Shopping, Food, and Thomas Wolfe

Because my husband has an annual fall conference in Asheville, my guaranteed October trip to the North Carolina mountains is this lovely destination. Asheville is a lively blend of old mountain culture—think apple butter and rustic crafts—and a hip, new-age vibe.

Some years we’ve stayed at the Grove Park Inn, known for its fancy spa, ginormous lobby with two huge walk-in fireplaces, and panoramic views.


This year we were at the Renaissance Hotel, not quite as luxurious but with a great downtown location. I was within walking distance of restaurants and all those cute little knick-knack stores that Asheville is full of. In fact, I bought a couple of wind chimes at a place called LOFT (Lost Objects Found Treasures).


Even better, the hotel was right across the street from the Thomas Wolfe house. Hog’s heaven for a former English teacher. Tuesday morning while the husband was in meetings, I had my own personal tour—just me and the docent—for only five dollars.

wolfe house

In case you’re wondering, the Thomas Wolfe Memorial is where this famous author grew up, alongside all the boarders that his thrifty, businesswoman mother could cram in her boarding house. In his novel Look Homeward, Angel, Wolfe wrote none too fondly of his life there, dissing Asheville as well, which caused him to be something of an outcast for quite a few years after the book was published. It’s telling that his last novel is titled You Can’t Go Home Again.

summer flowers

My trip was timed a little early for the brilliant fall foliage. I saw more summer flowers still in bloom than the vibrant reds, oranges, and golds of fall. Evidently summer held on a little longer in the mountains this year as it did at home.

The last day of this fall conference, my husband and I always visit the Western North Carolina (WNC) Farmer’s Market on the outskirts of Asheville to pick up an assortment of apples. We fill a cardboard box with Golden Delicious, Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious—anything marked sweet. No tart Granny Smiths for me.

The best thing about visiting the WNC Farmer’s Market, though, is the Moose Café. Country cooking at its finest—and huge portions. You know you’re in a place that takes eating seriously when the waitress brings a big fluffy biscuit with apple butter for your appetizer, and chicken pastry is listed as a side dish. Just look at these plates.

paula's mealmy meal

We all got a to-go box and had our leftovers for supper.



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Summer Has Refused to Give Up

What a long, strange summer it’s been. The calendar says it’s October 10, but temperatures are still in the upper 80s here in eastern North Carolina. So I’m still in shorts and flip flops. As of today, we’ve had only a handful of mornings with just the slightest touch of chilly fall air.

That’s the long part of this summer. The strange part? Despite the summer-like temps, my maple tree is already shedding leaves. Leaves that haven’t really changed color other than to turn a little brown or slightly yellow. No brilliant reds or oranges this year. Does a really wet summer mean poor fall foliage? Is Hurricane Florence responsible?

flip flops

It’s officially been fall since September 22 (First Day of Autumn), so I’ve bought a few mums to make my outside décor more seasonally appropriate. I should put my begonias in the mulch pile, but they’re still blooming and it’s hard for me to pitch a pretty plant. For now, fall and summer are co-existing around my house.


Same story with my hardy ferns. They might look a little strange next to my fall door wreath and the pots of orange mums I’ve arranged on the steps, but I’m not going to put them in the garage for their winter hibernation until the first frost. Whenever that will be. November? December?

front door

As I write, Hurricane Michael has hit Florida. The forecast here is for lots of rain tomorrow and Friday. We don’t need more heavy rain, but the good news is that we’re promised lower temperatures once this weather system passes. Day temps in the low 70s. Night temps dropping down to the upper 40s.

Can I believe this forecast? Could fall weather finally be arriving?

Even though it’s felt like summer for all of September and almost half of October, fall activities have begun. To read about my autumn schedule, click on this link to last Sunday’s column in the Rocky Mount Telegram:




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Tuscany Has More Than the Top Ten Attractions

This past weekend, I was asked for travel advice by a husband and father of two pre-school daughters. “My wife and I want to take our girls to Italy, but there’s no way we can do the museums and cathedrals with them in tow. I’m thinking Rome or Florence, a city where we can just walk and soak up the atmosphere. Somewhere we can let the kids run around the streets and eat somewhere casual.”

