holidays

Mr. Bill and I celebrate 20 years of marriage… Part five

When we woke up in Ribeauville on Saturday, November 19th, I looked at Facebook to see if there were any announcements about James Taylor’s show. I didn’t see any emails from the ticketing venue, or on James’s social media. That meant we’d be going home a day early.

I was a little sad to be going, since I really had wanted to go to Riquewihr at least once, if only to get macaroons. Bill didn’t want to go to Riquewihr, because it was in the opposite direction of home, even if it was just two miles. He said he’d go look for the macaroons in Ribeauville. So he went out, picked up more croissants, and FAILED to find the cookies I wanted. Instead, he bought three bags of other cookies.

Maybe I should be ashamed for feeling this way, but I was a little disappointed. What he brought back were not what I wanted. Then it occurred to me that I could probably order the macaroons, which is precisely what I did (they arrived this morning). So I got over my disappointment, and we started packing up to go home. As I was walking the dogs to the car, my hands full of whatever else I could carry, a French woman approached me, speaking rapid fire. I said in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak French.”

She nodded and smiled, then backed away. I soon realized what she wanted. It was mid morning and the parking lot was already pretty full. She wanted our parking spot. I saw her lurking in the lot, just waiting for us to move. I always hate it when people do this, even though I understand why they do it. I wasn’t the one driving, and we weren’t quite ready to leave. She finally gave up at some point, after Bill had done a sweep of the Riesling gite, and came back to the car. By then, there were a couple more lurkers, just waiting…

It was probably a half hour later when we were on our way home, after a quick stop at the Daniel Stoffel Chocolatier outlet on the way out of town. Bill went in and picked up some goodies for us, and his daughter’s family.

Our drive home was almost totally uneventful. Arran went to sleep, and Noyzi was a perfect gentleman in the back. Maybe we have finally broken him of his habit of barking in the car. The only strange thing that happened was that, as usual, I witnessed public urination at a rest stop. I vented about that here. Below are a few shots from the drive home. As you can see, Arran was relaxed.

When we got home, our landlord came over to tell us our off kilter dishwasher, which had come off its foundation, wasn’t fixed yet, because the repair guy needed a part. Yesterday, he said the repair guy was sick, but would be able to fix the machine when he was well again. He said we should just be careful using the machine. When I told him we hadn’t been using it, because the dishwasher had given me an error code last time I ran a load, he said if the repair guy couldn’t figure it out, he’d just get us a new one. I am still stunned by how different he is, compared to our former landlady. They are like night and day!

I did the requisite load of laundry and a few other chores, then we got ready for the show in Frankfurt. We had to pick up our tickets at the box office, I guess to thwart scalpers. I pictured a long line of people, but when we arrived at the Jahrhunderthalle, we were pleasantly surprised by the ease of parking, the short distance to the venue, and the short line to get our tickets. Then we enjoyed some libations while we waited for the doors to open.

James Taylor had a stripped down band for this show. There was no keyboard player, and no opening act. We had second row seats, which was a first for me. I saw my first James Taylor concert in 1990. In fact, that show, when I was almost 18, was my very first “rock” show– if you could call it that. I remember I went with my parents and one of my sisters, and I paid $18.50 for nosebleed seats.

For this show, I paid 82,50 euros which I thought was very reasonable to see a guy who has won 6 Grammys and spent more than 50 years enchanting people all over the world with his wonderful guitar playing and angelic voice. While we waited for the show to start, I noticed the music that was playing. I recognized songs from albums by James’s daughter, Sally, as well as backup singers Kate Markowitz and Andrea Zonn. I downloaded Kate’s album from the concert hall. I already had Andrea’s.

This was the fourth time I’d seen James Taylor play, but there was a difference between this show and the others. For one thing, there weren’t drunken, idiot women standing in front of us, dancing and shrieking the whole time. There were no huge screens showing close ups of James and his band. And while he forgot a few words, he still played and sang beautifully. I was charmed by his efforts to speak German to the crowd, as well as the encouraging message he had for anyone “in recovery” from drug and alcohol addiction, as he has been since the mid 80s.

James told us some of the stories behind some of the songs he performed, including “That’s Why I’m Here”, from his 1985 album by the same name. I remember that he had dedicated that album to Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Imagine going to an A.A. meeting and seeing James Taylor there! But anyway, “That’s Why I’m Here” was a song he wrote in memory of his friend John Belushi, who died of an overdose in 1982. James was a pretty serious addict back in the day. He’s still addicted, of course, but no longer indulges. Before he started singing, he said, “If you like getting fucked up, that’s okay. I just can’t handle it myself anymore!” Everybody laughed.

At the beginning of the evening, I thought James looked a little pale, perhaps because he’d had COVID. But as the show went on, he was more and more animated, at times jumping around the stage. I enjoyed watching him interact with his band, most of whom had been with him for many years. Dorian Holley was the only one on stage I had not seen with James before. I suspect he’s the replacement for Arnold McCuller, James’s longtime backup singer who just retired from life on the road. I enjoyed Dorian’s singing. He has quite an impressive resume. James listed the people Holley’s sung with, which includes the late Michael Jackson. That actually surprised me, because he didn’t look old enough to be one of Jackson’s backup singers… but then, Michael was well known for enjoying and employing young performers for his shows.

James’s long time guitarist, Michael Landau, was well within view of us on the right side of the stage. He stood up and flexed his legs, I smiled at him, and he smiled back. That was kind of a cool moment. One thing I love about European concerts is that I seem to have a much easier time scoring good seats here. Another thing I love about European shows is that most people don’t act stupid at them… at least not at the shows Bill and I attend. And you can get a beer or a glass of wine without mortgaging your house.

At one point, James was introducing a song from his 1971 album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. A man in the audience held up a vinyl copy, which James immediately offered to sign and bite. The guy rushed up to the stage with his album and presented it to James, but then they needed to find a pen. Another guy came up and said he had something that had been signed by a bunch of famous singers, including Johnny Cash. He requested an autograph, which James was happy to oblige. In fact, at the break, I ran out to go to the restroom, and when I came back, James was still on stage, signing autographs and shaking hands. I was very impressed. I wondered if he needed to pee as badly as I did! It struck me as a very humble and generous gesture toward his loyal fans.

I decided not to try to get an autograph myself. I would be honored to have James’s signature, of course, but autographs don’t really mean that much to me. Earlier in the show, someone yelled out that his dad loved James. James made a comment reminiscent of what he said on his Live album from 1993. Basically, he reminded the guy that they don’t know each other. It made me think how strange it must be for performers to be “loved” by people who don’t know them. James himself reminded us that he is a deeply flawed person, as we all are… but what impresses me about James Taylor is that he’s clearly worked very hard to become much better. He’s clearly not the same person he was in the 70s or early 80s.

