Best Retreats 2022: Wilderness Road Experience with Author Angela Correll

All great stories start with “What if?”Author Angela Correll

After the rush of the holidays, winter is a time to slow down, to get still, to sit by a fire in a quiet place where we can listen to longings and hear our hearts speak. For many of us, this requires getting away. We need a respite to reflect, recharge, reset. And if there’s been a stirring in our souls, if we’re seeking something different, a place to consider new possibilities. A place to ask, “What if?”

In mid-December, I drove into a town that had inspired the book I was reading. It looked like the set of a Hallmark Christmas movie and the community described sounded Hallmark-close and friendly, too. I couldn’t wait to meet the author who has created a one-of-a-kind experience. I did. After the weekend I drove out of town feeling rested and inspired to take on whatever the new year brings. 

Please listen to this conversation I had with Best-selling Author Correll in this special edition of Travel People: Living Authentic Lives, Finding Kindred Spirits, Fulfilling Dreams.

In a new year when we try to focus on the positive, she inspires us to see problems as possibilities, to create something for our souls and others, to remember what matters most, and to embrace our roots and spread our wings. 

We met  in Stanford, Kentucky where she lives on a farm with her husband, Jess. The novels of her May Hollow trilogy –  Grounded, Guarded, and Granted– are based largely on life in this small town with a big heart. She and Jess are the creators of the Wilderness Road Hospitality Group that has built a stronger sense of community here. In Part 1 of the interview she explains how they went from milking goats to saving and renovating historic homes. How they built two restaurants, an Inn, and are building another. Angela talks about the importance of close community not only in Kentucky but in a Tuscan village, Montefollonico, where she and Jess have a home and are renovating rentals for retreats and vacations.

Like Annie and Jake in her trilogy, Angela and Jess have quite the love story. Their travel experiences are the stuff of fairytales, and they enjoy the best of all worlds with homes in Kentucky and Tuscany.  What I love most is that while she was still a single woman who lived in Lexington with good friends and  a job that provided amazing travel experiences, she felt a pull toward another life. She wanted to live on a farm. She knew that nature feeds her  soul. She says she knew God was turning her in a new direction, but had no idea how she’d get there. God fulfilled the desires of her heart in ways she didn’t expect.

Lisa, our mutual friend who is also a writer and Italophile, introduced us by email because she though we had a lot in common. Angela and I both went to The University of Kentucky, lived in Lexington, and lived on farms. Our grandfathers were farmers. We grew up in small Kentucky towns. For her, it was Danville. For me, Hopkinsville. She strives to write about the “good, true, and beautiful” for a mainstream audience. No matter how much we love travel and exploring other countries, we recognize our native language — SouthernSpeak.

Angela’s books have been adapted to the stage for sold-out performances at the Pioneer Playhouse, Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater. Their themes — navigating family, romantic love, purpose and passion, our need for community— are universal. Like Thornton Wilder’s classic, Our Town or Jan Karon’s Mitford series, her books are timeless.

We’re not super easy to get to. We’re an hour south of Lexington’s small airport but we think that’s part of the charm. When you come you’re going to pull away from everything. You can let your blood pressure drop, be fully present, and receive peace. –Angela Correll

I finished Grounded while I was on her stomping ground. Spending time with her characters felt like Old Home Week (a southern church tradition of my childhood that meant dinner on the ground or potluck in the fellowship hall). I recognized some of Annie’s grandmother in both of mine – one that fried country ham, then simmered it in water to make it tender every Christmas morning. Another who watched Billy Graham specials and tucked me in under quilts.  I recognized generational struggles over the need for dishwashers, cable, and the internet. Over expressions like “You can’t expect a man to buy the cow if he is getting the milk for free.”

Her grandmother’s farmhouse with its creaking floors took me back to the homes in the country of 3 great-aunts. They, too, gathered eggs from ornery hens and didn’t lock their doors. Stripping tobacco, guns and gardens, Blue Willow China, Bluegills and the Farmers’ Almanac. “Widow Women,” “young folk,” “up North,” “down South”… all reminders of my childhood. The comfort food sent me back to Nashville on a mission to make break green beans, cook them with new potatoes, fry up some crappie, bake a chess pie, and chase it all with sweet tea. 

