8.09.2019

Aloft Downtown Asheville is the Perfect Stay for Dogs (And People, Too) in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains


Asheville, a gorgeous mountain city, nestled in North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, is a haven for vacationers. The reasons to visit this city are endless.

When I was working on a magazine piece for a national publication this summer, I interviewed local business owners in Asheville.

Jillian Kelly, a local Asheville beekeeper, and owner of the store, The Asheville Bee Charmer, told me, "You have a want for nothing in Asheville, North Carolina!"

She's right.  There is something for everyone in this mountain city. All people and their unique, individual tastes are welcome in Asheville. Whether you are an adventure traveler, foodie, or a history and culture lover, you'll feel right at home in this progressive North Carolina city.

Your beloved pets will feel welcomed, too. Just like my poodle, Andy felt on his most recent stay.



I grew up near Asheville, North Carolina, but in the past nine years, I've visited Asheville more often than anywhere else in the state. For the past two years, our poodle, Andy, accompanied us there. Traveling with a dog is like traveling with children in some ways. Both require a little extra work, but unlike the tiny humans, dogs cannot go everywhere with you nor can they stay in all lodgings. That's why, as pet owners, it is refreshing to know before booking a trip that your four-legged family member will be welcomed, too.



Asheville is touted as one of the most pet-friendly cities in the U.S. I think that's an accurate depiction of the town. Sometimes, I saw as many dogs as people walking the streets during my visits. The Aloft Hotel in downtown Asheville has the honor of being of the most pet-friendly hotels in the entire state of North Carolina, in my opinion.



The Aloft Downtown Asheville operates a popular pet-adoption program that allows a rescue dog to live at the hotel until it finds a permanent home. This program has been so successful that it has been piloted in other Aloft hotels across the United States. With its own "lobby-dog" as a hotel greeter, your pet feels like a top dog or top cat, too. That's right. I said cat, also. The hotel does not discriminate against cats when it comes to their pet policy. Cats stay free at the property just like dogs. Cats, as you would expect, are not as visible in the public areas as dogs, but Andy met a cat guest on his stay this time. If you have cat allergies or any pet allergy, be sure to discuss that with the front desk before checking-in.



I first stayed in the Aloft Downtown Asheville, located on Biltmore Avenue, several years ago. My daughter, who was five at the time fell in love with the hotel's lobby adoption program. Every single year, she insists that we go to the Aloft hotel lobby to see who is up for adoption even if we are not staying in the property. In fact, I have found myself inside the hotel a lot through the years because of the hotel's superb location to Asheville's South Slope district. Will and I are avid craft beer lovers, and this section of Asheville is where we chose to spend the most time.  The Aloft Asheville is within walking distance to everything in downtown Asheville. The Biltmore area is a quick ride away.



The nightly rates for this Aloft location may seem higher than what you are used to experiencing at other Aloft Hotels in different areas. That's because the demand for Asheville hotels is very high in general, especially in the downtown area. In fact, on peak weekends, a room at the Aloft Downtown Asheville can cost travelers between $400 and $500 per night. Marriott rewards members like myself get a slight discount on those rates because of brand loyalty.

Many hotels charge a pet fee when traveling with pets, but not the Aloft Downtown Asheville. All pets stay at this property free. Parking is also at a low cost of $10 a day at the deck underneath the hotel.



Not only do pets stay free at the Aloft Downtown Asheville, but there are not any public area off-limits inside the hotel. At the Aloft Asheville, you can have an appetizer and a drink at the WXYZ Lounge, and your dog can be right there with you. It really makes you feel as if you are in your own home when staying there.  I loved it, and I think Andy did, too.

The Aloft Asheville is so pet-friendly that it sometimes hosts fun "Bow-Wow" type social events for dogs and their owners. It's fun to stay at this hotel because most hotel guests have the love for their pets in common.

In July on my last stay, I learned that a woman had a dog back home that looked just like my Andy. It made her miss her dog. I also met a couple from New Jersey with a dog named Opie. I told them "Opie and Andy" were the perfect combo for North Carolina. Andy Griffith TV show fans will certainly understand why.



