Prestige Subaru Gives Back

Over the years Prestige Subaru has played an active role in the Asheville community, giving back to the organizations that make Asheville the wonderful place that it is.

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Prestige is a family-owned and operated dealership in Asheville since 1967, and they ould not imagine a better place to do business and ultimately call home.

Tucked into a bed of picturesque views in a stunning natural landscape, Asheville is a destination location for individuals from all walks of life, from all around the country.

The natural beauty and the climate here in the mountains are second to few, providing residents and tourists alike with a healthy environment for all types of activity. But it isn’t simply the climate and impressive environment Asheville finds itself in that places it in high esteem, but rather the people and organizations working within it that truly make it such an incredible place to live. Asheville boasts a compassionate community network aimed at achieving the best for its residents and even their pets.

Groups such as the Asheville Humane Society, ASPCA, Homeward Bound WNC, Riverlink, Meals on Wheels, the Eblen Foundation, WNC AIDS Project, Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society are just a few of the conscientious organizations at work in Western North Carolina that Prestige Subaru is proud to support in making Asheville one of the most pleasant places to live in the country.

Prestige Subaru has consistently ranked as the #1 Subaru dealer in the Southeast for over 10 years and continues to strive for success, committed to raising the bar each year. Not only is this success attributed to the hard work put in everyday by Prestige employees, who make life at the dealership enjoyable through the highs and the lows, but also to the customers who choose Prestige to serve their each and every need. Whether it is buying a new or used car, or a simple routine service check, Prestige is dedicated to treating each and every customer like family and ensuring satisfaction throughout the many years your Subaru is on the road.

Everyone at Prestige Subaru would like to thank their loyal customers for each experience shared with them and making their job at Prestige a pleasant one. They are proud to give back to their customers and the community as a whole, and look forward to playing their part in helping make 2019 a fantastic and productive year for the entire Asheville community.

 Thank you Anthony Pelle and your entire Prestige team!

Speaking of Flying Continues!


Speaking of Flying – a Speaking of Travel airport interview series highlighting passengers and their unique adventures through the Asheville Regional Airport – continues! Folks are taking some really cool trips and share some valuable travel tips! After listening to these fun tales from the terminal you'll want to book your next flight! Seriously!

Speaking of Flying + Making Memories


The Keaton family is making their first-ever trip to Rome, Italy. With the holidays on the horizon, the Keatons are eager to celebrate in a different way and make memories together over the holidays. When it comes to traveling as a family, Michael understand the importance of patience and flexibility.

“It can try the patience a little bit,” he said. “Kids want to do their thing, and parents have ideas of what the kids should be doing. We give them enough freedom, and it all works out.”

Michael loves starting his adventures at AVL. “It is very convenient,” he said. “The parking is close to the terminal. It is very affordable. It is much faster than taking a long two-and-a-half-hour drive… and it is great that at the end of your trip you do not have a two-and-a-half-hour drive awaiting you when you are all exhausted and just want to go home.”

Listen Here!

Speaking of Flying + Across the Pond


The Warner family will be spending their holiday season across the pond in London, England. Commuting to visit relatives in Somerset is an especially interesting experience for the Warners. “We will drive down,” Doug said. “What is interesting about the drive is that you go… within 50 yards of Stonehenge.”

As a family who frequently travels together, the Warners know what it takes to get the job done. “Get here early,” Doug said. “Do whatever you have to do to get out of the house quickly and relax at the airport.”

The Warner family loves the convenience of AVL. “We live one exit away,” Doug said. “It is literally a five-minute drive.”

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Speaking of Flying + Flying South


Grace is heading south for winter. She will spend the season with family in Arizona. Her dog is also joining in on the fun, awaiting boarding in her carrier.

“You have to pack a lot of stuff.” Grace said. “That is why we… carry her the way we do. We have so much to handle, to check in and out.”

Grace likes how easy it is to navigate her way around AVL. “It is friendly and small,” Grace said. “It is just easy to get around. I enjoy it here.”

Listen here!


Speaking of Flying + Furry Friends

Steven is off to New Orleans to spend the holidays with family, but he is not going alone. He is bringing along his favorite four-legged travel companion, Levi. As someone who frequently travels with a pet, Steven knows a thing or two about bringing furry friends on board.

“He is fun to travel with,” Steven said. “He has traveled everywhere with me. A lot of people like him and try to pet him.”

Steven likes the ease of traveling in out of the AVL. “It is an easy airport to travel out of,” Steven said. “It is not like a big airport where you have so many planes coming in.”

Listen  here!



Speaking of Flying + Home for the Holidays

Robert is Memphis-bound for the holidays to be with family. The Tennessee native was only in town briefly, picking up his son who attends college in the area. With such a quick turnaround, he came prepared to navigate the airport with efficiency.

“I always anticipate the TSA stop. Wear stuff that is easy to get off and put back on. Have a backpack to keep it all so you do not misplace it. It will fit in the overhead bin – no matter how small the plane is.”

Robert likes the convenience and speed of traveling through AVL. “I picked Asheville for our… flight because it is easy to check in and check out,” Robert said. “If you rented a car, you can drop it off.”

Listen here!



Blue Ridge Honor Flight

Douglas MacArthur once said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”


Giving Back
Giving back to veterans who gave so much is the goal of Blue Ridge Honor flight, and since 2006, Jeff Miller and his Blue Ridge Honor Flight team have taken our WWII,  Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans to Washington, D.C, to visit those memorials dedicated to their service
and sacrifice.

HonorAir and the National Honor Flight programs are responsible for flying over 200,000 WWII, Korean and Vietnam veterans to our nation's capitol to experience their memorials. 

The veterans who had patriotically lifted their hands to their hearts many times in the 61 years since the war ended had never seen anything like the hero's reception they received in Washington.


