The Kindness of Strangers in Lexington, KY

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


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


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

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




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


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

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



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


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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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




Charleston, WV a Perfect, Quick Weekend Getaway

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



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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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




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


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

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







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.”—

           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.


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.


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.  


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!


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.


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!

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.”—

           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.


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!


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!”


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!


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


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.


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.




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.


Who’s ready to fish?



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


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.”



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.


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


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.


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!


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, and I will put you in touch with John.  Additionally, you can directly check out for more information!



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



Midland Trail, National Scenic Byway, a Road Full of Adventure and Fun

            “I am not a great book, I am not a great artist, but I love art and I love food, so I am the perfect traveler.”–Michael Palin


“To travel is to evolve.”—Pierre Bernardo


Author’s Note: This is the last installment of a three-part travel series that mostly featured the Greenbrier Valley area of WV. While the first and second part focused on the outdoor attractions, specifically C B Ranch, and the numerous dining experiences that abound in and around the city of Lewisburg, WV, this piece will focus more on the numerous attractions along the Midland Trail Nation Scenic Byway (US 60).


“Well, should we drive Interstate 64 home, or should we try Route 60?”


I mulled over the question John, my husband, just asked.  The interstate was full of orange barrels (construction) and, most likely, would be busy with Black Friday shoppers driving to and from shopping centers, malls, and big box stores.  We weren’t, per se, in a hurry, so why not slow down a bit?


After a bit more conversation, it was decided. We would travel along Midland Trail Scenic Byway (U. S. Route 60) or Midland Trail, for short.  After all, it was a crisp fall day with bright, clear sunshine that imbued the landscape with a golden light allowing the leafless trees and fallen leaves to possess the color of toasted pecans.


The familiar road leading us from the beloved C B Ranch to the Midland Trail.



Historic landmarks and a small cemetery along the roadside leading to and from C B Ranch.


As we departed from C B Ranch, just outside of Lewisburg, where we had been staying, the surrounding farmlands glistened in the mid-morning light.  This now familiar road led us directly to the Midland Trail.  However, instead of the usual right that would have led back into Lewisburg, we turned left, and away we drove past expansive farmland, horse and cattle pastures, and earthen fields seemingly at rest for the upcoming winter season.

Once last view as we departed C B Ranch.


The Midland Trail is part of a longer transcontinental road linking Washington DC to both Los Angeles, CA as well as San Francisco, CA that runs through a 172 mile southern portion of West Virginia, from Kenova (Mile 0) to White Sulphur Springs (Mile 172).  Research indicates that buffalo and/or native people mostly likely originated this expanse.  Later, George Washington ordered the trail to be cleared.  Of added note, John and I could not help but marvel at how earlier travelers could have ever managed the multiplicity of steep inclines and nausea-inducing switchbacks and curves in covered wagons, coaches or even horseback.  One thing was, and is still, for certain; the Midland Trail offers all travelers picturesque scenery.


Since we were departing from Lewisburg, we completely missed White Sulphur Springs.  (We will have to save that for another adventure.) We were, however, able to drive by Sam Black United Methodist Church, an historic, and quite majestic looking, Carpenter Gothic-style church, located in Greenbrier County and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was built in 1902 in honor of the Rev. Samuel Black, a circuit-riding Southern Methodist preacher credited for spreading the gospel through Greenbrier, Clay, Fayette, Nicholas, Webster, and even Kanawha counties.  Black sold socks and deerskin gloves made by women of his congregations in order to help organize and build numerous churches throughout his beloved circuit. Thus, he came to be affectionately known as, “Uncle Sam.”

Sam Black Church image as found on Trip Advisor.


Babcock State Park, the next point of interest after Lewisburg, took us by surprise, and we unintentionally drove past the exit.  We had been told that we needed to see and photograph the Glade Creek Grist Mill where cornmeal is still freshly ground, so we will have to save that for another visit.

Glade Creek Grist Mill image via Trip Advisor.