Upon check-in at the Aloft in downtown Asheville, Andy was given a doggie care package.  He received extra pooh bags, treats, bowls for water and food, plus a massive dog bed, well at least for an eight-pound poodle. The front desk has a list of places where dogs can walk and have a good time in the city.



If you want to know more about North Carolina, be sure to sign up for my #OutaboutNC Travel Guides, coming to your inbox this fall. If you're going to book this hotel, you may begin that process here at the Marriott Bonvoy site.  When booking, type in Asheville, N.C. in the destination bar, and you will find all the Marriott hotels in this area, especially if this one is not within your budget for the season you want to visit. Feel free to email me about Asheville lodging and locations. I've stayed in a lot through the years, and you can find those posts in my archives by searching for Asheville and hotels.

Pet-friendly Asheville



Disclosure: The HinesSightBlog is a Marriott Bonvoy Affiliate for bookings and referrals. We traveled during the peak summer tourism season and received a slight media discount on lodging. Opinions about the hotel are my own.



7.31.2019

Savor Summer with a Southern Tomato Pie

We are in prime tomato season right now in North Carolina. In fact, I think I'm eating about one tomato a day. I love tomatoes. This is the best season to have a Southern tomato sandwich. For me, that's white bread, Duke's Mayo, a ripe NC tomato with some salt and pepper. Oh my gosh, that sandwich cannot be beaten.

Summer is also the best time to make a tomato pie. Tomato pies make a great side dish or even a main meal with a salad.

Southern Tomato Pie with Parm Cheese.
Southern Tomato Pie


There are several ways to do a tomato pie and a lot of times, the variation is in the cheese that you use.


Savory Southern Tomato Pie
(adapted from Southern Living, August 2011)

Puff Pastry (you can also use regular pie crust instead)
4 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices (about 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 cup (4 oz) shredded Parmesan cheese, divided

  • 1. Preheat oven to 350º. 
  • 2. Meanwhile, place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with salt. Let stand 45 minutes to an hour. Pat dry with paper towels. Stir together next 3 ingredients and 3/4 cup of cheese. 
  • 3. Cut the puff pastry into a 13-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick the bottom and part way up the sides with a fork.
  • 4. Bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly brown. Remove from oven, and sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese over bottom of crust. Arrange tomato slices over cheese in crust; spread mayonnaise mixture over tomatoes.

  • 5. Bake at 350º for 34 to 37 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with whole basil leaves if desired.
Instructions for Summer Tomato Pie

I also use an alternate version of Southern Tomato Pie with onions, pepper, and different cheeses.  I also use a Pillsbury pie crust. 

Add 1/4 tsp of pepper and 1/2 cup of diced onions to the above list of ingredients. Use one cup of Cheddar Cheese and 1 cup of Mozzarella cheese rather than Parmesan cheese.

This recipe,, adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks from Edenton, North Carolina, uses a pie shell. Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and bake crust for five minutes; reduce heat to 400 degrees. Remove from oven and arrange thick tomato slices in the shell. Mix salt, pepper, basil, and onion.  Sprinkle over tomatoes. Mix mayonnaise and cheese; spread on top. Bake for 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing. 

You could even be adventurous, and use all three kinds of cheese. I guess it you really wanted you could add some bacon to the tomato pie as well or serve it on the side. Enjoy!

Southern Tomato Pie recipes. Great for when Tomatoes are in abundance in the summer. #sidedishes #mainmeals #tomatoes #healthyfood #southerncuisine #southernfood


Disclosure: My thanks to Costa Family and Cosmetic Dentistry. Your source for emergency dentistry in Ashburn, Virginia for being a July HinesSightBlog sponsor. My sponsors keep me at my desk writing editorial content for you and #OutaboutNC. Thank you to my sponsors. If you have interest in being a blog sponsor, please email Leigh@HinesSightBlog.com. 


7.19.2019

CATS the Musical was my First Real Exposure to the Arts: Why Pushing Kids when they Don't Want to Do Something is Important

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I'm off-topic for my usual banter on this blog, but it was a big day in movie trailers this week. Honestly, I feel as if my teens are coming back to life. Do I need to look at a calendar? Is it the eighties again? All I need now is for Madonna to go back on tour and I'll be golden.





