Saturday, May 30, 2009

Concession for the Recession

My last gas fill-up at the local Speedway in Lexington was filled with nuisances.  The service wasn't necessarily bad, it was just annoying.  I pull up to the pump, get out, then have to navigate past this big Budweiser ad-stand they had in front of the pump.  For a small person maybe it's no biggie, but for us big people, you damn near knock it down to get to the gas pump.  I fill 'er up then decide to go in and get a diet coke.  I get it and stand in line - the line was a good 6 people deep.  Unfortunately, there was only one store clerk (the other was outside on smoke break).  I've run into this store clerk before.  She's very friendly, really nice, but she is just slow as hell.  She talks and talks and talks.  That is why the line is so long - not because anybody has special purchases - she is just going through life stories with everyone.  I purchased a car wash with my fill-up, and drive over to the washer.  As I'm sitting in there, I notice all the debris from bird's nests on the dryer vents.  See I probably would not have paid much attention to it had I not already been annoyed, but now I was in "critical" mode now, so everything I saw, I critiqued.  I'm thinking that I'm paying money to have my car washed, and now it's drying my car with bird nest debris flying out of the dryer vents onto my clean truck.  I finally get through and head home.

Now on my way home, I remembered seeing the sign "How are we doing?  Let us know at".  I thought, yup, I'm going to and let you know the clerks are too slow, your promotional setups are in the way, and your car wash needs to be cleaned.  But then I thought, well...  what if this particular clerk or store manager is already on thin ice because of slow performance or other store issues?  Another complaint may end up being the last straw, last write-up, and then they're out of a job.  So I talked myself out of writing to Speedway and told myself I was just being too critical, and that my experience was not worth causing someone else a headache during hard times.

Normally, I would have never given this a second thought.  I would have written, lodged my complaint, and expected better results next time I visited the store.  

My husband and I tend to be tough on customer service at the places we patronize.  We both started our careers in the service industry (food service & lodging) and having been in management, we know the value of customer service.  Often the service you receive somewhere is more important than the actual cost of the service.  Many people are much more willing to overlook the higher price of food, gas, lodging or other service if they receive good customer service.  It usually determines for us if we'll make a return visit to a place of business.  Who wants to continue to go to a place and pay money if you don't receive good service?  Even if they have a great product, it is just not worth it to us to deal with bad service.  That's one reason why I'm against government-sponsored monopolies like cable companies, water companies, electric companies, etc.  If you have a service issue with any of those, you can complain, but there's not much else you can do because there is no other company to provide that service.  But that's another story...

So my small concession in this recession is to not be so tough on those providing customer service.  Jobs seem to be hard to come by right now, and I don't want to be the final complaint that gets someone terminated in these rough tides.  Don't get me wrong, I still believe that a company should provide the best customer service possible, and when we get back to a flourishing economy, I'll likely change my ways back to making my disapproval of bad service known to management.  I work for my money and if I'm willing to trade some of it for service then I expect good service...but I'm willing to overlook some questionable service right now because times are tough.  

This doesn't mean that you're still going to get a 20% tip if you don't smile, if you screw up the order, if you go missing during dinner, if you make it clear that you dislike your job, if you're a smart ass, if you act a fool.  You're still going to get a 0% tip because you haven't figured out that good customer service is what you need to provide, but my concession is that I'm not going to ask for a manager, call the corporate office, write an email, or point out to your superiors that you're giving bad customer service.  Hopefully the zero on the tip line will be enough to prompt you to get it together and you won't have another documented mark against you from me.

I make no promises that my husband will make the same concession, but I'll try to rope him in... :)

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rest In Peace - Sara the sweet ole beagle

Last night, Ed arrived home to our neighbor upset over one of our dogs, Sarah.  It appeared that Sarah was coughing up blood.  Luckily, we have a great vet, and he agreed to meet us last night to have a look at her.  We honestly thought we were on our way to have her put down, because we thought the bleeding was internal, and we don't have much hope for that in dogs.  But when we arrived at the vet's, he pointed out that she had just cut her tongue badly on something.  He was going to stitch her up and all would be well.  We went home feeling relieved and happy that Sarah would be home the next day, and we were thinking about what kind of odd diet regimen she was going to be on for a stitched up tongue.

