It’s National Hot Dog Day!

Hot dogs are a staple of American culture. Ballgames, holidays, backyard parties, you name it, hot dogs are there.

The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council estimates Americans will eat 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day.

With today being a holiday, there are plenty of places offering free or discounted hot dogs. Just check with your local vendor.

In North Carolina, my favorite hot dog spot is the legendary Dick’s Hot Dog Stand in Wilson. Having opened in 1921, it’s a beloved family restaurant that’s stood the test of time with millions having enjoyed.

Take a look at my special story on this local institution as written for the North State Journal. Click the link below and enjoy!



Fixin’ to: Tell ya about summers with the Freezie.

We can recall the days like they were yesterday.

Summer afternoons are stifling with heat and humidity. Sweat is raining down like a hurricane. Running through sprinklers brings laughter and a cool sweet treat is melting at our fingertips.

Those hot summer days, I’d run through my Nana’s white clapboard house to the back porch. The porch had screened in windows, a wood floor and a white freezer that I deemed magical. I’d climb up the step stool, lean over and pick a color. Like every eager child of my generation and the ones before, I was searching for the frozen pop known as the Freezie.

Whether it’s a Southern ritual or a childhood rite of passage, we all had the secret obsession (and still do) with the frozen treat.

Freezies are basically flavored sugar water in a plastic wrapper. When placed in the freezer overnight, it magically ices.

Your dentist might tell you it’s nothing more than a cavity maker. You don’t care. It’s cool, refreshing, sweet and makes you feel like a kid.

It’s so simple and plain yet so appealing.

My summers were spent grabbing for the brand of freezies known as the Chilly Willy. Maybe it was the little boy’s smiling face on the yellow box and clear wrapper that drew me and everyone else I knew to the snack.

Remember him? Here’s what you probably didn’t know: That little freeze pop was named after a cartoon penguin of the same name. Created in 1953, the penguin known as Chilly lived in Alaska and the television show centered around his search for a place to stay warm and his fondness for pancakes.

Sadly, the Chilly Willy brand of freezies are no longer made. But not to worry, plenty of other companies have jumped in to sell their own versions and have done so for decades. Other brands include Fun Pops, Fla-Vor-Ice, Pop-ice, Mr Freeze, and so on.

Regardless of the brand, you know the ritual. Buy. Freeze. Select Color. Crunch on the ice. Drink the melted ice. Throw away the wrapper. Try to find a way to earn another one. Repeat process.

You know the color you select is everything and you most certainly have a preference. Pink. Purple. Red. Green. Yellow. Orange. Blue. All the colors of the rainbow. They all have actual flavors, but all you really pay attention to are the colors.

You know what happens if you are not careful. The wrapper can cut into the side of your mouth. Cue the tears.

It’s time to be a kid again. Find a freezie. Spend time outside. Enjoy the simplicity of it all.



Spectacularly Scruffy: The Guest Room

guest room

Most of us love being a guest. It’s that feeling of being somewhere outside of our normal surroundings. It’s the possibility of being pampered and treating yourself. It’s a chance to get away and relax.

Most of us enjoy allowing guests into our homes. Grandparents, siblings, friends, family. We are glad they are here and we want them to feel welcomed. We just tend to stress at the thought of having company for a weekend. There’s no need to be!

Here’s where scruffy entertaining comes in to play. If you are already prepared, you’ll just open the doors to your home and welcome guests right in.

Please note that it’s okay if your house isn’t spotless. A home should look lived in and reflect the personalities of the people who live there. Your guests are coming to see you and will be thrilled with the free room and board.

A guest room is the ideal place for them to stay. The Guest Room should feel inviting, warm and cozy. Extra pillows on the bed and a lamp on the nightstand equal a space for your guests to feel comfortable.

To make entertaining easy, here are a few tips and tricks my friends and I use when hosting:

  • Already have fresh towels and washcloths in the bedroom or guest bath. Have these set aside just for this room and you won’t have to hunt for them when it’s time for company.
  • Clean sheets. Wash, dry and remake the bed with clean sheets after guests leave and you’ll be ready at a moment’s notice for the next set of visitors. Simplicity is key. Cotton sheets will do and so will a solid color that matches the room. However, if you happen to still have your New Kids on the Block sheets, your guests will adore the throwback. Make staying at your home fun!
  • Easy reading novels, magazines, crossword puzzles, and photographic books neatly stacked on the nightstand or in a basket give your guests something to browse when they are winding down from the day. It’s also the best place to store magazines you’ve already read but aren’t ready to recycle.
  • A closet of surprises. Neatly stacked in the closet have extra blankets for the bed in the event your guest gets cold. Available hangers let your friends know they can hang up their garments just like they would at home. A dear friend of mine has a few clothing items (flip flops, sweatshirts, t-shirts, lounge pants and bathrobes) arranged for guests who stay on a whim. I absolutely love that she does this! I’ve borrowed the t-shirt and lounge pants before!
  • Basket of goodies. At some point, we’ve all traveled and forgotten something. We have also enjoyed being surprised by sweet smelling soaps and shampoos in a guest bath. Collect soaps and shampoos on sale throughout the year and pop them in the guest bath. Throw away razors, small shaving cream bottles, Q-tips, cotton balls, loofahs, shampoos, conditioners, body washes, toothbrushes (a pack of four) and toothpaste are basket essentials. You can be a good host without breaking the bank. Head to places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Target for those reasonable finds.
  • For an added special touch that can be done before your company arrives place candy in a bowl in the room or on the pillow. Small flowers in a vase. If you have a child, then have him or her make a welcome sign or note. (As a child, I wrote a welcome note and drew pictures for my grandparents when they came to visit. My grandparents adored them and always kept them. Those notes are now framed and hanging in the guest room.)

Having guests over doesn’t have to put you in a frenzy and the guest room doesn’t need to look like a five-star hotel. Make it comfortable and an extension of your already welcoming home!



Spectacularly Scruffy: The New Art of Entertaining

scruffy entertaining

Gathering friends, setting out the fine china, donning a blooming centerpiece, cleaning the house to spotlessness – everyone knows the traditions of entertaining. My family has long loved the concept of hosting a dinner or party, and gathering those you care about for food and fellowship.

There are plenty of secrets to Southern entertaining. However, there’s a new trend emerging in entertaining. It’s equally enjoyable and meaningful, and much less stressful. It’s the notion of scruffy entertaining or scruffy hospitality as some prefer to say.

Simply put, it’s embracing the notion that we open our homes to company as is. We disregard the notion that our homes must looked un-lived in before guests come over. Your home should be authentic to who you are. I’m notorious for cleaning the house before the exterminator comes, fluffing the couch pillows each time I get up from the couch, and routinely putting things back in “their place” at the end of the day. But that’s me. My best friends have homes with belongings piled in every corner, toys scattered about the floor for children, and refrigerators overflowing with leftovers. Their homes are perfect. Because that’s them.

It’s more about friendship and conversation. Memories and laughs. Entertaining can be as simple as gathering friends, grabbing a bottle of wine, reheating the leftovers or ordering Chinese takeout, wearing your gym clothes and watching Netflix together.

Serving meals from what you have. Ordering pizza. Pot luck with everyone bringing a dish. Use paper plates or plastic ones that can be tossed into the dishwasher. Paper towels as napkins. Mix and match. Use leftover cups, napkins, koozies from weddings, birthday parties, etc. Sit on the floor in the den. Flowers can be from the backyard or grocery store. Throw away tablecloths.

True friends are your friends regardless of what your house or lawn look like. Scruffy isn’t a bad word. It doesn’t mean you are messy and unkempt. You are comfortable being you. You are comfortable inviting family and friends over even if the dinner isn’t planned out.

Beach Bag Favorites!

beach bag

It’s July 4th weekend and the people of North Carolina are flocking like seagulls to the coast! My beach bag stays at the ready and inside I always have my go-to favorites. Below is a sneak peek of what you can find in my bag on any given day. Tell me, what’s in yours?

  1. Sun hat: A wide brimmed monogrammed sun hat is on any Southern girl’s list. We have to be able to read our books and unsuspiciously check out the eye candy on the beach. Plus, it cuts down on the sun reaching our face and forgoes those future age spots, sun spots and wrinkles.
  2. Good book: I’ve been a fan of Emily Giffin’s work since her first novel, Something Borrowed. Giffin has the skillful tact of creating characters you can identify with and scenarios to which you can relate. I’ve read each of her novels and I must say her latest, First Comes Love, is one of my favorites. The tale of two thirty-something sisters, this novel digs deep into the depths of love, self-worth and the ability to make one’s own happiness.
  3. Sunscreen: Avoiding sun damage is a must! Coppertone has joined my family in the sun for decades. In fact, it’s the only sunscreen I’ll use. Lightweight, oil free and dermatologist recommended, it protects my skin every time. Whatever sunscreen you choose to use, make sure it finds a place in your beach bag!
  4. Sunglasses: A Southern staple, Raybans find a way to tag along with me everywhere I go. Sleek and sophisticated, they coordinate well with those sun hats and swimsuits.
  5. Hydration: It’s hot out there! Water is a sidekick, but I love to add a little flavor. Crystal Light’s Raspberry Green Tea is my current obsession. Sprinkle a packet in your water bottle, shake and drink up!
  6. Snacks: All that ocean swimming works up an appetite. Kashi Chewy Granola bars are a healthy snacking option I adore. Dark Mocha Almond is a tasty delight to keep me full till dinnertime.
  7. Nana’s Necklace: Who says you can’t have some pizzazz by the pool? My beloved Nana always wore this giant shell necklace during summertime soirees. A true statement piece and conversation starter, I’ve carried on her tradition of wearing this shell out and about. Find something that brings you joy, adds some sparkle to your attire, and saunter out for summertime fun!