"CBS Sunday Morning" aired a moving feature about the HonorAir effort in September 2006. Click here to view this lovely tribute.

On May 4, 2019, they will fly again. Learn more about this great mission, how you can get involved or send a deserving veteran to DC for a day of honor.

Navarre Beach, Florida: Four Reasons to Visit in 2019

Many make the trip to Navarre Beach for breathtaking views from the Navarre Beach Pier or they arrive anticipating moments of simple family fun, fishing the day away while others travel to the area for long days spent at the beach hunting for seashells and delighting in solitude that is becoming a rare find amongst Florida beaches. Below are four more reasons why a beach vacation to Navarre Beach, Florida, should be on your vacation planner for 2019.

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Embracing A Tiny Town
The area has been given the title of “One of the Best Tiny Towns,” by Southern Living Magazine, draws families from the region and beyond. Families are attracted to the area like magnets on a refrigerator, as 12 miles of uncrowded beaches give way to waterplay — kite boarding, surfing, and snorkeling are all part of the day’s journey. Children can run like the wind without bumping into a beach chair, car, or another human, oh so refreshing. What’s even more fun is watching Moms and Dads trying to capture these moments on video. It’s tough as these undisturbed beaches bring a freedom vibe that kids tap into, slowing them down for a video is rarely an option! Add in the silky-smooth white sandy beaches perfect for tiny feet and crystal clear turquoise waters and you have an ideal family beach. Open spaces also encourage building large sand castles, walks on the beach, and beach sittin’ time with your favorite book.

  1. Gone Fishing
    Remember the thrill of catching your first fish? Families will find fishing experiences to be plentiful in and around the area. One of the best places to start is on the Gulf Coast’s longest pier, the 1,545-foot Navarre Beach Fishing Pier. The views from the Pier are outer- worldly and make the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy photos. Plus, the ease of finding a space to set-up and cast away makes the pier uber family-friendly. Another interesting aspect of the pier is the copious number of instructional signage, which appear as you wonder the quarter-mile structure.  The dedication to educating visitors on safe fishing practices is impressive. Signs issue instructions to protect endangered sea turtles, birds and dolphins, and in case of an emergency, aka a hook gets entangled, phone numbers are posted to rectify the situation immediately. This is a wonderful teaching moment for parents to explain the relationships between man and the environment.

    For fishing enthusiasts who seek a more active experience, there are opportunities to enjoy Florida’s back county by kayak fishing along the inshore mangroves, grass flats, and rivers. Pro Tip: Seashells are numerous under the pier.

 2. Into the Wild
A fun and nostalgic outing for families is a day at the park, but not just any old park. Why not visit one of only ten National Seashore parks in the United States, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and discover why the Gulf of Mexico is so alluring? The attraction starts with eight miles of pristine Gulf-front beaches to the west of Navarre Beach. A top stop is a visit to Fort Pickens, known by many as the “Guardian of the Gulf Coast.”

Fort Pickens is riddled with history and a structured tour of the area provides an excellent opportunity to get in a quick history lesson. A museum is also located on site offering a variety of hands-on exhibits and videos showcasing the natural and cultural wonders of the area. After an enriching tour, families can spend time unpacking a delicious beachside picnic, hike or bike, and birdwatch ‘til the sun goes down. Pro Tip: Say goodbye to Siri for an hour or two and head on over to The Eastern National Bookstore, just inside the entrance to Fort Pickens. Park rangers and volunteers (yep, real people), are on hand to provide tips and suggestions to make the trip a memorable one. 

Looking for an entirely different kind of park adventure? Check out the Navarre Marine Park, which is free and open to the public, offering visitors a marine sanctuary and an artificial reef.  The park is south of Sea Oat Pavilion (just ask a local). Once there, follow the kayak/scuba boardwalk leading directly to the beach. The reef is located 100 yards offshore near lifeguard station number one and is open when water conditions are safe. Beyond snorkeling and diving, one of the most popular activities is the clear bottom kayak reef tour. This is an exciting way to discover what lies beneath the waves, without flippers, masks, tanks and snorkel gear. Kids will want to be on the lookout for endangered turtles, reef fish, and enjoy the swaying and swinging of the sea grasses.

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 Go into the wild at Blackwater State Park in Milton, Florida, an extraordinary park in so many ways. The park was certified in 1980 as a Registered State Nature Feature as an example of Florida’s natural history. It is also known as having one of the oldest and largest collections of Atlantic white cedar stands lining the river, and in 1982 it was recognized as a Florida Champion Tree. Today visitors will encounter more than 600 acres of virgin wilderness, complete with a 65-mile kayak trail. Blackwater River is also one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the United States, making it ideal for swimming. Grab a paddle, a fishing pole, an inner tube, or catch some air ziplining through the trees. Forgot your kayak or canoe? No worries as rentals are available from local outfitters.  Bagdad Park is all the rage with families as the area is equipped with benches and picnic tables. Blackwater State Park is famous for its diverse hiking trails, so if you want to spot a white tail deer, hit the trails in the early morning. It’s also prime time to observe wading birds like Herons and Egrets fishing for their breakfast. The Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, so keep your binoculars handy as you may be lucky enough to spot the Federally Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Shaded campsites are a big draw and a favorite option for families

3. Local Eats
You may find yourself longing to bump into some other vacationers, so head on over to Navarre Beach Boulevard and stop in at Sailors Grill, which sits right on the beach and often with volleyball tournaments in full swing. The food is American fare and the atmosphere is great for kids. Don’t miss the sunsets! One not-to-miss is Windjammer’s on the Navarre Fishing Pier, where succulent seafood is the catch of the day. The spiny lobster melts in your mouth while the Mahi-Mahi tacos are equally tasty. Of course, visitors will find standard fare for kid’s burgers and grilled cheese. Looking for an upmarket dining experience? Try East Bay Crab House, which offers an array of seafood dishes from stuffed founder to grilled cobia and New Orleans-inspired dishes like Tuna Orleans and Grouper Etouffee, to name a few. The restaurant easily accommodates large families, and TripAdvisor gives it a 4-star rating. Pro Tip: IC Station, Navarre’s newest ice cream shops brings a slice of New York to its shores. Manager, Steven Zheng trained in the art of stir fry ice cream in New York, yet the art of stir fry ice cream began in Thailand. Strawberry and brownie is a top pick!

