6.13.2018

Savor Summer with a Southern Tomato Pie

I love tomatoes. I get most excited in the summer because that is when tomatoes are in abundance. They are fresh, tasty and less costly in the summer. They are even better in a grocery store, but nothing beats tomatoes at a Farmer's Market.

This is also the best time to make a tomato pie, which makes a great side dish or even a main meal with a salad.

Southern Tomato Pie with Parm Cheese.
Southern Tomato Pie. Photo by Mandi McClure


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

**Leigh's Alternate version of Southern Tomato Pie with onions, pepper, and different cheeses. 

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. Enjoy!

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

5.17.2018

Since Becoming a Parent, I have More Respect for our Educators

I am going to do something on this blog that I rarely do. I'm going to write very hastily about a political subject in North Carolina and I'm going to do it in 15 minutes because that is all the time I have right now.  But, I have a voice and I cannot keep quiet. Not any longer.



Yesterday was a historic day in North Carolina. Schools closed so that teachers could rally in our state capital to encourage better public education funding in our state. This rally has made national news. It has created debates about teacher salaries in our state. Frankly, it's created controversy.

I'm a parent of two children in North Carolina's public schools and I support our teachers 100 percent. I've read some of the public comments in the New York Times and I became angry. Comments such as:

"They don't work eight hours a day and they have summers off."
"A lot of other people make less money."

You know what? That is true. There are a lot of people who do make less money. This rally was not just about salaries, but public education funding in general. But, I am going to talk money for a minute and the salaries for a teaching profession. 

I, too, was ignorant when I was 23-years-of age working full-time in television and made eight thousand dollars a year less than a starting teaching salary of $24k at the time in North Carolina.  I even thought about leaving TV and perhaps trying to teach drama and journalism in high school.  I said to myself, "They are not on call, they don't even work in the summer and they can get holidays off and I would make almost 10K more a year." 

 I didn't do it. I did not leave my job for teaching. I guess I got cold feet or didn't want to go back to school to get that lateral education degree. I'm not sure what happened, but I decided to take a different path professionally. 

It is a true statement that most teachers do not go into their profession for money. They typically do it because they like to help people. Same thing with those in the social work field.  A job also can't be just about the money, especially when you talk about education. It takes the right person to do that job. Good teachers inspire and mentor. Good teachers make learning seem like the easiest thing to do on this planet. 

I would have failed as a teacher. I would have received an F grade because after becoming a parent, I now know that I do not have the personality to deal with students. In fact, on many days I do not even like children. That includes my own two children so I pretty much know I would fail miserably with someone's child. 

Notice I said like. Not love. I love my children and because I love my children I became heavily involved in my elementary school's PTA. I even took on the role as President. I have served on committees that help give PTA grants for innovative teaching and programs. Through my years of spending a lot of time in school, I have have had the privilege of seeing a very realistic behind the scenes look at our public schools.

Is my perception different than my life before having a family of my own?  Absolutely. I have so much respect for our educators. 

"Respect. Amazement and Awe" 

That sums up how I feel about the educators. My children go to really good public schools. The staff and leadership at these schools are amazing. These individuals work a lot more than eight hours a day. They work nights, early mornings and weekends. The work does not stop when the school dismisses. 

I could go on and on to convince others to feel like I do, but that is just wasted words on so many. Many people would not last one day as an educator. As parents, we trust these people to mold and shape our children into educated adults. A lot rides on this profession.  I've seen great educators who have a gift with children, especially male, leave this profession because they can make more money doing sales or something else. 

I've seen other people have successful careers in the private sector then leave it because their first love is education. 

I've seen the school receptionist hold a kid's hair back in the sick room who was vomiting. I've seen the attitudes that educators see daily in their classrooms. Some educators provide a stable role model when a child's home life sucks. To me, our educators are right up there after GOD.  I'll go ahead and put God first then educators second. That's how important they are to me. 

I have so much respect for all education staff. I thank all teachers for their service. I'm glad you did what you did yesterday. 

Our education system deserves the best.

My fifteen minutes are up and I'm now going to be late for an appointment.  Thanks for letting me get on a soapbox today.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, you can feel sure I believe in the cause. 

And one more note....if you are local and can vote for Julie Von Haefen for State House. Take the time to learn more about her. She's a friend of mine. Unfortunately,  I do not live her district, but she is the voice for change that our public education system needs. 





