Beaching and Wining

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no better accompaniment for relaxation than a good glass of wine, and there’s no better place to relax than the beach.  So, basically, Beach + Wine = Paradise.  Add in some family, board games, and good food, and I think we’ve officially made it into Heaven territory.

We’ve opened several bottles of wine since we got here on Monday (what can I say…we’re a family of wine lovers), but I set aside a bottle of Breaux 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon for today.  I wanted to make sure everyone got a chance to taste a good Virginia red.

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A little bit of history on this one – we’re going back in time today.  A couple of years ago, Graham and I were members at Breaux Vineyards.  Breaux is a large(r)-scale operation located just outside of Purcellville, VA.  Their tasting room is always busy, but they have a wide variety of wines to taste, and their sommeliers are knowledgeable and friendly.  The grounds are also lovely, and they have lots of outdoor seating to use on nice days (you know…if you can’t make it to the beach).  We dropped our membership in an effort to cut some costs before my big writing adventure, and also because we were members at over ten wineries and it was time to cut back a little.  We’re still working down our bottle backlog, so a Breaux wine was a natural choice for our beach week.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon went over really well with everyone.  It’s got a robust nose of black cherry, black pepper, and hints of smoke and tobacco.  It’s smooth, though, with notes of smoke and plum on the palate.  As Virginia Cabernet Sauvignons go, this one is done much more in the Bordeaux style than others – smooth, structured, lightly tannic, and it’s aged very well.  It would pair nicely with red meat, or with pretty much anything grilled.  It would be great for a cookout on the beach.  Then, you could have both wine and smores, and wouldn’t that be awesome?

It’s just too bad that time flies when you’re having fun (read: drinking wine), because I don’t think I’m ready to head home yet.  Like, ever.

Cheers!

From the Bluegrass State to the Beach

We’ve successfully made it to Figure Eight Island in North Carolina!  We’re all settled in to our beach house, and recovering from our whirlwind stop in Asheville.

We didn’t leave Louisville, though, before trying a Hot Brown.

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Conclusively, the best sandwich ever, if not really a sandwich.

We also tried authentic, official, trademarked Derby Pie.

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And we enjoyed spending a little downtime at the Brown Hotel, and wandering around downtown Louisville and the riverfront.

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Our friends had a beautiful wedding, and overall, we enjoyed our time in Kentucky, even if the heat was a little intense.

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Asheville was, in a word, amazing.  Even the drive there was beautiful.  I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of this road sign, since my dad and I so often perform the song:

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Sometimes, especially on road trips, it’s all about the little things.

I’d only ever been to the Biltmore Estate, and I was really looking forward to seeing the actual city in all of its artsy, mountain-urban glory. I was not disappointed.  I’m only sorry I didn’t take pictures.  A few of the interesting sites we encountered:  the Thomas Wolfe House, the Asheville Community Theatre (once co-directed by Charlton Heston and his wife), lots of interesting shops and restaurants, and lots of interesting people (including an urban hippie meditating in the middle of a city park…I’m not going to lie, I was jealous of the guy’s focus).

We had dinner at Rhubarb on Sunday night, and if you’re ever in Asheville, I would recommend you do the same.  The chef puts together a Sunday Supper every week, and the price for such a large meal was surprisingly affordable.  Here’s the website, if you’d like to learn more: Rhubard Asheville.

Yesterday, we loaded up the car again, and headed for our final stop.  On the way, we stopped at the best fast food place in the world (though Bojangles is a close second):

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I’m so happy we get to spend time with Graham’s family on this wonderful little island every summer.  Nothing makes this Virginia girl happier than combining travel and family tradition.  Except maybe travel, tradition, and a little wine on the beach.

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Bourbon at The Brown

We’re all settled in at the first stop on our road trip, and I think Louisville has treated us well so far.  We’re staying at the Brown Hotel, a 1920s beauty and the birthplace of the Hot Brown, a legend among sandwiches (no, really, it is).  We’ve not tried one yet, but we did spend some time at the Lobby Bar yesterday enjoying that old Kentucky favorite – bourbon.  When in Rome, right?

I went for an Old Fashioned, which is actually my favorite cocktail.  Unfortunately, no Old Fashioned will ever compare to the one I enjoyed here in Kentucky.

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Graham had a bourbon flight, because contrary to what the politics of the day would indicate, we can have nice things.

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If you’re ever in Louisville, I would definitely recommend spending at least one night at the Brown, and I would also heavily encourage you to spend some time in their Lobby Bar getting to know their bourbon selection.

We’re off to a wedding tonight, and then it’s full speed ahead to Asheville tomorrow.   As the song says, the road goes on forever and the party never ends…

Road Trip!

No rest for this weary traveler.  And that’s just the way I like it!