At the end of the show, of course there were encores… and James and his band encouraged people to get up and come close to the stage. It was one of the most intimate concert experiences I’ve ever had. I think the only one who topped that was James’s somewhat less famous brother, Livingston, who puts on a FABULOUS live show and is extremely approachable. I remember seeing Liv in 2003 at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, a couple of months after I saw James at Wolf Trap in Bristow, Virginia. James’s show was MUCH bigger than Liv’s was, and we had those drunk women in front of us, careening around sloppily as they slurred the lyrics of James’s best songs. I remember thinking Livingston’s show was so much better, if only because there weren’t any obnoxious drunks there. But Liv also engaged the audience and was thoroughly entertaining. This most recent show by James, while slightly pared down, was akin to Liv’s show, only it was in a much larger, yet still intimate, venue.

In any case, we obviously had a wonderful time! I’m so glad we went. It was the perfect ending to our 20th anniversary weekend. And yes, even though James will be 75 years old in March, he’s still a hell of a great performer. I think the money we spent on this show, even with its delays, was well worth euro cent.

Dorian and Kate dance!

Getting out of the Jahrhunderthalle was very easy. Bill was happy about that. But then we hit a Stau, so Bill went through Hofheim to get us home. And when we got home, we were confronted by a big mess caused by Arran. He got into the basement and raided our dry goods, and peed and pooped on my rug. Fortunately, he was no worse for wear. We have thoroughly dog proofed down there, as we’re going to someone’s house for Thanksgiving dinner today. Noyzi had nothing to do with the raid. He was tucked in bed when we got home. He’s very classy for a street dog.

Well, that about does it for this series. It wasn’t a super exciting trip, but we had a good time… and it was great to have Arran and Noyzi with us. I’m so grateful to be here on many levels, and for so many reasons. I’m glad James Taylor is still with us, too. And before I forget, below are a couple of clips from the show.

The magical ending.
Auf Wiedersehen…
Standard
camping, road trips, United States

A random travel memory from my youth…

Warning: this is kind of a horrifying story about a trip I took to the Eastern Shore when I was about ten years old. It was originally posted on the Blogspot version of my Overeducated Housewife blog. I would put it on my newer WordPress version of that blog, but when it comes down to it, this is a travel story… and this blog needs some love. So here’s my mortifying camping story from the 80s. It’s not for the faint of heart!

The featured photo is of a 1977 Volkswagen Westfalia camper van. My dad had one exactly like it back in the early 80s. In fact, this guy’s video below shows a van that looks very much like the one my dad had, right down to the green plaid upholstery. Wonder if it also smells like pancake syrup, like my dad’s van did… When the top wasn’t popped, I could swing on the bar used to push up the camper top as we cruised down the interstates. In those days, kids didn’t have to be strapped down.

Here goes…

Back in the early 80s, when I was about nine years old, I went with a friend to Annapolis, Maryland.  I stayed with her and her grandparents for about a week.  Then my parents picked me up and we drove back to Virginia by way of the Eastern Shore.  I seem to remember stopping in Chincoteague and Assateague, where there are wild ponies. 

Being a horse crazy kid, I was pretty excited about visiting there.  My dad was driving an ugly, bright orange, VW van with a popup top.  I remember spending the night in it at a campground in Maryland.  The next morning, my dad decided he wanted to go swimming in the pool.  I went with him.  Unbeknownst to us, the pool was closed, but for some reason, we were able to access it.

After a few minutes, my dad got out of the pool, but left me in the water.  Next thing I know, I hear this old man yell “Hey!  What’s that kid doing in the pool?!” 

I quickly got out.  He confronted me, asking what I was doing swimming.  I told him my dad had gone swimming and I was with him.  The guy said, “Oh, so your father can’t read either?  There’s no swimming when no one’s around!”  In retrospect, I realize that guy was unnecessarily mean to me, but at the time, I was really humiliated and upset.  I’m sure he yelled at me because he was worried about liability, but as a young girl, I didn’t know about such things.  He made me cry.

Mortified by the man’s sharp words, I ran back to the camper, where I refused to sit on a seat, lest someone see me.  My parents took me to breakfast at a Hardee’s.  Because it was late morning, I wanted a cheeseburger, but they weren’t serving them and my dad said, “This is one of those places where you have to order what they want to serve you at the time they want to serve it.”  

My parents hadn’t seen the guy yell at me, and when I told my dad about it, he kind of blew it off.  I stayed upset, though, because it was his fault I was in the water in the first place.  And hell, he hadn’t even gotten me out of the water when he decided to get out himself.  As an adult, I realize how stupid that was.  Nowadays, someone might have called CPS.  Fortunately, the only harm was my extreme embarrassment and shame.

Later that day, we went to Assateague and Chincoteague. I remember going to the beach at Assateague, marveling at how much less crowded it was than Virginia Beach usually is. We drove through the national park and picked up a book about the wild ponies, though I don’t remember if I actually saw any. I did have a friend in school who owned a Chincoteague pony and used to win a lot of awards with her in barrel racing. Then later, we visited a water slide… the very first one I had ever been on in my lifetime, at that point.

It was a pretty cool slide and I couldn’t wait to get on it.  As I was about to sit down, I slipped and went down backwards.  I was terrified, but apparently going down backwards impressed a bunch of people, including a cute teenaged boy who congratulated me for my “bravery”, even though I had only gone down backwards because I’d totally slipped and fallen.  The water slide fame made up for the scary encounter with the campground guy.

Over the years, I remembered that trip so fondly. Even the campground was kind of fun… at least before the guy yelled at me. I haven’t been able to visit Chincoteague or Assateague since then, but I always fantasized about going back, and maybe riding the slide again.

Don’t read any further if you’re squeamish…

Years later, I wondered about that water slide. Out of a sense of nostalgia, I went looking for evidence that it still existed. I finally found it when I read a story about the man who had owned the slide at a water park he and a friend had opened called “Wet & Wild”.

Turns out he was a sex offender named James Jenkins, and years after the water slide closed, he got caught molesting a 13 year old girl. That, in and of itself might be shocking, except for the fact that Jenkins was so upset about his uncontrollable urges to molest little girls that, in 2003, he decided to castrate himself with a razor while taking a shower in jail. He’d asked a guard for a razor so he could be clean shaven for court the next day. The guard had hesitated, but then gave him the razor. Jenkins put an apple in his mouth to muffle his screams and tied a shoelace around his scrotum as he removed his own testicles. Having cut them off, he then flushed them down a toilet in the jail.

Needless to say, I was shocked to read about that.  At the time that I found the news story, it was the only thing I could find that mentioned the 80s era water slide in Chincoteague that I remembered so well.  I don’t think the slide is still in existence.  I’ve looked for pictures or mentions of it.  I’m pretty positive that Jenkins’ slide was the one we visited because, at the time, it was the only slide in the area.  

