Returning to Asheville as a Vegan

Going back to my favorite mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, this particular trip would mark two firsts. One was returning as a much smaller person having lost over 75lbs, and two, was visiting as a vegan. When I lived in Hendersonville in 2008, I was an omnivore who honestly wasn’t very healthy. I tended to reach for the chips and fattening fast food during that time. My favorite fast food stop was Jack in the Box. Those tacos got my mouth watering every time. Now, I can’t fathom eating even close to the ways of my past.

Entering the city limits of the Land in the Sky, I looked forward to getting a taste of some of the best eats Asheville has to offer. My friends in town are all vegan, so I knew I could count on them in my search. By the time I was leaving a week later, I am happy to report that I enjoyed many great meals in Asheville.

The Green Sage. Already, I was a huge fan of Green Sage. It’s my favorite coffeehouse in town and I was more than anxious to get a cup of Joe there my first full day in Asheville. On Saturday, my friend Jess and I had lunch at the Cafe after our morning of Thomas Wolfe fun. I ordered the Herb Tofu Scramble with sweet potato fries and toast. The scramble was excellent. I was more than impressed with it. Not to mention the sweet potato fries, they are amazing. And, of course, the coffee is still tops in my book. I ended up going back to the Green Sage two more times during my visit. Once to get the scramble again, and a third time to try something different, the Black Bean Veggie Burger. That is also very delicious.

Asheville Pizza & Brewery Co. I couldn’t wait to see a movie at the Merrimon location and get a taste of their soy cheese pizza. As it turned out, I was able to experience it twice. Once at the simply dining and bar location on Coxe Avenue with my friends Jess and Leah on Saturday night. That was my first taste of the AVL Pizza Co. soy pizza and I really enjoyed it. Then, on Monday evening, I took in a movie with other friends and again had the pizza. The second time around was definitely better. I’m not sure if that had to do with the location or that I was seeing a movie while enjoying a couple of slices…either way, I have to say that both experiences were great and yummy. (Note: The soy cheese that AVL Pizza uses does contain casein)

Lucky Otter. My friend Jess took me to the Lucky Otter on Sunday for lunch. At first glance, the place isn’t anything to get excited about. It just looks like a simple food joint that serves burgers, fries and what have you. Once I tasted the food, the atmosphere didn’t matter. I had the Tofu BBQ Burrito which was very good. The thing is huge. By the time I finished it, I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to eat for a long time. I look forward to again eating there and trying something different.

Firestorm Cafe. All of my friends couldn’t stop raving about Firestorm, so I knew I had to check it out. I ended up entering from the back where you take the stairs to the entrance. As soon as I got inside, I liked the place. It’s a cafe and small bookstore which also features performances by local musicians as well as karaoke. I could instantly see myself going there on a regular basis once I’m living in Asheville again just to write and soak up the atmosphere. Glancing at the menu, I honestly wasn’t sure what to try. The two guys working behind the counter were very helpful and helped me choose the Maple BBQ Panini. It was simply amazing. I enjoyed every bite of the sandwich. It’s definitely a selection I’d get again in the future. Though, my next visit will more than likely be to try the Ginger Sesame Wrap. I heard great things about that one as well.

Digable Pizza. My final evening in Asheville included a movie and a pizza night in with two of my friends. We ordered a large rice cheese pizza for delivery from Digable Pizza. This was definitely awesome pizza. I dare to say it might be better than the Pizza Co’s soy pie. It’s most surely a close call. I was very impressed with how much it resembled regular “cow’s milk” cheese. Will most surely be getting pizza from them again many times in the future. (Note: I have been informed that Digable’s rice cheese also contains casein)

Of course, there are many other food choices in Asheville that I missed. Once I am back in town permanently, I will be trying each and every one of them, I’m sure. And I’m sure most, if not all of them will impress me as much as the places I did check out during my July vacation did.

