Saturday, November 20, 2021

Feast of Christ the King 2021

 For the past several years, I've used this weekend's upcoming feast day to reflect back on the year. 2020 and 2021 have brought about a lot of things for reflection. While 2020 was unprecedented and hard in many ways, I did come to appreciate the slowness of it. 2021 started off with the same stillness and slowness as winter and a pandemic will bring you, but once things started to open back up in March and April and more people became vaccinated, the busyness of life went back to "normal". Except. Things are not yet normal. People are still getting sick. We are still quarantining with Covid exposures. Even with vaccines and boosters. Quarantining and wearing masks and remote meetings and teaching is a way of life now. And it is still pretty exhausting. 

Yet, I am grateful for all that I was able to do this year after the anxiety and seclusion of last year. Here is a look back on the last liturgical year: 

NYE was very low key with me and literally two other friends doing an at home dinner since Covid was at its height and we didn't have the vaccine yet. 
Winter is always rough, but 2020 taught us about using Zoom and FaceTime to socialize. This definitely carried over into 2021 until the vaccine. 
Our ticket back into society! Vaccinated Feb. 2021!
First winery trip since Covid in March 2021
Friends at Outer Banks for Spring Break 2021
Getting to celebrate my 40th how I dreamed with close friends and family vaccinated with a winery weekend was a definite highlight of 2021. 
Getting to attend Easter Vigil in person after having a quarantined Holy Week in 2020 and a quarantined year of RCIA was also a great joy. 

Celebrating a full year of teaching in a pandemic with the best staff a teacher could ask for in June 2021.

Still sticking with domestic travel for the summer of 2021, I treated myself to a spa weekend in the mountains and lots of road trips like my Delta Blues trip and visiting friends and family in OH and PA.
Above: Somewhere in Mississippi, Below: another winery, this time in PA with a bestie

Celebrating mom and dad's 70th and my 40th this summer in Ohio

I discovered a lot about myself in 2020 and 2021 and one of those things was that I *am* in fact into Renaissance Faires :) Went to my first one in MD in September. 

I was super stoked to do typical fall things again like fairs and hunting for decorative gourds with friends.
Had a mini-reunion with some college friends in DC in October.
And we got to have a few more join us at Halloween this year. 
Grateful to get back to somewhat "normal" with wine and friends this year, but still very aware of how our lives are still not quite the same. 

Feeling super grateful for vaccines and health and some of the busyness of 2021 and feeling hopeful for 2022! All of the projects I started in 2020 like my podcast  and blogging and connecting with other Catholic social media content creators continued throughout this year.  And shout out to St. Joseph whose year it was this past liturgical year in the Year of St. Joseph. He came through on a novena I did in March and will continue to see what his intercession will bring as we round out this year. 

St. Joseph, pray for us! Happy Feast of Christ the King!



Sunday, November 7, 2021

The One About Wine

I've lived in Virginia and the DC area for almost 20 years now. In that time period from 23 years old until now, I have visited A LOT of the over 300 wineries that exist in Virginia. 60 to be exact! 

Here are some pics from celebrating my 26 birthday in 2007:

Naked Mountain, Northern VA above and I honestly can't remember which winery below! Gah!

And are some from this year, 2021!
Afton Mountain Vineyards above and Valley Road Vineyards below

Obviously, I love wine. But I also love the whole wine-tasting experience. I love learning about why I like certain wines and how they are made. I also just happen to think Virginia is beautiful and I love going out to drink wine with friends amid the mountains. 

The purpose of this post is to try and give some kind of documentation and descriptions to the 60 wineries I've been to! Some have been more recent and some were back in my 20s, so I'm sure things have changed since then. 

I write this for my own memory but also maybe to help those who want to visit Virginia wineries as well! Here goes my first attempt at this. Some descriptions may be more detailed than others since I'm decided to do this after nearly 20 years of drinking wine! Ha!

8 Chains North- This is off of Route 9 in Northern VA and one of my favorites. They have a beautiful patio, spacious tasting room, and the wines are off Ha. Always recommend. This is a solid favorite after all of my years of wineries in VA. Recommend!

Afton Mountain Vineyards- This is about a half an hour outside of Charlottesville and one that I went to most recently (pictured above with my friend, Raven). The views were BEAUTIFUL. They were VERY Covid conscious. Masks had to be worn in the pavilion to order wine and the tasting room was closed. Tables were outside and very spaced out, though they had a cool indoor space (the pavilion) that was enclosed in glass on all sides so you could still see the views. I had a chardonnay, a rose, their "Tradition" wine, Bacco '18, and Petit Verdot. The Bacco was my favorite. It was a blend of Tanat, Sangiovese and another grape that is escaping me. The white and the rose were just okay, the reds could've been a little fuller bodied for me, but 10/10 on views and safety! It was off the beaten path, too, so far away from lots of other cars. Recommend!

Barboursville- This is a long-time staple in central VA. Beautiful grounds, lots of different varietals to try. I went in 2021 and they were using machines to do their tastings, but it was actually kind of cool. You got a card and a glass and the card allowed you to try I think 6 wines like a normal tasting, but you could pick which ones you wanted. They had lots of whites, reds, and sparklings to chose from. Definitely recommend!

Covid era tasting machines at Barboursville

Barrel Oak- This is another staple off 66 in Northwestern VA. It's a huge complex with big tasting room and outdoor space. The wines are tasty BUT I am NOT a dog person and this place literally markets themselves with dog-themed wines and everything. So while I've been here a couple of times and enjoy the wine, it's not at the top of my list because of all the dogs. Recommend!

Blenheim Vineyards- This is outside of Charlottesville and is "the Dave Matthews Winery" because he owns it. I went a couple of years ago, maybe in 2019? And remember liking the wines and views. Would go back and recommend!

