Beer City USA

A long time ago, way back in history
When all there was to drink was nothing but cups of tea
Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mops
And he invented a wonderful drink and he made it out of hops
He might have been an admiral, a sultan, or a king
And to his praises we shall always sing
Look what he has done for us, he’s filled us up with cheer
Lord bless Charlie Mops
The man who invented beer

~from the old drinking song “Beer, Beer, Beer”

Last September, on our first year wedding anniversary, we planned a weekend trip to Asheville, located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  With an abundance of shops, food, street performers, and festivals, Asheville has been named one of the top travel destinations and places to live in the United States.  For the past 4 years, Asheville has competed with rivals Portland Oregon, and now, Grand Rapids Michigan, in claiming a title that may be a surprise to some, “Beer City USA.”  With ten breweries and over fifty brews to sample, Asheville has become a center for craft beer, having more breweries per capita than any other city in the US.  Aside from that, there are countless nearby hiking trails, outdoor activities, waterfalls, and mountaintops to explore.  With our growing interest in craft beer, along with a hot air balloon ride voucher we had purchased to fly over Asheville and the surrounding area, we planned the perfect weekend trip to celebrate our anniversary in Beer City, USA.

Asheville’s Brewgrass Festival (sold out before we could get tickets), was scheduled for the same weekend, so many bed and breakfasts had already been booked.  We were lucky to find one room available at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast, located in Asheville’s historic Montford district, and built in 1901 by Richard Sharp Smith, a supervising architect of the Biltmore Estate.  We booked the Cardinal Room, featuring rich red walls, a mahogany four-poster queen size bed, a gas log fireplace, and a private whirlpool bath.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by James, one of the friendly innkeepers.  He and his wife, Susan, are two well-traveled, fantastic hosts, and they keep their home cozy, clean, and inviting to all of their guests.  We enjoyed delicious hors d’oeuvres and wine before heading out to dinner, getting a chance to meet  some of the other guests staying at the bed and breakfast.

For dinner, we ate at Lexington Avenue Brewery (LAB), as we had planned to visit all of the breweries in Asheville during our stay.  After dinner, we ventured out to Green Man Brewery, as well as Asheville Brewing Company.  Together we shared beer flights at each brewery, rating and discussing each beer sampling on our handy beer app, although we soon called it an early night for our scheduled hot air balloon ride in the morning.

The next morning brought cloudy skies and low visibility, so our flight with R.O. Franks Hot Air Balloon Company was cancelled.  We didn’t want the cancellation to ruin our day of fun, so we enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and chatted with the other guests, eventually deciding we would ride out to Chimney Rock State Park, about 25 miles outside of Asheville.  Chimney Rock is a 535 million year old monolith, where from the top, you can see 75 mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.  You can either hike or ride the elevator to the top, and there are also gift shops along with a cafe and deli.  Scenes from Last of the Mohicans were filmed in Chimney Rock Park, including the climatic flight scene at the top of Hickory Nut Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.  After our hike, we stopped in Chimney Rock Village to grab lunch and take a stroll through the 1920s and 30s style mountain village, complete with shops, restaurants, fudge, and ice cream.

On our way back to Asheville, we visited the fourth brewery on our list, French Broad Brewery, located near the Biltmore Village area.  We soon decided to head back to the bed and breakfast, taking a short rest before going downtown for our anniversary dinner.  We ate dinner at The Lobster Trap, which is also home to Oyster House Brewing Company.  We found this brewery particularly unique, because the Moonstone Stout is actually brewed with oysters, shell and all!  After dinner, we visited both Craggie and Wedge Breweries.  Craggie Brewing Company had a band playing and a very lively crowd.  We were able to snag a booth and sample a flight, while admiring the photos on the walls of Western North Carolina’s historical culture.  Wedge Brewing Company was really hard to find, located below Wedge Studios in the River Arts District of Asheville.  Their brewmaster, Carl Melissas, was once the head brewmaster for Greenman Brewing Company.