The Artist’s Way: Week 1

On July 26th, I restarted Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Originally, I had planned to begin on Sunday, but I didn’t complete the morning pages, so the journey officially began on Monday. Previously, I did the course but only made it to week 6. This time around, I plan on completing what I start. It does help your creative process, so I definitely recommend it to everyone.

The first week went well. I did my morning pages each day (less for Sunday) and did my Artist Date on Saturday. I spent time exploring the outdoors a bit with my camera. I love going out with my camera, so I’m sure that will be a popular Artist Date for me. It really allows me to relax and just enjoy myself. I’m looking forward to week two and what it brings to my creative journey.

Thomas Wolfe, American Novelist

“We are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past.”

My first full day in Asheville was set to be spent with a fellow writer and friend exploring the world of former Asheville resident, Thomas Wolfe. Having finally read Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, I was anxious to again tour the author’s childhood home. The day would also include a trip to Tom’s final resting place in Riverside Cemetery.

Asheville’s infamous weathermen predicted rain and more rain for my weekend in the mountain town. This being the case, Riverside Cemetery became the first stop that Saturday morning. My friend Jess knew exactly where the author and his family were buried in the well-known cemetery. Pulling my little sedan through the black gated property, I navigated the narrow roads until we found a place to park nearby the Wolfe family burial plot.

My initial reaction to seeing Tom and his family’s places of rest was one of odd excitement. I say “odd” because most people would believe any feeling of excitement felt in a cemetery is a bit odd. For me, the feeling was like bringing Look Homeward, Angel into reality. In the novel, Tom recounts his childhood and growing up in Asheville allowing us as readers a chance to “meet” and get to know his family between the book’s covers.

The family plot is a part of history for not only the Wolfe family, but for the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina. Being able to visit the final resting place for W.O. Wolfe, Julia Wolfe, Tom and all of his brothers and sisters was an educational and interesting part of my Thomas Wolfe experience. It was as much of a highlight for me as visiting The Old Kentucky Home and trekking to nearby Hendersonville to see the Angel that is said to be Tom’s inspiration for the novel.

The Thomas Wolfe Memorial was next after our Riverside Cemetery visit. Now, I had visited the Memorial back in 2008 about a month before I moved back to Florida. It was that tour of the home that brought on the real interest in reading Look Homeward, Angel. This time around, I was not only a bit educated about Wolfe, but had been anticipating getting another tour of the home the writer had grown up in. For my friend, this would be the first visit and her first taste of Thomas Wolfe.

Jess and myself joined about half a dozen other tourists headed by one of the Memorial’s guides. The exhibitor lead us from the Memorial’s main building a few hundred feet over to the boarding house that had been run by Julia Wolfe, Tom’s mother. From reading Angel, I knew that the Old Kentucky Home (called Dixieland in the book) was Julia’s pride and joy. She took in boarders under both short-term and long-term standing into the Home. Tom and his siblings also spent much of their time in the house. Considering the 29 room home was built in 1883, it is in amazing condition today. Julia Wolfe had purchased the Home in 1906 from the wealthy banker Erwin Sluder who had constructed it.

Our guide led us first through the first floor dining area and nearby rooms explaining the history that is known of each. Of interest is the tiny room off to the side of the kitchen where Julia would sleep very few hours before again rising to prepare breakfast and such for the day. The woman of the house would dedicate long hours to the upkeep of the home as well as taking care of her boarders and family.

The bedroom and bed itself where Thomas’ father, W.O. spent his final days is another key portion of the tour. What was more of interest however, was the bedroom where Tom’s brother Ben passed within. Tom goes into quite a great detail about the days leading up to Ben’s passing in Angel. Thomas was very close to Ben, so his sudden illness was difficult for him. In Angel, the author devotes a good deal of emotion to this tragic event for him and his family.

A small wooden desk stands in one of the rooms in which Thomas Wolfe spent his last days in Asheville in. We can only speculate the greatness that the author wrote on it’s brown wooden surface. Some of his final manuscript may have been written in that room. The final manuscript would later become two separate novels, The Web and the Rock and You Can’t Go Home Again.

