Politeness is the Flower of Humanity

 

“Politeness is the flower of humanity.” – Joseph Joubert

 

“In the Spirit which draws us into honest engagement with one another, including those who may be very different from us in various ways, God calls us to wake up and learn how to love and respect one another, period.”–Carter Heyward

 

There is a woman with whom I work. Her genuine smile rarely ceases.  Even when she is expressing disagreement, frustration, and anger, she is able to articulate it in a way that is both respectful and without a hint of anger in her voice.  Whenever I am feeling particularly moody, I chastisingly ask myself why I can’t be more like her.

 

While I like to think of myself as an overall kind and polite person, I fully recognize I have a long way to go in the thoughtfulness department.  Perhaps, that is one of my drivers for writing regularly–my own quest for greater understanding and personal growth. One thing I know for certain, on those days when I feel less than my best self–I see my co-worker’s smile, and I feel inspired to dig a little deeper to shake off whatever annoyance or struggle upon which I have focused.  And, perhaps, that is the key: focus.

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

There is an old saying that states, that which we focus upon we become. Thus, maybe I need to ask myself on those days, where is my focus, and what can I change?  How can I begin to cultivate more inner joy like my co-worker seems to possess? As fate would have it, the Universe kindly provided me with a lesson.

 

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Photo by Bekka Mongeau on Pexels.com

 

John, my husband, suggested that we take advantage of an upcoming three day weekend and head out of town for a couple of nights.  Sometimes just a change of scenery can reset and rejuvenate our spirits. Besides, John knows me all too well, when I am home, I typically focus on work.  Therefore, my only request, upon his suggestion was that we not travel too far in order to return home with enough time for me to–yes, you guessed it– get caught up on my weekly weekend chores, so I didn’t have to start the next week feeling frantic and rushed.

After a bit of price comparisons on various travel sites, we ultimately settled on returning to Charleston,WV and the Four Points Hotel.  We have personally found the staff at this hotel to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. Furthermore, we love the location along the Kanawha River within walking distance to the downtown Charleston Historic District.  

 

 

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Due to an extreme drop in temperatures, we decided to remain within the hotel grounds for dinner that evening.  While the hotel does have its own restaurant, it also has another eatery on the opposite side, Recovery Sports Grille.  Many of the hotel staff members had recommended this spot on previous trips, but we had never before tried it. Therefore, with temperatures hovering in the teens, we gladly walked the short distance to the restaurant, using it as an opportunity to view the beautiful local artwork and photographs displayed along the warm interior route.

 

 

Once seated in Recovery, we met Britney Stamper, our waitress/bartender, for the evening.  John and I learned years ago that sitting at the bar often renders the best service, plus it typically gives us insight into the areas in which we are visiting.  While we didn’t, per se, gain additional insight into the Charleston area, we did learn a great deal about Charlotte, NC, an area in which Britney had lived for several years with her family.  By the end of the evening, we gained a greater awareness of another town we now plan to visit, ate fantastic food, and thoroughly enjoyed connecting, if only for a couple of hours, with another human whose varied life experiences expanded and enhanced our own. 

 

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Britney Stamper, at Recovery Sports Grille

 

 

Throughout the rest of the weekend, we were able to meet other people from all walks of life.  For example, while browsing in the Historic District, I wandered into The Consignment Shop. While I had discovered this store on a previous visit, I had not met the owner. However, on this visit I was able to meet her.   We shared a lovely conversation through the process of checking out, bonding over aging, being a woman, and other life experiences. I exited the shop smiling at the sense of connection.

 

 

Later that weekend, John and I met two engaging young people at Pies and Pints, a favorite dining establishment.  While dining there, we could not help but find ourselves drawn into their conversation as one employee celebrated and congratulated the other’s acceptance into nursing school.  Again, their short life experiences were certainly different from ours, but that did not hinder us in our conversations as we were able to find common ground.

