10.16.2017

Join me for the Walk for UNC Children's Hospital at North Hills in Raleigh on November 4

As parents, we are blessed when our children are healthy. As parents, it's also good to know that we have UNC Children's Hospital in North Carolina if we ever need it. We are fortunate that this top-notch hospital is there for us. I feel even more fortunate that I have not had to call on them in a time of need with a sick child.

But, this hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C.  is there for us, whenever we need it. It does not care about our gender, race, or socio-economic status. It only cares about helping our children in need. I toured this facility this summer. I heard its' stories and saw what this hospital does daily for children. It is an amazing place. I am grateful to have this institution in my home state. 

UNC Children's Hospital is there for us. So,  let's join together as a community and be there for them. I plan to join them on November 4 in Raleigh for the Inaugural Walk for Children's UNC Health Care. The walk will be at North Hills. I would love for you to join me, be a virtual walker, or make a contribution in honor of someone, perhaps your own well children or grandchildren. Here is the link to sign-up, or donate.

Walk for Children's Hospital





Thank you for supporting this wonderful hospital.


10.15.2017

Create an Elegant, but Easy Cheese and Meat Board in Minutes

My neighbor loves Halloween so the other day, she wanted to coordinate a progressive fall-inspired dinner party for our street. I volunteered to host appetizers. My entertaining goal was to keep it simple and look to Italy and Spain for inspiration on an elegant, but easy cheese and meat board that could be put together in minutes. 

Three years ago this month, I was on a press trip to a winery in the Marche region of Italy. The event set-up was simple, elegant and perfect for tapas before a meal. I decided to do something similar with my own spin for this neighborhood get-together. 

Italian appetizer spread at Marche Winery


Liza loves Disney's Descendants movies.  Last year, she knew she wanted to be the character, Mal, for Halloween. In my house, the song, "Ways to Be Wicked" is played constantly.  I decided to have a little fun with a "Ways to be Wicked" song. The lyrics say, 
                                  

"Apple, apple dip, dip
Wanna try it?

Tick, tick
Take a bite, c'mon, be bold
Change the way the story's told"


Descendants. Apples. Villians. Evil Queen. It all fell into place.


Evil Queen Costume with apples as the star of the party.


I used fresh apples for my centerpiece decorations, and the fall fruit is in season right now. An apple, from tart to sweet, goes wonderfully with an Italian-inspired meat and cheese board.

Put together meat and cheese boards within minutes



I ordered my apples from my Papa Spud's produce box delivery. They were in abundance and cost-effective. I purchased everything else from Trader Joe's in less than an hour. 

Here's what I bought at Trader Joe's for my "Ways to Be Wicked" Inspired Party
Sparkling Apple Cider (non-alcoholic)
Draft Apple Cider
White wine
Bread Sticks
Several types of crackers
Goat Cheese with Herbs
A Spanish Cheese sampler with Manchego, Iberico, and Cabra Al Vino
Sliced Aged Cheddar Cheese
Two varieties of pears (One sweet and one normal pear)
Several cartons of the store's seasonal Greek Yogurt called, "Trader Joe's Apple-Caramel Whole Milk Greek Yogurt." 
Dried Apricots
Organic Trek Mix with Cashews, Almonds and dried Cranberries
Italian Hard Salami 
Two appetizer snack packs with Genoa salami cut like apple shapes and provolone slices 
Red Grapes

I have two cheeseboards that are simple and look like cutting boards. I also used three small glass dishes to hold olives, nuts in trek mix, and dried apricots. 

Add sweet and salty to your cheese boards


I placed the four kinds of cheese on the cheese first. I used the goat cheese on another platter separately with crackers, pears, and apples. For my hard cheese platter, I placed my nut bowl and my dried apricot bowl on the board. I put a few sliced apples on the tray, crackers, and red grapes for garnish. Presto. The cheese board was filled in no-time. 

On a round cheese board, I placed olives in a bowl in the middle. I then surrounded the olives with crackers, cheese, genoa salami, and hard salami slices. 

For my third platter, I took the olive oil appetizer breadsticks and wrapped Prosciutto around each one. I used apples and grapes for garnish. 

Italian prosciutto wrapped around breadsticks can be put together within minutes for party


I was amazed at how quickly I was able to create these elegant, but easy cheese and meat trays for this party in minutes. I think the total time may have been 15 minutes for all the three trays. 

I used the Apple-Caramel Grek yogurt dip with and apple slices. 

I really thought this was a no-fuss party idea and I will do it again. It did not take a lot of work, but yet, it looked like it did.  The hit of the night was the yogurt dip and the soft goat cheese. It all worked well because I had meat-eaters and vegetarians in attendance. 

Another neighbor served lasagna after my get-together and my other neighbor served a homemade limoncello cake. It was a great night.



