I’m Dreaming Of An Orange Christmas…

Some of us will be shopping (and wrapping, and cleaning the house) until the wee hours of Christmas morning–which, if you have the constitution for it, is as chaotically fun as it is stressful. For the rest (those whose stockings are already hung by the fire with care) this weekend is the perfect chance to take a breather, enjoy some holiday music and lights, and let the folks at Holladay House worry about what’s being served at the breakfast table. Below are two cool events happening this Saturday & Sunday, as well as a collection of seasonal decorations from around Orange (all located within walking distance of Holladay House.)

A Blue & Gray Christmas

Come meet a Civil War-era Santa Claus, attend a 1860′s church service, take a historical walking tour of downtown Gordonsville, and experience living history displays and ghost stories. Cap it all off by attending the Gordonsville Holiday Ball, where you’ll have the opportunity to join the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers in partying like it’s 1863. Find out more here.

A Musical Winter Wonderland

The elusive (but talented) Orange Community Band & Chorus has finally released the dates for their holiday concert schedule. The choral performance will be December 20th at 4:30 PM, at the Orange Presbyterian Church. (There are a lot of historic churches within walking distance of the inn; Sharon will point you towards the right one!) Meanwhile, the band concert will be held December 21st at 7:30 PM at Orange County High School. Check it out here.

And now, a few photos from around Orange…..

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….and a few from Holladay House.

Blog--Holidayphotos--parlor--12-17-14  Blog--Holidayphotos--Menorah--12-17-14Blog--holidayphotos--owls--12-17-14

The Jackpot Question (in advance)

There’s a song that surfaces on the airwaves about this time of year–you’ve probably heard it. One of many crooners is revealing his date-desperation by asking (repeatedly, and, as he freely admits, “much too early in the game”) if his crush will welcome next year with him. In the words of songwriter Frank Loesser, the “jackpot question (in advance)” remains–”What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

My answer, personally, would have to be: nothing at all. When it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve I’m arguably one of the world’s biggest party-poopers. I find that watching the countdown on TV is tedious, staying up late makes me grouchy, getting confetti in my hair (and clothes and food) makes me grouchier, and I don’t drink enough to blur all those details into cheerful forgetfulness. In my little world, no “Auld Lang Syne” will be sung, no obnoxious noisemakers will be tooted, and I won’t be watching to see what spherical thing will be descending in Times Square.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, most people in the area (including Sharon, Sam, Shadow, and the rest of the gang at the Holladay House) are preparing to have a wonderful time, and, fortunately, there are better ways around the area to toast 2015 into existence than merely turning on the television. In fact (all my personal misgivings about New Years aside) my research into “local going-ons” has turned up several events that tempt me to reconsider my stance on the celebration and venture out.

For a dressed-up, high-heel-friendly New Year’s Eve, add the New Year’s Eve Package to your stay when you book your room here at Holladay House. Pick your favorite of four acclaimed restaurants in the area (each serving 4-5 course, gourmet dinners complete with wine and champagne pairings from local wineries) and Sharon will take care of all the reservation details for you. All the eateries are nearby (the closest, Elmwood at Sparks, is only a block away) so if being out late on New Year’s is a concern for you, drive-time is reduced or even eliminated altogether. Complete details (including restaurants and pricing) available here.

After an evening out on the town, feel free to come back to the inn for a casual New Year’s countdown with the innkeepers. Sharon and Sam will be serving VA-produced bubbly, wines, and beer, and visiting with guests in a relaxed (pajamas and black-tie attire both welcome!) environment. Breakfast will be served late the next morning, and include a special treat to get 2015 off on the right foot.

For a celebration filled with music and entertainment, consider First Night Virginia, which is located just a little over a half hour away. Festivities start at 3 PM and continue into the evening, featuring everything from improv groups, acrobats, bagpipe bands, spirit walks, comedy skits, and ongoing music by local musicians throughout the evening. The Main Event performers include a former Cirque du Soleil juggler, and comedian Brett Leake (not, however, appearing at the same time!) There’s always something going on (often several things at once) so plan your night using the event calender here. Over 25 area restaurants will be open throughout the event—so plan your appetite accordingly. You’ll want to be finished dinner and have your spot selected in time for the official countdown, beginning at 11:15 at five different venues (featuring five very different events.)