Boxwood- This winery is in Middleburg and has quite a good reputation. It is very fancy and sleek looking. More corporate/professional than down-home vibes. I remember really liking the rose which is not a wine I'm usually drawn too. This place lives up to its reputation, but is a little *too* fancy/corporate of a vibe for me. Recommend. 

Breaux Vineyards- This place is another one with a big reputation in Northern VA. It's off of my Route 9 route, but not necessarily one I stop at all of the time because it's so busy. The wines are good, space is nice, but I like a more unique experience and I hate to say it, this experience for me is just fine. 

Byrd Cellars- This winery was...not great in my mind. They had lots of wines to choose from which is a flag for me because that usually means they don't do any really well. This was also in Goochland which is not a region really known for its wine. I find wineries closer to the cities and closer east don't do as well with their grapes. They don't have the hills and soil need. Also lots of fruit wines is a trigger for me. I don't love fruit wines and that's again usually a sign to me that their grapes aren't great if they are using peaches and berries. It was a closer drive from Richmond, but there weren't really any views and again, not great wine. But it was a fine place for me to sit on the porch and read my book so there was that. And the workers were very nice. 

Cana- This place is off of Route 50 in Middleburg, VA and was new when I was working at a neighboring winery in like 2015. This place had fruit wines. See my above description of Byrd Cellars for my thoughts on that. Nice views, nice space. Hope they've found their footing since then, but in this area, there are so many better wineries to try. Sorry about it!

Casanel- This place is close to the Route 9 string of vineyards in Northern VA. I remember the space being just okay but the wines being good. It's been a while since I've been to this one. It wasn't my number one on my Route 9 stops, however. Maybe I will have to go back to see further developments. 

Cardinal Point- This is out in the Afton/Wintergreen/Nelson County area and my friends and I went here for a girls weekend in 2019. We had a great time. The winery has a more country feel as opposed to corporate or modern and I remember liking a number of the wines. We brought food to sit outside (pro-tip...check to see if a winery will let you bring food in! Some of them want you to buy their food if they serve it. But definitely bring food if they will let you because it definitely optimizes your day of drinking! If only 38 yo Julia could tell that to 25 yo Julia...) and we had a good time here. It also came recommended to my friend Raven and I at our most recent trip to Afton. Recommend!

Chateau O'Brien- I love this place. It's very professional looking and has two different rooms to do two different types of tasting experiences (at least it did when I went back in like 2014). The outdoor space and views are amazing AND you have to be 21+ to be there! Kid free! Always a plus in my book!Recommend!

Chrysalis- This place is a staple off Route 50 in Middleburg, VA. They sell their wines locally in stores and are known for their Norton wine which is pretty good. It was never my favorite out in Middleburg, but definitely decent. I know that they have grown a lot in recent years. I may have to check it out again sometime soon.

Delaplane Cellars- This one was always a favorite of mine in Northern VA. It's close to Sky Meadow State Park and just has incredible views, great wine, a nice sized indoor tasting room that's not too big, not too small. It often has live music and just good vibes. It looks professional but feels homey at the same time. Love this place. Recommend!

Doukenie Winery- This place is off the beaten path in the Hillsboro/Route 9 area of Northern VA. I remember liking a couple of the wines, but there are other wineries out in this area that I prefer. This had more of a farm vibe, which is fine, but I like somewhere between farm and bougie for my winetasting.

Dry Mill- I enjoyed this place's wine tasting spaces and wine. It's not the *most* scenic in Northern VA, but has good whites from what I remember and cool indoor spaces for parties or special events. Recommend. 

DuCard- This is kind of in the Harrisonburg, VA area. My friends and I did a girls weekend in 2019 (different than the one I just mentioned! Apparently 2019 was the year of girls wine weekends. It was also the year the movie Wine Country on Netflix came out so there's that) and had not planned on stopping at a winery, but made the trip. We were glad we did! I don't remember loving the wines, but I usually can find at least one I will drink. We brought food and they had a nice deck and grounds to walk on. It was also off the beaten path which I always enjoy because they typically get less traffic. We had a nice day here. They had live music and let you keep the tasting glass. Recommend!

Early Mountain Vineyards- this one is in the Standardsville area of VA which I visited this summer in 2021. I had been so excited to go to this winery because they sell wine at stores and restaurants here in Richmond. When I pulled up, I was super impressed by the space and the scenery. This is a RESTAURANT. It is much more fancy than I was prepared for. I had a waitress and fancy table with a waiter. Not really what I was expecting from a winery. And honestly, the wines were....just okay for the price I paid. I'm not sure this place is my kind of vibe. I like more down-home kind of wineries than corporate-fancy. But it's obviously a nice place and an experience. 

Eastwood Farm and Winery-  My friend Raven and I stumbled upon this place in September 2021. We got good vibes from it form the beginning. They have a brand new tasting room that was beautiful also with some outdoor seating which I loved. The tasting room is very spacious and had a stage for live music. When we went into the tasting room, the server recommended that we make the drive to their second tasting room a little further up the mountain. We were glad she made that recommendation. I would've been happy to sit in the lower tasting room, but the view from up top was gorgeous. They had another tasting space up there under and large, open tent with a dance floor and live music. Perfect spot for parties or weddings. The wine is very GREEN. Very new, but this place has lots of potential. Recommend!

Elk Island Winery- This is another Goochland winery close to Byrd, but had much better wines. The wines were more sophisticated and the tasting menu was more standard (no fruit wines!). The wines were still not quite up to par with those in Charlottesville or Loudoun County, but more comparable. The winery is actually an old house which I kind of like. People sat out the deck and the screened in porch. I sat a little further out by the vines and it was a nice enough spot to read my book. Nowhere near the views further west, but okay if you want a quick trip from the city. Would recommend. 