4.  Stay in a Treehouse?
Remember the days when treehouses were a summer escape, a place to get away from it all even though it was in your own backyard?  Feel like a kid again, with your kids and plan to overnight in a luxury tree house nestled amongst a dense magnolia canopy with two queen beds, kitchen and bath at Coldwater Gardens. The Gardens is an intimate retreat and a quick 18-mile drive from Blackwater State Park offering posh cottages and luxe camping outposts. Guests will be transformed as lush foliage gives way to hands-on activities — feed the animals, arts and crafts, kids’ tours and more create a wonderful back-to-nature stay. Additionally, the area offers a plethora of overnight accommodations from the expected chain hotels: Hampton Inn & Suites, Regency Inn & Suites, Spring Hill Suite by Marriott, and others. For those who prefer home-away-from-home stays, condo and home rentals are prevalent.

With so much to do in Navarre Beach you will to come back again and again. Just a few fun facts to leave you with: much of the 1978 film Jaws 2 was filmed at Navarre Beach; historic Milton is the “Canoe Capital of Florida;” and the 50-acre Gulf Breeze Zoo features hundreds of animals from around the world. Learn more visit here:

The article was written by Nina Zapala, a travel and lifestyle writer, based in the South. The article first appeared in the Naples Daily News, Naples Florida, part of USA Today Network Florida, in August 2018. The article was updated and revised for Speaking of Travel. Find Nina on Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn @ninazapala for more travel shenanigans!


Travel Ah-Ha Moments

The truth is, no matter where you go, and no matter how long you’re gone, you always come home with a new outlook on life.

Join my guests on Speaking of Travel as they talk about how travel has taught them not only about the world and other cultures, but also about themselves.

It’s true travel changes people in many different ways, and in each and every travel adventure you’ll discover an ah-ha moment that will change you for the better!

Traveling is not just going someplace. Even if you have no clear purpose, traveling provides you to grow in far more ways than we know.

I think we can all agree traveling is good! So what are you waiting for?

Remember… Don’t Postpone Joy!

Tina & Geoff Kinsey Install A Love Of Travel With Their Sons

Tina and Geoff Kinsey and their four boys love to travel and share their favorite family adventures. Each of the boys are named after special places and feel a connection to these places, even unseen.

Over the years, they have shared their most memorable family adventures when they have pilgrimaged to the name places. Find out what it means to Bryce, Blake, Tim and Lucas to have been named after different locations that are special to their mom and dad and how they have all bonded around their travel experiences.

Listen here!


Melissa and Ryan Reardon Discover Spain On An Epic Adventure

Melissa Reardon, editor-in-chief of WNC Magazine and her husband Ryan Reardon, the director of the Asheville Music School, love to travel.

After serious planning for a trip to Spain, they covered some epic ground, hitting nine cities in 2.5 weeks by doing three in-country flights, two car rentals, one train, and a grand finale at the Las Fallas Festival in Valencia.

Find out how they did it with months of advance planning and an 11-page Google doc! 

Listen  here!



Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range and Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters Talk Travel


Darren Nicholson of Balsam Range and Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters tell us about what life is like as traveling musicians and break down some perceptions of what it is like on the road.

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters were on a European tour to England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, and The Netherlands this past summer and both Darren and Amanda talk about travel, food and life as a road warrior! 

Listen here!




Tess Vigeland Returns From Her Soul-Expanding Adventure

In late 2015, Tess Vigeland embarked on a remarkable journey. Home now, she talks about her lessons learned, the logistics of travel, the experience of being an expat and her midlife philosophical journey.

Tess visited 20 countries in two years and eight months, finishing up with her time abroad in Maldives, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia and South Korea.

Find out what Tess misses about her life in Bangkok and what she's enjoying now that she's back stateside.

Listen here!




Speaking of Flying


Welcome to the new Speaking of Travel series, Speaking of Flying, a Speaking of Travel airport interview series highlighting passengers and their unique adventures through the Asheville Regional Airport! Interviewing passengers is a blast! Find out where people are heading and also learn some valuable travel tips! After listening to these fun tales from the terminal you'll want to book your next flight! Seriously!

Speaking of Flying - Traveling In Style


Arielle is headed home to New York and she likes to strike the balance of cute and comfortable.

“I like to get travel size makeup,” she said. “Whether it be mascara, my lashes or just some quick lip gloss. You have to look good when you travel. You don’t know who you’re going to see on the plane.”

Arielle likes the customer service she receives at AVL. “It’s very intimate,” she said. “United lets me know when things are delayed or on time. I enjoy it because the customer service is nice here. I know that I can get checked in… and go through the process pretty quickly.”

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Speaking of Flying - Artistic Adventures


Sierra is the Marketing and PR Coordinator at the Asheville Regional Airport. As part of the marketing team, she helps organize AVL’s art and music programs for passengers and airport visitors.

“We invite local artists to come and play for our passengers,” she said. “It sets a nice relaxing tone for everyone.”

Highlighting local talent in the terminal allows passengers to have an immersive Asheville experience before they even leave the airport.

“Our art gallery features a lot of local artists,” Sierra said. “It allows people to get a taste of Asheville and gives them something to do while they are traveling.”

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Off To Switzerland

Madison is headed to Switzerland for an impromptu adventure. With nothing but a rented car, Madison and Steven plan to spontaneously explore Europe for a week. From the Holy Land to Russia, these two young travelers know a thing or two about experiences abroad. 