Unfortunately, this morning Ed called me to let me know the vet called him to say that Sarah had died during the night.  She had lost a lot of blood, and he tried to give her lots of fluids, but it just wouldn't work.  

We are sad, but we are happy that Sarah had a long, happy life.  She was originally the pet of a neighbor of Ed's parents.  When that neighbor's husband died, she moved to town, and left Sarah with Ed's Mom.  She was a "front yard" dog - never fenced in or tied up, just roamed the neighborhood with one of our other dogs.  Everybody loved her - she was a sweet old beagle.  When Ed's Mom passed, we inherited all her animal family, including Sarah.  Sarah didn't seem too happy that Ed's mother was gone, and seemed out of sorts for some time.  But then one day, it seemed a switch had flipped - Sarah was just so happy about something, not sure what.  Her little straight tail was wagging, and she had pep in her step.  We always tried to spend a little time with her and talk with her when we would get home.  She always greeted us - and anyone else - when we got home.  She seemed to smile and was moving pretty good for such an old dog.  Still don't know what made the change happen, but she was that way from then on - always greeting people, smiling, wagging her tail, and venturing out with Babes.  

We know she's happy still...being back with Queen Mom...and even ole Buttercup.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Real Equality for Family

Unless you were asleep yesterday, or outdoors enjoying life, you likely heard that the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8 which was voted in by CA's citizens to define marriage as between one man and one woman in their Constitution.  However, the Justices also upheld the nearly 18,000 same-sex marriages which were entered into legally prior to the passage of the ban.  

The second opinion is an easy one for me to digest.  In this country, we do not pass ex post facto laws - meaning we don't create new laws and then apply them retroactively.  So it is clear that the 18,000 legal marriages had to remain legal in order to continue our ex post facto laws.

Their first opinion is not entirely clear for me.  I don't necessarily agree or disagree with it.  I have not read the actual opinions yet, so I am not clear on their basis.  What I have read prior to the outcome, leads me to believe this really had nothing to do with gay marriage.  From what I read, the issue was more about clarity of California's Constitution and how it is amended or revised.  I believe the arguments revolved around the Constitution's semantics on whether Proposition 8 was an amendment or a revision, and depending upon the resolution, how an amendment or revision affected the Constitution.  There seems to be confusion in these two words, and that seemed to be crux of the matter decided upon by their Supreme Court.  I am not a legal scholar, so I am not certain what the outcome should be.

What I am certain about is equality, and the lack of equality with regard to the way in which we are allowed to legally document our relationships in this country.  I am not in favor of "gay marriage".  I am also not in favor of "straight marriage".  By allowing the government to define marriage - however broad or narrow - limits the people in how they venture through the legal system with regard to their relationships.  Even if you allow same-sex marriage that definition still does not encompass all of the relationships citizens make with one another in this country. 

The obvious arrangement it excludes is polygamy.  Whether you and I would ever agree to such an arrangement is not relevant.  These relationships exist and deserve the same equal legal documentation and benefits.  

Another one that is often cited is incest.  I do not personally believe in incest and could never enter into an incestual relationship; however, who am I to tell someone else they should or should not.  Opponents will say that due to biological reasons, those related closely by dna should not be allowed to legally marry because they often produce off-spring with abnormalities.  Yet those same opponents call homosexuality an abnormality, and it is the married heterosexuals who have produced the homosexuals - so what's the big fuss?  

Of course, there are other relationships that people cite in the slippery slope argument against gay marriage that are off-the-wall - "why can't I marry my dog?".  Well in most cities, you actually can legally document your relationship with your pet by buying a pet license - this bonds you to the animal and makes you responsible for the pet and gives you legal rights to the pet.  We may not call that marriage, but the basic premise does exist.  

I am not an advocate of these types of relationships, nor am I in opposition to people arranging these types of relationships - and that is exactly the stance our government should take in such matters.  

Marriage supporters have maintained that the state has a valid interest in the promotion of marriage between one man and one woman.  They believe that it is the best model for rearing children and such families benefit our society above any other relationship.  The gay community believes that this model should be expanded to include two people regardless of gender.  The polyamory community believes this model should be expanded to include more than two people.  I believe the model within the government should be abolished.  Evidence such as the divorce rate makes it clear that regardless of all the benefits & promotion for the government's marriage model, people will still make the relationships that best fit their needs.

