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...
“Holladay” Shopping

“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 Florist 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 Gifts 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...
A Day With Shadow Elswick

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. 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...
Shop Local This Holiday Season

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.com 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 Cameleer 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...

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 Chris-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...
Central Virginia Celtic Festival & Highland Games

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.. 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.) 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...
Virginia’s Largest Corn Maze

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 before 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...
Gordonsville Ghostbusters

Gordonsville Ghostbusters

For 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 soldiers 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/ 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 sense. 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...
“Fall Fiber Festival & Montpelier Sheepdog Trials”…. (whew!)

“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, because 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 “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. 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...
The Library of Congress: Packard Campus

The Library of Congress: Packard Campus

The exterior of the Library of Congress Packard Campus is pretty cool–lots of concrete and glass overgrown with vines, with a round reflective pool in the courtyard area. Despite what’s housed inside, the outside wouldn’t feel particularly out of place if it were featured on the History Channel’s “Life After People.” However, it’s best to admire it in photos, as my husband and I learned when we visited a week or two ago. The lesson we can now impart is as follows: just because the building is cool doesn’t mean you should walk around it. Just because you’re curious doesn’t mean you should walk around it. Just because there’s no sign that says you shouldn’t walk around it doesn’t mean you should walk around it. Architectural curiosity (and a talking-to from Security) aside, here’s a little background on the who, what, where. According to their website, http://www.loc.gov/avconservation/packard/,this peculiar, slightly mysterious building-on-a-hill holds and houses the heftiest audio-visual collection in the world. That apparently amounts to 6,000,000+ moving images and audio recordings. To manage all of that media content, they have 35 climate-controlled vaults, and about 90 miles of shelving. (My husband and I have a combined book collection that sometimes seems to occupy only slightly less space. *Sigh*.) In addition to storing the best movies ever made, Packard Campus screens (at no charge, first-come-first-serve) a few selections each week in their 205 seat, Art-Deco theater. This month began with a celebration of the life of Robin Williams (“Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Aladdin”, and “Mrs.Doubtfire”, among other favorites). As the month progresses, the marquee will feature a number of popular sci-fi flicks and...