room, we were ready to walk to dinner.  The weather could not have been more perfect with a clear, starry sky overhead, and temperatures moderately hovering in the low seventies/high sixties—perfect for walking.  Ambling hand-in-hand, we made our to a familiar sports bar & grille, Adelphia.

 

Although several of the multiple TVs in Adelphia were on baseball and news channels, John was also able to watch the Friday night college football game in which he was interested.

 

            Featuring pub grub, Greek food, a patio, and plenty of TVs for John to keep up with college Friday night football games, we found Adelphia’s patio to be packed on such a pleasant evening, while the bar side of the restaurant was not quite full.  We were able to find a seat at the bar, our favorite spot to sit when it’s just the two of us when traveling as we typically experience excellent service and usually gain insightful information regarding the area in which we are staying. 

 

            As a plant based eater, (I rarely consume meat.) with Celiac disease that requires me to eat gluten-free, married to a meat and potato kind-a-guy, dining out is always an interesting adventure.  John typically has no trouble finding numerous choices on the menu; whereas, I often have more limited food options. This was the case for me at Adelphia.  

 

                     Salad, Nachos Grande, and Bon & Viv Seltzer for me. 

 

        Obviously, there were several salads from which I could have chosen (and have chosen on previous trips), but it was birthday for heavens’ sake.  I eat salad nearly every day of my life! In the end, John quickly settled on the super-sized, “Homewrecker Hot Dog, a half pound of kosher beef footlong hotdog served with chili, cheese blend, diced red onion, and coleslaw” along with a side of onion rings, but I was not so quick to decide.  I finally settled on a side garden salad to begin dinner and chose nachos grande for my meal, as nachos are kind of a weakness for me.

 

  The Homewrecker footlong hot dog, onion rings, and a beer for John.

 

          John absolutely, positively loved every single bit of his hot dog as worried aloud if his stomach would be upset in the morning.  Meanwhile, I was a bit disappointed. The cheese sauce reminded me of Cheez whiz—something I had tasted maybe once or twice in my life, and never really like (I know, I know!).  While I did not see any meat in the chili (for which I was grateful), it still seemed to have a greasy flavor/mouth-feel. (It could have been an off night for the restaurant.) On the bright side though, Adelphia did offer unflavored Bon and Viv hard seltzer on tap!  Plus, they offered to flavor it with 12, or more flavors of Mio liquid water enhancement. At only $2.50 per 16-ounce glass, it was a deal I could not refuse!

 

          The next we enjoyed a stroll along Capitol Street with Taylor’s Book Shop, Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, Rock City Cake Company, Pies and Pints to name a few.  In fact, I discovered a really nice shop, The Consignment Company, directly beside Ellen’s, that boasted high-end clothes, shoes, and bags on a sign in their window.  Must. Go. Explore.

 

The Cosignment Company, on Capitol Street in Charleston, WV, is a great place       for bargain hunters!

 

          I walked out of the store having spent less than $50.00 for three items, all with their original price tags still on them!  (Gotta love bargains!) We began to make our back towards the hotel and sauntered alongside the sparkling waters of the riverfront watching several leisure boats, with music blaring and passengers laughing, glide along the placid waters with ease; and, we were regaled by small children enthusiastically embracing their play in a small park as we thought of our own daughter when she was that age as the memories streamed forth like the waters of the Kanawha River coursed along beside us. (Sigh.)

 

                     Some sights along Capitol Street  . . .

 

                      Sights along Kanawha Blvd. . . .

 

          That evening, we dined at a local favorite for meat and veggie lovers alike, Pies and Pints!  What I love about Pies and Pints is that they also offer a gluten free crust, so even I can eat pizza pie!  While the gluten free crust is not house made, it is by Kinnikinnick Foods, I find this crust to be reliable tasty with a decent texture.  I savored every bite of my choice, the Black Bean Pie, taking half of mine back to the hotel for the return trip home the next day. However, John was unable to enjoy his Pepperoni, Sausage, and Extra Cheese Pie as it proved to be too salty—something he had never before experienced on prior dining experiences with Pies and Pints. (Possibly off-night in their kitchen as well.)  Additionally, we both relished our after dinner treats we picked up at Rock City Cake Company—John, a fresh made cream horn; and, me, three large chocolate covered strawberries! Yum!