Although we stayed out late the night before, we made sure we woke up in time for our last delicious meal at the Carolina Bed & Breakfast.  Before we checked out of our room, we made list of a few historical places we wanted to drive by before heading back home.  These included the Thomas Wolfe House, O.B. Wright House (now the Wright Inn and Carriage House), Highland Hospital, Brexton Boarding House, Grove Park Inn, and Homewood (a massive stone-like castle house).  Other wonderful  nearby sites to see are the Biltmore Estate, Blue Ridge Parkway, Lake Lure, Sliding Rock, Pisgah National Forest, Craggy Gardens, and the WNC Nature Center.  The 3 Asheville breweries that we didn’t get a chance to visit, but definitely worth mentioning are Pisgah Brewing Company, Highland Brewing Company, and Thirsty Monk, the city’s newest brewery.

Did you know? 

The Hunger Games, Dirty Dancing, and Last of the Mohicans were all filmed in and around Asheville, including Lake Lure, and Chimney Rock. 


Carolina Bed and Breakfast
Asheville, NC



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To Quill a Mockingbird

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds.  Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever hear Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.  “You’re father’s right,” she said.  “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.  They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.  That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mocking bird.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

My big obsession with birds started in Oregon.  My husband and I visited the Oregon Garden for Earth Day, where we made a bird feeder out of peanut butter and birdseed slathered onto a pine cone.  Once home, we hung our homemade bird feeder outside on the railing of our apartment’s balcony.

A couple of weeks went by and we had already forgotten about the pine cone, until one day, I was sitting at our kitchen table and noticed something big move out of the corner of my eye.  I couldn’t believe it!  A big blue Western Scrub Jay was on our 3rd story balcony trying to eat from our homemade bird feeder!   We didn’t know how to identify it at the time, so we searched the internet for bird identification tools and even described it to bird experts on public forums.  We soon found out that our visitor was a Western Scrub Jay and that Scrub Jays love unshelled peanuts.  Before long, we had Scrub Jays waiting in line to feast from our newly purchased feeder, sometimes fitting up to two peanuts in their mouths at once.  We enjoyed studying their quirky habits, and with the help of binoculars, we’d watch them carry peanuts from our balcony to the ground, burying them with twigs and leaves.

When we moved back to North Carolina, we found a good spot to hang the bird feeder on our  new balcony facing the woods.  I threw some mixed birdseed down on the grass below, and within a week, we had House Finches and American Goldfinches visiting our feeder.  Goldfinches will eat  from mixed birdseed, but they also love thistle or nyjer seeds, so we purchased a special thistle feeder, giving them a little more room.  The photo to the right is of three male Goldfinches.  Notice how the males have a vibrant yellow plumage.  Female Goldfinches are duller and more of a yellow-brown.

The Paridae family showed up next, consisting of Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmice.  These two birds look completely different in color, although, they are similar in song and usually travel together.  The Chickadee got its name from its alarm call, “Chickadee-dee-dee!”  I have seen these birds favoring peanuts, where they will hold a peanut with one foot and use their beak like a hammer, breaking off pieces to eat.  The photo to the right is of a Carolina Chickadee.  Both males and females look identical in plumage color, making it difficult to tell them apart.

After watching the smaller birds brave our balcony for some time,  the Northern Cardinals arrived, named after their red plumage (like the color of a Catholic cardinal’s garments).  Similar to Goldfinches, the male Cardinals have a more vibrant plumage than their female counterparts.  Cardinals especially love sunflower seeds and they have strong enough beaks to crack open the shells.  I will sometime feed them pieces of sliced apple too.  The photo to the right is of a female Northern Cardinal.

One winter morning, our regular bird friends were nowhere in sight.  I soon noticed a couple of House Finches looking more timid than usual.  Suddenly, chaos filled the scene when a big flash of white appeared on what looked like a toy airplane swooping in to dive bomb its target.  A Northern Mockingbird had decided to claim his new territory on our balcony.  For weeks, he bullied and chased the other birds, hogging the bird feeder only to occasionally guzzle a peanut or two.  Mockingbird’s beaks are not strong enough to crack open seeds, so their bird feeder diets are restricted to things like shelled nuts and seeds, berries, and suet.  Every time our Mockingbird chased the other birds away, I would try to scare him by tapping on the window.  He obsessively guarded the bird feeder every single day.  We were sure Atticus and Miss Maudie had it all wrong…to kill a mockingbird, in this case, didn’t seem like such a sin.

