In Loving Memory, Today and Every Day

We never met, but I’m proud of you, and I’m honored to be part of your family.  Thank you for everything, for giving everything, today and always.

Robert Tilson Taylor Small

Robert Tilson Taylor

January 21, 1924 – April 5, 1945

Killed in action, Battle of the Bulge

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Roy Lee Helbert

October 11, 1950 – February 11, 1971

Killed in action, Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam

 

“The moon gives you light,
And the bugles and the drums give you music;
And my heart, O my soldiers, my veterans,
My heart gives you love.”  –Walt Whitman, “Dirge for Two Veterans”

Please Don’t Forget

I’ve been thinking about how to usher in Memorial Day weekend this year.  For a lot of Americans, this is the first official weekend of summer, a three-day breather that brings with it cookouts, picnics, beer, and beaches.  But for many, many more, this weekend is about honoring those who’ve lost their lives serving our country.  I think it’s important not to lose sight of the real reason Monday is a holiday, even while we enjoy the long weekend with our families and friends (or, if you’re like me, the blissful, oft-elusive heaven that is bed).

Bedford is a small community in rural Virginia.  It’s surrounded by mountains.  It’s a nice town, idyllic even, as small towns in Virginia go.  A lot of people probably pass right by it, seeking the larger destinations of Roanoke and Lynchburg.  But they shouldn’t, because they’re missing one of the best monuments to courage and sacrifice that this country has to offer, and it’s right here in Virginia.  So, I’ll take a moment, before I explain why in detail, to say that every Virginian (or, you know, every American) with any appreciation for history, courage, sacrifice, or freedom should visit the National D-Day Memorial.

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The first question people usually ask me when I make this suggestion (read: declaration) is why a memorial for such a tremendous undertaking would be located in a small town like Bedford.  Here’s why – Bedford lost more of its boys, per capita, than any other community in America on D-Day, and the survivors took pride in making sure this monument stands in their honor, and in honor of all the men who died that day.  Nineteen men from Bedford – nineteen – lost within the first day of the invasion, and four more in the next several days of the campaign.

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You can read about them here:  Why Bedford?.  Or, if you’d like a little more detail, you can purchase the book The Bedford Boys by Alex Kershaw.  I would encourage you to do so.

The memorial project was founded by Robert (“Bob”) Slaughter, a D-Day veteran and Bedford Boy himself.  It now stands on 88 acres overlooking the mountains.  It walks visitors through the D-Day invasion from its start, strategized and spear-headed by Eisenhower, to the Normandy landing, complete with simulated gunfire, to its finish, a grand display of the flags of all participating nations capped by a victory arch and watched over by the Lady of Trévières, a replica of a French World War I monument aux morts damaged by shrapnel.  Like her sister statue, Lady Liberty, she guards and protects, but she also mourns so great a sacrifice.

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That’s the balance the National D-Day Memorial strikes, and strikes perfectly.  It celebrates a great victory, but also remembers the great cost.  It honors the dead, but it doesn’t glorify their loss.

That’s what Memorial Day is all about, isn’t it?  Some soldiers never come home.  They’ll never drink a beer on the beach, or eat a hot dog at a family barbecue.  The least we can do for them, especially on a holiday designed specifically for the purpose and regardless of our politics and other nonsense, is to celebrate their lives and honor their sacrifices.

 

**A couple of notes on this post:

  • If you’d like to learn more about the National D-Day Memorial, and/or (and?!) plan your visit, the website can be found here: https://www.dday.org/
  • All of the photos in this post are courtesy of Dr. Thomas Carter, who kindly allowed me to use them in order to write something I don’t know if I would actually want him to grade…

National Wine Day! (And Towel Day!)

It’s National Wine Day!  First of all, I didn’t know such a holiday existed.  Second, I’m not generally a fan of novelty holidays (though I have been known to carry a towel on May 25th, because it’s also Towel Day, and Douglas Adams is one of my favorite writers).  This one, though, I feel pretty good about celebrating.  Because I like wine.