So, on that trip to Chincoteague on the way home, not only did I get yelled at by a scary, mean old man at a campground, but I also visited a water slide owned by a pervert.  And not only was the guy a pervert, but he later actually took it upon himself to cut off his own balls with a razor and flush them down the toilet. The up side to this story is, Jenkins later said that castrating himself “saved him” from his obsessions.

And all those years, I thought it was the mean guy at the campground who was offensive.

I’m glad childhood is over.

Standard
friends, Mainz, restaurant reviews, wine

Meeting an old friend in Mainz…

In the spring of 1998, I was 25 years old and living with my parents in Gloucester, Virginia. Six months earlier, I had come home from a two year stint in the Republic of Armenia, where I had served as an English teacher with the Peace Corps. While I will never regret spending those years in Armenia, I came home with a pretty serious case of clinical depression. I was broke and having a hard time finding a job that would pay enough to get me launched out on my own. I also came home to some significant family issues, which made my living at home a burden to my parents.

I spent the first few months home working as a temp, mostly at the College of William & Mary in various capacities. In the spring of ’98, I found myself working in William & Mary’s admissions office. That was an eye-opening experience, but it didn’t pay enough and the work was incredibly tedious. My parents were eager to have me get out on my own and I was eager to leave. I didn’t get along with my dad, who had his own issues with depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcoholism. My mom was at her wits’ end trying to keep their business going, which they ran out of their house. Dad had gone to rehab the day after my return from Armenia. Dad’s rehab ultimately wasn’t successful. He and I fought a lot.

One day, after a terrible row with my dad, I marched myself over to The Trellis, at that time one of the best restaurants in Williamsburg, Virginia. It was then owned by renowned Chef Marcel Desaulniers, who has written many cookbooks and used to have cooking shows on PBS. His partner, John Curtis, owned several businesses in Williamsburg and had himself been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1960s. My mission was to get a job that would pay more so I could GTFO of my parents’ house and get on with my life.

My eldest sister had worked at The Trellis in 1980, when it first opened. She graduated from William & Mary in 1981 and had gone on to do bigger and better things, including joining the Peace Corps. She went to Morocco from 1984-86. I had followed in her footsteps, but unlike my big sister, I wasn’t finding success. Although I had never worked as a waitress before, all three of my sisters had waited tables. I figured if they could do it, so could I. I liked working with food and was giving some thought to going to culinary school. When I was in Armenia, I had done a number of food related projects and had even once been employed as a cook.

The Trellis had a reputation for being a great place to be if you wanted to make bank, but it was also an extremely demanding work environment. I had applied to work there once in 1994, but the manager passed. I worked in retail for a year, then went to Armenia. In 1998, I was determined to get a job at The Trellis. I was mostly motivated by my rage at my dad and the need to stop living in his house. That must have been the magic that was missing the first time I applied, because that time, I got hired. Or, it could have been that they simply needed warm bodies. In 1998 and throughout my time working at The Trellis, they were always hiring because they were chronically short staffed! A lot of people were hired, only to quit or be fired in short order.

I had a really hard time learning how to wait tables at The Trellis. Marcel Desaulniers had been a Marine and he ran his kitchen with military precision. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have experience waiting tables, though. In fact, the management preferred people who were brand new to waiting tables. That way, there weren’t any bad habits that had to be remedied. But it was difficult getting the hang of the job. I remember it took a few weeks before I was finally at ease with the job itself. And then I had to learn about the food!

The menu changed seasonally, and all of the wait staff had to demonstrate their knowledge. There were daily specials, which we had to recite from memory. We were tested on the menus and learned about wine and liquor. Everyone started working at lunch, which was fast paced and required a lot more work to make cash. As a waiter’s skills improved, he or she would be promoted to “Dinner Cafe”, which was even worse than working lunch. It was basically a hybrid menu that included certain lunch and dinner dishes and patrons were seated on the terrace or in the “cafe” area. The money was nominally better, but the work was just as hard. Finally, when menu tests were passed and table maintenance skills were high enough, the waiter would get dinner shifts and start making good money.

It was a lot to take in, and I felt like I was back in college. In those days, I was strictly a beer drinker and I knew nothing about wine, fine food, or liquor. I remember fumbling with the wine tool, trying to get accustomed to opening bottles of wine with style. I got yelled at all the time by the powers that be, which was hard on me. The job was physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. There were a few times when I felt like giving up and trying something else.

Even though I was crippled by depression and anxiety, I was determined to succeed. I just thought about how much I needed to have my own apartment and reminded myself that waiting tables is a very portable skill. After many weeks of hard work, I did eventually make it to a venerable dinner waiter position and even trained some people. But there were many meltdowns along the way… and at first, quite a few people thought I might be one of the many people who didn’t make it through the first week of training. I worked at The Trellis for about a year and a half before I left to go to graduate school.

One of the captains working at The Trellis in 1998 was a guy named CW. I was immediately impressed and inspired by him. He was hardworking, funny, and kind. However, he was also very detailed oriented and task directed. I liked and respected him immediately, especially when I learned that when he started at The Trellis, he took the bus all the way from Norfolk, Virginia to get to work. There were times he missed the last bus home. Still, he showed up to work every day on time and busted his ass to provide great service and make money. He was tough when he needed to be, yet compassionate. CW was a fine role model.

CW left The Trellis a few months after I started working there. I remember his farewell at line up one day. He announced that he was going to work at Kinkead’s, a legendary (and now defunct) restaurant in Washington, DC. I remember the kind send off he received from the restaurant’s more senior staffers. Years later, when I turned 30, Bill and I celebrated at Kinkead’s because I remember CW talking about it. He didn’t wait on us, but I remember that birthday dinner as one of the first of many great meals Bill and I have had together.

CW still works in DC, and has had the opportunity to work at a lot of great restaurants with some amazing chefs. He is now studying to become a wine expert, specifically in German wines. Last week, as part of his sommelier training, he came to the Rheingau to work at a winery. We had the opportunity to meet up in Mainz last night. Even though I hadn’t seen him since 1998, he was easy to spot and there wasn’t a moment of awkwardness all evening.

We had a lovely evening at a Weinstube called Weinhaus zum Spiegel. It’s a charming place in one of the many “alleys and alcoves” in Mainz, a city Bill and I are still getting to know. Over several glasses of wine and small plates, CW, Bill, and I talked for several hours. Here are a few photos from our evening. I do mean a “few” photos, because we were so focused on chatting that there wasn’t much time for picture taking.

Weinhaus zum Spiegel is in a super charming timbered building. I wish I had gotten a picture of it when the sun was still shining. We’ll have to go back to Mainz so I can get a proper photo of the historic looking edifice. I can’t say I was terribly impressed by the food, especially since I had originally wanted smoked trout and they were out of it. I did see a lot of people enjoying Federweisser (new wine) and Zwiebelkuchen (onion “cake”, which looks more like a tart). Although Zwiebelkuchen is a famous dish in southern Germany and popular this time of year, I still have yet to try it. I wish I’d had it last night, although I did like the Spundekäs.

