Unrequited

You asked me once,

Do you love me?

and I said,

Yes, I do.

What I should have said was

You are a beautiful dress in just my size that doesn’t fit

on purpose.

I should have said I never learned how to love something

that didn’t hold me too tight

and make me beautiful in all the wrong places.

Hearts

Loudoun Local: Great Spots for Romance and Relaxing

Another new feature I’ve been planning for a while!  I’ve been living in Loudoun County for nine years now – first in its suburban east, and then (because I like land and history and the fantasy that I might someday own goats and maybe a horse) in its beautiful rural west.  Loudoun has a lot to offer, as do its neighbors like Fauquier and Clarke, and I’m excited to showcase some of my experiences and hopefully inspire readers to come and explore this lovely part of Virginia.

So, whether you have plans with your sweetheart for Valentine’s weekend, or you just want to hang out with your friends or take yourself on a fun date (because you deserve it!), here are a few of my favorite spots for romance and relaxing in Loudoun County.

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For a unique, small-town shopping trip: The Aldie Peddler – Aldie, VA

This little shop is one of my favorite places in the world.  Wally, the chatty and charming proprietor and proud, though unofficial, Mayor of Aldie will make sure you feel like an old friend, and you won’t leave empty-handed (trust me).  Great wines from all over the world, gourmet snacks, quality outdoor furniture, and fun kitsch, all in a sweet little shop in an old house,  in a Loudoun County village that dates back to 1810.

Wally

For brunch, or to spend a weekend: The Red Fox Inn and Tavern – Middleburg, VA

The Red Fox is one of the oldest taverns in the country, and it’s a beautiful spot to sit down and enjoy some delicious brunch favorites.  If you’re feeling a little more luxurious, book a room and stay for the weekend in Middleburg, the nation’s picturesque horse and hunt capital, full of good places to eat, fun shops, and friendly locals.

For dinner, and most especially for dessert: The Conche – Leesburg, VA

Upscale dining with a creative, cocoa-inspired menu, worth a visit for the chocolates and desserts alone.  Indulge your sweet tooth – you deserve it!

For an interesting stroll or a short, easy hike: The Village of Waterford – Waterford, VA

The entire Village of Waterford is a National Historic Landmark, and it shows.  The residents here take incredible care to maintain their properties to the highest historical standard, and when you walk through this little gem, you’ll truly feel like you’ve gone back in time.  You have a couple of walking options, depending on what you’re looking for.  There’s a walking tour through the Village itself:

Waterford Walking Tour

From the Village of Waterford’s website

Or a short hike that starts at the Village’s Old Mill:

Waterford Trail Map

From the Village of Waterford’s website

For a laid-back wine tasting: Zephaniah Farm Vineyard – Leesburg, VA

This vineyard sits on a family farm, and tastings are conducted in the family’s house, which dates back to 1819, or in their new timber-frame barn.

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At the house, you’ll be invited to choose a comfortable spot on the first floor, where you’ll sample lovely wines at a leisurely pace surrounded by unique decorations and a few family heirlooms.  You’ll feel relaxed, looked after, and right at home.

For a craft brew and a good view: Bear Chase Brewing Company – Bluemont, VA

There are lots of breweries in Loudoun County, and quite a few of them boast a pretty amazing view.  Bear Chase is one of the newer additions to this list, and they’ve done everything right.  Enjoy a beer and a pizza by their cozy fireplace, or on their covered porch, or on their extensive lawn.  Fair warning, though – they get busy.  I’ve always been able to find a spot to sit and relax, though, and there’s usually good music on the weekends.  And just look at that view:

Bear Chase View

Bear Chase also sits near the Raven Rocks Trailhead and Bear’s Den overlook, so it’s a perfect spot for a post-hike beer with your sweetheart (or your bestie, or yourself, because like I said, you deserve it).