First Night Virginia has been going on since 1982 (the 2nd oldest “First Night” in the US!) so apparently they’re doing something right. As always, the event is alcohol-free and family-friendly. Access to all events (plus free parking) can be achieved by purchasing your wristband—it’s $16 beforehand.

So. Not to bring up that dastardly little question again…and I hope it’s not too soon…but what are you doing New Year’s Eve?

 

“Holladay” Shopping

As of now, there are 18 shopping days ’til Christmas–providing, of course, you’re not the type of Champion Procrastinator who will be resting up for the next few weeks in order to make a mighty Shop Til You Drop effort on Christmas Eve. (You know who you are, and I salute you.) If that sounds like your modus operandi, this list probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re staying at Holladay House this holiday season and looking for some leisurely shopping–no crowds, no lines, and truly unique finds–all within walking distance of the inn, read on. My mom and I spent a few afternoons browsing Orange’s collection of gift shops, and the stores listed below made our Top 5. However, the list is by no means all-inclusive, and you’ll discover that if you bundle up and take a brisk stroll along Orange’s decorated streets to a few of these highlights, you’ll find other treasure troves along the way.

Briarwood FloristBlog--HolidayShoppingOrange--Briarwood--12-3-14
http://shopbriarwood.net/collections/gifts

Don’t be fooled–the unassuming exterior is no indication of what’s inside this aesthetically spot-on shop! Carrying everything from “tea purses” and fancy chocolates to stuffed animals and baby clothes, sparkling ornaments and sweet soaps to garden gnomes and vintage-look umbrellas, this beautifully arranged store has something for everyone– whether you’re buying for your stylin’ little newborn nephew, or your great-aunt who has “everything” already. Located at 307 B Madison Road.

Daisy Chain GiftsBlog--reindeer--12-4-14
http://www.daisychaingifts.com
Charming little gift store! Most stocking-stuffers for sale are handmade by the owners, with a few imports from the UK. Handmade soaps, paper chains and greeting cards, scarves and baby blankets, and much more—at friendly prices. Plus, you can warm up with a cup of the quintessential English beverage—hot tea, served help-yourself-style in the seating area as you go in. Look for the Union Jack flying outside, by Orange’s train depot at 111 Short Street.Blog--HolidayShoppingOrange--Arts--12-3-14

Arts Center
http://artscenterinorange.com
Check out the latest art gallery display, and visit the handmade-by-local-artist gift shop. I’ve found some great things here over the years, including local-landmark postcards, handmade jewelry, novels by local authors, feline coffee mugs, and “soap in a sweater”. The inventory changes frequently, so you never know what will be available. A great place to shop for people who want to know the origins of their gift. Located at 129 East Main Street.Blog--HolidayShoppingOrange--Maddybugs--12-3-14

Maddybugs
https://www.facebook.com/maddybugsgiftsanddecor
Maddybugs (named for the owner’s granddaughter) carries wares with a “country living” flare. Find mailbox magnets, locally-made jewelry and knit goods, candles, soaps, flags, and a wealth of ornaments, snowmen, and wreaths at this cute store. I always enjoy the collection of “sarcasm magnets” and added several to my fridge this shopping trip.
Located at 207 N Madison, next to Schewel’s.Blog--GiftShoppingOrange--shabby2--12-1-14

Shabby Love
http://www.shabbylovefurniture.com
Lots of things you’ve seen before, but probably never before like this. This store offers proof that with a little imagination and elbow-grease, even the most everyday things can be spruced up into something special. Located at 112 E Main Street.