After  some time, the finches, cardinals, titmice, and chickadees learned how to defend themselves. Once the Mockingbird realized that the birdseed was always abundant, he began guarding the feeder less often.  We soon realized that we had more than one Mockingbird visiting our feeder when another one showed up with a silver band around its foot.  After taking hundreds of photos and zooming in on the close-ups, I had successfully recorded enough numbers from the band to send to the Curator of Birds at our local Museum of Natural Sciences.  We found out that our Mockingbird had been banded the previous year at a nature preserve about a mile down the road from our apartment!

We now have a nice variety of feathered friends that visit our feeders each day.  Recently, ground feeding birds have shown up, including Mourning Doves, Song Sparrows, and Eastern Towhees.  The less frequent visitors are the Eastern Bluebirds (pictured to the right) and Blue Jays.  Birds also need a good source of water to survive, so in addition to birdseed, we also provide them with fresh water in a hanging birdbath.

The following is a list of birds we have spotted on our balcony in North Carolina:

Did you know?

Recent research has suggested that Western Scrub Jays are among the most intelligent of animals. The brain-to-body mass ratio of adult Scrub Jays rivals that of chimpanzees and cetaceans, and is dwarfed only by that of humans. Scrub Jays are also the only non-primate shown to plan ahead for the future, which was previously thought of as a uniquely human trait.  Other studies have shown that they can remember locations of over 200 food caches, as well as the food item in each cache and its rate of decay.  Check out this video we made of our Oregon Western Scrub Jays below!

Please feel free to contact me with your bird questions and stories.  For more information about birds in your area, please check out the following links:

Bird Identification:
Bird Information: National Audubon SocietyThe Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Celebrate Urban Birds
North Carolina Resources:  Audubon North Carolina, Wake Audubon

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Historic Wilmington and the Graystone Inn

The end of spring and the land has awakened, with flowers recklessly blooming in the thick of the plush green grass.  Chickadees high in every blossoming tree whistle, “Phoeboe,” while dancing mayflies will see the sunset to their last.

Memorial Day Weekend, we took a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina to stay at the historic Graystone Inn Bed and Breakfast.  The home was built in 1905-1906 and gracefully furnished with turn of the century style.  The parlor, sitting room, music room, dining room, and library make up the ground floor, while the magnificent hand-carved oak, Renaissance-style staircase rises 3 stories.  Each room has its own private bath with fine cotton linens and towels.  We stayed in the St. Thomas room on the second floor. The room boasts an intricately carved fireplace and a mini sun room reading niche with original window seats.

Our first day in Wilmington, we visited the USS North Carolina Battleship.  As we toured each floor, we envisioned the daily life and combat the United
States Navy faced in the Pacific during World War II.  There are 9 levels to explore and it took us a little over 2 hours to walk the entire ship.

After visiting the battleship, we stopped in historic downtown Wilmington for beer and appetizers at Front Street Brewery.  This is the only restaurant in Wilmington with its own brewery.  Downtown Wilmington has many live theatres, museums, galleries, shops, and restaurants.  Walking the one-mile Riverwalk and taking a horsedrawn carriage tour are also popular activities located along the Cape Fear River.

Before dinner, we drove through the historic Oakdale Cemetery, and then we took a walk around our neighborhood to admire  many of the beautiful, stately mansions.  Some of the homes offer tours, like the Bellamy Mansion (pictured above) and the Latimer House (pictured below). 

Our Romantic Escape package that we booked through the Graystone Inn Bed and Breakfast included two nights accommodations, champagne in our room upon arrival, evening wine in the library, a gourmet breakfast served each morning in the dining room, and a delicious dinner for two at Deluxe located a few blocks and walking distance from the inn.  At night, we relaxed in our incredibly clean and comfortable bedroom, watching movies and catching up on some of our favorite television series.

Our second day in Wilmington, we explored Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.  We spent the day body surfing, reading books, napping, and throwing a football in the surf.  Before heading back to Wilmington, we practiced our birding skills at Audubon North Carolina’s Mason Inlet Waterbird Management Area, a breeding and feeding habitat for Black Skimmers, Common Terns, Least Terns, Wilson’s Plover, and Piping Plover.