Tomorrow, Graham and I will head to Louisville, Kentucky for a wedding.  From there, we’ll stop in Asheville, North Carolina for a night, and then head to Figure Eight Island for a week with the family.

Road trips make me happy.  I’m all for big overseas adventures that require airplanes and very particular packing, but I think a road trip is one of the best ways to explore.  At the end of the day, even the familiar can be an adventure.

“Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.” –J.R.R. Tolkien

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Wine is the Best Medicine

Said no doctor, ever.  But tonight, it’s exactly what Graham and I needed.

We’ve been searching for some time for a historic home somewhere in Loudoun County, and this week, we found the perfect place.  Unfortunately, another buyer did too, and, though we put our best foot forward, their offer was accepted.  We’re both disappointed, because this was pretty much our dream house – perfect location, perfect front porch, casual with character, and ready for our personal touch to make it a really beautiful, comfortable Virginia farmhouse.  But we’re getting through it.  There will be another house for us one day, and in the meantime, there’s Virginia wine.

Tonight, we opened a bottle of 50 West 2015 Rosé of Sangiovese.

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I know, I know…I featured 50 West just a few weeks ago (here’s the post: 50 West Post), but this past weekend, we stopped by again to check out their newly renovated clubhouse.  It was definitely worth the stop, because it’s awesome.  The care and time they’ve put into making this mid-century modern house into everything it should be is, at the very least, admirable.  But, really, it’s more than that, because they’ve put the same effort and attention to detail into this house as they put into making their wines (which is to say, impeccable and impressive), and it shows.  While we were there, Diane, one of the owners, was kind enough to show us around the house and around some of their new grapevines.  They’ve just planted Albariño and Suavignon Blanc.  I expect great things in the future.

The rosé we opened tonight was light, crisp, and perfect for a hot summer day – a refreshing nose of strawberries and citrus with leafy notes, citrus and fruitiness on the palate that give way to a pleasant sweetness and fresh strawberries on the finish, and just a hint of minerality.  This one is a staff favorite at the tasting room, and I can see why.

Sometimes, life hands you lemons.  If you’re Graham and me, you take those lemons and…drink wine instead.  It’s not been a good day, but that’s okay.  We might not have our dream house, but we do have each other.  And wine.

Cheers!

Hot Day = Cold Wine

It’s hot tonight.  It was hot today.  And a hot day calls for a refreshing drink.  And in our house, that means cold white wine.

Summers in Northern Virginia tend to be somewhere between sweltering and Death Valley but humid.  A friend of the family describes this kind of weather as “close,” which, as I understand it, means “it’s so hot I feel like I’m crammed into a sauna with 1,000 other sweaty people who like hugs.”  I’m happy to be home after all of our travels so far this summer, but man, I hate the heat.

I’d actually picked out a red wine for tonight (welcome to our house…red wine everywhere), but when Graham got home, I felt the heat coming through the door and changed my mind.  I was also baking a pie, and the kitchen was hot, so white wine it was.  We opened a bottle of Greenhill 2014 Seyval Blanc.

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I’ve featured Greenhill before (here’s the post: Greenhill Wine Post) so I won’t go on about the winery.  I will say, though, that it’s a nice place with good wine and a pretty view that’s worth a visit or several.

If you’re unfamiliar with Seyval Blanc, it’s a hybrid grape used to make white wines, and it grows particularly well in cooler climates.  It’s widely grown in Virginia, though I’ve heard upstate New York grows it, as well.  This particular Seyval Blanc was pretty on character for the grape – a delicate nose of citrus, with honeysuckle, sweet citrus, and black currant on the palate, and a sour citrus finish.  It was light, yes, but with a minerality that added some complexity and depth.  I can think of few better wines for a hot summer evening, and we certainly enjoyed it.

I checked the forecast earlier today, and it looks like we’re in for a heat wave for the foreseeable future.  Knowing us like I do, I predict there will be more cold white wine in our future.  So, damn the heat, and bless the wine, and thank God for air conditioning.  Cheers!

The Blank Page

When I decided to pursue writing as a career, I anticipated a lot of different reactions.  I expected people to tell me that I was crazy and irresponsible, or that I was spoiled, or that I was naïve.  What I didn’t expect to hear, and what most people told me, was that I was brave.  Brave.  People still tell me that I’m brave.  They tell me I made a bold choice, and that it takes courage to pursue this dream of mine.  The truth, I think, is more relatable, more grounded in real life, and so very human.

I’m scared.

The day I decided to leave my full-time job, I didn’t do it because I was brave.  I did it because I was afraid that I’d be stuck doing something I didn’t love until I either retired or died.  Then, when I handed in my resignation and started saying my goodbyes, I was afraid that I’d made a terrible mistake.  The first Monday I ever spent just writing, I was afraid that I’d never make any money again, and Graham and I would end up destitute and it would be all my fault.

