Grove Park Inn: A Great Place, Summer or Winter

Grove Park Inn

My husband and I discovered Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina many years ago.  Built entirely of stone, it was once a playground for presidents and celebrities. (Their portraits are displayed in the hotel’s hallways.)

Although we first visited the famed inn when a relative recommended it for their after Christmas buffet, we discovered there was so much more. From the lobby with its polished stone floors and enormous, six-foot high fireplaces, to endless hallways and hidden  sitting areas, we were blown away. It’s easy to get lost, even on the first floor, but it’s a great place in which to disappear. It’s also a good way to find gems such as a small waterfall isolated in a quiet spot.

christmas-grove-park-inn-001.jpg

After our initial trip there, we returned several times. One year we opted for an historic room. Instead of using the regular elevators, we were sent to a small one set into the stone wall and guarded by a steward. The old-timey compartment took us to the top floor, under the eaves. The whole room seemed to be carved from oak, and the thick furniture made me think a giant once lived there. We didn’t have the amount of space we were used to, but we did have a magnificent view of the mountains and part of Asheville through our tiny window. And, although it was interesting, we thought we’d rather stay   in one of their modern rooms during subsequent trips, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows and all    of the updated amenities.

Something unique about Grove Park Inn is the Gingerbread Contest. It wasn’t well-known as the time, but a few years later I spied it on television, and it had become a really important national competition. Perhaps that’s one reason so many people started showing up during the Christmas holidays–and now it’s      the place to be.

Grove Park Fireplace 001

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Ski Trip or Comedy of Errors?

Ski Trip or Comedy of Errors?

I’d wanted to go skiing ever since I saw “I Love Lucy” set at a ski resort, and I finally had my chance after Rick and I had been married several years. It was a five-hour drive from our home in South Carolina to Beech Mountain, North Carolina, and we could tell we were in unfamiliar territory as the terrain became hilly and patches of snow covered cow pastures.

When we finally reached our destination, car sick and exhausted, we discovered that our hotel was set in a curve of the main road running up the mountain, which meant traffic passed the lodge on both sides, practically encompassing it. We tried not to focus on this as we settled into our room, which included a sitting area and a kitchenette. With a treated log in the fireplace and heat strips running around the entire suite to make it extra warm, another perk of the establishment was free hot chocolate.

Needless to say, our first evening was cozy, sitting before the fire and tasting the best hot chocolate of our lives.  The electric heat was tremendous. I’m cold natured, but even I thought it was a little overwhelming, so we turned it down. The buildings in the area were well-heated in general, which surprised me. I guess everyone wants to warm up after a long day on the slopes.

The next day, we started preparations for our first ski adventure, not knowing it would take hours.  Snow fell at an alarming rate, and we heard that chains were required for anyone driving up Beech Mountain. We stopped at a ski shop to buy some, and they offered to put them on our tires. Thinking we could get our ski gear while we waited, we agreed, not realizing how long it would take, or that the woman at the shop couldn’t help us with our skis and other paraphernalia. By the time we purchased goggles and rented skis and all the clothing deemed necessary for our lesson, we’d spent a small fortune.    (We had coupons we could have used at a nicer shop farther up the mountain, but we needed chains to get there.)

Armed with everything a skier could possibly need, we started up Beech Mountain. The road hadn’t been cleared, so we slipped and slid, hoping we wouldn’t plunge to the bottom as we rounded unprotected curves.  When we finally made it to the ski area, trudging through the snow to sign up for a lesson, I was amazed at how comfortable I felt, despite the twelve degree reading on a thermometer.  (Those ski clothes really work!)

The snow still fell incessantly as we joined our instructors and other would-be skiers, so I wore goggles as I listened attentively to advice concerning turning around, slowing down, and stopping. The goggles seemed to throw off my balance as I struggled to maneuver brand new, slippery skis, and I suddenly slid to the ground without warning. At least it was a comfortable fall, since there was about  a foot of snow on the ground.

Next, we were told to follow our leaders down, then up a small incline to mechanical arms flying by, conveyor-belt style, waiting for each of us to grab one and be pulled up the hill. I was doing okay, but the young lady in front of me was barely moving. I didn’t want to seem rude by passing her, so I was forced to slow down, which made it difficult for me to get up the hill. By the time I reached the arms, I felt rushed, so I grabbed one before I was ready. (I should have paid attention to my instincts.) The monster flung me part of the way down the hill, wrenching my knee in the process. I didn’t want to go through that again, so one of the instructors, let’s call him Mike, walked with me to the top, and I prepared for the descent.

