Posts Tagged ‘Eastern Shore Virginia’

Mount Vernon- George Washington’s Splendid Estate In Alexandria, Virginia

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

After a week-end in Northern Virginia for a meeting in Fairfax, it was such a beautiful day, clear, cool, huge puffy white clouds floating by,  we decided to make a quick  visit before returning to the Eastern Shore to nearby Mount  Vernon,  George Washington’s, famous ancestral home, which I had not visited  in eons.  ( Let me say  again, for the umpteenth time, one of the great things about living on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is how close  the Shore  is to so many other places of interest,  to-wit only four and a half hours from  home  to  the heart of  the metro area of our nation’s capitol. )  Our  ”quick visit”  turned into a 6 hour tour,  we could have easily spent twice 6 more and still not have properly seen everything Mt. Vernon has to offer.  George Washington wrote of  his  beloved Mt. Vernon ” No estate in United States is more pleasantly situated than this. It lies in a high, dry county… on one of the finest Rivers in the world… It is situated in a latitude between the extremes of hot and cold… with road roads and the best navigation from the Federal City, Alexandria and George Town…”   And to navigate places, Washington had his  “riding chair”, what an interesting contraption, and his coach, one of only 50 in the entire state of Virginia at that time.

According to the guidebook,  at  George Washington’s funeral he was eulogized by his  dear friend,  Henry Lee,  ( the father of Robert E. Lee ), as being  “First in war; first in peace;  and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  I think to that could have been added “first in agriculture”  because agriculture in all its forms, from grain farming as a cash crop, horticulture, orchards and gardens  to wine and whiskey production, if it could be raised on his own dear lands,  it was a Washington  life long deep passion.  The original 2000 acres of  Mt. Vernon had been owned by the Washington family since the mid-1600′s  but  by the time of his death, Washington had purchased a great deal of additional adjoining acreage,  expanding the estate to over 8,000 acres, all actively  farmed, with Washington himself the maestro, directing  it all.  He was a real leader in the progressive farm movement.  Totally hands on, by experiment, through trial and error,  he tested innovative methods that seem commonplace today but which were considered novel and  radical land husbandry ideas at that time.

Such concepts as deep plowing  to reduce erosion and create healthier root zones, the addition of soil amendments such as manure and lime, the planting legume cover crops to enrich the soil, the rotation of  crops, the planting  in furrows rather than just scattering seeds across the land,  all these now accepted land management concepts were not just  brand new,  they were still unproven,  likely controversial,  practices in Washington’s day.   These revolutionary new farming methods were utilized on his farms starting in the  mid-to-late 1700′s yet most  are still accepted agricultural concepts 200 +  years later. In addition, Washington established a very successful rye  and corn whiskey distillery, one of the most successful of its time, producing over 10,000 gallons  of   ”liquid gold”  per year in its heyday, no doubt  enabled by  his very successful grain farms which  produced the corn and rye.  Time got away and we didn’t visit the distillary but it is still modestly active and is the gateway to The American Whiskey Trail.  ( It turned out 900 bottles of whiskey last year  to be sold at the gift shop, which was, of course, totally sold out,  maybe more in November according to the clerk.  But I’m assuming they saved back a few bottles because on Aug. 3rd,  Mt Vernon  is sponsoring a dinner event called Gentleman Distiller: Whiskey Tasting and Dinner at the Distillary. )

Since Washington was one of the most wealthy and  prominant  men of his time, as expected, the mansion itself  is magnificent.  But we were surprised to learn that the exterior siding, which appears to be stone, was actually wood siding,  beveled to look like stone and then “rusticated”,  meaning that sand was applied to the paint while still wet, giving it a look and feel of stone which was a prohibitively expensive building material, although “rusticating” itself was quite expensive as well.  Back in the day, apparently Washington made  Virginia’s most extensive use of this technique in his quest to make Mt. Vernon one of the country’s very finest estates.