Fabbioli Cellars- This is close to Leesburg, VA in Northern VA and was a favorite of mine for a long time. They always do food pairings with their wines which I liked. When I went there most recently in 2021, I was a little disappointed in the wine and the vibe. I know that 2020 was tough so maybe they made changes due to the pandemic. The place used to be a good mix between upscale and homey which I liked. It was a little less upscale most recently and the wines were not what I remembered them to be. 

Fifty Third Winery- This used to be named Cooper Vineyards which I had seen at wine festivals in years past and stood out to me for their chocolate, dessert wine. Definitely recommend. This place is in Louisa County, so between Richmond and Charlottesville. It's a very decent stop if you want somewhere closer in to the city and not drive all the way out to Charlottesville. It's not incredibly scenic, but off the beaten path but still relatively close. It has good, solid wines and two nice spaces to taste and drink. Also has an outdoor deck and live music. Recommend!

Flying Fox- This is in the Afton region and off the main drag with a lot of other wineries, but a much smaller, hipster vibe. They also do vermouths which I've never seen anywhere else. Their aesthetic is very chic but funky with a speakeasy styled interior and cool mural out front. The views are just okay but the wine is AMAZING. It's the same wine-maker as Veritas, so if you want a more chill, smaller scale vibe than Veritas with the same solid wine, this is the place. Recommend! 

Fox Meadow- This winery is a hike in Northern VA and the tasting room and wines are not necessarily spectacular, however the views are amazing!

Gautheir Vineyard- When I moved to Richmond, I wanted to explore the nearby wineries like I had for Northern VA. As I've mentioned, I'm leery of wineries that aren't out west in our more hilly, mountainous regions. This winery is one of the reasons I am leery. It is cute and was setting up for a wedding on the property. It had a nice tasting room and wrap around deck, but the wine was...not great. I don't think they grew a lot of their own grapes and it didn't seem from what I can tell that winemaking was their strong suit. Pass. 

Glass House Winery- This is a pretty popular one out near Charlottesville. It's named for its greenhouse dining area. It had a lot of hype prior to me visiting and the vibe and wine was just okay for me, but would recommend giving it a try. 

Grace Estate- Another Charlottesville area one with a cool, small-ish tasting room and lots of outdoor space. I remember liking a good number of the wines and enjoying a glass of red outside with my friend on the deck. Nothing spectacular stands out, but would recommend if you are in the area. 

Greenhill Winery- This place used to be Swedenberg Estates off of Route 50 in Middleburg. It changed to Greenhill Winery in the early 2010s. I actually worked there from 2014-2015. The wines were amazing. Our wine maker was from France and he did amazing things with both the whites and the reds. He knew how to use what Virginia could grow so well. It used to be just a small farm house tasting room and a stone home for wine club members, but they've since built a huge complex on the property. I want to go back and check out the new space! Recommend!

Hillsborough Winery- This is one of my favorite stops on Route 9 in Northern VA. It has amazing views and the wine is great. A very old-timey, stone house vibe from what I remember! Always recommend this place. 

Horton- This one is close to Barboursville, but remember what I wrote about Byrd Cellars and too many wines + fruit wines? Yeah, this place was not a fave. Go to Barboursville and hang out there instead. 

James River Cellars- For closer to the city wineries, I do enjoy this one. Their wines are fine. They often have a slushie that they are serving which is usually another red flag that the wines aren't great, but I enjoy a fair amount of these wines and it's a quick option from Richmond. The winery is kind of small and off a main road, but the vibe does what in can given the circumstances. I can sit and read a book outside here and find at least one wine to drink. It's fine. 

Jefferson Vineyards- This place is big and usually busy outside of Charlottesville. Similar to Glass House and Grace Estates, it's a fine place to stop and I remember liking some of the wines. Nothing spectacular stands out to me, though, except that it was BUSY. But would recommend. 

Keswick- This place has cool views as you roll up, but then ones you arrive to the tasting room, the area is very wooded. It's still a nice place to sit outside and read, though. And the wines were pretty tasty. I enjoyed myself here. Would recommend. 

La Grange- This place in Northern VA was always a go-to. Very good wines, cool tasting space in an old house, and lots of space on the grounds. Recommend!

Lost Creek- Not the most spectacular views in Northern, VA, but an upscale vibe in the tasting rooms. There is a separate tasting space for wine club members, but I actually enjoyed the regular tasting room the most. The servers are knowledgeable and I enjoyed the wines. Would recommend.

New Kent- Of the "closer to the city" wineries, this one is probably the best that I've been to on the East side of Richmond. Again, I prefer to go west, but this winery had nice views (even without mountains) and decent tasting, enjoyable wines. They had a lovely tasting room and nice porch outback. I know they often have live music on weekends. 

Meriwether Springs- This place is off the beaten path on your way out of Charlottesville. It is an old house that looks like it would be a great place for a wedding. When I rolled up, I was directed to the basement that had a bar/pub vibe. And served beers. That they don't make there? Nor did they make the wines there? So it was just like a bar. The tasting was free though, which I appreciated, but the whole scene was kind of weird for me. I couldn't figure out the place's identity or what it wanted to be. I would pass unless you are intrigued at figuring out what this place wants to be.

Naked Mountain- This place was a favorite when I lived in Northern VA. Close to Delaplane and Sky Meadow State Park, this place has a beautiful wrap around deck and tasting room very off the beaten path. The wines are not spectacular but definitely drinkable. Used to go here very frequently because I enjoyed the area so.

Notaviva Craft Fermentations- This is also out by Hillsbourough and wasn't a frequent stop for me on the Route 9 route, but I believe that they had a chocolate or dessert wine that I really liked and a cool farmhouse/live music vibe. 

