Any Tourist Can See

by Catherine Breese

trash pickupAfter a few months in Radford, Virginia, a city entirely without a legitimate recycling plan[i] and one where the roadsides and river banks are littered with every conceivable type of trash, I was really starting to think less of the human race (if that were possible). Bryan and I have routinely cleared the roadside along Auburn Street, only to have rude, lazy people cover it with an unsightly sprinkling of wrappers, beer bottles, and kitty litter containers (weird but true) before the very next weekend. When we’re out there picking up trash, people pass us in cars and on foot. They give us puzzled glances and shout from car windows. One woman yelled, “Hey, the city is supposed to do that!” Last weekend we picked up something so vile that I cannot describe it here without making myself gag. (Ok, here’s a hint: it was something that belongs in a toilet bowl but instead was nested in a segment of paper towels. Who does this?) Look, I’m not some crazed environmentalist tree-hugging hippy. I just don’t want to see garbage littering the streets of the town I call home.

dog and artRecently, however, I visited the city of Asheville, a tourist haven in the mountains of western North Carolina. How do I know it is a tourist haven? Because the name of their Class-A affiliate baseball team is the Asheville Tourists. And because Asheville is the home of the Biltmore Estate, the largest privately owned house in the United States. It is also known in some circles as Beer City for its many breweries, microbrews, and brewpubs. It has a thriving live music scene and a busy and productive arts community. It is really, really clean, and Ashevillians seem dedicated to keeping it so. As an example, the city is chock-full of dogs of all sizes and their owners, but I didn’t see a single poop pile on the sidewalk or on a lawn. Named one of the happiest cities in America, or the happiest city in America in the book The Geography of Bliss, the attributes of Asheville, North Carolina, are just plain obvious.

napkin1Recycled and repurposed items are everywhere in Asheville. Junk is either turned into art or properly disposed of. I toured a lot of the city, not just the downtown. The restaurants used recycled plastic-ware and compostable cups. Styrofoam is nowhere to be seen. There is nothing in terms of dropped garbage along the streets. The Highland Brewery serves their beer in compostable cups and their spent barley is fed to local farm critters. Their office spaces and outdoor serving shelters were made from repurposed shipping containers. Even the lofty and elegant Biltmore Estate used paper napkins made from recycled paper.

Biltmore GardensOne weekend is all it takes to fall in love with Asheville. It is a fun town full of fun, laid-back people. It made me wish I were young and had rich parents so that I could move to there and spend my parents’ trust fund money on beer and jazz guitar lessons.

Look, if you want people to feel this way about your town, it has got to be clean. Maybe not Disney World-clean, but pretty darn clean. Every town should think of itself as a tourist attraction. Making spaces attractive improves the lives of everyone who lives there or visits. Respecting and beautifying our own individual spaces is fundamental responsibility of humans. Respecting public spaces leads to aesthetic pleasure and a healthier life. Maybe it even helps preserve the planet. Certainly, it leads to happiness.

[i] Well, there probably is one. All evidence, however, points towards a sort of 1950s shovel-it-all-into-the-landfill- and-worry-about-it-later mentality. Every restaurant in town plus the movie theater serves food and beverages in Styrofoam containers. The recycling program is not curbside—it is “voluntary” which means that the garbage dumpster in front of our townhouse is full of all manner of recyclable items. Bryan and I are the only people I ever see toting bags of recyclables to the 17th Street recycling center, the only place in town that you can recycle corrugated cardboard. For a town with a university, it appears to be fairly unenlightened.

Asheville, NC: Happiest Place on Earth

by Bryan Ward

ABS_1327Asheville is a city of extremes. From its art, live music scene, culture, beer, and eclectic buildings—Asheville transverses the spectrum. Almost everything and everyone encountered has a well-conceived and tested narrative. A real effort is made to distinguish one’s person, performance, presentation, or plate from some ridiculed unknown and undefined “normal”. As you stroll through the streets you are treated to the splendor of a hodgepodge of specimens, sounds, and a visual juxtaposition that is reminiscent of a Victorian curio cabinet. It seems absolutely fitting that the vast elegance of the Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate can share the same locale as the humble Log Cabin Motor Lodge where we stayed during our visit.

ABS_1147As the self-proclaimed Beer City, Asheville’s healthy crop of craft breweries each carves out its own superlative to define its place. Highland Brewing, celebrating their 20th Anniversary during our visit, claims to be the first “legal” brewery and currently reigns as the city’s largest. Highland uses an ever-increasing industrial model combined with contemporary earth-friendly practices to spread their brew across nine states in the southeast. In fact, their signature beer, Gaelic Ale, is already available in our neighborhood grocery store in Virginia, which makes us quite happy.

ABS_1142In contrast, Wicked Weed, a large brew pub on the lower end of Biltmore Avenue, is a sprawling restaurant that spills onto a massive patio out front. A tasting room and a more intimate outdoor drinking area are found downstairs. The beer is very good. Wicked Weed was packed wall to wall when we stopped by and was full of a mix of tourist and young local “Ashe-villians” that were there to share their irony and to be seen. Asheville fashion question: How does one tell the hipsters from the homeless?

ABS_1082While Highland and Wicked Weed are at the top of the beer world in Asheville, 18 other breweries call the place home and several more are on the way. The Catawba Brewing Company, a craft brewing operation in Morganton, N.C., recently opened a tasting room in a storefront that is within walking distance of the Biltmore Estate’s entrance. As with many interesting places, the exterior was deceptively unimpressive. Inside, however, the place had a relaxed vibe that was perfect for sharing a few beers with friends. In fact, while we were there a couple of chefs sat at a nearby table talking shop, a group of older fellows were sharing a few pints, and several locals stopped by to fill up growlers with their favorite brews (one couple had a baby, and one woman carried a puppy in her arms). The beer at Catawba was edgy and flavorful, well worth a visit.