“Getting to see all these different cultures, you just have a deep respect for other people’s viewpoints and opinions,” Madison said.  “It really broadens your horizons. If you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend everyone to go out and travel.”

Madison loves kicking off his adventures at the Asheville Regional Airport. “I don’t think we’ve ever walked through these doors in the last two years without someone greeting us by name. They make such a personal connection and take such good care of us.”

Listen here!


Traveling With A Baby

April and three-month-old Carter are making the trip back home to Orlando after visiting with family here in Asheville.

Traveling with a baby can be daunting, but April has some great tips for moms on the move. “We usually go to the dollar store and get a bunch of little items – they don’t even have to be toys – maybe calculators or boxes with things in them," April said.

"I find the best way to keep him occupied is to have anything that he hasn’t seen before, lots of snacks, let him engage with other kids on the flight and explore.” For April, flying out AVL makes all the difference. “I love going out of small, nice airports. It makes traveling with kids so much more convenient and less stressful.”

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Biking Around Germany


 Tom is off to Germany for an eight-day bike trip. Touring the country by bike leaves little room for excess when it comes to packing, and Tom understands the key is packing only the necessities. “I packed once and then I cut it in half,” Tom said. “People don’t need all that they pack.”

Tom loves starting his travels at AVL. “Every chance I get I come out of Asheville because it’s small,” Tom said. “These guys actually know me. I travel a good bit, and it’s easy. Lines are almost not existent and I love the friendly mountain people.”

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Arizona Bound

Dan and Jen are making their way to Phoenix, Arizona, for a family event. Both Dan and Jen travel for work and they have figured out the secrets to packing like a pro.

“Pack for the security line to get in and out as quickly as you can,” Dan said. “Make sure you have liquids handy at the top of your bag… and reduce the number of electronics that you carry on with you.” 

Listen here!




Arizona Bound


Natalie and her family can’t wait to begin their family vacation! They're flying from the Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) to Tampa to kick off their cruise to Cozumel and the Grand Cayman Islands.

Natalie’s children enjoy the perks of traveling with family. “They love traveling with their cousins,” Natalie said.

AVL helps Natalie start her vacation as quickly as possible. She said, “I love that it is so close to us, and that it has direct flights.” 

Listen here!

Tips For a Family-Friendly Adventure in Chimney Rock

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Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park is home to six hiking trails, an Animal Discovery Den and a variety of unique events that are perfect for people of all ages. If you’re planning your next family trip, here’s a list of things you can enjoy.

Kids and adults can learn about the creatures that call the Park home at the Animal Discovery Den.

The den houses an albino chipmunk, groundhog, snakes, frogs and many more animals that act as animal ambassadors to the Park. In June, July and August, and on holiday weekends, special Animal Programs are held at 2PM daily.

The Great Woodland Adventure trail, which is part of the Track Trail system, is designed for families with kids of all ages. It features 12 discovery stations along with locally-crafted sculptures of wildlife.

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Hikers young and old can enjoy taking the newly-reopened elevator or the “Ultimate Stairmaster” along the Outcroppings trail to the Chimney. Want to reach new heights in a different way? Book a rock climbing adventure with Fox Mountain Guides

After hiking to the Chimney, there’s no better way for your family to cool off than by visiting the Park’s 404-foot waterfall. The gentle-sloping trail that leads to Hickory Nut Falls is shaded and wide, making it the perfect place for your gang to enjoy.

If you’re concerned that Fido can’t take part in family fun at Chimney Rock, there’s no reason to worry. The Park, other than the elevator and Sky Lounge, is pet friendly. It’s a NC Health Law that animals can’t go where food is sold.

There’s more than one way to enjoy a meal during your next visit to Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park.

The Park’s restaurant, Old Rock Café, can whip up hiker’s lunches for you and your crew. Just call before your visit or stop by. Each Hiker’s Lunch features an artisanal sandwich, chips, a cookie, fruit and a drink.

Grilling and outdoor time go hand-in-hand. There are several charcoal grills that guests are welcome to use. All you have to do is bring your supplies and food to enjoy an all-American picnic.

Enjoy views of the Rocky Broad River while chowing down on locally-sourced cuisine from Old Rock Cafe. Whether you’re in the mood for a salad or juicy sandwich or wrap, there’ something for everyone at the Park’s casual dining restaurant.  It’s open for lunch seven days a week.


Are you planning your next family reunion or car club get-together at the Park?

Don’t worry about preparing a meal. Let Chimney Rock Catering serve your group locally-made main dishes and sides that your guests are sure to enjoy.

Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park’s Annual Pass is just $28 per adult and $12 per youth (ages 5-15) and gives passholders unlimited admission to the Park for an entire year. That means that you can take time exploring all six of the Park’s trails during every season.

Why Cuba? Because It's Truly A Magical Place!


There's just something amazing about Cuba. Imagine sultry and sexy salsa music floating out of the alleyways of Old Havana, brightly covered houses, tobacco fields and tropical beaches. Cuba has something so special going on you can't help but fall in love. You might even call it love at first sight! 

According to the late, great Anthony Bourdain, "Havana's beautiful -- incredibly so. Probably -- no, definitely -- the most gorgeous city I've ever seen anywhere in the Caribbean or Latin America. The people are lovely. The baseball, some of the best and most passionate fans in the world."

Cuba is home to a vibrant and engaging music scene, a world-famous cigar industry, breathtaking scenery and so much more. This country is so vastly diverse and the true essence of the country, with such an intriguing backstory, lies within the gracious and welcoming people who live there and in the rhythm of the music. 

This is truly a place you will fall in love with at first sight. I've been fortunate to visit Cuba, and what I love most is more than the old cars, mojitos and cigars. It's the charm and vigor, nostalgia and color. You feel like time has stopped. This is a place of history, adventure and a rich and natural nature. 