Also interesting were the  paint colors.  I had never actually thought about it but learned on the tour that color pigments for paint were usually ordered from England.  These would be dry pigments, very, very expensive,  and they needed  to be carefully ground to a fine powder and mixed into the paint, homemade of course,   on-site. Because of the high cost of pigment, usually only rooms that would used by visitors as well as family were painted in bright colors– the rest would either be very lightly tinted, white or beige.  Green and blue were highly prized,  especially expensive pigments so naturally  most of the main rooms in the mansion are varying shades of  blues and greens,  Washington apparently being especially fond of green which he said was “restful to the eye”.  The craftsmanship of  the interior moldings and mantel carvings is just amazing,  as is the elaborate palladian window in the full house-width dining room.  Like Thomas Jefferson, Washington apparently loved the new and interesting, especially if it was useful. I found his combination “chair and fan” most unique, a chair with a pole behind it attached to a pedal on the floor.  The square of cloth attached to top of  the pole would then fan the occupant of the chair as he  pumped the floor pedal.

As is evident from this photo,  Martha Washington oversaw quite the state-of-the-art kitchen– for her day,  she had the most advanced appliances and implements that money could buy or skills could fashion.  ( This  included a  brand new “automatic”  rotissary,  an appliance  involving a chain attached to a fan placed up in the fireplace flue.  The rising heat then turned  the fan blades, which then turned the chain, which then turned the spit.  This was revolutionary, making  it possible to roast on a spit without having a person whose primary job would be  just to turn the spit.   Martha  had a reputation as  a generous and patient hostess– apparently it was not unusual after the War and especially after the Presidency,  for all sorts of very important people  to come to Mt. Vernon to pay their respects,  by the hundreds, making Mt. Vernon one of the most visited homes in the new nation !   In one year there were over 400 guests to Mt. Vernon, most of whom stayed several days and possibly longer.  Because of this,  a great deal of her time was spent planning the meals to be served to guests. ( She was also in charge of distilling the household medicines, had a special, tiny still for that purpose and possessed a sought-after recipe for chapstick, called lip balm back in the day,  Walgreen’s  being a few hundred years in the future.)

Martha Washington was especially famous for her delicious  hams, soaked first in her special curing recipe and then slowly smoked to perfection in the large smoke house just off the kitchen. A  ham was served everyday, boiled and/or baked, along with other meats and poultry and fruits and vegatables from their  gardens and orchard.  Apparently Martha’s signature desssert was a cake called  the  “Great Cake”  ( I’m guessing  for size as well as taste ).  According to the tour guide, guests and family alike longed for this cake,  the  recipe for which included copious  quanities of  brandy and Medeira wine, needed 2 hours to bake  and  began:  “Take 40 eggs….”    The “Great Cake” was often served not only at dinner but also at her well-known “afternoon teas”,   enjoyed in good weather on the rear  veranda overlooking the wide sweep of  the Patomac River.  Ships and boats of all sizes  plyed these broad blue saltwaters as  Washington and his guests, family and friends  relaxed  in the veranda’s 40 Windsor chairs.  Similar  Windsor chairs are on the veranda still, available to the public to rest a bit and to enjoy the commanding view from the Mansion, which is sited atop a high hill with the dramatic river view framed by the trees below the hill, carefully planted specifically for that purpose by Washington. ( Actually, after walking and walking, it is truly delightful to be able to relax on the veranda in one of those chairs and just soak in the postcard-like scene.)

Martha Washington had inheirited   a rare family treasure, an extensive  handwritten cookbook,  which she  received  in 1749  and kept until 1799, when she gifted this heirloom to her  grandaughter, Nelly Custis.  This unique manuscript was  brought back to life in a 1981 edition from the Columbia University Press,  edited by the late Karen Hess, entitled Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery and Booke of  Sweetmeats“ .  It  is a marvelous,  detailed glimpse into not just the  art of cooking of  that era but into its social customs and manners.  ( It’s worth twice the price just to read the recipes for some of  the various puddings,  recipes  with titles like  how to make:   “A  Marrow Pudding”,  A Bak’d Almond Pudding,  An Almond Pudding To Boyle,  A Haggis Pudding,  A White Pudding, A Curd Pudding,  A Quakeing Pudding,  A Light Pudding,  A Bagg Pudding,  A Fryde Pudding, A Hearbe Pudding,  A Good Pudding,  A Very Good Pudding and,  last but not  least,  how  To Make A Pudding In A Loaf “.  )   Another terific book about food and entertaining  at Mt. Vernon is  “Dining With The Washingtons: Historic Recipes, Entertaining and Hospitality From Mount Vernon“  edited by Stephen A. McLeod, from  the University of North Carolina Press.  Both books are available at the extensive Mt. Vernon gift shop, either would make  a nice gift for a friend  interested in culinary history or,  in my case,  for oneself.