5.10.2018

Hotels in England have Royal Wedding Fever, Too

I love a wedding. Make it a royal wedding and I can't contain myself. I will set an alarm clock and watch the events unfold live on TV this month. No one better disturb me.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry  Before Wedding
Photo: Kensington Palace 

I will not be making a child a bowl of cereal on this morning. My children are now 12 and 8. They know how to make their own bowl of cereal as does my husband. Someone else must let out the dog. Well, I may do that during a commercial break. I'm sure he will be snuggled up with me watching the wedding, too.

I also vow not to wake my husband or children that early in the morning. I've already been told that I should sleep upstairs and use the big TV in our bonus room.  It's new. We bought it when we moved in our house. It's big and away from everyone. The only thing I need to learn to do before May 19 is how to turn that TV on. I always sit down and someone else does it for me, that is when I take the time to watch TV in that room.

But, I'm not the only person with royal wedding fever. This wedding is huge for Britain's tourism market and many of the hotels are marketing the fun, too.

Are you also named Named Harry and Meghan?...

Wonder what the chances are for an actual couple to also be called Harry and Meghan or even spelled as Megan?  I'm sure it's possible and those lucky people can apply to stay complimentary at either Mercure London Kensington or Mercure London Hyde Park on May 19.

Which one would you choose?



Royal Tea Adjacent Buckingham Palace


If you love to partake in afternoon tea then London is a wonderful place, but the Rubens at the Palace offers guests the Royal Tea with an overnight stay. As the Queen's neighbor adjacent to Buckingham Palace, the hotel has a package that wants you to live like a royal, too. From July 23 to September 30th, Rubens at the Palace will offer this special package that includes two nights accommodations, royal afternoon tea, a royal cocktail or your choice.  royal turndown service, full English Breakfast, and tickets to the State Rooms in Buckingham Palace.  How cool is that? I want to do that.

The hotel is also offering  Royal Wedding Celebration Tea on May 18 and 19, the weekend of the wedding.  To mark the occasion, the hotel's Executive Head Chef has created “The Royal Wedding Celebration Afternoon Tea”, consisting of four specially created pastries inspired by Royal wedding cakes of the past.  The ceremony will be screened live. 


Royal Tea at Rubens at the Palace


Feel like a Princess with a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride Around London 

Leading Hotels of the World hotels are known for luxury and extravagance.  The 5-Star Boutique Hotel The Milestone Hotel and Residences will have you swooning with envy with its Royal Engagement Package. 

Shoot. I'm turning 50 this year and I just want to do it for my birthday.   Wonder if I can convince Will to pretend we just got engaged. The package is valid until the end of the year. This great opportunity comes with a photography session, your own Bently ride, your own horse and carriage, royal tea service, a private tour of Kensington Palace and a lot of wonderful memories.

Who will be watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle?


As Prince Harry and Meghan Markle get ready to Wed. London is excited and has Wedding Packages that will make you also feel Royal.

5.06.2018

Discover America's First Beach: The North Carolina Outer Banks #OutaboutNC Travel Guide

North Carolina's Outer Banks can be claimed as America's first beach and it's one of the most popular and well-known beach communities in North Carolina. It's the area that was first in flight and home to the lost colony. It's one of North Carolina's most historic places and it's probably what most people think of when they think of visiting the North Carolina coast. 

We have a gorgeous coastline, but for those wanting to dig deeper into the first beach discovered in America, writer Karen Dawkins, covered the area for me and my site because my schedule has always conflicted with the media trips.  It is the only part of the North Carolina that I do not have a lot of first-hand experience. I have, however, stayed in Manteo many years ago now and have ridden on the coast from Kitty Hawk to Duck. 

The Outer Banks is North Carolina's most known community of beaches. This guide will give your more insight on  America's First Beach. #OutaboutNC


Discover the OuterBanks
By Karen Dawkins, an #outaboutnc contributor

I moved to North Carolina in 2001, and somehow never made it to the Outer Banks. So, when Leigh asked if I could go there in her place on a sponsored media trip, I hesitated about 3 seconds before saying yes! (You know, I didn’t want to seem too eager.)

To be honest, my image of the Outer Banks was rather “Nights in Rodanthe” lots of sand dunes and remoteness, without much more. I know it’s a popular vacation destination, but I never considered it for my active family. I was so wrong!

If you’re like me, unaware of all that the Outer Banks has to offer, this article is for you. If you’re an Outer Banks expert, I think I might still surprise you with some things to do. 

Attractions on the Outer Banks


#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.


The Outer Banks, a series of barrier islands on the northeastern edge of North Carolina, truly has it all. The area has seen 500 years of history, from early colonial settlers to pirates and WWII. Atlantic waves make for great surfing, and the quieter waters of the sound side offer other water sports options.

