Thursday, August 21, 2014

I always like seeing these colorful windows as I approach work. Especially on a stormy morning like today when the colors really pop.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Had to drive home from work slowly and carefully after heavy rain during a storm caused a lot of flooding.

Early Morning Balloons

On Sunday I was up before even the cock crows, at 4:00am. I was meeting a group at The Flying Circus in Bealeton, VA to see the hot balloons take off. We'd been hoping for a beautiful mist to cloak the balloons, like I'd seen there a few years ago but as soon as I started driving, even in the dark I knew there would be no mist or fog. The lake near home didn't even have a whisper hanging over the water and the grass was bone dry.
It was still dark when I arrived and I had to wait a few minutes before someone came to the kiosk so I could pay. I think I was the first visitor to arrive. I waited in Stuart for the sky to lighten up and before long I saw Mario arrive.
 We walked around the planes and hangars, constantly looking back towards the area where the balloons would be unpacking but there was no activity there. We walked over and heard that they were concerned about the low lying clouds and slight wind. They let off a couple of small balloons and then decide they would take off a little further north on Rte 17. Mario and I ran towards Stuart and in a few minutes were tailing a truck pulling a trailer with 2 balloon baskets on the back. But they left Rte 17 and headed down a rural road so we followed. After a few miles we followed them into the driveway of a house with paddocks out the back. Apparently they had taken off from here on Saturday and had called this morning but got no answer. Trusting the owner would be OK about it, they went to the same field. There were a few more balloons being unpacked from trucks and Todd from our group was also here. The 3 of us asked if we'd be OK taking photos and were given a free rein to go where we wanted. What a superb opportunity to be so close to these inflatable giants and only 3 of us to photograph them. i was so happy about this because if there had been a lot of cameras in the way I don't think these folks would have been so tolerant, especially as ballooning is a hazardous activity.
We ran back and forth, always making sure that we didn't get in the way of the crew or the ropes and fans.
 Fans blew air into the base of the balloon while people at the head started fastening the canopy to the tops of the balloons.
This lady called me over to see inside the balloon and I had to quickly set my camera and take the shot. So glad it came out great, there was no chance of a second go, the balloon was filling up fast.
 The balloons filled up fast and each was held down by 1 or 2 people with ropes further down the field.
 Once filled, the baskets and burners were put into place, fastened and flames shot into the balloons.
You don't usually get the opportunity to get as close as we did, we were very fortunate. The heat from the burners was intense.
 The passengers had to quickly climb into the baskets and they were off, rising rapidly into the sky.
 Not sure why this lady was standing in front of the fan, she was having a hard time holding those lines.
And the last one was off. There were another 2 balloons in the next field but we really didn't have time to race between the fields. I was worried about my knee as I'd been crouching down to look up into the balloons and then running to and fro to get the best vantage points, sometimes wanting to be up close and then wanting to get right back to fit as much into my photo as possible. But it seemed OK. My feet were drenched and I was glad I had spare shoes in the car. My knees were also wet from kneeling in the grass. Bealeton had had rain in the early hours so the grass was soaked. I saw the house owner walk to the fence and went to chat with him. The poor guy was barely awake but was fine with us being there. He had heard the phone but chosen not to answer as it was so early. but he was up now getting ready for church and glad I think that we'd be leaving soon.
 Mario grabbing a last shot as the balloons lifted into the sky and then we ran back to Stuart so we could return to the airfield in time to see them land.
 But we didn't have to rush. Once the balloons had got airborne their progress was slow. There was little wind and maybe the humidity played a part in pulling them down but they were having problems staying up. They limped across the fields, slowly bobbing up and down as their pilots tried to gain elevation with the burners. Some were landing in folks' front yards. The crew would then have to climb out of the basket and drag the balloon away from the house so they could take off again. I wondered if any people were woken up by the sound of the gas burners roaring outside their bedroom windows!
 We got back to the airfield to find out that none of the balloons had arrived.We suspected trucks and crews had to go rescue some of them because it looked like a few had overshot the airfield. But one managed to get back and the crowds flocked to see it land.
 The voice of the show, constantly giving a running report on activity in the sky and on the field.
 It looked like awkward work packing up the balloons afterwards but the crew were efficient and quick, everything bundled on to the trucks within 15 minutes.
Some of the bi-planes were giving paid flights to folks in the crowd but there weren't many up in the air. The air show itself wasn't starting until after 2pm but I decided not to stay. I've seen the show before and by now was thinking of a sofa and taking a nap after I'd edited my photos. I was heading home. And what good timing, as I started pulling out large drops of rain began falling onto the windscreen. I really do manage to make some fortunate exits sometimes!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Grinding Grain at a Grist Mill