Next up, Ansted and Hawks Nest State Park. While we did not, precisely, drive into the park, we stop at the look out area as well as the gift shop. This was a beautiful rest area with plenty of picnic and hiking spots, but it was the lookout that was indeed the true focal point.  This area offers breath-taking views of the New River Gorge.  While I am typically not afraid of heights, I have to admit, looking straight down over the edge of the lookout rock wall made me dizzy and a bit nervous!  Still, what an awe-inspiring view!



A few views from Hawk’s Nest.


While our daughter has never visited Hawk’s nest, I couldn’t help by photograph a rock with her name carved in it.  Looking over the rock ledge made me nervous and dizzy.


Driving on, we passed both Mystery Hole and Chimney Corner.  Described as a place where gravity does not apply, Mystery Hole is exactly that—still a mystery to me as we did not stop.  We have read that it is certainly worth the time to see balls roll uphill and chairs sit on a wall, but we decided to save both it, and Chimney Corner, with its country store and corner café, for another trip.


Image via Trip Advisor.


Traveling westward, we derived great pleasure by the views at Gauley Bridge where the New and Gauley Rivers join to create the Great Kanawha River.  Additionally, we were able to see the remaining piers from a bridge burnt by Civil War soldiers for which we had read about at the Hawks Nest look out. However, it was the stunning sounds and view of Cathedral Falls that left us speechless!  Of course, the mere fact that water roared at deafening levels as it cascaded over the mountainous granite wall made any conversation nearly impossible!


Images from Cathedral Falls and Gauley Bridge area in WV.



Listen to the sounds of Cathedral Falls, WV.


Making our further along Midland Trail, John skillfully maneuvered the car around the twists and sharp turns of Gauley Mountain while I navigated the waves of carsickness attempting to overtake me. Gratefully, we entered a semi-straight stretch of the byway as we took in the view of Kanawha Falls and the Glen Ferris Inn.  My sister-in-law, Jacki Humphreys, and her husband, Tony, had recommended that we stop in the 1839 Inn for a bite of lunch to savor the view of the falls; however, since it was hours past lunch time, we decided that this should be saved for another trip. In the meantime, we did stop at the boat ramp, which appeared to be fairly unkempt due to what appeared to be heavy flooding, in order to better view and take pictures of the rushing falls.   Plus, the fresh air was an excellent remedy to motion sickness!


Kanawha Falls with Glen Ferris Inn in the background.




Continuing on, we drove past Cedar Grove with great interest, but did not take time to stop by, choosing to also save it for another trip.  Of interesting note regarding this town, it was established in 1774 and was the location for the finishing point of the original road George Washington commissioned. There is both a mansion and a chapel from the mid-19thcentury located within the town’s borders.


Ten or so miles past Cedar Grove, is Malden, known as the boyhood home of Booker T. Washington.  This town has a replica of Washington’s childhood cabin as well as the church in which he taught Sunday School which can be viewed by the public.


Of course, the Midland Trail does end there. Other highlights include Charleston–the state capital of WV, South Charleston, St. Albans, Hurricane, Milton—home of Blinko Glass, Huntington with its Old Central City section, Camden Park— a 109-year-old-amusement part, and of course, Kenova, the starting point, that the geographical borders of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio.  However, as these areas are our own local stomping grounds, and certainly noteworthy, each in their own right, we decided to drive on home, so we could plan our next traveling adventure.


Hmm . . . I wonder where the road will take us the next time?


John and I pose for a selfie in front of Cathedral Falls.













C B Ranch, Almost Heaven, WV

            “Keep close to Nature’s heart . . . and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”—John Muir


“Wilderness is not a luxury but necessity of the human spirit.”—Edward Abbey


Author’s Note:  This originally began as one piece, but quickly became too long! Therefore, this is part one of a three-part travel series, once more featuring the Greenbrier Valley area of WV.  In this piece, I will focus more on the outdoor attractions, especially those of C B Ranch.  In next week’s piece, I will feature the wide array of dining experiences Lewisburg has to offer.  In the final installation, I will offer snapshots of what can be discovered along the Midland Trail National Scenic Highway.



