A Few of My Loves at My Favorite Inns

As 2012 draws to a close, I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my travels this year and give you the lowdown on what I really loved at each property I visited.  I had a fabulous time featuring so many different hotels on the Hines-Sight Blog and Skimbaco Lifestyle.  All these hotels are so different that there is no way to compare the properties and say that one was the absolute best.

Each hotel I visited this year was unique, and each property has its own special story to tell. I loved something about every visit.  Some hotels are better suited for romantic getaways, and others are perfect for families. The six properties I visited this year all have different price points, and the experience at each one was vastly different.  What stood out at each property?  Here are some of my loves from my “Pack Your Bags” features.

The Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, Charlotte, North Carolina

I loved the Southern, elegant décor with verandas overlooking a championship golf course and resort pool. The rooms had the same traditional lux feel.
I loved the Spa experience. It is a gorgeous facility and ranks as an all-time best experience.
I loved the coconut cake in the Gallery Restaurant, and it was probably the best I’ve had anywhere in a long time.
I loved the original artwork throughout the hotel.

The Mast Farm Inn, Valle Crucis, North Carolina

I loved the décor in our cabin. I felt as if I was staying in a place that could grace the cover of a magazine.
I loved the coffee served in our cabin. It’s some of the best coffee I’ve ever had. It also was a plus that I could drink it on the porch overlooking the mountains.
I loved that it had little extras like children’s books and games in the cabin.
I loved the Southern cheese grits the next morning.

The King’s Daughters Inn, Durham, North Carolina

I loved that it felt as if I was staying in a private mansion.
I loved the individual and outstanding décor of every room.
I loved the chocolate chip waffles, scones, and other delicious goodies at breakfast.
I loved the black towel in the bathroom that said “make-up.” It’s brilliant.
The Hotel Roanoke, Roanoke, Virginia

I loved the grand Tudor architecture of this hotel.
I loved the chocolate chip cookies at check-in.
I loved the formal breakfast in this hotel and dessert on the veranda. Food definitely gets an A during our stay.
I loved the location of this hotel. It is in the heart of Roanoke.

The Homestead Resort, Hot Springs Virginia

I loved the Southern character of this hotel. You truly felt as if you were transported to a genteel time in the South. 
I loved the fire pit at this hotel. It’s a great place for families to gather and get to know each other while vacationing.
I loved that we had the same housekeeper daily, and we got to know her while there. We also got to know staff in the restaurants, too. 
I loved the resort pool at the Homestead.  It is fantastic.
I loved that my son got to ride a horse and learn archery. I love that my children still speak fondly of Zip the horse. I truly loved our time at the Homestead. It was a grand family vacation, and it has really sold me on the resort concept for a vacation.

The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte, North Carolina

OK, I’ve not yet published my “Pack Your Bags” yet for this property on the blog, but there is very little not to love about a Ritz-Carlton.  I’m going to save my loves for the upcoming feature in January, but I’ll give you a small hint with these words: chocolate, turn-down service, a granite bathroom,complimentary bottled water, and an indoor pool.  True loves!

Trust me, you would be happy to check in at any of these properties.  Here’s to more traveling in 2013.

Holiday Houses in North Carolina

Throughout December, I snapped photos of houses for my Instagram feed. It was a lot of fun, and I think people liked it.  I may have started a Hines-Sight Blog tradition.Which house is your favorite?

And I would like to thank the Hines-Sight Blog Facebook community for submitting some homes for my blog. Mandi McClure submitted this beautiful home from Lincolnton, NC 

Beanne Steins, a photographer in Mebane, NC, submitted this photo of her own home. The bungalow is 100-years-old, and is just beautiful in the snow.  North Carolina did not see a white Christmas this year, but maybe we'll see some snow in 2013. Happy New Year!

Wishing You Love and Laughter this Holiday

From my family to yours, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

My buckeye brownies are made. My children are nestled all snug in their beds dreaming of Ritz-Carlton white chocolate trees. My presents aren't yet wrapped, but I'm still taking the time to show you Holiday houses in my Instagram feed. As I told Skimbaco readers today, Raleigh is certainly the place to be for the holiday. Well, Charlotte and Asheville are nice, too.