Travelers can still visit Cuba legally and I recommend doing some research to find out all you need to know about travel to and from the island. There are many resources available to guarantee you have a safe and easy trip.

Check out two of my favorite websites for more info on travel to Cuba... and

By the way, Cuba has over 200 bays and 250 beaches to explore, making it arguably the best beach destination in the Caribbean!

Let's Grow Hemp!


Industrial hemp is making a comeback as a cash crop. Two players are stepping up their game right here in Western North Carolina. HempX and Franny’s Farm formed a strategic partnership and began with growing two acres of hemp. They are providing new leadership and guidance for potential hemp farmers across the South. 

In June, Franny's Farm, located in the lovely countryside of Leicester, NC, hosted  Hemp Hootenanny, a celebration of a once-illegal crop now allowed under regulated pilot programs. 

Blake Butler, co-founder of Asheville’s hemp movement HempX, helped organize the event held during Hemp History Week. HempX is fast becoming a voice for the hemp growing industry and working with farmers to learn about the hemp landscape.


When you think of all the things you can do with hemp and all the products you can create — from soap to houses and many, many things in between, hemp is helping farmer entrepreneurs all across this region create demand, economic activity and jobs.

Sooner than later, hemp will be huge in the US, and that will have a domino effect all around the world in a lot of ways.

Make your voice heard to support farmers! 

Find out more with my interview with Franny and and Marty Clemons, President of the NC Industrial Hemp Association.

Visit for more information.

Bella Italia!

Buongiorno! Thinking about going to Italy?  I’m pretty sure I could come up with at least a hundred different reasons why you should visit Italy. I’ve been twice and to be honest, I think I could probably live there! It seems as though visiting Italy is a bucket list entry for a lot of folks so you might as well give it a go!

I love the idea of going to Italy with someone who really knows the country. Mark Gordon Smith founded Private Italy Tours in 2003 and has traveled across Italy for over 35 years.


His company, Private Italy Tours, presents small group tours of Italy through its most beautiful and inspiring regions so you can discover the art, the history, the food and the people that are Italy.

Imagine your own villa. Cooks who prepare your meals. Private guides. Exceptional hotel accommodations. Full time bilingual tour leaders. You can actually experience Italy at the pace of Italian life. They provide all the support while you enjoy bella Italia; your own private tour of Italy.

So go! Discover and explore a world of seclusion and retreat where all you really have to is show up. Let's go to Italy! 

Click here to get to Heaven!


I Went To MerleFest and Got A Really Great T-Shirt!


I’ve lived in Western North Carolina for 40 years and had never been to MerleFest until a few weeks ago. I always WANTED to go, but each year came and went and I was never able to get it together to get up there. This is the thing about travel sometimes and I’m as guilty of this as anyone…. Because I had never been, I worried how would I pull off going? Where would I stay? What would it be like?

I’m here today to tell you when I set my mind to going, (Kris Kristofferson was a headliner and I really, really wanted to see him in person) I was able to put a plan in action, be patient, make connections, put all the pieces together over a three-month period, and see the plan unfold in my favor! It all worked out and I had a blast! Am I ever sorry I waited all these years!

Photo Credit Jim Gavenus

Photo Credit Jim Gavenus

MerleFest is one of the most organized music events I’ve ever attended with an amazing lineup of talent. This was the 31st year and I would venture to say the festival’s four day audience exceeded at least 80,000 participants. But I never felt overwhelmed by the crowd. Everyone was so nice and friendly and certainly knew how to have a good time. 


MerleFest is like a big camp for musicians and music fans held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, with no alcohol! The festival originated as a simple, loving idea to cultivate the campus gardens and overtime grew to honor the memory of Doc Watson’s son Eddy Merle Watson and become a celebration of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of our Appalachian region.

Some highlights of MerleFest 2018 are included in the conversations I had with some of this year’s performers in their element.

You just can’t come away from MerleFest without hearing so much great music and seeing so many talented musicians. I had an incredible time and plan on returning again and again. And I got a great t-shirt! Sometimes you have to go for it. 

Listen here for some great conversations and incredible music!  

Celebrating Five Years of Speaking of Travel!

I walked into a restaurant recently and a woman approached me and asked if I was Marilyn Ball, from Speaking of Travel. Wow! She said she listens every weekend and loves to hear the stories. She told me she's saving money now for her special decade birthday coming up next year. She explained to me that hearing others talk about how happy they are when they travel, and how it is worth any and all sacrifice to go and get out of their familiar zone, made her more determined to just do it. This makes me so happy! 

Each and every conversation on Speaking of Travel reveals at some point how travel has changed a life in some way or another. How meeting new people of all cultures, eating new foods and placing themselves into the unknown turns out is quite powerful and empowering! 

Listen for yourself and and before you know it, you'll be packing (smartly) and ready to go! Enjoy! 


A family road trip is a great way to have fun and create memories. For the Kunst family, road tripping is a tradition and reached epic proportions when their oldest daughter sat in the driver’s seat on their latest cross-country trip. They still like each other!

Listen here!





Imagine traveling the world with your bestie who is your twin! Gregg and Ross Levoy take a month-long trip every year and they have fun stories to share! Traveling with your twin does have benefits! 

Listen  here!





Michele Laub believes the path of transformation is often revealed on a journey to a sacred site and she leads guided spiritual journeys to Teotihuacan, The Pyramid City in Central Mexico, the Ancient Home of the Toltecs, known as Artists of the Spirit.

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George Steinmetz has a restless curiosity for the unknown and the mysteries of science and technology. He's a contributor for National Geographic and a TEDX speaker.

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MerleFest, founded in 1988 and one of the best music festivals in the country, is an annual homecoming for musicians and music fans, held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. 