While most states include "for life" or "life-long" in their definitions of marriage, the divorce rate is a clear indication that people ignore this part of the definition because they have a need to change their relationship for whatever reason.  Gay people continue to form life-long relationships even though the government may not allow them to legally document those relationships.  Polygamists continue to form families even though the government does not recognize such relationships.  My point is that regardless of what the government sanctions or does not sanction, people have a need to form relationships which are not defined by legal definitions, and will continue to do so regardless of government action; therefore, the government has no interest in the promotion of their very narrow marriage model.   

So what happens if we abolish all marriage laws?  I believe the first thing we would see is an major financial impact on single people.  We give married couples tax benefits that single people are not allowed to access because they chose to remain single.  Now the tax burden would be spread among all the people equally without regard to marital status.  These marriage tax laws have always been discriminatory against the single person, and as I've pointed out, there really is no vested interest in doing so.

Will people end their marriages without marriage laws?  Will people ever commit to one another ever again?  Oh my gosh!?!  No - that is a invalid argument.  For those of you who are married or those who know people who are married, examine why you got married or why the people you know got married.  I doubt you will find any of them who chose to commit to one another in a life-long relationship, to love, honor, and cherish because they were able to purchase a marriage license.  I am certain that they would have still made such a commitment with or without such legal devices and I have a whole community of gay couples out there who are not legally married but have made such commitments in ceremonies to back up my assertion.

We need less government in our lives folks...especially when it comes to our most sacred relationships with one another.  I haven't even spoken about families that form that are not biologically linked - yet another narrow view of the government which denies access to family benefits to those who do not fit the legal family model.  

No matter how far the government expands the definitions of marriage and family, I believe that it will never be able to keep up the pace with how its citizens form relationships with one another.  I do realize we need legal documentation for such things as property rights, custody issues, etc.  But I believe a simple legal contract can be drawn up by anyone with witnesses/notary that spell out said needs that 2 or 20 people of any gender or biological make-up to cover such legal situations.  We just simply take the contract to our local courthouse, file it so that it is public record, and we're done.  We just call it a contract - no special, narrow-minded semantics necessary.

We should be defining our relationships, not the government.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ghetto Gay Hillbilly

I know some of you are saying what the hell - a ghetto gay hillbilly??  How does that work?  Well I've lived a very diverse life over my years thus far, and just like a good recipe, I've had lots of ingredients that went into making me who I am.  Ghetto, gay, and hillbilly are not the only adjectives I could use - but I'd say they are the most prominent, most inclusive of how I live.

The gay part is probably the simplest part.  I am a homosexual.  Not much to that - it is what it is. My husband and I have been together for 12 years, and on some 
points we fit right in with gay stereotypes, and in some others we don't.  I tend to listen to jazz, r&b, hip-hop music - don't care for techno much - which is the overwhelming musical taste of the homo community.  There was a time when I loved the clubs and especially the drag shows - still like to see those sometimes - but now I'm much happier at home out in the country with my 7 dogs and 3 cats...and if you know much about my background, I've come full circle in that aspect from my childhood.  But I still love to get together with friends and be catty and judge all the weird people that walk by us :)  

Ghetto and how does one put those two together.  Well, first you have to start with the definitions of those two words.  Most people associate ghetto with black folks...with living in run down tenant houses...scraping by and doing some odd stuff while scraping by like eating butter sammiches - that's what they would call ghetto.  With hillbilly most people think of old country rednecks living out in the middle of nowhere, barely wearing any shoes, eating possum meat because they're too broke for the city grocery, and playing fiddles on the porch drinking moonshine.  

My definitions are a little bit different.  First, I don't think being ghetto or being hillbilly has anything to do with skin color.  I've met ghetto white people and even a few hillbilly black folks.  To me, ghetto and hillbilly are not that different.  They both seem to focus on a simpler life.  A simpler life where the focus is not on the things you can buy, but the people and things that are around you.  Sitting outside, talking with friends or family all day long about nothing that means all that much - whether it be on the stoop in the projects in lawn chairs, or on the broke down porch of the old country house.  Food is an important part but it never had to be ultra-fancy for people to chow down, and as a kid, you didn't complain about the food you got, you ate what your momma gave you.  Kids played with what they had around them, not fancy toys that were store-bought.... dodgeball with an old deflated basketball in the projects, a stick and a rock in the country, or just making up some new game that was like tag - in the projects or in the country.  Parents usually weren't much different - they would sit around with those that lived nearby playing cards, horseshoes, play music drinking cheap liquor, sit around and gossip and cut up.  