It's hard to believe that it's time for Jolly to go back to the North Pole. He's actually been a lot of fun this year. Truthfully, it seems like he arrived just yesterday. From Disney On Ice to a mischievous tree lighting to a tree trimming, this month whirled by in a flash.

If you click on all those links then you'll be caught up on the this blog for the year.  Ho! Ho! Ho! I'll be back soon with lots more fun, food, and luxury travel.

Enjoy your holiday with your family.  I certainly wish you a holiday filled with love and laughter.


A Capitol Tree Lighting Tale in Raleigh, NC

My oldest child must be overloaded on holiday stimuli. He’s quite naughty lately.  Mischievous is more like it, but lately he’s been getting more checks on Santa’s naughty list vs. his nice list.
We even have Jolly the elf, who reports to Santa daily on my children’s behavior, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Holiday mischief is winning at our house.
The mischievous elves
Even in front of the Big Man himself, and the governor of our state earlier this month, my 7-year-old acted naughty. He messed with his 3-year-old sister’s hood while she listened contently and sat in front of Gov. Perdue and Santa, as they told a North Carolina Christmas story at the annual Capitol tree lighting.

NC Governor Beverly Perdue and Santa.  Baby Diva is right in front. 
I mean, really!  How embarrassing is it for a parent to see such uncalled-for mischief in front of VIPs?
I sprung from the audience with a clatter to see what was the matter, but it was too late; my 3-year-old was upset by the hoodie fiasco.  He didn’t mess with his sister just once, but twice. Her cap tumbled from her head, and she no longer acted nice.
I grabbed his hand and scolded him like a disgruntled elf.  There was no merry on my face, nor on my daughter’s face.  She stood up and left her front row, coveted Santa position. Other children swarmed to her spot.  Instead of being second or third in line to sit on Santa’s lap following the story, she was hatless and instantly became number 103.
Without a second thought, I became the Grinch who stole Christmas because I decided to leave the festivities to prove the point to my oldest son that his behavior and mischief were not tolerated, especially in public.

North Carolina's State Capitol Christmas Tree. It is 24 feet tall and is from Ashe County.

In defense of my decision, my daughter really has not been deprived of seeing St. Nick. Neither has he.  They both sat on Santa’s lap on a Sunday afternoon in Cary and again at a local restaurant. I even heard that he made a personal appearance to my daughter’s preschool this month. They’ve definitely had a lot of time to talk with Santa. She’s asked him many times for that bald baby doll on her list.  Yes, I said bald.  Santa, you better not come down our chimney with any doll that has hair on Tuesday.
But despite her many rendezvous with Santa, she still was not a happy elf.  She pouted. She laid on the ground in protest. Instead of just one naughty child, I was suddenly blessed with two.
She almost cried. That is … until she saw a pig!

The Carolina Hurricanes mascot, Stormy. Unfortunately, NC State's mascot, Mr. Wuf, was in NY for a game. 
I guess you can say this holiday tale had a very happy ending with the glimpse of a pig’s tail.  I’m certainly glad Stormy, the Carolina Hurricanes mascot, could be there for this festive occasion. With a professional hockey player’s strike, he’s not had much to do lately. That little fact was certainly a miracle on Morgan Street!
 So, for this little holiday tale, I guess you could say a pig trumped Santa.
And, hopefully, a naughty little elf learned a valuable lesson on why he shouldn’t display public mischief. Mommy does not approve.  It’s time for him to get on Santa’s nice list, and he did, the very next day.

Thanks for giving me a little bit of your time each week. 
I wish your family a very Merry Christmas!  It's been wonderful getting to know you this year. 
Happy Holidays!

A Ritzy Christmas: Sweet Holiday Memories

The calendar says it is only five days until Christmas. Oh my! I've got more shopping to do. Instead of shopping, I've been eating lots of sweets, and indulging in a Ritzy Christmas. As much as I love luxury hotels then you know that I feel as if Santa came early this year.  I think my son thinks so, too.

The Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte is located in Uptown

My family had a fabulous time at the Ritz-Carlton Charlotte over the weekend.  You will get my exclusive "Pack Your Bags" feature on this fabulous hotel after the holidays, but click over to Skimbaco Lifestyle today for a  preview of our special weekend.  My special holiday article highlights the delicious chocolate afternoon tea at the decadent Bar Cocoa along with the hotel's holiday decorations.  You've got to check out the eight-feet organic white chocolate holiday tree. It is AMAZING.