“Mom, what would you think if I went home with Gigs over Thanksgiving break?”


I was listening to my daughter, Madelyn, on the phone as she talked in her usual rapid-fire manner.


“Listen, her mom invited me to join them. We’d be riding the Amtrak train from near her home in Sylvania, OH to Chicago.  Her mom said we could have Chicago style pizza for Thanksgiving!  How cool is that?”


And just like that, John, my husband of nearly 30 years, and I were childless for Thanksgiving for the first time in 19 years.  At first, I felt a bit sad, but deep in my heart I was happy for Maddie to have the experience. Maddie and Gigs had spent two weekends at our home already this semester of their sophomore year at Bethany College, and thus, I completely understood.  In fact, we often traveled with Maddie over the week of Thanksgiving, as she was growing up, visiting new areas for exploration.  Now it was her turn to sprout her wings and explore without us.


Images of our daughter, Maddie, and her friend, Gigs visiting Chicago with Gigs’ mom, Diana.


Soon enough, John was online and on the hunt for a Thanksgiving getaway for the two of us that would be pocket-friendly, and could be booked at the last minute as we were well into the month of November when Maddie made her announcement.  As we reflected over places to visit, we thought of our recent stay in the Greenbrier Valley area.  It was close—less than a three-hour drive.  Furthermore, it was beautifully situated in the WV Mountains, and the people we encountered were just the nicest.  Why not go back?  We had barely scratched the surface of things to do during our last visit.



On a hiking trail at CB Ranch.


As John searched, he would show me one place, and then ask me to look at another.  Then, he found, “the one.” C B Ranch, located approximately four miles outside of Lewisburg, WV.  It was described as a “rental suite” with its own private entrance and private balcony views of the mountains.  Situated on 100-acre ranch, it offered everything we needed: living room, bedroom, full-bath, coffee-maker (always a must!), microwave, and mini-fridge. The pictures, along with its reasonable price, made it seem nearly too good to be true.  Hmm . . .




We’ve learned, when using sites such a VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), that it is very important to read the client reviews—and the more customer reviews, the more accurate picture you can gain of a potential property.  CB Ranch’s reviews were stellar and filled with comments that appealed to us, such as, privacy, hiking trails, friendly/helpful owners, beautiful views, and so forth.  The more we read, the more we were convinced to give it a try.


C B Ranch owners, Cheryl (foreground) and Brooke (background) with Cowboy, one of their goats that acts more like a dog.  Notice how it appears that Cowboy is smiling in the first picture as he plays with Cheryl.


Cheryl and Robert (Brooke) Bidish, owners of CB Ranch offer a most unique accommodation—the ability to have your own private vacation rental suite (or even primitive camping if desired) while staying on an actively working ranch.  In addition to renting a vacation getaway, CB Ranch is host to numerous horses for which Cheryl and Brooke board and/or offer retirement care.  In fact, you could even bring your own horses when staying at the ranch if desired!

Horses are aplenty at C B Ranch; and, you can even bring your own during your stay!


The ranch is also home to Nigerian Dwarf Goats, Mini La Mancha Goats, Katahdin Sheep, one talkative burro, two ponies (one is still a baby), dogs, cat . . . yes, this is the real deal.  Thus, John and I woke each morning to milky sunlight streaming through the mountain mist as the horses’ tails swished, the burro called, the goats and sheep grazed,  while Cheryl or Brooke, aided by their pet dog, made their morning rounds. There was something so profoundly peaceful about simply sitting and sipping coffee while observing these animals in such a tranquil setting.


While staying at C B Ranch, guests have the ability to regularly interact with all types of animals!


In fact, the entire setting was soul soothing.  John and I consider ourselves “country-dwellers” compared to when we lived in-town, but C B Ranch takes country living to a whole new level.  The stillness at night was rest inducing as were our daytime hikes. C B offers miles of trails for both two and four-legged creatures that offer breath-taking views; and we certainly took advantage of those trails as we hiked/walked the land daily! All that fresh air, the pure spring water to drink daily, and the ability to engage with the all the variety of animal life was truly restorative.  Cheryl and Brooke respected our privacy, but were readily available to share stories of their animals or offer advice/help for not only navigating their property, but also exploring the Lewisburg area.