Her reference to Genuine Risk, the 1980 Derby winner the year I married, took me back to Lexington when I lived on a horse farm. So did this description of Wildcat Mania.

The restaurant walls were covered with black and white pictures of local celebrities. Featured prominently were the University of Kentucky basketball and football coaches, and some of the players, both past and present. Even Hollywood stars like Ashley Judd, George Clooney and Johnny Depp were proudly featured Kentuckians. The fare was fine Angus steak, grass-finished and locally grown, served in an atmosphere of dark paneled walls and white table linens.

A romantic, I cried and was satisfied at the end of her first book, but I appreciate that the story didn’t stop there. She wrote a trilogy as if to ask, “What if … a fairytale ending of boy gets girl isn’t the end of the story? Aren’t relationships more complicated?”

Career struggles, abandonment issues, financial troubles, gossips, family secrets, depression… it’s all here. But there’s something about this place that is so familiar and comforting that I listen to the Audible versions as bedtime stories. Maybe because I spent a weekend in the world of the novel where people care for each other, stop and talk on the street, remembered my name. Maybe because in a world of troubles and negativity, I need to stay grateful and focused on the positive this year.

The Stanford Inn includes the cottages but in the works are additional lodging spaces including more hotel rooms (larger than the current Inn rooms) on Main Street. 

If you need to finish an artistic project– book, painting, documentary–on your own or want the direction/support of a group, listen to Part 2 of the interview where Angela discusses her writing journey and options for retreats and creative community in Stanford and Italy.

Part 2 of Podcast Interview with Angela Correll on Writing and Writing Retreats

May Hollow Trilogy by Angela Correll in her Soaps and Such Store, Main Street, Stanford, Kentucky
Esther’s Wellhouse
Amy at Esther’s Wellhouse gave me a great massage. See her in video. She drives an hour from Lexington to work because she loves it here.
I grew up on Rutland’s Barbecue in Hopkinsville, KY. My dad brought it home from work. I’ve been partial to Western Kentucky Barbecue but this at the Bluebird Restaurant was AMAZING.
Sara, House Manager of Bluebird, who made me feel at home every time I dropped in.
Savannah was my sweet server at Bluebird. She lives in Pulaski County but drives to Stanford. Since the renovations of the Wilderness Road Group, the town has changed. She said there wasn’t much here when she was a kid, but now “everything is in Stanford.”
Sarah with Hot Cider at Kentucky Soaps and Such
The store was full of people of all ages gift shopping and catching up.
Many books by Kentucky authors (and many selections from Italy)
The weekend lives on… loved my coffee cup from this collection and the soaps at Kentucky Soaps and Such
I wrapped these soaps from Kentucky Soaps and Such and used them as decorations/gifts on my Christmas table. Inside each, I placed a question the recipient asked the other family members and answered. We all learned new things about each other.

Thank you Angela and Wilderness Road for incredible hospitality. As always, opinions on this blog are my own.

Classic Movie Offers Words of Comfort for a New Year

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When choosing a book or movie, I ask, “Where do I want to go?” emotionally and   physically. Films and travel memoirs have shaped my Bucket List, transported me back to places I love, and moved me–literally–to live abroad for three years. Two of my first posts on this blog were movie reviews–one on Slumdog Millionaire set in India, and the other on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button set in New Orleans. I’m preparing to return to NOLA, so I just watched the latter again.

Souls knowing no age, the only constant being change, and life’s demand that we constantly let go are truths that have always intrigued and often frustrated me. At year’s end we nostalgically look back on what has passed and hopefully or anxiously look forward at what’s to come.  The movie’s message is that because nothing is permanent on this earth, beloved relationships that last a lifetime, the ability to be grateful and present in fleeting moments, and the freedom to change our course and start anew are precious gifts.

I couldn’t believe as I watched the movie again that the words below were spoken first by Benjamin Button–a voiceover as the character traveled the world.  I’d found them on a poster somewhere online which I bought and hung in my classroom in Morocco. Two of my students, inspired, drummed and sang them to a beat. They were headed to universities in the US, Canada, and Europe, and my colleagues, international teachers, changed schools and countries every two years.