When my turn arrived, I took off, zooming down the hill like a pro. Maybe I should’ve been in a race, because I found it impossible to slow down as I approached an orange barrier. Plowing didn’t help. Nothing helped. Delving into the far reaches of my mind, I remembered the way Olympic skiers stop, so I tried their method, turning my skis to the side, hoping for an easy, complete stop. It worked, and Mike called out, “Good!”

I felt pleased with myself until I fell directly into a snowy drift. I tried to release my skis, but sprained my left thumb instead. Mike came to my rescue, but he had trouble with the lever too. He commented on how slick my skis were. These revelations made me feel better about having so many problems, but it’s frustrating that I didn’t have the equipment I needed in order to ski properly. I informed Mike that I’d had enough. With two injuries and a stinging sensation starting in my thumbs because of the frigid air, I just wanted to get warm and dry. I received my wish after Rick took his plunge down the hill, stopping the same way I did.

Arctic air continued to move into the area, and by the time we went to bed that night, the wind chill was well below zero.  The log we burned the night before hadn’t been replaced, and our free hot chocolate seemed lower in the cups the longer we stayed at the resort. We made the mistake of not turning the heat back up, and it really made a difference. About midnight, with windows to the parking lot just above my head, I was freezing in bed. I heard cars pulling in, then the screams of young girls  as they hurried to the building with sub-zero wind whipping around them.

All in all, it was an interesting trip to what seemed like another planet at times, or at least the top of the world. We had grown so accustomed to the snow, it seemed odd when we drove toward home and it disappeared. We hope to try another resort someday and use those goggles we bought.

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Home For Christmas

Home for Christmas: A Clean Romance (Shores of Indian Lake Book 12) by [Lanigan, Catherine]

Catherine Lanigan’s lovely romance, Home for Christmas, brings to mind decisions and regrets, as well as tragedy and second chances. And as we follow  the journey Joy Boston makes back to her hometown after the death of her grandfather, we get a sense of how difficult second-chance decisions can be.

Taking temporary leave of her career and fiance in New York and being reunited with her high school boyfriend, Adam Masterson, Joy is already experiencing mixed emotions, and striving to revive the old greenhouse her grandfather left her rekindles feelings, not only for Adam, but for other relationships in the community. As they work together to bring the greenhouse back to life, we’re given a good idea of how much work goes into preparing a business, and of how many varieties of poinsettias there are.

Lanigan always gets to the heart of the matter in her Indian Lake novels, and Home for Christmas is no exception as Joy and Adam consider their past, present, and future. It’s     a perfect read for the holidays, since it encompasses both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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What Does Thanksgiving Mean to You?

Thanksgiving Table

We all know what Thanksgiving is really about: Giving thanks. It’s easy to forget that as we make our plans to be with family and friends, eat a lot of turkey, and watch football. Some have even started calling it “Turkey Day.” But as we strive to remember what the day is for and how it began, we also focus on what it has become and the traditions that have been carried throughout the years.

When I was growing up, my whole family usually went to my grandmother’s house, and      I visited with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, etc. And while many of my cousins are several years older than I am, I do have two who are close to my age: Beth and Anne.     A study in personality differences, they are four and six years younger than I am, respectively.

My brothers and I played with them in the back of the house, never knowing what Beth would come up with.  She’s one of the most energetic, ebullient people I’ve ever known. From bending a spoon while fighting with my younger brother over who picked it up first in a card game called “Spoons,” to announcing that the kids would put on a show for the others, then dancing about gleefully while the rest of us skulked in the background, she was far from shy, and always up to something. Her sister, Anne, however, is the polar opposite:  Sweet and quiet, never talking much or saying anything bad about anyone.

So many of my holiday memories center around them, since my older cousins weren’t that interested in “the children,” and a couple of them lived 1000 miles away in New York State.  (They were more personable, but I didn’t see them often).  My high school and college-age boy cousins always had a football game on, and during halftime the rest of us gathered around the television to watch the band and majorettes.

It seemed like we were there all day, and even though I had fun with Beth and Anne, and the food was good (I never did graduate from the breakfast room to the dining room), I felt restless at times. And while I don’t miss being held captive in that house  until everyone was exhausted and full, I do miss being with my extended family, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart.

