Archive for the ‘Week-end Trips From Eastern Shore VA’ Category

Our Unusual Eastern Shore Thanksgiving Day 2012

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

With 5 kids,  spouses, “significant others”,  5 grandchildren,  a new great-grandchild, 2 huge bronze Newfoundland dogs  plus a partridge in a pear tree, Thanksgiving Day at our house here on the scenic Eastern Shore of Virginia is usually  a busy, noisy day of cooking, eating, talking.  This year was no different except that we didn’t do it on The Day.  Instead, we all got together for  Thanksgiving Day dinner on Thanksgiving eve.  First time ever,  but  the advantages turned out to be  numerous.  For those who also wanted to spend some time at the  in-laws house, the opportunity was there.  And for moi, it enabled us to not only enjoy time with the entire family but also to be able to make reservations to attend the very elegant Thanksgiving buffet at the The Lodge in Williamsburg. Talk about having  my cake and eating  it too !

In the South, preparations get underway several days before the day itself because special efforts have to be made to round up just the right ingredients.  For example, no traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Virginia is ever complete without a big mess  of  either turnip  or collard greens.  And not just  any old greens, only those tender and fresh- picked need apply.  And on  Virginia’s Eastern Shore, it is a time-honored  tradition to serve a creamy oyster stew, steaming hot, fragrant with plump, briny local oysters, preferably from our Seaside,  topped with pungent flakes of  chopped fresh parsley.  The sweet potatoes should be Haymans, a super-sweet white variety,  indigenous to the Shore.  Ham can be either country ham or fresh smoked but it must be served sliced very thin and, at our house,  ham has to be studded with whole cloves before baking and finished with a crackling sugar glaze at the very end.  Corn pudding,  a lusciously rich  mac and cheese as well as  fried apples rendolent  with  cinnamon and nutmeg are among the compulsory  side dishes.  If one is serving turkey instead of ham, then a stuffing made with chopped pecans and crumbled sausage must be added to the onion and celery mixture  and fluffy mashed potatoes are added to the “must-have” accompaniments.   Hot yeasty dinner rolls round out the edges.  The  fabulous homemade potato dinner rolls from Kate’s  Kupboard Bakery in Belle Haven, VA  are delightful– if   you remember  to get on Kate’s order list early. If not,  you are just plain out of luck and get ready to start soaking the yeast yourself !   ( Also great from Kate’s is her melt-in-your-mouth  coconut pound cake–  moist, tender, so delicious. In my book, better than either pecan or pumpkin pie.)  So, they came , they ate, they laughed, they talked and everyone departed the evening in a jolly mood.

And so, for the first time since I can remember, early Thanksgiving morning I was not up wrestling stuffing into a 28 pound turkey or getting ready to make my secret mac and cheese recipe.   Instead, I was relaxing with Hubby, enjoying several cups of  my favorite coffee, feet up, watching the Today show.  Wow !  It felt strange but I was really getting into it.  Then, about 10:30,   Hubby, Eldest Daughter,  boyfriend and I  piled into the car and set off for Williamsburg, roughly an hour and a half from the Eastern Shore,  heading for our noon reservation at the Williamsburg Lodge, an elegant hotel owned by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and dedicated to continuing long traditions of Virginia hospitality.

One of the things I like best about the holiday buffets The Lodge offers is not just that they are  true foodie delights  but also that they make so much effort  to insure that everything is beautiful and presented in a really eye- pleasing manner, the colors and textures are real food art.  Beautiful  ice sculptures abound, some  co-ordinated to the holiday and some to the foods being served.  I especially loved the sculpture done for the cold steamed jumbo shrimp, which were cleverly arranged on a carved flat block of ice which was backstopped with a huge  scallop shell carved from crystal clear ice.  Ice carved pumpkins, an  ice sculptured cornucopia and watermelons carved into elaborate roses, the list goes on and on.

After ordering a bottle of  Virginia Chardonay, we headed for the goodie- laden tables– the Lodge had really outdone itself  with this spectacular Thanksgiving buffet.  First order of business,  check out  the Cold Salads and Appetizers table.  Then mosey on over to check out the long line of Hot Food Stations where  a cute mini-tankard shaped mug of pumpkin bisque called out,  “try me first”.   Deliciously different, flecked with tiny chunks of scallion and spiced delicately with a bit of nutmeg, it paired beautifully with the white wine.  Next up, I grazed among the cold salads and appetizers, highlighted by a mirrored tray of dazzling terrines, a delicious rainbow of  eatable colors and textures.  Down the line, my husband was drawn in by long,  glistening filets of Scottish salmon, both hot smoked and cold smoked, thin sliced,  accompanied by a horseradish aioli and a dill cream sauce,  presented alongside cold grilled fennel and artichoke hearts.   My pumpkin bisque was followed up by a bit of crisp Ceasar salad, few of the perfectly chilled shrimp and some fat stuffed olives, all wheting the appitite for the hot offerings to come. In fact, I ended up circling the  Carving Stations and the Hot Foods Stations twice before making up my mind what to try first.

I finally opted for the grilled beef tenderloin, perfection in pink, piping hot, sliced thin and accompanied by a creamy horseradish sauce with  pasta in a lush white clam sauce and green beans with crisp bacon as side dishes.  Hubby was  working on a whole new selection of  terrines, pate’ and cheeses from the Appetizer Station alongside his healthy serving of  Ceasar salad. Eldest Daughter on the other hand was swooning over the chicken piccata,  lightly drizzled in a Madeira sauce and tossed with quartered baby bella mushrooms, with a few dollops of onion-garlic mashed Yukon Gold’s and some of the crunchy green beans on the side. By that time, we were all just trying to save a little room for the indulgent pastries beckoning like the Sirens from  the Dessert Station.  Delights like demi-tasse cups of baked Pumpkin Creme’ Brulee,  open-faced apple cranberry tart, tiny chocolate molds filled with a delicious liqueur laden mousse, tiny scoops of house- made chocolate and strawberry ice cream, best I ever tasted and, of course, pecan, pumpkin and apple pie.  And a Cupcake Station where, amazingly,  more adults than children were lining up to ice and decorate their cupcakes  !  A hot cup of  aromatic coffee and a last bite of fruit tart brought this delicious meal to a close.  And then, off to the historic restored Colonial area to walk it all off in the warm afternoon sun, another fine holiday coming to a close. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

The 2012 National Book Festival-Part II: Authors, Authors Everywhere

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Most Of Our Group At The 2012 Book Fest

Pavillion Of The States- So Great !

If you are a book lover, you can’t help but be excited by the National Book Festival held each September  on the National Mall in Washington D.C.   We are fervent book lovers  so the sight and sounds of  so many nationally acclaimed authors giving interviews, making speeches  and autographing their books  is big time fun for us.  Well worth the 4+ hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia to D.C.   The 2012 Festival  was no exception.  Sponsored by the Library of Congress,  held on Saturday and Sunday the 22nd and 23 of  September,  with over 125  authors, poets and illustrators this year,  the highest number in the history of the Festival,  taking  to the National Mall to “do their thing”.  Kicked off  in 2001 by First Lady Laura Bush,  a  former librarian,  the National Book  Festival has become a  big event with an estimated attendance last year of  over 200,000 people and probably a lot more than that this year.   From adults to teens down to little kids,  there is something fun for every reader.  Librarians from each state in the Union come to help staff the “Pavilion of the States”  where  every state has a booth featuring great giveaways for kids including  maps, book markers, stickers, brochures,  etc. about that state.   C-Span brings its  colorful big bus, the better to interview various authors for playback on Book TV.  And  as it has in previous years, once again, C-Span  gave away big complimentary cloth bags, hot pink this year,  for folks to carry their accumulated books and other goodies, a truly helpful  gesture.  Thank-you, C-Span.