Time was unfortunately too short to see many of  the amazing exhibits in the museum/education center which is the exit  building but we did get to see George Washington’s  famous false teeth.  These were held in the mouth by springs, quite painful no doubt, and the video on how these dentures were manufactured  leads one to a great appreciation of modern dentistry.  But  most interesting to me was the exhibit which explained how state of the art technology had been used to create  facial and body models  of what Washington likely looked  like in his younger days, before any portraits had been painted of him.  There is an exhibit of  him as a young surveyor and as a middle aged soldier atop his horse, these models are believed to be very close to his true appearance at those ages, a tall, thin, very attractive man.  And then,  time to go but wanting  to come back soon to see everything we had  missed. P.S. For animal lovers out there, Washington loved animals too, especially dogs,  whom he often gave whimsical names. When he became General of the Revolutionary Army,  he took his favorite, Sweetlips,  along with him leaving True Love and Mopsey behind !     P.P.S.  Lots of fascinating info at www.mountvernon.org , www.gwpapers.virginia.edu , and www.marthawashington.us .

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

A Bird ? A Plane ? Superman ? No, It’s A Flying Boat !!

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Not A Bird Or A Plane Or Superman. It’s An Incredible Flying Boat On The Beach In Cape Charles,VA!

Last Saturday I was cruising the beach for a  few pictures  to be used in  the new Blue Heron Realty Co.  catalogue of prime Eastern Shore Virginia waterfront properties when I saw what appeared to be a gargantuan yellow butterfly floating in the Chesapeake Bay out near the breakwater.   Definitely not a butterfly though,  it was a flying boat,  FIB for short,  a flying inflatable dingy to be exact,  bobbing in the shallow waters just off the Cape Charles, VA beach as its owners readied it for take-off.   Curious about the craft,  never having seen or even read about one before,  on the spur of the moment  I took off my shoes and waded out ,  fully dressed including  slacks,   to take a closer look,  introduce myself and ask a few questions.  Owners Erin and Sophie Harvey  were kind enough to tell me all about their astonishing  craft– in fact,  I learned that it was Sophie’s maiden voyage.   (Not sure–   in a FIB,  is it  a maiden voyage or a maiden flight ?  )  Anyway, it was her first time to travel aboard  their  FIB and she was busy screwing her courage to the sticking point because Sophie,  like me,  is not that crazy about heights.  But at least  she was game to try,  I fear you couldn’t get me into that little thing for love nor money.

Getting Ready For Lift-off On Sophie’s Maiden FIB Flight

One of the first things I wanted to know was how high Erin would be flying her.   ( Is a flying boat even properly referred to as a  “her” ?  )   Apparently its  wing span of 36 feet enables the pilot to achieve a maximum height of 10,000 feet and the 64 horsepower motor offers a maximum speed of 50 knots,  roughly 58 miles per hour.   Which to me  is a pretty scary thought- –  traveling 10,000 above ground,  at almost 60 mph,  in what more or less is a flying  11′ 6″  by 5′ 5″  bathtub with seats.  But for Sophie’s  maiden flight/voyage,  Erin was planning a staid 300-500  foot  max altitude which would have been a comfort to me,  I don’t even like to peek over 3rd story balconies.  Sophie’s take on the situation was that either everything would go pretty well and they’d follow a course south to land at the Sunset beachfront pub for dinner  or we’d all hear her let out a blood-curdling scream and see Erin make an immediate landing,  she wasn’t taking any bets either way.

 

Airbourne In A Flying Inflatable Boat-Scary, Thrilling, Astonishing !

By now a little crowd of curious people had gathered around to see what was happening.  Erin was ready to began his pre-flight checklist which was stored on his cellphone,  not the fat clipboard one sees in the cockpit of a  Boeing  747.   Donning her intercom radio- equiped helmet,  Sophie climbed aboard and got settled into her  seat, a seat  which resembles the booster seat of a two child stroller more than anything else.  Countdown to liftoff  began, checking battery connections,  checking propeller,  fuel lines, wing pulley lines, testing intercom connections, etc., etc.  Finally satisfied that everything was ready to go,  Erin grabbed the tow line to pull the craft out into the Bay beyond the area where beachgoers were enjoying the water, climbed aboard and  started the motor,  which sounds very much like a  lawnmower on steroids.  Apparently only about 200 feet is normally required for FIB  takeoff  but Erin had told me that he might have a little trouble with the liftoff because of  lack of wind and weight of a passenger aboard.  But the wind gods were with him because just as he started the motor,  a breeze came through and up  they went !   No bloodcurdling screams,  just 2 big, lazy circles around the beach and then a beeline south,  next planned stop  a landing in the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay at Sunset Beach.  I watched until they were just a tiny speck in the sky,  Erin and Sophie flying into the wild blue yonder in their intrepid craft,  the  astonishing,  amazing,  postively incredible  flying boat.