His idea of travel got me thinking about what I did—and saw—while I was on my recent trip to Florence and the small towns of Tuscany. I realized that there’s always that recommended list of Top Ten Attractions. In Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is a world-famous art museum that is definitely on such a list. It was on my list too.

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus found in the Uffizi Gallery

I loved the guided tour I took of the Uffizi, but free-to-see Renaissance art and architecture are all around in Florence. Anyone can just walk the streets and happen upon famous statues right there in a piazza. Perfect for those on a budget or with small children.


In addition to Florence, I recommended all of Tuscany to this young dad. Many of the small towns prohibit traffic—you have to park outside the city walls and walk in—so being a pedestrian is safe. And the sights along the streets are entertaining and pure Italian.

For example, wild boar is a big deal in the area. They’re hunted much like we do deer. The stores sell all kinds of wild boar souvenirs such as stuffed animals and hats. Leather goods–purses, belts, shoes–are everywhere. I loved this display of colorful Italian men’s shoes.


In the hilly Tuscany towns, the views are lovely and again, this type of sightseeing is a free, easy experience. A lot of places have towers or even hillsides where tourists can climb to get a bird’s eye view. Memorable, free, and very photogenic experiences.



And there’s always just hanging with the locals.









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Hurricane Florence: The Aftermath

On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, five days after Hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina, Al and I finally made it to Lands End in Emerald Isle—well, sort of—to assess the damage to our beach house. Here’s what we saw.

Getting There

We’d waited until Wednesday, three days after the bridge from the mainland was open, because we’d read Coast Guard Road was flooded near the entrance to our neighborhood. We thought the water had subsided enough that we could drive through with Al’s heavy Yukon.  Not knowing it had rained AGAIN on Tuesday night, we found more water than we could handle.

coast guard road

So we parked two neighborhoods away. Thank you, Dolphin Ridge, for letting us use the parking lot at your clubhouse. We gathered our overnight bags and struck out for the beach, walking a half mile or so to get to our house.

beach bum


The Beach

Here’s what we saw walking down the beach.

white deck



I especially hated to see the dead ocean life. I counted more than a half dozen sea gulls in less than a half mile.

dead seagull


The Neighborhood

Water, water, everywhere…. It looks worse than it was. Yes, the street in front of my house was (and probably still is) flooded.  Even if we’d gotten into the neighborhood, we couldn’t have driven to the house.  I’ve seen my street temporarily flood during summer thunderstorms, but nothing like this.

canal street

my street

My house sits up high (thank the Lord), so the water is well away from it.

my house

My neighbor is not so fortunate. His driveway, several feet lower than our lot, was flooded.  Fortunately, all he has on his first floor is a garage.

chap's house

Signs of Recovery

Overall, the area of Emerald Isle I saw is in pretty good shape, considering the damage to the south of us and inland. Before I left on Thursday, I could already see signs of recovery.


highway 55


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Hurricane Hysteria

I was going to post some funny stories about traveling around Italy in a nine-passenger van dubbed “The Black Plague,” but this hurricane business is all I can think about right now.

Although the current forecast (Wednesday, 9/12) shows Florence turning south at the moment, who knows what’s really gonna happen?

The governor has freaked me out, the weather people too, with their dire predictions that Florence will be like nothing we’ve ever seen. “A monster of a storm.”  “A killer.”



Image result for picture of governor cooper at hurricane press conference

photo credit:

So before leaving my beach house on Monday, I took down pictures near windows that might blow out. My husband tied the picnic table to railings and put deck furniture inside the house.  Then he walked around taking pictures I hope we don’t need: the before shots to give to an insurance company.

beach house

The back of the beach house, facing the ocean

Home in Rocky Mount, I joined the chaos in the grocery stores. I had to spring for the more expensive Dasani bottled water over my usual Harris Teeter brand, which had been wiped out.

groceries1 I brought home a collection of canned goods and snack food.  My husband said it looked like I planned to go camping.


If the power goes out, that’s what we’ll be doing: camping in our house. We don’t have a generator, and I don’t plan to join the line at Lowe’s to get one today.

It was bad enough trying to find gas yesterday. All the pumps at Sheetz were out, so I drove down Highway 43 to the next station.  As I was waiting in line, a store employee stuck her head out the door and yelled, “We’re out of gas!”

gas pump

I went home and handed the gassing-up job to my husband, who fortunately found a station near our house where the pumps were still working.