For cider, spirits, and a dance with the Green Fairy: Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery – Middleburg, VA

If wine and beer aren’t your style, head to Mt. Defiance. Named for the battlefield that sits just west of Middleburg, Mt. Defiance has a rustic cider barn on the east side of town, and a steampunk-chic distillery on the west.  At the barn, grab a glass of their famous Cider Kir – a dark red mix of their Farmhouse cider and Cassis liqueur – and sit in a rocking chair in front of the fireplace or on the patio.

Cider Kir

At the distillery, you have lots of choices – cute mini-cocktail flights, seasonal specialty cocktails, and for those brave enough to try, Absinthe.  Now, I’m kidding about being brave, because Absinthe won’t make you hallucinate, but it is pretty strong, and it tastes kind of like licorice.  I happen to like licorice, and the process of preparing Absinthe to taste is interesting to watch; but, if it’s just not your thing, then try the chocolate pairing, which features chocolates from The Conche, and is just really delightful.

Chocolate pairing

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And there you have it.  I know there are places I’ve surely missed that deserve to be on this list, so feel free to drop a line in the comments if I’ve not mentioned any of your favorites, or if there are places in Loudoun you’ve always wanted to visit.  But regardless of that, I hope I’ve given you some good ideas for this weekend, or really any weekend, and I hope you enjoy whatever you do, because, like I said (several times, in fact), you deserve it!

Story Time

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.” –Neil Gaiman

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Let’s rewind the clock.  By a lot.

At the end of 2018, I came up with a list of several things I wanted to do with this blog.  I’d not written anything for it in ages, and I knew I wanted to create something a little different than what it had been before.  So, I redesigned the page, curated and edited previous posts, and created Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

And then – nothing.  The blog fell off my radar, again, for the better part of a year.  Life gets busy, you know?  2020 is a new time, though, and this year I’m dedicated to writing.  I hope you’ll read and stick with me, because I’ve got some cool stuff planned.

First on that agenda – the short story series I started on January 31st.  I’ve always enjoyed reading short stories, but I haven’t really focused on writing them since college.  They’re great practice, though – there’s no better way to focus on tight, consistent plotting and deliberate, concise word choice – and actually pretty fun.  I’m planning to publish a new story each month this year.  I’ll be asking for ideas and inspiration, so please feel free to leave feedback and share your thoughts.  Stories, after all, are meant to be shared with others.

Though I’ll certainly be writing all sorts of posts in the future, I wanted to share this particular information now, because I think we should go on this adventure together.  And I’ve never been one to say no to an adventure.

Charmed

Avery Dye came home one snowy night in January to a dark, quiet house and a cold casserole dish on the kitchen counter with a note inside that read “Be back never, you sick bastard.”

The Holler in Snow

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Elsewhere, about five hundred miles away and a little over six miles above his head, his wife Kelly sat in the middle seat of a mostly empty flight.  Kelly had planned every detail of her escape for months, right under Avery’s nose and without any guilt.  In the mornings, smudging a thick layer of cheap concealer over last night’s bruises.  At midday, between errands.  In the evenings, over the finely cracked, delicate porcelain of their civil dinner conversation.  This was the first thing that she’d really done just for herself in her entire twenty-nine years, and if it was selfish, she didn’t have the energy left to care.

When she thought of Avery, alone in the empty kitchen staring down a life without her as his domestic attendant, his living punching bag, his arm décor and bed warmer and everything he thought a “wife” should be, she smiled.  Let him live out his days alone, eating fast food roast beef sandwiches and drinking store-brand soda.  If he bought himself an actual punching bag and a body pillow, he might not even notice.

The plane bounced.  Kelly gripped the armrest.  She’d never flown before, had never traveled far beyond the little hollow between two mountains where she grew up, and each time the engine decelerated, or the wings began to angle, or the ping of the “fasten seat belts” sign sounded, her heart beat faster.  She looked down at her hand.  Her knuckles were white.  How many hours, she wondered, before I’m on the ground again?

“It won’t be long now,” said a soft, lightly-accented voice to her left.

“Excuse me?”

“Before we land.  It won’t be long now.”

“Did they announce it?”

“No, but I’ve flown this route many times before.”