Quick and Easy Meat and Cheese appetizer trays that can be put together within minutes. #Appetizers #Easy #Cheese #Antipasti

Pin for a future Halloween Party Idea 

Ways to be Wicked Inspired Halloween Party with apples as the star. Evil Queen is the host. #Halloween #apples #Easy #Appetizers

9.28.2017

For Dinner or a Football Tailgate: BBQ Pulled Chicken with Peach Salsa Recipe

I like recipes that are easy. I want an ingredient list in a recipe so short that I can remember what goes in it when I forget to take a list to the grocery store. And yes, that happens a lot. If I can throw things into a crockpot, forget about it for a good portion of the day, and the results are still good then I might just do a happy dance. These are all wins for me when it comes to testing recipes. Crockpot recipes are hit or miss for me. When I find a good one, I need to add it to my recipe section.

For this post, I'm sharing a recipe that I made from my Papa Spud's produce delivery when fresh peaches were in abundance. Of course, I finally sit down to write about this and farmer's market peaches are out of season for most of us.

fresh  north carolina peaches, perfect for salsa



Here in North Carolina, that farm fresh window is about six weeks in late summer. Luckily for us, we have canned peaches to help us year-round. I recommend Trader Joe's brand to use for the peach salsa. I would also rinse the canned peaches so they are no so sugary if in light syrup.

This easy recipe for pulled chicken and peach salsa recipe is great for a busy weeknight or to take to a tailgate this fall. My kids eat BBQ chicken, and they like hamburger buns so even if they don't eat the peach salsa, they have something to eat.

Peach Salsa with chips


The salsa also works well to serve with chips if you want to skip the chicken altogether for a football tailgate.  Also, this dish heats up great for leftovers for another busy school night or hot lunch.

Pulled BBQ Chicken and Peach Salsa: The Perfect Tailgate Meal




Pulled BBQ Chicken

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts (or combo)
1/2 onion, minced
1 cup plus 1/4 Brown Sugar Based BBQ sauce ( I use one from Trader Joes)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

**If you do not have a brown sugar based sauce then add 2 Tbsp brown sugar to the crock pot.

Add onion, BBQ, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and brown sugar (if needed) to crock pot. Make sure salt and sugar are dissolved. Add chicken, and mix to coat well. Cook on high 3 to 4 hours until you can tear chicken apart with a fork. When the chicken is tender enough to take apart with a fork, transfer chicken to bowl, add some cooking juices. Continue to pull chicken apart, and mix 1/4 cup of BBQ sauce. Stir until chicken is coated. Add salt or additional seasoning to taste. If you like heat, add a hint of red pepper.

Peach Salsa

2 peaches, chopped ( I used fresh when in season, but Trader Joe's makes great canned peaches)
1 roma tomato, chopped
1 Tbsp, lime juice
1 jalapeno, seeded, minced
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp salt.

Combine chopped peaches, roma tomato, lime juice, jalapeno, red onion, cilantro, and 1/4 tsp of salt in a bowl. Mix well. Add additional salt or lime juice as needed or to your taste.

Serve pulled chicken on hamburger buns with peach salsa.

Easy Recipe: Pulled BBQ Chicken  Sandwiches with Peach Salsa




Other sides or main dishes that are easy for Tailgating that have been featured by me
     Easy No-Mayo Pasta Salad
     Southern Baked Beans with a Twist
     Potatoes for a Crowd
     Deviled  Eggs from Bill Smith 
     Southern cornbread
     Cackalacky Game Day Dip
     Marinated Asparagus
     Shoe-Peg Corn Salad
     Hines Mac and Cheese 
     Caribbean Bean Salad 
     Creamy Pasta Salad 



Disclosure: I'm a paying customer of Papa Spud's, but I do have a referral link which I put in this post. If anyone signs up for the service, I get a referral credit. If you are in the Raleigh area, I really like the service. 






9.22.2017

HinesSight 20/20: Curated Travel and Hotel News for People who like to Travel (Volume 1)

I've said I've wanted to do these types of travel news posts for a long time, but with kids and life's craziness, the timing was never right or so I said.  I have a new working schedule this year, and I'm committed to being the best travel journalist I can be from my desktop. My personal travels are very curated due to my kid's schedules so I'm in Raleigh a lot. Despite my not traveling, I still get a lot of travel news.



I get about 100 press releases a day promoting travel-related topics. I glance at every single one, but I read the ones that interest me.  I usually save them then I forget about them and the post never develops.

Y'all, I had three thousand emails in my inbox until two days ago.  For these monthly posts,  I'll pick out up to 20 travel stories or news that peaked my interest in the month. You'll start seeing travel news that will help you plan future travels. Like in this post, we talk about Christmas and 2018.  This is a very curated segment of news from my perspective so it is unique to my own blog because it appealed to me. Who knows. I may have weird taste. Some may think what I pick to feature is just plain odd because you will find a lot of hotel news here.  I am choosing up 20 news snippets to highlight because isn't hindsight, twenty-twenty? Eventually, I needed to do something to play on those words and my last name.