So whether you lived in the projects or the country, life seemed simple to me because we used what was around us, and we socialized with those around us - we didn't travel to far off places to do things or to socialize.  

I happened to live in all kinds of settings - the projects, the 'city', & the country.  I can remember the women-folk sitting around the front of the buildings in lawn chairs that was bout to break down, all of them gossiping, and talking about what was going on with him, with her, and who was having the card game that night.  I can remember parents' friends coming over to our double-wide trailor way out in the country, up on top of a knob by a lake, with about 15 dogs around, they would sit around listening
to all kinds of music - Lionel Richie, Bonnie Raitt, some country, some r&b, and they would even dance & sing.  I can remember back in the projects, us kids making a club house in the property treeline - not a wall, roof one, but our imagination made this spot our club house.  Back up on that knob in the country, me and those 15 dogs used to trail up old logging roads and have all kinds of imaginative adventures.  I remember being on my big wheel, and running up to the 
two bullies in the projects @ Maple Street...I cussed em both out, and flew back down to our apartment on my big wheel.  Boy I was mad that day - I think they had said something bout my Momma - I couldn't been no more than 6 or 7 - hahaha.

 I remember going on my first date when I was about 7 on my big wheel, driving down that great big hill on the knob's gravel road...
Had to stop and get some pretty flowers in the field (they were weeds) to take to the girl who lived across the road on the top of the other knob.  lol

Oh those were the days - but it really wasn't much difference -  projects, country - life was simple & fun.
To me really - ghetto and hillbilly are pretty much interchangeable...if you lived a simple, typically financially poor life, then you were ghetto if you lived this way in the projects, you were hillbilly if you lived this way in the country.  

Today, I wouldn't have changed a thing about how I grew up.  I had all kinds of people that I called family all around me.  I think it really helped me to not have preconceived notions about people who live in the projects or those that live out in the country.  I'm sure it was a lot for a kid to take in - all those different settings, and all the different types of people that came with those settings, but I sure am glad I got to take it all in, and I'm glad all of it is part of who I am today.  

PS - and for the record, I ate butter sammiches in the ghetto, in the city, and in the country - don't knock it til you try it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Momma's Day Chicken Salad

Ahh it's such a beautiful day...  I thought I would share this recipe for what I'll now call Momma's Day Chicken Salad...  It's easy to make, and it was even easier for me because my lil niece helped!

What you need:

- 1lb of skinless, boneless chicken; I used tenders 

- 1 bunch of red seedless grapes, sliced in half; bout 30 or so

- 2 bunches of green onions, chopped; only 1 if you don't love onions

- 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled, chopped

- 2 cups Mayo; I used regular ole Miracle Whip

- Salt n Pepper

  1. Get a medium pot, throw in the chicken, boil for about 15 minutes or so.  Doesn't matter how you do it really, cut the chicken before the boil, or after.  If it's thawed, probably easier to do after it's boiled.  Add some salt for good luck.

  2. Take the green onions, chopped eggs, sliced grapes, and 1 cup of mayo & throw it in a big bowl, and stir for a few.  

  3. Drain the chicken, let it sit so the water evaporates out.  When it's cooled, chop it up if haven't already.  Add the chopped chicken to the bowl.

  4. Add the remaining mayo, salt n pepper, and stir it all up really good.  Taste it, add more salt n pepper as necessary.  Refrigerate for...well I don't know... a few hours.  I prefer to do it the night before and let the flavors marry and then serve it.
Now you can top it with chopped peanuts, fancy shredded cheddar, or just leave it as is.  Serve it on croissants, bread, crackers, pita bread - doesn't matter it's delicious!!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Get It Together...

There are no quality men out there to be found - who has not had this conversation?  I've been having this conversation for a very long, and we always seem to find some temporary answers, but nothing sustaining.  And don't think I have a sustaining answer for you now - sorry to disappoint.

I have a few friends who are single and 30something.  Now I'm not calling no names, so when these friends read this, no need to out yourself by flipping out in the comments section.  :)  

But I've tried to give them words of wisdom, and I feel as though I may have failed them because the longer we go down this road, the less wisdom I have to offer.  I've been blessed to have found a perfect mate, and I'm sure I get so wrapped up in my relationship that I ponder about the single life less and less, which leaves me at a disadvantage when trying to give meaningful advice to my single friends.