Anyway, we weren’t really there for food as much as we were the company, and CW is excellent company. It was exciting to hear about his plans to break into the German wine industry. Who knows? He may soon join us over here… if we don’t end up having to move again. He has many tales of working in Washington, DC and dealing with some major high maintenance folks– politicians and their ilk– as well as some surprisingly down to earth celebrities.

We finally called it a night at about 10:30, when it was becoming clear that the Weinstube was winding down its service. As Bill and I made our way home, I was musing about how special the memories of working at The Trellis are to some of us. It was a place where I went through many different levels of hell. I remember “shitting Twinkies”, as CW once put it, on the terrace on beautiful spring and fall afternoons and major holidays. I lost a lot of weight working there, and also found myself in therapy and on medication to finally deal with the depression and anxiety that had hindered me for so long. I made enough money to get health insurance, and gathered the resolve to seek the help I desperately needed. I socked away money for the day when I would finally move out on my own. Finally, when I was ready, I launched into graduate school, which led to this “overeducated housewife” lifestyle I currently enjoy.

I only worked at The Trellis for about 18 months, and much of the actual job was hell, but I left there with so many friends I can still count on today, even twenty years after my last shift. We’re all scattered around the world now, but we have the camaraderie of that common experience binding us and, through the magic of Facebook, can stay in touch. And, just like CW, when it was time to leave, I got a warm send off, complete with a signed cookbook from Marcel, and a song from the resident harp guitarist, Stephen Bennett, whose music got me through so many horrific Saturday night dinner shifts. I learned about good food, fine wines, table maintenance, hard work, and even great music. Not only did I discover Stephen Bennett at The Trellis, I also made enough money to invest in voice lessons for myself! And, as difficult as it all was, working at the Trellis absolutely changed my life for the better. In fact, working there might have even saved my life, given my mental state at the time. 😉

The Trellis still exists in Williamsburg, but it now has different owners and is no longer a fine dining establishment. I haven’t been there to try its new incarnation. I’m not sure I could bear it. I think I’d rather remember it the way it was back in the day.

Cheers to all of my former Trellis colleagues who once shat Twinkies in the weeds with me! And cheers to CW as he continues his path to bigger and better things! I have a feeling our paths could cross again on this side of the Atlantic.

Standard
Virginia

Natural Bridge and Lexington circa 1957

As seen on my main blog…  Sorry for the rerun, but this blog is read by different people than the main blog is.

A very interesting film made in 1957 about my family’s American home… Special thanks to my friend, Joann, for posting this fascinating video about Natural Bridge and Lexington, Virginia.  

 

I have mentioned before that I come from Virginia. My family has been in Virginia since the early 1700s.  The earliest relative I’ve found in Virginia was a man named Johann Tolley, who came to Virginia from Hamburg, Germany.

Johann Tolley evidently fathered the people in my family who eventually settled in Rockbridge County.  Rockbridge County is kind of in the west central part of the state, in the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.  Although I have been visiting Natural Bridge and its environs my whole life, I did not grow up there myself.  I was born and mostly raised not far from Williamsburg and Jamestown, Virginia, clear across the state.

Because my dad was an Air Force officer, the family he made with my mother was nomadic.  My parents spent the first 24 years of their marriage moving to different towns, mostly in the southern United States, but occasionally in other countries.  I was born during their fourteenth year of marriage, so I missed a lot of the moves and didn’t have any sense until the bitter end of my dad’s military career.

The one place that has always been a constant in my life has been Natural Bridge.  I’m pretty sure my family has lived in the same creekside house since at least the 1940s.  I’m not sure what’s going to happen when my aunt and uncle pass on.  I hope someone in the family will keep the house.  It’s a special place that is mostly full of wonderful memories.

Granny’s house… where my dad grew up.  There is a creek that runs in front of the house and another one that runs perpendicular to it on the left.

Down by the creek…

After a rare November snow in 2014… when I last visited.

Another shot up the hill.  I pray this house never leaves our family.  The street it’s on was named after my grandfather.

My family as of 2014.  Sadly, a couple of the people in the photo are no longer with us.  I think we’re missing about twenty people, too.  The Mormons have nothing on us.

 

The family church, High Bridge Presbyterian.  This is where we held my dad’s memorial service.

 

Many of my relatives are buried here, including my dad, who was moved about two years after he was initially buried at Granny’s house.

 

Goshen Pass, which is very close to Lexington and where Bill and I honeymooned…  It’s also kind of where we fell in love, the weekend before 9/11.  That’s another story, though.

My friend, Joann, who originally posted the above video, lives in Lexington, Virginia.  Lexington is about ten miles from Natural Bridge.  It has sort of a special place in my heart because not only is a super cute town, it’s also where many of my family members went to college or worked. It’s also where Bill and I got married in 2002.  Before the area was taken over by transplants from up north and out west, it was mostly settled by Scots-Irish Presbyterians.  According to 23 and Me, that is surely enough the lion’s share of my genetic makeup.  I was raised Presbyterian, too.

The video is interesting viewing for me, since my parents who are/were both from that area got married the year it was made.  Mom was 19 and Dad was 24.  They had lived in Rockbridge County their whole lives.  My dad finished his degree at Virginia Military Institute in 1956 and immediately became an Air Force officer.  The following year, he married my mom and they left the area for good, only to come back for visits.  My dad is now buried in the graveyard at the family church.  Originally,  he was buried on a hillside at the house where he grew up with his eight brothers and sisters, but my mom had him moved.  I guess she realized that house might not always be in family hands.

Another reason why that video is interesting is because it basically reflects the ethos of the 1950s.  The story is told from the Natural Bridge’s viewpoint.  It explains how the area used to be populated by “red men”, also known as Native Americans.  The Bridge explains that it tried to explain to the natives that it was created by God.  Alas, they worshiped the Bridge as a Pagan God, even though the Bridge tried to explain that it was the Christian God who created it.  The Bridge sounds almost grateful as it explains that white Christian settlers eventually moved into the area in 1737.  The white Christians “got it right’.  (I’m being facetious, here.)

Based on the video, a lot of great people came from Rockbridge County.  Even Sam Houston, who eventually went on to be the namesake of Houston, Texas, was born in Rockbridge County.  I never knew that.  It’s actually pretty interesting, given the impact Sam Houston had in Texas.  In fact, reading about Sam Houston is uniquely fascinating, given his family history in Scotland and Ireland.  I was just in Northern Ireland a few months ago and we stopped in Larne.  There is a plaque there commemorating the history of the Houston family before they moved to Virginia.

Sam Houston also moved on the Maryville, Tennesee when he was fourteen years old.  I have not been to Maryville, but I do have a couple of friends who attended Maryville College and one who moved back to the town after she retired from teaching at my alma mater, Longwood University.  I also lived in Texas for a year… and Bill spent several years there and graduated high school in Houston.  I’m amazed at how all of these places are interconnected with Rockbridge County, which even today is still pretty rural.  Although a lot of new people have moved there, there is still a core of people descended from the original settlers.