Travel News for Volume One: September 22, 2017 

1. JW Marriott partnered with The Joffrey Ballet to produce "Behind the Barre" a series of workout videos available on demand for travelers staying in the brand's guestrooms around the world.  It's now available at the JW Marriott Essex House and will roll out across select JW Marriott hotels this fall. The series features customized barre class videos that can be tailored to any fitness level, inspired by three key wellness states – calm, balance and invigorate.  I don't have a list of the hotels that will have this perk, but it's good news for people who like barre exercise. 


The new Norwegian Bliss will sail to Alaska
Photo from Norwegian. The new Norwegian Bliss will sail to Alaska


2.  Norwegian Cruise Line will have a new ship to set sail in June 2018. This will be its sixteenth ship and will travel to Alaska and the Caribbean with select voyages to the Mexican Riviera beginning in June 2018. The ship, which will be christened as the Norwegian Bliss will boast many firsts at sea for the global market including a two-level electric-car race track and an open-air laser tag course. The ship's exciting new features will join the brand's signature elements of freedom and flexibility that Norwegian is known for across the globe including a myriad of dining options and a vibrant onboard atmosphere fueled by dynamic intimate spaces and a multitude of bars and lounges, award-winning youth programs and more. In its inaugural summer season, it will depart from Seattle for a seven-day cruise to Alaska.  Go to the Norweigan Bliss site for more information.  Inside prices start at around $1,400 per person and ranges up  to $6,000 for the Haven, which is a 1300 square-feet butler suite. 


3.. Put this excursion on your calendar for the Williamsburg area for summer 2018. A  jet ski excursion in Williamsburg, Virginia, takes you on a thrilling 28-mile tour of the James River to Jamestown Island, James Fort and one of the only ghost fleets left in the U.S.  Kingsmill Resort, the only AAA Four Diamond Condominium Resort in Williamsburg,  offers a 90-minute jet ski excursions that will take you back in time. While cruising along the James River at 35mph, go back 410 years to see Jamestown Island the way one of the earliest English settlers saw it in the early 1600s. Discover the recently found James Fort, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, from an angle only you can get to from the water and see the historic ships at Jamestown – the Susan Constant, Discovery and, when it’s there, The Godspeed. Excursions run Memorial to Labor Day, dependent on weather, and cost $199 per jet ski for 1-2 people. You must have a valid driver’s license to drive. 


HOlidays in Orlando Theme Parks


4.. Holidays at Orlando's Theme Parks
Orlando celebrates the most magical time of year with balmy weather, special events and spirited live entertainment, creating an unforgettable and festive setting for a winter getaway that trades snow for sunshine.
  • Walt Disney World Resort offers an array of holiday fun (Nov. 9 – Dec. 22), including the transformation of Cinderella Castle into a glistening ice palace at Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party; the Candlelight Processional at Epcot features an exciting line-up of new celebrity narrators including Neil Patrick HarrisPat Sajak, CCH Pounder and Trace Adkins; and a free-entry holiday wonderland at Disney Springs showcases carolers, performances and a meet-and-greet with Santa.
  • Universal Orlando Resort invites guests (Nov. 18 – Jan. 6) to the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Studios, where the streets are filled every evening with the same larger-than-life balloons seen in Macy's famous Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Meanwhile, at Universal's Islands of Adventure, families will light up with holiday cheer as Grinchmas comes to life throughout Seuss Landing. New to this year, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be transformed with wondrous, holiday spirit.  
  • Waves of holiday spirit splash over the park during SeaWorld Orlando's Christmas Celebration (Nov. 24 – Dec. 31). In a wintery, watery wonderland, guests of all ages will enjoy stunning live shows inspired by the natural world, a glittering sea of lit Christmas trees and beloved Christmas character Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and friends.
  • LEGOLAND Florida Resort offers families one-of-a-kind photo opportunities with a life-sized LEGO Model Santa Claus and 30-foot-tall LEGO Christmas tree during Christmas Bricktacular, taking place select dates in December.

Great kids programs for  kids at Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
Neat Kids Program in Rome by Waldorf. Photo by Waldorf 

5.  Children can roam in Rome with Waldorf Hotels.  At Rome Cavalieri, A Waldorf Astoria Resort children can take private gladiator classes where combat instructors from Rome’s Gladiator School come to the hotel to train in the gardens. The training also includes a visit to the Coliseum, where kids can gain their first-tier qualification, ‘Tiro’. Additionally, the property houses its IT Club, the ideal place to lure kids away from parents to something far more fun. The IT Club team can arrange exclusive experiences for their young guests, both in the hotel or around Rome. With or without parents, the IT Club will take children on trips throughout Rome, such as the myths and heroes tour, pizza making and treasure hunts in Villa Borghese. With three pools and a park, Rome Cavalieri makes up the most family-friendly hotels in Rome. All essentials for children are available in the hotel including mini bathrobes, small hangers, kettles, cribs, night lights, high chairs, strollers, baby wipes and diapers. Get this. The hotel has a Nutella bar and Vespa rides in the kid's club.  Oh, to be a kid again with parents who like nice hotels. Must be nice. 