 

 

Additionally, during breakfast, both mornings, we learned about Bruce, who may (or may not) be the morning manager of the hotel restaurant.  (We are uncertain of his exact title.) What John and I do know is that Bruce has been part of the Four Points staff during each of our visits, and he is the friendly face with whom we chat during our late morning meals.  It is easy to talk with Bruce, and it is clear from our conversations that he is kind, thoughtful, and devoted to his girlfriend and family.   

 

 

As we said our good-byes to Bruce, he confessed that he usually doesn’t talk much to his customers, “But, I really do like talking to you guys,” he added with a crooked smile, and I found myself smiling in return.

His comment remained with me throughout that day, and it later occured to me the lesson within his comment.  Perhaps, inner joy comes when we focus on others. Reflecting on my co-worker, she possesses a strong focus on others’ needs as well as a genuine and sincere curiosity.  I began to realize that I had spent so much time trying to measure up to what I perceived was “wrong” with me and “right” with her, that I had forgotten she has also talked privately about her own inner battles and demons.   However, in spite of any inward struggles she may be experiencing, when she comes to school, her light is on, open, and ready to engage, much in the same way John and I were engaging during our weekend away. Hmm . . .

In the final assessment, I fully recognize I still have many shortcomings, and there remain numerous areas in my life in which I still need to  improve. That recognition, in and of itself, may not be a bad thing. Perhaps, if I thought I had “arrived,” or had no more ways to improve, maybe that would be a bigger problem.  Instead, I will humbly accept that I have more inner work to do, need to focus on others’ needs more, and must continue to remain open to the lessons and sources of inspiration Divine Providence keeps providing me.

 

“Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Welcome 2020 Bluegrass Style: Another visit to Lexington, KY

  “New year—a new chapter, new verse, or just the same old story? Ultimately, we write it. The choice is ours.” –Alex Morritt

 

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.”–Rainer Maria Rilke

 

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Hosts Dawna and Dave added thoughtful touches to celebrate the New Year.

 

 

By now, it has become fairly clear that John, my husband, and I are truly enamoured with Lexington, KY.  Part of the reason could be due to the fact we both have family roots tied to the Bluegrass state. It could also be the part Appalachian/part southern hospitality that puts us at ease–including the great food.  Then again, it could be its size as Lexington is big enough to have a few “big city offerings,” and likewise small enough to not feel overwhelming. Plus, like home, it still has plenty of hills, farmland, and areas of natural beauty.

 

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John and I are beginning to wear down a path from our home in Chesapeake, OH to Lexington, KY much like this worn path I discovered while walking the local neighborhood park in which our Airbnb rental was located.

 

 

Our previous Airbnb hosts, David and Dawna, had incentivized a return visit.  We had only recently stayed in their Uptown Retreat, a cozy accommodation perfect for couples, for a few days during Thanksgiving week.  Therefore, we made a fairly last minute decision to see if these same gracious hosts had a few days of availability for the New Year’s holiday.  As luck would have it, Uptown Retreat was not available, but The Corner Pocket, a larger two bedroom/two bath property–complete with pool table, was available, and a very reasonable price point.

 

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The Corner Pocket comes complete with a pool table.
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Jelly beans anyone? Complete with your own supply of pennies . . .winning!!!

 

While the rainy, chilly weather was a bit of a bummer, The Corner Pocket, did not disappoint!  It was meticulously clean with a full size, fully stocked updated kitchen. As they did with their Uptown Retreat property, David and Dawna offered plenty of thoughtful touches to make renters feel right at home, including plenty of snacks, coffee, tea, toys for kids, cards/games for all ages, three large flatscreen TVs with access to all your favorite subscription channels, plenty of paper and toiletry products, and so much more.  They even had an old fashioned, coin operated candy dispensing machine loaded with jelly beans, and a cup full of pennies! Plus, the property is located in an attractive, well-kept residential area with plenty of places to walk, jog, and/or ride bikes, and it is conveniently located to nearby downtown Lexington as well as multiple shopping/dining attractions. Plus, did I mention how attentive David and Dawna are to their renters? While they live right next door, they respect your privacy, but if you find you need anything, they are Johnny-on-the-spot.