A Day With Shadow Elswick

If you’ve stayed at the inn recently you’ve probably felt eyes staring you down, or developed a sneaking suspicion you were being followed. Your instinct was not unfounded. Shadow has long been a visitor at the Elswick household, stopping by on her daily rounds of the neighborhood, but a few months ago she came to stay. These days, she enjoys sleeping in the cushioned wicker chairs on the side-porch, peering at guests through the dining room window, and doing meet-and-greets with her new friends as they come and go. I caught up with Shadow and got her to take a break in her busy schedule to discuss her new lifestyle with me.Blog--Shadow--Stairs--11-21-14

5:00 AM Time to rise, shine, and alert my humans to what a big, bright, beautiful day it is! Sam mutters unflattering things about my sleep habits as he grumblingly lets me out, but I can tell he loves me. After all, if he didn’t love me, why would he tolerate the way I walked across his face in the wee hours?….hmm.

6:00 AM Spending this time doing top-secret cat things, like sniffing stuff and stalking the tree squirrels. This is my “me” time, my time to recharge before I have to head inside, turn on the charm, and share with the two-leggers my insight about inner peace and contentment. And stuff.

8:45 AM My Biggest Fans (which is how I like to refer to Sharon and Sam, the servants I have brought into submission beneath my mighty paw) are serving breakfast in the dining room. I think I’ll hop up on the AC unit outside and stare fixedly at their guests through the window for awhile. If they think I’m cute I’m in luck, and if they don’t maybe I can freak them out. Freaking out people with my stare is one of the best parts of being a cat! Hehehehe.Blog--Shadow--Computer--11-21-14

9:10 AM No luck winning over the humans inside. I’ll just stroll around to the back door and meow piteously, looking as lonely and neglected as I can manage until someone lets me in. Looking lonely and neglected, by the way, is very hard work because I have that sleek, well-fed appearance that’s difficult to disguise. Also a very snazzy new collar. *Sigh*

9:15 A likely suspect took pity on me. Now I’m doing Sam the honor of accepting his invitation into his office. My game-plan is to spend an hour or so making his work difficult by draping myself across his keyboard and forcing him to pet me. (Sharon loves it when I do this, also.)

12:00 PM I’m smelling good things brewing in the kitchen. It’s not really fair that I’m served cold stuff in a bowl on the floor. I like pizza too, you know (the meat on top, anyway. The cheese part is kind of icky and gets stuck in my whiskers.) I know they think they’re doing right by me with this fancy organic pet food, but, sheesh. It’s like they think I’m an animal, or something. Having four paws does not make me an animal, it merely means I won the Leg Lottery and they did not.Blog--Shadow--ZenCat--11-21-14

1:00 PM Having filled my belly, I meander back outside and stretch out on the back porch to admire my kingdom: everything the light touches, and whatnot. I take some time to reflect on my life choices and wonder if I should consider a course of self-improvement: give back to the community more, further my education, etc. Fortunately I fall asleep before I can stress about it.

1:15 PM There’s a squirrel situation that needs investigating. Can’t decide whether or not it’s worth pursing that pesky critter all the way up the tree, so I’ll just sit at the foot and twitch my tail for awhile.

2:00 PM Was so exhausted by my busy and hectic morning that I fell asleep for awhile in a patch of sun. While I dreamed, I sensed the presence of another cat somewhere in the periphery. This jolted me back into the realities of my life. Must protect my kingdom from intruders!

2:47 PM Making the rounds of the neighborhood. I used to live with a family in the area, but their dog and I had differences of interest. I’m not really a “dog person” so I began to explore other options in the community. Still, I like to say hello occasionally.

3:00 PM Check-in time!!! Gotta get back in time for this. This is a big moment for me. I like to sit at the backdoor and watch guests arrive. I turn on the full megawatt radiance of my charm, gazing up with sad eyes and meowing piteously. People love that, and I always get lots of pats and make lots of friends. I’m such an admired public figure these days.

6:00 PM Most of the guests have made it in by now. Still, I bother to drape languorously over the Blog--Shadow--BackPorch--11-21-14back-porch railing, prepared to provide a welcome for any stragglers. If someone wants to tell me what a pretty kitty I am, I won’t deprive them of the pleasure. (I’m amazingly humble and generous despite what a glorious creature I am.)