Kelly took a moment to look at the woman sitting next to her.  She’d been so preoccupied before, she hadn’t noticed much of anything.  This woman, elegant in a light blue silk scarf with her dark hair neatly pinned in a bun at her neck, had clearly never lived in a white clapboard shack, had never cooked anything in a casserole dish, and had certainly never worn drug store makeup.

“Oh,” Kelly said, and then added, before she could help herself, “You don’t look like you’d have any reason to visit out this way.”  Though it occurred to her, after she said it, that she was the farthest from home she’d ever been.

The woman waved a thin hand in the air, “Everyone has reasons.  I go where I’m most needed.”

Kelly knew that aid workers of every variety often came to help in the mountains, working at free clinics and repairing rundown houses and such.

“And right now,” said the woman, as she rested a firm but gentle hand on Kelly’s own, “this is where I’m most needed.”

“What kind of work do you do?”  Kelly felt uncomfortable being touched, had not been touched with care in so long, but she tried to dismiss it.  This woman was someone worth impressing, the first one in Kelly’s new life.  This woman, she was certain, had seen the world, had been kissed on both cheeks by handsome Frenchmen in corner cafés, had probably ridden camels in Egypt and eaten real Chinese food in China.  Kelly suddenly felt small.  And why shouldn’t she, she chided herself.  Her world was the size of a high school education and a bad marriage.

“A little of many things,” answered the woman.  “None of them are truly work.”

“I guess it’s not really work if you love what you do.”

“Exactly,” said the woman, and winked a perfectly lined eye.  “Tell me about yourself,” she said.  “I love hearing someone’s story.”

A flight attendant came by just then, and the woman ordered a glass of champagne for them both.  Kelly had never tasted champagne.  She and Avery had toasted with 7 Up at their wedding.  She took the glass, sipped it, was surprised by its tart flavor.  So this was it, she thought, as her ears went warm.  This was her new life, the life she’d dreamed of and finally had the courage to pursue.  This was her breakout, her freedom, finally, come to fruition.  She allowed herself to feel little glamorous, for the first time, sitting beside this beautiful stranger on her way to a new adventure.

“There’s not much to tell,” Kelly replied, embarrassed all over again at her small life and her limited choices, all of them bad and many of them not really choices at all – nothing to do in her small town but visit the local library, no money for college or travel, no good jobs to make money.  At the beginning of her adult life, still a baby, really, at only eighteen, the stability of a marriage to a well-loved local boy, the safety of a roof over her head and food at her table, had seemed like the highest bar Kelly could reach.

“Oh, I doubt that,” the woman said.  “Everyone has a story.”

Something about the rich caramel in her voice, the solid weight of her hand on Kelly’s, the conspiratorial twinkle in her eye, all convinced Kelly, though she didn’t know why exactly, to talk.  And once she got started, as the woman cooed affirmations and tenderly held her hand, Kelly found that she couldn’t stop.  She laid out all of her broken pieces – her sorrows, her regrets, her shame, her dreams – and began to feel lighter with every word.

“Darling,” said the woman, “how much you’ve been through, and you can’t be more than thirty.  But look,” and she motioned out of the window, “we’re here now.”

“We are!”  Kelly hadn’t noticed the plane descending, through layers of clouds and above crystal blue water and white sand.  “I’ve talked your ear off!  I’m so sorry.”

“No, on the contrary, I enjoyed your story.  I’ll keep it close, just like the others I’ve collected.  And I hope you find your burden lighter.”

Kelly thought for a moment.  There had been a burden, hadn’t there?  She’d been worried about something, hadn’t she, frightened even, when she stepped onto this plane?  Only she wasn’t sure now.  Perhaps it was the champagne, she thought.  To be polite, she replied, “I’m sure I will,” and, “thank you.”

“Thank you,” said the woman, and stood to begin a slow walk down the aisle of the plane, humming lightly as she went.

Kelly stood up, as well, and grabbed her overhead bag.  She wandered off the plane and into the terminal, daydreaming about dewy air and warm saltwater.

Blue Water

She thought of nights spent listening to the sound of waves lapping on the shore, and of being alone in a pillowy bed with a good book.