Some of the sights from trails at C B Ranch.


One area Cheryl and Brooke highly recommended was the Greenbrier River Trail.  I could not help but notice in the suite’s journal (a journal the Bidishs ask that you use to record events of your stay with them) that several visitors to C B Ranch had brought their horses along in order to ride and explore the GRT.  And, why not? With 78 miles of trail, the longest trail in WV and ranked as one of the top ten hiking trails by Backpacker Magazine, the GRT, whose trailhead begins just outside of Lewisburg, is the perfect spot for a wide-range of outdoor enthusiasts.  GRT, a former railroad line, can now be used for biking, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, swimming, camping, as well as snow sports.


Brooke and Cheryl had a couple of hiking sticks at the ready for us to use!


Therefore, we certainly took advantage of C B Ranch’s close proximity to the trail and spent one late morning/early afternoon walking along this beautiful winding, and clearly marked, path.  We trekked three miles out, and three miles back, never tiring of the rushing river, gushing waterfalls, and fresh air on a crisp autumn day.  Afterwards, we made the short trip to Lewisburg for refreshments before heading back to C B Ranch to wash away the trail dirt and clean up for a short drive back into town for dinner.


I kid you not, you should swing by C B Ranch on your next visit to Lewisburg, WV.  You might even get lucky and earn a hug from Cowboy!


If you are looking for the place that is truly “Almost Heaven, WV” for a weekend getaway, or even a weeklong adventure, consider staying at C B Ranch.  You will find the accommodations clean and comfortable, the natural surroundings heavenly, and Cheryl and Brooke Bidish to be gracious, friendly hosts. Their website is easy to find,, you can find them on Face book and Twitter, or you can directly contact them: cbranch@gmail.comor 304-445-6168.  Tell them Steph simply sent you!  I promise, you won’t regret a moment of your stay!


More scenes of tranquil beauty courtesy of C B Ranch.






Everything you need for a comfortable stay.

Cheryl and Brooke completely respect your privacy.  

Lewisburg, WV: Part 2 of Greenbrier Valley Travel

            “Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grade finale.”—Lauren Destafano


          “And the rivers and mountains that captivated the first settlers? Their inspiring beauty remains preserved and protected for our visitors to enjoy and explore.”—Kara D. Dense, Executive Director, Greenbrier County CVB


          Author’s Note:  This is part two of a travel installment of the beauty of the Greenbrier Valley.  In a previous article, I wrote about the wonder, history, and natural beauty of Alderson, WV.  Today, I focus on its sister town, Lewisburg.


I recently heard on a local public radio station that the higher elevations of WV are coming into their peak fall colors. With that in mind, the time is right for a weekend autumn adventure in nearby downtown, historic Lewisburg, WV.  Overflowing with colorful flowers, notably preserved buildings, an eclectic mix of locally owned eateries and bars, as well as unique shops, arts, and antiques, Lewisburg has something for everyone as John and I discovered this past August.


While we stayed in a cottage in nearby Alderson, John and I traversed to nearby Lewisburg daily.  We enjoyed strolling the flower-lined streets filled with numerous 18th and 19thcentury buildings, most repurposed and in use.  Further, we found the shops, antique/craft stores, and dining venues to be right up our alley. In fact, during our three-day visit, we felt as if we barely scratched the surface of things to do in Lewisburg.



With regard to shopping, John and regularly visited Bella the Corner Gourmet Shop.  The staff was welcoming and gracious, offering delectable samples that enticed us to purchase a few unique treats not found back home. Furthermore, they were also helpful with regard to making dinner, lunch, and brunch suggestions during our stay.  Additionally, we dropped by Edith’s Health & Specialty Store where I was able to talk to a couple of staff members regarding several local yoga classes. Finally, we visited several unique gift, antique, and craft shops.



