Monthly Archives: April 2013

Visiting Asheville

My friend mentioned that the Chamber of Commerce of Asheville should thank me after my last post. I guess I was a bit effusive about the shops and opportunities around the Asheville area. But…given where I am living now, this is a bonanza of diverse restaurants, shops, artists, and bookstores. It’s not as if I am deprived where I am being close enough to New York City, but Weaverville, a small town just west of Asheville, and Asheville have an ambiance that is difficult to describe.

Lynda and I started our “Art Safari,” a chance to visit local artists in their studios, in the rain and finished after driving up a mountain to see the most beautiful pottery. Steven Forbes-deSoule has a home on the top of a mountain that is worth seeing even if you don’t like raku ceramic sculpture. SpringatVanceKnob
It was well worth the somewhat scary ride up the mountain on a dirt road to see his work displayed in a gallery in the downstairs of his home. It is so much more personal to see the artist himself talk about his or her work and not looking at pieces in a gallery. We visited other artists as well, but once I saw Forbes-deSoule’s work, I was done. I am still dreaming of a beautiful piece I fell in love with but haven’t been able to justify the extravagance!

ShopFrontWebThe Mangum family in Weaverville has created beautiful pottery for many years as well and I have many of their pieces. My children do, too, since I have enjoyed going to that shop for many years. It is situated on a Main Street that is the epitome of a small town with an artsy feel. I am definitely seduced by the variety of experiences my friends are providing for me and wonder what it will be like to get back to the quiet of the woods!

Today we go to Malaprops, a great bookstore in downtown Asheville, one of the few individually owned bookstores around. Most of the time I get my reading material from amazon.com because there are no bookstores in the Lords Valley area, chain or not. I’ve blogged about this store before but it reminds me of a smaller version of The Strand in New York City, without the old and hard-to-find editions. It’s lovely to take a vacation with good friends who provide all of these experiences that are so much a part of this area. Add to the fun, shopping, and much too much eating, the fact that there are beautiful views everywhere you look. So…I’m not advocating for the Asheville Chamber, just sharing the great variety of things that I am enjoying on my vacation. Most of all, I enjoy the company of great friends.

From Lords Valley to Weaverville

Yesterday, Sydney and I made the 10-hour trip to Weaverville, North Carolina, to visit with Lynda, Brian, and of course, Enzo (Sydney’s good friend). The greenery was noticeable only a couple of hours from the Poconos. Beautiful trees in bloom, flowers on the side of the road, and when I reached Lynda’s neighborhood, it was springtime. This morning, we took the dogs for a long walk before leaving on a day of shopping. Our first stop was Thyme in the Garden, an absolutely lovely small nursery where I could ask a lot of questions about my new gardening hobby and where they would re-pot a plant before I bought it because I wanted it in a larger plastic pot. Very accommodating and we spent a good deal of time there not to mention that I bought several things and promised that I’d send them a photo once everything is planted and on my deck. Thyme in the Garden is a family run business and their level of expertise was amazing. Of course, I know nothing about hens and chickens except that they are succulents, and certainly know little about what needs sun and doesn’t, so it was a real learning experience for me (but when it comes to gardening, what isn’t a new experience for me?!). thymeinthegarden

We left there and went to the River District. The French Broad River runs through Asheville and along the river there is a very large area of art studios of every kind. In some the artists were there working and it was a real treat to get to talk with them about their work or, in the case of one, our various opinions of “man caves!” What a difference from Milford where there is one pottery studio and no artist studios that I know of. The repurposed industrial buildings are as interesting as the art housed in them! cottonmill

I am always struck by the diversity in Asheville, the obvious community support for the arts, and the friendliness of the people we meet. The tacos at White Duck Taco were wonderful (check your Southern Living magazine for a write-up) at an unassuming (that’s an understatement) restaurant where we sat at a table outside with two other people and a puppy. The place is housed in The Hatchery building which adds to the charm (or perhaps provides all of it!). For all the times I’ve visited here, we have yet to repeat a restaurant. As Lynda said I shouldn’t complain because I’m close enough to New York City to go to any fine restaurant I’d like, but it’s definitely not the same. This is an experience well worth the drive, not to mention the company of good friends. Off to the microbrewery this evening and an art safari tomorrow.