 

                      Pints and Pints is a local favorite! 

           

           Once more, Charleston, WV, as well as the Four Points hotel, did not disappoint.  Sure, we had each experienced a less than perfect dining experience during one of our meals; but, overall, the town was warm and welcoming, our stay was wonderfully relaxing, and the company, spring chickens or not, was wonderful.

 

Before heading home, after hitting Four Point’s fitness center once more, John and I enjoyed another great breakfast: more oatmeal and fruit for me and sausage, egg, and gravy bowl for John.

            From our John and I, to you, Dear Reader, we wish you safe, happy, and wonderful travel/food experiences, especially when wondering wild and wonderful West Virginia.

 

P.S.  Thank you to all the friends and family who made this a special birthday weekend, especially John. 

            

 

            

 

Restoration and Relaxation Can Be Found at CB Ranch

            “Why do you go away?  So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.  And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is the same as never leaving.”—Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

 

            “Hey, we have a long weekend comin’ up! Would you want to get away for a short trip?”  John, my husband, said in passing one early August morning.

 

            “And, ironically enough, I just recently heard from Cheryl Biddish at CB Ranch in Lewisburg, WV—that cute suite we stayed during the week of Thanksgiving last year,” I replied

 

            “That would be doable trip and close—only a 2-3 hour drive, if I remember correctly,” John replied in earnest. “Why don’t you reach out to her and see if she has any availability for Labor Day weekend; she could already be booked since it’s already August.”

 

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            Thus, began our plans for our first weekend getaway since last school year.  We had traveled in late May/early June for our 30th wedding anniversary to Naples, Florida, but with partial remodeling going on in our house and other life events, John and I had not traveled together anywhere since then.  Normally, during any given summer, we typically travel to two or three closer-to-home destinations in addition to a so-called “big trip summer vacation,” but not this past summer.  Therefore, despite the fact it meant for a tight work week prior to the trip as we knocked out chores we typically complete during the weekend, once we arrived at CB Ranch, just six miles off I-64 and four miles away from historic Lewisburg, WV, that Friday evening —it felt well worth it.

 

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As seen in the window of a store in Lewisburg, WV.

 

            Driving down the country lanes to reach CB Ranch, the golden sunlight streaming over the tall cornfields and grazing cattle, I could feel the stress begin to gradually seep away.  Traversing the ranch’s long driveway, we took inventory of the changes since we last stayed in November of 2018. We noticed the languid swishing of tails belonging to the numerous horses remained the same, but the green growth of the ranch’s fields and surrounding hillsides was completely different from the tawny and golden hues of late fall.  Additionally, a cute, but extremely tiny, red cottage, with a fire pit set up beside it, now lined the lane that previously wasn’t there. (We would later learn that this was the ranch’s latest, “glamping” vacation option for those who wanted a more comfortable camping experience.)  

 

This tiny cabin, located on CB Ranch, complete with horse trailer restroom and shower, is ideal for warmer weather “glamping.”

   

      Reaching the top of the lane, the actual house appeared the same with the addition of colorful flowers now fading, as August seems to be Mother Nature’s color-dimmer switch.  Brooke and Cheryl Biddish, owners of CB Ranch, had already contacted us with the entry code to the private bedroom suite where we would be staying. Walking into the spacious living area, I couldn’t help but notice how immaculately clean it appeared. Continuing through to the bed and bath area, it too was spotless as were all of the large windows and sliding glass doors. Sighing with sweet satisfaction, I set down my bag, and stepped back outside to find Brooke and Cheryl already engaged in a conversation with John.  It quickly became evident, as I listened, that CB Ranch had become their combined full-time passion; and, they have plans for expansion—including the camping cottage we passed earlier in their long driveway. It would be the only time we interacted with the owners in person throughout our weekend stay, as they were both busy with the business of running the ranch. However, they were only a text away, and Cheryl regularly, and graciously, checked on us via Facebook Messenger throughout our stay.