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In 2015, Tess Vigeland left most everything and bought a one-way ticket abroad to see what life was like away from all she knew. Tess has learned a lot in the last 2+ years spent traveling throughout SE Asia and beyond.

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There are so many great travel stories, travel tips and inspiring life-changing moments all here on Speaking of Travel! Take a few minutes and let yourself be taken away to lands far and near… No Passport Required!

Go Take A Hike at Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park!

Are you ready for a hike?  

There’s no better way to experience the best of the mountains in one place than with a hike at iconic Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park. The better you prepare for your adventure, the more fun you’ll have.


Water is a must.

Hydration is key to a successful hike, but you would be surprised at how many folks come unprepared. It’s best to drink plenty of water before you come, so you’re well hydrated before you start. Then, continue to drink more as you go.  Be sure to pack a bottle of water or buy some to take with you. A telltale sign of dehydration is light headedness and fatigue.  Sit down, drink some water or Gatorade and rest till you begin to feel better.    

The Right Shoe for the Job.

We’ve all heard that there’s a right and wrong way to dress for a job intervie0w. The same can be said about the shoes you choose for a hike. As a rule, hiking shoes should fit snug everywhere, be tight nowhere and offer room to wiggle your toes -  that way you have perfect footing along the trail.

Snacks for the Journey.      

Got a full day of hiking ahead? Make sure you pack snacks that are trail friendly, which means they’re portable, easily accessible and nutritious.

 Backpack. A Place for Everything.

Once you’ve got all of your supplies, you’ll want to pack them in a bag that’s easy to carry. Outdoor stores can fit you for the perfect pack if you’re in need of one.

Who is Going to Hike with Me?

It’s easy to know what kind of hiking experience you want, but if you’re traveling with a group you might want to think about who is coming with you. Does your party have smaller children or someone with mobility limitations? You might want to choose a gently-sloping, shorter trail.

Hats and Sunscreen. Protection from the Elements.

If you’ve ever spent a few hours on the trail, especially in the spring or summer, you’ve probably dealt with a sunburn or two. You’ll thank yourself for using both when you come for a day of hiking.

How Far Do You Want to Go?

Photo Credit Chuck Hill

Photo Credit Chuck Hill

Time and other factors often affect the way we plan. it’s important to consider how long you want to be gone and how far you’d like to go. Do your research so you’re sure to get back before the Park closes.

Capture your  Memories.

Bring your camera or cell phone.  Take some photos of your favorite views and/or your friends and family that accompany you. Relive your trip every time you look at your pictures and share them with others.  Enter the Park’s Seasonal Photo Contest and win some prizes, too.

When is the Best Time to Hike?

If you’re interested in beating crowds, making great time on your hike or avoiding the heat, you’ll want to plan on hiking earlier in the day. It often heats up as the day wears on and more folks come mid-day, making it more congested.


How to Choose the Best Hike for You

I think we’ve all joined a friend for an outing and midway through thought “this is not what I expected to do!”  Ask yourself these questions before choosing your next hike.

What Do You Want to See? 

Whether you want to see amazing views, birds, flora or fauna, it’s important to do a little research about the trail before your hike. Some trails, like the Park’s Outcroppings trail, provide great views. Wildflower lovers will want to check out the Four Seasons trail and the Hickory Nut Falls trail.

Waking Up In A City That Never Sleeps!


I love rituals and a trip to New York City is one of those traditions all families should experience with their children. My daughter's first visit to the Big Apple was when she was eight and we attended my cousin's wedding. What a wonderful trip that was! We spent time exploring Little Italy, Chinatown, took the Staten Island Ferry to see Lady Liberty in all her glory and went to the top of the Twin Towers. She's all grown up now and visits New York as often as she can. So all these years later, it was time for the tradition to continue with her two girls, seven and two. 

We made the trip into a family reunion during spring holiday season. 


We met friends from Boston and we all stayed down at the Battery, one of the more somber areas in the city.

We could see the Freedom Tower from our hotel window on one side and the Statue of Liberty from the other.

Walking around the neighborhood we found great restaurants and wonderful bars and historic sites. 

The kids celebrated their first subway journey, first Broadway show, first real New York style pizza, first cab ride. So many firsts we couldn't keep up. 

Each day we walked for miles, stopped for yummy food and did a lot of people watching. We visited Chinatown, Little Italy, rode over bridges, saw Hamilton's grave.

We walked through Central Park and rode the Sea Glass Carousel. By the end of each day we were exhausted but ready to get up and do it all again!

And of course we caught up with the family! Sweet! 

A trip to Manhattan is a ritual for kids of all ages! With so much to see and do, one trip is just not going to be enough! 



The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga Research Project

A Case for a Yoga as a Neuroaesthetics Topic and Tool by Jonna Kwiatkowski  

Jonna Kwiatkowski, PhD, and Associate Professor of Psychology and Art Therapy at Mars Hill University has researched and taught about the psychology of creativity and aesthetics for 22 years. She recently returned from a sabbatical on the island of Mallorca where she focused her research and developed The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga Research Project. Here are Jonna's thoughts on the project and how you can participate. 

 “There is just this for consolation: an hour here or there, when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we've ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) knows these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning, we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so.”
– Michael Cunningham, “The Hours”

In “The Hours," author Michael Cunningham famously assigns Clarissa Vaughn the lament that one must endure a mundane existence between brief moments of elation, creation, and joy.  The work of everyday life is to make it through with little inspiration in hope of a future day or even moment where sparks fly and life dances. While it is possible to find a melancholy beauty in this perspective, it might also lead to despair. What to do the morning after a beautiful experience? Settle into the knowledge that it will likely be some time before the mind and body gets another opportunity to whirl in such perfect synchrony? Start searching for that next thing that might make the world hum? Bury yourself in social media feeds…


It is this version of elusive beautiful experiences that is most often studied in empirical aesthetics research. Classically, researchers have presented people with many variations of a (usually) visual object such as a strange squiggly figure that varies in symmetry, color, angularity, etc. (e.g., Berlyne, 1970) and then evaluated which combinations lead to the highest preference ratings. With improvements in neuroscience techniques, there has been a resurgence of interest in psychological aesthetics research. In this newer neuroscience-driven approach, similar stimuli are often used, but the goal is to evaluate patterns of brain response when preference is high and low, as well as how brain responses change with different types of stimuli (e.g., Chatterjee & Vartanian, 2016).