You may be old enough to remember that once upon a time before the days of the women’s lib movement, hurricanes always had female names. One reason given: like women, hurricanes were fickle and couldn’t make up their minds.  So not true about women…but hurricanes, we’ve seen, can change course on a whim.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that all this hurricane hysteria will be much ado about nothing, that  Hurricane Florence will turn out to sea.  I can still eat my camping food and eventually drink all that bottled water I bought.



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Mamma Mia! The Food!

I’m home from Italy, where I ate and ate and ate. My wonderful Italian food experience ranks right up there with seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa and climbing to the top of the Duomo in Florence.

My husband and I consumed some excellent lasagna and a dish made with wild boar while staying in Florence, but the real Italian fine dining began once we joined our friends in a villa near the tiny town of San Donato, 45 minutes or so outside of Florence.

Here we were lucky enough to rent from Alfonsina (known as Fonsi), a woman who once owned a restaurant in Florence and, for a reasonable rate, would cook breakfast and dinner for us each day.


Fonsi with her husband Enzo

After our first delicious four-course dinner of lasagna with pesto, Florentine steak and potatoes, salad with homegrown tomatoes, and homemade gelato, we said sign us up for the week!

Each morning for breakfast, we had a healthy fresh-fruit platter. Then we forgot calories while eating an array of cheeses, breads, and cake. Our protein was a big plate of ham and some of the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten.


Yes, I ate cake for breakfast

One night’s entrée was osso buco, a dish I’ve never had. Osso buco is Italian for “bone with a hole.” Within that hole was a sauce that we could use on the surrounding meat. Delicious!

osso bucco

Just one of four courses

Wine was included with our dinners. The bottles on our table had no label but were filled with our hostess’ house wine, a local Chianti. One night we were served pre-dinner cocktails. The orange Aperol Spritz is a local favorite—we’d seen people drinking it in sidewalk cafes. It’s made with prosecco and a liquor called aperol. Our appetizer was a chicken liver pâté with capers on crostini.


Almost too pretty to eat and drink

The last afternoon of our visit, we ladies signed up for a cooking class with Fonsi. She showed us how to make homemade pasta, eggplant parmigiana, zucchini flowerets stuffed with ricotta, and potato gnocchi with pesto.

To be honest, I was a cooking school dropout, leaving after the first hour and a half before the pesto was made. I was tired and needed to pack for our middle-of-the night-trip to the airport.

Still, I enjoyed our last dinner, eating what was prepared that afternoon, relishing the gnocchi enhanced by the homemade pesto Fonsi and the other ladies created.


First course of the last supper




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For Whom the Bell Tolls

School bells are about to ring—but not for me. I retired from teaching almost five years ago. Still, I couldn’t resist buying one of these only-a-quarter composition books at Walmart.


I miss buying school supplies, but I can’t say I miss teaching. I just sent in a column (to appear in the Telegram’s Sunday August 26 edition) where I talk about why.  I was exhausted by years of grading essays. Even more than the paperwork, though, was the classroom experience.

When I first started at the community college back in the dark ages of the early 1980s, nobody had a cell phone. When I retired in 2013, everybody did. First I went through semesters of phones ringing in class. Then the problem became texting, which was even worse. Some students seemed positively addicted to their phones.

I felt I had to be more and more entertaining to capture the students’ attention. I needed to use technology myself, not one of my strong points. I was born in the days of typewriters and landlines.

I taught a lot of wonderful students over the years, people who finished their degrees and went on to become productive citizens. Nurses and police officers, early childhood workers and bank employees. I sometimes bump into former students around town. They smile and call me by name although, to tell the truth, I’ve usually forgotten theirs. So many students, so many years.

news staff

Me on the far right with my technical writing class who wrote a newsletter as a project

But I had some lazy students too. Students who would stroll into class late or not come at all. Students who wouldn’t turn in assignments on time and then ask me to accept late work at the end of the semester so they could pass.

Usually these were younger students, kids who’d just graduated high school and were at the community college because they didn’t know what else to do with their lives. Older students were more serious about their education. They’d already been in the job market and seen the need for a degree to advance or enter a more lucrative line of work.

Teaching English is hard work if you do it right. I was glad when I turned 60 and could collect my retirement—and my clock.





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