She felt a nagging tug, though, somewhere in the back of her mind, that an empty bed would be terribly lonely, and that the beach would be sticky and too hot, and she wondered if she shouldn’t move to the mountains.  A small town in the mountains, perhaps, where she would meet a rugged, handsome man, and live a simple, charmed life.

**********

The woman watched Kelly go, though Kelly would hardly have noticed.  Her job done, and the fine, wispy strand of story and memory tucked firmly into her palm, the woman turned and walked to Gate A6.  She tucked Kelly’s story into a handkerchief, glowing faintly and still humming a sad, hollow tune, and placed it in her pocket.  She sat down beside a young lady in black leggings and an oversize sweater, with her arm in a sling and a backpack resting on her thighs.

“It won’t be long now,” the woman said.  She ran a hand with sparkling, black nails through her hair, now worn in loose, blonde curls streaked with bright blue.

The young lady turned.  “Huh?”

“Our flight boards in fifteen minutes.  Tell me, are you traveling for business or pleasure?”

The young lady thought for a moment, and said, “Both.  Or neither?  I’m not so sure.”  A tear slid down one cheek, and she adjusted her sling at her shoulder.

“Well, why don’t you tell me all about it?  Maybe I can help you decide.”  The woman smiled, and watched as the young lady’s expression went slack, and then sharp again.

“I don’t know where to start,” she said, but she did start, and she laid out her troubles and her dreams, and the woman listened.

The woman always went where she was needed, and she was always needed.  She never had a moment to feel bored or lonely, because some poor soul was always wishing for an escape, a new start free from pain or fear.  It was a delicate and a daunting job, collecting these stories, weaving them into an even thread that could be pulled out clean and quick.  How fragile, the woman thought, were stories and memories, and how easy they were, once the thread was done, to take forever, and how little they were missed.

**This is the first in a series of stories I’m planning to post.  I’ll write more about it soon.**

Beginnings and Endings

For many people, and for me, most years, January is the time for new beginnings.  My January started with an ending.

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Betty Lou McGhee Osborne, October 4, 1929 – January 14, 2020

This is a picture of my sweet grandmother as a teenager.  I like this one, because she’s smiling, and she always hated pictures of herself and never really smiled in them.  I would give just about anything in the world to see her smile again.

Losing my grandmother is hard enough.  Knowing that I’ve now lost my last grandparent is jarring, overwhelming, weird, and sad.  It’s like losing pathways in my life.  It’s an odd, sort of melancholy feeling, knowing that roads you’ve always taken, houses you’ve always visited, rooms you’ve slept in, kitchens you’ve eaten in, hills you’ve always known, are lost to you now.  Sure, you can go back to visit, but you’ll never go back in the same way.  You’ll never go back and find home.

So, where do I go from here?  Lots of people have asked this question, I’m sure, and I know I’m lucky to be asking it in my thirties, and not any sooner.  But you never really have enough time with the people you love.

Writing now, suffering through my second horrible upper respiratory infection of the season, pondering loss, I’m quite glad to say goodbye to January 2020.  See you again never, you shameless bully.

I know there are brighter days coming, and I’ve made lots of plans.  Sometimes, you just have to keep going with pieces missing.  Every beginning has an ending, and sometimes, you just have to start there.

A Virginia Writer Goes to the Land of Fire and Ice

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A view of the water on Highway 47 around Hvalfjörður.

Funny story: Graham and I went to Iceland in March, I blinked, and now it’s nearly September.

I really have struggled with what to say in this post.  There are blog posts and articles all over the Internet about what to do in Iceland, how to save money, what to bring, and what you should know before you go.  The market for advice is…well, just a little saturated.  Not unlike my hair, my clothes, and my hiking boots after walking behind Seljalandsfoss on a damp day.

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Seljalandsfoss in south Iceland.

Worth it? Oh, absolutely.

With the collapse of WOW air and the rising sentiment that Iceland has become too much of a magnet for Millennials seeking adventure in its windswept landscapes, several of my friends asked me, when Graham and I got back, if our trip was worth it.  Worth the cost, worth the time, worth fighting the hordes of other eager tourists looking to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights and bathe in crystal blue waters.