It’s also only the second day in several that the sun is actually visible, it’s warm outside, and there’s not been a drop of rain.  So, out with the red wine, and in with something chilled!  I do love red wine, but now that it’s warm again, I’m ready for a change.

I’ve already featured The Vineyards and Winery at Lost Creek (here’s the post: Lost Creek Wine Selection).  We’re members at Lost Creek, so we’re there at least every other month to pick up our member wines.  Because it’s sunny and pretty and National Wine Day, I wanted to open a bottle I knew we’d enjoy tonight, so we selected Lost Creek’s 2014 Reserve Chardonnay.

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I’ll write more about white wine in the future, I’m sure, since summer is on its way, but for now, I’ll just proclaim, loud and proud, that I love Chardonnay.  I love Chardonnay like I love Red Velvet Cake.  I could eat a whole cake…I could drink a whole bottle (but I won’t…).  I’m pretty sure both are a lifelong love affair.

There are those who don’t enjoy a big, heavily-oaked Chardonnay.  To be fair, it is a robust, flavorful, heavier white wine.  Still, I think those people are wrong.  We can still be friends and everything, but they’re as wrong as people who don’t like snow.  This particular Chardonnay is a big, heavily-oaked Chardonnay.  It’s got a nose of oak, butter, and honey, and a hint of burned toast (I promise this is a good thing).  It tastes of oak and butter, as well, but it’s not gimmicky.  It’s just real and unpretentious – a traditional Chardonnay that will absolutely appeal to those who, like me, believe that Chardonnay should be aged in oak, just like rain is wet and sugar is sweet and cake is good.

Now that I’ve spent a long time going on about wine on National Wine Day, I feel, as a writer and a reader, I ought to give a moment to Douglas Adams for Towel Day.  What kind of writer/reader would I be otherwise?  So here you go, a little something courtesy of the great Mr. Adams to get you thinking while you’re drinking this evening:

“Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.”

That Time We Went Hiking (More or Less…)

So, this happened on Sunday:

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You know that feeling, when you go on a hike and you get to the top and you look out at an amazing view and realize your place in the universe?  Yeah, we didn’t quite get there.

We’re heading to Alaska in June, and we’ll be hiking a lot.  Graham has always really loved to hike, and I was an avid hiker in college, so when our friends let us know they were planning a hike on Sunday and asked if we’d like to join, we agreed without any hesitation.  We decided to head to Keys Gap on the Appalachian Trail, and had a good laugh at the possibility of hiking seven miles in the rain.

Sunday dawned, gray and wet and windy.  It rained.  A lot.  We trudged our way up the trail anyway.  About ten minutes in, Graham discovered that one of his hiking poles was jammed.  Not the best start, but overall, it was actually quite peaceful in the woods – there was mist, it was quiet, the trail was empty.  We walked and chatted and took some good pictures.  And then the sole of Graham’s left boot peeled off.  Really peeled off, like a banana.  I was concerned, since the trail was wet and slippery, but Graham’s a trooper, and he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel.

Not five minutes later, about a mile in, the sole of Graham’s right boot peeled off.  At that point, I pretty much insisted that we turn around.  There’s never a good reason to risk an injury three weeks before a big trip.  Or any time, really.

So, we didn’t make it to the top of the mountain, and Graham’s trail name is officially “Sole-less.”  I suggested “Inspector Broken Gadget,” but it’s a little too long, I think.  The good news…since we didn’t actually spend all day on the trail, we snagged some great barbecue for lunch and enjoyed an afternoon sipping wine and chatting with people at the Aldie Peddler (one of my favorite places on Earth).  So it wasn’t all bad.  Sometimes, it’s better when the adventure doesn’t go as planned.