Finding places to dine was not difficult in Lewisburg.  The challenge was deciding upon which dining establishment to choose as there was a wide selection. Therefore, after consulting locals as well as a bit of on-line research, we did our best to experience the spectrum of food adventure Lewisburg has to offer.


On our first night in town, we gave the Stardust Café a try.  We had been told they offered numerous gluten-free choices, something I require, as well as many meat-centric dishes, something John prefers.  Sitting at the bar, watching the chef cook our meals while the attentive staff waited upon patrons, we relished every moment in this green and local-focused eatery.  From the prosciutto wrapped dates, to gluten-free chocolate cake; and, from the Trust Me dinner salad, to the Standing Pork Shank, this meal hit the spot!


                      Food choices at Stardust Cafe.


The next day, we visited The Wild Bean, the local coffee shop, for a bag of freshly ground coffee and a latte.  Then, we noshed in Thunderbird Taco for a quick lunch, and enjoyed its energetic and quirky atmosphere.  Later in the afternoon, John and I made our way to the Irish Pub for a drink as we listened to owner Patrick O’Flaherty play Irish music.  In fact, all three of these local establishments were found near one another on Washington Street.


The chalkboard message outside of the Irish Pub made me laugh out loud!


In between all of our downtown stops, we made time to drive out near the Greenbrier airport for a tour at Smooth Ambler Spirits, a local distillery “patiently craft(ing) Appalachian Spirits.”  This is a tour we highly recommend even if you don’t drink spirits, but especially if you do! We had hoped to also visit Greenbrier Valley Brewing Co., a local beer crafter directly across from Smooth Ambler, but were unable to schedule a visit.  (Sigh, I guess we will just have to visit another time!)


Images from Smooth Ambler Spirits featuring Val Colella, Tasting Room and Retail Manager, who acted as our vivacious host and tour guide for the day.


Another great local dining establishment that we ultimately ending up visiting twice was Hill and Holler Pizza.  This restaurant, just outside of downtown Lewisburg, serves up Neapolitan style pizza cooked in their wood-fired oven. They also offer 16 beers on tap, and it has the nicest staff around!   John and I thoroughly loved our dining experience.  I was especially impressed with their piled high fresh salads as well as the fact they offer a freshly baked gluten free pizza; and, boy, was it good!! No cardboard crust here.  Hill and Holler also regularly offers live music and other public events and serves locally crafted beer, ciders, and spirits.   In fact, one local told us that on any given Friday evening, the place is packed with music lovers!

Images from Hill and Holler Pizza as well as one of our sweet and attentive servers!


Surrounded by natural, mountainous beauty, as well as sparkling, gurgling creeks and rivers, even the outskirts of town offer plenty to do for the nature enthusiast.  John and I, also lovers of the great outdoors, were excited by the prospects of fishing and hiking in and alongside the Greenbrier River.  In fact, the Greenbrier River Trail seemed the perfect spot to combine both.  This 78-mile long trail offers plenty of opportunities for bicycling, backpacking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, fishing, swimming and even overnight camping.






We entered the trail at milepost 3 (I never could figure out where milepost 1 and 2 were located though!)  This was a short drive from US Route 60, not too far outside of Lewisburg. We hiked and fished our way past milepost 5, and then made the return trip back down the trail.


Milepost 3 of Greenbrier River Trail.



One of our fishing stops was at milepost 4.7 where there was a trailside tent campsite complete with table, fire ring, and a nearby outhouse—which I have to say, was one of the cleanest I have used! I couldn’t help but notice this milepost also had a hitching post for horses!   This is one beautiful trail John and I hope to explore again!


                   Images from one of the campsites at around milepost 4.7.



Overall, John and I thoroughly loved our time in Lewisburg!   We hope to return on another visit as there are still many places we did not get to visit including Organ Cave, a National Natural Landmark that is the 2ndlongest cave on the East Coast.   While preparing for our visit to Lewisburg, I came across a quote that said, “Only two kinds of people ever leave Lewisburg—those who return and those who wish they could.”  John and I couldn’t agree more.  So throw together a bag, gas up the car, grab your family, friends, or a loved one, and make the short drive along scenic US Route 60 to Lewisburg; and tell them, Steph simply sent you!