 

 

 

 

Since the weather, except for the first full-day, was not conducive to out-of-doors explorations, we took advantage of the time to hunker down a bit in the comfortable accommodations and to also explore several of the Lexington shopping areas.  These areas included Lexington Green, Fayette Mall, The Summit at Fritz Farms, and Hamburg Pavilion. Each of these attractions offered numerous shopping, dining, and entertainment options. While each location had its own personality and appeal, depending upon the established and desired purveyors, all were attractive, offered ample and convenient parking, and were easily traversed.  

 

The first day in Lexington offered delightfully sunny, albeit chilly, weather.  This gave me time explore the neighborhood and discover a delightful walking trail/park.

 

As self-ascribed foodies, John and I, with our divergent food interests, were once more like kids playing in a food park wondering which ride to choose–our known favorites or new thrills?   It pleases John that Lexington offers plenty of the three Bs: beer, bourbon, and barbeque. Meanwhile, I prefer more plant-based options; and, due to celiac disease, I need gluten-free offerings (ruling out beer and bourbon for me).  No need to worry in Lexington!  

We did stop by a local favorite, Pies and Pints; however, we forgot to picture of most of our food!

 

Of course, we patronized our old favorite, Pies and Pints, (gotta support a WV based business) and our new favorite, Carson’s, in which bar-tender/waiter extraordinaire, Kyle Ostrander, was once again at our service!  Dining at Carson’s, John was able to enjoy a mouth-watering, massive plate of ribs, mac n cheese, and fries. Meanwhile, I was able to once more get my tummy filled with their wedge salad (with a few modifications for me) and, from their Vegan and Gluten-free menu, Chickpea Curry–so, so good!

 

Kyle Ostrander, of Carson’s, provided excellent service and good conversation. I enjoyed both Chickpea Curry and a Wedge salad while John enjoyed ribs and all the sides!

 

While exploring The Summit on New Year’s Day, John discovered a restaurant called, World of Beer!  We were greeted and waited upon by Owen Weyl and Kasey Belleman. These two good-natured and gregarious souls were warm and welcoming, especially considering they were working on a holiday!  They offered outstanding suggestions and tips. John warmed up with a bowl of chilli while I noshed on their Spring Greens and Kale salad. Thanks to Owen and Kasey, as well as our yummy food, this is sure to be spot we will want to visit again!

 

Owen Weyl and Kasey Belleman of World of Beer provided outstanding service      while we ate lunch at World of Beer at The Summit at Fritz Farms.

 

Inside World of Beer.

Spring Greens and Kale salad for me and a bowl of chili for John. 

 

We traveled to Wild Eggs for brunch the following day.  Janelle Foltz was our waitress, and we had a blast chatting with Janelle as she is a new transplant from Florida who loves to hike.  (Of course, shared several spots in KY in which we loved to explore, but we also could not say enough about all of the offerings found in good ol’ WV and OH.)  And, yes, by the way, the food was delectable, once again, at Wild Eggs! John enjoyed the An Ace of a BLT–avocado, cheddar, egg, bacon, lettuce, and tomato eat-with-a-fork super-sized sandwich that was served with a side of cheesy, chorizo and bacon grits.  Meanwhile, Janelle brought me the Gluten-Free menu, and, with a few modifications, I was able to dive into the Surfer Girl, veggie-loaded and sprout topped, egg-white omelette served with a fruit cup and surprisingly tasty gluten-free bread! YUM!

 

Surfer Girl, veggie-loaded and sprout topped, egg-white omelette served with a fruit cup and surprisingly tasty gluten-free bread and An Ace of a BLT–avocado, cheddar, egg, bacon, lettuce, and tomato eat-with-a-fork super-sized sandwich that was served with a side of cheesy, chorizo and bacon grits while we dined at Wild Eggs.