Again – oh, absolutely.

So, instead of doling out advice that you can find elsewhere, I’m just going to tell you why, even now that you can’t score super-cheap WOW air tickets (spoiler: we flew Icelandiar and it was great) and even now that Greenland is the new hotness, you should absolutely, 1000%, without any hesitation book your trip to Iceland.

The tourist spots are actually worth a stop.

We’ve all been there – trapped in a cramped elevator on the Eiffel Tower, stuck behind some wailing kid while you’re trying to snap a picture of the Grand Canyon, desperately huffing it up the hill at Edinburgh Castle just barely managing to keep up with the tour guide.  In these moments, many of us – yes, even avid adventurers – can succumb to our lesser instincts and wonder, is this worth the hassle?  Well, yeah, of course it is, and Iceland is no different.

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Kirkjufell, on the Snæfellsnesnes peninsula in the west.

You should absolutely see the geysers, pet the shaggy ponies, scale the craters, and walk along the black sand beaches.

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Strokkur, on the Golden Circle.

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A thermal field along the Golden Circle, near Geysir.

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Kerið, a volcanic crater lake on the Golden Circle.

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A fluffy Icelandic horse I tried to make friends with on the Golden Circle.  He wasn’t interested.

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Reynisfjara Beach, facing Dyrhólaey, near Vík.

Go play in a glacier lagoon and spot diamonds on the shore.

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The Diamond Beach on Iceland’s south coast.

Will you have to deal with people?  Sure, but they’re just as excited to be there as you are.  Just give each other space and be patient.  It is worth the hassle.  I promise.

And if you go in the winter or early spring, there are ice caves.

And they’re really, really cool.

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An ice cave on Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier.

And they don’t all look the same.

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A black ice cave on Vatnajökull glacier.

A tour takes half a day.  You have time to do another cool thing in the morning, and then play in the ice all afternoon.  It’s kind of comforting to know that not all caves are dark and creepy.

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Layers of ice and ash.

My parents thought Graham and I were crazy to go to Iceland just when it was starting to warm up in Virginia, but if we’d gone in the summer, we would have totally missed this opportunity.

There’s plenty of culture and history to explore.

Iceland was first settled in 874 AD.  The country has a rich history.  Its people were and are a brave, hardy, and resourceful bunch.  You’ll spot history from the car driving to your next hotel.

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A traditional turf structure, on the road in south Iceland.

You’ll see it lauded in towns and cities.

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Lief Erikson, in Reykjavík.

And yes, there are museums, too.

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A ship on display in the Skógar Regional Museum.

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Traditional turf houses, which have been moved to the Skógar Regional Museum.

Don’t miss out on actually learning the history of this little island.  It will surprise you, and you’ll be better for knowing about it.

You don’t have to spend a ton of money on food and lodging. 

This was the view from our totally reasonably-priced Reykjavík hotel room:

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The view from our hotel room in Reykjavík.

And while we certainly splurged on a few meals, it’s not hard to find a quick bite.  Hot dogs are an Icelandic favorite, and they’re not expensive, and they’re pretty damn tasty.

Iceland is not the least expensive place Graham and I have ever visited, and if you fancy a beer or a cocktail, do be prepared to drop some coin.  But if you do your research and plan ahead, and if you aren’t visiting in the height of summer, your trip to Iceland won’t empty your bank account.

Icelanders have a sense of humor.

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The Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat, in Reykjavík.

They’re fun people, and they’ll appreciate your visit.

And they’re artistic, literary, and whimsical.

Did you know that Iceland is one of the most literate nations in the world?  Or that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book?  If you like reading or art, you’ll be happy in Iceland.

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Artwork on the side of a building in Reykjavík.

There’s also some stunning architecture.  This…

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Hallgrímskirkja, the cathedral in Reykjavík.

…was inspired by this:

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Basalt columns at Reynisfjara Beach.

You might even see a troll or two.