What’s in your bag? I want to hear your go-to items and recommendations!

Meet the 80th Miss North Carolina!


Sparkles, evening gowns, poise, public speaking, community service spotlights and more. Everyone loves watching the competition for the crown. In North Carolina, we’re celebrating 80 years of the Miss North Carolina organization with the naming of Victoria Huggins as Miss North Carolina 2017!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Victoria about her journey to the crown for the North State Journal. Click the link to read below to read the story and see the amazing behind-the-scenes photographs (like the one above) captured by Madeline Gray.

Best wishes to Victoria as she begins an incredible year representing this great state!


Sip, sip and Cheers!

Cheers to hump day! You’re halfway through the week so grab yourself a cold one and toast to the official start of summer.

Hands down, the 1980s and 1990s were full of teen idols, big hair and classic American television shows. One such cult classic is the comedy, Cheers, which ran from 1982-1993 bringing you bar laughs from many notable faces including Ted Danson and Rhea Pearlman.

Of course, you likely know the show was based off a popular bar in Boston of the same name. When in Boston, do as the locals and tourists do, and swing by Cheers on Beacon Hill for photos by the iconic façade, pub grub that’s good, plenty of pints and nostalgia.

Points to note: The actual pub is small than the one of television. It’s quaint and cozy. Enjoy the memorabilia on the walls, chatting with old and new friends, then head upstairs to browse memorabilia and visit the replica bar resembling that of the shows.

Taste test: Ask the bartender for a recommendation of a beer to try. Go out of your comfort zone and pick one you haven’t tasted before. The wheat beer made in Vermont slides down easily!

Cheers, friends!

Good Eats. Sweet Treats. Donuts.

Good eats. Sweet Treats. We all needs those daily as a little reward for ourselves. So today, grab yourself a donut and toast the doughy goodness.

Truth be told, I’ve was never a doughnut fan until a random stop in New Hampshire left me the opportunity to try a one-of-a-kind treat from Cider Bellies Doughnuts.

Important point to note: Every morsel of a Cider Bellies donut is scrumptious!

An adorable food truck at the Meredith Station in New Hampshire is where you can find this goodness and it’s so worth the visit.

Made fresh, not processed and a far cry from traditional doughnut shops. These are apple cider donuts and I had one of each fabulous flavor – cinnamon sugar, maple glazed (which has maple sugar drizzled on top), and plain. Hot, soft and fresh.

They are only available in New Hampshire locations which makes me completely jealous. We need these in every state. If you’re in New Hampshire, check out their Facebook page to pop in one of their stops and check out their new flavors – strawberry with toasted coconut, sweet potato and cappuccino.

Kudos Cider Bellies and thanks for the delicious donut!



Welcome to Beyond the Crepe Myrtles!

I’m Laura Ashley, the writer and imaginer crafting the content you’ve graciously stopped by to read. First off, thanks for coming by and joining me in exploring the vast world we are all a part of.

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, I’ve delved into life between crepe myrtle and magnolia trees, beside fields covered in tobacco, and around the quaintness of small towns. Here, mom-and-pop restaurants flourish, manners are part of the course, adventures are plentiful, and at the heart of everything are the people.

A journalist by trade, I always flourish in the discovering of the who, what, when, where, why and how. A traveler by choice, I’m grateful to have trotted the globe to experience the history and culture of this amazing Earth.

This blog dives into a little bit of everything or as we say down South, “it’s a mess of somethin’.”

Lifestyle, decorating, history, travel, facts, opinions, excerpts that couldn’t fit in the print pages and more – – you’ll find it all here.

I carry a pen and notepad everywhere I go. I have no qualms about asking questions and learning more. After all, inspiration is anywhere you choose to look. Creativity dwells inside of us and this is a wonderful avenue for sharing and learning from others.

I hope you’ll come along on the journey and experience life beyond the crepe myrtles. Tell me what you think, want to read about or just say “hello” and introduce yourself!