 

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Janelle Foltz, an avid hiker and out-of-doors adventurer, was our fabulous waitress at Wild Eggs.

 

One really nice touch that David and Dawna offer at their Airbnb rentals is plenty of information, brochures, pamphlets and menus of popular Lexington and surrounding area attractions, restaurants, and establishments.  Additionally, in a booklet they created for each rental is a listing of their local favorites, one of which is a restaurant called Nick Ryan’s.  

 

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Dawna and David provide plenty of reading material regarding area attractions.

 

Located in what appears to be a former home, Nick Ryan’s is a beautiful restaurant with an expansive food and drink menu that appealed to both John and me.  Our super-sweet bartender/waitress, Skylar Mays, a UK senior, was attentive, affable, and at-the-ready with suggestions if asked. In fact, it was Skylar who said we would love our appetizer, The Trio Dip.  It was a classic combo for John and me including beer cheese, red pepper hummus, cucumber dip, tortilla chips, baby carrots, and celery sticks. No need for a dinner salad after this! What’s more, John was surprised to discover he liked all three dips, not just the beer cheese. 

Nick Ryan’s is a beautiful restaurant located in what appears to be a former home.

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Skylar Mays, a UK senior, was an affable and attentive waitress.

 

Meanwhile, for dinner, John savored the Local Smoked BBQ Pork Butt.  This dish offered generous chunks of pork butt, slow smoked in-house, and it was served open-faced on Texas toast with BBQ sauce, country green beans, mac-n-cheese, corn fritters, and cole-slaw. While I dug into the Quinoa Vegetable Bowl overflowing with sauteed, seasonal vegetables on a bed of quinoa, and topped with sweet chilli sauce.  Given the atmosphere, attentive service, and ample, and scrumptious food, Nick Ryan’s is sure to be another Lexington restaurant John and I will want to visit again.

 

The Trio Dip was our appetizer, John enjoyed the Local Smoked BBQ Pork Butt, while savored the Quinoa Vegetable Bowl.

 

Local art adorned the walls of Nick Ryan’s.

Once more, Lexington proves to be a close-to-home getaway for food, shopping, and adventure.  There are numerous out-of-doors and historic adventures/attractions still beckoning us, and of course, John has yet to visit any of the local Lexington distilleries and/or breweries.  In fact, he’s already spied a beer trail walking tour, Lexington on Taps tour as well as the Brewgrass Trail. Of course, with the Rupp Arena at the heart of downtown, University of Kentucky, nearby horse farms, and numerous other attractions, Lexington has much to offer visitors.  Hmm . . . I wonder when we can return?

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Lexington, KY 2019–Relax, Unwind, Enjoy Great Food

“Traveling – It leaves you speechless, then turns  you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

I am not a glutton–I am an explorer of food.”–Erma Bombeck

 

Quite honestly, I am not sure how it finally all came to be decided, but in the end, it was a romantic, food-laden adventure.   In fact, I would argue, sometimes, last minute plans end up making the best adventures because you haven’t had time to think about and attach to certain outcomes.  You just pack a bag, hop in the car, and see what unfolds! That is what happened to John, my husband, and me this past Thanksgiving.

 

John and I are not traditional Thanksgiving meal fare people. I know, I know, for many people, Thanksgiving is their favorite holiday; and, I get it.  Focusing on the big three–food, family, and friends–is never a bad thing, I wholeheartedly agree. To be certain, I have baked my fair share of turkeys over the years–including baking the neck and giblet bags within the turkey!  What can I say? Fortunately, that year, I had a brother-in-law, Tony, who took good care to help me out without making me feel like a complete and total idiot–even though I was!