Images from boat ramp outside of Lewisburg filled with a beautiful area in which to “play,” picnic, and launch your favorite water craft into the Greenbrier River.


This made us laugh out loud. It was seen on a sign outside of a tavern between our driver from Alderson to Lewisburg. We decided to preserve it here!

Birthday Wishes

            “Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.”—W.W. Jacobs


          “One of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten is my daughter.”—Ace Frehley


            Warning to the Reader:  The following words are full of the heart, sentimentality, and the emotion of a parent.  While I originally planned to write part two of a travel piece, it will have to wait as I must, instead, write from a deep sense of gratitude.  If sappy stories don’t appeal to you, then perhaps this piece of writing is not for you. 




Friday mornings at my school, St. Joseph Catholic School, are devoted to church.  Our weekly church service for students, staff, and community is a part of our schedule to which I look forward.  I love seeing students of all faith backgrounds, grades Kindergarten through eighth grade, come together for the sole purpose of quieting the heart and mind in order to hear God speak.


This past Friday was no exception.  For whatever reason, my homeroom students and I were the first to arrive for mass.  As we made our way to the designated pews, we all knelt together.  I was struck by a gnawing feeling of which I could not quite decipher.  Normally, I can relax and slip easily into a prayerful mode, but it was eluding me.  In fact, all morning, something felt off.  Even a co-worker before mass asked me if I was ok because she said I, “looked out of sorts.”  At the time, it struck me as odd.


belief bible book business
Photo by Pixabay on


As the service began, my phone vibrated on the pew beside me with the beats of someone calling.  I ignored it because I was in church.  It stopped, but began immediately anew.  I looked down and saw my daughter’s name on the screen, and I knew . . .


Since the last few days of July, Madelyn, my daughter, had been fighting an unknown illness.  Bumps and lumps developed under her arms, and she complained of pain.  She switched deodorant several times.  She’d go without deodorant.  She switched soap.  She went to several different doctors.  She was diagnosed and prescribed one thing after another over the coming weeks with varying diagnoses with little to no improvement.


blue and silver stetoscope
Photo by Pixabay on


As a parents, John, my husband, and I felt helpless especially once she returned to Bethany College, four hours away from home.   I would find myself saying seemingly trite phrases such as, “Take care of yourself;” “Get some rest;” “Drink plenty of water;” and so forth.  The only thing we could really do was listen when she called, offer our love and support, and encourage her to take action in whatever form she felt appropriate.


However, this past week, Maddie had called every day as her symptoms seemed to come to a head.  She was frustrated, tired, and stressed.  Nothing seemed to be working, and she felt like no one was listening to her.  In her mind, she was seen as just another whiny, female college student seeking attention.




Finally, Maddie asked me to ask my health-care provider his opinion.  She had been researching her symptoms, talking with a concerned professor, and was worried the bigger issue was being overlooked.  All of her symptoms pointed to scary sounding words that mostly started with the letter L:  Lupus, leukemia, lymphoma, and one random condition called, hidradenitis suppurativa.


Therefore, I reached out to Alan Maynard, the health care provider for John and me.  He very generously and nearly instantly took time to look at the pictures and texts Maddie had sent my way.  He told me to tell her to insist on blood work on her next visit to the doctor and possibly ask for an ultrasound.  Then, the next day, out of the blue, Alan sent me another message advising that Maddie should ask about hidradenitis suppurativa.




When the phone buzzed the second time during church, I knew I had to answer it.  I quickly stepped outside into the bright, clear sunshine.  The blood work Madelyn had insisted upon at Alan’s urging revealed an elevated white blood cell count.  A doctor from the local Med Express had just called her to say she needed to report to the ER immediately.

“But I am fine, Mom, really.  Jill will take me.”


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Oh boy.  I looked up at the sky.  Now what?  She’s four hours away.