6..  What a sweet treat.  The  Museum of Ice Cream has opened a third location in San Francisco. It has locations in Los Angeles and New York City already, but NYC is closed for the season. Interactive elements include a magical candy garden, psychedelic rainbow unicorns, a push pop installation, a cherry on top sky, the renowned Sprinkle Pool and new tastings, including an original Museum of Ice Cream flavor. I have to admit this place sounds intriguing.  Tickets are $38 per person and the website is mysterious. 

7.  Slinky® Dog Dash will be among the toy-riffic experiences found in the all-new 11 acre Toy Story Land that opens next summer at Walt Disney World.  It's all part of a multi-year transformation of Disney's Hollywood Studios.  Toy Story Land will invite guests to step into the whimsical world of Pixar Animation Studios' blockbuster films where playtime stretches longer than a Slinky® Dog. Guests will feel like they've shrunk to the size of a toy as they play in Andy's backyard with their favorite Toy Story pals. Inspired by the playful dachshund spinoff of Slinky®, the classic American toy, Slinky® Dog Dash will send riders dipping, dodging and dashing around turns and drops that Andy has created to stretch Slinky® and his coils to the max. 

8. . Seabourn, the ultra-luxury cruise line, will mark 30 years of delivering unparalleled guest experiences in 2018 with a 30th Anniversary Celebration. Seabourn Ovation, will debut in Spring 2018. To kick-off the celebration, the line is offering a 30th Anniversary Event promotion, featuring a range of exceptional savings and value-added enticements. Savings will be available on select voyages departing through March 31, 2019 for bookings made by November 14, 2017.

Dale Chihuly's work to be at Biltmore in December 2018.
©Chihuly Studio



9.  Chihuly at Biltmore, a new exhibition opening in 2018, will feature multi-media artist Dale Chihuly's monumental glass sculptures set throughout areas of Biltmore House, gardens, and grounds. The exhibition runs May 17, 2018, through Oct. 7, 2018.  Chihuly's sculptures will reside in the Winter Garden of Biltmore House, and throughout the estate, including the Italian Garden and Walled Garden. As part of the exhibition, Biltmore will host an evening experience in the gardens that will offer views of the sculptures after dark. Chihuly Nights at Biltmore will take place each Thursday through Sunday night during the exhibition.  I have several travel posts on Asheville, the Biltmore, and my most recent stay at its family-friendly Village hotel 

10.. The Hulk in Fayetteville, N.C. The third annual Fayetteville Comic Con(FCC), will be October 21-22. Planners expect 15,000 people to attend the family-friendly con this year.  In addition to Lou Ferrigno, an actor famous for his role as the Original Hulk and Hercules, the FCC will host veteran comic book artist Pat Broderick. Pat has drawn an impressive list of titles, including Batman, Fury of Firestorm, Green Lantern, Micronauts and more. Learn more on Fayetteville's Visitor Site. 

11. Fall Leaves. Marriott International has mapped 14 locations across the U.S. and Canada which are home to some of nature's most riveting Autumn attractions.  It's neat to see how the states progress with color. You can book any Marriott hotel directly from Marriott with the lowest guaranteed rates right from my blog. 

Fall Foliage Tour Curated by Marriott



13. Calling all tea lovers. You can have your cup of tea and throw some tea into the Boston Harbor, too for the 244th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party on Dec. 16. Taking place at Boston's Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the 244thBoston Tea Party Anniversary & Annual Reenactment offers the public to experience one of America's most iconic public protests at one of the largest moving historical reenactments in the U.S. More than 100 reenactors tell the story of The Boston Tea Party and theatrically recreate the evening of December 16, 1773 which sparked the American Revolution. It begins with a fiery tea tax debate at Old South Meeting House, the historic hall where the colonists gathered 244 years ago. Then, the public joins a procession led by fife & drummers to the waterfront and witnesses the Sons of Liberty destroy actual loose [expired] tea from London's East India Company!  And get this. you can send tea, too and if you do it by December 1 then you'll get a certificate of participation. 

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum
Photo from Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

Send dried loose leaf tea (NO used tea bags) to: Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, ATTN: 'Toss That Tea', 306 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210. Include name, address, e-mail & phone number. An official certificate of participation will be sent to each partaker sending tea. Deadline to send tea: December 1, 2017.