These words are what I hope for my own children, for us all in the new year. 

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From Eric Roth’s Screenplay The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Knoxville & Smoky Mountains: Great Escape and Journey Home

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Though I am writing this on a Dominican Republic beach a couple of hours from Santo Domingo where I’ll return to work on Tuesday, I’m reliving the mountain escape I had while home for the holidays.  I’m sorry I missed the snow in Tennessee that arrived just after I flew back to the Caribbean on Wednesday, but  I am glad my son and I had clear roads for a trip to the Smoky Mountains while I was there.  Cole moved to Knoxville last summer and with each visit I understand more why he likes the city where he chose to work.  Nashville’s growth spurt since I’ve been gone has frustrated natives and longtime transplants with the high rise apartments and traffic chaos that came with it.  Knoxville feels much like Nashville did before the boom and with the bonus of Gatlinburg one hour away and The Biltmore two (which we plan to see next summer when the gardens are in bloom), it’s a great destination for more than Vols fans.

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View of Smokies in the Distance from my son’s area of Knoxville

Tennessee is a hiking and wildlife lover’s paradise.   My first morning there while drinking coffee and looking out my son’s sliding doors I saw the usual–a cardinal, squirrels chasing each other–and then something moving in the brush behind his apartment that looked like a bobcat but larger.  Then there were two of them.   I grabbed my camera to zoom in and started snapping; while focusing and scanning the second creature disappeared.

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Whether they were both coyotes (a growing problem in suburban Nashville as well), coywolves or one was a deer that took off like the roadrunner I am not sure, but one of these guys stayed and stared  me down.  The sighting seemed another sign that 2017 will be full of surprises.

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Thrilled to be home for the holidays for the first time in two years, I had wanted to rent a cabin in the Smokies for our family, but with the recent fires we weren’t sure how much of the area had been destroyed and which roads would be closed. Instead we drove to Cade’s Cove and stopped for lunch at Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, a hot spot for locals and tourists. We saw no fire damage and given the line of cars, neon lights, and ticket sales the Pigeon Forge “strip” was still going strong.

The good news about southern food is the comfort.  The better news is there are gorgeous opportunities to hike it off.  Living two years in the desert and the last six months in the tropics, I had so missed journeys amidst farmhouses hidden in hills; cows and horses in fields; and cold, crisp air on moss-covered banks beside mountain streams.  My questions about the future, usually rushing like water over rocks, are hushed and stilled by a winter forest.

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Applewoods was packed with people and home cooking.  I couldn’t decide between fried chicken, chicken pot pie, and chicken and dumplings so had all three.  The apple fritters with apple butter below…wow.

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Beaver Dam

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Later in the week Taylor drove up and joined us for some amazing Italian food and a day in downtown Knoxville at Market Square.  I highly recommend Altruda’s for an authentic, family-owned atmosphere and The French Market for a quick trip to Paris.

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Reviews raved about the family-sized salad and garlic rolls–well deserved praise.

 

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The ziti is amazing.

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So many choices

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The Crepe Suzette may have been my favourite treat over a holiday full of scrumptious food.

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Taylor liked the chocolate crepe and hot chocolate as well, but Cole waited for our next stop, brunch at Tupelo Honey’s.

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Macarons to go

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For the blueberry jam and biscuits (or the joy of being with my grown kids below)…no words are adequate.

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We took a quick walk around Market Square where there are many Sunday brunch places, unique shops, an ice skating ring, and history.

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It was New Year’s Eve day so most were indoors waiting for the big party that night.

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As we took a shortcut to our car, we happened upon an alley of street art.  Again, it seems, technicolor surprises are just around the corner this year.

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We saw Arrival, nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Cole had already seen it and thought I’d like it. He was right.  Among other vital truths, it stresses that we can’t survive without communication and global collaboration.