ABS_1407Asheville is a mosaic that is hard to wrap your mind around. The place is weird, wild, and an absolutely wonderfully fun to visit. We will go back. Who can stay away from the happiest place on earth?

(More pictures below. Don’t miss out. Scroll down, silly.)















A Birthday Question or Two

By Catherine Breese

Candle Melt-2I have a monumental birthday coming up, meaning it is one that ends in a zero. I don’t know why those decade numbers are culturally significant, but they are—at least that’s what the birthday card aisle says. To be honest, I am not that thrilled about this one. Sorry young people, but in middle age birthdays devolve from childhood’s favorite occasions to the barely celebratory acknowledgment of your own participation in the slow march towards a long dirt nap. I have a hazy memory of my eighty-year-old grandfather whispering to me as a teen, “Don’t get old. It’s no fun.” Thanks, Grampa, I’ll keep that in mind. Whatever.

So, in the spirit of a milestone-type pause for reflection, I’ve created a list of vexing questions to which, despite all effort to the contrary, I can obtain no answer.

coffee fill1. Why do I always burn my tongue when I get coffee on the road? And I don’t just mean occasionally, as in 3 out of 5 times. I actually mean every single time. Why? I think it has something to do with the lid.

2. Why do my sister and I have the same middle name? No, really. We are both named Jane. Now my sister was born second, so as far as I am concerned my parents pilfered my delightfully plain middle name and illegitimately gave it to another child. It makes no sense, of course. If they liked the name so much, then why is it not one of our first names? We have asked this question, and neither parent ever offered any decent explanation for this terrible sibling naming fiasco.[i] They only had two kids. Two. Were there no other names?

3. Why do I make grocery lists? Usually, I forget the list at home. Sometimes I put it in the wrong purse, and sometimes I manage to get the list all the way to the car, but that’s as far as the list gets–never into the grocery store with me. Then, every now and again, I actually take the list into the store and carry it around. I look down at it affectionately as I traverse the aisles. Near the end, I peruse the list one final time and recognize that I have forgotten something that is located on aisle 3 when I am in aisle 23. I trudge back for the item and check out. When I return home, I unpack. An hour after that I realize that I forgot laundry soap. Oh yes, it was on the list. So basically, a grocery list is entirely useless, unless I am specifically looking for a reminder of my own incompetence. frige remote-2


4. How can I possibly lose the remote control when I am watching TV alone? What is it exactly that compels me to carry it off to some obscure location?



Women sign5. Why are public restrooms almost always dirty? The mop and bucket are typically blocking the entrance in some way. Perhaps someone should use those tools. Follow-up question: Why do people leave a mess in public restrooms? Additional follow-up: Why are gas station bathrooms locked? Are they afraid someone might break in and clean them?



6. Where is that damn plane?

If you know an answer to any of the above, let me know. I’ve already Googled them, and nothing.

If you’d like to attend my big surprise birthday bash, contact Bryan. He’s in charge of the plans. Meanwhile, I will be making every effort to cover my age-related depression with extravagant purchases and overly demanding expectations.

Go forward and do good things in the world. And don’t look in the mirror too closely. Everything will be okay.

[i] Mom, it’s not too late to come clean.

Lowe’s: A Love Affair

by Catherine Breese

photo (1)

On my third trip to Lowe’s on Saturday, I began to articulate some bothersome thoughts. One, when I was younger, I would have been fire-ant angry about trip number three back to the store. I mean seriously heated. Why wasn’t I angry? Apparently, I have reached that state of human maturity wherein one accepts that numerous trips to the store, both fruitful and fruitless, must be endured for any home improvement project to be successful. Two, it occurred to me that Lowe’s is a fine retail establishment with some of the best customer service in the industry. Did I say that aloud? Yes, I did. Young people don’t have thoughts like these. A horrible thought formed in my brain, rather suddenly and without warning. I, in fact, must be old…because I LOVE Lowe’s.

Here’s some mental math. During my adult lifetime, I have likely spent between $30,000 and $40,000 dollars at Lowe’s. It’s an awe inspiring amount, unless you double it, which is probably what I will spend before I die. I have been a Lowe’s customer so long that I remember when floral wallpaper was in style. I bought it, put it up, and took it down ten years after that. I have bought washers and dryers, several refrigerators and more than one stove. Light fixtures, floor treatments, carpet for a few houses, showers, sinks, toilets, sheet rock and cabinetry. Trees, bushes, plants, water features, and most recently another gas grill. I think it’s number six. Yah, Lowes and I go way back.

How do I love Lowes? Let me count the ways.

Lowe’s employees are courteous, ready to lend a hand, and, best of all, know both their store and their product. At Lowe’s men and women who have actually used a tool ask customers if they need help and then give solid advice. You can return anything to Lowes and they accept the return as happily as they sold you the product.

The other big orange home improvement store, whose fleet of know-nothing 19-year-old employees are either hiding in the back or chatting amongst themselves about their piercings and tattoos, is a rather poor comparison. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my disdain for this establishment is based on my experiences at just one poorly run store. But, I’m all-in on this subjective conclusion. I have a man, and his name is Lowe’s.

So thank you, Lowe’s. Thank you. For your aisles and aisles of hardware and bulbs and hose nozzles and water pumps and appliances and dehumidifiers and monkey wrenches and how-to books—all of it just waiting to be made into something beautiful and useful. You are inspiring. And happy 28th anniversary. I didn’t get you anything. I hope that’s okay. I just wanted to let you know, I expect our relationship to last.