What does Thanksgiving mean to you? Are there traditions and memories you hold dear?

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November

November, November,                                                                                                                             I’ll always remember                                                                                                                               Your brown leaves down                                                                                                                       All over the ground.

Your overcast skies                                                                                                                             With the hawk that cries.                                                                                                                   Squirrels all a twirl,                                                                                                                          Their nuts soon to burrow.

November, November,                                                                                                                        So far from September,                                                                                                                     With short days spun                                                                                                                         For a long run.

With twilight near                                                                                                                               And holidays to cheer.                                                                                                                         Soon snowflakes fall                                                                                                                              To the wonder of all.

November, November,                                                                                                                        So close to December.                                                                                                                        With all that’s dear                                                                                                                              That time of the year.

With frosty air                                                                                                                                     And more to share.                                                                                                                                The end is near                                                                                                                                    For the old year.

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Road Trip to New York

When I was eight years old, my family decided to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins who lived in upper New York State. It’s about a thousand miles from our home in South Carolina to the Syracuse area but, nevertheless, my parents courageously packed four of    us five children into a light green Chevrolet and started the journey.  Since I was so young,  I don’t remember much about the drive itself, but I do have faint memories of passing through Baltimore, Maryland and eating my first chocolate/vanilla swirl ice cream cone somewhere along the way.  (It was enormous!)

When we arrived, we found that some of the customs were different from ours, including a huge clam bake amid hills of sand. (The only thing that sticks in my mind concerning the clams is lots of butter.)  With extended family and friends, we warmed our hands around    a bonfire and toasted marshmallows, then sometime during our trip I introduced one or more people to the now-famed s’mores.

Staying in the house my relatives built with their own hands on the shore of Lake Skaneateles, I loved watching my cousin ski all the way to the beach, stepping out of his skis in shallow water.  I laughed when he later fell out of the motorboat (probably while showing off),  I regretted it when my mother thought I was too young to ski on the two-hundred-foot-deep lake.

I nearly froze one night while sleeping on the floor, even though it was August, and I had my first experience with an outhouse.  (They hadn’t quite finished their home.)  It was  all so fascinating, even a bee sting that caused my hand to swell didn’t keep me from having a good time.

On our way back to South Carolina, we visited the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building in D.C., where I was corrected by a guard for climbing the giant “steps” that flanked the real ones. We also stopped by the Natural Bridge on our way home, finding much more than we expected, which helped our long trek to the North and back to be an interesting experience.

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Biltmore Estate

Biltmore from wall 001

Since I grew up in the northwest corner of South Carolina, my family traveled to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina frequently, especially to Asheville, where the famed Biltmore Estate is located. The first time I visited the castle, built by the Vanderbilts of New York, we parked along the driveway just in front of the entrance, and a tour guide took us through the mansion group by group, enlightening us with facts such as, “This chess set was once used by Napoleon Bonaparte,” and “These  antiques were brought over from Europe after the castle was built.”

Biltmore House closeup 001

On one of my visits with my husband decades later, we parked in a lot about half a mile away from the Biltmore House and hiked to the site. (There is now a shuttle available.) There’s no tour guide now, and the admittance fee is higher, but we also get to see more   of the mansion and estate.  A winding staircase greets the guests, and to the right is my favorite part of the house: The Winter Garden. It’s filled with palm plants which reach toward a glass dome and sunlight. As we move through the house, several large bed- rooms reveal the opulence of the Vanderbilt’s lifestyle with elaborate furniture and silk     wall coverings, and bathrooms with running water.  When the castle was completed           in 1895,  after five years of construction, all of these features were rare. A bowling alley, indoor swimming pool, gardens, and green house all give us an idea of the wealth the Vanderbilts possessed.

Biltmore greenhouse 001

Greenhouse on the Biltmore Estate

There is now a restaurant and gift shop in the former stable area, and a hotel on the property. The grounds are abloom during the spring and summer, with an enormous variety of roses and other flowers. At Christmastime the mansion is all decked out with trees, poinsettias, and wreaths, and a tour at night may include Christmas music sung by   a choir or another singing group. Touring the Biltmore Estate has changed over the years, and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit. I wouldn’t be surprised if most people who go there feel the same way.

Biltmore from a distance 001

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