Otium- This is in the Purceville area of Northern, VA. When I worked at Greenhill, this and Boxwood wineries were the buzz. I went here once on a day off and it lived up to the hype. The wines are unique with a German influence and really well made. The winery itself was not necessarily a space to write home about, but it wasn't not fine either :) The wines made this place 10/10 recommend

Paradise Springs- This place is a good enough winery closer in to DC. I've written about how wineries closer to the cities are not the best, but this place has a huge tasting room and a nice patio area and the wines are pretty good. A good alternative if you don't want to drive all the way out to wine country.

Pearmund Cellars- I remember enjoying the whites? I think? I know this was on a lovely property and had a big barrel room for tastings which was cool. But...nothing much else stands out from this place, though I believe it to be decent. There's just so many other wineries out in Northern VA that stand out in my mind.

Pippin Hill- This place is beautiful. It's what you think of and probably want from a VA winery. Perfect for weddings. For such a well known place, I was hoping the wine would be a little bit better. My friend and I brought a blanket on a Saturday for a little wine and views and were nearly trampled on by ALL of the people. This place, like Jefferson, was BUSY. And the wine was just okay. But the views are amazing. Would recommend, but there are others in this area that are way cooler and better wines with less hype (like Eastwood, Afton Mountain or Flying Fox)

Pollak Vineyards- This is in the Afton area and was on my list to try. When we went to Flying Fox, I asked what other wineries the server would recommend since I liked the wines so much there. They said this place. Done. Sold. This place is BEAUTIFUL. We got here at like 3pm and it was a perfect spot for the "golden hours" of fall. There's lake, mountains, open area seating on the deck and patio and a very professional tasting room inside. My friend and I didn't have the whites, but the reds were pretty good. Would go back here just for the vibe and views. Off the beaten path, great place to sit and watch the sunset. Recommend

Prince Michel- I went here with a friend in 2020 after a hike in the Shenandoah. I had been wanting to try this place for years. It is quite the complex. It has a restaurant and a gift shop. I like a little less of a corporate vibe and like the focus to just be on the wine. I liked that they had yurts set up for covid style tastings, but the wine was just okay. My friend and I sat in the restaurant and watched TV. Not what I like for my wineries. I prefer for the wine and the views to be the focus. Meh. 

Quattro Gumbas- I went to this place very early on in my wine-tasting career and remember it being a scenic drive, but just okay wines. There are definitely so many more wineries out this way now that are perhaps a little bit more sophisticated. 

Saude Creek- Another "out east" winery that was okay. The tasting room was nice and there is a big wrap around deck on a large property. The wines were fine. Not bad for something not out west. I'm such a snob when it comes to my west vs east wineries! I'm sorry!

Stone Mountain- I did this one this summer in 2021 on my Standardsville trip. The views are AMAZING but the drive was SCARY! I can't imagine driving that if it wasn't my first stop on a wine trip. The wines were also...not great which was a bummer since the tasting room and the views were SO COOL. If you want to drive a very long way for a spectacular view and sub-par wines, this is the place. That sounds harsh, but the views really are the draw. 

Stone Tower- This place is relatively new and I've been here a couple of times. It was another one we talked about when I worked at the winery in Northern VA and it is worth the hype. They weren't producing a lot of their own wines at first, but that's since changed. I remember really liking the wines when I went back in 2019 and the views are amazing. The space is gorgeous. Definitely recommend!

Sunset Hills- This place is a favorite when in the Hillsborough/Purceville area. The wines are really good and it has a fun, farm vibe with a spacious tasting room. I love sitting on the deck area enjoying their wine. Recommend!

Tarara Winery- This place is the OG winery in an area now teaming with wineries. I remember going here when I first moved to Northern VA, so it's been a while. At the time this place was all the rage, but again, there have since been many more wineries that have popped up that may be more scenic and doing better wine-making, though I remember liking many of the wines from here and I'm down to check it out again soon. 

Terra Nebulo- I'm a little biased when it comes to this place as my friend's parents are the owners and built it. We used to have "field parties" on the grounds where the winery now sits. It's a really lovely, big, spacious barn on loads of open space with really good wines. I definitely recommend a trip out here on your Route 9/Northern VA tour!

The Barns at Hamilton Station- This place has really good wine and a fun vibe. The indoor "barn" space is very nice. It's off the beaten path and a nice, easy place to sit and enjoy wine. There's usually live music as well. It's not the most scenic winery I've been to, but the wine and chill vibes make it a Recommend!

Three Fox Vineyards- This place was a favorite of mine for a long time. Then a lot of other places started to pop up that did wine a little bit better. I haven't been since maybe 2014/2015 and I'm always willing to go back. The grounds are beautiful and spacious and the tasting room is small and quaint. I enjoyed having a spiced, mulled wine in the winter around some fire pits. Definitely recommend for that in the fall/winter. 

Upper Shirley Vineyards- This place is all the rage in Richmond because it is close by and for a winery NOT "out west" in the mountains where I prefer to drink wine, this winery is nice. It has a nice tasting room and outdoor seating area and is off the beaten path. I had a decent Chardonnay when I was there. If you want a winery closer into the city, it's decent, I'm just so spoiled with my mountain views and wine!

Valley Road Vineyards- I went here with my friends on one of the many girls weekends in 2019. They had wines that I really enjoyed and a froze which usually slushie drinks are a flag for me (see James River) but I really enjoyed it! This is quite the complex with a barn and tasting room and it has gotten BUSY after the last couple of years. But my friends and I got great pictures here, so the views are great. It IS off of a busy road and next to a very busy brewery, but once on the grounds you just noticed the lake, mountain and great wine. My friends may or may not have rolled down the hills here a la Wine Country (see DuCard). Also, I am biased as I decided to host my 40th birthday here (see pic up top with my family). The owners were so nice and easy to work with. They made sure my birthday was special and stress free even during Covid. And I got take home lots of yummy wines that my friends enjoyed as well. Recommend!