 

          Guests choosing not to camp at CB Ranch, can stay in the suite with its own private entrance, private deck, private fire pit, and still have full access to roaming/hiking about the ranch. 

 

          The weather, over Labor Day weekend, was delightful.  The temperatures dropped into the low 50s by night, allowing us to sleep with the windows open.  Breathing in abundant fresh air as well as basking in the peaceful quiet that is the countryside of Lewisburg, John and I slept soundly. 

 

          In the early morning light, we thoroughly enjoyed the sights and sounds of the ranch animals’ stirrings; and, we took pleasure in watching Brooke and Cheryl make their rounds feeding animals, especially the horses as they gracefully galloped towards the sound of the side-by-side UTV (utility task vehicle), eager for their morning victuals.  At night, John and I would sit on the suite’s private deck, listening to summer’s ending songs as performed by the crickets and katydids gazing up at the immeasurable stars, passing planes, and even a satellite—all winking, dancing, and dazzling us with a glimmering light show.

 

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Early September morning light filters through trees on CB Ranch.

 

          While staying at CB Ranch, John and I were able to once more visit what was once voted as one of “America’s coolest small towns,” nearby Lewisburg, WV. This welcoming town is known for its walkable streets, quaint shops, friendly residents and business owners, historic landmarks, eclectic restaurants and eateries, as well as its close proximity to a plethora of scenic and natural sites, including the Greenbrier River Trail, Organ Cave, Lost World Caverns, Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park, and so much more!  In fact, at one point during our stay, I knocked around town for a couple of hours, while John found a local eatery, Del Sol Cantina, that was actually showing the Ohio State football game—well, at least for two hours prior to the start of the WVU game, then no more OSU viewing for John! Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day for a leisurely stroll of the town; and, lucky for me, when the game was over, John and I sauntered over to Amy’s Cakes and Cones for an ice cream splurge—a rare, but special treat!

 

           Some of the historic sites in downtown Lewisburg, WV

                      More images from historic, downtown Lewisburg, WV.  

      After all of John’s efforting, cheering on his Buckeyes, he needed a nap; and I was ready for the peace and solitude of the ranch.  Back at CB Ranch, it comfortably warm with a refreshing breeze stirring the air and the muzak-like sounds of the soft mewings of ranch animals and summer cicadas. Perfect for napping, hiking the hills surrounding the ranch, and reading on the deck soaking up the waning September summer sun. 

 

          While John watched the OSU football game, for two of the hours it was on before the WVU game, in Del Sol Cantina, I walked around the town of Lewisburg, stopping at one point for a coffee break in the little central park, listening to a local clarinetist. 

 

                      Images from Del Sol Cantina courtesy of John.    

 

                      I highly recommend a stop by Amy’s Cakes and Cones, where the owner clearly marks the foods that are gluten-free!

 

      The next day, John and I hiked a new section (new to us, not the trail) of the Greenbrier River Trail, beginning at the Anthony trailhead.  Again, the weather was picture-perfect—warm, but not uncomfortable hot, with a steady breeze. Along most parts of this trail, the Greenbrier River meandered past us, and we occasionally encountered people fishing, paddling kayaks, or drifting along in water tubes.  Meanwhile, on the path, we happened upon a few bikers, hikers, dog lovers, and a few couples/families meandering along the trail in search of an idyllic spot for a picnic or swim. I couldn’t help but remark to John my yearning for the ability to bottle up the natural scents emanating throughout the trail and surrounding wooded areas.  (More about this hike, including images, in Part 2!)

 

                   Images from my meanderings on and around CB Ranch while John napped.

 

        Throughout the weekend, John and I made it a point to dine at all of our past favorite local Lewisburg eateries, including Del Sol Cantina, The Asylum, Hill and Holler Pizza, Retro Donuts and More, as well as The Wild Bean. All but one of these establishments were as top notch as our last visit, but one left me disappointed. (More about that in Part 2.) With that being said, overlooking that one minor food disappointment, our stay at Lewisburg could not have been more refreshing, rejuvenating, and restful. (I find myself sighing as I write this, so much did I savor every moment we were there.)  We were able to return home with restored souls ready to take on the busyness of the autumn season.  