On Saturday I drove to local Millwood to visit the Burwell-Morgan Grist Mill. I've been wanting to visit here for a while and to get some of their flour which I've heard wonderful things about that is ground on site. Built in 1785 it's one of the oldest working grist mills in the country, grinding corn and wheat on Saturdays. Lt. Col. Nathaniel Burwell built the mill which flourished from the outset and Thomas Jefferson regarded him as one of Virginia's outstanding businessmen. He brought in a partner, Daniel Morgan, to oversee the mill when he wasn't there. Production continued in the mill through to 1953 when it was owned by Ernest Alger. After it closed structural deterioration set in and it was given to Clarke County Historical Association who started restoring the building and finishing in 1971. The waterwheel and gears were restored in the 1990's.
 It's a beautiful stone building surrounded by grass, a few old cottages, and large shady trees with a creek running alongside that I'm sure I saw some watercress growing in. The water leading into the mill was cool and quiet with large koi carp flicking back and forth.
Inside the mill I was pleased to see that it wasn't busy and immediately a young lad approached me and asked if I'd like a tour.
 We started with this small hand mill. He showed how it worked and let me have a go grinding some wheat which didn't seem that hard to do until he explained that this was usually the job of the oldest daughter in the house. She would have to get up early in the morning and grind enough flour for breakfast pancakes and the rest of the day. If it was a large family the chore could take 2-3 hours!
 Looking down on the water wheel. Because this wheel is inside the mill, the mill could run 24/7 and was run by 4 shifts of black slaves.
 There are two of these grindstones on the main level, one for grinding corn and the other for wheat. The ground flour runs down a pipe underneath to a shaker attached to the waterwheel, and removes the chaff. The waterwheel also powers the two grindstones.
The waterwheel and cogs are all greased with lard and the red hue on the wood is because it is red oak. A video of the waterwheel working is here. I was standing right next to the waterwheel when the water was allowed in and it started turning. I had to move fast to avoid a soaking! My young guide was very informative, showing me all 4 levels of the mill, one of which is rented out for functions, including wedding receptions. He explained a lot of the machinery that was standing around the mill, a tool for shucking corn and another for sharpening knives, another for turning the flour on the floor so it would cool as it was hot after being between 2 grindstones. When my tour was finished I wandered around looking more closely at artifacts placed on tables, window ledges and the floor.
 I would never have guessed what this was in a million years. It's a tool for folding and pressing cardboard blanks into 12-egg cartons! From around 1954.
One of the millers packaging the freshly ground rye flour into 2lb bags which apparently is hard work because the flour is so fine and light. It had the consistency of confectioners sugar.
The beautiful hewn marks on the original floorboards.
A hand painted stone done for the mill by a local.
Today the mill is operated by volunteer millers who maintain the machinery and grind the corn and wheat on Saturdays from May through November. The flour is for sale, with no preservatives added,  so I bought some buck wheat, great for pancakes, and some cornflour so I can make cornbread. They told me to keep it in the freezer where it will keep indefinitely.
I was feeling hungry and strolled over to the Locke Store, where a hoard of folks were lining up buying lunch, local produce and local wines.
The quiches looked superb so I got a slice of the tomato ricotta and a piece of cornbread made from the mill flour.
 I took my lunch back over to the mill where a pretty grassy pasture had picnic benches under the large trees. I sat and munched contentedly enjoying the beautiful views. My food was absolutely superb. I have to say that the combination of cheese, tomato and fresh basil is one of the best flavors in the world.
 A lovely collection of money trees at one of the cottages by the mill.
 This building next to the mill intrigued me. The front porch was completely filled with old furniture, mainly chairs. It wasn't a store, there were no lights inside and the entrance was completely blocked. There seemed to be no sign of life. Strange, but interesting.
 The pretty church and community garden in Millwood. There's only about 200 residents living here yet it's a thriving little village that only takes about 10 minutes to walk around. There's also a blacksmiths shop here but that was closed so I'll return another day to see that.
My bags of flour. I see pancakes for breakfast in the very near future.