Notice that in the classic and updated neuroscience research paradigms, some external stimulus provokes the aesthetic response. Most often, researchers have used visual art-inspired stimuli, but there is also plenty of published work about the aesthetics of other arts forms - music (e.g., Brattico, Brattico, & Jacobsen, 2009), dance (e.g., Christensen & Calvo-Merino, 2013), fiction (Djikic & Oatley, 2014) – but note again that the aesthetic experiences are caused by something happening outside the person.  There is a strong assumption in much of the empirical aesthetics research that aesthetic experiences require being exposed to something beautiful. Like Clarissa, aesthetics researchers (including me) have had us seeking that exquisite something that bursts open our lives for a fleeting moment.

But experiencing beauty isn't merely witnessing something ephemeral. There is another area of psychological research that offers a different perspective on these experiences: yoga, meditation and mindfulness-based research. Within these research areas, there is also an interest in understanding which parts of the brain are activated through these practices, and how the worldview changes along with it. Most of the work has been conducted with meditators (e.g., Fox, et al., 2016) with some focus on yoga-based practices (e.g., Cahn & Polich, 2013) in order to understand the cognitive and neurophysiological responses to a largely internal process. Any changes that are observed are assumed to arise from an inward focus and quiet or silent internally-oriented cognitive processes. In other words, the most common stimulus for meditation or yoga-based research is inside the person, whereas the most common stimulus for aesthetic research is outside the person.


This matters for my research because I have found that despite the stimulus, the cognitive and neurophysiological response to outward aesthetic objects and internal yoga-based or meditative practices is very much the same in the research literature. There is almost complete overlap between the descriptions of a person having an aesthetic experience and a person having a meditative experience in published academic research. These similarities led me to the reflections of Clarissa, but from a researcher and yogi's perspective. I asked myself, "Do we need to wait for some external object to have a beautiful experience, or might we be able to learn internal contemplative practices such as yoga and meditation to cultivate them within ourselves? Might we have the potential to learn how to live more of our time feeling as if we were seeing a beautiful painting, listening to joyful music, or dancing in synchrony with the world around us?"

I have created this website and am doing this research to explore the possibility that yoga-based practices can facilitate aesthetic-like experiences both during and after practicing yoga. In future posts, I will add more detail about how aesthetics and yoga-based practices share common philosophies, theories, and empirically-driven research results. If you are interested, sign up for our mailing list to receive updates and consider participating in the Spring 2018 research project.

Thanks for your interest in The Embodied Aesthetics Through Yoga research project!



The Gourmet Highway

The 2018 season of the Gourmet Highway with Doc Lawrence is on the air, live and delicious each week on Speaking of Travel! This season Doc visits top restaurants, bars, galleries, theatre and museums in Nashville and New Orleans, a prelude to a culinary and arts tour of Savannah, Key West, Louisville, Memphis and many other exciting destinations. 


Doc Lawrence is a travel writer, author, veteran journalist, producer and broadcaster. He knows wine, cocktails, tailgating, books and music better than most anyone you would meet! If you look up Southern Gentleman in the dictionary, you would see Doc's photo! 


The Gourmet Highway is a state of mind. Those who are steeped in culture form the bedrock of appreciating all things worthy, whether food, fine wines, historic cocktails, legendary hotels, restaurants and clubs or museums, art galleries, theatrical performance venues, architectural wonders and many things in between.

An unforgettable dinner at Antoine’s in the French Quarter takes on more romantic memories when its preceded with a visit to the Faulkner Bookstore and afternoon cocktails at The Napoleon House. In Louisville, before dinning in the Seelbach’s Oak Room and imagining an evening there with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, a tour of the Muhammad Ali Museum and Heaven Hill Distillery adds great fascination.


Nashville is an emerging culinary center. Great restaurants are short distances from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Studio B on Music Row where Elvis had over 200 recording sessions. Post dinner drinks at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is almost mandated.

Grab a margarita and join the winter fun in Key West. Doc begins at Mile Zero Post, then walks to historic Duval Street with its array of restaurants, legendary bars and boutiques, then enjoys another margarita at the sunset celebration on Mallory Square, spends the day at "Papa" Hemingway's beautiful home and discovers why both Harry Truman and Tennessee Williams loved the Conch Republic.

Listen to Doc as he travels along The Gourmet Highway!


Listen to Speaking of Travel and Be Carried Away!


Travel is one of the most direct and intuitive ways of feeding your soul. Experiencing places you’ve never been impacts your worldview and the way you establish and maintain that view. It changes how you view the human race, not only among those around you, but yourself and those you love.

 Every single person I’ve spoken with on Speaking of Travel over the past five years has told me how travel changed their life in some way or another. Meeting new people of all cultures, eating new foods, stepping out of their comfort zone and placing themselves into the unknown turns out is quite powerful and empowering!

There are so many great travel stories, travel tips and inspiring life-changing moments all here on Speaking of Travel! Take a few minutes and let yourself be taken away to lands far and near… No Passport Required. 

Click Here to Hear Past Podcasts and be Carried Away!



Wine With Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by Doc Lawrence of Down South Today


The nation remembers and honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month with a national holiday. His words will be repeated on the air, in classrooms and in forums. Peace, justice, understanding and non-violent social change are associated with Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement that he led to the end of his life his life.