6:30 PM Suppertime!!! I scold my people for making me wait ALL DAY LONG, but then apologize by acting eager to get at my supper-dish. It’s a delicate balance, managing all of these sensitive human emotions.

6:35 PM Still not pizza. Or venison. Or anything wonderfully delicious. I swear. Still, this stuff from a can ain’t half bad. And it does smell fabulous–I don’t know why they don’t think so. What’s more appealing than dead-fish-smell?

7:00 PM Time for a thorough after-dinner bath. My favorite place is atop Sharon’s laptop: it warms me as I lick, and it forces her to take a break. She views it as a cute inconvenience, but I like to think of it as a public service, really.

7:30 PM Just enough time for a good long nap before bed.Blog--Shadow--Books--11-21-14

11:00 PM The guests are all safely tucked away in their rooms, and the humans are at last finished their work. I curl up in between them while they put their feet up for a few minutes and watch something on television. Their choice in programming is pretty lame—hello, have they never heard of Animal Planet?!? I need to watch my cousins take down antelope in Africa and stuff.

11:15 PM Drifting off to sleep. Gotta rest up for later. Right about the time my people go to sleep is when I conduct the first fire-drill across their faces. Gotta keep them sharp, just in case there’s ever a legitimate emergency they need to wake up for. I regard this as a another public service—my little way of keeping my guests safe. They’ll never know everything I do to make their stay at the inn better—constantly patrolling the perimeters, monitoring what’s going on, keeping the tree squirrels at bay. You see these things around my neck? They aren’t I.D tags, they’re my Medals of Honor.

At least, that’s what my people tell me.

Shop Local This Holiday Season

My husband and I spent last Saturday exploring downtown Culpeper (one of my favorite small-town Main Street areas). Along the way we found some pretty great stuff, both for sale and on display—the dapper camel in the top-hat was my favorite! We picked some of the top shops to make the cut as “Best Places to Buy Gifts”, and they’re listed below.

My Secret Stash
http://shopmysecretstash.comBlog--HolidayShopping--CandyBar--11-25-14
Looks (and smells) like an old-fashioned candy store, complete with candies of every description in glass jars lining the counters. Gourmet chocolates, peppermint bark, and some rare finds, like licorice Scottie dogs and green Army-men gummies. The grapefruit gummies are a favorite with the Elswicks (all except for Shadow, who’s a bit dubious.)

Culpeper Cheese Company
http://www.culpepercheese.com
Lots of cheese (including my local favorite, Everona Dairy’s “Stony Man”), meats (my husband is mildly obsessed with the black-pepper-coated Italian salami), and a vast variety of craft beers and fine wines.

The CameleerBlog--HolidayShopping--Cameleer--11-25-14
http://www.thecameleer.com/
A store stocking merchandise from over 80 countries—and the only place I know where you can buy “merino & possum-down” socks. Hand puppets, leather hats suitable for wear in ‘the Outback’, beautiful knit clothing, carvings and sculptures, linens, soaps & salts, and lots more.

The Frenchman’s Corner
http://frenchmancorner.com
If you can think of something you want dipped in chocolate, they probably have it, in a long glass display case running the length of the counter. According to their website, they’re the #1 independent authorized Neuhaus chocolate dealer in the US. Additionally, they have a number of European items you don’t normally see on this side of the pond, such as French soaps and teas.

Green Roost
http://www.shopgreenroost.com/aboutus.htmlBlog--HolidayShopping--Cookbooks--11-25-14
The Balsam Fir soy candles (made in small batches) when you first walk into the store smell amazing. Also—cardboard deer-heads on the walls? Made me smile. They’re a “kind-to-the-earth” gift shop featuring clothing, vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, natural lotions & soaps, and really cool all-wood watches.

