Friday, December 2, 2016

A Tenebrous Day in the Boonies

By Saturday I was recovered and cleared up from Thanksgiving Day, and itching to get outside and explore, so after being woken up, pawed at and squeaked at by an impatiently hungry Rosie Lee who was insistent that a sleep in for me wasn't justified, I grabbed my camera, jumped into Stuart and headed west. I was soon trundling along little lanes while listening to the radio personality lamenting about the traffic being backed up all around Northern Virginia. No car fumes or jams for me, just fresh country air and empty roads.
The mountains were beautifully dramatic on this stormy looking day, and every now and then the sun would leak some bright rays through the heavy grey clouds, spotlighting branches or a patch of tree tops, colors suddenly glinting as though a flashlight beam was being shone down on them. As I crossed over the mountains, the mewing radio voice, still complaining about the roads, broke up, crackled, and was then finally replaced with country and western music. Bye, bye busy suburbia.
The Christmas lights were already in place in Timberville, and Christmas trees glinted through house windows, making them look warm and inviting. Nobody was about, it was a chilly, windy and overcast day, and it seemed I was traveling through a post apocalyptic world, everything was so grey and heavy with barely a soul around. I drove towards Orkney Springs, a strange place at the end of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and close to the West Virginia border.

A strange little place, likely named after the Orkney Isles, since the first landowner here was Scottish. The springs are supposed to be healing waters and a huge hotel was built, supposedly the largest wooden structure in Virginia. The resort has other wooden buildings surrounding it and a few white clapperboard homes flanking the road on the way in, but that's it.
The hotel, built in the late 1870's, reminded me of the hotel in Stephen King's The Shining. It was so imposing as it loomed above me and it was deathly quiet too, there was no one here, the only noises were the crows cawing as they circled above me. As I stood below the ashen skies and ominous ambience, it felt like a horror movie scene.
I walked around the building and then climbed stairs, peering in through the windows that weren't shuttered and roaming the creaky balconies. Still not a soul to be seen, inside or out. I found myself humming the theme tune to The Twlight Zone... There's 175 bedrooms here, and seemingly, not a single person in any of them. The surrounding buildings are known as Shrine Mont, used as a retreat or for conferences. This also used to be an Indian settlement, and relics were found around the springs.
I walked up the hill and into a shrine, built in 1924 from local stone with wooden benches laid out in an amphitheater shape. I was captivated by this man made place of prayer with a bell tower, a pulpit, a font, even lecterns and seats built into the walls. It was so cute, like a grotto from The Hobbit or a fairy tale.
I loved this small carved wooden picture, I wished it was more sheltered from the weather or had some protective varnish on it, it won't last long unfortunately. This inscription was on the pole holding it up, "Little sisters the birds much bounden are we unto God your creator and always in every place ought we to praise Him".
Further along the trail was a labyrinth with a pillar of carefully stacked stones in the middle. I started walking around but the winds picked up, feeling icy as they swept past, and then the first fine flakes of snow started fluttering down. I reluctantly headed back to the car, the cold biting into my thin jacket. I'm going to return here in a few months as I'd like to find the springs and walk up the mountain, maybe a few more people may be about then. I was happy to leave and felt as though eyes were staring at me from darkened windows as I drove back down the silent street.
I meandered along country lanes, stopping occasionally to take photos of the views, an old abandoned garage and even coming abruptly to a halt at the house above. It's the first new build I've ever really liked, a rustically styled home, seemingly built to look like an old  farmhouse and blending in wonderfully with its rural surroundings. Then I spotted a sign for Swover Creek Brewery, and joyfully took the turning. I'd been wanting to return here for months and here I was, by accident, almost upon it. And as I walked briskly across the parking lot to the new tap room, I realized upon opening the door where everyone for miles around had disappeared to. They were here! The place was packed, full of chatting, happy voices and lovely and warm from a fire crackling in a stone fireplace. I sat at the bar and enjoyed a few tastes before plumping for a pint of the Red Clay, a delicious Irish style ale, that went down far too quickly.
The farm's website is here, and as I left I promised myself I wouldn't leave it so long until the next visit.  I stopped outside drawn to a small group near a smoking brazier where a guy with a chainsaw was carving a portrait of a young girl, wearing ear plugs and watching the sawdust swirl and eddy through the air.
Glenn Richardson has an impressive website of carved artwork, and has also done his portraits at the Burning Man Festival. I stood and observed for a while but it was too cold for me. The girl looked a little chilly too, I hope she didn't have to sit for too long. But I'm sure it would be well worth it for her unique likeness.
I had to quickly say hello to the chickens before I ran to the car. I loved these clucky ladies last time, they were so fearless, not bothered about me approaching. After a few minutes chatting, peeping and tuck-tucking with the girls I was back in Stuart with the heater running and driving back down the lane, noticing that it was getting darker and the clouds seemed to be sinking lower. Not too far down the road I stopped again, my eyes nearly popping out of my head as I took in this display.
Obviously someone is a devout supporter of Donald Trump and I chuckled as I looked the scene over, taking in the insults, slurs and sloppy paintwork. I really wanted to see a lot of it closer but although there was no fence, I was nervous to step on the land in case I heard a gun being racked behind me. Whoever did this is definitely a fanatic and I suspected a little unhinged. But it was impressive. I'm very tempted to return in a week or so and see if Christmas lights have been added.
I was thankful to get home before dark so Kota and Rosie Lee could have a quick constitutional outside before we all settled on the sofa, sharing a crackling fire and warm throws. It was good to be home.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