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Knoxville sunset

As I felt when the holidays were over with my children in London and as most moms feel when the world goes back to work and “reality,”  (and though I am forever grateful for the beauty and adventure of the time spent abroad), nothing brings me joy like relationship.  Translated: quality time spent with my kids/family.  I loved Marrakesh, but it was too far from them.  The Dominican Republic, though many hours closer, is as well.   They are grown and have lives of their own, but my heart longs to see them more often.   We are bonded across miles  by blood and years, vacation times spent together, technology and our love for one another.  And we’ve learned, or at least I have, that home is what we are to each other–not one place.  Good to know since Taylor is in Nashville and Cole is in Knoxville now.  (Likewise, my sis is in Nashville but mom is in Kentucky.)   And though I’ve learned “home” is wherever I am at peace with God, as a southerner I feel tied to place, to roots, to people–my people–my kids, family, and closest friends.  And so my journey back has begun.  I look forward this year to following the path God charts to my dream destination.

 

Auld Lang Syne…Best Part of My German Holiday

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Age appears to be best in four things: old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read. –
Francis Bacon

It began as a house swap inspired by one of my favorite Christmas films, The Holiday.  My friend, Amy, would stay at my apartment in Marrakesh while I would stay in her apartment in Hamburg, Germany.  I’d also travel to see Arunima in Idstein, but she convinced me I’d be spending all of my time on a train. I didn’t want to be a bother, but she said I’m family.

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I met Mithu, (still Arunima to me) discussing old authors in my English class. She was my student and graduated high school in 1986– the last year I lived in Kentucky before moving to Tennessee. Though she hasn’t aged in three decades she was and is an old soul, still taking care of people she loves, still loved by many. The Super Student is now Super Mom. And a lifelong friend.

Thirty years ago she was my TA and Girl Friday (and Monday-Thursday), a pro at managing the yearbook staff, helping me with my paper load, and keeping a new teacher sane. She helped me pack up my life in Lexington and even visited me a few years after that in Nashville. In the time since we’d seen each other, she became a mom of twins in Germany who are now the age she was when I met her. Knowing I couldn’t fly home Christmas, she and her sons, Lucas and Max, graciously opened their home to me. And I am so grateful they did.

I knew reconnecting with this old friend would make my first Christmas away from my children bearable. She must have been exhausted after a weeklong business trip to Crete, and when she had time to decorate, cook, clean, and gift shop I have no idea. I do know that when she picked me up from the airport, same warm hug, same wry sense of humor, same kindness and ease, we picked up the friendship as if no time had passed. Now both adults, expats, single moms, we have even more in common.

Who knew in the ’80s two Kentucky girls would spend this Christmas together in Germany?   I will never forget walking into her quiet, peaceful home, advent candles glowing before a beautiful tree.

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Or wandering the quiet Sunday streets of Idstein, a town founded in the 12th century.  The oldest building, the watchtower below, was built around 1170, but became the “witches’ tower” around 1676 during witch hunts similar to those in Salem.

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Here mistletoe abounds.

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I will never forget talking the new Star Wars movie and books with Lucas and Max who are majoring in German and English (or playing Activity  which required game-challenged me to explain, pantomime, or draw the English translation of German words and phrases–like “pipe of an organ” or “beer crate” for my partner to guess).

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Or walking with Ingrid, the boys’ grandmother, in green fields flanked by a German wood and a pink sunset after she and Mithu prepared dinner. We returned to a cooked goose and white linen.

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Fresh apple pie, our Nachtisch (aftertable/dessert in German)

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Baker and Bearer of Roses

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Or being invited to the home of Patrik, Arunima’s boyfriend, where I had Christmas lunch with his mom and sister.

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Raclette on Christmas Day–simila to fondue, meat is grilled at table and topped with melted cheese

Or the night before I left, after a week of all the  food, food, food (to be said in the rhythm of Dr. Zeus) Arunima served,

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we relaxed, talked, and laughed over wine and a movie.  Prost! (Cheers!) to her visiting me in Marrakesh soon.

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As 2016 calls us to all look ahead in hope,

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I love that “Auld Lang Syne” (meaning “for the sake of old times”) reminds us to first look back in gratitude, remembering one of life’s greatest gifts, old friends.