Book Signings Underway

The Festival has two over-arching  components– the speeches given by the authors about their work and  the book signings by these authors after their speeches. Fortunately, all the author presentations are videotaped and made available on the Library of Congress website so it’s easy to watch your favorite author’s presentation at a later date in the comfort of your  own home.  Which leaves the book signings as our favorite part of the day.  The hard decision is selecting  which authors  to pick for the signings.  Each author will usually only sign 2 or 3 books and the lines are long so it’s hard to meet many authors in a day.  Especially when several authors you are trying to see are doing their signings in nearly the same time frame, figuring out how to juggle the lines is essential.  Definitely helpful to be there with a group so that multiple people can be standing in the lines  for  different authors. This year we were  lucky to be able to meet and get books signed and personalized by six different authors, about max we could manage and still have time for the States Pavilion.  Actually, when I look back on it, getting all six  was amazing because our first selected author’s signing,Gail Tsukiyama,  didn’t start until 11 am and the last selected author, Jeffery Toobin, didn’t start until 4:00 pm so that we actually did 6 authors in about 5 hours, less than an hour in line per person.  Of course,  there were a couple  authors whose books I brought with me, ever hopeful,  but convinced  that  their lines would be impossibly long.   Sure enough,  they were- Thomas Friedman and Patricia Cornwell had lines so monster that they might just as well have reached from the Washington Monument to the moon  they were so impossible.  I had brought 2 books by each of them,  just in case I was wrong in my predictions– but sadly  their books never left my  combination  “chair- book storage-weather protector,”    my big, long-handled,  rolling cooler on wheels !   (  Advice: Going to a Book Festival ?   Never leave home without your big, rolling cooler. )

Gail Tsukiyama Signing Her Latest Novel

First up for us was Gail Tsukiyama, author of  the delightful novel,   Street of 1000 Blossoms, also one of the authors invited to the very first Book Festival.  We were in second place in her line which meant that  she and we  were still bright- eyed and bushy- tailed.  Having brought several copies of her brand new book, A Hundred Flowers, as well as two copies each of her previous bestsellers, Women of the Silk and  The Samurai’s Garden, she was naturally inquisitive as to why we had so many duplicate copies.  Gifts, I said, Christmas gifts  for friends and relatives.  And  I’m sure they will not only enjoy her books but will also love her handwriting, it  is so beautiful, a striking Chinese calligraphy style hand,  the most elegant handwriting of any  autograph in my collection.  Since going to  my first Book Festival some years back, I have found that a personalized signed book from someone’s favorite author or about someones preferred subject matter is really a wonderful and unique gift.   And  unless the lines are just crushingly long, most  of the authors at the Festival are quite willing to write personalized  messages in the books they autograph and the volunteer staff  hands out little Post-Its so you can write out the message you want included as the author signs the book’s title page.  I’ve also found from experience that it’s a bit hard to decide on the perfect inscription while standing in line so over the years I’ve come to the point where decide which book is for whom and them I write out the inscription I want for them on my own Post-It, all ready to go beforehand. No doubt it reduces spontaneity but, on the other hand,  after one has stood for 3-4 hours in various lines in baking hot  ( 90 degrees this year) or damp drizzle ( year before last) , spontaneity may be somewhat over-rated.

Stephen L. Carter, Author, Philosopher, Professor

Next up, Stephen L. Carter. A super- interesting fellow… professor of law at Yale Law School and author of numerous non-fiction works on legal, political and moral issues.  For whatever reason, in 2002 he decided to turn his hand to fiction with his debut novel, The Emperor of Ocean Park, which was a New York Times best seller.  He has since written four more striking novels, his latest being The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln.  They have all been can’t- put- them- down- once- you- start  books. In fact, I have introduced so many people to Dr. Carter’s novels I think that I should get a commission, but really, they are all terrific !  My favorite is New England White, a blockbuster of  a book, a suspense novel about politics set at an Ivy League university.  I’ve heard him in various discussion panels on cable news where he  always  was very knowledgeable. At the Book Festival he was quite personable,  making a humorous comment as he signed our books, 3 books per person times the 3 of us as we sort of all stood at the table together.  So I am pleased to say that I now have a signed,  personalized first edition copy of each of his novels plus 4 extra copies of Lincoln  to give as gifts.

Waving At Marine One As It Departs The White House

I must confess that  the Stephen L. Carter book signing alone would have made the whole trip worthwhile for me but still to come were several more, Robert Caro ( whose 4 tier line was so long he would only sign one book per person ),Tony Horowiz, Michael Connelly and Jeffery Toobin. By the end of the day we met and gotten books signed  by all four of those gentlemen. ( Toobin, who is the author of two books about the  U.S. Supreme Court,  was very  funny and quite down- to- earth, wise cracking that there was just about nothing he loved more than folks who buy multiple copies of his books.)  It was really a wonderful day.  We had lots of goodies for the kids from the States Pavilion, we had met 6 terrific authors, we had watched  the flags surrounding the Washington Monument flutter smartly in the breeze, we had waved gaily to Marine One, the President’s helicopter,  as it  passed overhead on it’s way to the White House just  a couple blocks away, not sure if the President was inside,  but we waved mightily anyway.  And for icing on the cake, we still have all the videotaped author speeches to look forward once  are added to the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival website,  http://www.loc.gov/bookfest/    What more could one ask from the National Book Festival except to hope to be there again next year, ready for more fun and more authors !

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

The 2012 National Book Festival- Part I: Getting There

Friday, September 28th, 2012

What with one thing or another,  it’s been a busy fall on the Eastern Shore of Virginia so we had been on again-off again about going to Washington DC for this year’s National Book Festival, held on the National Mall,  Sept. 22-23,  about a 4 hour drive  from the Eastern Shore.   But I did make hotel reservations,  just in case,  leaving plenty of time for cancellation if need be.  Naturally, it was at the 11th hour,  Thursday the 20th,  that everybody previewed their Friday- through- Monday schedule, thereafter declaring  the week-end a “go”.  This  meant commencing a hyperactive search for books by the authors we love who would be autographing their books at the Festival, checking  to see which books we  already had and which would need to be purchased in route at my favorite Barnes and Noble in Virginia Beach.   There is a book sales  tent at the Festival which offers the latest books from the scheduled authors but that involves standing in a line so I prefer to bring everything with me that I want autographed.  ( Also, if it’s a favorite author, I usually have some of their earlier books which I like to try to get signed as well.) As this was our 5th Festival,  I pretty much had everything down to a science.  Pack the books in a big rolling cooler with a long pull handle– the cooler is a great place to sit while in line, it holds important extra stuff like umbrellas & trail mix,  if it rains it keeps the  books  dry, etc.  In fact,  my # 1 piece of advice to a prospective Festival-goer—- best to come with a  combo chair-storage container- book protecting  cooler on wheels !

I had optimistically planned to leave the Eastern Shore  by 9 am.  Silly me  !  Finally pulled out of the driveway about 11:30 in a two car convoy,  Eldest Daughter and boyfriend in one car,  moi, hubby and two grandkids in another, ready for great adventures on the road.   Which in this case meant a first stop at COSTCO  in Virginia Beach to get  another GPS  because mine was acting a little weird and I would never try to drive in Northern Virginia/D.C. without one.  Which makes me wonder, how did we ever get around without a GPS ?  I still have a couple of old D.C.  map books sitting on the top of a bookcase and I still consider myself  proficient with a map, but really, as heavy traffic zooms by on I-495, with crazy drivers darting in and out,  cars plunging  for off-ramps, crowding in from on-ramps,  all at 65-75  mph,  I just can’t imagine how we ever managed to get anywhere safely and on  time without a GPS  !  Anyway, walked out of  COSTCO about 1 pm but by then the kids were  hungry.  Of course !   So,  off for a quick  lunch at Panera’s about a mile away and finally, about 2 pm, we were actually, definitely,  on the road to D.C.  So much for my original fantasy of a 9 am start !   After about 50 inquires of  “how much longer ? ”  and 2 pit stops, by 7 pm we were checking into our hotel in Arlington,  just a hop-skip-jump across the river from the National Mall, tired, hungry but excited.