 

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Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

 

Despite the fact that turkey, dressing, and all the other traditional trimmings aren’t really John’s and my thing, we do love our food, and we do love to travel–even if adventuring fairly close to home! Thus, years ago, we began the family tradition, when our daughter, Madelyn, was fairly young, to combine travel and food during Thanksgiving week.  We tended to travel to mountainous destinations in nearby North Carolina, West Virginia, or Kentucky, and we usually kept the driving distance no longer than 6 hours. However, for the past couple of years, Maddie, now in college, has tended to venture separately with friends, included trips to Chicago and New York City. Therefore, this year, we were unsure if she would be joining us or not.  Furthermore, I preferred not to be out of town the entire week of Thanksgiving.

 

Conversations regarding Thanksgiving travel waxed and waned among Maddie, John, and me.  

 

“Are you interested in traveling with us?”

 

“Where would you want to go?”

 

“What days did you say you wanted to travel?”

 

“You know, we could go . . .”

 

“You know, we need to make a decision soon.”

 

Even the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, we still had not fully decided what to do!  Talk about indecisiveness–mostly on my part. In the end, we settled on Lexington, KY–a short three night, two hour trip.  John and I had discovered this town’s appeal this past spring, due to a family experience at the UK Medical Center. Therefore, why not head back to Kentucky’s warm hospitality?

 

Hospitality is exactly what we discovered on Airbnb.  We found what appeared to be a cozy apartment hideaway, reasonably priced, and tucked into an old residential Lexington neighborhood, only minutes from downtown.  However, due to a hacking experience the previous spring, our Airbnb account was not properly functioning. That is when hosts, Dawna and David Gaither, stepped in and offered direct Airbnb contact information, so that we could talk to an actual person, and get our account up and operating once more.  This was only the beginning of Dawna and David’s hospitality.

 

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Their “Uptown Retreat,” as it is called on Airbnb, is comfortable, cozy, and full of thoughtful touches for one or two travelers.  This spacious two-room apartment offers a retro kitchenette, wood-burning fireplace (complete with wood to burn), sauna, full bath, and laundry.  Plus, Dawna and David stock it up with beverages, snacks, toiletries, plenty of linens, coffee/tea, as well as comfortable bedding. Plus, they responded promptly and courteously to all text queries, and we were stunned by the fact they checked on us regularly to see if there was any more they could do to make our stay more pleasant!  John and I would highly recommend both the hosts and this location–absolutely perfect!

 

 

 

Now for the food . . .

 

Pies and Pints is always a favorite dining establishment.  I cannot say enough about their Simple Salad and their Black Bean Pie with gluten-free crust, which even John agrees is tasty!  And, yes, I splurged on cheese for this visit! John loves the rotating tap of local breweries and the Make-Your-Own-Pie choice since he’s a straightforward pepperoni, sausage, extra cheese kinda guy.  During this visit, we were fortunate enough to have Devon waiting upon us again, as he did this past spring, and his service and the food/beverages did not disappoint! Yum, yum, yum!

 

 

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Next stop, Wild Eggs for brunch the following day with Ms. Janette Gomez as our waitress extraordinaire. When I explained that I really did not want to eat meat, wanted little to no dairy, and I needed to eat gluten-free, she did not sweat one bit!  She helped me find several dishes from which I could choose, and she even suggested ways to make my ultimate choice filled with even more of what I love–vegetables! Add to that a carafe full of unlimited flavored coffee, an adorable atmosphere, that included mixed drinks if we had wanted them, an eclectic menu, and John’s big ol’ “Yellow Submarine” sandwich, we left Wild Eggs feeling full, happy, and definitely wanting to return again the next time we are in the neighborhood..

 

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That evening, it was time to visit Carson’s–John’s favorite spot (so far) in Lexington.  While we had dined there this past spring, we recalled that the menu had so many items that we wished to try, this visit seemed like the time to return and try a new dish.  I went straight to their vegan and gluten-free entrees, while John debated which meat-centric dish he wanted to enjoy. During our conversation that evening, I asked John if he ever got tired of finding restaurants with gluten-free and vegetarian options for me.  His reply left me thinking.