The author would later become very ill with pneumonia while in Seattle visiting his brother, Fred. Pneumonia turned into tuberculosis after serious complications arose. He was sent to Baltimore and put under the care of a top neurosurgeon who discovered that the disease had overrun the writer’s entire right side of his brain. Thomas Wolfe died 18 days before his 38th birthday. His remains were transported back to Asheville for funeral services and burial at Riverside Cemetery.

I can’t recommend highly enough a visit to both The Thomas Wolfe Memorial as well as Riverside Cemetery. If you would like more information on the Memorial, please visit their website.

Steroid shot day

So, today marked the day of my first epidural steroid shot for my herniated lumbar disk. In all honesty, I was nervous as heck. I could barely get down my lunch and dinner yesterday I had been thinking about it so much. Deep down, I knew I was more than likely over thinking the situation and that it wouldn’t be as bad as I had mentally worked it up to be.

Arriving at the surgery center with my mom (you can’t drive for at least 8 hours after the procedure), we were greeted by a very friendly front desk receptionist who checked me in and took all of my paperwork. A few minutes later, my name was being called and a nurse was leading us back into the procedure room. The nurse was very informative and nice. She took my vitals and asked me some initial questions. The doctor who would be doing the procedure then entered and introduced himself. He told me how the procedure would work and told me my fears were understandable.

I was then told to get on the nearby bed, lying flat on my belly. The procedure would be done with the assistance of an x-ray machines. My lower back was cleaned and prepped and then the doctor began. Initially, I felt the pinching of the numbing medicine he was putting into my back and spine. Then, the steroids were injected. This was uncomfortable and very odd at certain times. Not exactly a fun experience in the slightest. A few minutes later, it was over. I couldn’t have been happier.

The rest of the day has been okay. I’ve experienced some discomfort and pain in my lower back, but believe this will go down by tomorrow. Each shot apparently takes about 48 hours to start to have a noticeable effect and can take up to a week or ten days for the most relief. My second of the three shots is scheduled for next week. While I’m not looking forward to the experience again, I’m doing my best to think of how good I will be feeling in the coming weeks.

Asheville or Bust!

On Friday, July 16th, I departed in my little Mazda bound for my favorite mountain town. There were 602 miles of road ahead of me. The drive out of Florida was fairly uneventful which was to be expected. I-95 isn’t exactly an exciting interstate. You have trees to your left and trees to your right. Driving on 95 is about as exciting as watching a pot of water boil on the stove.

As I was on this driving trip solo, I entertained myself with the completion of an audio book I had been listening to, as well as some podcasts and random music selections on my iPod. For the most part, I enjoy a good podcast. Done well, they can really be fun and educational. Sometimes though, you just need some good tunes to keep you going on the long journey.

Crossing the state line into Georgia, for the first time in a couple of hours, I let out a yell of excitement. Yes, I was out of the heat hole known as Florida! I’m not a fan of my current home state, not even a slight bit. I was born on Long Island, New York and my parents relocated the family here when I was a toddler. Having grown up here, I find the place anything but exciting. I would have no qualms about never coming back. I do have family and friends still in Florida, so they are the only bright specks of the Sunshine State for me.

The trek through the peachy state of Georgia ended being about as eventful. I do find the billboards boosting about fresh fruits and touristy crap interesting though. On one hand, the colorful signs are an eye soar on the interstate. On the other hand, they make a trip less boring. By the time I hit the state line for South Carolina, a smile crossed my face. A little over two hours to go of course, but I was oh so close to mountain land!

Before I knew it, I spotted signs indicating that the Paris of the South, aka Asheville was inching closer. Fairly tired of the driving, and with my back begging for a rest, I was extremely happy that I had almost reached my destination. Roughly ten hours after departing from Central Florida, I pulled into my friend Jess’ driveway in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s most certainly not an exciting road trip to make, but the end result, the sight of those beautiful mountains make it all truly worthwhile.

