Monday, January 31, 2011

Here We Go Again...

So I’ve decided to pick myself up and head back into the internet dating world. I’m bruised but still standing yet slightly skeptical of what’s out there. It’s a sad reflection of today’s society that nothing lasts forever any more and I believe the internet is largely responsible for this. It’s too easy now to keep looking for somebody else when you’re in an existing relationship as there’s a world of photos and profiles to view offering possible better catches with the continuous lure of ‘is the grass greener on the other side’? I’m sure if my previous relationship had been 15 or 20 years ago, it may have stood a better chance of surviving; without these outside temptations people wanted to work harder to keep what they had. But today everything is shortlived whether it’s a marriage, a job or a car. Because of the web there’s always something better out there than what you already have.
But even though I’ve been a sad victim of this situation, I’m hopeful enough that there is still an old fashioned man out there with strong morals and a sense of loyalty. I need to believe in this because I can’t bear to think that everybody from my generation has also been sucked into this new shallow and transient world that we now live in. So standing proud and with my chin trust forward, I’m going back out there. Wish me luck. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow in Centreville

 I've been praying for snow for weeks and Wednesday night it finally came, preceded first by thunder, lightning and hailstones. Then the snow came down swiftly and silently in giant flakes. Emblemax emptied pretty fast as well as the rest of Northern Virginia and soon the roads became gridlocked with peoples' homeward bound journeys taking 10 times longer than usual. Some of my friends didn't make it home and one took 12 hours to get to his home.
I got home after nearly an hour so I was lucky and immediately walked up to the local store to get munchies and milk. These bicycles were parked outside the store and to my surprise  the place was virtually empty.
The parking lot usually full of cars was desolate. The wind was fierce and blew the snowflakes everywhere. They got into every crack and I was covered in just a couple of minutes.
The trees looked beautiful and our little part of the world was soon silent and looking like a wonderland.
The lights came on and added a magical glow everywhere.
Although the trees were enchanting it soon became apparent that they were in danger of breaking. This silver birch outside our building bowed so low to the ground that we had to duck underneath and I was worried about Stuart who was parked close by in case one of the boughs cracked and landed on him. We brushed off the snow from the branches we could reach including the hedge outside my back porch.
This holly tree outside my lounge window made me feel as though Christmas had returned.
Kota had to see for himself and yowled until he could go outside, so with harness and leash on, out we went. And 2 minutes later we were back indoors again with him leading the way.
So I finally had my snow and it was wonderful to cuddle up on the sofa with hot chocolate and Jamesons just listening to the silence and watching the world turn white. There's rumors there may be more next week...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Modern Baptism

On Sunday I drove up to Debbie and Jim's as today was a special day for both of them at church but also for Debbie as she was getting baptized. I hadn't been too keen on attending this and had declined her invitation until the last minute as I'm not a fan of modern churches, or even going to church at all. I believe in God but wish to believe in my own way and not a way dictated to by others. Their church is called Common Ground and is held in a school in Leesburg and Debbie was getting baptized in a kids paddling pool. Hmmm. But I went because I knew it was important to her and also to support both of them in completing a 20 week bible course.
It was a very casual relaxed atmosphere but I have to admit I was cautious and steered clear of large groups in case I was swallowed up and brainwashed. But I let down my defenses once I'd spoken with a few of them and found them to be very friendly welcoming folks who had no intention of preaching to me.
The group started with songs, all contemporary, so I listened as the whole group sang along with the band. The guy in red is the pastor, Sal, with his wife, Jamie, in the striped jacket. James Thrash was also there. He's a regular attendee who used to play for the Redskins until July 2009.
The band played pretty well, I was impressed, but I did miss singing traditional hymns. There were also a couple of prayers but because the scene was so informal, I wasn't aware prayers were being said until they were nearly halfway through and then I'd have to suddenly bow my head. I wished we'd said the Lord's Prayer.
Luke and Max sat down near me and this is Aiden, a close friend of Luke's. I was trying to get shots of Luke but every time I pointed the camera Aiden would start grinning and posing. Bless him, he was so cute.
Then it was time for the D Group (Discipleship) graduates to stand up and explain why the course had been important to them and what they'd learned from it. Both Jim and Debbie did an awesome job without showing any nervousness. I was so proud of them!
Then it was time for the baptisms. I have to confess I was very relieved when I saw the pool because I was fully expecting something like this:
To my immense relief, the pool, although bright plastic, was not adorned with gaily colored plastic ducks or piggies as I was dreading, so I was actually able to take the ceremony quite seriously.
Luke and Max stood close by as Sal baptized their Mom. Apparently the water was nice and hot so I wouldn't have minded a dunk myself but it was not to be. We all applauded Debbie and gave her soggy hugs then helped to put the tables and chairs away before we left.
Aston & Peyton looking wonderful and happy.
Then we all went to Maggiano's in Tysons 2, a superb Italian restaurant, to celebrate.
The food was exceptional and there was plenty of it. Here's Joyce loading up her plate and Debbie looking dry again.
I did not eat all that chocolate cake, but it was such a huge portion that I had to have my photo taken with it, and then reluctantly shared it out. We had a fabulous meal which Sal blessed, and then afterwards he told to the group how proud he was of them.
We headed back to Jim and Debbie's for cups of tea but after a while I left to relax on the sofa and cuddle up with Kota. End of a busy but magnificent weekend.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Copper Fox Distillery