 

 

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“I figure, if a place takes the time to think about creating a few good food choices for those desiring vegetarian and gluten-free options, then they probably take just as much care, if not more, creating great meat based dishes.”

 

Hmm . . .maybe he’s on to something!  To be certain, that has certainly defined the majority of our dining experiences!  One thing is for sure, we found our meals tasted unbelievably delicious at Carson’s with courteous, and overall, prompt service that left us wanting to return a third time!  My Tofu Stir-fry was loaded with all the colorful veggies I love, and John’s Sweet and Spicy Rib Entree was loaded up with what could be called, bone-sucking good ribs! We did not leave hungry that night.

 

What did we do about Thanksgiving Day?  John still had one-half of his Yellow Submarine sandwich from our brunch at Wild Eggs, and he also had half of his ribs from dinner, but I did not have any leftovers.  Therefore, after a long walk around the neighborhood’s peaceful lake and homes, we visited Whole Foods Market’s food and salad bars. John loaded up on containers full of green salad and Mac n Cheese to round out both his meals for the day, while I loaded up on an eclectic mix of containers: mixed berries, salad, tofu, assorted grilled and roasted vegetables, quinoa chili, and, of course, dark chocolate!  Once back at the apartment, we burned a fire all day long, took in the football games, relaxed, and enjoyed each other’s company in our pleasant and snuggly setting. Now that’s a trip for which to feel grateful!

 

 

From my home to yours, John and I wish you safe, happy, and delicious travel experiences, and we certainly recommend givings Lexington, KY a visit when looking for a close-to-home adventure.  You won’t go hungry or be disappointed!

 

 

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The Resort at Glade Springs, another WV Gem

“There are cookie-cutter resorts, and then there are endless possibilities that define your experience at The Resort at Glade Springs. You won’t believe the options you have – from the dizzying array of recreational activities to lodging and dining choices. You envision your perfect vacation, and we’ll make it come to life.”—The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

“The vacation of a lifetime awaits you at our resort in WV. Reconnect with your family in a place that’s close to home, but a million miles removed from your hectic life.”— The Resort at Glade Springs website

 

It began as a classic misty mountain morning in Appalachia as John and I drove along the WV turnpike.  Sunshine, muted, but still golden, slowly seeped through the milky mist as our vehicle moved us closer to our first destination, Grandview, part of the National Park, located in Glen Jean, WV.  While Grandview was originally part of the WV State Park system, the National Park system took over its care and upkeep in 1990. John and I knew we would be joining members of the Brown Dog Yoga team for a morning hike as part of the activities planned for our instructor retreat; however, we truly had no idea what a dramatically scenic area we were about to experience.

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Brown Dog Yoga (Ashland, Barbrousville, & Huntington) first annual instructor retreat.

 

Overlooking the New River, Grandview offers visitors, at Main Overlook, 1400 feet above the river, some of the most incredible views of a seven-mile section of the New River.  Additionally, the sights from Turkey Spur Overlook were just as dizzyingly stunning during our crisp, early fall hike. In fact, Grandview offers five hiking trails, ranger led walks/talks, a visitor center that is opened seasonally, summer outdoor dramas, and picnic areas with playground and shelters.  The trails over which John and I trekked with the group were long, rocky, and a bit slippery from rain the day prior to the hike. Nonetheless, the magnificent views of the New River for which we were continually rewarded made every step worthwhile, not to mention the fun, friendship, and fellowship felt along the way.

 

 

After more than two hours of hiking, our group made its way to the next stop, Dogwood Court, located in the resort at Glade Springs, home of our fearless BDY leaders, Rich and Katrina Mailoux.  John parted at this point, and made his way to our room at the resort. Meanwhile, the BDY team was treated to the Mailoux’s warm hospitality and homemade lunch. Furthermore, we were uplifted with two separate motivating presentations with team building activities in between, one of which was participating in the Glade Spring’s Escape Room offering us a challenging adventure as well as abundant opportunities for good natured ribbing and laughter.