 

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No matter whether visitors are coming from or heading back to the ranch, adventure awaits around each bend in the road!

   

       Much appreciation to Cheryl and Brooke Biddish and their recuperative ranch, they allowed us our privacy, gave us permission to roam their property (even offering us a trip to the top of their many scenic hilltops with their UTV if we didn’t want to hike it), and also managed to make us feel welcome and at home. Needless to say, John and I highly recommend CB Ranch and Lewisburg next time you’re in the mood for a close, but relaxing getaway; and if you go, be sure to tell them Steph Simply sent you!

 

           From my home to yours, I wish you safe and memorable travels.

 

 

 

Naples 2019, Part 2: Fitness, Food, and Fun

           “You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.”—Paul Prudhomme

           “I didn’t mean to gain weight, it just happened by ‘snackcident’.”—Unknown

           What’s not to love about vacation?  Time to rest, recover, and consume ridiculous amounts of tasty food. However, in order to do that, one must “earn” those calories.  Thus, what better way to warrant devouring all of those scrumptious calories than through exercising in new, motivating locations? Never mind that the rest of the time is mostly spent sitting–surfside with a book, on a couch scrolling through social media, or in a lanai nerding out on an Internet interest?  It’s all about balance—right?

           Naples, Florida is the perfect location for foodies and fitness alike!  This gulf-side city offers a seemingly endless selection of dining and workout adventures.  From casual, open-air, bayside dining, to formal, four-course meals; from eclectic yoga studios, to year ‘round out-of-doors adventures; and everything in between, Naples has much to offer both.  In fact, there are so many options; it is hard to narrow down your choices, especially when staying for a short amount of time. Therefore, here are a few of the highlights John, my husband, and I discovered on our most recent trip; but trust me, there is SO MUCH MORE!

           To begin, name your athletic pursuit, Naples most likely offers it!  Golf? Check! Swimming/paddle boarding/scuba diving/kayaking? Check! Running/walking/hiking/biking trails/paths?  Check! Truly, the list seems endless! I happen to love yoga and group fitness classes, while John loves self-motivated gym workouts, and we did not have to drive far to find either of those!  

           Yoga studios were abundant in Naples.  Unfortunately, I was only able to visit three: Naples Yoga Center, Yoga Lab, and Yoga House.   I cannot say enough about all three sites! They were each aesthetically pleasing, extremely clean, and the instructors, with whom I encountered, were knowledgeable, friendly, and motivating. Specifically, Christine Salmons at Yoga Lab; Cesar Rios and Amy Lucky at Naples Yoga Center; and Lisa Frey at Yoga House were all talented instructors who offered challenging and rousing workouts for mind, body, and spirit!

 

 

           Meanwhile, John and I both worked out at the nearby L.A. Fitness Club.  Wow, what a great facility! Offering not only the usual cardio equipment, weight machines and free weights, but also possessing areas for swimming, group cycling classes, group fitness classes, basketball gym, separate baby sitting area filled with colorful play and climbing equipment as well as its own smoothie/juice bar. John made good use of the free weights, machines, and cardio equipment, while I tried out a cycling class, fitness classes, and made us of the cardio equipment.  One of the managers, whose business card I have sadly misplaced, was quite accommodating and helped us find the best short-term membership deal specifically designed for vacationers.

 

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           Now for the fun-stuff . . .food, food, and more food!

           We decided to break our drive to Naples into two days.  On our first day, we drove as far as Orangeburg, SC. There, we stayed in a new hotel, Tru by Hilton.  It was within walking distance to Ruby Tuesdays, so we decided to head there for dinner. Honestly, Ruby Tuesdays are typically not my top favorite places to eat, but this location certainly hit the spot.  Bartender and waiter extraordinaire, Webb, amused me in his attempt to sympathize with the fact I have celiac disease, “If it makes you feel any better I’m allergic to morphine!” Plus, General Manager, Anthony Dealoia, like Webb, was a great conversationalist! Overall, this was the perfect place to shake off the road dust at the end of a long day.