**more blog posts on my Asheville trip coming this week**

Herniated disk = Frustration

There’s just nothing like having your life turned upside down by an injury. Oh yes, I totally recommend it to everyone. Of course, I’m being sarcastic. It is a horrible experience to have to endure. I was doing well, finally getting back into my workouts (not at such a high intensity, but still, back out there), and now I’ve taken two steps back.

The last six or so days, I’ve gradually had more and more pain and discomfort in my back. Seems to have started last Wednesday evening or thereabouts. The only thing I can guess is that the 5k the previous Saturday and then the gym workout last Monday, then followed by a rough session of physical therapy did me in. Was it too much too soon? Honestly, I don’t know. Neither does my doctor.

Yesterday, I went to work like any other day. I was not feeling well in the slightest. I did my best to drudge through the morning and was just so uncomfortable and in pain that I knew I had to do something. So, I got an appointment with my sports medicine doctor. After working a little less than half my scheduled shift, I left work to hopefully get some answers and more importantly, to get medication or something to help me feel better. The doctor didn’t tell me much that I didn’t already know, sadly. He did let me know that my back was a bit inflammed which was more than likely why I was in pain. He gave me some pain meds I could take without passing out in a sleepy stupor and some anti-inflammatory.

This experience has been beyond frustrating for me. It’s such a big hurdle in my longing to be fit and active now. I lost weight and planned on being active the rest of my life. It seems as though that the moment I found a sport I loved (running) that I hit the rock in the road. It continually feels as though it is impassable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not even remotely giving up, but damn is this hard. I’ve been listening to my physical therapist and the doctor in regards to getting gradually back into my fitness regime, but even that seems to be difficult. My back just seems to want to win this “battle.” I refuse to go back to the old me and not be fit. So, the fact that I’m told not to workout at all for a week (like my dr told me yesterday) is a tough pill to swallow. Of course I’m going to listen, I don’t want to make my problem worse, but when do I get to take back my active life again?

Anyone out there going through or have you gone through something that you can relate to my current experience? If so, I’d love to hear your story. Post here in the comments or drop me an email.

2010 I-Drive 5k Race Report

I meant to write and post this over the weekend, but just didn’t get to it time-wise with Mother’s Day and all. Overall, I had a great time at the race. Was nice to get back out there and do a 5k, even if I had to walk it due to my injury.

The race itself started at 7:30am at Pointe Orlando on International Drive. I got there about 10-15 minutes prior to race time due to traffic backups. I quickly checked in at registration and did the obligatory restroom stop. The registration packet at this race was in a big plastic bag and I quickly realized that I could not walk the event carrying it. So, I made a quick dash to my car to store it. Unfortunately, in doing so, I missed the official start of the 5k. Since I wasn’t running it, this didn’t bother me too much. I noted that I was beginning about five minutes behind the clock time and got to walking.

Due to my late start, I walked pretty much solo for most of the first mile before meeting up with other racers. This actually got my adrenaline really pumping, as honestly, I did want to catch up to some other people. I had to remind myself though to take it easy with my injury. I had to force myself to take it a bit easier than normal. I completed the first mile at just under 18 minutes which wasn’t too bad considering (note: this was 18 minutes my watch time, not actual clock time). Then, about one and a half miles in, I started to “run” into fellow racers. I passed a few people, ensuring I waved and said hello to each one. Since I wasn’t going for a PR due to not being able to run, I wanted to greet and offer support to whomever I could. I applaud anyone getting out there and doing them, no matter whether they are a runner or walker.

By the time I hit mile two, I started to see a lot of people. I saw firefighters walking the race in full gear which amazed me. Not only is that quite a challenge weight-wise, but in the Florida heat? The dedication and motivation those guys had was just awesome. Also, I saw Gary, a man who had a disability who was walking the race. Talk about an inspiration! As I passed him, and smiled, he was just as supportive of my endeavors. He offered his kind words right back at me in response to mine to him. That was such a nice moment.