I’m not sure why, but somehow when I was growing up, I never realized or appreciated the deep connection my family has to Virginia, especially Rockbridge County.  I think it’s because I was a military brat, even though I spent most of my growing up years in Gloucester County.  Gloucester is another one of those places where people settled and stayed, much like Rockbridge County is.

There were several last names there that would always come up at roll call in school.  A lot of them were the children of people from England who had stayed after the Revolutionary War, which was won in nearby Yorktown.  In the early 80s, Gloucester was still so rural that people who moved there were “come heres” and never really got the sense of community that the locals had.  My parents owned at house in Gloucester for about 30 years, but it still doesn’t seem like home, even though it’s probably the one place in the world where I feel sure I could get help immediately if I ever needed it.  I still have a lot of friends who live there.

I didn’t appreciate Virginia when I was younger.  I used to fantasize about moving somewhere else, where the people and the scenery were different.  Now, as much as I like Germany, I’m starting to think about going “home” to Virginia.  Maybe I would only go there to visit, though… I’m not sure if I want to die in my home state or even if circumstances will allow it.

Standard
Uncategorized

Our big Virginia trip, part four– Friday night!

In my family, we traditionally have a “barn party” on Friday after Thanksgiving.  Over the years, the party has been held in a variety of different places.  When I was a kid, the barn on my Uncle Brownlee’s property was owned by someone else, so we had to rent somewhere for our party.  Some years, we had it at the Natural Bridge Hotel, either in a room in the basement or in a reception hall.

In 1987, we had an all out par-tay in one of the big ballrooms.  It was complete with an open bar and a full band featuring my Uncle Brownlee and his brother, Stephen.  There was much drunkenness, especially from yours truly.  I was 15 years old and one of my cousins, who shall remain nameless, was passing me bourbon and Cokes.  I drank four and got good and hammered.  That was the first time in my life I ever got drunk, and boy was I a mess.  Fortunately, my Aunt Nance filmed the whole thing for posterity…  LOL.  I made myself scarce during the drunk part, thank GOD.  I still like to watch that video, though, because that was a wild party and there are people in it who are no longer with us.

In later years, we had the party at the Fire Station in Natural Bridge, which wasn’t too long on character.  There were lots of stories told, though no dancing or music.  One year, we had karaoke in the barn.  And finally in recent years, we started having the whole celebration in the barn, which my handy and talented Uncle Brownlee has fixed up for dancing and music.  The last few years, we’ve even had live bluegrass music from The Plank Road Express.  In 2010, during our last visit for Thanksgiving, I got to sing a number with the band, which was a lot of fun for me.  In a former life, I think I was a rock star.

I had a feeling we were going to be a bit emotional after my dad’s memorial, so I arranged a date night for Bill and me.  We had dinner at The Southern Inn in Lexington, Virginia.  We ate there once or twice before and there are other restaurants in Lexington.  I will admit that part of the reason I chose that place is because they participate in OpenTable, which is a restaurant reservation service.  I get points every time I make a reservation and have been collecting for over ten years.  But if I don’t reserve a table at least once a year, the points expire.  Since I don’t know when we’ll be back in the States, I figured it was a good opportunity to keep current.  And I wanted to enjoy a nice dinner with my spouse, too.

So we stayed dressed up for dinner, though we really didn’t have to.  The Southern Inn is a fairly casual place and it’s obvious that it’s popular with locals.  Our waitress was very experienced and clearly knew a lot of the people at the surrounding tables.  We enjoyed a very nice meal, too.  I started with baked Brie and a glass of prosecco.  Bill had a bowl of Andouille sausage soup.  I had sea scallops and parmesan grits for my entree.  Bill had a huge steak.  For dessert, I had a Brandy Alexander, while Bill had pecan pie.

Bill reacting to something smartassed I said.

Vino!

Baked Brie… it was a little like a grilled cheese sandwich on steroids.

Bill’s yummy soup!

Scallops, grits, and greens!

Beef!

Brandy Alexander… 

Pecan pie… this was good, but my brother-in-law, Mark, makes an even better one.

We got back to the home place just in time for a spectacular fireworks show put on by one of my cousins.  I wish we’d gotten there a little earlier so I could have gotten more than a few shots.  I was pretty impressed by how professional the show was!

Fireworks!

Then we went to the barn for dancing and more singing… and yes, I did get to sing with The Plank Road Express again.  It was funny, too, because the lead singer spotted me and said, “I’ve been looking for you for four years!  Where have you been?”  I sang “Walking After Midnight” and fumbled with the words a bit… but probably the most special moment of the night came when I saw the words for “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” on her music stand.

You see, I really would have liked to have sung “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” at my dad’s memorial.  That would have been my choice for a solo.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have anyone to accompany me.  I did record an acapella version, but it’s not as good as it would be if I had someone on guitar or something.

The Plank Road Express in the barn…

Anyway, I asked the band if they would mind if I gave “On Heaven’s Bright Shore” a whirl.  They asked if I could sing it in “C”.  I said, “Just play it.  I’m drunk and so is most everyone else in here!”  It turned out pretty well!

I thanked the band for obliging me and explained that I had come all the way from Germany for my dad’s memorial.  The lead singer said, “Oh, so that was your dad who died?  I sang ‘On Heaven’s Bright Shore’ for my dad, too.”  I got the sense that we bonded a little over that song!

Another highlight of Friday night was my Uncle Ed, who is just hilarious.  He said, “Hey Jenny, we have some ‘moon’ here…”  “Moon”, for your edification, refers to moonshine.  Yes, many people in my family enjoy it as well as the odd Miller Lite beer.  My tastebuds have evolved beyond Lite, but I don’t mind if I do enjoy a little “moon” when the opportunity presents itself.  It was good stuff, too– pretty smooth and I haven’t gone blind…

We didn’t get back to the Hummingbird Inn until after 1:00am.  We would have been there sooner, except I left my bag at the house and had to go back and retrieve it.  On the way into the house, I skinned the hell out of my knee.  That may have been yet another sign from my dad.  Many years ago, when I was a kid and we were celebrating Thanksgiving with the family, my dad decided to go jogging.  Possibly in a pre-menstrual moment, I said “I hope you fall and skin your knee.”  My cousin, Suzanne, thought that was the funniest thing and reminded me of it this year.  So maybe it was a little karmic payback.  Despite my smarting knee, I had a great time!

Standard
Uncategorized

Our big Virginia trip, part three– My Dad’s memorial…

Friday was an emotional day.  We buried my dad’s ashes on the hillside overlooking the house he grew up in.  Jason Grimes, the minister from High Bridge Presbyterian Church came and had a little service for us.  I was heartened to hear that he’s from South Carolina, which has a special place in my heart.  Go Gamecocks!