1.    Artistic pursuits. Bring out your inner artist with a class at Studio 12, or shop one of the many independent art shops along the Outer Banks. Studio 12 offers to paint your own ceramics and glass making classes, as well as art for sale. Sun and sea inspire works in soothing blues and greens and bright designs reminiscent of the sun’s rays dancing on the waves. Pick up a piece of jewelry, wood pieces, painting or ceramics to remember your vacation.
2.    Active adventures. Try your hand at kiteboarding, SUP (stand up paddleboarding), surfing and kayaking. REAL Watersports, near Rodanthe, offers classes for beginners and rental equipment packages for those who need it. Other active adventures along the Outer Banks include fishing charters, off-roading in 4X4 vehicles (with permit), and hiking and biking the many trails here. Families traveling with younger kids might appreciate the offerings in Nags Head — especially with all the indoor opportunities to escape a rainy day!
3.    Historic tours. Before the Coast Guard, Life-Saving Stations along the Outer Banks rescued sailors who wrecked. The Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, in Rodanthe — an easy drive from north or south — tells the story of these heroes. Chicamocomico has a well-deserved 5-star TripAdvisor rating — it was a highlight of my trip.
4.    Nature tours. The Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, just north of Rodanthe, gives visitors an up-close look at birds, turtles and other animals indigenous to the area. During turtle nesting season, guests can cross the dunes to see where the nests are and learn about their plight for survival. The beach here is great for shelling, too, especially after storms.
5.    Lighthouse tours. Four active lighthouses still warn boaters of the dangers along the shores of the Outer Banks. The Currituck Beach Lighthouse in Corolla is the northernmost lighthouse on the Outer Banks. Bodie Island Lighthouse is located at the north end of the Oregon Inlet. Visitors can climb it, weather permitting, between April and October. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Buxton is the most well-known of the Outer Banks lighthouses. It is open to the public, weather permitting, from April to Columbus Day. Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse in Manteo is easily accessible and has a maritime history museum onsite.

Lodging to Consider for North Carolina's Outer Banks


#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

The Outer Banks offers a variety of lodging choices, not just beach houses. Luxury inns, such as the Inn on Pamlico Sound in Buxton and the Sanderling Resort in Duck, cater to guests who want a high-end experience. More traditional hotel options can be found at the Breakwater Inn in Hatteras or at chain hotels closer to Nags Head. Throughout the Outer Banks, Bed and Breakfast lodging is available. Of course, beach houses — whether high-end mega-houses with all the bells and whistles or small cottages providing the necessary basics — are available from Corolla to Ocracoke.

To select the perfect lodging for your getaway, consider:

1.    The type of “home” you want — standalone vacation home or hotel with daily maid service.
2.    The length of travel — most beach houses expect a full week rental. Other lodging is available for shorter stays.
3.    The activities you want to do — stay nearby! Highway 12 is the main thoroughfare from north to south. If you choose lodging far from the activities you want, you’ll spend a lot of time in traffic! 

Dining on the Outer Banks

Local seafood places are plentiful at the Outer Banks, but the region offers a variety of restaurants to suit any palate and budget. Some places worth considering are:

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Karen learns how the "apple uglie" is made. 


1.    Orange Blossom Bakery in Buxton, open mornings, is home to the world famous “apple uglie,” an enormous apple fritter easily shared by 3 or 4, is a great place to get breakfast and cup of coffee.
2.    Diamond Shoals, also in Buxton, is a local restaurant with a great reputation. The servers are knowledgeable about each dish and make recommendations you can trust. Expect a wait, especially for breakfast and dinner.
3.    The chef at Breakwater Restaurant on the sound side of Hatteras, with great sunset views, will cook your fresh-caught seafood if you bring it in. Dessert here is incredible — we debated the whole trip whether the peanut butter-chocolate pie or the key lime pie was best. You can’t go wrong!
4.    All along the Outer Banks, specialty restaurants offer guests a memorable dining experience. Two standouts are the Cafe Pamlico in Buxton and Kimball’s Kitchen in Duck. Cafe Pamlico grows much of its produce on site and creates a menu to feature it. With indoor and outdoor dining, the restaurant creates an intimate, cozy atmosphere. Kimball’s Kitchen has a great menu. Insider tip: Get the Kimballs Kitchen brussels sprouts, even if you don’t normally like them. This is the most popular dish on the menu. You know they’re good when you tell your husband about them two days later!

Tips for traveling to the Outer Banks


#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.


Peak season at the Outer Banks runs from June through September. April, May, and October are also popular months, but slightly less expensive. Visitors to the Outer Banks between November and March will find the greatest bargains — but many restaurants and activities are closed during this time.