The advantage though is that althought we have these "where are the good men" conversations, we're old enough to know what the answers are already, but we know that it is soothing to the soul to vocalize these things to our friends - to be heard, to have someone listen, and not have all these negative conversations in one's own head.

So...where are all the good men (women)?  We can't seem to find them.  The only real answer we can come up with is they are out there, and eventually we'll find them.  However, time is precious, and we see those around us getting hitched, and we start to question our own abilities to find a mate.  

True, you gotta be happy with yaself before you can be
Laurie Cooper
happy with anyone else.  Some of us didn't figure that out early enough, but we were lucky enough to figure it out, and work through our relationships.  For those that are still single, looking around at their mated friends, the single mind starts looking in the mirror and the criticizing of one's own self begins.  Sure, some folks go through life and never question the fact that something might be wrong with them and that is why they are single, but my friends have done the introspective exploration, and have made peace with themselves.

My friends have actually gotten it together.  They are productive members of society.  They are gainfully employed, self-supportive, and are for the most part are comfortable with being who they are.  

Ron di Scenza
So what is the problem?  Maybe they are too confident?  No, we've had that discussion.  They are confident in themselves, but not cocky.  If someone is intimidated by their confidence, then that person has self-confidence issues.

The only problem I can come up with is not being able to find that mate who also got it together.  First impressions are so false these days.  I've met a good majority of my friends' potential romantic interests, and I'm telling you people (esp. men) these days can pull off a gooooood front! Then my friends put forth effort into slowly building a relationship, and eventually the truth comes out - it always does, don't be lying, just tell people shit up front because the truth is ALWAYS going to come out - I promise you.  And when it does, we find they got 5 babies and 7 babies' mommas, living with a girl you didn't know about for 6 months, got fired 4 months ago, living with the parents and no desire to move out, just looking for sex, a total psycho, & the list goes on and on.

Some of these issues, my friends may even be willing to work through - had they known up front.  But you can't build a relationship up for a few months, thinking there is trust, and then you spring something on them that far in, and expect everything to be gravy.  All the trust just went poof!

We all know the woes of finding a partner, I guess I don't need to keep on keeping on about the stories.  But where is the hope?  Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

I do have hope for my friends.  I look at them and they are great people - and I'd be the first to tell them if they were whacky and they are the reason for being single - but I just don't see it.  To me, they look like prime relationship material.  But I've been domesticated, so maybe that's a problem with my viewpoint?  

Anyhow, back to the hope.  I do have a great deal of hope at their outlook on finding a good mate.  Why?  Because I know if I have these wonderful friends that have gotten it together, they surely cannot be the only single people who have their lives together. 
Steve Walker
We just have to find those other people, and get it all together.  Any ideas on where?  The internet and the club ain't worked so far...

So my friends move on, and hope the next man/woman can get it together...

"Get it together, 
You wanna heal your body, 
You have to heal your heart
Whatsoever you sow you will reap, 
Get it together...."  - India Arie

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Dressed Up Chicken Alfredo

Tonight, I felt the urge to share a lil' recipe I threw together for dinner.

I don't know what you call it, but Dressed Up Chicken Alfredo is what I'm calling it tonight!

It's real easy, and you probably have most of this stuff sitting in your cabinet and fridge - I did, that's why I made it.

Here's what you need:

- 1 good-sized skinless, boneless chicken breast or about 4-5 skinless, boneless chicken tenders

- Sweet Peas, I used a 16oz can, but 1/2lb fresh or frozen will work too

- Carrots, I used about 4 fresh carrots, canned works but they don't hold up as well

- Onion, I used just a medium sized yellow onion

- Garlic, I always have a jar of chopped garlic, used about 2 TBLsp, if fresh, use about 2 cloves

- Pasta, I used 8oz of angel hair, but you can use whichever you like best

- Olive Oil

- Salt & Pepper

- Parsley (optional)

- Parmesagn (optional)

- Alfredo sauce, I used a jar of store-bought, you can make fresh too with just some parmesagn cheese, butter, milk, and maybe a lil bit of flour:  melt the butter, stir in the parmesagn & flour, pour the milk in slowly, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, keep stirring til it gets right - you can add a bit of milk if it's too thick

Now...real simple:

- Peel the carrots, and chop em up if using fresh.  Put them in boiling water, let them boil at least a good 10 minutes or so.  If using canned, skip this step.