Harriet’s General http://www.harrietsgeneral.com/shop-c-20.html
A “made in America” store. I used to love paper dolls, so it was cool to see them again—even if the selection was somewhat bizarre: the Clinton family? TV moms? Woodstock? Also small-batch candles, attire for men/women/children, mugs, footwear, colognes, soaps, and a whole lot of Miscellaneous. Kudos to them for their “Partridge Family in a Pear Tree” Christmas tree.

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http://www.pepperberriesva.com
Love the ambiance of this store. They stock Pandora jewelry, soft toys and apparel for baby, handbags, personalized ornaments, and the smile-worthy “Happy Everything!” plate set.   This is a “pretty” pastel store.

Designer’s Choice
http://www.designerschoice4you.com/index.html
The majority of this shop is devoted to the holidays, making it the only year-round Christmas shop in the area. One-stop shopping for all things Christmas, be it ornaments, Byers Choice Carolers, lighted house collections, or nativity scenes. Blog--HolidayShopping--Cookies--11-25-14

Reigning Cats & Dogs
Lots of custom, unique gifts for pets (and their people) that you won’t find at Petsmart. T-shirts, patterned collars, stuffed animals, toys, hand puppets, jewelry, keychains, pet-food bowls— there are lots of breed-specific gifts, which makes buying a custom gift easier. The store is filled to the brim, so it’s unlikely you’ll walk out empty handed—at the least, you’ve got to get these awesome dog-friendly Christmas cookies!

Holiday Events 2014

Orange has a lot to offer this season! Come spend time with us at the Holladay House (and check out the seasonal “Holladay” decorations, like the Blog--Holiday--Chrismoose--11-25-14Chris-moose collection and the new owl tree!) as you enjoy a medley of events in the area: holiday movies, concerts, open houses, and, yes, opportunities to dress like Santa. There are some big things going on locally (the Moscow Ballet, anyone?) and some small-town-Christmas events to help you get into the holiday spirit. Not to mention, you’ll complete your Christmas shopping without having to ever set foot inside an overcrowded mall!

Little Women: November 21–December 14
Now playing at Four County Players in Barboursville. Tickets start at $8.

It’s A Wonderful Life: November 22–January 4

Now playing at the Riverside Dinner Theater in Fredericksburg. Tickets start at $45. A unique retelling, staged as a 40’s radio broadcast—including “commercials” and a live sound-effects artist.

Culpeper Holiday Open House: November 23
Admire the storefront decorations, watch classic Christmas specials at the State Theatre, enjoy live music, and take advantage of in-store specials as you start your holiday shopping! Ride the trolley,  get your photo taken with Santa & Mrs. Claus, and lots more at Culpeper’s open house.

Monticello Holiday Events: November 28—December 30
Come see what it felt like to attend an evening holiday party at the Jeffersons. Participate in the 28th annual wreath-making workshop, make homemade beeswax candles, or construct your own Monticello out of gingerbread during the family-friendly workshop! See complete dates & reservations info here.

Candlelight Christmas Tour at Montpelier: December 5,6,12,13
Come out for a cozy tour of Montpelier by candlelight. The event includes crafts and activities for kids, plus entertainment and refreshments for all. Adult tickets from $25.

Historic Downtown Orange Holiday Tour: December 6

The shops in Orange are decorated for Christmas and stocked with unique, one-of-a-kind gifts!

Rappahannock Choral Society Annual Free Christmas Concert: December 6 & 7
Wonderful holiday concert performed by a 75+ voice, audition-only choral society, featuring a medley of Christmas, Hanukkah, and humorous songs.

Fredericksburg Holiday Craft Show: December 6 & 7
A great place to shop for unique handmade gifts for loved ones (or yourself.) Featuring over 225 vendors. Tickets are $8 at the door. Get directions, advance tickets, and vendor info here.

The Great Charlottesville Santa Fun Run & Walk: December 7
Enjoy breakfast by Whole Foods, don a Santa costume, and run (or walk) a mile for charity. Donations benefit folks with intellectual & developmental disabilities, so it’s a great cause and lots of fun. Entry fee is $22 for adults, and includes the cost of the Santa suit. Sign up here.