Choose lodging where you want to be. Since Highway 12 is a two-lane road through much of the Outer Banks, traffic can get heavy.

Consider Manteo if you’re not a “beach bum.” While Roanoke Island and Manteo do not have the beaches, they are an easy drive away. Manteo is a larger town, so dining and shopping options are more plentiful and convenient. The area is also home to many museums, theatrical performances, and festivals.

No matter where you decide to stay in the Outer Banks, wake up early one day to catch a sunrise. Get dinner at restaurant overlooking the sound to enjoy the sunset. Walk the beach and gather seashells. “Nights in Rodanthe” captured it well, but seeing the nature in real life is so much better.


Family Adventure #outaboutnc guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks


Want to  Go:
Visit The Outer Banks Visitor's Website to get started.



About the author: Karen Dawkins is the creator and editor of Family Travels on a Budget, a site she started in 2012 to show families that careful planning and budgeting can make any vacation dream come true. She has also been featured in print and writes for a number of websites. She and her family reside in Clayton, a suburb of Raleigh, “close to everywhere on the east coast!” You can connect with her on Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | Facebook.

Also check out the post on Family Travels on a Budget that highlights the different beach communities on North Carolina's Outer Banks. 

#outaboutnc Family Adventure Guide to North Carolina's Outer Banks.

FTC Disclosure: This trip was hosted for the media. All expenses to see the island was covered for press. Be sure to check the #OutaboutNC community on Instagram to see places that locals also recommend.

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4.29.2018

Five Fantastic Foods You Cannot Miss at the Ham and Yam Festival in Smithfield, NC

Foodies rejoice yearly when Smithfield, North Carolina hosts its Ham and Yam Festival. This is one of the southern towns biggest spring traditions. It's a day filled with food, bands, and games for the kids. You need to wear your fat pants and go hungry.



This festival started 34 years ago between the town of Smithfield and Smithfield, Virginia over the bragging rights of who had the best ham. Smithfield, NC got the top honor for two years in a row, and on the third that Virginia town with the same name decided not to head south for another ham-whooping.

Smithfield, North Carolina kept on with the tradition of hosting a festival the first Saturday in May.  .

Most of the food sold at the festival is made regionally in North Carolina or in Johnston County.

1. Kiwanis' Ham Biscuits


Country Ham  Biscuits is a staple in Johnston County


The Kiwanis start making ham biscuits early that morning and the booth typically has a line most of the day. It's a great combination of salty-savory country ham on a fluffy biscuit. It's one of the most popular foods at the event.

2. Sweet Potato Lemonade

I've never heard of such a drink before, but sweet potatoes are quite versatile. Sweet Potatoes are commonly found in beer and liquor so why not lemonade. The sweet potato lemonade is made by Wrights Sisters Concessions in Mt. Olive, N.C. It's an item created just for the ham and yam festival.

3. Sweet Potato Souffle Ice Cream

This delicious ice cream is made by Smitty's Homemade Ice Cream. They have storefronts in Burlington,  Graham, and Elon. They make the journey to Smithfield for the festival. Getting their ice cream is well worth any wait in line.


4. Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie


Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie is a hybrid between a sweet potato pie and a cheesecake.


This decadent pie is a favorite dessert item in the Ham and Yam Festival. In fact, it's the star attraction for the pie-eating contest. It's made locally in Smithfield and it's a hybrid between cheesecake and sweet potato pie. Watch as I tasted this heavenly pie live this year.

5. Sweet Potato Smoothies 

Long-time vendor Sam Sawaya created the sweet potato smoothie just for the festival. It may sound a little unusual, but people are loving it over his delicious strawberry, banana and pina coladas. Well, the health benefits of drinking a yam a day are certainly no scam. Sweet Potatoes are filled with Vitamins A and C. This dish, the baked sweet potatoes, and the sweet potato chips are probably the healthiest items served at the festival, but no one counts calories at Southern food festivals.

Other Finds

Funnel Cake Served at the Smithfield Ham and Yam Festival

Make sure you go hungry and try the following: Funnel Cakes with Ham and Yam Toppings, Baked Ham Sandwiches, Yam Cotton Candy, Sweet Potato Cupcakes and Sweet Potato French Fries. All food vendors at the festival have to showcase an item with either ham or sweet potatoes.

Study this map so you will know where to park.  Also, the Simple Twist Taproom and Bottle Shop will be open to serve craft beer and alcoholic beverages.

Smithfield, North Carolina hosts the Ham and Yam Festival the First Saturday in May. Foods containing #sweetpotatoes and #Ham are the stars. The highlight is the Sweet Potato Cheesecake Pie.