Graham got new boots and poles yesterday, but I think we’ll always remember this beautiful moment:

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One for the Not-Wine People

I like wine.  I think that is abundantly clear.  But not everyone does.  And you know what?  That’s totally okay!

We got together with some of our good friends last night for a happy hour and birthday dinner, and we made it through a lot of wine over the course of the evening (red, if you’re curious).  One of the revelers would rather drink tar, I think, than wine, and she also has a wicked sense of humor.  This is the witty and incomparable Liz:

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Whip-smart, funny, and a big fan of cider…not wine.  While we were discussing the virtues of a good Malbec and the earthiness of great Pinot Noir, she wrote some of her own reviews.  I liked them so much, I wanted to share them.  Honestly, I feel like some of these would sell bottles based on humor and novelty alone.

“This wine hits the palette with all the gentle subtlety of a dying star’s supernova.  Note the tragic hints of consumed planets.”

“One morning at dawn, Justin Bieber opened his mouth.  Instead of the metaphorical vomit of his usual music, the actual vomit of his stomach came out.  This bottle is a celebration of the contents that spewed forth.”

“This wine relies heavily on the bold flavors of shattered fairy wings and broken hopes and dreams. It pairs well with unicorn tears.”

“You’ve heard of wines referred to as the blood of Christ.  This is the blood of Satan mixed with Miracle Whip.”

“Ring in the holidays with tones of rancid caramel and cinnamon sticks that have been sitting in the clearance aisle of the craft supplies store in a bag marked ‘Comfort of Home Potpourri’ for about six months.”

“I was already drunk when I tried this wine.  It made me wish I were more drunk.”

“This wine combines the tang of cat pee with the sweetness of a vapid young woman posting duck-face selfies on social media.  Pair this with your low self-esteem assuaged by your Facebook likes.” 

“Intrigued by the deep living purple of this wine, you will gulp hungrily only to experience disappointment to be compared to biting into a rich dark chocolate truffle only to discover that it’s sugar-free.”

“If you’ve ever imagined the exotic spiciness of a tropical isle married with the smoky peat essence of proud Scotland, you must indulge in this wine.  If you’ve never imagined such an abomination against all that is good in this world, good for you.”

“This wine calls to mind the many bodily fluids awaiting processing in a large city’s forensics lab.  Perfect for binge-watching CSI or Law and Order.”

And my personal favorite:

“If all wines were associated with Disney characters, this would be the Hunter in Bambi.”

I mean, come on?  Who doesn’t want a bottle of that?  And who doesn’t want a friend who comes up with this stuff?

So, thanks Liz for the good laugh and for putting up with all of us armchair sommeliers!  I promise to always have some cider on hand for you from now on.

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It’s Still Raining

Guess what?  It’s still gloomy!  After a brief glimpse of the sun on Monday, we’ve returned to what people are beginning to call “Seattle weather.”  I’m going to Seattle in June, so I’ll be interested to make a real comparison.

Both Graham and I (and the Annie dog, for that matter) are getting pretty tired of clouds and rain, but we’re dealing as best we can.  By drinking alcohol.  We’re doing other things too, of course (card games, chess games which I hesitate to call games because Graham beats me in five minutes, cartoons, etc.), but sometimes all you can do is raise a glass and laugh at your new “indoor” complexion.  Yesterday, we made Dark and Stormies.  Tonight, we’re drinking wine.

Last night, I made what I call a lazy man’s gumbo – onions, garlic, green bell peppers, tomatoes, andouille sausage, and red beans.  And lots of cayenne pepper.  It’s a little (read: melt your face off) spicy, so we opened a bottle of 2013 Chambourcin tonight to accompany the leftovers.  For those unfamiliar with Chambourcin, it’s a French-American hybrid grape.  It produces a deep-colored wine that can be made either dry or sweet, and it grows really well in Northern Virginia.