And I’m still scared, because the thing that frightens me most in this world, the one thing that gives me nightmares, the one fear I can’t conquer, is just this:

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The blank page.  The beginning.  The start of the marathon.  The mountain to climb, and my own personal Everest.  I’m scared of a lot of things – heights, elevators, airplanes, snakes, ladybugs – but nothing scares me as much as the blank page.  It’s a world of possibilities, and the responsibility to explore it and fill it up with words that sing is exhilarating and paralyzing all at the same time.

I’m scared of the blank page because words are powerful, and stories are important, and storytellers are the guardians of our history and our humanity, and I’m just a girl from a small town in Virginia sitting at my desk in my pajamas trying to write words that matter.

I’m not brave, but I don’t have to be.  I just have to write.  I have to get the words out of me and into the world, whether anyone reads them or not.  I have to, because if I don’t, they’ll just build up in my head and the weight of them, the pressure of all of them floating around in there, jammed together in a Times New Roman mosh pit, will drive me crazy.  I have to, because I love stringing words together to make something that didn’t exist before.  It’s the closest to magic that I’ll ever get.

Bravery is overrated, and sometimes you just have to embrace the fear and let it motivate you to take the actions you need to take.  I’m not brave, but I am writing, and that’s enough.

The Last Frontier: A Virginia Writer Goes West, Part II

I can’t remember that I thought much about Alaska before I met Graham.  Maybe that it was cold in the winter and light in the summer and I’d heard there were mosquitoes?  I’m almost ashamed to say it, but I’d never had any strong desire to travel to Alaska.  I think certainly Sarah Palin as a politician/media personality didn’t help – why would I want to visit a place that churned out hair-sprayed hockey-mom crazies like that?  That kind of thinking was uncharitable and unfair, of course, and I should have known better, since I’m from an area of the country that more often than not doesn’t get a fair shake in the ugly and mean-spirited stereotypes department.

I think it was in the first month of our relationship that Graham, who hiked through the wilderness there for a couple of weeks when he was eighteen, noted for me all the myriad reasons we should make a trip to Alaska, and, being too in love with him to see straight (this is still the case, by the way), I listened.  We resolved to plan a trip, whenever the opportunity came along.  Which it did, about a year ago.  One of our friends invited us along on an Alaska cruise her family was planning, and we said yes immediately.  In unison, if I’m recalling correctly.  It was a beautiful moment.

I wasn’t sure what to expect – I’d never cruised before, and I’d never been to Alaska, so it was like a double whammy of the anxious uncertainty and nervous excitement that I always feel before a big trip.  I don’t know how a trip can live up to your every expectation when you don’t know what your expectations are, but this one did.  So, for those who, like me, have never cruised and have never been to Alaska, here are some of the things I learned.

Cross Country Flights Are Pretty Much the Worst

Five and a half hours.  That’s nearly a flight from Dulles International to England.  That is a flight from Dulles International to Iceland.  Five and a half hours.  No meal, no free booze, no complementary pretzels or cookies, no free movies or television (seriously, we even had to pay to see the flight path and progress).  I don’t know if every airline does it that way, but the flights to and from the West Coast were just awful.

Cruises Are Fun!

Yep, they sure are!  Food and alcohol readily available and easily accessible at all hours, a casino, several different bars, a karaoke lounge, a dance club, a spa, pools and hot tubs, decks for relaxing and taking in the passing scenery…a cruise ship is really like an all-inclusive resort that just happens to float.  Add a few good friends, some beautiful Alaskan mountains, and a couple of family costume parties, and I had a great time!

But, They’re Not Really My Thing

Don’t get me wrong here.  If we got another opportunity to take a cruise, especially to somewhere tropical, I certainly wouldn’t say no!  And, just like we did this time, I would spring for the balcony room.  But, as a traveler, I like to plan my own schedule, see what I want to see when I want to see it, and try my best to blend in with the locals.  I don’t really like being labeled a tourist, and I would like to think I don’t behave like one.  Gift shops?  No, thanks.  What’s that weird looking building over there that the locals are walking into?  Let’s go see that.

The truth is, when you step off of that cruise ship, you are immediately identifiable as a tourist, and almost every shop and attraction within site of the ship is operated specifically for the ship.  My recommendation, if you find yourself in this situation, is to get farther away from port, and explore the “real” place you’re visiting.  We did this in Ketchikan.  We visited Dolly’s House Museum, an interesting piece of America’s more sordid history that belonged to the town’s most acclaimed and industrious prostitute, and walked the Married Man’s Trail behind it (so named because a married man could walk back to town on that trail with little chance of being seen).  Here’s a little more information on Dolly’s House Museum, if you’re interested: Dolly’s House Museum on Alaska.org.