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A statue of Bárður Snæfellsás in Arnarstapi, a village on the Snaefellsnes peninsula.

Iceland is really just heartbreakingly beautiful.

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A view we happened upon when we made a wrong turn onto a dirt road, near Hvalfjörður.

Just look at it.

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Another view of Hvalfjörður.

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Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.

You can see waterfalls, black sand beaches, glaciers, and mountains all in one day.

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Skaftafell National Park, near Öræfi in southeast Iceland.

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A pretty little waterfall we spotted from the road.

You can walk along a tectonic divide.

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Þingvellir National Park.

If you’re lucky, you can catch a glimpse of the aurora (probably while you’re driving and your camera equipment is packed into the back of the car and you need to take pictures quickly with your cell phone or else you’ll miss it…do find a safe place to pull over).

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Blurry cell phone photo 1.

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Blurry cell phone photo 2, with extra blurry stars.

The landscape in Iceland is unlike any other place in the world. Go see it.

If I haven’t convinced you to buy a plane ticket by now, let me leave you with this.

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Gullfoss.

That mythical, dreamland Somewhere over the rainbow?  I found it.  It’s Iceland.

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I don’t remember where this is, but isn’t it gorgeous?

Have you booked your trip yet?

Hello again, world!

It’s good to be back!

I haven’t written on this blog in a long time.  What can I say?  Life gets busy.  Priorities change.  Blah, blah, blah….  But if you’re here reading now, I doubt you want to plod through a bunch of excuses.  So, I’ll just say, I’ve not written on this blog in a long time, and this year I’m going to start writing in it again.

If you’ve followed before, thank you!  And I hope you stick around, because things are going to change a little (which my mother tells me is healthy and not something to be afraid of).  If you’re new, welcome!  I’m glad you’ve stopped in and I hope you sit a spell and stay a while.  For everyone, as we start a new and exciting writing journey together, here are a few (ten – a nice, even number) things you should know about me, because I’ll be writing about them.

I’m a Virginia girl.  1,000%, born and raised and (probably) never leaving.  I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains near coal fields and cow fields and never too far away from a good plate of biscuits and gravy.  My grandfather was a coal miner, my dad plays bluegrass, my mom fries chicken, and I can flatfoot ‘til the cows in the fields come home.

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My husband is pretty awesome.  We’ve been married for five years, and the theme of our Virginia-chic wedding was “Beach Boy Meets Mountain Girl.”  He takes good pictures and he drives dirt roads like a champ.  Our pets are also pretty cool.  We have a crazy dog and a 20-pound cat.  They’re not friends, but they seem to like us okay.  I ask Graham at least once a day when we can get a couple of goats.  And maybe a pony.  And a pot-bellied pig.

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We live in a 200-year-old house.  When I tell people this, they usually either gush about how cool that is or ask how much work that is.  It’s both cool and a lot of work.  We consider ourselves stewards, not residents, and we feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to give this house the care and attention it deserves.  Which is a lot.  #oldhouselife

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I read.  I don’t just like to read.  I consider it a really vital part of who I am.  I think words are their own special kind of magic – authors take a blank page and create something that didn’t exist before.  I usually read over 100 books in a year.  I’m particularly fond of Neil Gaiman, and if I could bring an author back from the dead, it would be Mark Twain.  Or Shakespeare.  Or maybe Chaucer.  Or Vonnegut.  Yeah, no, I can’t pick just one.

I write.  Duh.  You’re here, on my blog, reading a post that I’ve written.  I’m working on a couple of novels, I write for a local publication, and I’ve also been known to write an occasional poem or song.  Usually when I’ve had a little too much wine.

I also sing.  My whole family does music.  I’ve been told by several of my relatives that I was singing before I could talk.  I obviously can’t attest to the veracity of this claim, but I’m inclined to believe it.  I started out doing country, moved on to musicals and then to studying opera, and now I’m back to country (real country – Dolly Parton is my spirit animal), with some bluegrass, folk, and Americana in the mix, as well.  When my dad and I play together, we call ourselves “Rum and Wine.”