 

 

 

By 6:00, I parted ways with the group to rejoin John Glade Springs.  Although John had forewarned me that our room, “an executive suite” was a bit dated, I was delighted to find it to be spacious, comfortable, and immaculately clean.  While we were not located in the actual Inn, we found our section of eight buildings, each named for a different tree, to be quiet, lined with plenty of walking paths, dog-friendly, and within walkable distance to the main inn.

 

 

While I was bonding with the BDY team, John had showered, rested, and enjoyed lunch at Bunkers Sports Bar, one of the restaurants on premise at Glade Springs.  Overlooking the driving range, John happily watched a college football while noshing on an over-sized barbeque sandwich with a side of house made chips that he said were a crunchy delight!  However, for dinner, rather than try another one of the other on-site restaurants, John suggested a highly-recommended restaurant that he thought I would especially enjoy, The Dish.

 

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John’s lunch at Bunkers located within Glade Springs.

 

The Dish, located in Daniels, WV—mere minutes from Glade Springs—was created, according to their website, “by a group of partners who wanted to offer healthy food choices . . . of natural, whole ingredients.”  In fact, their menu proudly boasts, “Real food tastes better and is better for you.” Using much locally grown/raised fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beef, the menu of The Dish asks patrons to allow time for the preparation of their meals as nearly everything on their menu is made from scratch.   If that’s not enough, their menu’s food offerings are wide and varied, offering choices that are gluten-free, vegetarian, or vegan as well as all plenty of meat-based entrees the carnivore-loving diner.

 

 

 

We entered the restaurant with high hopes, and we were not disappointed!  We began our meal with made-from scratch Roasted Red-pepper Hummus Dip topped with a bit of feta served with artichoke hearts, olives, as well as toasted pita-points for John, and carrot/celery sticks for me.  This yummy-looking appetizer was beautifully plated, and it tasted divine! 

 

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For our main course, John ordered Chicken Parmesan Pasta with a side salad, and I chose the Black Bean Burger (bunless) with a side of grilled Brussels sprouts.  Our taste buds were dancing the happy dance for sure! John’s chicken was cooked to perfection with its panko breading, melted provolone, and house made marinara.  He ate it all up—which is saying a lot as he is not a big chicken eater. Meanwhile, my gluten-free black bean burger, made with black beans, corn, red pepper, and quinoa, was served on an emerald bed of greens, topped with chipotle aioli and sliced avocado—so very delicious.

 

 

I thought I was finished for the evening, when I recalled spying a gluten-free dessert on their menu—a rare, rare treat for me.  I decided to fully indulge and order the Gluten-Free Butterscotch Blondie, served with a sauce that reminded me of a scratch made sauce my mom used to make when I was a teen for my birthday.  I took it back to our suite, thinking I’d only eat half, but as the menu states, this dessert was “total deliciousness.” In fact, it was so unbelievably good, I ended up eating the entire generously cut piece!  

 

 

The Resort at Glade Springs has unbelievable offerings.  From three golf courses to fly-fishing adventures; from numerous hiking trails to disc golf, from a fitness center with indoor pool to an out-of-doors pool and playground; from volleyball, horseshoes, bowling, corn hole, tennis, and horseback riding to shopping, dining, lounging, spa offerings, Escape Room, Haunted House,  and cinema, (and I still haven’t listed all of offerings) Glade Springs is an affordable, WV gem for which John and I will most certainly make a return visit, especially since it’s only two hours away from home!  

 

Once again, traveling in WV does not disappoint.  It truly is wild and wonderful! From our home to yours, John and I wish you safe travels and abundant adventures!

 

          Images from Glade Springs.

           Images from Small Talk Cafe Coffee Shop.

 

 

 

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.