For dinner  I had already planned to try Ray’s Hell Burger ,  the very casual burger place that  I had read President Obama had taken Vladimir Putin to for  burgers and fries, figuring that if it’s good enough for the President and the Russian  head of state,  then it was good enough  for the 6 of us.  And the kids love hamburgers.   But what I hadn’t reckoned with was how popular it would be on a beautiful Friday night.  Good Golly, Miss Molly !   Jammed inside, jammed out on the patio, a pretty long  line to belly up to the window and order.  But finally, order we did, snagged a table out on the patio and waited for our food, which arrived surprisingly fast.   The burgers were indeed delish, perfectly char-grilled on the outside, nice and moist inside, snuggled into a top quality bun.  In my case,  also topped with cheddar, grilled fresh mushrooms, grilled sweet red onions, all accompanied by Ray’s excellent homemade  “5 cheese”  mac and cheese, sweet potato fries and crunchy slaw.  Was it worth the wait ??    Final Answer:  Absolutely terrific burgers,  just don’t go on a Friday night unless you’re prepared to wait or unless you are with the President !   By dinner’s end,  we all were  exhausted and totally ready for a good night’s rest before heading across the Potomac River to the 2012 National Book Festival the next day. (Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Too Blooming Early- The 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival In Washington D.C.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Cherry Blossom Pink

As it happily turned out,  instead of being at home on the Eastern Shore of Virginia  at 4 pm on March 17th, thinking about  getting ready for an excellent St. Paddy Day dinner at Kelly’s Gingernut Pub  in Cape Charles,  I was instead walking through  the magnificent grounds of the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.,  surrounded by  incredible beautiful blooming cherry trees.   A  postponement of a visit by a client left me with a few unscheduled days available and it took us all of  30 seconds to decide what to do with them.  Ever since our youthful days lived  in the Washington metro area,  about a thousand years ago,  my husband and I have always loved Spring there and the amazing cherry blossoms.   Earlier in the week I had  read  an article in  The Washington Post  which indicated that the record breaking warm weather this year  ( hello climate change)  was forcing the blossoms to open  very early,  almost 2 weeks earlier than usual.   Peak bloom, where  at least 70% of  the blossoms would be open, was forecast for March 20 – 24th.   So on Friday afternoon it was a quick call for a hotel reservation,  a dust-off of some sturdy walking shoes, a quick pack-pack and we were ready to set off early on Saturday morning.  Somehow, as often happens,  but I’m never sure how,  although dog feeding, watering and walking has something to do with it,  the planned  early  departure turned into a late 10:30 departure.   But finally we were on the road,  off  to the 2012 National Cherry Blossom Festival !    It was a gorgeous day,  a perfect day for a drive, the  ride  over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge offered sparkling blue waters and views of boaters out enjoying the warm and breezy day.   Fortunately, D.C.   is only a 4 1/2 hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, made somewhat longer but definitely more fun with a  lunch stop  at the famous Cheese Shop at Merchant’s Square in Williamsburg, VA  for a  luscious sandwich of  Virginia country ham and cheddar, piled high on a French baguette, slathered with their marvelous  house dressing,  accompanied by a glass of Williamsburg Winery’s  Chardonnay.

The Jefferson Monument- Never More Beautiful Than At Cherry Blossom Time

A word about the history of these beautiful cherry trees planted so profusely around the Tidal Basin and the National Mall.  According to Ann McClellan in her excellent book about the Festival,   ” The Cherry Blossom Festival Sakura Celebration“,  in 1909,  First Lady Nellie Taft, who had visited Japan and seen the cherry trees blossom there,  became interested in the new parks beautification  plan underway in  D.C.   Mrs. Taft  made known to the Superintendent of Public  Buildings her interest in seeing Japanese flowering cherry trees planted along the roads from the Tidal Basin to the  Park boundaries to create  continuous lines of  gorgeous spring color.  As her interest in the trees became known publicly, as a gesture of  friendship in 1909,  the city of  Tokyo, the capital of Japan, offered to send a gift of 2000 cherry trees to her sister city, the capital of the United States, Washington DC.  However, a friend of Mrs. Taft  assigned to travel to Japan to help select the trees  ignored the advice of  Fairchild  Nursery ( the nursery was to oversee the transportation of the trees to D.C.  from the port in Seattle where they were to  arrive) to select very young, small trees. Instead, hoping to get impressive blossoms very quickly, she instead selected mature trees whose roots and limbs had to be severely pruned.  This error made  it unlikely that the trees would survive once planted.  On top of all  that, once the trees had arrived in Washington D.C.,  the U.S. Dept.  of  Agriculture discovered that many of these  mature trees had infections and infestations and it was decided unfortunately necessary to burn them all, creating a diplomatic flurry of apologies and letters.

Peeking Through The Cherry Trees At The Washington Monument

But the city of Tokyo still very much wanted to fulfill its promise to gift these trees and  the Imperial Horticultural Experiment Station was selected to create a committee of experts to oversee  the propagation of 3000 young cherry trees.  By early 1912 these  trees were ready for shipment to Washington, arriving in March.  At a special ceremony at the  Tidal Basin in March 1912,  the Mrs. Taft  is said to have  planted the very first tree herself.   The rest. as they say, is history.   Word of the beauty of the blossoming trees quickly became known, bringing artists, photographers and thousands of  ordinary citizens to Washington to photograph, paint and generally celebrate the beautiful blooms, with the first  official  “Cherry Blossom Festival”  celebration taking place in 1935.  The 2012 Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates the 100th anniversary of the planting of the trees in March, 1912  and in the horticultural world  this is an especially exciting year,  the Cherry Blossom Centennial.

A Microcosm Of The World’s People Celebrating The Beautiful World Of Cherry Blossoms

As we gaily drove  over the Memorial Bridge,  it was clear that the early bloom  prognosticators were  right,  the trees were absolutely glorious,  blossoms waving in the  breeze, petals  floating gently to the ground like pink-tinted pixie dust, their sweet scent  perfuming the air.   People were everywhere,  enjoying this once yearly treat, hand-in-hand, parents, youngsters, oldsters, tweensters, toddlers, lovers, photographers,  walking,  jogging, snapping photos with cameras, iPhones, Droids,  you name it,  sitting on the grass,  laying on blankets,  under the shade of these magnificant trees or in the golden sunlight between them. Spring was in the air, temps were in the mid-70’s  and everyone was there to celebrate this truly glorious Spring  day,  tourists and residents, citizens and  foreign visitors,  folks with roots from all across the globe,  chattering happily in a multitude of languages.    English, Spanish, French, Japanese, Russian, German, Italian, you name it,   enthusiastic conversations wafted through the air,  everyone  basking in a beautiful dream world of  millions of gorgeous pink blossoms,  a world first envisioned by Nellie Taft  over one hundred years ago,  a vision of  a cultural coming together that  I imagine the Coca Cola folks could have had in mind in their “Real Thing”  ad  from the early 1970’s.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Looking Back– Seeing The Sesquicentenial Through Exploring Richmond, VA

