A Trip in Photos: Charleston and Asheville

Vacations are intoxicating in the Ard household. My husband and I both work six days a week, with a different off day to boot, so we spend most of the year circling one another and communicating via text message. We usually only have off days together on federal holidays, so when we’re given the opportunity to have a full six days off together, it usually goes straight to our heads. We dive into our vacation with little to no plan and just get drunk on free time together. We forget to keep track of the great restaurants we discover and the wonderful places we visit.

This year, I was determined our experience would be different. I planned out an itinerary for us. I booked hotel rooms and purchased tickets to attractions in advance. And I (most likely, to the great annoyance of my Facebook friends) took tons and tons of pictures.

Spring Break coincided with our third wedding anniversary, and since this is likely the last big trip we’ll take for a few years, we decided to go a little bit further from home this year. We made it to a city I’ve been dying to revisit for years–Charleston, South Carolina–as well as Flat Rock, Asheville, and Maggie Valley, North Carolina.


Obligatory rest stop selfie, taken somewhere in Morgan County, Georgia.

We arrived in Charleston on Sunday afternoon in the middle of a rain storm. The harbor was completely shrouded in thick clouds, and the roads were borderline flooded. Our original plans of eating seafood on an open-air porch and taking a carriage ride through the historic district went quickly out the window. But despite this upset–and a few wrong turns, thanks to an outdated GPS map–we ended up having a nice dinner at a neat little place called Sawyer’s on the Boulevard, a sprawling country-style house with a mini swamp and a gorgeous patio.

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Not pictured is the appetizer, which we decimated before we were able to photograph it: a plate of potato straws piled high with bacon, beer cheese, green onions, and sour cream. Delicious.

The next morning, we grabbed a biscuit at a trusty Chick-fil-A, since our hotel didn’t offer complimentary breakfast, after we headed out to Sullivan’s Island to check out Stella Maris Catholic Church. We’re both super Protestant, but I had to go see this church in person because it’s the place that Annemarie, one of the protagonists in the upcoming This Dread Road, worshipped as a child and teen. It wasn’t open to the public Monday mornings, but I made sure to take plenty of pictures of the outside!

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We followed that exciting morning up with a trip out to Fort Sumter, the fort on a manmade island that served as the site for the first gunshots of the Civil War. Those who’ve read The Partition of Africa will remember that this was a place Hattie was eager to see. It wasn’t my first time visiting the fort, but it was the first time since writing Partition, so it was definitely a special experience!

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After disembarking the Fort Sumter ferry, we went straight into another adventure–the South Carolina Aquarium! We experienced a 4D movie, which was totally geared towards children but fun nonetheless, a shark and sting ray touch tank, lots of beautiful fish and wildlife exhibits, and MERMAIDS!

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We capped off the afternoon with a scrumptious meal at the Charleston Crab House and a quick visit to Folly Beach, the setting for my upcoming Christmas Novella ‘Tis the Season, just in time for sunset. It was my husband’s first time to see the Atlantic Ocean!

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Tuesday was jam-packed! We started out the morning attending 8 o’clock Mass at Stella Maris before visiting Boone Hall, one of the country’s oldest working plantations. The main house was actually built in the 1930s, well after the property stopped running on slave labor. In addition to serving as a museum and attraction, several crops are still grown on the property. The oak-lined drive served as inspiration for the road into Twelve Oaks in the film Gone with the Wind. We visited a black history in America mini-museum housed in some of the surviving slave cabins, toured the home, took a motor carriage ride to survey the current agriculture, and attended a fascinating presentation on Gullah culture. We capped it all off with a wonderful pizza and house-made candy bar at EVO Pizzeria.

We discovered EVO Pizzeria by mistake. The previous night, we were absently watching a show called Unique Sweets. Neither of us had been paying much attention until the narrator said, “And if you ever find yourself in Charleston, South Carolina…” Both of us perked up, and were excited to learn about this pizza place that also made their own candy bars in house. It’s definitely worth the trip!

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After a quick visit to Lowcountry Harley-Davidson–my husband works at a Harley dealership and loves seeing how other dealers work–we thought about dropping by Fort Moultrie to see the other side of the Fort Sumter story, but instead we stopped back at the hotel for an unexpected but much-needed nap. Then, it was off to the Market district for a quick bite at Tbonz Gill and Grill before our walking ghost tour!

We spent some time in the Washington Square Park while waiting for our tour to start. Also, we tried to walk off what can only be described as diabetes in a cup–a cookies and cream milkshake with a hunk of cookies and cream fudge thrown right in. We kicked off the tour with a gorgeous cotton candy sunset, which was the perfect view while hearing about the first documented female serial killer in the US.

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The next morning, we checked out of our hotel and made a quick stop by Page’s Okra Grill for breakfast before we headed for North Carolina. This place hands down has the best breakfast food you can imagine! The shrimp and grits I had actually was designated as best shrimp and grits on the East Cost by Southern Living. JD’s chicken and waffle was pretty amazing, too! The food was really heavy–we only managed to eat about half of both dishes.

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After a few hours on the road, we stopped in Flat Rock, North Carolina to tour Connemara, the estate of late poet and biographer Carl Sandburg. Carl’s wife Lillian ran a goat farm while they lived on the estate, and the National Park Service actually maintain a herd of goats descended from her original herd. It was great fun!

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We ate dinner at the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co. The food was okay, nothing to write home about, but the best part about this restaurant was the discount movie theater in the back. We ended up staying to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens for $3 each, because why not?