Veritas- I have been to this winery twice. Once in like 2010 and once in 2019. It has really grown and gotten a little more corporate in that time. The views are pretty, though, it's off the beaten path, and the wine is good (see Flying Fox). But I might go to Flying Fox for the less preppy, more chill aesthetic, though this winery is very nice. Lots of weddings are booked here. It's also usually very busy, but they are efficient with their tastings. Recommend. 

Wisdom Oak- This was kind of a fluke trip. My friend and I were just looking for something after our Eastwood find in Charlottesville and this was close. This is very down-home kind of vibe which usually I like, but this place was just okay. It was a little too off the beaten path and the wines were just alright. I think there are better places out in the area, but the servers were all super, super nice and the experience was enjoyable enough. 

White Hall- I did this one by myself this summer during my Standardsville trip and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted by this place. There were not a lot of people at all, so I got to chat with the server who was very knowledgeable about the wines and the wine maker. She had also worked at the winery I worked at in Northern VA- Greenhill- so it was fun to chat about that. The wines were delicious and I loved the smaller scale space and vibe. I sat outside and still had a great view even though this place was off the beaten path and smaller than most places in the area. Would recommend!

 I loved the tasting presentation at White Hill- especially in the age of Covid!

Zephaniah- Again, really biased with this one as another group of friends' parents run and own this winery that has been in their family for years. It's very much a family run operation and has grown from a unique, antique house that was used for tastings to a large barn tasting space that they've built more recently. A really unique property with great wines. I've even helped bottle and harvest some of their wine in the past. Definitely recommend!

There you have it folks. Until the next 60...



Friday, August 13, 2021

Summer 2021 Recap

 As I mentioned in my previous post about my early summer road trip, 2021 has certainly been strange. In 2020, I think we expected things to be different and limited, but now in 2021, I think we had hoped that this pandemic would be over by now. But over a year later, I am getting ready to begin my third school year in this pandemic (end of the 2019-2020 school year that ended remotely, all of 2020-2021 school year which we did in person, but many schools did remotely, and now the 2021-2022 school year which many schools are going back in person but we are finding the same restrictions need to be in place as last year). 

This summer was fun and full, but I think my attitude at the beginning of the summer was: "whoo hoo! I'm vaccinated and survived a pandemic!" and by the end of this summer I'm just trying to take advantage of things as as much as I can before things get shut down for the fall and winter again (because people aren't getting vaccinated like we should and are still fighting masks after a year and a half!). My attitude has definitely shifted as I get ready to head back to school next week and deal with the realities of teaching in a pandemic AGAIN. 

On the bright side of things, though, I did get to do a lot more this summer because I am vaccinated and it was nice to feel "normal" for at least maybe a month or two :) 

I made sure to hit up all of my favorite places this summer. First up- the NCMA in Raleigh for their Art in Bloom exhibit!
Next up, I took to the mountains of VA for some thrift shopping, wine, and an eco-spa Air b n b!
Above: thrift store finds and below, Eco Spa and Winery out by Standardsville, VA

Norfolk, VA has become a summer staple for me. Below are some pics from the latest exhibit at the Hermitage Museum in Norfolk. 

Above: Artist Auz Miles and below, artist dkane (@auz_can  and @_dkane)

Have to stop at the beach when down in Norfolk. This happens to be Buckroe Beach.

Then I went on my Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee road trip which you can read about in my last post, but I started in Memphis and ended in Jackson, MS. I did a lot of Civil Rights and Blues stops in between.
Above: Lorraine Motel and National Civil Rights Museum, Below: Stax Museum both in Memphis, TN.

Came back to VA for a couple of weeks to hang out with friends and win trivia! 
Then it was on to Ohio for my annual trip, this time to celebrate my parents' 70th bdays and my 40th all together. We had a "luau" for extended friends and family- many of whom we hadn't seen in over a year.
I also stopped in Pittsburgh on the way to Ohio and went to the Andy Warhol museum for the first time. 
I also did some weird Atlas Obscura things while in PA and OH. Below is Randyland in Pittsburgh, PA.

Some weird while I was in Ohio- the town of Wellington, OH turned into Blacksmith for a Netflix movie while I was there. And below is Other World in Columbus, OH. 
It was back to VA for a minute to again hang out with friends and hear some live music. I had gotten to hear some in Mississippi, but it was nice to go to some shows in VA again. Below is South for Winter which I got to hear on a rooftop in Richmond! Also went to hear Lucy Dacus and Bright Eyes in Charlottesville (not pictured). 
Next, I made my annual Philadelphia trip to see one of my best college friends and celebrate her partner's birthday. We played "Heads Up" on the patio...
Then I went up towards Allentown to see another college friend and his new house. We went to a winery as well :)
Then it was BACK to Ohio for a cousin's I am with my sister and my cousins....
And finally back to VA to finish summer the way that it started- with some art and some wine. 
Above: Alma Thomas exhibit at Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Below: Lost Planet interactive exhibit in Virginia Beach.

Above: Early Mountain Winery outside of Standardsville, VA (literally close to where I started my summer vacation) and below: Stone Mountain Winery with one of the best views I've had at a winery!

I am most grateful that I got to see so many friends and family members this summer. After a year of being separated and not able to travel, I was grateful to do all that I did this summer. I am hoping and praying that we do what we need to do (get vaccinated! wear masks!) so that we can eliminate this virus. The 2020s are off to a weird start for sure. 

