Coming Up for Air

After weeks of intermittent internet, I finally have service again!! Yay! It must be a gift to myself. For more than a year, my internet was slow, but I could do what I needed to do, so I didn’t think much about it. Then it got downright balky. Turns out my internet provider had moved the transponder (that might not be the right word) out of range for me. I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned this while continuing to charge me for internet…

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Brisker weather has me thinking about fires…I did promise more photos from my workshop and they are here…

I canceled service with them and alternately used my iPad as a hot spot and rented wifi from a company that I was considering buying permanent access from. Whew. Good thing I tried them out. Their transponder only worked from late morning to, oh, say 10:30 at night. Not good. And it wasn’t very secure and I started to get phishing emails that were quite good, and might have fooled someone less alert to their wiles.

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Those phish baiters must think we’re mushrooms. But aren’t these lovely?

Today, I worked from home and waited for the technician to come who would convert me to fiber optic phone and internet. Poor guy was here for three hours running wires and testing, but when he left, I had blazing internet!! Hurray!

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Fire dogs. Number 2 size…

So I will try to start posting regularly again. I have yet to put the garden to bed; other things have intervened, so if I can get to that, I’ll let you know what’s up there.

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Dawn at the outdoor fireplace…

I did some massive baking and granola making on Sunday. Olive oil pumpkin bread and a banana-berry-walnut cake that is now soaking in rum. That latter is going to the office Christmas party. I hope it’s good.

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I needed a different setting for this photo, but still like it. These are the rings that once held a barrel together…Lovely light, just a bit too much of it!

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Happy Thanksgiving

It is good as we gather today to take a moment to reflect upon our wealth, counted in many  ways.  May you have blessing on blessing and recognize each one.

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Learning to Use My Camera

I said last time that I’d let you know how the digital photography workshop went. It was at Shrinemont, which is in Orkney Springs Virginia. Regula Franz has been running these workshops, spring and fall, for 8 years. She teaches in Richmond and travels extensively.

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This picture symbolizes the past week for me. Murk, decay, a little clarity, and a few bright spots…

I would never have known about the workshop if I hadn’t been thinking I could use a retreat, and Shrinemont is the retreat center for the Episcopal Church in Virginia. Originally, it was a spa where people went to take the spring waters. Virginia House, which may be the largest wooden structure in Virginia, was built in the early 1800’s. Other buildings on the grounds date to before the Civil War. It was a place where people built “cottages” they could escape to in the hot summers.

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Virginia House. It has one of the dining halls, as well as reception, a library, gift shop, ball room, and guest rooms.

It has miles of hiking trails, a pond, canoes, and family style meals. During our stay, there were a number of churches on retreat and a number of groups like ours. You are assigned a cottage and a dining hall and in your dining hall, there are little signs on the tables for groups to gather. It’s hearty country food and they set platters of it on the tables. When a group empties them, they bring more.

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Tucker Hall, where my group dined, has folks streaming in for a meal. They ring a bell to call people in.

The Episcopal Church has had a long relationship with the hotel and spa, and they bought it in the 1970’s. At that point, they modernized and remodeled Virginia House and have been updating the cottages as well. Basically, the road into Orkney Springs ends in a loop on the hotel grounds, which are backed up to a mountain. Hike over the mountain and you’re in West Virginia. The hotel has slowly been buying up private houses that remain in the grounds as they become available and turning them into guest accommodations.

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This tempting hammock was right outside my cottage.

If you read the blog regularly, you’ll remember I bought a new camera in the spring. Unlike my fantasies, it was not like an SLR film camera and it had so many settings that I had neither the time nor the patience to figure it out. So, in search of a retreat, I saw Regi’s workshop and made a decision to go. It was a very good decision.

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This may be my favorite shot of the weekend, an old storage shed.

Regi was familiar with almost all of the cameras her pupils brought to class and could tell us how to set them, gave us checklists and lectures on the settings we were unfamiliar with, and then sent us out into the Shrinemont grounds to use our newfound knowledge.

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The light was lovely to play with, here the paths of a labyrinth.