Moscow Ballet Presents: The Great Russian Nutcracker: December 7
40 world-class dancers perform the Nutcracker at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Premier Ticket purchasers will have the opportunity to go backstage before the show. Tickets start at $29.50.

Orange Christmas Parade: December 7
No driving required—just step outside the Holladay House and have a seat. The show comes to you!

Jim Brickman: On A Winter’s Night Holiday Tour: December 10
Featuring some of 2-time Grammy nominee Jim Brickman’s most popular hits. Coming to the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville. Tickets from $30. Learn more here.

44th Annual Candlelight Tour: December 13 & 14
Come see some of Fredericksburg’s most historic homes by candlelight. Tickets are $30 for adults. See a complete list of houses here.

The Nutcracker Suite: December 13 & 14
Three performances over 2 days, produced professionally by the Charlottesville Ballet and performing at the Culpeper State Theatre. Tickets start at $20, and the show clocks in at 90 minutes.

A Christmas Carol: December 16
Performed at Culpeper State Theatre by the Nebraska Theatre Caravan. Tickets start at $29.50.

Bethlehem Village: December 17-December 21
A living nativity village, complete with working scribes, carpenters, weapon-makers, weavers, Roman guards, live animals, and a reenactment of Christ’s birth. It’s been running for over a decade, and enlists several hundred participants. Get all the details here.

The White House Band presents: Christmastime in Washington: December 19
An evening of Christmas music, performed by The White House Band at Culpeper State Theatre. Advance tickets $15, and going quickly!

13th Annual Christmas Party At Rapunzel’s: December 20
Rapunzel’s is a “funky” little coffee-shop/bookstore/recording studio built in a 100-year-old, renovated apple-packing shed. For 13 years now they’ve been doing a Christmas party featuring live music by popular local artists, and serving up local wines & microbrews. The party starts Saturday, December 20th @ 8PM. Bring along a $10-per-person donation.

Library of Congress Packard Campus Holiday Movies:
In the week leading up to Christmas, the Packard Campus will be screening a few lesser-known Christmas films (including “The Man Who Came to Dinner”).

Culpeper State Theatre Holiday Movies:

Culpeper State Theatre has a whole calender of really cool stuff going on that didn’t make the list. For the whole schedule, including concerts and even a whimsical “Classic Christmas Cartoons” screening, visit their website.

 

Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games

When you’re young, one thing on your bucket list involves announcing, coolly and indifferently (like you aren’t impressed with your own fabulousness) “Yeah, I’m with the band”. It never crosses your mind that, someday, the band you’re with will be a bagpipe band, and you’ll be dragging a laundry bag containing your husband’s gear (including the “whole nine yards” of his wool kilt. Oof.) You’ve bypassed “groupie” and run directly into “roadie”, you have mud on your tennis shoes, and you’re thinking, I bet Bon Jovi’s posse never had to remind him to bring his wool knee-highs..BlogCelticGamesMassedBands102114

Each year at the annual Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games, I get a ringside seat to lots of traditional bagpipe music, played by traditional bagpipe bands turned out in their best clan tartans. When I need a break from “Scotland the Brave” (and that moment does always come) I head over to the harp competition to experience the more Celtic Woman-esque side of Irish music. Then, there’s highland dancing performances for me to imitate later (badly) in the privacy of my own home, a British car show for my husband to wander through longingly, and a fiddling competition to remind me of why I was once so entranced by the violin. (Why I quit is another matter altogether.)Blog--CelticGames--DrumMajor--10-27-14

There’s a hurling competition, which is—as near as I can tell—a sport where baseball, hockey, and lacrosse are essentially placed into a blender together to see what happens. And, of course, there will be a good game (or two) of rugby, which is always pretty interesting. Particularly if it’s attended after a session at the whiskey-tasting table, which has a tendency to make everything more interesting. (Wristbands are available for those who planned to drink like an Irishman, all day long.) There’s a heavy-athletics competition, involving the throwing of things like blacksmith hammers, box weights, logs, and stones—really, anything historical people could get their hands on to chuck across a field.

