Asheville, North Carolina — city of beer and bicycles

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This is why husband John Pitts and I love Asheville, North Carolina — or, as we call it, Honeymoon Town. We spent a week there this summer (I’ll post more about that this weekend & give you some super recommendations for where to stay and what to eat & drink) and already are planning a return trip (which probably is news to JP). I mean, really, aren’t you intrigued by any place that advocates bicycling AND drinking beer? And, knowing Asheville, this probably can be accomplished all at the same time. Now, to be honest, JP and I participated in only one of these activities. But we LOOKED at bicycles. So I think that counts.

Essentials for a Long Summer Weekend — in Mississippi

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Essentials for a Long Summer Weekend -- in Mississippi

You know you are deep in Southern territory when women driving open-air Jeeps keep an aerosol can of hairspray handy. Reminds me of the time many years ago when now-husband John Pitts called me from his office in Washington, D.C. “My ink pen exploded all over my shirt,” he said. “Any advice for getting it out?” I replied with the universal antidote: “Sure. Ask one of the women there if you can borrow their hairspray and then saturate and blot.” There was a pause and then laughter. “You forget,” he said, chuckling, “that this is not the South. I bet none of the women I work with even know what hairspray is.” Putting aside the argument that Washington IS, in fact, the South, it is true that hairspray — lots and lots of hairspray — is a Southern essential. Especially in Jeeps.

You Say “Tomato Head,” I say “Let’s Go!”

Who doesn’t love a quirky hometown pizza place, especially if you value creative menus, local flavors and non-corporate atmospheres? Husband JP and I have several favorites scattered around, although we still mourn the loss of Tomato Tomato in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where we first encountered the trend of naming pizzas for streets and thus enjoyed eating our way through the downtown ‘Boro. Luckily, Younger Daughter introduced us to another Tennessee pizza place that quickly moved toward the top of our list: The Tomato Head, in downtown Knoxville. Of course you’ve got yummy pizza (and appetizers and burittos and salads and sandwiches and …) and good local beer in a funky and hip (without that annoying “-ster” addition) setting. Those things are required. But The Tomato Head goes further — it’s created its own Tomato Head culture. The owner and staff support local art, music and poetry. They recycle. They use as many responsibly grown local and/or organic ingredients as possible. They make their own dressings, desserts and breads. They opened their own bakery, The Flour Head, which supplies a local school with fresh and nutritious baked goods for lunch. This is local pizza at its best.

Style and Ethical Consumerism Lessons Learned from My Child

Back in the olden days, the natural order of things was parents passing wisdom and valuable lessons down to their children because parents were the ones who KNEW THINGS. But that was long ago — way back when you had to stay in one spot to talk on the telephone — and times have changed. Now, parents KNOW NOTHING and we depend on our children to keep us up-to-date. At least that’s how it works in my family. Older Daughter, for example, is the one who got me hooked on Pinterest, TOMS and an interesting book called “Hunger Games.” And recently Younger Daughter has introduced me to two new obsessions: Acure Facial Toners and Roma Boots.  I can’t even begin to tell you how good these products are — for you and for others. Acure uses organic and Fair Trade ingredients (as well as minimal and recyclable packaging) in its skin- and body-care lines, and this facial toner is seriously good stuff. I’ve got a bottle stashed at the office — the refreshing hydrating spray of wonderfulness is perfect when you need more than a brisk walk to the break room for gossip and coffee to revive you. And it smells oh-so-good! Roma Boots smell, good, too —  not only in that brand-new-shoe smell that makes you feel rich and prosperous but in that I’ve-done-something-good-for-someone-and-I-look-damn-cute-too sort of way. Roma Boots was started by a native of Romania, who was anguished to see Roma (or “gypsy”) children in the cold and wet streets without proper — or any — shoes. The company will donate a pair of boots plus school supplies to a child in need when you buy a pair of Roma’s all-weather lightweight, stylish and natural rubber-soled boots. That’s TWO people with dry feet for the price of one — a deal you cannot pass up.

Does Every Good Food Idea Start in Asheville, N.C.?

 Tupelo Honey Cafe, a restaurant native of Asheville, N.C., is taking its first step in world domination with its first non-Asheville location opening this weekend in pedestrian-friendly Market Square in Knoxville, Tenn. But in this case, world domination is a good thing: Tupelo Honey Cafe focuses on organic, local, hormone-free and good-for-you made-just-for-you fresh food. Check out especially the pecan pie, goat-cheese grits, tomato soup, pimento cheese and black-bean cakes. Grand opening is 11 a.m. Monday. You probably should go now to get in line.

A New Olympic Sport?

You get extra points if you immediately know what this image is and what it means. Until a few weeks ago, I would have had no idea  — A new kind of container for growing tomatoes? A techno-modern jewelry holder?  An industrial-minimalist magazine organizer? Good guesses. But all wrong. The orange part depicts a basket (or “disc entrapment device”) used in playing disc golf and, since this course was in the sandy wilds of north Florida, the arrows are directing you to the next hole so that you don’t get lost and subsequently carried away/eaten by hordes of mosquitoes. Do you know anything about disc golf? I was completely clueless until I hung out with my 13-year-old nephew and his mom (my sister-in-law) and dad (my brother) during our recent family beach trip. Banish all thoughts of lazily playing Frisbee with your dog — which, by the way, is never as successful as it looks on TV — because the only thing that carefree activity has in common with competitive disc golf is you throwing something. A disc-golf family like my nephew’s travels to courses and competitions the way other families take to the road for high-level baseball or softball games. When playing a course, competitors lug around backpacks filled with a couple of dozen discs and say things such as “This mid-range one is good for a hyzer flip, or should I use an overstable disc for a low-speed right backhand fade?” Since trees are the main challenge, my nephew suggested I make my first disc-golf attempt when we reached the one hole that was in the open — although you had to throw across a 700-foot-long ravine. Luckily, my brother volunteered to climb down and retrieve my discs that barely made it … well … I’d generously say 25 feet. This is serious stuff and much, much harder than it looks. I will never smile again when the subject of disc-golf at the summer Olympics comes up.

Coffee Treasures in Chattanooga

We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at,  have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.