The Graystone Inn Bed & Breakfast is a wonderful place to stay in historic downtown Wilmington.  Everything was so clean and comfortable that it felt as if we were visiting a home away from home.  I still think about the delicious french toast with lime filling that we had for breakfast in the morning.  We hope to visit again one day soon.

Did you know?

Wilmington is the home of the largest domestic television and movie production facility outside of California.  Movies such as A Walk to Remember, Weekend at Bernie’s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Empire Records, Cape Fear, Black Knight, 28 Days, The Crow, Nights in Rodanthe, as well as television shows such as Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, and Eastbound & Down have been produced there.

Graystone Inn Bed and Breakfast

Special Thanks To:
Our State Magazine

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Great American Road Trip

O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain.  America! Over the past few years, I have been fortunate enough to live in 5 states, 6 cities, and 3 different time zones.  Our last move was in December 2010, from Portland, Oregon to Raleigh, North Carolina.  My husband and I took a tour across America from coast to coast, a bucket list adventure waiting to be explored.  As we embarked on our Great American Road Trip, we planned on making various stops along the way to visit a few of America’s roadside attractions.

Oregon is such a magnificent part of the country, abundant with fertile valleys, plateaus, volcanic peaks, rugged coastlines, and deep vast forests.   My husband and I share some incredible memories of living in Oregon from 2009 to 2010. With many wonderful places to go and things to do, I recommend ordering a free travel guide from Travel Oregon.  So long to the Beaver State (or the Web-foot state), you will be missed.

Here are some of the cool places we visited on our trip:

A giant statue of Abraham Lincoln is located about 10 miles east of Laramie, Wyoming.  It was built to honor Lincoln’s 150th birthday and sculpted by Robert Russin, a University of Wyoming art professor.  The bronze head weighs over two tons and is 13.5 feet tall, perched atop a 30-foot granite pedestal.

North Platte, Nebraska was home to William F. Buffalo Bill Cody, the West’s most colorful showman, army scout and buffalo hunter.  A fun place to visit is Fort Cody Trading Post, Nebraska’s largest souvenir and western gift store. Behind the store, you will find the tallest Native American “muffler man” you have ever seen!

The World’s Largest Ball of Twine is located in  Cawker City, Kansas.  In 1953, a farmer named Frank Stoeber found it tidy and efficient to roll spare bits of sisal twine into a small ball in his barn. Instead of re-using  or disposing of the twine, he kept rolling.  Every year, Cawker City hosts an annual Twine-A-Thon, where anyone can step up and wrap more scrap twine onto the ball.


If you are planning on taking a road trip, a great place to ask questions and get advice is The Great American RoadTrip Forum.  For a guide to uniquely odd tourist attractions, go to Roadside

American Road Trip Routes
1.  Pacific Coast
2. Border to Border
3. The Road to Nowhere
4. The Great River Road
5. Appalachian Trail
6. Atlantic Coast
7. The Great Northern
8. The Oregon Trail
9. The Loneliest Road
10. Southern Pacific
11. Route 66

Did you know?

Muffler Men once beckoned noisy and exhaust-weary vehicles to replace their mufflers. The statues’ hands were molded to hold mufflers or tires, with their right palms up, and left palms down.

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Mount Hood Wedding

The die is cast, come weal, come woe,
Two lives are joined together,
For better or for worse, the link
Which naught but death can sever.
The die is cast, come grief, come joy,
Come richer, or come poorer,
If love but binds the mystic tie,
Blest is the bridal hour.

~Marriage by Mary Weston Fordham

My husband asked me to marry him on December 23rd, 2005.  We were engaged in the small town of McAdenville, North Carolina (Christmas Town USA).  Every year, McAdenville displays millions of Christmas lights, attracting visitors from all over the country.  My husband, with the help of family and friends, constructed an incredible and very memorable sign with letters made out of tiny blue Christmas lights.

Almost five years later, on September 17th, 2010, we decided it was time to tie the knot in Oregon at a bed & breakfast on the base of Mount Hood.  We chose this location primarily for the beautiful country setting and the picturesque views of the mountain (Mount Hood is actually a volcano!).