                                 

P.S. I want to give a shout-out to the LL Bean Company.  After wading out further and further,  trying to get a better view of the take-off,  my slacks were soaked up to the fanny but I had 2 other stops to make and there was no possibility of going home to change first. To my surprise and delight, by the time I walked back to the car, got my camera stowed away and drove 10 minutes to the first errand,  my LL Bean crease-resistant slacks were basically dry.  But best of all, they looked fresh as a daisy, nobody could ever have guessed that 15 minutes before I had unexpectedly decided to wade  into  three feet of  Chesapeake Bay saltwater.

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

 

 

PPS.  If you want to learn more about FIB’s,  click on the following link to  a US FIB distributor. http://www.clickondetroit.com/video/13377469/index.html

“Sweet Baby” James Taylor’s Gift to the Birds Of Eastern Shore Of Virginia

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

Singer/Songwriter James Taylor has enabled a wonderful legacy for wild birds on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore.  On Friday, October 8, 2010, an addition to Kiptopeke State Park was officially dedicated in his name by the Director of Parks and Recreation for the state of Virginia.  Thanks to James Taylor’s  generosity,  the state of Virginia ,  in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy,  added an additional 37 acres of upland area to the park.  Kiptopeke State Park is located at the very southern tip of the Shore in an area that is vital to the migration of songbirds in their flight south for the winter from their summer breeeding grounds in the northern regions of North America.  (See a great  video of James Taylor and his wife  kayaking on Virginia’s  Eastern Shore at   www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPBTypUfgYM )

On-site Information Marker for the James Taylor Bird Habitat At Kiptopeake State Park

As the topography of the East Coast shapes into a funnel at the end of the Delmarva Penninsula so follows millions of migrating songbirds where they gather at the tip of Virginia’s Eastern Shore to refuel for the crossing of the Chesapeake Bay and for leaving the mainland of the continent to migrate across thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean towards Central and South America.  James Taylor personally donated $200,000., the proceeds of a 2009 fund raising concert he performed in Virginia Beach.  The land that was purchased and added to the state park was formerly agricultural in use and now will be allowed to flourish as wild bird habitat for future generations forever. Hundreds of native trees, shrubs, and grasses have been planted there to support the songbird migration. Birds truly have  “got a friend”  in   James Taylor.

The Eastern Shore of Virginia Master Gardeners donated 500 hours of volunteer labor and the plants necessary to establish a demonstration garden of native plant species, the perfect compliment to the James Taylor bird habitat.  I joined the Master Gardeners two years ago and have gained quite a bit of knowledge and experience in gardening, landscaping, plant diseases, and maintenance.  The best part is making new friends and contributing to our wonderful community.  Each new class that graduates has installed a garden in a public place and maintains it.  The  Virginia Eastern Shore community benefits also by the thousands of hours of volunteer work that the Master Gardeners donate each year in support of education and maintenance of public gardens.

It’s An Easy Day Trip From Virginia’s Eastern Shore To Washington D.C. So I’m Looking Forward To Going To The 2010 National Book Festival

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

Virginia's Eastern Shore's Location On The Eastern Seaboard

One of the nice things about living on the  Eastern Shore of Virginia  is how easy it is to go elsewhere.  Sort of an oxymoron thought process– it’s good to be here so I can go elsewhere.  But it’s true !   Virginia’s  Eastern Shore is actually within a half day’s drive of many of  the great spots  on the East Coast,  it’s the perfect place to buy a property which is a home base for get-a-way trips to lots of exciting events and places.   About six hours from my office door  to emerging  from the Holland Tunnel onto Canal Street in Manhattan.. ..  dim sum in Chinatown is calling to us.  ( And we love the roast pork buns and coconut buns at Maria’s Bakery on Mott Street. )  About three hours to Charlottesville  and the beautiful vistas of  the Blue Ridge mountains and some of Virginia’s finest wineries (  www.monticellowinetrail.com  ).   About  four hours to Baltimore,  site of Inner Harbor and its fabulous aquarium  and of course,  Annapolis is nearby.  And let’s not forget about Virginia’s Golden Triangle,  the  historic towns of  Jamestown,  Yorktown and  Williamsburg,  so close,  only an hour and a half away  (    www.historictriangle.com ),  always lots of interesting things going on there.  Over the Christmas holidays we nearly always visit Colonial Williamsburg  ( www.history.org  )  to enjoy the  bonfires,  fife and bugle corps , the nightly  Illumination of the Christmas  Tree,  the stunning  all -natural decorations,  topping it  off with  a fabulous dinner at  the Regency Room at  the Williamsburg Inn.

