As we’ve been criss-crossing the continent this fall, we’ve delighted in the beauty of the trees. Hampton and I have been quietly planning this retrospective of the colors which have lit the margins of our skies. Thanksgiving is a wonderful autumn occasion, and now that the leaves are mostly on the ground, we’re happy to share this compilation of the beauty we’ve enjoyed these past few months.
But back to the trip at hand. We rolled over the North Carolina border after dark, marvelling at the Great Smoky Mountains under the sunset. Asheville was a beautiful place to wind up, even after dark, with Bella’s awesome company and dead-on food recommendations (starting with the Asheville Pizza & Brewing Company). Tegan got to see her Mama Livs, Hampton’s sister, once she got off work (and Gary got to meet her in person for the first time). We explored the gorgeous hillside city, the barren branches of late autumn striking grey and brown shadows around us. It was a relaxed way to spend a few days in the mountains, topped off by a screening of The Princess Diaries—which Gary had never seen, and which both Hampton and Olivia had completely memorized.
From Asheville, we headed on to Raleigh, the capital of the state, where we stayed at Hampton’s dad’s friend’s place in beautiful Ridgewood. We spent Thanksgiving with the Neal clan, gathered at Grandmom and Papa Buddy’s house for more food than anybody could eat. It was a lovely occasion for Gary to meet the big family—Hampton’s aunt (and her mom), uncle, nephew, and niece; his dad, Big Stu, and stepmom, Vonnie; his grandparents (plus a cameo from his great-great-grandmother, India Hilton, in the framed oval below). His first Thanksgiving in America, and the best he could ask for. Tegan, as always, was a hit. Biscuitville, a Southern chain, fueled us (Tegan included, with that adorable bone-shaped dog biscuit!!) on the road back to Monroe on our way out.
We found ourselves truly at home in Monroe, loving our time in Big Stu and Vonnie’s camper in the front yard of their house, full of laughter, great food, and more fun, real Americana than any Applebee’s in the world. We had a great time with the animals—Kiki the cat, Darla the elderly sweet dog, and Tegan, of course. Our first day there, we ate at La Unica, a fabulous local Mexican place, picked out a Christmas tree that helped local kids, and pledged allegiance to the Canadian flag flown just for Gary’s arrival. It was a wonderful place to camp out, and one we’ve been enjoying pretty much since Thanksgiving ended.
At this point, we’re enjoying the extended pause to our trip. Our plan for the next few weeks is to embrace Southern hospitality in all its glory. We’ll bounce around the state some, hopefully a few cameos from Gary’s parents. For now, the warmth of the Neal family love is deeply felt despite the brisk winter air.