Spiritually and personally/professionally,  I have been continuing the projects that I started in 2020. I've been continuing with my podcast, Seven Mile Chats, because it connects me with others and feeds me spiritually to hear others' takes on Scripture. I'm also continuing to blog and create social media posts for The Holy Ruckus and Live Today Well Collective. 

I continue to journal and pray about the Mass readings  and most recently the ones about Moses and the Israelites in the desert have really hit home. We perhaps feel like we've been "wandering in the desert" of this pandemic for 40+ years. God has still provided us with things along the way, but we need to do our part. I am trying to focus on the abundance that He has given- health, job, survival and even some thriving in this pandemic- and not grumble and complain as much as possible. We will see how long that lasts as the school year begins :)

Grateful for the things we have been able to do in 2021 even though it continues to be a weird year. And very grateful for a blessed summer in the midst of our second year of a pandemic. 


Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul 2021

2021, to me, has been maybe even stranger than 2020 for some reason. I think we are all still processing the pandemic while simultaneously still living through it. Certainly our lives are starting to get back to "normal" as vaccines have made it possible for numbers of Covid cases to go down and we are able to now start going places in larger groups even without masks. We are all so ready to get back to "normal" but I hope that we do take time to process and reassess what we have been through and what things we are going to do differently because of it. 

In many ways, my summer of 2021 is going to look similar to my summer of 2020. It was still hard to plan things earlier this year, so while I usually do a big trip in the summer, my travel bestie and I decided to keep that South American adventure we had planned for 2020 postponed until 2022. While many countries are now starting to open up, things still seem somewhat shakey to me and I would rather just be safe and enjoy what I can safely for now. 

For that reason, I planned another domestic road trip for this summer, which have become my thing when I am not planning an international getaway. Three summers ago, my friends and I did a Southwestern Road Trip through New Mexico, AZ, and Southern CA, and two years ago, I went to two cities I had been wanting to visit- Asheville, NC and Savannah, GA. 

This year, I had watched A LOT of TV in quarantine, and had seen a couple of food and travel shows about the Mississippi Delta. My parents, who are big music people themselves, had taken a similar trip a couple of years prior. So I decided to start my research and put together yet another domestic road trip, this time, including a state I had not yet been to: Mississippi. 

In addition to wanting to be on every continent (I'm getting close to achieving this! I've been to Europe a bunch, Central America, Asia Minor, Australia, and Africa! Antarctica isn't really on my agenda. If I get there, great, if not, I won't be disappointed to not have been cold for a week or more) I've also made it a goal to visit all 50 states. I'm also getting close to achieving this goal. After this past week, the states I still need to visit are:

- Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Vermont and Maine. If anyone wants to do these with me in the future, let me know!

People always want to know how I plan these road trips and it's a combination of a couple of things:

1.) I usually go to Pinterest and search for blogs and pins about the places I want to visit. 

2.) I go to Trip Advisor and Atlas Obscura and search for things to do in the cities I want to visit. 

3.) I look at Google Maps and see if there are any other cities nearby or things to do that I am going to be passing through. 

4.) Lastly, I go to Air B n B and see if there are any fun stays around the places I want to visit. 

Pretty easy! But does require some time to research. 

Below is a brief outline/timeline of my latest summer road trip to the Mississippi Delta. Usually, I am somewhere exoctic on this feast day like Prague or Portugal like I've been in the past. But today, I am back in Richmond, praying and processing what I saw last week. 

I decided to drive to make it a true road trip and to stop and see some friends that live in Huntsville, AL on my way down from Richmond. But you could very easily drive or fly to Memphis and start there, though I will say, I saw some pretty cool things on my way to Memphis from Alabama. 

Day 1: Huntsville, AL - Muscle Shoals, AL - Tupelo, MS, - Oxford, MS - Memphis, TN

Muscle Shoals is the home of the FAME Music Studio which records famous artists even today. It was a good first stop to get me in the mood for a road trip about American Music. I didn't take the tour of the studio, but they give tours and I wish I would've had time to take one!

Helen Keller is from a small town very near Muscle Shoals and you can also tour the grounds with a guided tour, which I didn't do, but snagged some pictures of the home from the outside. 

From Muscle Shoals I drove to Tupelo, MS which is the birthplace of Elvis. It also has a very cute downtown where I had lunch. I definitely could've stayed longer in Tupelo, but again, I was on a mission that day!

Birthplace of Elvis and lunch in Tupelo, MS

My last stop on my way to Memphis was in Oxford, MS, which was a little out of the way, but I wanted to pay tribute to William Faulkner. I didn't take a tour at his house, either, as it was closed (many museums are closed on certain days which I found out the hard way in some cases, so definitely check websites for the museums you want to visit when planning!)

After all of my early AM and afternoon stops, I made it to Memphis, TN. I had a 3pm ticket to visit the National Civil Rights Museum which is connected to the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. It was a heavy start to my trip, but also set the tone for some of what I would encounter on the trip. I also checked out the Peabody Hotel for a drink afterwards as well as Sun Studios before it closed. It was a very full first day!

National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
Peabody Hotel, Memphis, TN- I missed the "Duck Marching" but that is a thing. 
Sun Studios, Memphis, TN- I didn't take the tour, but wish that I could have! Still was cool to be in a space where Roy Orbison, Elvis, U2,  and more have recorded!
Can't walk through Memphis without going to Beale Street. It was pretty dead due to it being a Monday and Covid, but still lots of historic markers and things to check out down there. 

Of all the studios I could've toured on this trip, I chose to tour Stax Studio in Memphis and I'm so glad I did! So many amazing black artists recorded here. Definitely recommend checking it out if you go to Memphis!

Day 2: Memphis, TN - Tunica, MS - Clarksdale, MS

I started my day in Memphis with a tour of Stax Recording Studio and Museum. It was the perfect way to start my musical journey into the Delta Blues. Soul music is so connected to Blues music so it gave me great inspiration to start the rest of my journey. 