- While the carrots are cooking if using fresh, then take the chicken and chop it into cubes - they ain't got to be fancy.  Heat up about a Tblsp of olive oil in a good-sized skillet, dump the chicken in, and set 'er on med-high.  Add a dash of salt, and 2 or 5 dashes of pepper.

- If you used fresh carrots, and you've boiled em for about 10 minutes, now throw in the sweet peas in the same pot.  Boil for another 2 minutes or so, and cut the heat off, drain the water, and set aside.

- Using that pot you just used for the peas & carrots, fill it back up with new water, let it come to a boil, then throw in your pasta.  About 8oz is all you really need unless you just want a mouthful of pasta.

- When the chicken has turned white, and the juices are runnin' clear, chop up that onion, and throw it in with the chicken.  Now I like my onions to have some texture - not just foo foo in the recipe, so I don't cook them all the way til they're clear.  

- Now if you put in too much oil, you should drain the chicken/onion in a colander/strainer.  Do that, then dump it back in, throw the garlic in with it.  Let that cook for another good 2 minutes.

- Time to pour in the alfredo sauce.  Just put the whole pot/jar of it in with the chicken/ onion/ garlic mix.  Give a good stir or three.

- Now put the peas & carrots in with the alfredo/chicken/ onion/ garlic mess.  Stir it all around and make it look pretty.  

- All you have to do now is drain your pasta, throw a lil dab of butter in it so it doesn't stick together.  Now one thing I did learn from Martha Stewart:  Let the pasta let off some steam in the colander when you drain it.  This takes out some of the water, and lets the pasta taste better in whatever sauce you throw it in.

- Put the pasta on the plates.

- Make a lil center place for the filling to go into.

- Scoop the Aflredo mixture into the center of the pasta, and you're done!  Well almost...

- Options:  You could sprinkle some of that parmesagn cheese on top, throw some parsley on top, and some folks may even like to just stir the pasta right on in the skillet with the Aflredo sauce.  It's all up to you

- More options:  Now I used peas and carrots.  But chopped spinach works, broccoli, mushrooms, and who knows what all else.

It's real simple folks, and only one pot and one skillet!  My husband loves me for that!

Catch ya later!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Biltmore in Bloom

I wanted to share some of our experience in Asheville, NC this past weekend.

We visited the Biltmore Estates around Christmas time last year, and it was so beautiful we bought year-long passes.  We're now trying to make good use of those passes by going at least once a quarter to visit.

The interstate is always so boring we decided to take historic US 25 all the way to Asheville.  We found some very interesting things along the way.

Right outside of Newport, TN, we decided to try to find something to eat.  At this point, we had lost all sight of civilization.  Nothing but mountain tops and grassy fields along the way.  Finally, we saw a glimmer of life at this lil convenient store/gas station/eatery - The Slab Cafe.  Getting out of the van, we noticed an old SUV over in the grass - it had been
burnt to a crisp!  We had a lil hesitation after seeing that but we were hungry.  We headed in and there was a store side, and a restaurant side with booths, and a counter.  We sat at the counter, and I got the special of the day:  Catfish, fries, hushpuppies and coleslaw.  Didn't care for the coleslaw, but the hushpuppies were awesome, and the
catfish was tasty.  Ed had the usual burger and fries.  Now don't get too excited - none of this was homemade.  It came out of the freezer and into the deep fryers.  But it was cheap, it was good, and it was there.  Some locals came in, and of course they all knew "Scooby" the apparent manager of the place.  She was at the register hollering back at them as they harassed her about selling some truck outside.  Two young dudes came in, and she got a lil miffed with them.  When they left, she addressed the whole store, and told us that those two just asked her if she knew anybody that had some weed!  hahaha.  She was shocked that they just came right out and asked her and they didn't even know her.  Then they started gossiping about this missing girl whose picture was posted on the front door.  They had all signed up for various times to help with the search, and now they were trying to figure out what happened.  It reminded me of sitting around in Lebanon.  Fun times.  Now on to Biltmore!

At this time of year, Biltmore is in full bloom!  It is absolutely beautiful!  We didn't even go inside the house this time because we spent so much time in the outdoors.  