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We also stumbled upon an easy trail that ran along the shoreline and had fantastic views.  We were able to walk a little more than a mile out, and make it back with plenty of time to get back on the boat.

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Towel Animals Make Me Laugh

Who knew?  Shout out here to Dennis, our housekeeper on the Norwegian Jewel, who did a standup job of keeping our room tidy, and also made the cutest towel animals.  Little gestures like that just make my day, and good for Dennis and Norwegian for taking the time.

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Harley Davidson Shops Are Everywhere

My dad rides a Harley, and I really wanted to get him some Alaska souvenirs.  I thought it would be hard to do, but there was a Harley shop in every port.

Starbucks, Not So Much

Our friend Anthony had a little more trouble with his souvenir hunt.  He collects Starbucks mugs, and the only Starbucks in Juneau was twenty miles away from the docks.  Unexpected, but true.

Water Taxis Are a Thing

Did you know this?  I didn’t.  One of our stops was Victoria, British Columbia, and taking a water taxi was such a fun way to get from place to place!

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Unexpected, Out of Place Surprises Are Little Gifts from the Universe

Allow me to present to you, a photo of a fiddle group.  Playing Scottish reels.  In one of North America’s oldest Chinatowns.  In Canada.

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It’s like the universe said, “Hey, Katie, this weirdness is exactly what you need! Enjoy!”

My Body Is Strong

I’m a little self-conscious about the weight I’ve gained since college, and coming to the end of my twenties, I don’t really take care of myself the way that I should.  But in spite of all that, I was still able to paddle a canoe out to the Mendenhall Glacier, and I loved it.

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I was still able to hike the rocky, four-mile trail up to the Laughton Glacier, and I loved that, too.

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I might be a little chubby, but my body is strong, and I’ll never doubt my physical capabilities again.

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But, It Is Wise and Necessary to Invest In the Right Equipment

I hiked a lot in college, and somehow never bought good hiking boots.  For this trip, Graham pretty much insisted that we fork over the loot for a good pair, and I’m glad I listened.  I don’t think I would have made it up the trail to see the Laughton Glacier without my Merrills.  I should also commend Packer Expeditions and our guides Wyatt, Megan, and Ruth, for making sure we had trekking poles, creepers, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, and really anything else we needed for our glacier hike.  If you’re ever in Skagway looking for something to do, I would definitely recommend checking out their list of activities: Packer Expeditions.

Glaciers Are Awesome Forces of Nature, and We Should Take Care of the Environment So That Future Generations Can Enjoy Them

Seriously, look at them.

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Really, really look.

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These ice giants are ancient.  They’ve carved out mountains.  They’ve created rivers.  And they’re still here.  I feel very lucky that I was able to see so many of these beauties in Alaska, and I hope that my children and their children and their children’s children’s children will have the same opportunity.

But Even If You Don’t Get a Chance to See Glaciers, Alaska Is Still Heartbreakingly Beautiful, and You Should Go There

I felt like I’d stepped into a painting pretty much the whole trip.  I didn’t know the earth could look like this in real life.

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Plan a trip to Alaska.  Unless you’re just an unhappy person who hates life, you absolutely won’t regret it.

And, If Your Friends Go With You, So Much the Better!

I’d never traveled with friends before, and man was I ever missing out.  I’m lucky to have such amazing rock stars in my life.  Here’s to the next one, guys!

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Bob Dylan Wrote Every Song and Wine Is Good

One of these statements is true.

If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do when you get home from a trip, especially if the getting home has been hectic and tiring, is get ready, rush to make it to something on time, and sit for several hours (airplane flashbacks, right here).  But that’s exactly what Graham and I did last night, and it was the best decision we could have made.

We spent a lovely weekend in Alabama with family, and getting home on Tuesday turned out to be an epic journey.  A three hour delay in Mobile, a mad dash through Atlanta to catch our connecting flight home, unpacking at midnight.  Then, Graham picked up the Annie-dog at 6:00 a.m. yesterday and worked all day.  When he got home at 5:00, we packed a bag in a hurry, for what felt like the millionth time.  But this time, we packed it with bread, cheese, salami, and wine.  And this time, we drove just thirty minutes away from home to see Mavis Staples and Bob Dylan at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA.

A couple of obligatory wine photos, since I missed my Wine Wednesday post this week and attended a concert instead (worth it, obviously).

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For me, we opened a bottle of Butter Chardonnay.

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For Graham, a bottle of Sunset Hills Sunset Red.

Both are good for a picnic, and both will please a crowd. (Though…we didn’t share.  Don’t judge!  Our friends brought their own wine!)

I don’t know what better “welcome home” there is than a picnic with good wine, good food, good friends, and good music.  Travel is one of my greatest pleasures, but I’m grateful and lucky that coming home is wonderful, as well.  Cheers!

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