After leaving Memphis, my next stop was Tunica, MS. This is kind of a weird place and reminded me a little of driving through the deserts of AZ and CA. Not so much for the landscape, but how deserted it kind of is. There are lots of casinos which I did not decide to stop at, but I did make the following stops: 

Gateway to Blues museum...there will be many Blues museums to come. I couldn't do them all. 
The Hollywood Cafe which Marc Cohen references in his "Walking in Memphis" song about the Delta Blues. 

After my stop in Tunica, I made my way to Clarksdale which is where I would stay for the night. Clarksdale was a historically African American city that birthed many blues and soul musicians. It still hosts a blues festival annually when it's not Covid. There are lots of blues venues to hear music around town, but the town seemed pretty dead when I was there. Maybe because it was a Tuesday, maybe because of Covid. The town is also not your typical tourist town. It still is very rough around the edges, but I found that when I would go into an establishment or store, people were so friendly and quick to tell you about other things to do there. 

I went to an art store called the Cat Head Folk Art Store and had dinner at a pizza place called The Stone Pony. I spent the evening at the Hambone Music and Art Venue. The people were so lovely. I met the owner who is also a musician and artist and had a really nice night. It was a very unique music venue with couches and a bar inside. The music was great, too!

Above- the musicians I heard at the Hambone venue in Clarksdale. Below is the most famous venue in Clarksdale. It was closed the night I was there, but apparently the same musicians I heard were booked for the next night, so I didn't miss anything!

This museum didn't seem like much at first, but once I started to go through it, I learned so much about the tough lives of so many of the blues musicians of the area. Many left for Chicago to escape Jim Crow laws. 

Day 3: Clarksdale, MS- Cleveland, MS,- Leland, MS, - Greenville, MS, - Indianola, MS

I started my day with the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, again, it didn't seem like much, but had a lot of information that I felt prepared me for the rest of my journey. 

My next stop was Cleveland, MS. The Grammy Museum is there, but of course it was closed, however, I made a stop in the town for lunch and found it to be another really cute town with shops, similar to maybe Tupelo. It was becoming clear to me which towns were historically white and which were not. My guess is that Cleveland was a historically white town. It had a university in it and plantations close by. In fact, one of the markers for the Blues Trail is on Dockery Farms which was on Dockery Plantation, just outside of Cleveland, MS

Plantation in Cleveland, MS

Cleveland was definitely a nice place to stop for lunch and if it would've been open, visit the Grammy museum. Going to Dockery Farms was a little eerie but an important stop as it made me reflect on why the blues is such an important art form. It will always have stemmed from the trauma and suffering of slavery. 

My next stop was a little more light hearted. A verrrryyyyy small exhibit in Leland, MS, which is where Jim Henson lived his early years before moving to the DC area. This town claims to be the birthplace of Kermit the frog as Jim Henson grew up on Deer Creek in Leland and his best friend as a child was a boy named Kermit. 

On one of the travel/food shows I had watched and also on one of the blogs I had read mentioned going to Doe's Eat Place. I didn't know what to expect exactly, but could assume that the food was good. The atmosphere is suuuuper casual like you are in someone's actual kitchen. The food is hearty and amazing, serving mainly steaks. It is actually considered a Steakhouse which is funny to probably some of us since our steakhouses in the Northeast are usually fine dining establishments. You will still pay steakhouse prices for your filet, but it is worth it for the experience and the meat is amazing. 

My view from my table at Doe's Eat Place in Greenville, MS

After stopping in Cleveland, Leland, and Greenville, I spent the night in Indianola, MS which is where B.B. King was from. Of course, the museum was closed when I got there, but I drove past Club Ebony which was a historical blues venue. I stayed at an Air B n B behind The Blue Biscuit which was also closed that night so I didn't get to hear any music, but if I ever go back, I would totally stay at the Air B n B (it had a pool!) and do the museum and try out The Blue Biscuit. I've also heard The Crown restaurant in town is good but- you guessed it- closed! So definitely check hours of the places around town. I take for granted that things just seem to be open all the time here on the East Coast. 

Above- This venue is closed but apparently can be toured if you ask someone at the B.B. King museum in town. 
My Air B n B in Indianola, MS- behind The Blue Biscuit restaurant and venue and across from B.B. King museum

Day 4: Indianola, MS- Greenwood, MS- Yazoo City, MS- Bentonia, MS- Jackson, MS

I had planned to start my day maybe at the B. B. King museum, but I had made an appointment at The Alluvian Spa which I had read about that was in Greenwood, MS. Greenwood also had a few spots on the Blues Trail map, so I headed into Greenwood to walk around town before my appointment. The town wasn't much. A lot of things again seemed closed and restaurants, I was finding, had very limited opening hours like from 11am-2pm which was exactly the time of my appointment. 

The Alluvian Spa was nice, but honestly, I have gotten better services at other spas I've been to in various places. I was a little sad that I had decided to do that instead of one of the museums I had missed. But I guess it was good to relax, though it felt weird to do before I was going to be visiting some more intense stops on my Civil Rights and Blues Trail. 

At the recommendation of my pedicurist (and also since almost all of the restaurants in town were closed after 2pm) I had lunch at The Crystal Grill. It had a really good menu and my pedicurist had told me about the PIES:

Chocolate Meringue pie in Greenwood, MS. Below: the gravesite of legendary blues musician Robert Johnson at Little Zion Mission Baptist Church outside of Greenwood.  