After we had checked into our hotel, our very first stop was the Gardens @ Biltmore.  The path down to the arboretum and surrounding gardens was full of blooming wisteria.
  Some of that wisteria has been there since the original planting when the house was built.  It was absolutely gorgeous!  The front walls of the gardens were lined with tulips of every color - and I don't mean a small single line, I mean a full wall of tulips!  As you walk down you see all the pansies, elephant ears, lilies, more wisteria, and other flowers whose names I cannot recall. Unfortunately, the rose garden had not bloomed yet.  The roses were about to bust, but were not quite ready to pop out just yet. 

Inside the arboretum was an assortment of beautiful vibrant plants and flowers.  Of course, I don't remember all the names, but they were stunning.
Leaving the gardens, we headed to the winery, where we tasted their two newest wines:  rose & white Festival of Flowers.  We purchased one of each to add to our Biltmore collection that we purchased during Christmas.  You should definitely try them!

By now we were in need of food.  So we planted the van in a parking spot, and began walking to a restaurant we noticed earlier.  Before we made it there though, we ran into a community theatre that was having an open night for one of their plays.  We walked in, made inquiries, and walked out with two tickets to the play.  

On we went to Magnolia's from there, and secured outdoor seating - it was a beautiful evening.  We had a tomato, mozz, balsamic vinegar appetizer.  Ed had the root beer glazed double cut pork chop served with mashed sweet potatoes, braised collard greens, and topped with caramelized onions - he loved it!  I had the blackened salmon served over a sweet pea saffron risotto with a bleu cheese lump crabmeat sauce - delicious.  It was a bit pricey (~$18 entree), but worth it for a vacation dinner.  

Afterwards we shuffled over to the play - Enchanted April.  It was a wonderful story line - it actually was wonderful how the play was intertwined with a story of wisteria, especially after seeing all the beautiful wisteria at the Biltmore Gardens. Below is the tagline from their website about the play:

"When two frustrated London housewives decide to rent a villa in Italy for a holiday away from their bleak marriages, they recruit two very different English women to share the cost and the experience. There, among the wisteria blossoms and Mediterranean sunshine, all four bloom again—rediscovering themselves in ways that they—and we—could never have expected."

It was very funny and uplifting.  If you get there before May 17, you definitely need to check it out.  For community theatre, they were very professional and perform their craft very well.  Ironically, during intermission we met a couple from Winchester, KY!  The husband and wife said they traveled by Asheville so many times on other trips, they decided to check the city out.  

After the play, we went in search of coffee downtown - but the two shops from my iphone were both closed.  Of course, later we found out we were within minutes of coffee shops that were in fact open.  We tried to swing by the Starbucks at the Biltmore entrance, but to our disappointment - closed too.  So we made some awful coffee at the Howard Johnson's and called it a night.

The next morning, I was full of energy and was showered & dressed before Ed even made it out of bed - this had to be noted because this never happens.  We had no real plans for the day, other than a Legacy of the Land tour at the Biltmore and we wanted to explore more of Asheville.

So we found a local breakfast cafe - Over Easy Cafe.  Their menu was entirely organic.  All of their eggs are from local chickens who are "free-range" chickens, no steroids, no antibiotics, etc.  I chose the Deluxe Breakfast - two eggs, home fries, organic toast, and soy sausage - it was all fantastic, even the soy sausage.  Ed had the quiche of the day - turkey bacon, spinach and cheese I believe.  He loved it.  They also had smoothies so we both had the red, white, and blue - raspberries, blueberries, and yogurt.  I also had an "elixir" put in mine that had fresh herbs and blackberries that was supposed to "hydrate".  It was extremely delicious and we sucked them down before we got halfway down the street.

We got moving to the Biltmore for our Legacy of the Land tour.  We hopped in the shuttle, and the guide discussed all the features of the land surrounding Biltmore - how it began, how it was grown, how it was built, etc.  We stopped a few times for pictures and more in-depth discussion.  The Vanderbilts were quite generous people we found out - you need to hear the stories sometime.  The tour is well worth the money.

After the tour, we walked back through the gardens one last time, and stopped in the Gardenside shop to make a few plant purchases.  From there, we headed back to the hotel to rest a moment and figure out what was next.