King and wine? It happened long ago on a rainy night in Atlanta. My friend and mentor Jim Sanders gave me the story, a typed manuscript he prepared shortly after the historic event. Sanders, who died in 1999, was one of the pioneers of fine wine in the South.

Sanders, a bear of a man, taught thousands in his wine classes, a course equal to anything I experienced in graduate school, and poured wines for tasting, introducing students to the greatest wines on earth. The pours were never stingy.

The meeting with Dr. King was impromptu. It was Dr. King’s anniversary and he was shopping at Sanders fine wine store for a bottle of wine for a special dinner. There were others there that included King’s friend, a Pulitzer Prize winning editor/publisher and his arch enemy, a segregationist governor.

The story is one of the most interesting of my career. It is Jim Sanders’ account of a wine tasting for the ages and to my knowledge, remains the only first-hand account of Dr. King enjoying wine.

Here is Doc's broadcast of this momentous gathering!

Travel Outside Your Comfort Zone into the Mysterious Frontier!

In Paulo Coelho’s allegorical novel, The Alchemist, an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. The absorbing story follows the journey of a boy in search of a hidden fortune, only to discover the richness inside himself. The story is simple and inspires wisdom.

There are many paths to spiritual awakening. For Santiago, traveling outside of his comfort zone into the mysterious frontier lying ahead is a testament to the importance of listening to our hearts and taking action moving forward.

For me, like Santiago, travel introduces new realities and provides a broader worldview for enriching my soul and enhancing my own landscape for further inner growth and development.

So when I was invited to join a group of 15 on an adventure to Southern Spain and Portugal, I accepted. I knew I would be entering unknown territory.  New challenges lay ahead and I would escape my own comfort zone and take a huge leap of faith with hopes of realizing a spiritual awakening in this region so rich in history and mystery. I viewed the opportunity as my own pilgrimage of self-discovery and renewal.

I traveled alone to Lisbon, Portugal and then flew to Seville, Spain, to meet the group. We traveled by cars to a rural area of Andalusia, the same region where Santigo begins his journey, to spend our first week in a 19th century farmhouse, traveling each day to areas in and around the region before moving on to Portugal.  

Aside from the few people I knew from Asheville, the rest of the group were unfamiliar to me. Believing that people equal possibilities, I traveled with the intention of making new friends and creating new social ties.

The first night at the farmhouse, everybody agreed to the agenda for the week ahead. Each day, anybody could go anywhere, with anyone, for as long as they wanted. Dinner for the entire group was served sometime in the evening, with everyone pitching in to cook and clean. There were no expectations, and a nice flow soon permeated the farmhouse. 


This area, where Santigo lived and worked as a shepherd, is a melting pot of ethnicities. Given that the origin of humanity was almost certainly in Africa, several theories suggest that the first real humans in Europe were in Andalusia, having passed across the Strait of Gibraltar.

As we traveled this magical region filled with narrow medieval streets and whitewashed homes nestled into the hillsides, I found the common image of Andalucía to be one of bright colors, romance, and passion. The figure of the matador in the bullring, cape and sword in hand, and the gypsy art of flamenco, all combined into a symbolic life in this mystical part of Southern Spain.

At the end of each day, the group came together for our evening meal, always consisting of a medley of tapas, fresh fish, olive oil and saffron, Manchego cheese, olives and some of the sweetest wines I’ve ever tasted.  We shared our stories of explorations and discoveries and I was beginning to understand how we were all somehow connected.

As the days went on, I discovered how each of us, in our own way, was searching for his or her own hidden treasure. By sharing our experiences we were richer somehow than when we first arrived. Everything around us became brighter, and each day was better than the day before.

While exploring the many ethnic influences of the region, I gained a broader understanding of how the terrain of earth and soul are perfect reflections of each other and how the connection to the spiritual essences within all of us ushers in deeper levels of acceptance, feelings of peace and releasing of fears.

On this journey, I fell in love with the people, the language, the food and the essence of all those who had traveled here from the beginning of time. I realized how destiny was waiting for me in this land I would never have discovered on my own.

Somehow fate was on my side as I had traveled across lands and water, determined to tackle my fears of the unknown in the pursuit of my own personal legacy.

By taking this forward leap, I met people who would forever be a part of my life and explored a part of the world no longer just held in my imagination. For life to be fully experienced, you must make peace with your fears and step out of your comfort zone.

The connection soon became more apparent between my inner-self and the Earth I walk upon. Like Santigo, I came away with the knowledge that when you leave behind the familiar, you can’t help but be changed by the unknown. 

Why South Africa Should Be On Your Bucket List! 

Toby OA Ellies July 2017.JPG

Southern Africa offers not only amazing game viewing (the Big 5 can definitely be seen in South Africa), but breathtaking landscapes, vibrant culture, unbeatable cuisine, stunning beaches, numerous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, fabulous wines and wineries, and a deep and ancient archaeological history of humankind.

It is also the singular home to one of the six floral kingdoms on Earth – the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Recommendations When Visiting South Africa:

• Visit Kruger National Park, a flagship park of South Africa and among the largest in all of Africa.

• Visit the many smaller and more intimate game reserves in the coastal province of South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal.

• Visit Table Mountain, one of the new Natural Wonders of the World.

• Visit Cape Town and it's vibrant city life and breathtaking natural beauty.

• Visit a local village or school, and see life from a different perspective.

• Visit the cradle of humankind, the world's richest hominin site and home to around 40% of the world's human ancestor fossils.

Toby OA Leopard Kruger Aug 2017.JPG

Recommendations When Visiting Other Parts of South Africa:

• Visit the Okavanga Delta in Botswana

• Visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe

• Visit the Etosha National Park in Namibia

Thanks to Toby Brown at Outdoor Africa for these great tips and suggestions!

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