I slipped back into church and sat down by John, who also teaches at SJCS.


“We need to go,” he said.


“You need to go be a Mom,” said our principal, Carol Templeton.


“We’re a family.  We got both of your classes,” stated Justina White, our assistant principal.




         Maddie, and one of her roommates, Jill, try to keep it light in the ER in Washington, PA.


Without belaboring any more details, our minds raced from one thought to another during the time it took to quickly pack, gas up, and make the drive.  Jill, one of Maddie’s roommates, sent me regular text updates when Maddie could not.   With each one, John and I grew more worried:  IV drip of antibiotics, several vials of blood drawn, and ultrasound on armpits . . . ..


Looking back, I know my story-writing mind went into hyper-drive from the moment I took the call, but when you’re a parent, your kid is your priority—even at college age.  Still, I should have talked myself down.  I mean, we did get through potty training, the middle school years, and numerous other illnesses, including a broken arm, right???




Barring a random issue showing up in her blood that is still being cultured as I write this, all tests indicate that Alan’s instincts were correct: hidradenitis suppurativa.  And, while that is a lifetime condition for which there is no, per se, cure, it is NOT any of the L-words, and for that, I am grateful.  It can hopefully be successfully managed, once infection and initial treatment have been completed, with a few lifestyle changes.


For the record, while I had secretly been wishing I could see my daughter for my upcoming birthday, but knew she was busy, I would have preferred to spend time with her under completely different conditions!  Still, I feel it was a gift to have once more wrapped my arms around my beautiful daughter, listen to her banter, and see those green eyes dance as she chided us for making the drive up.






I was further blessed to interact with her friends who, thankfully, take good care of each other.  Additionally, I am blessed with the love of husband who said, “We need to go,” and the support of a school family who allowed that to happen.  And, of course, I also felt blessed by the love, prayers, and support of family, friends, and loved ones.


P.S.  Thank you Sandy Taylor, Amy Vanhorn, Jillian and Stu, Dr. Kitchens, Cathy and Stephanie as well as the staff of Hampton Inn Wheeling.  We appreciate your extra efforts as well!!!


P.P.S.  Thank you Alan for listening to Maddie when she felt her complaints were falling on deaf ears!  You rock!












Fall in Love with the Greenbrier Valley on your next Weekend Excursion, Part 1: Alderson, WV

           “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

           “Fiery colors begin their yearly conquest of the hills, propelled by the autumn winds.  Fall is the artist.”Animal Crossing:  Wild World (Nintendo video game)

          **Author’s note: This is the first of two installations regarding the Greenbrier Valley area.  This piece will focus mostly on Alderson, WV. Next week will focus more on Lewisburg, WV.




           It is the time of year when there is an itch that needs scratched like that place on your back that is hard to reach.  Beginning in September, a desire to take a Fall weekend escape into the mountains begins to develop in the minds of many.  Fortunately, living in the Tri-state, we do not have to travel far as all three of our local states, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, offer an array of multihued hillsides. However, if you want to drive a little further off the beaten path, look no farther than the scenic Midland Trail through WV.

           This past August, John and I traversed part of the Midland Trail on our way to a weekend stay in Alderson and Lewisburg, WV.  Given Interstate 64 construction traffic, it seems more people than ever are traveling along this beautiful and historic trail, first established hundreds of years earlier by Native Americans.   Much later, after the invention of automobiles and the unquenchable desire of Americans to travel about the country, U.S. Route 60 became the first transcontinental highway that connected travelers from Virginia to California.


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           However, there is no need to cross the country for a great fall weekend escape.  Instead, focus on the nearby miles of bi-way linking Huntington to White Sulpher Springs and all of the sites in between.  From covered bridges to historic cemeteries; from craft beers, ciders, and spirits to exquisite and/or quaint restaurants, diners, and bakers; from antiques/vintages to fine arts and local crafts; from charming hikes and bike rides to fishing, kayaking, and golf—not to mention all of local shops—there is plenty to do along this drive!  In fact, on the weekend of our retreat, John and I felt as if we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do just in the Alderson/Lewisburg areas.