One of the darker places on my journey was going to be the former spot of Bryant's Grocery where in 1955 Emmett Till- a 14 yo African American boy from Chicago- whistled at a white woman and lost his life for it. Till was later hunted down, tortured, killed ,and tossed into a nearby river by two men related to the woman. The store no longer exists, but I went to pay my respects there. 1955 was almost one hundred years after the Civil War ended and we still hear of young black men losing their lives today. 

My next stop after Greenwood was a very brief one in the city of Yazoo City. I had read in a blog about its colorful buildings, so I had to stop for a picture. I wish I had more time to spend there because I had later found out that Sr. Thea Bowman, an African American Catholic whom I admire, is from there. 

Definitely worth the stop to see these colorful buildings though as like Clarksdale and many of the towns I've stopped through, the town seemed sleepy from the outside. 

One of my highlights of the trip came next. After days of looking at museums and markers about the Delta Blues, I got to meet a living Blues legend. 

I had read on a blog that if you stop by The Blue Front Cafe, you may meet its owner- Jimmy "Duck" Holmes- who is a blues musician. He is in his 70s but still plays almost nightly. The Black Keys stopped here a few years ago and met Jimmy and later recorded with him. 

Again, from the outside, I wasn't sure if I should go in. It didn't look open and I wasn't sure who I would find inside. A couple of other tourists had pulled up and were looking at the Blues Trail marker, but I decided to go in. I'm so glad that I did! 

The cafe is not in great shape and is hardly a cafe. It is clearly just a place for Jimmy to play music and for people to come in and hear him. When I walked in he was sitting there with another older gentleman and a woman who looked passed out in her chair. The place did not have AC and it was super humid in there. I asked to use the restroom which was one of probably the least desirable ones I have used in my life, but he was so gracious with his time. As I looked at some of the merch he had displayed and I talked with him, some of the other tourists and locals came in too. I ended up talking with a teacher from Baltimore whose family lives in Arkansas and was super into the blues. I have to admit, I am a novice and this blues trip has made me appreciate the art form more. I felt out of place but welcomed all at the same time in the Cafe. As had been the theme, I wish that I could've stayed longer and maybe I would've made some new friends and heard Jimmy play. I had to settle for him signing the cd and poster I picked up and carrying the memory with me. 

Outside and Inside The Blue Front Cafe, Bentonia, MS

I finally got to my Air B n B in Jackson and decided just to stay in for the night since I had the whole next day and evening to explore. 

Day 5- Jackson, MS

I started my day by going to the Capitol and just taking a couple of pictures around downtown. I had heard that the Lamar Life Building was like Jackson's "Big Ben" so I found it and took a picture. 

I saw that the Cathedral was also nearby and had 12pm Mass. I knew that I also wanted to go to the Mississippi Civil Rights museum to kind of book-end my trip that started with the National Civil Rights museum in Memphis. 

Before Mass, I had an hour or so, so I checked another sad memorial off of my list: the Medgar Evers home. I would learn more about him in the Civil Rights Museum later that day. 

Home of Medgar Evers that is now a stop on the Civil Rights Trail. He was an African American Civil Rights leader in the 60s who was shot here in his own home. 
I also stopped at the Greyhound station where Freedom Riders in the 60s were arrested. Their mug shots line the walls at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. 

After visiting those key places on the Civil Rights trail, I had a good southern lunch at Martins and the made my way through what they call the "two museums". The Mississippi History Museum and The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum are rightfully connected. I went through both of them which took up the rest of my afternoon. The Civil Rights Museum was of course very heavy. I found myself saying "my God , when will it stop?" because it just seemed too much for one group of people to endure. 

The answer is WE are the ones who have to stop it. I have to educate myself and my students. I have to educate myself about history and current events. I have to educate myself about systems that still exist that are unjust. Representatives are still trying to block voting rights in states like Georgia. We have to donate time and money and stop these unjust systems and help others. 

I ended my last night in Jackson by checking out some fun things after my heavy day at the museum. I found a speakeasy (many exist in Jackson since Mississippi was a dry state from Prohibition until 1966!) and went to hear some live music on my last night in Mississippi. 


Brent's Diner is in fact a diner, but if you go to the back by the restrooms, you find this door. Go through and find a "speakeasy" bar- The Apothecary. 

Above: My drink at The Apothecary
Dinner and live music my last night in Mississippi at Hal and Mal's

All and all my Mississippi Delta trip was definitely a success. I didn't even realize how much important history exists in this state. It is a complicated and dark history for sure, but I appreciated that the state didn't seem to hide its mistakes. I found a lot of the exhibits in the History and Civil Rights museum forthcoming about the state's abuses to both Native and African Americans throughout its history. 

I would recommend a trip to the Mississippi Delta to anyone. There is so much history and culture there. Much more than I realized. I was grateful for a full and safe trip! I also realized that if I hadn't gone on my own, I don't know if I would've gotten to see all that I did. Inevitably, you have to make compromises when you travel with others. Traveling with other people often takes longer, too, to make decisions, to get ready, etc. Traveling on my own meant that I could get up and go when I wanted and see and spend as much time as I wanted, wherever I wanted! And social media makes it easy to share and stay in touch with others while traveling. I definitely recommend making a trip and do it solo if you want! As I've heard it said- "we did not survive a pandemic to...." complete your own sentence there! For me, it's giving me license to live a little more and to let go of some apprehensions and fears. 

Happy Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul! I will leave with a thought I had as I traveled through the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. African Americans were very connected to Christianity and the Bible because so much of the Israelites' and early Christians' plights connected with theirs during slavery. The Blues, much like our Christian faith, are about suffering and beauty mixed together. Driving through this part of the country definitely got me thinking about Christianity in all its truths and faults and how ultimately it is a faith about suffering but ultimately freedom. We abuse and manipulate that freedom. We deny that freedom from others. Suffering and Freedom are always linked. But some of us need to sacrifice a little more so that others can be more free.