Dinner at Carini’s

winebottle It is not easy for me to meet new people and it is especially difficult to go into situations where I am the “outsider” and everyone else already knows one another. However, last night I really pushed myself to accept an invitation to have dinner at a local restaurant with five other people: Nancy put this together and is the only person I really have made friends with in this community; her two friends, Landy and Elaine, I met briefly only once; and Ken and Eileen, Nancy’s neighbors, rounded out the group. (Poor Ken, I thought, being the only man among four widows!) When I arrived at the appointed time, 6:00 PM (we eat early here in the mountains and it’s a good thing since they were sweeping up in the restaurant by 8:30!), no one else was there. It’s a bring your own wine place so I opened my wine and poured a glass while I waited. I was surprised that it was not more crowded being a Saturday night, but there is little marketing of anything in this area, so probably most of their business was pizza take-out.

While I waited I thought that it’s one thing to complain about not making friends and then it’s another thing if I don’t go anywhere or accept invitations. As I pondered sitting in this almost empty restaurant by myself I thought about the possibility that I would be eating dinner on my own. It wasn’t an unpleasant thought and I wasn’t about to leave just because I was alone. After a while, everyone else arrived and it soon became quite raucous due in no small part to the bottles of wine (7) that appeared on the table. While we all offered to share, each person seemed to have his or her favorite (mine was a lovely bottle of Chianti that I enjoyed very much)!

dinnergroup The group was congenial and there was no lack of conversation. It was nice to meet new people and, while it’s difficult to talk in any meaningful way at a table for six, we managed. Ken was a good sport I thought and wondered how uncomfortable he really was. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed getting out of the house and having a reasonably well-prepared meal out. We had an antipasto “platter” for the table to share as we settled in but it was really a big salad in a bowl that I found a bit strange and unlike any antipasto platter I’d experienced. They brought out “bread” and olive oil to dip it in, but it was really a piece of pizza cut in a square that apparently was to share. When I said that we wanted bread, our waitress was a bit puzzled. “Oh, you mean Italian bread?” Hmmmm. In an Italian restaurant, that’s exactly what I expected.

I think that the chef did a good job since it seems they mostly serve pizza or pasta and we all ordered the fish special. They DO have a bit of a problem getting all the dinners on the table at the same time and the fish likely would have been cooked a bit more had the chef not been doing six identical dishes. But, there are things to be said in Carini’s favor besides the good company and good food last night: first, it’s bring your own wine or beer so that keeps the price at a very reasonable level and second, it’s only about 3 miles from home so no matter what the weather, it’s accessible. The downside for me is that it closes so early. When we asked for coffee at the end of the meal (no dessert was offered), the waitresses were already standing around waiting, I guess, to go home. They had to brew a fresh pot (which was very good) and were able to accommodate decaf espressos for others at the table. I think we might have sat longer if they had not been so obvious about wanting to close. I am just not used to eating that early, but if that’s the only negative of the evening, it’s just fine. I’m so glad I joined this very interesting group for dinner. Even though the photo I’ve included is a bit blurry, you can tell that everyone was having fun and I suppose the blurriness reflects the amount of wine that was consumed! I’m having leftovers for dinner tonight!

Seasons of the Hearth

hearth
The last time I posted a photo of the hearth I was learning how to build a fire that would last all day. It took a while, but I have finally mastered it using a variety of strategies that involved kindling, fat lighter, and fire starters. Of course, it involved great amounts of newspaper as well so I’m very glad I subscribe to two local papers and that occasionally I pick up a print version of the New York Times. But, it is unlikely that I will have any more fires this season so the hearth has been redone for spring and summer.