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Richmond District Federal Reserve Bank

December 31, 2011 marked the end of the  Sesquicentenial , the  150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, an event memorialized all across this country as  the nation looked back on its deadliest war,  nearly 700,000 casualties,  more than all of our other wars combined.  The virtual epicenter of the Civil War, Richmond, VA ,  is only a two and a half  hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia so it makes a great week-end getaway trip.  Last fall  my husband and I decided to spend a few days in Richmond and,  in the spirit of the Sesquicentenial, to take  time  to tour some of  its famous Civil War memorials.  Standing on the overwalk  above the  River District’s Kanawha  Canal,  looking east towards the tall office tower of the  Federal Reserve  District Bank  in Richmond’s  bustling downtown area  and south towards the rocky rapids of the James River,  I  would never have guessed  that less than 150 years ago,  this entire spot was caught up in a mighty conflagration as the evacuation of Richmond, on  April 3, 1865,  signalled the near end of  the Civil War.  The morning of April 2nd,  General Robert E. Lee telegraphed  Confederate President Jefferson Davis, notifying him that Lee’s  line was broken in 3 places, concluding   ” I advise that all preparation be made for leaving Richmond tonight.”    Ordered by General Ewell,   Confederate troops set to work before evacuating to destroy their  armory, tobacco warehouses, navel vessels  and bridges so they wouldn’t fall into Union hands but  the fires they set  raged out of control.  It  completely destroyed much of the by- then nearly deserted Richmond but was eventually tamed by the Union forces who began occupying Richmond on April 3rd.   Within a week of  Richmond’s  evacuation,  General Lee would surrender his Army of Northern Virginia to  General Ulysses S. Grant’s  Union forces  at  Appomattox, VA.   Within a week of that surrender,  the tragic assassination of President Lincoln on April 14th,  especially tragic for the South as the Reconstruction envisioned by Lincoln was very different from the Reconstruction that ensued.

Tedegar Iron Works, Now a Civil War Museum

The observance  of this 150th  anniversary, the Sesquicentennial,  of the beginning of the Civil War,  was especially poignant in Virginia,  on whose soil almost 80 % of the battles were fought.  Richmond,  one of the South’s most powerful and industrialized cities at  that time,  became the Capitol of the Confederate States of America and its wealth and industrial capacity became crucial to the Confederate military campaign.  Probably no single company was more influential than the  Tredegar Iron Works,  which was the largest company of its kind in the South.  Located on a bluff overlooking the James River and utilizing the river’s water to produce steam and to run water wheels, Tredegar  produced the majority of the artillery pieces and munitions for the Confederacy during the War as well as the  rails for the railroad,  rails which became vital in keeping troops and supplies moving.  Several of the original buildings are still standing at Tredegar,  apparently due to the foresight  of  its owners in hiring nearly 50 armed guards to prevent its buildings from being set on fire during  Richmond’s  1865 evacuation .

Statue of President Lincoln with Son Tad

 The  Tredegar site and the surviving buildings are now a museum and serve as the Visitor Center for the   Richmond National Battlefield Park,  operated by the National Park Service.  It is also the location of the famous statue of  Abraham Lincoln,  sitting with his son Tad,  memorializing  their visit to Richmond on April 4, 1865.   Just to give an idea of the important battles that were fought in and around the Richmond area, the Richmond  National Battlefield Park  self-guided driving tour includes the preserved battlefields of  Beaver Dam Creek battlefield, Gaines Mill battlefield, Glendale battlefield, Malvern Hill battlefield, Drewery’s Bluff battlefield  and the  Cold Harbor battlefield,  all of which have self-guided walking trails winding through them.  
One of  the most poingnant aspects of the museum is its  ” Voices From The Home Front” display, recorded narrations of  letters and diary entries from both soldiers and everyday people written during the War. One letter, written by a young soldier to his father, starts out by saying that  “this is the last letter you shall receive  from me…”,  explaining that he had  been struck  by a large piece of shrapnel and is not expected to survive much longer.  A diary entry from a young Richmond girl noted that  “all of Cary Street is burned and Main Street is on fire”,  that the fire is spreading rapidly,  that she and her friend Flory run to her front  gate almost every minute to see if the Yankees are coming into the city.

Tredegar Museum Cannon

A bronze cannon, actually produced by the Tredegar company,  typically so heavy it took six six draft horses to pull,  plus an exhibit of the ammunitions  used in such artillery pieces is one of  the museum’s most dramatic exhibits.  Precision workmanship, cast from heavy, solid  metal,  it took 6  men to fire that cannon —  2 men on the ammunition supply box,  called a  “Limber Chest”  which was placed well behind the cannon,   1 runner between the Limber Chest and the cannon, 1 loader,  1 rammer whose job was ram the shot in and then, after  firing,  to sponge out the cannon interior to extinguish any remaining sparks  and  an officer whose job was to finalize the location to be targeted, the particular shot or shells to be used,  the degree of elevation of the cannon ( which was determinate of  the range the shot would travel ) and then to actually call the  order to fire.  But what really struck me was the ammunition itself. I had supposed that  “cannonballs”  were solid balls of metal– which they were previously.  But no, by the time of  the Civil War the military machine  had already invented a more deadly product,  a cannonball with  a hollow center which was then filled with 1 inch  munition balls.  Today,  in this  era  of  Hellfire missiles fired from drones, cruise missiles fired from offshore ships, intercontinental ballistic missiles poised at the ready all over the world,  missiles with names like Apache, Viper, Sidewinder and Tomahawk, names heard almost nightly on the news,  it seems like there is a numbness to the destruction of war,  like it’s not even real.  But standing in Tredegar,  looking at the exhibit of the solid cannonball next to the new, “improved”  cannonball crammed to the max with deadly smaller shot,  the escalating  efforts of man to create ever more destructive weaponry came through loud and clear. 

Brady’s 1st Traveling Darkroom

Our final stop in the museum was  the book store, filled to the brim with books and DVD’s about the Civil War and its various campaigns.  The National Park Service actually has created a series of  short, about 50 pages or so,  but informative booklets about various aspects of the War  and we bought  “The Seige of Petersburg“,   which detailed  the decisive  campaign of the War.  Located less than 25 miles from Richmond, Petersburg, VA  was held under seige for  nine and a half months by Grant, resulting  in over 40,000 Union casualties and about 30,000 Confederate casualties.  But when Grant’s army finally broke through Lee’s entrenched lines surrounding  Petersburg,  it was all over but the shouting.   The  Union occupation of Richmond and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox were a direct result of the fall of Petersburg.   The other book I ended up buying  chronicled War  photos  by  Mathew B. Brady.  Brady was the most famous photographer of  his day, if you were an important person you sat for a Brady portrait.  In fact,  one of his portraits  of  Lincoln was used for the engraving for the five dollar bill.   When the War broke out,  Brady set up several horse-drawn mobile photography wagons, including darkrooms,  to photograph all aspects of  various Union campaigns on site,  something never before undertaken.  As he had official permission from Chief of the Army McDowell  to  accompany the Union troops,  effectively Brady was the first military “embedded” photographer.  Entitled “Mr Lincoln’s Camera Man”  by Roy Meredith and printed by Dover Publications  (www.doverpublications.com ), this book is a tremendous visual accounting of the Civil War and includes  350 photographs taken by Brady during that period which have been reproduced directly from the negatives owned by the Library of Congress. It’s primarily because of Brady that we can look back 150 years later and see much of what really happened during those bloody years.
 