Throughout December, area hotels and restaurants will offer tea-inspired specials and cocktails. It looks like a fun time in Boston, especially when they are serving up one of my favorite beverages. Learn more at https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/

14. Sesame Place®, the nation's only theme park based entirely on the award-winning show Sesame Street®, announced that its first wooden-steel hybrid coaster - Oscar's Wacky Taxi™ - will debut in  Spring 2018. The new coaster is one of the largest new attractions in the park's 37-year history and will feature a bright yellow, taxi cab-inspired train with everyone's favorite grouch at the helm.


The new coaster, combining both wood and steel elements to create a smooth ride, will give pint-sized thrill-seekers and their families the opportunity to experience another exciting first at Sesame Place. Oscar's Wacky Taxi™ will send riders soaring down an exhilarating first drop of 40 feet, traveling over 1,200 feet of track with exciting twists, turns, and plenty of airtime hills -- sure to delight even the grouchiest of riders. A 40" rider height requirement (with a supervising companion) or 46" height requirement for single riders will make this the perfect first coaster for many park guests.  I think my kids have aged out of Sesame Place, but I know many of you have new generations with your grandchildren. Find hotels in Philadelphia near Sesame Place on my Book your Hotel Tab. 


Post contains affiliate links

9.18.2017

Ice Cream is not just for Summer: Andia's Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, N.C. Serves Seasonal Delights Year Round

It may be turning fall, but we eat ice cream year round here in the South.  We just trade in the Jack Rogers and wear boots, instead. Liza and I recently went to the media preview of Andia's Homemade Ice Cream at 10120 Green Level Church Road in West Cary.

Great ice cream at Andia's Homemade Ice Cream


I have just one complaint. This place is not close to my Raleigh home at all and that disappoints me greatly because Andia serves up some of the best sorbet I've ever tasted in my life. It's that good. It's all-natural, mom-approved ingredients.

I've eaten sorbet in some fancy dancy places through my years, and Andia's sorbet ranks at the top of the list. It is worth the drive if you don't live close.

Liza ranked her ice cream and her Blue Raz-Beary Sorbet pretty high, too.  When you have a 5 p.m media preview then ice cream is just dinner. She also got the kids garbage can sundae. This is made with rock candy, gummy worms and cookie and cream ice cream. She chose a pink garbage can.  No doubt, this will be a kid favorite.




Andia, has been in the ice cream catering business in the Triangle, for many years, but this is the family's first retail location. I'm hoping they will do well. It's also reasonably priced and as a parent, I appreciate that. I think these yogurt places that you weigh at the counter....get over the top expensive for what it is. I appreciate the labor of love that went into preparing this ice cream. You will come out cheaper at Andia's than any weighed yogurt place.

I'm already lobbying for a location in downtown Raleigh.

As fall rolls around, you will find flavors with pumpkin and apples.

This seasonal "Blooming Apple" sundae with apples, cinnamon sugar ice cream caramel and walnuts makes me want to take a road trip there now.



Andia located her new shop in a bustling area of Cary that is primarily residential with suburb type shopping and entertainment villages nearby. This part of Cary is very close to the Research Triangle Park so it's quite convenient for those who have business in the park to visit this side of town. Andia's  is just 15 minutes away from the Research Triangle Park. If you want to stay in Cary or Morrisville when visiting my area, find your hotel via my Book Your Hotel tab.


Andia's ice cream can be found in several restaurants and other locations in the Triangle.  Whatever you do, don't visit Andia's on a Monday. You'll be disappointed. It's the only day of the week the retail shop is closed.

Garbage Can Sundae at Andia's Homemade Ice Cream in Cary, NC

9.13.2017

#OutaboutNC Travel Guide: 5 Reasons Why You Should Vacation in Downtown Asheville

As summer comes to a close, it's time to think about fall leaves, pumpkin beer, and crisp nights where you need to layer your clothing. The perfect backdrop for that scenario is North Carolina's mountain city, Asheville, N.C.  I spent a lot of time in Asheville this past summer and the more time I spend there, the more I fall in love with this mountain town.

Outdoor seating at Posana  Restaurant in Downtown Asheville



Asheville is often referred to as the "Paris of the South" and having been to both places, I can certainly see the resemblance. Like Paris, Asheville has lots of cafes with outdoor seating, live music, art galleries, and some impressive churches. The Basilica of St. Lawrence, which houses the largest elliptical dome in the U.S. is a gorgeous landmark just like the scenic Biltmore Estate.

But at the same time, these two cities are quite different. Chic black dresses and heels in Paris are replaced with outdoor wear and comfortable sandals. Food is not pretentious in Asheville. Instead, it is gourmet simple with most restaurants sourcing from local farms. Parisian perfumes are replaced with shops that sell holistic essential oil infused homemade soaps and candles. Asheville thrives itself on wellness and environmental sustainability. The city is also the nation's first Bee City USA, which means it works to support bee health and pollinator friendly habitats. Asheville is proud of its Urban Bee Trail, and the hotel I used as my base for my Asheville adventure, Renaissance Downtown Asheville, has 70,000 bees on its roof and is the base for Asheville Honeybee research. I didn't see the bees on this trip, but I certainly buzzed around the city like a busy bee.