I took a large batch of newspapers to recycling at the dump and had a lot of help moving the wood holder and leftover wood downstairs when Michael and Allison visited this past weekend. I cleaned out the fireplace for the last time and we took the tools and rug to the shed, swept the hearth, the floor around the fireplace and the porch. The woodpile downstairs has shrunk considerably. Michael straightened it up and re-placed the tarp and we considered it done. Then I had to discuss how to handle the leftover wood with John, the bug guy. (Getting ready for spring is not as easy as you would think! It involves a lot of people!) John says that the further from the house the better and its current position is okay but I really should keep in mind that the ants are carpenter ants that like the wood and will use the woodpile to get into the house. Since the house is made of wood, I’m not sure how this works. Besides, John said, that’s what I pay him for — to treat outside the house for ants, termites, spiders, mice, and other things I don’t even want to think about. We discussed landscaping and the stairs and how he saw my car parked up top all winter so he knew I was here. We discussed the shed and how the new one is a huge improvement over the old one and then he told me what happens to sheds that cause mice to live in them. He confirmed that chipmunks were living in holes they made up against the house under the kitchen windows. All this because I asked him about the woodpile! Finally he treated around the outside of the house and promised to be back in August.

Even though it is still quite cool, I am encouraged by temperatures reaching the 60s this week and am enjoying the spring look of the hearth. The pussy willows will be added to or replaced by summer flowers. I am using the driveway again, Sydney is getting used to dirt instead of ice and snow, the UPS delivery person actually brought the box down the steps today instead of leaving it up top, and the bushes I planted last fall are blooming and have bees buzzing all around. The grill is on the deck and I am almost ready to spruce up the porch. My new yellow bird and its companion the not-very-well repaired bluebird are ready to take their places. These are all good signs. The hearth reflects the change of seasons as much as any of these other indicators, maybe even more.

Sydney in the City

My assumption has always been that dogs are dogs and they will do their business when they need to wherever we set them down! However, with Sydney, my chocolate lab mix, that is not the case. Last week, Sydney went with me for a 2-day visit to Brooklyn. It was her second visit to Brooklyn. On our first trip, we were there for 2 nights and stayed at Rachel and Dave’s apartment on Degraw Street. Mason, their dog, is a real urban pup and knows when she is taken out for a walk, it is for a purpose. Playing with other dogs, greeting neighbors, trying to eat discarded food on the curb all take second place to the primary purpose of the walk. Mason tried to model for Sydney and doesn’t really understand her reluctance. Sydney didn’t get it and liked the walks okay but wouldn’t do anything, even when I found a blade or two of grass around a street tree!! We walked and walked to no avail and I certainly had a new appreciation for how long dogs could go without going to the bathroom!

Last week when we went to Dave and Rachel’s new apartment in Park Slope, I had high hopes for Sydney because there are actually very small patches of dirt and grass. No luck. She is clearly a suburban dog and is spoiled by having had a yard of her own in Tallahassee and now has a fenced-in yard in Lords Valley. I determined that walking to Prospect Park would work but this is quite a long walk and isn’t one that I would take at night anyway. Somehow she managed and survived until we found grass at the park. Mason was very excited with all the walks to the park and had a wonderful time. I’m sure she was grateful for Sydney’s lack of urban savvy.

There are other factors that have to be considered as well. Trucks are very noisy and very close to the sidewalks when walking the dog. The falafel seller outside Barnes & Noble on 8th Avenue made a lot of noise and his friend who was selling strawberries (2 boxes for $5!) next to him was very loudly proclaiming that they were delicious, cheap, and from Florida! This was enough to start Sydney shaking. So many people, so much noise, so little grass! But, she was a trooper and kept getting excited when I picked up her leash to take her out. I really believe that each time we walked up 7th Street, she saw the car and was trying to tell me that she found our way out of the city. I was obviously too dense to catch on. When we got home to our quiet place in the woods, Sydney sniffed every inch of the yard and then ran up the stairs and literally danced around the living room. I guess you can’t take the country dog into the city!

Experiencing Park Slope

Spending a couple of days in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was fun, exciting, exhausting, and exhilarating. Sydney and I stayed at Rachel and Dave’s apartment in Park Slope or, as the natives say, The Slope. When people think of Manhattan and Brooklyn, they think of flat terrain, not hills. In fact, the topography of the five boroughs is quite diverse and there are lots of hills. Going from Rachel’s apartment to Prospect Park is uphill all the way and a pretty good hike. Once you get there, though, it is a beautiful green space in a sea of brownstone homes and architecturally interesting pre-war apartment buildings.