I didn’t complete the race until almost one hour in. My time, it was just over 52 minutes from the race start. Official clock time was 57 minutes and change. Sure, I would have loved to have done the race in 45 minutes or thereabouts, but in the end, I was proud of myself. Just over a month ago, I was down and out for the count, and here I was back out there walking a 5k race again. A lot of people seemed to be surprised that I was back out as soon as I was. Bottom line is, I’m not willing to give up on my new found love for fitness and running. Even if it takes me longer to get fully back to where I was with running, I’m going to be out there walking races. It’s just what I love doing now, it’s a part of the new me.

Murder at the Battery Park

Some of you may or may not be aware that I have been working on a novel based upon a true murder that took place in Asheville, North Carolina in July 1936. The crime in question is that of the brutal killing of Battery Park Hotel guest, Helen Clevenger. Clevenger was a college student from New York in town visiting her Uncle. As the story goes, Helen was shot and beaten in her hotel room by a hotel bellboy, Martin Moore who later confessed, saying that the murder was a robbery gone array.

I did quite a lot of research on the crime and the case during late 2008 and throughout 2009. I quickly came to the conclusion that there were far more questions than answers in the murder. Further, I’m not convinced that it was Moore who killed Miss. Clevenger. With these thoughts in mind, I contacted the Bumcombe County Court in hopes of getting hold of any court documents and/or police reports that have not been published. After a few phone calls, my aspirations of writing a true crime story on the event were crushed. The court records and accompanying police reports have long been destroyed.

Where does a writer go from here? After becoming quite invested in this story, I knew I couldn’t just stop and close up shop there. So, I embarked on writing a fiction tale based upon some of the events of that time. That was the book I worked diligently on during NaNoWriMo 2009 and continue to work on to this day. Not many a day goes by that I don’t think about my novel or the Clevenger case. When I was living in Western North Carolina, I found myself very drawn to the Battery Park Apartments (the hotel is now apartments for retirees). Even upon a brief return last May to pick up my remaining belongings from a friend from my move back to Florida, I had to see and photograph the Battery. The allure of the former hotel is felt in the Paris of the South, and I only hope my work of fiction can depict that feeling to the reader.

Those “funny” books

About five months ago, I blogged about basically closing up my comic book writing projects and instead directing my focus onto novels and short stories. Well, I am happy to say that I have changed my mind on this front. My comic book ventures are now heading back onward into the light of day. There have just been too many opportunities and ideas that have come up in 2010 that I can’t dismiss. That’s the simplest way to explain it.

THE LINE. My cop book is already back in full swing. Eric will have issue #4 done by year’s end. I can’t give a more detailed time table than that right now. I am already seeking a new artist for issue #5 and beyond, as issue #4 will be Eric’s last book of The Line. Also, I am seeking a studio and/or publisher for the book.

HYPERSONIC. As I stated previously, Hypersonic was always going to be completed regardless of where I decided to venture creatively. So, I’m writing and revamping issues #2-4 presently. Stay tuned for updates here as well as on my co-creator and artist, Chris McCarver.

Those are the two books I’m putting my heart into this summer comic-wise. I will also be working on my novels and short stories. I have wanted to do a web comic with an artist for a few years now, so am inching along on that idea as well. Sadly, there are only so many hours in the day, so the web comic is further down on my “to-do” list these days.

Do you believe?

From the Associated Press:
A SkyWest Airlines flight from Helena, Mont., to Salt Lake City was diverted to Idaho Falls after a passenger began banging on the cockpit door, saying he was a space alien and wanted to fly the plane.

This is the greatest true news story I’ve heard in awhile. Makes you want to call up the FBI and page Agent Mulder to get on the case right away. How mentally ill does someone have to be to really believe that number one, they are not human and instead are an alien. Two, that they would not have garnered some sort of attention earlier on by people in the airport like security at the airport itself? I suppose that the guy might have had some sort of reaction to the elevation levels or something once the plane was flying. That or his medication wore off mid-flight. But, just to consider all sides or what have you of this story, what if this Las Vegas man truly *is* an alien? What if there really are aliens living here amongst us? As Agent Mulder would say, “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?”