Visit Skimbaco Lifestyle to learn about this fantastic tree

I've got the scoop on this unique tree, a gourmet cookie class, plus lots of chocolate.  You will not gain any weight looking at the photos. I promise!

Chocolate Afternoon Tea at Bar Cocoa at Ritz-Carlton, Charlotte 

While in Charlotte, we did take some time to see the fabulous Leonard Bearstein Orchestra at Founders Hall, which is located next door to the Ritz-Carlton.  It was such a treat for the kids.  I loved it, too.

Leonard Bearstein Orchestra, Founders Hall in Charlotte, NC 

Uptown Charlotte, NC 

Enjoy the hustle and bustle leading up to the big day.  On my next post, I will give you a glimpse of Raleigh at Christmas.

Decorating Tips from the Biltmore Estate Plus Gingerbread Houses at the Grove Park Inn

I'm in Charlotte this weekend getting a glimpse of Christmas in North Carolina's largest city. We're staying in uptown at the Ritz-Carlton. I can't wait to give you more details about one of my State's most luxurious properties.

But in the meantime, I do have some photos to share with you from the Biltmore Estate.  Since early November, America's largest home, has been ready for the holidays.  On Skimbaco Lifestyle, I have the inside tips on what it takes to decorate this 250-room French Chateau.

The Biltmore Estate at Christmas

Visit Skimbaco Lifestyle for my story on the Biltmore Estate

And a few miles from the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC,  Holiday lovers can view some of the best Gingerbread Houses in the nation. The Marketing Manager for NC's Restaurant and Lodging Association covered this event for my blog this year. Here's more from Carla Chirico.

Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC

Grand Prize Gingerbread Winner is Ann Bailey from Cary, NC. 

Known for its historic charm and captivating panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, The Grove Park Inn & Resort has been, and will always be, about creating wonderful memories and experiences. One of those memorable moments are on display during the holidays - The 20th Annual Gingerbread Competition. It  started in 1992 with a couple of local folks who built gingerbread houses for the sake of the holiday spirit!

Now, the event is one of the nation's most celebrated events and an ultimate competitive contest. As the event grew, so did the caliber of judges. The panel of judges represents nationally renowned food, arts, and media professionals. The level of competition has attracted artistry and design professionals as well as garnered the attention of ABC's "Good Morning America." Since 1998, the show has broadcasted the Gingerbread Competition on Travel Channel and Food Network. The gingerbread houses sparks the same reaction in people of all ages - one of wonder, awe, and delight. The Gingerbread House display runs until January 2, 2013. To view the winners, please visit the link, http://www.groveparkinn.com/asheville-events

Asheville, NC is certainly a place to visit during the holidays.  And I'll give you a glimpse of Charlotte, and Raleigh when I return. 

Tree-Trimming Cheese Tray Served Up with a Moravian Star

As I told you last week, I had to pencil in a date to trim our Christmas tree this year.  Luckily, we found the time.  My mother-in-law, my mom, and my good friend, Mitch, came over for annual "get to work, and earn your supper party" last Saturday. I'm exaggerating somewhat, but I didn't put one ornament on the tree.  Instead, I was busy in the kitchen making buckeye brownies, a cranberry brisket, and my own holiday cheese tree.

Festive cheese tray with Cabot Cheese, Holiday entertaining.
Holiday Cheese Tree Appetizer
I got the idea for this tree-trimming appetizer from Cabot Creamery of Vermont.

Festive Cabot Cheddar Tree
Makes 1 serving

5 (8-ounce) bars Cabot Sharp Cheddar; light, plain and flavored*
Fresh thyme sprigs
Grape cherry tomatoes or olives
1 mushroom

1. Cut each bar of cheddar into 1-inch cubes.

2. On large platter or cutting board, arrange cubes in rows to form tree shape, using different flavor for each row and separating flavors with thyme sprigs and rows of tomatoes or olives.

3. For star on top, peel skin from mushroom; press star pattern into mushroom with point of knife.

Of course, my tree is not as pretty as the original cheese tree, but my homemade masterpiece still tasted great.  Since my crowd was small, I used two cheeses rather than five.  The Pepper Jack Light was a crowd favorite.