There are strollers and people with dogs (some with strollers and dogs) everywhere! Park Slope is a family friendly neighborhood of young people, trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and retail shops. There is no shortage of things to do. The Y is blocks away. There is a Barnes & Noble bookstore, bagel shops of every size and description (The Beygl Shop is a new one!), and a food market that I would love to have access to! Rachel and I had a late lunch at Zito’s Deli sharing a sandwich and black cherry soda! zitos There don’t seem to be any official hours at most of these shops and you can get whatever is on the menu at any time of day or night. Zito’s has local flavor with exposed brick walls and a table of regulars that are old-time Brooklyn. Every place delivers — you could go to Prospect Park, choose a bench, and have lunch delivered to you if you want to!

One of the great pleasures of my stay was eating out — Dizzy’s for breakfast (best grits I’ve ever had!) and Okeanos for dinner. The food at Okeanos was beautifully prepared — Greek specialties with servers who appeared to be family. We waited out the thunderstorms last week with small plates of spanakopita, dolmades, calamari, and other traditional Greek dishes. Most restaurants are loud and friendly and you are never rushed. To say it’s a pleasure to dine in The Slope is an understatement.

The biggest challenge of my stay was the three steep flights of stairs to get to the apartment. Sydney took them like a champ although she’s still tired I think. I, however, stopped often for a breather. I’m not sure I could do this every day, especially having to walk the dog several times a day. But…I totally understand why Rachel and Dave love the location and want to stay there. On my early morning walk to the park, I passed a number of dads walking their children to school. Deep in conversation, one little girl and her father were laughing over something, and I thought what a lovely moment for them. Every day has a moment like this for them because they live in The Slope and take that walk to the neighborhood school each morning. For those who think that New York City and the surrounding areas are all steel and concrete, they need to know that family neighborhoods are in all parts of the city! I am lucky to have had those couple of days and cannot wait to do it again!

The Princess Plan

I have given a lot of thought to being alone since I am approaching my year’s anniversary of picking up and moving north. Also it’s almost a year since I retired. My friend, Beth, and my sister-in-law, Jill, and I have frequent conversations about friends and acquaintances who find themselves alone after many years of being part of a couple. One of Beth’s friends said that, after 40 years on “The Princess Plan,” she is now a caregiver. Jill is also a caregiver. It requires a great deal of physical and emotional effort for her. I was a caregiver for many years and we all agree that this was never what we expected, not what we signed on for. Recently I was reminded of one of Jill’s long-time friends, Gil M., who lost her husband about the same time I did. She is having many of the same issues that I have with going out as a single woman, not having someone to discuss things with, and generally having to reconsider what it is to manage day-to-day. It isn’t easy going out especially when most places you go, people are in couples.

Not to be all gloom and doom, there are many things to be thankful for of course, but roles are so clearly defined when you are part of a couple. Our culture easily recognizes how that works, what the expectations are, and even in an unconventional marriage that doesn’t fit the image from my generation, there are many assumptions that others make. I’ve noticed this a lot lately. Judy at the diner mentioned to me that some of the people who come in assume that Kenny (her brother) is her husband and call her “Mrs.” Somehow people are surprised if a woman is on her own. I think this is because women of a certain age are expected to be part of a relationship, to have a partner. And, if you were lucky enough to be part of a relationship and have a terrific partner, being alone is that much more difficult because you are fighting not only the perceptions of others but your own idea of what going out should look like.

Having good friends is key to surviving this! I am always thinking ahead and worrying about not having enough to do after a life of work and an active social life. Somehow things come together and the solitary life isn’t so bad. Friends and family fill in the gaps (whether they know it or not) and offer a stability that is hard to find on one’s own. So…I also signed up for the Princess Plan — there’s no doubt. Now the plan has changed and I get to set the agenda and identify the elements of the plan itself. Whether others understand this is not my problem. I have enough to deal with just restructuring the plan!

