A month ago, we actually made it to the Potomac, but rather than tubing, we spent the weekend boating. My brother and sister-in-law have a river house along the river and invited the family for the weekend. My parents and aunt came from PA and my crew drove in from Charleston.
So, their place has a dock which was begging for something to be tied to it. My brother has a saying: “If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.” We use that all the time, but in our case, it’s usually when we screw something up…we go all-in. Anyhow, my brother goes all-in also but not usually in the screw-up department. My point is that when the decision to buy a boat came up, he decided not to settle for a mere 16 foot boat, but rather to buy a 30 foot long pontoon and two jet-skis that will knock the tears out of your eyes.
When I was a younger man, I had a motorcycle that I rode everywhere in all weather…even once in the snow…don’t ride a motorcycle in the snow…it’s cold and really really hard to not slide. Anyhow, I loved riding my bike but as newlyweds, we really needed a washer and dryer. I sold my motorcycle and never got another. So, the jet ski was a perfect sort of hearkening back to my motorcycle days. I could go crazy fast, do stupid stuff and have a much lower risk of getting killed compared to a motorcycle. It was perfect!
Anyhow, we had a great time at the river house and boating and eating all sorts of food. My brother cooked bacon outside on an electric skillet and my kids raved and raved about it. It’s hard to beat camp food or anything cooked outside for that matter. And of course, anything cooked by their uncle is good too.
I love these family times and boating and the Potomac, at least where we were, was absolutely beautiful There were eagles and lots of fish and turtles and ducks. People were nice and we all had a wonderful time sharing each other’s company! I’d call that a good trip!
So a few days ago, I mentioned a trip we took and how it changed because of rain. As you may remember, we had planned to tube the Potomac River on day 2 but the rain was so bad that the river was not going to be fun. Still, we wanted to save the weekend so we decided to visit Cass Scenic Railroad in Cass, WV.
The Cass Railroad used to service a series of lumber camps on top of the mountain. The town was a company store kind of town which has been pretty well restored. The rail line is also well maintained and has covered train cars so it was perfect for a rainy day!
The trip to Cass requires a winding trip through some beautiful scenic territory in the Eastern Mountains of WV. It’s amazing getting to Cass and even cooler once you get there. We wandered about the town waiting for trip up the mountain. I love trains and this trip reminded me of the several trips my family took when I was a kid. We rode several steam engines around NY and PA on trips just like this one.
I think I irritated Emily, but I just couldn’t get enough of looking at the trains and the dirty coal-men and the company store. I know it was a hard life and definitely not a romantic era for working folks, but for some reason, I sort of visualize the turn of the century as a special time that is intriguing to me if I had a time machine. Goofy, I know. Anyhow, I stared at the trains and imagined the people who used to live and die in the forest cutting massive trees with hand saws. I imagined the raucous parties when the men had a chance to go to town and I wondered if the life that seems so simple in my mind was something I would want to live. And then I remember that the average lifespan was poor and the time between birth and death for many of those guys was no dream…at least not a good dream.
Anyhow, we rode the specially built train up the mountain where it traversed an 11% grade. For modern locomotives, a 2% grade is steep. The train travels a series of switchbacks to climb and descend the mountain and I cannot imagine the guys who used to haul huge loads of timber down the mountain, counting on the brakes to keep them from rolling down the hill out of control.
I guess this train ride will be one I won’t ever forget. It was just special. The kids and I sucked on hard candy we bought at the company store and found ourselves chatting about…stuff. We took silly pictures and had absolutely no cell service at all so had to resort to conversation and our imaginations. We jabbered and day-dreamed as the scenery passed us by on the trip. In my mind, it was just perfect and without the rain, we would never have seen this part of WV!
(If the video above doesn’t work for you or if you want a smaller but lower quality version, try this link)
Cell service was sketchy and the resort facilities where we stayed were even sketchier…summer visitors have to endure repairs and upgrades from the ski season I guess. Anyhow, the technology-free weekend was a lot of fun. Of course, the rain continued and storms rolled in as well. We jumped into the pool at one point and 5 minutes later, they booted us out because of impending lightning.
We survived the night, had a great and greasy breakfast and drove to Lewisburg, WV where we ate lunch and walked around in town a bit. Lewisburg is an awesome town and we love visiting, even if we just walk up and down the street. It has a small-town-America feel…back to that romantic vision of a different time I guess! Anyhow, we ended up having a fantastic trip, even though our plans were so significantly different from what we originally planned. I think those sorts of trips may be the best kind!
A little over a month ago, we took a trip with our aunt and uncle. We all like to get outside and kayak, hike, swim, etc, so this was going to be a great trip doing a little of all of that.
The plan was to head to Stonewall Jackson Resort in Roanoke West Virginia (not Roanoke, East Virginia) Friday morning, where we would rent a pontoon boat and tube/swim/boat on Stonewall Jackson Lake. The next day, we planned to drive to the Eastern Panhandle of WV where we would spend all day tubing down the South Branch of the Potomac River.
Does anything ever go as planned?
Well, we did leave Charleston on Friday morning, but it was raining as we pulled out. Still, we drove to Stonewall Resort, about 2 hours away. Just as we pulled into the resort, the clouds parted, the sun came out and our day was saved! Stonewall Jackson Lake, we discovered, has a carp population, to say the least. So, we watched the carp a little and headed out on the boat. It was an absolutely great time and we trolled around the lake taking time to swim here and there. The water was nice and we just had a wonderful time.