For the wedding ceremony, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s gorgeous 1977 vintage wedding gown, and my ring had once belonged to my husband’s great grandmother, who came to the United States from Italy.  This fulfilled the “something old” and “something borrowed” bits from the Victorian tradition of brides carrying “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” during the service…and a silver six pence in your shoe!

The bed & breakfast provided an elopement package including the ceremony, cake, champagne toast, bouquet, boutonniere, and a night’s stay in the original homestead cabin.  This made the planning process very easy.

Our wedding was simple, fun, romantic, and unique.  My husband is my best friend and my true love.  I am so happy we get to share our life together, forever.

My best advice?  Assume it is going to rain on your wedding day.  It didn’t just rain on ours, it poured.  By the end of our photo shoot, we were soaked, but we still managed to have fun running around like children in the rain.

Did you know?

In some cultures, rain is good luck and can represent cleansing or stronger unity in the marriage.  The Hindu idea is that a wet knot is harder to untie, since marriage is often referred to as tying the knot. Rain was also a symbol of fertility to agricultural societies, since rain restored and maintained the wellness of crops. Crops were a main source of stability and income so it was thought to guarantee a long and happy marriage!

Mount Hood

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Halloween Harvest

Autumn is a time when nature delights in death more than it does in life, and summer magnificently departs in fiery explosions of red, gold, yellow, and orange.  You feel the last warmth of the sun upon your face, you hear the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet, and you taste the colors of October in a mouthwatering harvest of apples, pears, corn, squash, and above all else – pumpkins.

Baggenstos Farms in Sherwood, Oregon provided us with the ultimate Halloween harvest experience.  From pumpkin bowling to a 5-acre corn maze, we  readily indulged in an afternoon of Autumn bliss.  We took a hay ride to the pumpkin patch where we picked out our perfect pumpkin, then we braved the challenging corn maze, where we got lost and ended up right where we started within the first 10 minutes.  We finally made it through to the end and finished off the afternoon testing our skills in pumpkin bowling.

This year’s corn maze at Baggenstos Farms is a tribute to the final flight of the Atlantis Space Shuttle.  Check out other incredible corn maze designs from previous years here: Baggentos Corn Mazes.

Did you know?

The Irish traditionally carved turnips on All Hallows Eve to ward off evil spirits.  They would also leave a treat to keep the evil spirits from fiddling with their property.  Once the tradition was moved to the United States, pumpkins were used because they were easier to carve.  Trick-or-treating was soon invented to recreate the coming of demons and ghouls.


Baggenstos Farms


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Yurt Camping

So we cheated just a little.  We went camping at Umpqua Lighthouse State Park in a deluxe yurt – a ready made tent, complete with electricity, heat, plumbing, a kitchen, and a full bathroom.

Yurts were traditionally used as homes for nomads in Mongolia and Central Asia.  These round homes are quite popular in Oregon and you will find yurt campsites booked all summer long, so it is best to reserve early, or try your luck with a cancellation.  The Umpqua Lighthouse Yurts sit right on Lake Marie and are less than a mile from Winchester Bay.

During the day, we took a hike around Lake Marie, and stopped by the nearby
Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area.  For dinner, we decided to try one of the local spots and ate at Griff’s on the Bay (the yurts also come with a bbq grill for cooking your own meal).

At night, we picked up wine and firewood and roasted marshmallows around the fire ring.  Later, we headed  inside the yurt to watch a movie on our laptop (the yurts also come with a TV and VCR).  The deluxe yurts provide beds to sleep 7, but if you prefer your own bed, there is plenty of room in the center of the floor to set up an air mattress, which is what we did.

Some of the nearby attractions we also visited on our trip were:  Umpqua River Lighthouse, Oregon Dunes, Cape Perpetua, Devils Churn, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and Yaquina Bay Lighthouse.

**To find yurt camping in your area, please visit . You would be surprised to see how many different places provide yurt rentals!

Did you know?

The yurt roof design creates an incredibly strong and resilient structure that is uniquely equipped to withstand earthquakes, strong winds and heavy snow loads.


Umpqua Lighthouse State Park


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