 

My dad grew up going to this church and became a member when he was ten years old.  It’s still the “family church”, as it were.

My Uncle Brownlee made the box for my dad’s ashes…  I thought the VMI ball cap was a nice touch.

A few hours later, we had a celebration of his life at the church itself.  Since I was asked to sing, I was a little nervous.  My dad and I have always had a complicated history.  Our musical history together is no less complicated than anything else about our relationship ever was.  My dad was a singer and used to do a lot of solos in church.  When I was very young, I’d plug my ears with my fingers when he’d get up to sing.  I usually got in trouble later for doing that.  As time went on, I became more tolerant, though I can’t say I was ever a great fan of his singing.  I feel comfortable in saying this openly because it’s common knowledge, most of all to my dad.  Anyway, I had visions of him sitting up in Heaven with his fingers in his ears.

I sang “Softly and Tenderly”, which is a hymn I discovered while heavily into karaoke.  Indeed, I used a karaoke track to accompany myself, since it was the easiest thing to do from thousands of miles away.  The version I used is on the soundtrack for the movie, The Apostle, although curiously enough, on the soundtrack it’s an instrumental.  A vocal version by Rebecca Lynn Howard is also on the soundtrack, but it’s different than the one I did.  No matter, though, since I actually prefer the instrumental version.  If you’re curious…

I recorded this a few days after my dad died in July.

So anyway, because I was singing, we had to get to the church early.  It was bitterly cold outside, but otherwise a clear, sunny day.  I had changed from more weather appropriate attire to a dress and a bright blue piano shawl we bought in Spain last January.  Actually, only my feet got really cold.  I had strappy, sparkly sandals with no hose.  But they looked prettier and were more comfortable than the black pumps I have, which make me walk like an old lady.

We had rehearsed the song two days prior and got the sound system all set up.  I was able to sing it from memory then and it sounded good, though one never knows how things will turn out when there are people in attendance.  Of course, as we left the church, a big wad of snow fell off the church roof and I got the feeling it was my dad throwing a snowball at me.  That’s the kind of thing he would have done.  I kind of knew it was going to be alright after that.  Sure enough, it was.  I stepped up to the mic, my nerves alive and buzzing.  At first, my voice came out a bit tremulous because I was nervous and emotional, but then I relaxed a bit and it turned out very nicely.  I think my dad was probably pleased.

My cousin, Karen, also performed.  She sang “Psalm 23”, accompanying herself on her guitar.  I wish I could play guitar, especially as well as she does.  There was also supposed to be a rendition of “Amazing Grace”, but apparently none of the musicians in the house got the message.  The pastor joked “The Lord wills otherwise.” when no one answered the call to perform that standard during the service.

My hilarious Uncle Carl introduced sort of an “open mic” for anyone and everyone who wanted to talk about my dad.  Carl was followed by my Uncle Ed, who needed no mic to tell us a hilarious story about growing up with my dad.  Several other people came up to speak, including Zeke Finney, a fellow VMI grad and choir member at the church I grew up in.  His wife used to occupy me during church services because my mom was always playing the organ and my dad was always in the choir.  My sisters were, by then, mostly out of the house.  Two of my sisters spoke.  One recited a poem she wrote.  Another simply stole the show with heartfelt and funny comments about our dad.  I got to see Sue, my lone cousin on my mom’s side.  She lives nearby.  Last time I saw her was at my wedding in November 2002.  She looked good– and tiny, like my sister Becky.

After the service, there was a reception and I got to meet more of my dad’s friends.  Another sister presented a very moving video about my dad’s life.  There were a lot of photos in the movie that I’d never seen before and a few that I contributed.  I would have added a few more, but all my pictures are in storage in Texas.

At the end of the video, we got our rendition of “Amazing Grace”… it came from my dad himself.  My sister found a recording of him performing it.  It had been years since I had last heard his singing voice.  I resisted the urge to put my fingers in my ears and am a better person for it.  Some things never change.  In all seriousness, it was very fitting that we had a recording of him singing.  Music was one of my dad’s true passions.  I think he passed that passion on to me.

Bill takes in the view from the hillside where my dad is now at rest.

My Georgia cousins…

The whole family… minus about 20 or so.

A rare shot with my sisters.  They look great… I probably need to lay off the German beer.  But at least I have a pretty smile on my face!

Standard
Virginia

Our big trip to Virginia, part one– Hummingbird Inn review

I have already written about our air travel from Germany to Washington, DC and our one night stay at Embassy Suites near Dulles Airport.  Now for the rest of the story…

Bill and I opted to stay at the Hummingbird Inn in Goshen, Virginia.  This bed and breakfast is located near Goshen Pass, which has a very special place in our hearts.  I think it’s kind of where we fell in love.

The Hummingbird Inn right after a rare November snow…

Backstory… skip this if all you want to read about is our experience this year… 

My first memory of Goshen Pass was from childhood, when my family had a big birthday party there in June of 1978.  For years, I thought the party was for my benefit, but actually it was for a few family members.  My beloved Uncle Brownlee’s birthday is the day after mine, and there are also many other June birthdays to celebrate among cousins.  Anyway, that year, I turned six and we had just come back to Virginia from Mildenhall Air Force Base in England.  It was the first exposure to my enormous family that I can remember, though I’m sure there were other gatherings before our three years in England.

Goshen Pass

Many years later, Bill and I had one of our first dates at Goshen Pass.  The year was 2001 and the month was September.  Bill had just moved from Leavenworth, Kansas to Alexandria, Virginia.  He was working at the Pentagon.  I was in graduate school at the University of South Carolina.  We came up to see my Granny, then 95 years old, for Labor Day weekend.  It was Bill’s first exposure to my family and, fortunately, he fit right in.  Uncle Brownlee was cooking eggs in his underwear and asked Bill if he wanted one.  He added in his hilarious southern twang, “I mean it.  I’ll knock a hole in one for ya!”

We didn’t swim this time, but it sure is pretty…

The weather on that Saturday before Labor Day was absolutely gorgeous.  I told Bill I wanted to go to Goshen and see it again, even though it had been many years since my last visit.  He agreed, so we went, parked on the side of the road, and enjoyed a positively awesome day swimming in the Maury River.

The rest of that weekend was equally amazing.  It culminated when Granny, the family matriarch, told me that she liked Bill.  She said I should marry him, adding that she wished my cousin Suzanne would find a guy as nice as Bill, too.

A week later, Bill was in the Pentagon working.  It was 9/11 and his office was in the area that was hit by the jet airliner.  I didn’t know if he was alive or dead all day.  At that time, we were still calling ourselves friends, but it was pretty obvious to everyone that we were beyond friendship.  When he later came on the computer to tell me he’d survived, I told him it was probably time we went more public with our relationship.  He agreed.  A few months later, we were engaged and the following year, we got married.  It’s been all good since then.