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

On The Eastern Shore of Virginia, January 1, 2012 Dawned Auspiciously Bright And Beautiful

Friday, January 6th, 2012

There may have been  blizzards  raging across other parts of the US  but here on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, January 1, 2012 dawned as a bright and beautiful day which,  ever the optimist,  I took as a sign of good things to come for our area this year !   And it was particularly auspicious for our plans for the day which were to go to Williamsburg  for brunch and a walk  through the  historic area before they take down the Christmas decorations in Colonial Williamsburg’s Restored Area.   Clear blue skies, temps forcast for the mid-60’s — who could ask for anything more for a New Year’s Day stroll  down cobblestone streets in the historic area, a living museum harkening  back to the early 1700’s  ?

Setting off about 11 am, we breezed right along.  Views  from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge were spectacular, water shimmering in the morning sun, seemingly thousands of seabirds out to greet the New Year, soaring gaily above the Bridge, calling to their fellow revelers,  diving for a  fine fishy feast for the holiday.  Out on Rt. 64 west, the roads were nearly traffic free, likely thanks to the ever-popular Rose Bowl parade and we made excellent time, arriving at the luxurious  Williamsburg Inn well in advance of our 1 pm brunch reservation so we took a moment to just sit and relax,  soaking up some sun outdoors on the Inn’s peaceful back patio overlooking  the golf course.

The Regency Room at the Williamsburg Inn is a truly beautiful dining room, filled with soft light streaming in from a full wall of windows running along one entire side, beautifully decorated , lovely and quiet,  just a wonderful restaurant to celebrate the arrival of the New Year,  a  surprise treat from my very thoughtful husband.   But they really outdid themselves with a spectacular brunch buffet,  a true foodie’s delight.   After ordering a bottle of Virginia wine, a  Barboursville  Chardonay, we set off for  the Cold Salads Station where my husband helped himself to some Eastern Shore oysters on the half shell, salty and flavorful, straight from our pristine waters, shucked before his very eyes, while I sampled the marinated shrimp, perfectly chilled,  a smige of Ceasar salad and a tiny wedge of Stilton cheese.   There were so many delicious hot offerings at the Hot Foods Station I had to circle  around twice before I could decide on what to try first whereas hubby loves breakfast and opted right off the bat for  a  slice of  the shrimp, scallop and sausage fritatta, some eggs benedict served with choron sauce and the  grilled fingerling potatoes with carmalized onions.

     

Following  the long-time  southern tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck,  I started with some black-eyed pea and ham chowder, smoky and delicious,  followed by 3 cheese ravioli in a sauce of oyster mushrooms, a slice of  breast of duck and a slice of cold prime rib, sliced paper-thin, served with with horseradish cream, all  accompanied by a salad of wild greens and spinach dressed with a luscious vinaigrette,  everything pairing well with our chardonay.   Hubby was back at the Cold Salads Station for another little bit of the  Scottish smoked salmon, which he declared “the best I ever ate” and some of the  Caesar salad.  For my final go-round ( before dessert),   I visited the elaborate Carving Station, opting  for a thin slice of beef  fillet, piping hot, rare and juicy,  along with some of the roasted potatoes.   Even though we  had been taking care  to only have very small tastes of everything, we were both getting pretty full.  But…… I never miss a wonderful dessert if I can help it so I just had to visit the Crepe Station for one of the little crepes, made while you watch, topped with fresh berries and a drizzle of rich caramel sauce.  And I did save room for what I was pretty sure would be the piece’ de resistance,  the Bananas Foster.  Was I right or was I right ??    Expertly wielding  an omelet pan,  Chef’s assistant  Michael Ellis made the best Bananas Foster that I have ever had,  possibly  that I may ever have,  a supreme combination of  banana slices, spices, sugars and rum  flaming nearly to the sky and then dying down into a simmering ambrosial concoction, poured over a creamy scoop of rum raisin ice cream,  the perfect end to a very special  meal.

And then,  off  for our stroll through the historic area, an absolute necessity after all those  Regency Room calories !   For those not familiar with the Colonial Williamsburg  historic  area,  it is the amazing restoration and re-construction of  many of the most important buildings that existed in Williamsburg during the Colonial era including  the Capitol building, the Governor’s Palace and the Bruton Parish Church.  As the capitol of  colonial Virginia, Williamsburg  was a well-known and very important city,  really the center of  commerce and government of the colony as well as the location of most respected college of that era,  the College of William and Mary,  alma mater of  George Washington and  Thomas Jefferson,  among its many  famous graduates.  In the early 1930’s,  John D. Rockefeller and his wife created the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation  ( www.history.org ) , whose mission was and is to re-create a Colonial era town and educate visitors about life in that period, to be in effect a living museum for  that period of American history.   Re-enactors work and dress in contumes  of the period and speak to visitors about Colonial customs, all of  which is always a lot of fun.  Holiday traditions of the era are observed which is how the door and window decorations of  Williamsburg have come to be so famous.

     

Virtually every  house in the Restored Area is decorated by a  wreath made  only of material which would have been available and used by residents of that time.  Boxwood, cedar and pine woven into roping,  decorated with fruits, seed pods, plant materials, shells, cloth, etc.  which are the allowable materials for the beautiful wreathes desplayed each year in the Foundation’s  blue ribbon door contest.  Numerous books and articles have been written on how to make a Williamsburg style natural wreath, no plastics, no doo-dads,  just raw materials straight from Mother Nature,  fashioned into a festive, eye pleasing decoration.  It’s  such an easy drive from the Eastern Shore to  Williamsburg and we try to come every year  during the holiday season to see the decorations,  usually eating  in one of the authentic period taverns which serve a menu of 1700’s holiday fare. Sunday happened to be a day when all the horse drawn carriages, elegant reproductions which according to one of the drivers were handmade in Austria ( except for the wheels,  which are fashioned by  Colonial Williamsburg’s very own wheelwright) and cost in the vacinity of $250,000 apiece.  That’s a pretty steep price but  they are truly gorgeous and a 15 minute ride for 4 people costs about $15/ person so it doesn’t take too many years to amortize the investment.  At any rate, there’s  always something new to see in Williamsburg and its   a wonderful way to kick off a brand new year .

   

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Our Annual Carter Mountain Trek- From Virginia’s Eastern Shore To The Blue Ridge Mountains In About 3 Hours

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

World Famous Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Westward Ho !  ,  the theme of our annual trek  some weeks ago from our beloved Eastern Shore’s sandy seashore to the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains in Charlottesville, VA.  It’s a trip that, depending on traffic,  only takes 3-4 hours,  but it’s a trip that shows off  the real beauty and diversity of  Virginia geography as we drive from our saltwater-dominated Atlantic coastal plain through the Virginia’s rolling plain Piedmont area, ( think Williamsburg, Richmond, etc. ),  and then into the gorgeous Blue Ridge area of Charlottesville and Roanoke.

A View From Carter Mountain, Charlottesville VA

( Westward still would place  you in the Appalachian Mountains and Virginia’s  famous Shennandoah Valley, very beautiful yet somehow we seldom go that far. )  Virginia certainly isn’t an especially large state but it has a diversity which makes getting a change of pace and scenery easy and fun to do.  For some reason,  it never ceases to amaze me that I can be driving on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, watching rolling  waves and seabirds just after breakfast and by lunchtime I can be sitting in a chair atop Carter Mountain,  munching a juicy York apple.