On Saturday, I went with some friends to visit a distillery in Sperryville, VA. It was far too cold to be outside so this was a superb opportunity to experience something new. I was not keen to spend all day indoors, so excellent idea Tim!
I was keen to try out the Wasmunds whiskey after reading about it on their website and it was awesome to learn we had a famous distillery almost on our doorstep. I was also amazed to discover from the website that it was sold in the local ABC store, walking distance from my home.
We arrived and immediately started the tour. The place had a welcoming homey atmosphere with a fire blazing and the owners' cats sleeping on nearby chairs.
This is Chip, a massive affectionate tabby.
I would love to work at this desk!
Here's the owner Rick, smelling the mash. We were invited to smell it also so I promptly shoved my head down and took a deep sniff. And just as promptly recoiled as my nose lining disintegrated and my eyes watered. I couldn't even speak, the smell was so bad. Of course this was the desired effect and Rick was immensely amused.
He explains here how the whiskey sits in these used bourbon barrels with smoked fruit wood chips suspended in them. He let us smell the small jar on top of the barrel and this time I smiled with delight at the gorgeous aroma, sweet, woody and smokey. I was itching to take a sip but managed to let go of the jar as the next person gently prised it from my fingers.
Here's some barrels with the whiskey aging inside.
This is the station where the bottles are labeled and then sealed with wax.
Our group. Tim holding his barrel kit which he'd just purchased, Jay holding his bottle of malt whiskey, and Pam and I holding copies of The Town Crier, just in case this local paper prints our photo.
The small store where the whiskey is sold. It also sold souvenirs such as t-shirts, shot glasses and model trucks. I bought the Copper Fox Rye Whiskey simply because I liked the label. We were allowed to taste the whiskey due to laws but we could sniff them.
After chatting to Rick and petting the animals, 2 cats and 2 dogs, we wandered across the way to an antique store. The place was massive but cold with only a wood stove near the register. We didn't stay too long but I shall come back when it's warmer. Our tummies were crying out by now so we went into town to find food.
Pam had been recommended a restaurant by a friend so we headed there and I had a wonderful chicken burger accompanied by a superb local beer. We headed back to Tim's car with full bellies and drove back home. As soon as I got through my front door I staged a photo with my bottle of whiskey and called Barb to invite her round and sample the stuff. It was all I could do to not open it until she arrived but she was in my rocking chair within the hour and we spent a few hours chatting and sipping the golden nectar. Cheers!