On Thanksgiving morning I was up at 6:00. Bedding was being washed by 6:15, and Theodore, the turkey, was prepped and already sending out aromatic wafts by 7:00. My 6 guests were arriving by noon, and three of them were even wonderful enough to call me and ask if I needed anything that I may have overlooked, but I had prepared efficiently and effectively for my feast and was steaming ahead with cooking the food, the ingredients were out and ready to go.
I had put together the stuffing the previous evening and made the Senate Cream Pie, a recipe I'd only come across a few days ago..  I changed it a bit, I added chocolate gluten free cookies to the gluten free Graham crackers. I don't have a food processor so I simply stuffed them all in a sturdy freezer zip-loc bag and reduced them to crumbs with a rolling pin (by rolling, not smashing!). I also replaced the whipping cream with a homemade mascarpone cream. I'm not a fan of large portions of just whipped cream and also this cheese cream would sit on top of the pie for a long time without turning to water. I made a fresh green bean casserole with white wine and cream, I wrapped carrot sticks and asparagus with bacon, and then roasted a tray of potatoes, parsnips and brussels. I also made an apple pie using Pillsbury cinnamon Rolls, from a recipe a work colleague sent me.  It looked like a typical American style recipe and quick to throw together. I did add nutmeg and brandy to the apple slices though. But throughout the 17 years I've lived in the states I've never used Pillsbury dough, not being a processed food fan, so I had no idea on how to open the tubes. Finally a YouTube video set me straight.
I managed to snap a few photos of the table before the guests arrived. Nothing in my house matches, I loath sets of things, so the table looked quite arty with its colorful mixture of glasses, plates and napkins, and even odd chairs. The beauty of this is that I don't ever have to worry about breakages, I can just go shop for a replacement, and I love the constant variety. No using the same old patterned plates for years on end for me.
Everyone arrived, and with the doors still open allowing the warm sunshiney day to enter the house, beers and wine were poured while they nibbled on small cheese balls, rolled with cheddar, roasted red peppers and a coating of paprika. These were supposed to resemble pumpkins but I had run out of time to titivate with them. Nobody noticed...
Cheers! A great photo from Rob and Bill took a couple too.
That's it, done with the photos! Time to tuck in and get amongst it!
I did manage to take a photo of my plate before I started munching. I was a little hungry, but why is it whenever you prepare a feast, your appetite wanes? Thankfully, this wasn't the case with my friends, who I happily watched tucking with extreme relish to their meals. And of course, they snaffled seconds afterwards too. It was wonderful to see so much of the food disappear. But then, once cutlery had finally been lowered to the plates, the moaning and groaning started, bellies were too full and there was no way dessert could be tackled.
Jason opted for the relaxed method of dealing with a full belly, and let the tryptophan kick in. Actually, I did try to explain that this is a myth but no-one would listen, so here's the truth. It's simply pure gluttony that causes tiredness!
After a while we did manage to leave our seats and totter down to the pond. The fresh air was invigorating, and we were hoping some food could be shaken down so we would have a little room for dessert when we got back.
Stone skimming or sitting on the bank was the most that anybody could manage and our lack of movement meant that soon we were all feeling the cold, so back up the hill we plodded, and indoors for dessert. Both the Senate Pie and the apple pie were attacked with much gusto, and once again, Jason had to resort to some napping, this time in preparation for his drive back to DC.
After loading up some plates for folks to take leftovers home, I was really pleased to see that I hadn't been left with too much food to polish off on my own. As the daylight faded, so did everyone's energy, and soon my pals were dragging themselves to cars to head home. I think I can quite safely say that everyone was napping as soon as they got home. But it had been a splendid day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Two Weekends Too Cold To Photograph