I can’t tell you how great it is to learn something and put it right into practice. And Shrinemont is a photographic treasure trove. There are mountains, woods, old buildings, flowers, and water to look at.

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Here, I had to try more than once to catch the light on the leaves and grass…

Once I got all the settings right on the camera, I fell back into a rhythm of fixing the aperture and speed, adjusting to the light, and generally reveling in capturing something I saw. We came back from our ventures out and loaded our photographs onto our laptops so we could share them. Ultimately, we selected our best and donated them to Shrinemont for use in brochures and advertising. It was time well spent, and I feel as though I can start using that new camera now…I will try to publish some more of the photos in the coming weeks.

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Looking up the mountain at the turning trees.

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One of two or three locked doors at Shrinemont: it leads to the bell tower, and no doubt keeps venturesome children from ringing the bell at all hours.

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Sorry I Haven’t Written

Goodness, what a month! I jetted off to California on the first and had a great time with my former college roommate and her husband, who live at the end of the BART line in Walnut Creek. When I returned, that strange and horrific hurricane had dropped enough rain that I needed to bail out my car. Yes, bail as in a leaky boat. My internet also had completely conked out. After five hours on the phone and at least four more of troubleshooting, I am now purchasing WiFi by the week while I look for another internet provider. It’s not optimal.

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Ah, the Golden Gate–shot from the Presidio.

Meanwhile, I had delightful guests on two consecutive weekends: my niece, who was in town working on an article on Virginia wines, and my cousin and her husband, who are generally hosting me, came up to tour the Textile Museum, Washingtoniana collection and (drum roll) Dumbarton Oaks, my favorite place in Washington (search Dumbarton Oaks on the blog and you’ll see it gets an article a year, at least).

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At the Japanese Tea Garden, a little spike buck peers from the trees.

The California trip was really nice. I am normally in charge of transport and destinations while on vacation and this time, I wasn’t! I was retrieved from the airport in San Francisco and driven down to Half Moon Bay and a tour of beaches that included Miramar, where the observatory is. We also experienced a great deal of California traffic. In the ensuing days, we saw the Japanese Tea Garden and the Botanic Garden (do my friends know I like gardens, ya think?).

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The Japanese Tea Garden pagoda as we approached…

Then we went to the Legion of Honor, established after the Great War. It has a large collection of Rodin Sculptures and paintings that run the spectrum from De La Tour to Whistler and more modern painters.

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Through the arch for a LOT of Rodin’s sculptures…

There was also a Holocaust memorial. I found this very powerful, and only photographed it from the back.

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This memorial was emotional and evocative for me.

Close by the Legion of Honor was a coast path from which you could see the Marin Headlands and San Francisco Bay. It was lovely.

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The Marin headlands. Gorgeous, huh?

Later in the week, we went to Amador County in California gold country and visited two wineries. At Vino Noceto, we got a tour of the grapes and the winery from the owner, who let us sample the grapes and also very generously gave us some barrel tastings.

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Noceto uses both stainless steel and oak barrels to age. I bought a pino grigio, a rosato, and their specialty, sangiovese, as well as a barbera. I hope to be back on line and visiting you all regularly again soon. But for now, I’m off to Orkney Springs, Virginia for a photographic workshop. Cheers!

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Swimming toward full internet access, we hope…

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Fall Comes On

This weekend I cleaned up the Plot Against Hunger gardens and then went to my own to work. It is beginning to look like fall in the garden and elsewhere.

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The zinnias, though, are still glorious!

The rats have been temporarily vanquished. As a result I have tomatoes!!! I also got some peppers and eggplants.

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Quite a haul for this garden season. I knocked the green tomato off trying to pick one of the ripe ones.

I am hoping to have at least one butternut squash. This is the only winter squash I didn’t rip out to keep the rats from feasting. We’ll see if I get any.

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Possibly two butternuts. We’ll see. I may have to cover the plant with something…

I also have arugula, which nobody eats except me! What a treat.

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Note there are some new arugula seedlings coming up on either side of the mature crop.

The oregano is having a resurgence, and is lovely in pasta.

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My oregano seems to intermingle with sweet peas and still keep the upper hand.

I am hoping to get another eggplant or two, but I think there may not be enough left of the season.