Michie Tavern, ca.1784, A National Historic Landmark

This year,  because of an especially busy schedule,  for the first time,  we made  our Annual Apple Trek after Halloween rather than before, which like most things in life had its pros and cons.  Pros were that it was quiet,  no lines to pay for apples and Carter’s fabulous fresh-pressed apple cider,  easy to find an attendant to get questions answered and a chair was immediately available  to sit and admire the wide vistas.  Cons– well, I really missed seeing all the kids running around trying to choose their Halloween pumpkins,  the hayride wagons full of  excited parents and kids,  the bluegrass fiddles and banjos.   In short,  apparently it wasn’t just about the crunchy apples and the beautiful vistas from atop Carter’s Mountain, it was also very much about the infectious  atmosphere of their month long October Apple Festival accompanied by the mouth-watering aromas of fresh apple pies and apple cider donuts  wafting through it that we had been enjoying all these years.  At any rate, before venturing up to the Orchard we enjoyed  a late lunch at Michie Tavern,  located right at the foot of the mountain and only a half mile from Jefferson’s Monticello.  Built in 1784 as a country inn to accommodate travelers of the day, it is a beautiful structure, a National Historic Landmark, very well-preserved. Serving a menu of foods typical of the time and still popular today– fried or baked chicken and excellent southern style  pulled pork BBQ,  accompanied by black-eyed peas,  stewed tomatoes, beets, cole slaw, mashers, cornbread, big, fluffy biscuits, etc. ,  Michie Tavern gives an authentic taste of  what travelers of the time would have experienced.  Lunch can be eaten  inside or al fresco  on their screened porch overlooking the propery’s magnificant woodlands or by the roaring fireplace in winter,  it’s always a very pleasant experience.  (www.michietavern.com)

So Many Apples, So many Choices At The Carter Mountain Orchard

Lunch over, up  Carter Mountain we went.  The apples were great,  as usual.  We normally buy a bushel each of four different varieties, typically Stayman Winesap, York, Fugi and Pink Lady,  so that we can mix them together and give them as little  “happy-apple-harvest”  gifties to friends and family.  A Pink Lady is an especially pretty apple, a very pale green with a large blush of deep pink on the side,  quite crisp and slightly tart, one of my favorite apples, both a good eating and a good pie apple.   But for applesauce, I think you just can’t beat the combination of  the Stayman and  York varieties with a few Fugi and Macintosh thrown in for good measure.   At our house we love applesauce, unsweetened, chunky, flavorful,  lightly laced with cinnamon,  completely delicious with chicken or pork, and, I might add, so good for you.  It’s hard to tolerate what passes for applesauce in the supermarket, thin, grainy, absolutely flavorless– must be made with mealy red delicious, the worst apple ever for flavor.  But a big pot of  three or four  types of  sweet-tart Carter Mountain apples, slowly simmered with a little apple cider,  mashed carefully to retain some chunks  (but not too  many), gently flavored with cinnamon and perhaps a tiny dash of clove at the very end — now that’s an applesauce that we will drive 3 hours to get really fresh apples to make !  ( By the way, applesauce freezes very well, pull it out, defrost and it tastes almost as great as the day it was simmered off in the big apple kettle.)   So we got some  great apples, newly  picked that morning,  we got the fresh-pressed apple cider, delicious either hot and mulled or icy cold,  as well as a dozen pre-packaged cider donuts.  All in all,  we had a great day.  But …..  for Apple Trek 2012,  I think we will make a point to go before Halloween so we can enjoy all the extras too — the yelling kids, the noisy hayrides,  the bluegrass band twanging away and the aromas of apple pies newly baked,  all the many features of the October Apple Festival atop  Charlottesville’s Carter Mountain.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

Charlottesville Uncorked– A Fall Week-end Sampling Blue Ridge Mountain Area Wines

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Just before Thanksgiving we had an opportunity to take a week-end off  and decided to make a quick trip  to Charlottesville, VA.   Located at the foot of the  beautiful Blue Ridge mountain range, it’s only about a three and a half hour drive from the Eastern Shore of Virginia and it’s a drive through some of  Virginia’s prettiest countryside,  ever gorgeous in the fall.  We started out by heading south over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, deep blue waters of the  Bay glistening in the sun,  picking up Rt 64 west to Williamsburg, which is a lovely tree lined drive through slightly hilly terain,  a quick stop at the Williamsburg Outlet Mall for a pair of boaters at Bass Shoes,  lunch at the  Cheese Shop in Merchant’s Square in the Colonial historic area,  one of their delicious Virginia country ham sandwiches accompanied by a  little glass of chilled white wine.  Back on the road again, by-passing Richmond, heading  into even more rolling terrain until suddenly, from the top of  a  hill,  the  peaks in the distance now reveal themselves in varying shades of blue, the Blue Ridge Mountains,  a lovely sight, and then we’re  quickly in Charlottesville.

Charlottesville, C-ville, as residents call her,  is best known for  three things.  1.)  It is the home of  UVA,  the University of  Virginia, which in 2011 once again maintained its top rating,  tied with UCLA  as the 2nd best public university in the entire nation.  2.) It is the location of  Monticello, the exquisute mountain-top estate of the 3rd president of the United States,  Thomas Jefferson, and a named UNESCO World Heritage site and 3.) It is home to Ash Lawn, home of James Monroe, 5th president of the Uunited States.  And as if that were not enough,  among others,  it is also the  home of  author John Grisham and  Dave Matthews of the Dave Matthews Band !

 

A word, or 2, about UVA.   Its  gorgeous campass,  with mostly classically styled  buildings nestled into a rolling terrain,  is sited on 800 acres of  land which had been part of a 3000 acre parcel owed by James Monroe.   The original concept of the University came from Thomas Jefferson, who rated his work in designing and establishing it as the primary achievement of his life,  more important even than his presidency.  The most revered building at UVA is its first building,  the Rotunda, designed by Thomas Jefferson himself,  a beautiful classical design modeled after Rome’s  Pantheon.  Fully completed only after Jefferson’s death, the Rotunda became the academic village that Jefferson had envisioned, containing the library, classrooms, faculty offices and student rooms.  Now, of course, the University is a huge affair, with an enrollment of  over 21,000 students  and a faculty of  nearly 1400– I’m sure that Jefferson would be tremendously  proud of all that has been accomplished by his successors in the last nearly 200 years.

Sunday morning,  after a relaxing brunch at Maya’s on Main Street in the C-ville’s quaint little downtown ( highly recommend the potato cakes with smoked salmon ), we set off for a day of exploration and wine tasting.  As it turned out, there was more exploration and less wine tasting.   Having driven by Ash Lawn, the home of president James Monroe, many times we decided that the time had finally come  to stop and take the tour– and so we did.  ( A little trivia on US presidents– 8 were born in the state of Virginia and 7 are buried in Virginia including  both Jefferson and Monroe.) Monroe purchased  an estate of over 3500 acres ( including the 800 that went to UVA)  adjacent  to Monticello  where his close friend Jefferson lived.  Jefferson helped Monroe select the exact location to site his future home which Monroe named Ash Lawn-Highland when it was completed about 1800. Although Monticello is a very grand home,  Monroe went in the opposite direction and built a very tasteful but much smaller home which he referred to as his “cabin castle” in the country.

The property is a now a museum owned and operated by the College of William and Mary, with house and grounds very much as they were in Monroe’s day– formal flower gardens,  a large working veggie and herb garden, numerous out buildings including the barn, icehouse, smokehouse, etc., pastures with cattle grazing, all overlooking the beautiful mountains.  It was a most interesting tour with a few bits of  great trivia: back in the day wallpaper was extremely expensive and so was not actually glued to the wall as it would be today but rather attached by tacks so that if the owner moved the wallpaper could be packed up along with the other household furnishings.  Also, Monroe was the very first president to commission his own presidential china for use during his term in the White House- prior to that  presidents  were  expected to bring their own china  Washington with them. And of course since that time ever subsequent president has commissioned his own china pattern for official White House use.  But the most interesting couple bits  of Monroe triva offered by the tour guide were  that in the very famous painting  of General George Washington crossing the Delaware, then Lieutenant Monroe is shown in the boat standing  just behind  Washington, holding the flag.  However,  at the time  Monroe had actually already reached the New Jersey shore in an entirely different boat from Washington.   And talk about making a fashion statement, a replica of the deep rose colored wedding gown worn by Monroe’s glamourous wife, Elizebeth, stands in the drawing room,  made notable by the fact that has no buttons, snaps or fasteners of any kind whatsoever — she was literally sewen into the dress for the ceremony after which the dress was taken off by re-opening the seams !