Bill’s mother, Parker, booked us two nights at the Hummingbird Inn for our honeymoon.  At that time, the inn was run by the Robinsons.  I don’t remember if the husband half of the couple was British, but I do remember the wife was.  She was an amazing cook.  We stayed in the Teter Wood room, which was on the first floor and had its own private entrance.  I left the inn vowing to learn how to make a cheese souffle, which I did.

Now we’re in the year 2014…

So this year, after considering all of the hotel properties in the Lexington/Rockbridge County area, I decided we should go back to the Hummingbird Inn.  I chose the inn because it was priced fairly reasonably compared to the two star motels in Lexington.  Also, we just celebrated our 12th anniversary.  I booked on Expedia.com for four nights, paying about $600 or so.  This time, Bill and I stayed in the Robinson room, which was named after Jeremy and Diana Robinson,  the very same couple who owned the inn when we stayed there in 2002.  Apparently, they were the ones who got the Hummingbird Inn back in business.  Our room was where they lived and it was sort of interesting, because it had its own little foyer area.

The bedroom

 

The sheets on our bed came from Comphy, which is a company that makes sheets for hotels and spas.  They are super soft!  Bill and I were both raving about them.  Those who like the sheets can arrange to order them through the Hummingbird Inn.  I probably would have ordered a set myself if I hadn’t just bought new sheets that I love.

Foyer

Bathroom.  Has a shower only.

Foyer going the other way.  

Bill settling in…

The Hummingbird Inn is now owned and operated by Dan and Patty Harrison, a couple of California transplants who have enjoyed quite a variety of different life experiences together.  I really enjoyed getting to know the Harrisons, who are very personable and hospitable.  They scored extra points with me for leaving chocolate in strategic locations around the house.  We also appreciated the free WiFi, though it’s a bit on the slow side.  Given how remote Goshen is and how big the house is, that’s not a surprise.  A “public” computer with Internet access is available to those who didn’t bring their own.  There are also books, board games, puzzles, and movies aplenty to occupy your attention should you not find anything to do nearby.

My sister, Becky, joined us for three nights.  She and her cat, Oliver, stayed in the Teter Wood room, our “honeymoon” suite from 2002.

Goshen is not all that close to our family festivities– it’s about 30 miles as the crow flies from Goshen to Natural Bridge, Virginia, which is where our “homeplace” is.  But the drive there on route 39 is simply gorgeous.  There are plenty of places to pull off and take photos if you are so inclined.  If you’d rather not take a winding road, you can get to Goshen via Interstate 64, which is about ten miles from the inn.

It was snowing as we drove in, which created some magical scenery…

Breakfast is served every day at 9:00 and we found it to be substantial and quite tasty.  Each day, we had a fruit starter, then an egg dish with a meat side and potatoes.  One day, it was quiche.  Another, it was a delicious fritata.  Another day, we had a bacon and feta cheese casserole.  We missed breakfast one morning because we had to leave before 9:00.

Those who need something before 9:00 can help themselves to fresh baked pastries, coffee, and tea.  To be very honest, I wasn’t too wild about the coffee at the inn, though I was glad to see they had real half & half available.   The coffee offered at breakfast was a little too weak for me, though there is a Keurig available during the rest of the day. The tea was good, though, and made a sufficient substitute.  I also really liked the orange juice we were served.

I didn’t get a chance to walk around the inn to see the creek that runs in the back, but I did hear it.  I also heard trains.  There are lots of them and they run right in front of the house.  They didn’t bother us while we were there this time, but I did notice them during our first stay.  Maybe it’s because we were newlyweds!

Bill and I enjoyed hanging out with the other guests in attendance, too.  We met a very nice couple from the DC area… well, they weren’t really from there.  They live there because the husband is a retired colonel taking advantage of his years in the military in the form of a decent job.  Bill talked shop with the male half, while the female half and I compared notes on being retired Army wives.  It was a lot of fun!

We also met a gentleman who came up from Georgia to see his family.  He said there were over twenty of them in attendance, but his eyebrows raised when I said we have over 80 at ours!  Turns out he lives in the same area as a number of my relatives do, too.

We had a great stay at the Hummingbird Inn, a place that seems to be very popular with hunters.  There were a couple staying there during our weekend there and I remember one or two during our first stay in 2002.  I’m not sure when we’ll get back to Rockbridge County, but to anyone else heading there, I’d recommend a stay with Patty and Dan Harrison at the Hummingbird Inn.  It’s a great place to go if you need to unplug.

Standard
Uncategorized

A mostly effortless trip across the pond…

Bill and I arrived at Dulles airport on Tuesday night at about 5:00pm.  We were pretty tired.  Our day got started very early Tuesday morning in Germany.  Traffic getting to the airport in Stuttgart was pretty heavy and we moved at a snail’s pace on A81.  To make matters worse, my bladder decided to kick in about halfway through the trip, making me need to pee something fierce by the time we parked and hiked to the terminal.

I decided to pee after we checked in, which was probably a mistake.  The automated check in process for us via Air France’s kiosks didn’t go so smoothly.  I answered a security question “wrong”, so we had to have an agent issue us tickets.  The guy standing in line ahead of us had overweight baggage that he thought he’d already paid for, so that slowed us down a bit…  Meanwhile, my bladder was becoming more and more demanding and urgent for relief.

Once we were checked in and I paid a visit to the ladies room, we went through security.  An unsmiling guard was barking orders at me in German.  After removing all the non essential clothes and electronics, I paused to wait for an adorable little toddler whose mother was beckoning her to walk through the metal detector.  It was a pretty cute moment as the girl was more interested in watching everybody else.

My shoes had metal staples in them.  My bra also had metal hooks, which meant I had to be very thoroughly wanded by a rather ripe smelling lady who seemed very practiced in the art of frisking.  Once we got through security, we waited for our flight to Paris, which would deposit us in an even less user friendly airport.  I was kind of impressed by the weird modern art looking furniture in the terminal that looked very well used.  I remember spending a hellish 12 hours in CDG back in 1995 before I moved to Armenia for two years.  It does look like they’ve done some work to make the airport a little less unpleasant.  Still, I wish I’d been able to get WiFi.  They apparently offer it at CDG, but I never could get it to work or even charge my electronics.

The flight to Paris was quick and relatively painless.  The Paris hop planes have 2×2 seating.  Bill and I each had an aisle seat on the same row.  Fortunately, we had nice people sitting next to us and a gentle landing.  I know a lot of people take the train to Paris, but I have to admit the quick flight there is amazing.  I like Air France, too.  Of course, the woman sitting in front of me was the only one on the entire plane who felt the need to recline.  I thought it was funny that I had a recliner in front of me on a one hour flight, but the guy who sat in front of me to Washington, DC didn’t recline at all!