Outdoor patio at Renaissance Downtown Asheville Hotel


No doubt. Asheville is buzzing with things to do, but I believe your stress levels drop as soon as you embrace the dynamic Asheville culture. While there, you are eating whole foods. You are walking. You are taking in the fresh, mountain air. My feeling is that the mountain town of  Asheville does a body good, and you'll leave the city with a feeling of rejuvenation.

Like most cities, Asheville is laid out with different quadrants, and it also has suburb type towns within a half an hour of it such as Black Mountain and Weaverville. Other mountain towns like Hendersonville, Brevard, Waynesville, and Cherokee are not too far away either and make fabulous day trips if your time allows.  I think you could book a hotel anywhere in the city of Asheville and absolutely love your stay. For this post, however, I'm going to concentrate on the area known as Downtown Asheville.

historic biltmore estate, north carolina's biggest tourist attraction


North Carolina's number one tourist attraction, the Biltmore Estate, and the quaint Biltmore village are extremely close to this part of town, about two miles away. However, the entrance to the estate is not what I call within walking distance. Don't stay in downtown Asheville and expect to walk to the estate. The closest hotels to the estate are on the Biltmore property or in Biltmore Village, which is a charming village dotted with Tudor architecture.

#OutaboutNC  Travel Guide for #Asheville #NorthCarolina


Here is my list as to why I think downtown Asheville makes a great place to stay.

You Can Walk Everywhere, Ride the Trolley or Take a Comedy Bus to Tour

Downtown Asheville is very walkable. It's easy to walk from the historic Thomas Wolfe Memorial, the boarding house where the famous Asheville author grew up on Woodfin Street, to the breweries on the lower end of Biltmore Avenue, which is about a ten-minute walk.

Thomas Wolfe memorial home


You feel safe and secure. Now, I'm a middle-aged woman with two kids under the age of 12. I'm not walking around at 12 a.m, but we easily walked from Wicked Weed Brewing on Biltmore to our hotel, Renaissance Downtown Asheville, as late as 9 p.m.  People were out walking everywhere. Asheville has the Urban Walking Trail for touring.  I saw some of the spots as I walked around town. There is a lot of history in this mountain town and many, many walking tours are available for you.

You can also hop on and off the Asheville trolley. Tickets are needed, but the trolley conveniently picks up outside the Renaissance Downtown Asheville. The trolley will take you to the River Arts District, Biltmore Village, and the scenic Grove Park Inn.  The trolley also offers additional tours such as a Ghost Tour, if you dare. It sounds so creepy, but I know some of you will love it. It's important to note that if you take the trolley to the Biltmore Village, the Biltmore Mansion is about a five-miles from the gate and you will need your car so use the trolley to explore the shops and restaurants in the village.

historic downtown asheville


LaZoom Tours are also based in downtown Asheville. They have a kid-friendly tour on Saturday only. It looks like a pretty wild comedic ride. We waved at the bus as the tour guide directed onlookers to the monument that my daughter was standing on while eating her delicious French Broad Chocolates' ice cream. This small creamery called Milk + Chocolate. is adjacent to the Chocolate Lounge.


Walk Anywhere in Downtown Asheville and Get a Darn Good Meal 

Sure, some restaurants are better than others and/or have famous chefs, but what I love about Asheville is that I'm pretty confident that you can walk into most every restaurant in downtown Asheville and get a decent meal. I asked my Facebook friends before I departed for the city to give me their recommendations. There were hardly any repeats on the list. Top contenders were  Chestnut, Curate, Cucina 24, Chai Pani, Rhubarb, Posana, Early Girl Eatery, Buxton Hall BBQ, Farm Burger, Nightbell, Salsa's, White Duck Taco, Limones, Tupelo Honey,  Wicked Weed, and the list goes on and on. There was no way we could eat in all of those places in two weekends. Some places you will need a reservation.

Outside of Salsas on Patton Avenue


On our first night in town, we decided on a whim to go to Salsas on Patton Avenue, a Mexican and Caribbean restaurant. We were headed toward Farm Burger, but Will did not really want a burger and once we were standing out front, I did not really want counter service for the evening. See, that's how we roll. We do whatever the mood strikes.

 Salsa's was next door. We enjoyed our meal at Salsas so much that we ate there twice while in Asheville this summer.  It's a small little place. The food was divine and I can tell you that no one will probably ever eat my guacamole again in my house after tasting this restaurant's version. I think this is a now a Hines favorite, and we may go every time we are in Asheville.

For brunch/lunch one day, we ventured into Green Sage Cafe on Broadway. No one had recommended it to us, but we loved it. Will found it as an option when looking at the map and things close to our hotel.  It was a quick walk from our hotel, the Renaissance Downtown Asheville.