We opened a bottle from Zephaniah Farm Vineyard, a small, family-owned operation not too far from our house.  It’s a beautiful place, the owners are friendly and talkative, and the tasting room is in an old house that is absolutely packed to the gills with antiques.  Ask about any item, and they can tell you its story.  It will be an interesting story, too.

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The last time we did a tasting at Zephaniah, we learned that their real goal is just to make tasty wine.  They want to produce wines that are drinkable and enjoyable, and if they also win medals, that’s cool too.  They’ve really succeeded with this Chambourcin.

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The nose is heavy on the berries, with a hint of cherry, as well.  It’s a very fruit-forward wine, but the initial sweetness gives way to smoke and minerals.  It’s not the most complex red wine – Chambourcin, in my experience, usually isn’t – but it’s good.  Because it’s a little bit sweet, it pairs well with spicy food.  I think it would also pair nicely with meat or with barbecue.  It’s a great table wine…good for sharing with others at a fun party.

We’re not having a fun party tonight.  But maybe we will once the sun finally makes its long-awaited prolonged reappearance.

Rain Clouds, Writing, and Wine

It’s not been a productive week so far.  I think I’ve finally figured out why.  It’s the weather.  It’s definitely the weather.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Yep, totally the weather.  How long until summer?  Less rain, more this:

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I don’t think I’ve seen the sun more than twice in the last two weeks.  All of this cloudiness and gloominess makes me tired.  It gets kind of hard to focus on crafting the perfect scene or creating a well-rounded character when it looks like nighttime at 2:00 p.m. consistently for two weeks straight.  But it’s not all bad.  Hearing the rain on the roof at night is actually pretty relaxing.  So, at least I’m not anxious about not writing anything good for the last two weeks.

It’s also the perfect excuse to drink red wine (see: last week’s wine post).  No pictures this week, because we’re just finishing a bottle I opened yesterday to use in a pot roast (I’d say wine is my secret to a good roast, but the truth is, wine is my secret in a lot of recipes).  Dark Horse is a fun wine – a typical California Cabernet Sauvignon that’s fruity, peppery, full-bodied, and smooth.  It’s not too complex, but it is perfect for a cool, rainy night like tonight.  It’s also killer in an au jus over leftover roast beef and mashed potatoes.

And hey, maybe after a couple of glasses, I’ll come up with some good stuff and write it down.

 

It’s Not Going to Write Itself

Over the last several weeks, I’ve given a lot of thought to my writing process.  Back in March, when I officially left my job, I’d planned to sit down and work out a schedule.  It was going to look something like this:

8:00-9:00 – Wake up, shower, coffee, breakfast, news check

9:00-12:00 – WRITE!

12:00-1:00 – Lunch, news check, walk the dog

1:00-2:00 – Errands

2:00-5:00 – WRITE!

Looks like a good schedule, right?  Yeah, I thought so, too.  But I’ve not really put it into practice.  At all.

The sad truth is, I’ve never been good at sticking to schedules.  The best I can do is to show up five minutes early when I’ve got something on my calendar.  With writing in particular, I can never tell when I’ll be most productive, and I get frustrated just sitting and staring at a blank page.  Whether it’s 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m., I’ve always written my best stuff right at the moment when the muse graces me and my imaginary friends want to come out and play.

I got in trouble once at a rehearsal for Annie (that musical about the red-headed orphan…you know the one) because I was (ostensibly) staring off into space.  The music director kept repeating “concentration and focus” while glaring at me, and I didn’t notice until someone poked me in the arm.  What the music director didn’t know was that I WAS concentrating.  I just wasn’t concentrating on the rehearsal.  At about the third warm-up scale, I’d been hit with a really cool idea for a story, about a little girl who secretly lived in a theatre with her ghost parents.  As the music director was staring me down, I was sketching out a plot, staring into the wings because that’s where the little girl liked to sit during the day and pretend that she was a famous actress about to make her grand entrance.