So the last couple of weekends have been blog busts for two reasons. Thanksgiving is almost on us, and with 6 guests, I wanted my place to be shipshape and pristine. And the weather has been horrendous. The first weekend, although lovely through Meadow House windows as I stood sipping tea and enjoying the sun, was bitterly cold and windy. I had hoped to go out and grab a few shots of the last autumnal foliage that was valiantly hanging onto its branches but once I stepped outside I knew I wouldn't be hiking or straying too far from the car at all.
The two photos above were the only photos I took, a local park and my favorite tree, the White Sycamore. The rest of the weekend was spent polishing wood floors and washing kitchen shelves and all crockery that hadn't been used for a while that I'd want for Thanksgiving Day.
This last weekend was rush, rush, rush. The winds were hurricane strength as they bombarded the house, causing the cats to look up at the strange noises and then look at me as though I could explain it. They would both dash out, wanting some fresh air, when I opened the patio door, but then after a quick roll and sniff round the log stack, would come hurtling back inside.
I also had a dilemma to solve. My tiny house has never had so many folks to dinner before and I was very concerned about seating. For years I have hated my small, boring pine table but hadn't seen one to replace that I could afford. I had popped into a Restore shop during the week but seen none I liked yet I had spotted a cute small arm chair that I was now wishing I'd got. So I drove back down there Saturday morning to snap it up. But oh, calamity, it was gone! I walked up and down the aisles, not believing it wasn't there, but then I did spot the sweetest little striped armchair in greens and blues, so I snaffled that instead. And then to my immense joy, I came across a solid oak dining table that extended, but closed up would fit in the space where my tiny pine table sat. I had resolved earlier to just use a folding table that I had in the shed and cover it with a tablecloth, but this one was beautiful, and in my cheap budget. There were 5 chairs, but I didn't need or want those, since I don't like sets of anything, so I just grabbed one and then donated back the other 4. So it was with a very happy heart that half an hour later I was driving down the road, Stuart stuffed full with a dining room chair, an armchair and a table perched on the roof, held down with my kayak straps. I took the back roads home slowly, munching on an egg sandwich and rocking as the winds buffeted the car from side to side. There were broken boughs on the road that I had to dodge and even a snake shimmied across the road in front of me, zigzagging quickly to reach the other side. The only birds flying were the vultures, sweeping low so I could see their claws tucked up under them. Not even the crows were out today.
I had to get Matt, my neighbor, to help me get the table inside once I got home, and the wind pinched my face as we unloaded the car. But it did look marvelous once it was placed under the window. Photos will be in the next blog entry. All photos below were taken with my iPhone so quality isn't great...
I had dragged in branches from outside and decorated those with lights which made the room cozy, and even managed to quickly paint a couple of my favorite birds that we see at Meadow House, the black vulture and the crow. These were on bits of wood that I'd pulled off a pallet they didn't offer much room for painting but they fit nicely under my cuckoo clock.
So while I bustled about the house, prepping for my Thanksgiving dinner, Kota and Rosie Lee snuggled up on chairs and in their beds, ignoring my pandemonium and the howling winds outside.
The fire crackled and cast a warm glow on the room as daylight dimmed and I finally managed to get to the end of my long list of chores. Everything had been washed, dusted, polished and vacuumed. The house sparkled with cleanliness and even the front door had been given a new lick of paint with shiny new numbers on it. I was ready!