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I’m a big advocate for historic preservation.  I live in a historic village that’s situated minutes from new neighborhood development in Loudon County.  Living in a part of the country that’s at risk for major over-development of monotonous monopoly houses and suburban sprawl, I firmly believe in preserving historic structures and natural areas.  I think they’re a valuable, essential part of any community and we’re all better off for appreciating them.

I’m a good cook.  My kitchen is tiny, and I think I’m proof that a big kitchen isn’t necessary to cook a good meal.

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My last big project was dumplings.  201 dumplings, more precisely.  Hand-mixed filling, hand-crimped wrappers, and fried in batches of eight.  It was…an experience.

Dumplings

I really love to incorporate local ingredients, especially local booze.  And speaking of booze…

I love wineries, breweries, and cideries.  And luckily, living where I do, I’ve got lots of choices.  On weekends, I’m always out exploring new places with my husband and our friends.  Virginia wine has come a really long way in a short amount of time, and I think that’s worth celebrating.

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Adventure is everything.  Life is too short to sit at home, and the world is too big and too interesting to not see.  I like exploring, I like learning new things, I like meeting new people, and I believe that an adventure can be as big or as small as you want it to be.  For those of us with itchy feet and empty wallets, it’s important to keep perspective – there’s plenty to experience right outside the front door.

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On that note, our next big adventure starts in two days!  Iceland, 2019!  (Booked on points, because I make stories, not money.  If you’ve been, please send recommendations for what we should do!)  I will be posting about it, so if you’re interested, keep an eye out.  And, you know, generally, stay tuned for more.  You can also follow me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/myvirginiadiary/), Twitter (@VA_Writer), and Instagram (@virginia_writer).

Cheers, friends, new and old, to new stories and new adventures!

Newspaper Memories

When I graduated from college, I knew two things:

  • I had a degree!
  • I had no idea what to do with it…

I’d spent the last three years devoting myself to reading and writing, and I’d earned my bachelor’s degree in English a year early and with honors.  In college, I was “the wunderkind.”  My professors respected my work and encouraged my curiosity.  Out of college, I was a twenty-year-old kid with a lot of debt and no real job experience.

I wasn’t scared for my future. I had an abundance of confidence, but not cash.  So I did what any slightly lost, mostly broke kid would do:  I applied to every job for which I was even marginally qualified.  Thankfully, a couple of employers took a chance on me.  One of those employers was the local newspaper – a freelance gig, sure, but a chance to get my name out there and make money doing something I loved.

Growing up in the theater had cured me of shyness, and college had taught me to write well and concisely (and quickly, if I had to).  Writing for a newspaper – interviews, deadlines, etc. – was a natural fit and I loved it immediately.  Talking to people and writing about it didn’t feel like work.  Having the opportunity to meet people in my community and share their accomplishments was a privilege.

My first article was about a sweet elderly lady who made prayer bears and prayer flowers for grieving families and families whose loved ones were in the hospital.  In the fall of 2007, I sat with her for a couple of hours in her living room.  I’d prepared questions, but the conversation was so easy and so honest, I didn’t need them.  As I was packing to leave, she made me a set of my own prayer flowers, and prayed for my health and success.

From there, I met with a 97-year-old ham radio operator and we talked about the days when radio was new and exciting.  To her, it still was.  I interviewed two little boys who decided to grow out their hair and donate it.  They wanted to honor their grandmother, and they didn’t care at all that people said they looked like girls.  I walked around a hospital and spoke to volunteers who often came home utterly exhausted and still wondered if they could do more.  I spent an afternoon with a church youth group as they were preparing for a mission trip.  For many of them, it would be their first airplane ride, and not one of them was afraid.  They were just excited and eager to help.

I handled quick deadlines.  I worked late.  I wrote on my lunch break.  I skipped dinner.  I learned to take decent photographs for the first time in my life (much more difficult than I thought it would be…).  More than anything, I realized that people have good things to say, and it’s important to hear them.