I was hoping to grab a quick lunch at the airport in Paris, but unfortunately, there weren’t really any restaurants in the terminal where we got our flight.  Bill bought me a Coke and a chocolate croissant. Ordinarily, that would have been okay, but I was needing protein in a big way.  Bought myself a Snickers bar and silently vowed to bring a bag of nuts with me on my next long haul flight.

The flight to Washington was long, but basically quite pleasant.  I was very impressed by Air France; in fact, I think I liked them better than Lufthansa, which we flew to Germany in August.  The seats were, I thought, pretty generous even for a stout girl like me.  The flight attendants were very professional and pleasant.  In fact, one guy seemed especially solicitous.  After a champagne apertif, he brought out our meals.  We had a choice of parmesan risotto or chicken with sherry sauce.  I chose the risotto because I thought it might not have evil mushrooms in it.  Bill asked for chicken.  At first, the flight attendant said they were out of the chicken, but then he found one and brought it to Bill.  Good thing, too, because the risotto did have mushrooms.  Bill kindly gave me his chicken, which was actually edible and even tasted pretty good!  The flight attendant asked me what I wanted to drink I showed him that I had syrah.  He asked, with a big smile with a delightful French accent, “Is it enough?  Would you like more?”  I giggled and he brought me another, different type of wine!

I don’t enjoy transatlantic flights at all, but that one goes down as one of the better ones.  Hopefully, the flights back to Germany will be decent, too.  I am definitely sold on European carriers over American ones.

Anyway, we are now in Goshen, Virginia… and yes, we did get caught in the storm yesterday, which made driving down here challenging.  But we were rewarded with this…

Goshen is sooo beautiful!

I will be writing reviews of our lodging and more trip details as they evolve.

Standard
Uncategorized

Our Virginia trip is all booked…

We will be leaving on Tuesday, November 25th, spending a night at the Embassy Suites in Herndon, Virginia, right near Dulles Airport, and then renting a car and driving to Rockbridge County.  I had some trouble picking our lodging for the Rockbridge part of our trip.  For many years, my family stayed at the Natural Bridge Hotel.  My uncle used to run it and we got insanely cheap rates.  In the years that he ran the hotel, it was in fairly decent shape, even if it was also a bit dated.  In the years after he left, the hotel sort of fell into disrepair.

The last time I stayed at the Natural Bridge Hotel was in July 2007, when my 100 year old grandmother died.  I booked a room there because it was pet friendly.  Bill was deployed to Iraq at the time and I didn’t have the time or money to arrange to board the dogs.  I ended up having a fairly miserable stay, mainly because the hotel was sort of in disrepair and the family dynamics were kind of weird.  Anyway, after an uncomfortable night, I ended up leaving early in the morning on the day after Granny’s funeral and vowed that would be my last stay there.  Although now that it looks like the hotel is in better hands, I might reconsider.  The Natural Bridge is about to be turned into a state park anyway.

Since the Natural Bridge Hotel is pretty much the only game in town in the Natural Bridge area, besides a really disgusting motel and a campground, I looked at getting a room in Lexington.  But Lexington’s offerings kind of suck, too.  I mean, there are plenty of two star motels and there’s a Hampton Inn, which is a bit overpriced.  They just reopened the Robert E. Lee Hotel, which is right in downtown Lexington, but that was going for about $200 a night.

Ultimately, I decided to book us at The Hummingbird Inn in Goshen.  The Hummingbird Inn has the distinction of being the very first place Bill and I stayed as husband and wife.  Bill’s mom paid for us to have two nights there post nuptials.  At the time, the Inn was run by a British couple… or maybe they were half British.  I know the wife was from England and she was an excellent cook.  A few months after our stay, they sold the inn to the people who own it now.  As our anniversary is also in November, it seems kind of fitting that we’d stay there for Thanksgiving.  It’s not as close to the festivities as Lexington is, but at least it will provide us a good way to stay away from the drama.

The Hummingbird Inn is a beautiful old house next to train tracks.  It is liable to get noisy.  But it’s also right next to a rambling creek.  Goshen is kind of a special place for Bill and me, anyway.  We went there during Labor Day weekend in 2001, the week before 9/11.  At the time, I was in grad school and Bill had just started a job at the Pentagon.  It was kind of our second in person date…  remember, we met online.  Our first in person date was in Columbia, South Carolina, which is where I was in school and Bill was doing TDY.

Goshen Pass is a really beautiful gorge and I had fond memories of visiting there as a child.  I suggested to Bill that we visit and go swimming.  We proceeded to have an amazing day enjoying a very natural swimming hole with insanely gorgeous scenery.  We had no idea that the world would change the following week.  We had no clue that Bill would actually be in the Pentagon on 9/11 and see up close and personal what terrorism looks like.

So since we’re celebrating 12 years in November, and we got married in Lexington and honeymooned in Goshen, it seems right to go to Goshen for Thanksgiving, even though it’s not so close to Granny’s house.  I think we will be pleased with our choice… and at least we’ll get a good breakfast out of the deal.  I hope we have decent weather so I can take some photos.  In the meantime, do yourself a favor and Google Goshen Pass.  It’s a very pretty place.

Meanwhile, we may also go somewhere in Europe to actually celebrate our anniversary, too…

Standard
anecdotes

Just bought tickets to DC…

Not that I really want to go back to the States, but I am expected to put in an appearance at my dad’s memorial over the Thanksgiving holiday…  It’s been four years since we last had Thanksgiving with my family and we’re overdue, I guess.

I used to really love Thanksgiving with my big, southern, fun loving family.  Now that I’m older, I think I like our quieter, less involved celebrations more.  And really, going back to the States from Germany is a pain, especially since this will be the fourth transatlantic trip we’ve done this year.

Some folks on Stuttgart Friends turned me on to ABC Travel Service, a German travel agency that offers discounted flights to American military and government employees.  I ended up scoring two round trip tickets from Stuttgart to Washington, DC by way of Paris for $1436.  Unfortunately, we ended up with a really long layover in Paris on the way back.  If we can’t get that flight changed (it’s only about an hour), I guess we’ll just go into the city for a long lunch and some shopping.

Of course, I will probably not be in the best of moods when we land. I don’t sleep on planes and I imagine I’ll be tired, cranky, and emotional.  But there are worse places to be stuck.  As long as we can get out of the airport, it’ll probably be okay.

We could also take a train or drive back to Stuttgart, but I don’t know how many bags we’ll have.  I doubt we’ll want to drive and deal with Paris traffic or crowded trains.

So far, I’m kind of impressed by ABC Travel Service.  I made the reservations yesterday evening and within an hour, they came back to me asking for a proper billing address (their Web site only offered one for home addresses).  I got back to them and within another hour, we were confirmed.

I expect to have a full review of the travel service and the airline once this is all done.  I’m thinking we’ll be on Air France, but I won’t be surprised if we end up on a code share flight, too.

I will be glad to be done with this trip home, so I can focus on European travel!

Standard