FTC Disclosure: This post is sponsored by VisitJoCo Tourism as part of an OutaboutNC tourism campaign. This curated post was written by Leigh Powell Hines as a tourism marketing partner. 

4.20.2018

The Top Outstanding Reason Why the Renaissance Asheville Hotel is Good for Families

Asheville's Renaissance Hotel has some history in the city. It was one of Asheville's first modern skyrise hotels, built decades ago. Even though it's not historic, it is located next to the historic Thomas Wolfe House and is within walking distance to all that downtown Asheville offers travelers. 



We all know that a hotel or its staff can't do anything about its location, but the good news for the Renaissance is that this property is prime when it comes to downtown real estate. It's a great location for travelers to get to restaurants and shops on foot. Once you park for free in the hotel parking lot (another perk), you never have to move your car.  No doubt. This hotel has a great location, but this Marriott branded property has more than just its location that makes it shine.

Here are five other reasons that will make you, especially those traveling with children, want to stay at the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Asheville.

5. The Perks of a Full-Service Property 

The Renaissance Asheville Hotel is a full-service property. What does that mean? It means someone will help you with your luggage if you want. If you're a traveling family, you typically have a lot of it with you. Families usually have multiple bags, electronic devices, pool toys, drinks, snacks, and lots of stuffed animals.


Families travel with a lot of luggage and things. The Renaissance Asheville is a full-service property



It also means room-service is available to you at full-service properties.  What? You mean your kid didn't eat his dinner at 5 pm and all the sudden he's famished at 9:30 pm.  Yeah, that! As parents, we've all been there. Room service can be a nice luxury perk. Full-service also means concierge services, outstanding housekeeping services, and a full-service restaurant.

4. Modern Updated Rooms

The rooms in this Marriott branded hotel are modern and fresh. Staff was quick to respond to any need. I'm a Mom. I always have many needs when I'm staying in a hotel such as band-aids, extra towels and extra coffee cream and sugar packets.


Double Queen Room in Renaissance Asheville Hotel


The bathrooms in this property are updated with marble and subway tile, but it is on the smaller side due to the age of the hotel. A family will manage just fine though.

Leigh Powell Hines is a travel writer that tells a hotel's story just right.


3. Top-Notch Food 


Delicious Black Bean Burger and Fries at the Renaissance Asheville Writer's Bistro Restaurant.

The food at Renaissance Asheville Hotel restaurant, The Writer's Bistro, is farm-to-table delicious with plenty of options for the pickiest child. My family originally ventured to the West Asheville neighborhood by car one day to get brunch/lunch during our stay, but after finding no parking, seeing tons of people standing outside restaurants in the area, and experiencing the biggest family feud of our lives, we drove our irritated behinds right back to the Renaissance Hotel and had lunch at the Writer's Bistro. It was very good. It was our saving grace for the day. We kicked ourselves for not just going downstairs to this restaurant in the first place.

But, I know. It's fun to try different local restaurants and soak up that atmosphere. I want you to do that, too, but when you stay at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, it is nice to know that you do not settle for mediocre when you dine at this property. It's a good solid, first choice and you (not just guests) should come in and try the restaurant when in town.

2. You can bring your Family Dog


The Hines newly adopted dog, Andy. He's ready for the family vacay.

The Renaissance Asheville Hotel is also pet-friendly. I've not experienced that aspect as a guest because we had not yet adopted Andy when we there.  Asheville is supposed to be one of the most pet-friendly places in North Carolina so he's barking to go with us. I did see some happy dogs in the lobby until they had to go on the elevator. Yeah, I don't blame them. I don't really like elevators either. But, with 12 hotel floors, dogs and people need to take the elevator. If you want to take your family dog, the pet fee is $75. Dogs are allowed in the lobby, but not in the restaurant.

1. The Best Hotel Feature: The Indoor Pool 


The saltwater indoor pool is an outstanding feature for families to enjoy at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel in North Carolina.



It's time to reveal the top reason families will keep staying at the Renaissance Asheville year after year. The indoor pool is my number one reason why I think this hotel is perfect for families. The salt water, indoor pool is a huge drawing card for families. It's a good size. It has a resort feel and it does not smell like an indoor pool.

It is spectacular and perfect for all four seasons in the North Carolina mountains. Sometimes, summer can be cool so with an indoor facility then families can splash around year-round.

In 2018, the hotel conducted public spaces renovations so the pool and fitness area were closed, but it should have been back in operation by April 17, 2018. I've been waiting since December to do this post because I wanted the pool back open before publishing.  My best advice though if you are booking this property, be sure to call the hotel to make sure renovations are complete and all amenities I've mentioned are available.