The Green Sage refers to itself as "Asheville's Healthy Restaurant" The kids got pancakes and smoothies. I ordered a yummy rice bowl with lots of things in that they sell at Whole Foods. I will go back. It's pricey for counter service for lunch.  Our bill was about $50 including smoothies and drinks.  Liza spilled her smoothie, and they replaced it at no charge.The great customer service made this establishment even more memorable for me.

A tavern near Pack Square


Pack Tavern, located in a historic building adjacent to the popular Pack Square, was also extremely close to our hotel, the Renaissance Downtown Asheville.  You could see our hotel from the restaurant entrance. This restaurant is true to its roots...a tavern and that means it is very kid-friendly and has a lot of options for all parties. I would go back when in town. My chicken sandwich was good.  I like this restaurant because it is reasonable for a family of four to dine, and it is a good local, simple option. They have an outdoor space with live music during the evening.

Another restaurant near the Renaissance Downtown Asheville where we dined in on a rainy night was Twisted Laurel Eatery. What impressed me about this restaurant was its customer service, atmosphere, and its' special treatment of kid and dog guests. They have a doggie menu in addition to a good kid's menu.  For $10, your four-legged best friend can get the Woof Meal with treats, veggies, rice and protein choices. I've not seen this at a restaurant before and I thought it was a neat perk especially since the restaurant has a great outdoor seating area overlooking Pack Square.

Hotel restaurant in Renaissance Asheville


And finally, I had a great meal in Writer's Bistro in the Renaissance Hotel. This will be a good story to tell you at a later date. The Writer's Bistro is a farm-to-table restaurant located in the hotel lobby, and dining here for lunch absolutely saved our day. We should have gone here to start, but you know how it is when you travel...not all things go as you think they should, and that is especially true when traveling with children.The restaurant is more upscale than what we were planning to experience that day, but let me tell you....my $14 black bean burger with sweet potato fries was worth every penny. More on that in another post.

black bean burger at Writer's Bistro in Asheville, NC




Art Galleries and Shopping

There are so many wonderful shops to explore in downtown Asheville.  Just outside the Renaissance Downtown Asheville is the Appalachian Craft Center.  This jewel of a store is located on Spruce Street and is filled with folk pottery, traditional crafts, and mountain-made collectibles.

Inside the Grove Arcade, premier area for shopping and entertainment in Asheville



 A short stroll from the hotel is the historic Grove Arcade.  This shopping and entertainment center is worth seeing just for the architecture, but it also houses some delightful shops, art galleries, and an artists market.  The Battery Park Book Exchange and Champagne Bar is worth a look, too.  You could get lost in there for hours with a good book.  If you are in the market for shoes or even if you are not in the market for shoes, you must visit Tops for Shoes on Lexington Avenue.  This is one of the largest shoe stores I've ever seen and it covers an entire city block. It has the best selection of children's shoes in North Carolina.

The Downtown  Asheville Breweries


Beer at Catawba Brewery


In downtown Asheville, you can brewery hop and it's easy to do. Several breweries are located near each other (Sierra Nevada and Highland Brewing Company are not located in downtown Asheville, but each brewery is worth a visit when in town. More on those another time).  You can easily walk from Wicked Weed Brewing (we always dine here, too and it is where I first fell in love with the Gose style beer) to its Funkatorium, which specializes only in sour beers. Burial Brewing Co, Green Man Brewing, and Catawba Brewing--South Slope locations are all so close to each other. Catawba has these great Eno hammocks and they kept our children entertained, which we loved. What parent doesn't love that?   It's also next door to my number 5 reason for staying in or around downtown Asheville.

Catawba Brewery is very kid-friendly


Vortex Doughnuts and Double D's Coffee and Desserts

I could not talk about downtown Asheville without mentioning these two businesses. We discovered these businesses last year so no matter how many times we go to Asheville, we always go to Vortex Doughnuts on Banks Avenue and Double D's Coffee and Desserts on Biltmore Avenue.  If we didn't, my kids would be unbearable. These are their absolute favorite places in downtown Asheville.  Liza gets a Vortex shirt every year and sleeps in them. We love the vanilla yeast doughnut. We go here more than one time a visit.

Yeast doughnuts at  Vortex Doughnuts are so good.


 Vortex is on Banks Avenue. It also has the heaviest door in Asheville. I kid you not. Go and try it.  Bet you can't use just one arm!

A London bus and the fact that you can eat ice cream or drink a latte in it. What's not to love about that? Double D's has coffee, ice cream, and milkshakes. My kids always get the milkshakes. This is a busy little place, and be sure to bring cash. They do not accept any other forms of payments, but cash.