I particularly look forward to the large vendor area, which stocks a huge and varied assortment of Celtic-themed gifts—things like Irish fisherman sweaters, handcrafted swords and daggers, claddagh and eternity-knot jewelry, tartan scarves, leather hand-tooled belts and silver buckles, and hand-carved pipes. Not to mention the classic tartan items—there are vendors who will help you outfit not only yourself in clan colors, but also your small children, your dining room table, and even your family pet. Literally.

The Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games return to the Richmond Raceway Complex for one late-October weekend each year. Check it out at http://vacelticfestival.com/

All photos courtesy of Katie Yarrow.

Virginia’s Largest Corn Maze

“Don’t run, and don’t leave the paths.” The Liberty Mills Farm employee told us, giving us the scoop DCIM100GOPRObefore we began our foray into the corn maze. “And whatever you do, don’t swear in the maze. There are 2 million undeveloped ears out there, so we can’t tolerate that.” There was a pause, and we chuckled as we got the “corny” humor. Then I addressed a smallish concern of my own. “If we’re not, um, back by dark–?” I began, staring down at the complex network of lines crisscrossing our map. He grinned. “We’ll come find you before we close up for the night. Don’t worry, no one’s ever gotten lost for good.” Somewhat reassured, we flashed thumbs-up and set off to conquer, armed with our color-coded map and–well, pretty much just our color-coded map. And that’s part of what’s fun about it–you feel like you’re setting out into the unknown, having an adventure with a treasure map, while still retaining the comforting knowledge that sooner or later you’ll find your way out again.

My husband and I opted for the blue maze first. It’s billed as the “secondary” maze (1 hour) for those a little above the “elementary” yellow level (30 minutes) but not quite ready for the red “bachelors” (2-3 hours). We didn’t even consider entering the green “masters” level, which seems to require intuition as the only navigational tool and isn’t featured on the map. The map was, by the way, incredibly accurate, which made negotiating the ship-and-waves design of the blue maze a bit simpler. Our assigned task en route was to find 13 American history trivia questions. If we correctly answered the questions, we gained a letter, which we could enter into the crossword Blog--LibertyMills--GirlMaze--10-10-14puzzle on the back of the map. If we correctly filled in all the spaces, we could earn a prize back at the ticket booth. (I say this in the theoretical sense, because we didn’t manage to find all the clues and consequently didn’t earn a prize.) Despite not locating all the stations, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The wind had an autumn nip to it and was blowing pretty strongly, rustling the dry stalks above our heads. The sky was clear-blue, the labyrinth walls were golden, and the path ahead was latticed with shadows. It made for a beautiful walk that somehow epitomized autumn, and we were sorry to leave (though relieved, of course, that they didn’t have to send a rescue party out for us.)

After completing the maze, we played a few games of tic-tac-toe and checkers (using Blog--LibertyMills--hayride--10-10-14mottled little pumkin-noids as our game pieces). We flashed our wristbands to catch a ride on the hayride rumbling along through the pumpkin patches. We disembarked at the farm store, where we enjoyed sampling some of the jams and jellies the farm produces. The strawberry salsa was delicious, and we wound up taking a jar of the strawberry butter home with us.We’re looking forward to trying it out on some warm shortbread thumbprints very soon!

Liberty Mills Farm is located in Somerset, VA–an easy ten-minute drive from Orange. Holladay House is offering discounted tickets if you want to go–just check with Sharon before you head out. For more info, including a complete schedule of what’s going on around the farm, visit http://www.libertymillsfarm.com/

Gordonsville Ghostbusters

Blog--ExchangeHotel--Front--8-28-14For those of you looking to put your Halloween celebration on steroids (or just enjoy the spine-tingling effects of the Unexplained) you’ll want to take note. Gordonsville’s Exchange Hotel is billed, according to A&E “History Channel”, as #15 on their “TOP 100 Most Haunted Places in the Country”. This comes as no surprise, considering the building once functioned as a receiving hospital for wounded Civil War soldiers. According to the records, the hospital treated up to 70,000 Blog--ExchangeHotel--Parlor--8-28-14soldiers during the war, and, temporarily, had around 700 of them buried there. In their backyard.