There are many great features about the Renaissance Asheville Hotel in the North Carolina mountains, but the saltwater indoor pool is the top reason that families will enjoying staying at this mountain hotel in the heart of downtown Asheville. #OutaboutNC #Travel #Hotels

FTC Required Disclosure: I was hosted by the Renaissance and also stayed on special rates not available to the public during my stay in prime travel season for the hotel. I spent a total of six nights at the property which is the longest I've stayed at a hotel since starting this blog. I really felt that by staying at the same property twice on my Asheville visits really enabled to get a true feel for the property. My thanks to the Renaissance for working with me during one of their peak occupancy rate times. This blog is also an affiliate with Marriott and income could be generated. 


3.26.2018

Bald Head Island is the Perfect NC Island for Vacation

It's time to start thinking about summer vacations. North Carolina is a beautiful place. We are fortunate because we have the mountains and coastal islands. For a special travel series, I'll be updating a lot of North Carolina Travel posts to help you plan your NC vacation. 


Beautiful Bald Head Island at Sunset
Photo by Leigh Powell Hines 
In any spare moment of time lately, I’ve been dreaming of vacations.  Maybe it’s the start of spring, and even though I don’t really want to try to find a swimsuit,  I’m ready for some warm weather, relaxation, and some fun in the sun.  And when I get in these moods, I tend to think of one place.  It is tranquil, beautiful, and in my opinion, one of North Carolina’s most precious gems.


Bald Head Island is accessible on by boat. No cars here.
Photo by Leigh Powell Hines



This picturesque island sits two nautical miles off the coast of Brunswick County, NC and is only accessible by passenger ferry or private boat. Golf carts and bicycles are the main forms of transportation on this island.

3.21.2018

Oaklee Distilling Helps Wendell Revitalization Efforts One Boots Vodka Bottle at a Time

Wendell, North Carolina, historically a small tobacco-farming town, is located 20 miles outside of downtown Raleigh. Like most small southern towns, it has a little main street and beautiful homes with southern porches that once belonged to the town's elite. There is not much hustle and bustle in Wendell any more. Things move at a slower pace here. At 10 a.m, most things were closed except for a local grill and a cute little coffee shop.

Main Street of Wendell, NC

Wendell has a bank or two, a wine shop, a general store and hip and cool distillery, called Oaklee Distilling Co.

3.07.2018

Toffee Coffee Recipe from Asheville's Biltmore Estate

Have I told you that I love Bailey's Irish Cream? I really love it in coffee as an after-dinner drink. I love Bailey's Irish Cream so much that one could really accuse me of naming my cat after the liquor. I did put a shot of Bailey's in my coffee about the exact time I threw-out Bailey as a name for our 20-pound, green-eyed, black cat. 

We no longer have Bailey the cat, but I do have Bailey's Irish Cream in my kitchen along with 12 glass coffee mugs.

3.01.2018

5 Awesome Reasons Why the AC Hotel by Marriott in Raleigh's North Hills Area Impresses

I've not traveled much since we bought our new house in Raleigh, adopted a dog, and become a slave to the traditional school schedule where we only have our summer off to explore.

Last weekend, I was finally back on assignment in the off-season.

Top 5 awesome reasons to stay at the AC Hotel Raleigh in North Hills #travel #familytravel #northcarolina


After seven years of owning this blog, Will and I have an unspoken blog agreement. Paid gigs get my priority when it comes to my time. Additional writing perks such as media visits come second to my first job of managing the household and being a parent. Media writing assignments are for when I burn the midnight oil, if and when I have extra time. And let's face it! As an almost 50-year-old menopausal woman with an 8-year-old and a 12-year-old, I'm exhausted most of the time and there is no "burning the midnight oil" in this house these days. The invitation to visit the AC Hotel in Raleigh North Hills came at the perfect time in my life because I needed a hotel stay to renew me and awaken my senses to escape the ordinary in my life. The best part of all is that I only had to drive 15-minutes to experience all of this in my hometown.

The AC Hotel Raleigh is located in bustling North Hills, an area called midtown in Raleigh, N.C.


The AC Hotel by Marriott is hotel brand that I've been curious about but had no personal experience. Last year, Raleigh's North Hills area was the first site in North Carolina to open the AC Raleigh Hotel. Asheville and Chapel Hill followed suit later in the year with two more properties. Charlotte, NC will open the fourth AC Hotel in North Carolina this spring.

2.20.2018

The Spa at Ballantyne Reveals the One Thing You Should Do Weekly?