From Ash Lawn we were off to the new winery acquisition by  “The Donald”.  The former Kluge Estates Vineyard is now  called Trump  Winery, no surprise there although the primary  wines for sale are  ’07,  ’08, ’09 and  ’10  bottlings  which still carry the Kluge label.   The tasting room is very much the same, still  attractive warm woods but an additional large outdoor seating area has been added in the back and a large screen TV in the main room offers a beautiful slideshow of the vineyard through the seasons. Sparkling wines were very much the signature wines of Kluge and I’m sure will be of Trump as well.  We ordered a small cheese plate and tastings of  all 3 of the sparklings, a Blanc de  Blanc,  Blanc  de Noir and the Rose’,  favorite hands down being the elegant  and beautifully colored  Blanc de Noir.

From Trump it was on to the only other vineyard we had time for, Jefferson Vineyard,  just a few minutes away from Monticello. It is well-known that Jefferson became a great connoisseur of wine  from the substantial amount of time he spent in France  when he succeded Franklin as the  American ambassador.

Jefferson was eager to establish vineyards on this side of the Atlantic and the land on which Jefferson Vineyards stands was at one time owned by by an Italian viticulturist who was prompted by Jefferson to try his luck in Virginia.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

The Exciting Sights And Sounds To Be Savored When Crossing The Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

A few  weeks ago,  David Kabler, broker for Blue Heron Realty Co.’s Cape Charles, VA branch office,  wrote an  interesting post about an unusual tour he and other members of the Cape Charles Coast Guard Auxillery were priviledged to be able to take of the inner workings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel complex which connects the Eastern Shore to the Virginia Beach/Norfolk area of mainland Virginia.   Dave’s post was primarily about the interesting things the group learned about the history, construction and operation of this amazing structure, known far and wide as one of the great engineering marvels of the modern world.   Like Dave,  I too have traveled  “The Bridge”  countless times, on the old single lane span and the new double lane span,  in good weather and bad,  during the day and in the middle of the night,   “going across the Bay”,  the old Eastern Shore colloquialism,  a throw-back to the days when traveling  for several hours by ferry was the only way to cross these wide waters, a significant trip for sure.  People didn’t say they “were going to Virginia Beach”,  they said “I’m going across the Bay” and that native phrase is as alive and well today as it was 50 years ago.  I love traveling on this Bridge, for reasons too numerous to count, but let me give it a try.

My family and I have lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia  for over 25 years.  We love it, wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,  we treasure the Shore’s beautiful lands, the relaxed pace of life,  its friendly people.  But I also love the shopping malls,  the numerous special events,  the art  institutions like Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall and Harrison Opera House as well as the numerous restaurants featuring cuisines from all over the world,  all  to be found less than an hour away  in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.  And then there are the  points further west but still within a 2-4 hour’s  drive of the Eastern Shore,  fabulous and historic cities  like  Williamsburg,  Richmond,  Charlottesville and Washington DC,  all of which  which we visit for one occasion or another at least several times a year.  In fact,  we  just got back from a week-end trip to D.C. and Richmond last month and are planning to make our annual fall   “apple trek”   to Carter’s  Mountain in Charlottesville later this month.   So the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel  is our easy, fast,  safe and truly beautiful connection from our splendid low-key, relaxed cocoon here on the Eastern Shore to the wider, faster, ultra busy-busy  world on the other side of the Chesapeake Bay, our tether to a metropolitan lifestyle but  “on-demand”,  our demand.   It’s  a lifeline from one set of  interests to another,  a  way we Eastern Shore residents  have found to have  our cake and eat it too,  a time machine,  enabling the traveler to emerge  smiling from one type of world into another —-  in less than an hour !

Not only does the Bridge allow the practical physical connection of our slender peninsula to the Mother Ship of mainland Virginia,  from an aesthetic point of view,  the Bridge itself  is a beautiful sight to see  and the sights and sounds of a trip on the Bridge are extraordinary.   The 17 mile crossing point is placed approximately where the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic  Ocean merge so it’s like traveling over a water wonderland,  seabirds  swooping and calling overhead,  flocks of pelicans skimming over the waves,  that little flock of cormorants usually perched on the railing outside the second tunnel or  what seem to be billions of chattering gulls, diving madly into the water to take advantage of a passing school of  menhaden.   In summer sometimes we’ ll be lucky enough to see a school of dolphins jumping — this area is the nursery ground for  the bottlenose dolphin.  The Eastern Shore is a critical part of the Atlantic Flyway and autumn brings sights of  large bands of migrating songbirds and raptors  swooping gaily through the skies or taking a break in the sanctuary of Fisherman’s Island ( seen  just as one gets on ( or off)  the main span ).  In winter we keep our eyes peeled for the small number of  humpback whales that  migrate through between December and March but  have never been fortunate  enough to see one,  still hoping though.

 

Large tankers traveling the Baltimore Channel on the horizon,  sailboats and power boats  crusing along, doing their fishing or crusing thing are a common but nevertheless, interesting sight.  Sometimes, if you’re lucky,  near the south tunnel you’ll see  one of the  destroyers  or a submarine, maybe even a huge hovercraft,  from Naval Station Norfolk,  one of the Navy’s largest  U.S. bases, traveling through the  open navigation channel for large ships at  Thimble Shoal Tunnel, the south tunnel.  Once we happened to be traveling on that section of the Bridge just as the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise  passed through,  deploying for the Middle East.  She is quite an impressive  sight.   And a couple of months ago,  for the first time ever,  I saw a helicopter carrier ship which had just passed  through the channel,  going east– I pulled over at the special viewing area on the tunnel’s 5 acre manmade  island to watch for a few minutes and saw flying out,  one by one,  to land on her deck,  about  8 helicopters, no doubt deploying to some faraway part of the world,  leaving home and family behind in Virginia Beach.   And  quite frequently we see  huge cargo ships up close,  loaded with containers to be off-loaded at Norfolk Terminals.  From time to time we’ve seen ocean liners  passing through the channel over the tunnel,  headed to the  Cruise Ship Terminal next to  Nauticus Museum in Norfolk,   these ships passing in the night  are especially pretty,  lights blazing from long rows of  portholes.  There’s  always,  always something interesting going on as one travels  “across the Bay”.

                     

When you first get on the Bridge  you cannot see  the land on the other side,  you are just suspended above  what seems to be an endless expanse of  water,  blue and glistening on a sunny day,  deep pinks and violets when traveling at sunset,  very, very  special  on full moon nights,  the  golden-white moonbeams casting a long trail across dark  waters,  a perfect  illustration for the nursery poem  ” Winken,  Blinken and Nod”,  as they sailed  off into a river of crystal light with the glorious stars above,  one of the most beautiful times to be on the Bridge.   And in my estimation, one of the prettiest sights you’ll see on the Shore is the  gracefully curved shoreline of  Fisherman’s Island Wildlife Refuge on a sunny day as viewed  from the top of the homeward bound north span’s  high level bridge,  the sparkling blue waters,  waves breaking on  the shore,  lacy white sea foam,  the  glistening  white sands,  green beach grass,  the infinite waters of the Atlantic beyond, ….. well,  ” mid  pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home !”   And the Bridge is our faithful conduit from pleasures and palaces b

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)

ack to our Eastern Shore home, sweet, sweet  home.