A London Bus in Asheville..great ice cream and coffee served here


Renaissance Hotel Downtown Asheville-Our Travel Base

My hotel base for exploring Asheville was the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, located at 31 Woodfin Street. This hotel is part of the Marriott brand and is a full-service hotel with room service, a gourmet restaurant, lobby bar, fitness center and a large, gorgeous indoor pool.  Room choices are one king bed or two queen beds. Cleanliness and service were excellent in this Asheville hotel.  I spent a lot of time at this hotel and checked in not once, but did two separate weekend stays in this property.  Both stays were top-notch and we felt right at home.

Queen room at the Renaissance Downtown Asheville


Higher floors have better mountain views. Corner rooms are larger in size. Bathrooms are on the smaller side, but very clean and up to date. Each room has a refrigerator, plenty of spaces to charge electronics and a coffee/tea maker.  Parking and Wifi are free, and every Thursday the hotel hosts live music. It is a pet-friendly hotel. Complimentary coffee is also served in the lobby every morning.

The decor theme of the hotel is literary which makes perfect sense with its location next door to author Thomas Wolfe's memorial.

Weekend rates hover in peak season around $350 per night for Marriott Reward Members.  Stay where I stayed and book your Renaissance stay in Asheville directly from Marriott, which are the guaranteed lowest prices.

You and your kids will love this pool.

The Renaissance Downtown Asheville has a large indoor pool


For more information on Asheville and the surrounding area, visit ExploreAsheville.  To book any stay in Asheville, or where I stayed, visit my Book your Hotel Tab on the blog.

Renaissance Asheville is a Conference Hotel #Businessasusual



Disclosure: Affiliate links are in the post. The Renaissance Hotel Asheville is a media partner for this Downtown Asheville travel guide. While in Asheville, I stayed at the property as their guest and on special rates not available to the public. My thanks to the hotel. Opinions about places in this article and the Renaissance are my own. This was not an official press trip and all dining, activities and room rates were charged to Will. 

8.25.2017

Is your Sleep Schedule Going to be a Wake Up Call for Back to School Days?

I had the honor of hosting WTVD Anchor/Reporter Julie Wilson and WTVD photographer, Shawn, in my home last week to talk about getting kids back into the groove on their sleep schedules as school begins.

In Wake County, traditional school begins on Monday. Here's the story.




Working parents outside the home have probably stayed fairly consistent in their schedules, but I have not.

We are a mess in this family. We've stayed up way too late and slept way too late in the morning.

My kids have never been easy with bedtimes except for when they were babies. That was easy peasy.

Now, I would classify them both as huge pains in our behinds. Getting my kids to bed now is a lot of work. My son has nighttime rituals that would make any sane person crazy. His covers have to be tucked in just right. The other won't go to sleep alone. Just as you've rubbed her back for the one billionth stroke, you slowly try to get out of her bed. Suddenly, you feel her feet wrap around you like an anaconda.  Immediately you hear, "I'm not asleep yet. Don't leave!"

What happened to us? We're two college-educated people. Why can't we put our children to be with success like other families seem to do?

We look at bedtime as our version of hell. It's something I dread nightly. Because even when we think they are snug as a bug in their beds, at least one usually makes a surprise appearance later in the evening.

Fill in the blank with whatever works best.
"The light is shining in my window."
"I have a headache."
"I feel itchy."
"My covers are not right."
"I'm hot."
"I  just can't go to sleep."

That last excuse always comes from our son. Instead of staying in bed and trying to go to sleep, he gets up and tells us that he cannot sleep.

Kids can wear you down. I think kids bedtimes sometimes get pushed back because if you start at 7 pm luck as it that you still aren't done with them two hours later. I think I'm guilty of starting the process later in hopes the ritual will be shorter.

It never is better.

As I told Julie in our interview that did not make the segment, I think it will all work itself out once school starts. The first week or two will be rough, but after a few mornings of getting up early and having full days then our beds will look very good at night. I saw this a lot with my youngest during swim team season. She was basically putting herself to bed and doing it within minutes.

But, UNC Children's Hospital Pediatrician, Dr. Michael Steiner's advice is golden when he says the four B's allow for consistency:

Bath
Brush
Book 
Bed


Sleep Schedules are important for Back to School


Teens need about nine to eleven hours of sleep. Elementary school children need ten to twelve hours. He also suggested moving your routine back 30 minutes a night to get used to change.
It's a little late for us. School is Monday.

Lights out for all of us need to be 9 pm at the latest on school nights.  If any of my friends see my behind on social media after 9 pm, tell me to "Go to BED!"

On a Side Note: I'm thrilled to be partnering with UNC Children's Hospital to work on more health stories this year and I will be joining in the Walk for Children's Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. on November 4.  If you live in the Raleigh area, join us.


Location: 
Midtown Park, North Hills Raleigh

Time: 
Registration to open: 8:30 am
5k Walk to begin: 10:00am
Celebration in the Park: 11am – 1pm
Join us for food, fun and entertainment!



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