First off, Tom Cruise will be back as Maverick in a Top Gun sequel. I declared on social media that I may actually go to a movie theater again. I really can't remember the last time I went to one.

No, seriously. I can't.

When you're two aging parents going into different directions with kids all the time then the last thing you want to do is pay $40 to go to a movie plus pay $40 for a babysitter to sit in a gigantic room with people munching over food and creating light because they just cannot turn off that device. Seriously. I rarely talk to my spouse now. I have no desire to pay $80, be alone with him, and still not talk to him.

But then over coffee this morning,  I woke up to the trailer of the new movie, "CATS!"  The cats look a little creepy so I don't know if Liza will want to go see it with me, but perhaps if I talk up Taylor Swift, I can expose her to the same exact musical that made me fall in love with the arts so many years ago.

I saw Cats on Broadway in 1982 with the original cast just one month after it opened. I was thirteen. And to be totally honest, I griped about going to see it.

You see, I have not always been a crazy dog person like I am in my older years.  In my younger days, I was the most loyal cat lover ever, but when my Mom told me that the Musical about CATS that I was about to see on Broadway was based on a collection of whimsical poetry called  T.S.Elliott's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, I resisted.

I probably did more than balk. I more than likely threw a fit like I saw my own daughter do just yesterday over something very trivial.

It did not matter how much I complained that day though. We were going to that show no matter what and I had to listen to boring poetry being sung in orchestra seats, and then afterward, we had to talk to one of the main cats, Mr. Mistoffolees in a theatre panel.

I'm sure I thought at the time, "Just kill me now!" We were on a drama department trip with the University in the town where I lived it.

When I look back on that trip thirty-seven years ago, I realized I was the luckiest person in the world on that day and that one moment changed my life forever.

From the moment we got into our seats and saw the oversized sets, life as I saw it would be different.

The house lights went off. The theater was black except for twinkling lights that resembled cat eyes. It was slightly spooky.  A cat slinked by me and stared into my face.

My former disgust of knowing I had to listen to poetry being sung by a bunch of people dressed as cats slowly turned to mesmerization.

Then there was Rum Tum Tugger. He reminded me of my own yellow tomcat, Sonny.


"The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat
And there isn't any call for me to shout it
For he will do as he do do
And there's no doing anything about it!"



Rum  Tum Tugger Poem by T.S. Elliott from Cats


Thirty-seven years after reading the poem I've discovered that I'm part  Rum Tum Tugger, too. I kind of do as I do do, and there's no doing anything about it!

What I write might not be popular or viral on the internet these days, but I do it because I want to do it even though advisors may say I should focus on something else to be more successful.

On that one night in 1982, the magic happened.

"Presto! 

And you'll all say:
Oh! Well I never! Was there ever
A cat so clever as magical Mr. Mistoffelees!"




That night I was a tween made to DO something that I did not really want to do. 

But, after I did it. 

I bought that poem book.

I still own that poem book to this day. 

I became interested in drama. After that night, I went on to be in several plays and musicals. Unfortunately, I can't sing so one is kind of limited in musicals when you can't sing. But, I still was in shows.

I served on Arts Councils in my professional years. 
I have a liberal arts degree.  I almost had a minor in theater. 

I work in the arts now. Writing is a form of art. 

I made Will see Cats in London's West End. He didn't love it and will certainly not want to go see the movie.

His response when I told him about the trailer was simply, "Why?"

The moral of this little blogging tale is that one night of doing something I was made to do opened up a whole new world for me. 

Thank goodness for doing something you did not want to do.

CATS the Musical was my First Real Exposure to the Arts: Why Pushing Kids when they Don't Want to Do Something is Important #Inspiration #Parenting #RaisingKids


We all know a cat has nine lives. It's never too late to open your eyes and start something new.

What is something you didn't want to do, but you do it then it made an impact on you?

Cats the movie will be in movie theaters this holiday season.  Will you go? 

Disclosure: Kids may not want to get braces either, but sometimes they just have to do what they need to do. My thanks to HinesSightBlog sponsor, The Miami Orthodontist, Derek Sanders, DMD MDS, for being a July editorial sponsor and for keeping me at my desk writing and exploring #OutaboutNC.


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