Moonlight Illuminates The U.S. Capitol and The Festival Tents

I  could wax on and on about places to visit within a half day’s drive but this post is supposed to be about going to the 2010 National  Book Festival.    www.loc.gov/bookfest/  This year marks  the 10th anniversary of the Festival,  held annually in Washington D.C.,    sited out on the National Mall,  organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress.  It  will be the second time we have attended,   having had a marvelous time at last year’s Festival we are really looking forward to going again.   I  had learned  about the Festival some years ago but as September is a busy month in real estate,   it’s really a difficult time to get away for several days.   But last summer when I read about the  2009 Festival,  so many authors,  fiction and non-fiction,  that I truly love and admire were scheduled to appear that it was simply impossible not to go !    ( Actually,  once I discovered that  Ken Burns,  John Irving  and John Grisham would be there,  speaking and autographing their  books,  I can assure you that  wild horses couldn’t have dragged me away. )   Irving’s novels, especially Garp,  Owen Meany and Cider House,  have long been favorites.  ( Couldn’t really get into  Son of the Circus  but I met a fellow while standing in the long,  long Irving book signing line who thought it was his best work and had re-read it six times.  So I’m going to give it another shot this winter.)    And who doesn’t like John Grisham — his work is so popular  that  he must be a multi- billionaire by now !    My husband and I both admire Ken Burns and so I toted four copies ( one for  us,  three for gifts )  of  Burns’  then brand new National Parks book  to be autographed — trust me when I say that after standing for almost two hours in his book signing line, ( in a light drizzle,  no less,  thank Heaven  I brought those little yellow rain ponchos ),   those  four copies of  National Parks seemed  to weigh four hundred pounds and my arms had stretched four feet.   ( I know it is better to give than to receive but the three people who got a signed Ken Burns book for Christmas owe me a new arm. )  

The 2010 National Book Festival Poster

At any rate,  the 2009 Festival,  which was a two day event,  also featured acclaimed authors Nicholas Sparks, Lee Childs and Daniel Silva  (both of whom I particularly enjoy ),  Michael Connelly,  James Patterson,  Judy Blume,  Sue Monk Kidd,  Jon Meachum ( whose book  American Lion  I had just finished reading  ) and Gwen  Ifill,  the excellent  moderator of  PBS’   Washington Week,  plus many other novelists,  poets and non-fiction writers.   About a  thirty-fecta of  literary talent,  all in the very same place on the very same week-end.  Can you believe it ???   Thank-you,  Library of Congress !!   Anyone who truly loves books and reading can appreciate the real  thrill of attending the 2009  National Book Festival and seeing,  hearing  speeches by and getting books autographed by some of ones favorite authors .  So although,  for me,  the 2010 Festival doesn’t have the same star power,  my husband and I,  a daughter and a friend are all looking forward to leaving the Eastern Shore,  making that easy trip to spend the week-end in  Washington DC  and hearing  Ken Follett,  Scott Turow,  Anchee Min,  Michelle Norris of NPR  and   David Remnick  speak and getting them to autograph their  books for us — and yes,  I’m thinking Christmas as well. ( A  signed,  first edition copy of a book  by the  giftee’s  favorite author makes  a great Christmas present,  especially when it comes with the story of  how the giftor stood in line forever in the sun/rain/dark of night,  feet aching,  just  to get it autographed especially for them. )  So let’s hear it for books,  authors and the brick and mortar book stores like Barnes and Nobles and Borders who hold the world within their four walls !   And let’s hear it for living on the Eastern Shore of  Virginia,  so centrally located that a whole other lifestyle dimension is opened by the ease with which you can get away to so many other places !   Applause, applause,  applause,  ad infinitum !