Charlotte, N.C has a jewel in the heart of the city. It's close to every major tourist attraction. Think Carowinds, the Discovery Place, the Whitewater Rafting Center, and the Panthers stadium, but yet when you check into this luxury resort, you escape the hustle and bustle of tourism. It's peaceful at this resort. There is a resort pool, a championship golf course, and a luxury spa. It has everything you could ask for and more. 


The Ballantyne Hotel and Spa in Charlotte, N.C.


Starwood's Luxury Collection, The Ballantyne Hotel and Spa, is a destination in Charlotte all of its own and it's ok to come here and never leave the property if you want. That's a play from my own playbook.  I did that this Spring with a girlfriend and guess what folks....we never left the grounds. Not once. And we loved every minute of it. 


Ballantyne Selfie with Kim Prejs, editor of Living Young and Healthy

2.14.2018

Why You Should Have Afternoon Tea at the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, NC

Charlotte, North Carolina is known as the Queen City so it is only fitting that The Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, a member of Starwood's Luxury Hotel Collection, serves afternoon tea fit for a queen. The Ballantyne, a resort hotel with a top-rate spa and championship golf course, offers a different type of tee-time for the public on Wednesday through Saturday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It's traditional afternoon tea delights with a local culinary twist. 

Here are some of my reasons as to why you should have afternoon tea at the Ballantyne Hotel


1. It's fun to take a break in the afternoon and catch up with a friend


#OutaboutNC: Afternoon Tea at the Ballantyne Hotel

2.  Tea is an antioxidant that is good for you

Served in the hotel's cozy lobby, this special reserved tea time at the Ballantyne is in a picturesque setting and was a highlight of my time spent at the hotel. The hotel features a variety of loose leaf teas from Harney & Sons.


Afternoon Tea is served in the cozy lobby





















2.08.2018

Men's Spa Treatments: It is on the Rise, but are Men Taking Advantage?

As I sip on my perfectly chilled cucumber water in a lounge chair at the Spa at Pinehurst,  I take notice of who is around me in this beautiful co-ed luxury lounge space.

The Spa at Pinehurst. Men Spa Treatments are on the Rise
The Spa at Pinehurst Co-Ed Relaxation Lounge/Lap Pool


Eight women are together celebrating a birthday milestone. I happily take a group photo of them before embarking on my signature Pinehurst facial that came with my overnight package.

I wave to another woman who I had met the night before with her fiance in the hotel. Her fiance was playing golf in a tournament. She, like me, was having a spa day.  My friend sat beside me relaxing like one should in a spa and she was probably doing her best to ignore the annoying journalistic curiosity questions I posed to her.

Across from me, I notice a married gentleman sitting in a  monogrammed spa robe and browsing through the latest Robb Report magazine.

On this particular occasion, he was the lone man in the spa common areas. There may have been ten other men in the gentleman's private lounge areas talking about their putter, but from what I could see, this well-coiffed man was the lone spa ranger without his mask.

The Spa at Pinehurst, surrounded by PGA-played golf courses in the Sandhills region of North Carolina, offers a wide variety of male spa treatments. If a man enjoys going to the spa then this spa ranks number one for men in North Carolina.

This male spa guest intrigued me. To me, he is the polar opposite of my husband who has never set foot in a spa. I have told Will that he should go to the spa sometime because it would be good for his skin.  When I give this speech, he gives me a look as if that will not be an expense that he will actively seek out on his own.

Will is 51. I believe many men born around my husband's generation are not used to going to the spa. The idea is foreign to him. I think many men, born before 1975 especially in the South, characterize going to the spa as "something women do." I know Will never thinks about the spa in terms of therapeutic wellness.  He would almost need a doctor's note to go to a spa in my mind.

The Poll: Are Men Taking Advantage?


After my spa visit,  I took a quick poll among a Facebook group in the Apex/Cary area near my hometown of Raleigh. Both of these towns have an average household income of around $90k, which is well above the North Carolina average of $47,830. If men in these zip codes want to go to the spa then most could afford the expense. My research proves that my well-bred college husband is not alone as a man who has never been to the spa.


Does your Man go to the Spa? Men going to the Spa is slowly on the Rise according this NC-based spa insight trend. Luxury Hotels share what they are seeing when it comes to male spa treatments.



The results of this poll are not surprising. Out of 381 Cary and Apex residents who took the time to answer my poll, only 12 percent of men go to the spa. The gentlemen who regularly book appointments at a spa compared to the men who have never stepped foot in a spa is low. However, the bigger picture now is that the trend of men going to a spa is certainly on the rise from previous generations.

Pinehurst Spa Director Brandon Fein confirms this rise.