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I fear those three incipient eggplants above the mature one may not have enough time left…

Just for kicks, though, have a look at my turnip sprouts. The season will be long enough for them!

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Turnips are another thing that, Like arugula, only the gardener is eating…

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Flowers, Bees, Finches and Moths

This morning was another hot day and I got to the garden early. Given the damage done to the large Plot Against Hunger garden, the rats, and the general end of season malaise, I just did a little harvesting (more arugula in my own garden and lots of squash in the large plot), weeding and thinking about when certain plants should come out in preparation for fall. In this annus horribilis of the garden, the flowers have been the saving grace. The zinnias that we planted after the installation of the new fence are providing bouquets for numerous gardeners.

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The zinnias certainly are thriving on the sidewalk border.

They’re also attracting bees, butterflies–and today–a hungry finch, whom I was not able to capture well with my camera.

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I zoomed in here so you could see the finch body, head obscured by the flower, center left.

I captured some morning glories.

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I love the way they look lit from within, and these have a nice stripe.

And some that were closing, looking like luscious cherry swirl ice cream cones. (Did I mention it was hot?)

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Okay, only two have the ice cream cone look…

A bee was doing gymnastics.

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Flowers can be so hard to navigate…

And an Ailanthus Webworm Moth was partaking of the garlic blossoms. Striking creature. I had to look it up, as I had not seen one before.

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See the orange, white and black creature lower right.

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A Little Respite

My niece came to visit on Saturday. We went to a party at some friends on Saturday evening and then headed to my cousin’s on Sunday. Aaaahhhh, such relaxation…

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Chancellorsville battlefield, Monday morning.

My cousin and her husband live in Fredericksburg, Virginia near the Chancellorsville battlefield. Bob and I took a long walk on the field on Monday morning. It was brisk and got our heart rates up and turned out to be a little over three and a quarter miles.

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Notice the hay dotting the field to the left of the tree…

There are signs on the field explaining what happened on what day and whose farmhouse was destroyed by a cannonball. History is all over the place here. Now the battlefield grows hay for local livestock and gives a habitat to rabbits and foxes and coyotes, not to mention all manner of birds from hawks to swallows. Still, the peace of it holds reminders, such as of the McGee family, who were divided between loyalties to north and south.

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The graveyard of the McGee family. The last member died in 1925.

Since my niece is interested in wine professionally and since the rest of us are just plain interested, we did some touring around. Virginia has many wineries, some of them well-established, with international awards to their name.

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This map, posted at Early Mountain Vineyards, doesn’t even include all the wineries, but gives you an idea of the concentration around Charlottesville and in Orange County.

We began with Horton, which I had never visited, but whose wine I had enjoyed. They brought the viogner grape to Virginia a number of years ago and now it’s the state grape. Their vintner also brought Norton back to Virginia. The Norton grape cannot be used for anything but wine making, and as a result, it was largely destroyed during Prohibition Apparently Mr. Horton found it in Missouri and brought back some vines for planting.

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My niece among the vines at Horton.

From Horton, we went to Barboursville, which was much more pleasant on a weekday than the weekend, when it’s crowded beyond my enjoyment levels. We got some very good information from the pourers, who had time to talk to us.

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Bill, who poured for us, knew a lot about the grapes, how they were processed, how long they were aged and in what kind of kegs, residual sugar, and acidity.

Then we went on to Early Mountain, which has a nice eatery attached, and had lunch. We recuperated there from all the tasting.

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Really, touring around locally can be the best!

Finally we circled back to Old House, which is one of my favorites as well. There is a nice chess set outside, a lovely pond, and lots of grapevines to walk through.

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We didn’t stop for a chess game, but isn’t it nice to see it?

We made it back to Allison and Bob’s in time to go swimming and then eat a very nice spaghetti dinner whipped up by Bob (we ladies collaborated on the salad, which included some veggies from my garden). I came back with a lot of wine, but it was nice to be able to taste it all, not to mention have help from my niece in unloading it. She took off back to New York Tuesday night, having thoroughly enjoyed her escape from the city.

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Here we are, walking among the vines at Old House. Bob caught this, of course!

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