If I had spotted this recipe before Saturday then I would have made this cheese star because it certainly went with the theme of my tree-trimming party, too.

Festive cheese tray

I bought a Moravian Star this year at Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  I have wanted a star for quite awhile. It came in a ZILLION pieces, and it was not an easy task to assemble.   My mom and son spent about three hours putting it together one afternoon.

Rightly so, I was so proud of their accomplishment.

It was a busy Saturday afternoon to make the "Hines House" look a little like Christmas. I certainly appreciate the help from our family to make the day fun.

She captures the true joys of the holidays!

Our ornaments through the years!

Our tree!

Our wreath!

Our home!

The Moravian Star at night.

If you like to see homes during the holidays, be sure to connect with me on Instagram.  I'm showcasing a different home a day.  I also would love for you to share your photos with me on Facebook, and I plan to showcase a few favorites on the blog before Christmas.

Be sure to include your first name, and the location of the photo. ie) Photo submitted by Leigh, Raleigh, NC.

Enjoy the holiday festivities!

What's It Like when Bloggers Get Together for the Holidays?

What is it like when a bunch of bloggers get together at a Holiday party at a brand new Zoe's Kitchen in Morrisville, NC?

It's hummus with a side of Twitter or Instagram.  Andrea of Good Girl Gone Redneck sends out some holiday cheer!

We tweet, and eat. And we eat a lot!  Then we tweet again, and perhaps even share photos of our food on Facebook, too.  We are a group of bloggers, after all.  Would you expect anything less?  I mean we are not a group of engineers who never post anything on a social media platform.  That's my husband's holiday party!

Zoe's Kitchen makes food fresh every day. 

When I first started blogging, I had no idea so many people authored blogs. I didn't even tweet. We have a large group of bloggers in the Triangle area.  Some blog as part of their business.  Some blog to document their lives, and some blog because it gives them a creative outlet.  

Our blogs are all unique, and reflect our own style. We don't see each other as competition, but rather, we see each other as colleagues in the big world of blogging.  Many of us become friends because we share a common interest.

I had the pleasure of co-hosting a Triangle Blogger Holiday Party with Malise of Carolina Mama last Sunday.  Zoe's Kitchen, located in the new Park West shopping area of Morrisville, sponsored our holiday gathering.  Zoe's is an Alabama-based chain that is quickly spreading in the Southeast as a fast-food restaurant that focuses on healthy, fresh, and simple ingredients.  There are five locations in North Carolina currently. 

 As you know, I'm a lady who lunches so I've been a fan of the restaurant for awhile.  I immediately jumped at the chance to co-host the party with Malise.  We are a perfect pair because we love to talk about food. 

I had the pleasure of meeting many bloggers for the very first time, and also catch up with some I already knew. Typically, we only talk to each other behind Twitter handles, and rarely in person. 

Our holiday social was scheduled for two hours, but Zoe's put out so much food for us that we lingered awhile longer over the spinach and chicken roll-ups, or at least, I did. 

Zoe's was the perfect place for us to have this gathering because the Mediterranean menu has vegan and gluten-free items as well as items under 500 calories.  As bloggers, we all type a lot, but typing doesn't really burn that many calories so we like a menu that is fresh with fewer calories.

For fun, we even had some holiday door prizes.  Erin of "A Parenting Production" won the grand prize,  brunch for two at Carolina Crossroads, located in the Carolina Inn. 

Andrea, Lisa, Erin, and Andrea had some holiday luck. 

And for a little holiday note, many of the Triangle bloggers like Andrea with" Lil Kids Things" have written some fabulous gift guides this year.  Since I am more of a travel and leisure blog, I didn't write a gift guide except for this lux guide on Skimbaco Lifestyle.  But, if you are looking for teacher or preschool teacher gifts, consider buying that special person a lunch out.  A $15 gift certificate at Zoe's Kitchen would definitely cover the cost of a meal plus dessert and tax. 

Disclosure: My thanks to Zoe's Kitchen for sponsoring the Triangle Blogger Holiday party.  I was not compensated to write this post. We appreciate your generosity, and commitment to keeping food fresh, and healthy.  We are glad you are part of our Triangle community. 

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