 

 

           Aw, Naples . . .it was so difficult to choose where to eat once we were there.  John would text me one on-line menu after another, trying to find the best gluten-free friendly spots in which to dine (Not that John needs to eat gluten-free, but he knows the challenge I often face when dining out.)  Here are a few we tried and really loved.

           Due to a minor staff miscommunication, our condo was not quite ready for us when we arrived after a full day of driving. Therefore, since it was dinner time anyway, we decided to stay out of the car and walk to the restaurant literally steps away, DaRuMa, a Japanese Steakhouse. Jeff, bartender/waiter, was welcoming and informative with regards to food choices.   He made excellent food recommendations for both John and I that met our unique, but very different, food loves. We would both recommend this spot one short block from Vanderbilt Beach.

 

 

           Another wonderful spot in which dined, not once, but three times, was Naples Flatbread.  Why? Besides being delicious and offering an expansive menu, there were also abundant gluten free options, and NFB has one of the best happy hours in Naples! (John and I have learned that if you are traveling on a budget, and you’re willing to eat dinner early, happy hour deals are often the way to go.)  Plus, did I mention the NFB staff? Manager/bartenders Conner Cerrito and Kyle Gilbert, along with Michelle Mejia, who also happens to be a free-lance writer, served up ample laughs, stories, cold drinks, and 100% delicious food! It goes without saying that this is a spot we would highly recommend.

 

          Two fun and festive eateries, also possessing great happy hour menus, include Agave as well as Rocco’s Tacos and Tequila Bar.  Offering an abundance of gluten-free fare, both of these restaurants were obviously a local favorite as they were packed with business.  While their menus were overall different, their tasty dishes, attentive service, and celebratory atmospheres make both of these spots recommendable.

 

           One of our condo neighbors, Donna Wolf, recommended a restaurant called, The Dock, Waterfront Dining at Crayton Cove. Oh. My. Heavens.  What a lovely spot to dine, relax, and, you guessed it, enjoy Happy Hour specials. Our waitress/bartender, Ashley, was extremely helpful and considerate.  She worked diligently to ensure we had a positive “Dock-side” experience. In fact, we enjoyed the location, food, and Ashley so much that we came back for a second night, a few evenings later.  The food and drinks were stupendous, the service was outstanding, and did I mention how nice it was to dine on the Naples waterfront? Yep, this is one more place John and I would 100% endorse! (Thanks Donna! Also, thank you Robin Waeltz for the delightful conversation—fellow educators unite—and great insight into living in the Naples area.)

 

 

           Last, but not least, I have to mention, Haley Beaman, bar manager and notable waitress at Top Dawg Tavern in Columbia, South Carolina.  Driving for long hours on the road makes one tired, hungry, and sometimes even grumpy. However, when dining on delectable food while meeting someone as friendly, energetic, and outgoing as Haley, it eased away the road weariness on our return trip home.  This restaurant was in fact, one of several recommendations by the Hampton hotel in which we stayed. It also happened to offer a discount to those staying at the hotel.

 

 

           See what we did there?  We weren’t able to make Happy Hour at Top Dawg, but we were still able to find a deal on a great meal, super service, and pleasurable atmosphere while stopping for the night.  Definitely, this is a dining spot worth visiting when traveling in the area.

           Food, fitness, surf, and sand . . .take us back to Naples!

           One final note, I cannot say enough about all of the pleasant Uber drivers during this trip.  Special thanks go to Thomas, Ritchy, Herve, Fred, Hunter, and Craig. While we know it is your job to be safe, efficient, and sociable drivers, we still appreciate your outstanding service.

           From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and food-filled vacations!

 

          Other Wonderful restaurants that did not make it into the original newspaper article due to space include . . .

AZN:  Azian Cuisine

 

         Skillets Restaurant  (with gluten-free bread, pancakes, and waffles!)

 

The Crust (With a gluten-free crust!!)

 

Epiphany Gluten-Free Bakery (100% dedicated gluten-free:  serving up all gluten-free products as well as offering vegetarian/vegan, paleo, keto, and other food allergy-free options)

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!