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Skyline Caverns, VA

On Saturday a small group of us decided to visit the Skyline Caverns in Front Royal. Scott volunteered to drive which was awesome for me to be able to just sit back and enjoy the day. It was another freezing day but the caves were supposed to be at a constant 54 degrees so it would be much warmer inside than out. 
We were led by our tour guide underground and learned that the caves were discovered in 1937 and only 20% of them are open to the public. In fact there are still tunnels which are not fully explored.
A river flows in the caves and at various points the lights make wondeful reflections in the water. 
There are supposed to be living creatures down here but we saw no evidence of that but did hear of how a group of Valentine Beetles were discovered here and on identification were found to be the only ones in existence. All seven of them died so they were extinct as soon as they were found!
This formation is called the Eagle since it looks like an eagle with its wings outstretched. We saw stalactites and stalagmites but I was most intrigued with the Anthodites, known as Orchids of the Mineral Kingdom.
There are few places in the world where these can be seen and they only grow an inch every seven thousand years. This has likely been thwarted since their ideal conditions have now been disturbed. The lights in the tunnel are only turned on while we were there to try and maintain their preferred living conditions. Skyline Cavern boasts the largest Anthodite formation in the world.
Throughout the tour we experienced sporadic moments where we stood in complete darkness. Our tour guide informed us that if we were to stay underground in the blackness, after a week we would be blind, and after two weeks we would go mad. I was happy to take her word on that.
The tour lasted nearly 2 hours and we'd walked over 2 miles yet I was sad to reach the end. I much preferred this friendlier non commercial tour to the Luray Caverns. There were places where we had to duck and times we had to be careful with our feet since some of the floors were slippery or steep but apart from lights that had been set into walls, they had been very careful to retain the integrity of the caves.
We were all ravenous as we emerged into daylight and drove to Front Royal to find a restaurant. We followed our noses to a wonderful little place where I had the most delicious pulled caribbean chicken wrap with tangy ginger sauce, mediterranean pasta salad and fries. We sat and chatted as we warmed up then decided to go for a hike at Shenandoah River Park. I'd never been here and was excited to visit new terrain.
There's some great hiking trails here with the river running through for kayaking possibilities in the spring but for now, it was iced over.
We started walking to warm up and had thought that we were following a small loop of about 1.5 miles. The first mile or so was all uphill with great views from the top.
We wound up hiking about 3.5 miles and reached the car at dusk with the moon already in the sky.
It had been a wonderful day and I finished it with my feet up sipping a glass of red with a purring Kota on my lap.
The next day was going to be spent urbexing with Steve but he'd sprained his knee badly and I was actually grateful to have a lazy day as I was feeling the start of a cold and didn't really want to spend another day shivering. So instead I caught a movie, (Black Swan, which was terrible), and then sniffed my way round McKays where I got a larger than expected credit on my returned books. I didn't buy any as I was feeling more ill by the minute and raced home to crash on the sofa again with Kota and share some homemade chicken soup.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bloody Cold in Baltimore

Saturday was freezing cold but Jeff and I were determined to go out and take photos in Baltimore; do some exploring and just see where the roads took us. We wrapped up warm and threw camera bags and tripods in the car. Reaching Baltimore, we just cruised around looking for possible exploration sites and came across this old building down a side street.
I nearly got blown away as I stepped out of the car, the wind whipped at my hair and jacket with icy fingers. I rushed to the building looking for an entrance which I found immediately. Jeff bravely stopped outside to shoot some photos but I dove inside the building and pulled a handwarmer from my camera bag. 
The place was pretty desolate and feeling so frozen I had a really hard time trying to pull some creativity from my lens. I stomped around clutching my handwarmer which was only lukewarm and doing nothing to thaw out my fingertips. Jeff finally came in and we headed upstairs.
The building was empty and was difficult to ascertain what it had been previously used for but we assumed storage. We messed around with some portraits of each other which seemed silly as we were frozen and I felt my face was cracking as I smiled.
Jeff did a better job than me that's for sure and he was shooting a lot more frames than me. I was eager to vacate the building and jump into a warm car so we decided to leave. I had to sit in the car for a few minutes to let my fingers come back to life before I could drive, but soon we were off again. We drove towards Fells Point and stopped to take some shots of the Dominion Sugar sign.
The Museum of Industry was also nearby and offered some awesome photo possibilities but after just a few minutes, the biting wind was too much and we had to seek sanctuary in Stuart again.
Once again, I had to chaff my poor hands back to life before I could drive. We'd had a late start and were now hungry so decided to head for Little Italy and have a late lunch.
The warm food was welcomed, thanks Jeff!, and soon we had mustered up more energy for just one more project. Dusk was fast approaching so we decided to shoot the nearby red light district which was contained in just one block. As the light faded and dodgy looking men started appearing, I was glad I had Jeff with me and decided all my shots would be processed to look dark and sinister.
This gentleman agreed to let me take his photo but others were reluctant. I wonder why?
We soon had enough as the temperature was dropping even further as the sky darkened. With my poor paws languishing once again, I stuffed them into my pockets and we headed back to Stuart for the last time.
One more image and the lens cap was finally fastened. We'd had a fun day but I couldn't help feeling bad for the poor homeless folks out there who were still trying to maintain body heat while I sipped a hot chocolate with Jamesons...