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Our last day, we drove up to Maggie Valley, North Carolina to visit the Wheels Through Time Museum of Transportation. I took a ton of pictures there–this is only a sampling!

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.We punctuated the end to our week of fun by stopping in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to eat a late lunch at The Terminal Brewhouse, one of our favorite restaurants there. After that, it was home sweet home!

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I didn’t write the entire week, but I’m beginning to think that’s a good thing. I got lots of sleep, spent quality time with my love, managed to exercise quite a bit through our walking adventures, and learned a lot of interesting stuff. When we left I felt ragged, worn down, and on the verge of severe burn-out. Now I feel energized, inspired, and motivated! This Dread Road, ‘Tis the Season, and One Last Aria–watch out. I’m coming for you.



a look back

If you are involved with social media at all, you’ve become acquainted with hashtags. More specifically, you’ve become acquainted with themed days brought to us by Instagram.  There is #ManCrushMonday, #TransformationTuesday, #WomanCrushWednesday, #ThrowbackThursday, and #FlashbackFriday.  I was skeptical about the use of hashtags at first, and I admit that the majority of the time that I use one, it’s because it adds a splash of irony or humor to my post (at least, that’s what I tell myself).

But I have to admit that I have grown to really enjoy these different themes throughout the week.  I like to see acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family members sharing pictures taken during their childhood or their adolescent years with that silly little #TBT or #FBF thrown in.  It spurs reminiscent conversations, jogs collective memories, and sometimes even gives you a peek into the life of that person before you were a part of it.  I’m sure I am not alone in this sentiment.

Bearing that in mind, I have some things that I’d like to share with you, my acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and family members.  (We’ll call it #SelfReflectionSunday, just to make it feel more legitimate.)  As my husband and I approach the one year anniversary of our marriage, I have been thinking about some things that I have experienced, learned, or had affirmed over these past almost-twelve months.

To those of you who are impatient brides or grooms-to-be, consider this some unsolicited advice.  To those of you who have been married far longer than I, who have faced situations that I can’t even begin to comprehend, feel free to smirk at my youthful naivete and call me out if it needs to happen – I can take it, I promise.  To those of you who are single, I still feel like this stuff is important to know.  I could be wrong, but what’s the harm in reading, right?

Get premarital counseling. Lots of it.  Gather advice from seasoned veterans, newlyweds, divorcees, and those who aren’t that happy in their marriage.  There is a lot to be learned from all sides.

Don’t look forward to the wedding day. Look forward to the day after. Seriously.  The wedding day will be tons of fun, but there will be things that go wrong. Don’t be upset about that! At the end of the day, you will be married.  And being married is SO much more enjoyable than being strapped into a dress that hinders your ability to go to the bathroom by yourself.

Don’t try to change your spouse.  Change yourself.  I mean sure, if he leaves his towel on the floor or she never changes the toilet paper roll and that drives you bananas, then say something.  But if it is an issue of personality differences or communication styles, don’t try to convert them to your way of thinking or feeling.  Learn that when he says something logical, he isn’t trying to be cruel to you.  Learn that when she cries, she isn’t trying to manipulate your emotions.  Above all else, learn each others’ languages.  It will save you many fights.

Crockpots are your friend.  I don’t think I need to explain this.

Do not stop dating each other.  You have snagged a catch – don’t let them forget it!  It is too easy to let the romantic gestures fade away with time and familiarity.  Kiss, hug, and say I love you every day, and don’t forget to have fun. Period.  It’s important.

Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.  That being said, if the argument is spiraling into nonsense because it is 3:30 A.M., do both of yourselves a favor and get some sleep.  Nothing productive is happening.  Call a truce and talk it out in the morning.

In-law relations: navigate with caution.  It doesn’t matter if you really get along with your in-laws or your relationship with them could be a plotline on Everybody Loves Raymond, your spouse’s family will probably do something that really gets under your skin at some point.  When you vent about it to him or her, remember that while they side with you now above all others, that’s still their family.  Try to make your relationship smooth, even when it feels like you’re doing 99% of the work.

Fight fair This sounds so hokey, but trust me, it’s true.  You need to have boundaries when arguments arise – and believe me, they will arise.  Don’t bring up the “d” word – it doesn’t exist for you.  Don’t imply that you regret marrying your spouse or give ultimatums that imply separation.  Don’t fight in front of other people, physically or online – your marriage is sacred and so are your arguments.  Keep to the topic at hand.  Keep an open mind and be respectful.  And above all else, don’t be afraid to say that you’re sorry first. Even when you believe you’ve done nothing wrong.

Having the same worldview is not an option.  Conflicting religious beliefs?  Contrasting political views?  A great friendship can be born out of such diversity, but not marriage.  Be on the same page about the important stuff, and save the differing opinions for movies you want to watch or restaurants you’d like to visit.

Spousal telepathy is not a myth.  It is, however, a great time saver.  I predict that by our forties, my dear husband and I will no longer have the need to physically speak to each other.

Love really is a decision, not a feeling.  It’s actually way more romantic than it sounds.

I’m not even sure if my ramblings will strike a useful chord with anyone, or if they even made any sense.  I guess what I’m trying to say here is that marriage has been, in my very limited experience, both easy and difficult, exciting and mundane, romantic and ordinary.  The decision that I made 345 days ago is easily the best one I have ever made.

I love you, John Daniel Ard, jr.  And in the words of Howard Wollowitz, “I’m your idiot. FOREVER.”