Local Eateries

Yes, there are places around here to go for a meal. It’s not like New York City, not even like Tallahassee. I still yearn for Kool Beanz and a good coffee shop! However, I have branched out from the diner a little and thought I’d share. Now that the weather has improved, it is time to get out and look around. Milford has several places to go for a good meal and for atmosphere and I’ve already reported on them. But, I discovered two new places this week — The Forklift Cafe and Pinehurst Inn. The Forklift Cafe is a vegetarian/vegan friendly café that Rachel and I discovered because my car needed brakes! The guys at the car place wanted to do the work early and said, “You can go to the Forklift Cafe for breakfast and then we’ll be done.” So, off we went on Thursday morning. To say that the Forklift Cafe is an eclectic part café part shop is an understatement. The food was wonderful, there were “regulars” who came in and were greeted by name, and it is a bright sun-filled small room with about 10 tables. The other half of the shop is a collection of shelves filled with knickknacks of every shape, size, and description. All for sale of course, and an odd collection of banks in the shape of high-heeled shoes to inspirational wall hangings. It was fun to try somewhere new and a change from Ray ‘n Charles which is also in Dingman’s.

rayncharles
Ray ‘n Charles bills itself as a diner, deli, beer place and caterer. It’s been there for ages and has a HUGE menu with eat-in service at one end of the store. You get your own drinks from the cooler and find a place to sit between the restrooms and the counter. All about comfort food, it’s not someplace I’d want to eat on a regular basis! But, their burgers are delicious!

Then there’s the Pinehurst Inn which will be featured on the Food Channel’s Restaurant Impossible in a month or so! pinehurst Last night, I went there with my friend Nancy for a drink and appetizers at the bar. We had stopped in there some months ago to pick up a gift card and it had indeed changed. The atmosphere is kind of sterile lodge but at least it’s brighter than it was. There were quite a few people there and a musician who obviously chose his music based on the age of the patrons! I liked his choices! It’s an okay place to go with very young wait staff and bar tender and all fried all the time appetizers! Nice to get out and sit with a friend and catch up, but I’m not sure I’d go there for dinner. The thing is, I really want local places to succeed. There’s a tendency here for locally owned businesses to come and go rather quickly because they depend on the tourists. Yet, people in the community complain that there aren’t enough places to go. Part of the problem is that in the winter people want to get home early so by 8:00, places are already clearing out!

I haven’t abandoned the diner, either. I went for breakfast yesterday which was a good thing since they were concerned about me and would have called if I didn’t show up! It’s nice to be missed and I had a lovely leisurely breakfast with good company. That’s my take on the latest and greatest in my world of eating out. Along with many others in the community I am looking forward to the rumored opening of a sports bar/restaurant nearby! Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference!

Sure Signs of Spring?

I hope I have not angered the snow gods but three things occurred that I consider sure signs of spring: First, I took the plastic off the screened in porch. It did a great job keeping snow off the porch for the most part, but I am tired of looking through plastic to the yard. Second, I am using my driveway and am determined to keep doing it in spite of flurries predicted tomorrow (I really don’t believe that anyway). And, last, and maybe the most significant, on Saturday I wore shoes — NOT BOOTS! — for the first time and . . . without socks! I consider these rebellious moves on my part since it’s supposed to be in the 20s tomorrow night, but even so, I remain optimistic.

signsofspring

To my friends in Florida who think these are minor events, they are not! I am proud to have done well during my first winter in the northeast considering that it seemed to snow every day! Access to the house wasn’t too bad although climbing the 40 steps up and down from the car with groceries, supplies, dog, etc., while great exercise, gets tiresome after a while. Having the car right near the downstairs door makes life MUCH easier. Cleaning off the porch and even leaving the door open for a few minutes to air things out is also a big deal. Please stop laughing those of you who still think I’m crazy for having moved from Florida to Pennsylvania and not the other way around! And, the shoes!? This is huge. I am pretty close to putting the line-up of boots that are under the bench away for the season. This may be a bit premature, but it will really feel great!

The best sign of spring I’m told is when Lowe’s and Home Depot open their garden centers; when they put out gas grills and lawn equipment in place of the snow blowers; when the Blizzard Wizard display that reached to the ceiling is gone; and when firewood signs disappear from the roads and in their place are signs advertising gas tanks for grills and charcoal. I’m being a little optimistic here I know but I am enjoying these few moments of warmth in the sun and absolute freedom to move around. All of this said, I’ve been advised that Mother’s Day is the first time to try to put out flowers and plants so I can’t get too far ahead of myself. Fingers crossed that I didn’t do anything to bring on a late snowfall!