For those looking to scare up some spooks themselves (or debunk the rumors), there’s the “Night @ the Museum” tour, which, according to the website, allows you to answer for yourself the question “…what happens after the museum closes, everyone goes home and darkness falls?” Check it out—http://nighttouratexchangehotel.weebly.com/Blog--ExchangeHotel--Hallway--8-28-14

However, I have no particular hankering to dabble in the realm of Creepy (or to provoke my overactive imagination), so my husband and I opted for a more conventional approach and visited the Exchange Hotel during daytime hours, 10AM-4PM.

The museum is broken into a few segments to represent various aspects of the building’s diverse life, but overall flows well and makes Blog--ExchangeHotel--Flags--8-28-14sense. The bottom floor contains a reproduction of the original hotel tavern–and humorous details about the “whistle walk”. The Gordonsville train depot artifacts are currently housed here as well, so you can explore train travel in the 1800s (an integral part of the hotel’s history), the origins of the name “Exchange Hotel”, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad mascot kitty, “Chessie”.

The middle floor is primarily a display of hotel accommodations during the 1800s (including gender-appropriate dressing screens.) The top floor is devoted to the Civil War hospital museum, and includes display cases of surgical tools (*shudders*) and furnished wards.

Come to the Exchange Hotel in Gordonsville to learn about Civil War history, look for ghosts, and discover why Gordonsville is “The Fried Chicken Capital of the World.” Find out more at http://www.hgiexchange.org/

“Fall Fiber Festival & Montpelier Sheepdog Trials”…. (whew!)

Anyone can walk into a “Hobby Lobby” and purchase a skein of yarn. I can say this with authority, Blog--FiberFestival--Yarn--9-22-14because I have several skeins wrapped in plastic in my closet, waiting for that moment when “Inspiration” will intersect with “Skill I’ve Yet To Acquire”, and I’ll knit something fabulous. However, for those folks who are “craftier” than me, define themselves as “textile-fiends”, or are just looking for something a little more special than mass-produced yarn shelved beneath industrial lighting, look no further than Blog--FiberFestival--Llamas--9-22-14“The Fall Fiber Festival & Montpelier Sheep Dog Trials”.

“The Festival”, as the cumbersomely-named event will be hereafter known, brings knitting, weaving, and crocheting back to their most organic, locally-sourced levels. First, meet the little fur-factories themselves as you visit with the sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, and rabbits who live and “grow” locally. (Some big names in the business will be represented, including “cashmere” and “angora”.) Next, check out the shearing demo, where a few lucky (or not so lucky….) sheep will show off how they slim down for swimsuit-season. Then head over to the display & demo tent, where expert crafters will illustrate how all of that raw fiber is turned into fabric. Demonstrations will include popular favorites like spinning, weaving, rug hooking, knitting, needle felting, crochet, and fiber blending, as well as a few intriguingly mysterious ones like inkle weaving, kumihimo, and rigid heddle weaving.Blog--FiberFestival--Shave--9-22-14

Take a break to buy some high-quality fleece of your own, or (as is more my speed) visit one of over 50 craft vendors and purchase a completed, one-of-a kind work of art. Munch on something tasty from the food vendors as you hunker down on the grass to watch the sheep dog trials. I enjoy these particularly because, as the former owner of an Australian Shepherd, it’s exciting to see these beautiful dogs strutting their stuff as they do what they were born and bred to do (rather than, say, tearing up a carpet and beaming up at me delightedly afterwards, as my dog was inclined to do.)

This year’s Festival falls on the weekend of October 4th & 5th, 10AM—5PM. For complete Blog--FiberFestival--Dogs--9-22-14information, including schedules, workshop sign-up sheets, and directions (it’s located less than 5 minutes from Holladay House!) visit: http://fallfiberfestival.org/