We found that there were a few free wine tastings going on - and of course we jumped on board!  We drove to downtown Asheville.  If I haven't mentioned it yet, Asheville's downtown scene is very "artisan".  Lots of local artists, their shoppes, local eateries, wine shoppes, music venues, musicians on sidewalks, and gobs of people walking everywhere.  We had no idea!  

Our first wine stop was at the Asheville Wine Market.  Their walls were completely covered in wine.  I've never seen so many wine bottles in one shop.  Unfortunately, they tend to sell European - old-world wines.  Ed & I haven't really explored those yet - mainly focusing on local, American new-world wines.  So we were not very knowledgeable.  But of course, we plopped down for the wine-tasting anyhow.  We tried 4 different wines from various places in Europe.  The price points for most of them were actually quite low - and we ended up purchasing the 2007 Vignerons de Caractere "Petit Caprice" from France.  According to the website, this wine is "soft, ripe, and medium to full-bodied, displaying loads of lavender, pepper, and black cherry characteristics.  A blend of 75% Grenache and 25% Syrah...".  It was tasty - that's bout all I know.

From there, we headed to a more local scene wine shop - Appalachian Vintner.  The guy doing our wine tasting there was very knowledgeable all things beer & wine in North Carolina.  He had a very positive attitude as well.  We met a lesbian couple that was also doing the wine tasting - turns out they are visiting Lexington, KY in two weeks & so we swapped ideas about what to do in Lexington & Asheville.  There are two places mentioned below that we never made it to, but I included them because they came highly recommended from this couple.  Our wine tasting here was both old- and new-world; disappointingly nothing local was on board for tasting.  We decided on a spicy red from the tasting, and we had the local guy recommend a local vintner from Asheville.  If you do visit, you'll also have to check out their micro-brewed beers.  It seems the locally produced beer may be more popular than the wine!

The lesbian couple had steered us to our next venture - a unique Mexican-Caribbean restaurant named Salsa's.  We saw it the day before, but just thought it to be another typical Mexican restaurant but we were wrong.  The chef is becoming locally famous - he now owns three restaurants in Asheville.  Salsa's is a small, quaint place.  The food is inspired from the chef's Puerto Rican heritage.  We started with the Chipotle and tomatillo salsa & chips.  It was the simply the best salsa I've ever eaten.  A lil spicy, lot of garlic, but not overbearing.  Ed was not happy with his meal because of the spicy heat - we found out afterwards that we could ask the waitress to make it mild, medium, or hot.  He had the chicken quesadilla with roasted red peppers, wild mushrooms, fresh spinach, Monterey cheese, and annatto seed sauce served over rice and black beans.  I had the Pork Quesadilla with pineapple chutney, fresh cilantro, Monterey cheese, and herb-avocado blend over rice & black beans.  Mine was also very spicy but I loved it!  The portions are huge!  Prices were around $15 per entree, but the portions made it well worth the money.

We were feeling spent by the wine and stuffed by the quesadillas, so we decided to call it a night.  We did finally make it to Starbucks while they were open.  We thought we had called it a night, but then we took a joyride around Asheville.  No stops, just having a look-see.  Later that night, we did venture back out because we had found Ed's all-time fave:  Chik-fil-A.  We completely missed the running of the roses back home at the Derby, but we planned ahead.  We popped open our bottle of Chrisman Mill's 135 Kentucky Derby Blush.  Then we crashed.

The next morning, we were not so energetic, but we trudged on.  We zipped through the Biltmore McDonald's & headed to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville.  We came in and were heartedly greeted, and ushered to the visitor's table - well after we zoomed over to the coffee counter first!  We were amazed at how organized they were.  You walk into the main foyer area, and everything is labeled with signage - there was simply no excuse for missing something.  Lots of greeters on hand, lots of information, lots of conversation.  The main chapel area was beautiful.  Stone walls lined with wood rafters, and lots of sunny windows.  Pews lined in different directions from the pulpit sitting next to a choir area complete with piano and organ.  It was quite different from our own church in both design and structure - building & service.  But it was a terrific service.  Lots of music, lots of history, lots of personal story.  We'll definitely be back when we visit again.

After church services, we jumped back on historic US 25 and made the journey back home.  We can't wait to visit again and explore more of Asheville, and see what new things Biltmore has in store for us.

Below are links to many of the places we visited/mentioned above.  Check them out!