I think routines are good.  I think schedules are helpful, and I envy people who can stick to them – in eating, in exercising, in writing, in life generally.  But for me, I find them a little bit constricting, and I know that I do my best work when I’m really in the zone, rather than when my calendar tells me to be in the zone.

I do think discipline is important, though, and I do try to work on my novel every day, whether I’m feeling inspired or not.  I figure that’s the only way it’s going to get written.  Which is why, right now, I’m stuck in the middle of an outline and almost out of my favorite coffee and it’s only 11:00.  Writer life.

“All that I am…”

“…or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” –Abraham Lincoln

My mom is my best friend.  There, I said it.  I say it a lot, actually.  My dad is pretty amazing, too, but he has his own holiday.  Today is just for my mom.

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I’m an only child, and wasn’t an easy one to raise.  I don’t think anyone could match five-year-old me for sneakiness, bratty-ness, or just being overall embarrassing.  One morning, I poured a bag of shredded cheese all over the carpet because I didn’t want my mom to leave for work.  I used to walk down the aisles in the grocery store singing “There’s a Tear in my Beer” (a song to which I no longer remember the words or the tune, fortunately).  There’s a picture of three-year-old me throwing a tantrum on the kitchen floor in the middle of a pile of Cheerios, which I no doubt spilled everywhere for some reason that seemed really important at the time.  It’s really a shock that I’ve turned out to be such a well-adjusted, normal, even-tempered adult.

Except it’s not.  My mom responded to all of my shenanigans with love and patience.  She raised me to be kind.  She raised me to value education and learning.  She raised me to value my friends and family.  She taught me to read.  She taught me to cook.  She taught me to drive a car (and somehow we’re both still alive).  Above everything else, she taught me to love.

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I would like to think that I honor her by spreading that love to others, and by living in this sometimes hard, cruel, hateful world with the kindness and patience she always showed me.

They say that a mother is love.  For me, that’s true. And man am I ever grateful.

Love you, Mom.  Thank you for everything, always.

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Drinking Wine on Cinco de Mayo

It’s Cinco de Mayo!  My secret – I don’t actually like going out to celebrate this particular holiday.  I prefer my chips and salsa and margaritas without a side of holy crow why are there so many people here?!  So, unless my friends are heading out somewhere, I usually stay in and enjoy an adult beverage in the (relative) peace and quiet of my living room (I have a dog…it only stays but so quiet around here).

Knowing that, I delayed my weekly wine post by one day.  I know, I know.  It’s Cinco de Mayo and I should be drinking tequila, but I just don’t want to. And I believe there’s not really an occasion for which wine is not appropriate.  So there.  It is a holiday, though, and I wanted to open something special.  It’s also a little chilly outside, and has been for most of the week, so we went for a red tonight.

Here’s the bottle we opened:

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Greenhill Winery and Vineyards is right on Highway 50, a straight twenty minute shot from our house on the way to Middleburg.  It’s a beautiful, convenient location, and this is one of the only wineries I’ve been to in Virginia that’s brave enough to make a sparkling white wine, and a Riesling, for that matter.  We decided on the 2010 Philosophy, a robust red blend, because Graham remembered really liking it when we tried it a while ago.  I wish I could remember the exact blend, but I think they changed it after 2010.  That’s why this bottle is special.

This wine is gorgeous.  It’s almost purple.  Blackberry, cloves, and cinnamon on the nose, with just a little bit of pepper.  It’s got a smooth, peppery finish, and tastes of blackberries and holiday spices.  I tasted a little bit of fennel.  Graham tasted a little bit of vanilla.  Either way, it’s just a touch herby.  I would say that this is solidly a red-drinker’s wine.  It’s full-bodied, though not as much as some, and might be too much for someone just starting out with red wine.  But, try it anyway.  Because it’s good, and pretty to look at.

I know it might be a little odd to drink wine on Cinco de Mayo.  Feel free to judge.  I’ll just be here with my wine.  And the cheeseburger I plan to order for dinner.  So there.

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