"We have indeed seen an uptick in recent months in Spa services used by men. Pinehurst continues to evolve in many areas, including in its golf offerings. An example would be our new short course, The Cradle, which has been praised by mainstream media nationwide, and been a very busy place since it opened in October. We’re seeing a lot of usage there, too, by our Pinehurst Country Club membership, which could help explain more men coming more regularly to the Spa, especially for innovative and timely services like full-body Cyrotherapy," said Fein. 

Another interesting piece of information in this equation is those who commented in my Facebook survey responded their significant other who went to the spa without them were under the age of 45. The man who was in the lounge with me on my Pinehurst spa outing fits that age description.

The Rise of Male Spa Treatments in Luxury Hotels 


Luxury hotel spas are embracing this rise in male clientele.  The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto told me that its' spa saw a 25 percent increase in male clients in 2017. The spa even dubbed the month of January of this year as "Manuary" and offered special services tailored for me at the hotel's well-ranked Spa My Blend by Clarins.    


The Ritz-Carlton Toronto dubbed January as "Manuary" and specially promoted spa treatments for men.
Ritz-Carlton Sp My Blend by Clarins Male Treatments in Toronto 

At this Ritz-Carlton spa,  men can choose spa treatments such as the Gentlemen's Power Hour or the Blokes & Beer treatment, a 2.5-hour service with a Man-E-Cure hand treatment, personalized facial, and full body massage.  There is also a huge large screen television in the Gentleman's Relaxation Lounge for men to enjoy. 


Kingsmill Resort Spa in Virgnia
Kingsmill Resort  Spa in Williamsburg, Virginia 


The Kingsmill Resort, a four-diamond condo resort in Williamsburg, Virginia which overlooks the James River is a haven for both family-fun and relaxation.  With a million-dollar spa on property and separate relaxation rooms for men and women, Spa Director, Jessica Nichols believes wellness education can take credit for new generations embracing the spa.

"We have seen an increase in appointments for men.  I think wellness, fitness, and overall better care of your body is a priority now," remarked Nichols. "It is also no longer frowned upon for men to have spa services of any kind.  Research shows the benefits of massage are great and have been known to relieve stress, neurological issues, digestive disorders, soft tissue and sports injuries, and more.  Spa treatments are no longer just for special occasions but considered therapy."

Despite an increase in luxury hotel spas offering spa treatments for males, men are still the minority client as we expected. The luxury resort, Four Seasons Orlando, located within the gates of Walt Disney World, says that men make up about 30 percent of its' overall spa business. 


The luxury hotel on property at Walt Disney World.
The  Four Seasons Orlando at Walt Disney World 


That figure has remained steady since the hotel's opening almost four years ago. Four Seasons Orlando's luxury spa offers four couple treatment rooms on site.  Based on my survey results, the "couples spa appointment" route is the first point of entry into a spa for most men. Like Pinehurst, the hotel does confirm that it does see an increase in male treatments when there is a big male-oriented event on the property such as a golf tournament. 


Our Male Youth: What will the Future Hold? 


Awareness, education and personal experiences certainly can create change. As for today's male youth, will they be more open to seeking spa treatments as they grow into adulthood?

Exposure to the spa at a younger age may have an impact on that. The Kingsmill Resort spa offers a teen program for spa services for 12 to 16-year-olds.  My own daughter, who is now 8, was exposed to a luxury spa for a toe and nail polish at the age of 5. My son has never been exposed.

Children's Manicure at the Primland Resort Spa
Photo by Leigh Powell Hines

Liza now jumps at the chance any time she is given a spa opportunity now.  As they say, the apple doe does not fall too far from the tree. The Primland Resort, also in Virginia, like the Kingsmill Resort offers both children and teen services.  The Primland is where Liza was first introduced to the spa world. When I visited the property, highlighting children's spa treatment for a magazine, my son was still too young for any service other than nail services. At that time, he had no interest in doing that service.

How would my son feel now about the spa?  I think he would go for it and not think twice about it being something that girls normally do.

His Dad? Well, I would need to make that appointment for him. But, I know once he had the service, he would see the benefit in spa treatments. Education and awareness have the power to cause change for the better.  Like the other day, Will told me that he read that lentils help reduce belly fat. Y'all, I've had lentils on the menu for years. I guess now, he'll take another serving.

For more information on vacation options at the hotels listed in this post, visit the following:
Ritz-Carlton Toronto
The Kingsmill Resort
Four Seasons Orlando
The Primland
The Pinehurst Resort 




Luxury hotels are offering more spa treatments for men, but are men taking advantage. A look at the spa industry and attracting male spa guests. #spatravel




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