           To begin, John used a popular home rental site to find a small, newly restored, and definitely budget-friendly cottage in which to stay in Alderson within walking distance of the Greenbrier River as well as the historic downtown area.  While the owner of the cottage was still working a few of the kinks out of the remodel, the cottage was clean, comfortable, and filled with all new furniture, appliances, and kitchenware. It was perfect for our purposes!


The cottage was within walking distance of the Greenbrier River and Historic Alderson.


           We arrived Friday afternoon and used that time to get acquainted with our surroundings.  Alderson was quiet, quaint, and quintessentially surrounded by the layered magnificence of the WV Mountains.   Additionally, John and I could not help but notice several lion statues as throughout the town.




          We would learn that in 1890, there was a town resident who unbelievablely adopted a circus lion cub!  Although tamed by the owner, the cat often escaped its owner’s yard only to roam through town. While I am sure this was roaringly (pun-intended) funny, the town ultimately passed an ordinance that required all lions to be leashed! According to our unverified source, that city ordinance is still on Alderson’s books!  Thankfully, during our stay, at least, John and I did not encounter any oversized circus felines!



           The town’s roots, however, stretch back even further.   Several sources point to the belief that this area of WV was initially the site of a fort in the 1750’s.  These same sources state that the Shawnee destroyed the fort around 1763 under the leadership of Chief Cornstalk.  However, no artifacts have ever been found at this site to verify its existence, but there are several historic documents and letters that reference it.  In fact, the Federal Prison Camp just outside the corporation of Alderson, made famous in recent history by Martha Stewart, is built upon the same grounds where the fort supposedly once stood. Most sources, however, credit John Anderson, who organized the first Baptist church in the Greenbrier Valley, for establishing the town in 1777.




           During our stay, John and I strolled alongside the Greenbrier River and crossed over the historic, pedestrian Alderson Bridge in order to explore the Alderson Historic District where we discovered Alderson’s Store.  This 131-year-old store was charming with an eclectic mix of vintage, antiques, and modern wares. Little did we know until weeks later, that the woman running the shop was none other than Sarah Alderson, direct descent of John Anderson, whose family has lived in Alderson for over 200 years!  In addition to this store, there were several other cute shops, a couple of diners, an artisan’s gallery, and the Old Victorian Inn that is directly across from the Historic 1896 C&O Amtrak Depot. In fact, Amtrak will, upon request, make stops at Alderson on its Cardinal Route.






           One item of interest that John and I were unable to do during our stay in Alderson was visit the Alderson Visitor Center. This newly created tourist attraction offers visitors a local history museum, a river science center, interactive kiosk, as well as Alderson memorabilia for purchase.  (Hmm. I wonder if they have any “Martha Stewart was Here” t-shirts?)  Additionally, the center boasts a community market Saturdays 8-12, May-October.




           John also used this opportunity to wade and fish the waters of this section of the Greenbrier.  He had fun catching a few small mouth bass. One evening, I watched from the riverbank as John fished his way upstream near dusk.  While I brought my gear to fish alongside him, I knew my natural inclination to be a klutz might lead me to falling, especially as darkness fell, so I sat this session out.  Still, I enjoyed watching John fish as the river waters gently meandered over rocks and around little islands.



           Then, it happened, in a split second, John tripped, slipped, and then slid under the waters of the river.  My heart raced as I quickly glanced around for help and the best route down the river bank to get to him as quickly as possible. Then, only seconds later, although it felt like a lifetime, John popped up and made his way to a nearby island of rock. Though drenched and a bit bruised, he was, thankfully, fine. Oh, the things he will do to gain my attention!



           Overall, John and I found our time spent in Alderson pleasant and oh-so-peaceful.  We would love to return during the peak of autumn—we can only imagine the fiery display of the Creator’s pallet in this gentle, river town. In the meantime, add Alderson to your list of close fall getaways.  Spend a day, or the weekend, and tell them Steph simply sent you!



                      Alderson is situated in two counties: Greenbrier and Monroe!