In 2009, Graham and I moved from Abingdon for what we thought would be a temporary stay in Northern Virginia.  The prayer flowers from my very first story came with us.  All these years later, they still sit on a shelf in my study.

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I look at them often, and they remind me that the people we meet are never just a means to an end, and that kindness and compassion are real, tangible, and enduring.

My Grandfather’s Guitar

My grandfather’s guitar sits in a corner of my study
untouched, gathering dust.
When I was young and he was already old, it could pull notes straight from the air
through his fingers and into my ears.
I can hear them, though he is gone and his instrument’s gone quiet.
When I was young, not even ten,
he’d pick it up and start to play and then I’d go still,
stuck to one spot until he was done.
My grandfather’s guitar in his hands made magic, but I was too young to understand
that music is magic made real for a moment.
A fret and a twang and he’d made something that didn’t exist before
and wouldn’t again.
I sometimes imagine myself back there, wearing muddy tennis shoes with tangled hair,
just listening.

I can hear it, but no song ever sounds the same twice.

095

Beowulf, Epics, and Why Curiosity Matters

I can’t remember what first sparked my interest in Beowulf.  I was in high school.  I was hungry for stories and itching to immerse myself in subjects that challenged me.  It could have been that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was going strong in theaters, stoking the collective imagination of a generation ready for magic and epic battles between good and evil (having been primed by Harry Potter and his many adventures).  It could have been a new phase in my lifelong interest in historical esoterica.  I’m not really sure, and it doesn’t really matter, because I’ve loved Beowulf ever since, and I’m not about to stop now.

My first encounter with Beowulf was shepherded by Seamus Heaney, and I’ve often called his work the “gateway translation.”  This is the iteration that gets you into the story.  Heaney’s meticulous attention to the cadence of the verse; his talent for turning arcane sensibilities into relatable one-liners; and his easy dedication to presenting Beowulf – the original man, myth, and legend – as not only an adventurous, brave soul in search of a noble calling higher than himself (and seeking a little glory along the way, because why not?), but a flawed human being just like all the rest of us, all serve to draw new readers into this old story.

I’ve read Heaney’s translation now more than any other, and I’m about to do it again.

Over breakfast last week, I read a magazine article called “Beowulf is Back” by James Parker.  The crux of the article – that this ancient epic just won’t go away – got me thinking, not only about Beowulf and why I love it, but about why people love epics.  Why do we obsess over heroes?  Why do we frame our world in terms of good and evil?  Why do we love a battle scene?  Why do we still look to a text older than our language to find answers about ourselves today?  And what does all of that say about us?

I don’t know.

Really, I’m not sure.  I could fill pages with my assumptions, but I don’t really want to do that, and I don’t think anyone really wants to read it.  Instead, I’m going to look at Beowulf with fresh eyes, and see what I learn.

Here’s the plan:

Over the next four weeks, I’m going to reread Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, and then I’m going to read, for the first time, three graphic novelizations of the story that James Parker mentioned in his article.

I’m looking at this challenge in two ways.  First, it’ll be fun – I love Beowulf, and I’ll have four weeks’ worth of Beowulf, and that is exciting.  Second, it’ll satisfy my curiosity.  What can these different interpretations of the same story tell me about why we just won’t let Beowulf fade into obscurity?

If I haven’t yet convinced you that Beowulf is worth your time, or if you’re not into old stuff, or if, for reasons I will never understand, you don’t like to read, I’m sure you’re asking yourself why I want to do this.  The simple answer is, because I am curious.  I want answers.  I want answers to lots of questions, actually, but I’ll settle for the Beowulf-related ones for now.  I believe that we should always be thinking, we should always be asking questions, and we should always, always, always be curious.  A curious mind is a powerful one.  People who ask questions make discoveries, and sometimes those discoveries change the world.  Sometimes, they just scratch the intellectual itch that people like me can never quite shake.  But, and at any rate, no one ever amounted to anything who didn’t first ask questions.

And so, off I go, into Heorot once more, to see what I can learn with thirty-year-old eyes and a brain that often forgets where I left my car keys.

And it all begins with “Hwæt…”

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