 

The 2011 National Book Festival in Washington D.C.– A Great Time As Always !

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Although, sadly,  our schedule only allowed us to attend the Sunday portion of the 2011 National Book Festival held in Washington D.C. the week-end of  Sept. 24-25th,  we all still had a great time !   ( “We”  being self,  husband,  Eldest Daughter, a granddaughter and a grandson. )   We drove up from the Eastern Shore of Virginia late Saturday and as forecast,  Sunday dawned  misty, cloudy, definitely looking like rain any minute,  but I was completely prepared…  plastic rain ponchos, bright blue (  no losing anyone in your group in those neon things ),  small umbrellas for everyone,  books to be autographed completely safe from the rain enclosed in zip-lock bags  and stowed in 2 plastic rolling coolers which,  thankfully, served as mobile chairs as well as waterproof storage bins.   Happily,  it never did actually rain but the clouds kept things cool which was so great,  baking in the sun is not my thing.

The National Mall Which Stretches From The Capitol Building To The Lincoln Memorial

The  Book Festivals are sponsored annually by the Library of Congress and are held on the National Mall,  a long green space which more or less stretches from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building.  The Book Festival is held on the portion which runs from 7th Street to 14th Street,  essentially from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building, a distance of  probably a half  mile.   However, when hoofing around,  pulling  what seems to be a 1000 pound cooler full of books,  I  can tell you it seems much, much longer !   This year’s Festival featured 112 authors divided into genres like  History and Biography,  Fiction and Mystery, Contemporary Life, Poetry and Prose,  The Cutting Edge,  Graphic Novels, Teens and Children.  Each author was allotted about 45 minutes to speak, scheduled in  the appropriate genre pavilion  and then an hour afterwards for signing books in the book signing area.  Fortunately the speeches are videoed  to be added to the  Library of Congress website so everyone can hear each author’s speech on-line– this is so, so helpful because  if you want to get books autographed by a popular author it is necessary to get in that author’s line long, long before the scheduled signing making  it virtually  impossible to hear an author’s  speech live and also get  their books signed too. Naturally, Murphy’s Law, the little individual tents for the book signings are at one end of the Mall and the various 8 or 9  pavilions where the authors actually speak are stretched out from there to the other end of the Mall,  hence the necessity for hoofing around on shank’s mare for the various events.

Pavilions At The Book Festival

Upon arrival about 11:00 am,  my husband headed out to listen to the speeches at  the “Contemporary Pavilion”  while I made a bee line for  book signing Tent #  14  where a  favorite author and raconteur  was scheduled to begin his signings at 2:00 pm.    Wondering who ?   Think old red tennis shoes, fire engine red sox, a  red tie  and the phrase, “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,  my home town.”   Yes, none other than the supremely talented Garrison Keillor,  author of  16 books, editor of  numerous other books as well as the  host and guiding light behind   “A Prairie Home Companion” ,  heard Saturday nights on National Public Radio, sponsored by Powdered Milk Buscuits  which  “give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done”  and Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery –  “if you can’t find it at Ralph’s you probably don’t need it !  ”   We were about  7th or 8th in the Keillor line and I held our place while my daughter slipped over to journalist Bob Edward’s tent where he had just begun his signings.  My husband and Youngest Son both enjoy listening to Bob Edwards on XM Radio so I had copies  of his new book,  ” A Voice In The Box : My Life In Radio” ready to  be autographed as  Christmas gifts for them.

Garrison Keillor Signing Books At 2011 The National Book Festival

Garrison Keillor arrived on the dot of 2:00  and after speaking briefly with Bob Edwards,  who had come over to say hello from the adjacent tent,  his initial  order of business was to shake hands and have the official Festival photographer take a picture of  him with the  very first person in line.  I have often wondered if some of these authors realize what an effort it is for folks,  many of us not exactly spring chickens,  to stand in line for hours and hours just to say hello and get a book  signed.  Clearly Mr. Keillor understood  because not only did he make a nice fuss over Person # 1  (who probably had been in line  forever ), but  instead of  sitting at the table and chair set up at each tent for the authors,  Garrison Keillor  actually stood up for the entire time that he signed books  (which was much longer than an hour because his audience  had stretched all the way back to the street before they closed the line down to additional entrants.)   He was quite  gracious, personalized signings if requested, spoke to every  person,  had a question or funny remark for most,  big smiles.  (  Told me,  deadpan expression,  that the first edition I had of his first  Lake Wobegon book, Lake Wobegon Days,  was  so old that it couldn’t be  worth much,  maybe $5.00,  possibly I could get rid of  it at a garage sale. )   Upon personalizing a book for her,  he inquired about the derivation of  Eldest Daughter’s  first name,  Montaigne,  ( from Michel de Montaigne,  noted essayist and 16th century French philosopher,   whose essay on the education of children could still be a shining example to teachers everywhere).   Both of them had a good laugh when she explained how she had hated her name as a  child and had tried to convince her 4th grade  teacher that she was to be called Linda – – – which I only found out about when Montaigne came home with her papers signed as Linda !

Neal Stephenson was another scheduled author  whose books  I had packed in my cooler including  a first edition of one of my favorite books,  Cryptonomicon. A  blockbuster of a book which starts with War II,  it’s filled with more information than a non-mathematician would ever need to know about secret codes, cryptology, engineering  and the invention of the “Turing Machine”, the precursor to modern computers.  Alternating chapters create a story set in the 1990’s, the characters being descendants of the WWII characters who are using advanced telecom and  computer technology to create a secret data haven.  And along the way one also learns the best way to eat Captain Crunch !  Doesn’t sound that great but I can tell you it’s mesmerising !   I love long books because if you really are enjoying a book you don’t want it to end —  happily,  this book goes along for  over 900 pages, each page a joy – – except for the really detailed math pages but if you are a non-math person like me… well those pages are best just skipped over !

Neal Stephenson

China Express Restaurant In Washington DC, Home Of Delicious Homemade Noodles

After the Neal Stephenson signings there was still  time to slip over to hear Bob Edward’s lecture in the contemporary pavilion, quite interesting,  then a fast walk through a few of the other pavilions  and finally off to dinner in D.C.’s Chinatown.  We had a delicious meal at a Zagat reviewed restaurant, China Express at 746  6th Street, NW,  highly recommended in numerous reviews and rightly so.  The steaming hot noodle soup with pork slices was delicious,  tasty handmade noodles  properly chewy,  the roast pork buns lived up to their reputation and the eggplant in garlic sauce was absolutely perfect, a  melt- in-your- mouth dish with  a deliciously spicy sauce.   Definitely not much in the way of decor but excellent food,  generous helpings,  fast service,  the grandkids had a ball slurping up the long noodles, everyone agreed we had to eat here again when next in town.   We left  pleasantly full,  the day ended,  goodbye  2011 National Book Festival,  hello Eastern Shore.  Can’t wait until spring when the Library of Congress  announces  the 2012  Festival authors !
P.S.  I always love to hear about corporate giving for education and a shout-out to  Target is due here.  According to the official Festival brochure,  Target was the Distinguished Corporate Benefactor of the 2011 National Book Festival and  the company is on track to having donated one billion dollars  (that’s billion with a  B )  to education by 2015 through a program whereby  it donates 5%  of its income each year to the cause of improving education, particularly reading skills.

(Posted by Marlene Cree, licensed Virginia agent with Blue Heron Realty Co., 7134  Wilsonia Neck Dr., Machipongo, VA)