We returned the boat and decided to use the bicycle rental pass we got for staying at the resort. The lady at the counter warned us of a coming storm and that we simply had to be back by 8pm. She was certain that at exactly 8pm we would be under fire, so to speak. We looked that the radar and sort of figured she was crazy. Sure a storm was coming but it was a ways off.
So we rode our bikes and had a lot of fun. We decided Abigail was not quite ready to drive a car as she was a bit wild. Poor Emily got the only non-mountain bike so she worked hard on the hills. She chose the bike though so…
Anyhow, our time was up so we returned the bikes. At 8:03 pm, I’ll be darned if the storm didn’t drop! We sat in the library at the resort and played cards while the storm raged a bit. The outdoor wedding on the patio below the library was sort of…ruined I guess. It was impressive and the rain was substantial.
With as much rain as we got and with the forecast for Saturday to be full or rain, we sort of figured that the plan to tube the Potomac was out of the question as it would be raging. We worked out plan b which ended up being a blast…stay tuned…
So, our anniversary was last week and it is bound to be one of the more memorable ones we’ve ever had. We didn’t tour an exotic foreign country or watch the sunset from a hot air balloon while eating wine and cheese. We didn’t even go fishing with a 6-pack of beer. Let me back up and tell you the whole story…
My parents have lived in Tionesta, PA for 42 years, 41 of which were in the same house where my brother and I were raised. In the last year, they decided it was time to move to WV to be nearer to us so they bought a house here and listed their house there. About 6 weeks ago, their house there went into contract and they were given a closing date range of July 23-August 3. Mom checked around for moving companies and settled on one based in FL. They took her deposit and scheduled their move for July 23…our anniversary. That’s perfect…we could enjoy our anniversary and help them after as the movers unloaded the truck the next day.
On July 20th, the closing date was set…July 23rd. That date was tight for the move but the lawyer was leaving the next day for vacation…it was pretty much set in stone. Mom called the movers and confirmed that they would be there on July 23rd. They promised they would but did not have a time set. She called daily in the week leading up asking for the time. As late as the evening of the 22nd, they promised they were coming on the 23rd but didn’t know when.
As you might have guessed, the 23rd rolled around and the movers didn’t show. They did call at 8:30 am telling my parents they weren’t coming after all. To be clear, the night before, they confirmed they were coming; the day of the move, they told her they didn’t service their area. This is after taking their deposit and promising repeatedly that they were on track to move them.
So, I get a call around 9:30 am on the 23rd with the bad news. Of course, the closing still needed to happen but they had no movers. I said I could drive up and return in a rented truck and let my Mom drive my car back. It was certainly not ideal, but was workable. My parents called around local rental truck places and even called the state-wide dispatcher in Pittsburgh for one company. Basically, all companies reported that there were no trucks available in the state (or at least the western part of the state) until August.
So, I called around Charleston and found a 26′ Ryder truck here. My father-in-law, a real trooper volunteered to ride with me. So, I rented a Hugh Jass truck (say it out loud) and headed 350 miles north to PA….at noon…on my wedding anniversary. My wife is a real trooper also of course as she is the one who suggested renting a truck here and driving it up empty. This truck rode like…well, a truck. It had air brakes so made all of the cool big truck sounds and I bounced around the captain’s chair that was on air shocks itself. It was not a comfortable ride.
Anyhow, I got within probably 6 miles of my parents’ (former) house when I saw a sign for the upcoming bridge…clearance was 13’3″. I remembered that my truck had a clearance of 13’6″. I stopped 20 feet from the entrance to the bridge and it was clear I couldn’t make it through. This bridge has a blind curve leading up to it and is on a narrow state road so there was very little space to turn around. (Check out the first pic at this site. I was coming in through the forest at the left.) Luckily, another driver went and blocked traffic while I performed a 27 point turn to head back the other direction. All told, I probably had to add 45 or so miles to my trip to back track to a route I could successfully navigate.
Finally, we made it to my parents’ house where they had a small crew of dedicated and awesome people to load up their stuff (which fortunately they had already boxed up). We finished up the next day with the help of some young men from a local group and were on our way back to their new home in Charleston. Fortunately, the new owners were very understanding and even came to help move boxes and stuff.
Emily’s family came to help us unload on the WV side and we had the truck unloaded in no time! We were exhausted but everyone was safe and my parents are now in their new home in WV. I drove 735 miles round-trip and loaded and unloaded that truck (with others of course) in a 36 hour period. I am not sure I want to name the company but if you get ready to move, holler at me and I will tell you one company to avoid!
West by God Virginia is full of all sorts of interesting delights that often go overlooked. While we are not technically a “fly-over” state as they are traditionally defined, we really are pretty much overlooked for everything except as the butt of jokes.
There are so many things in WV that I would consider gems that most people passing by just miss. A few weeks ago, we discovered one – Fish Hawk Acres. Fish Hawk Acres is a combination catering service, organic farm and outdoor restaurant…at least 4 days a year. We had the pleasure of driving to Rock Cave, WV a small town near Buckhannon…another small town in central WV. Emily and I met in Buckhannon 25 years ago so I reference Buckhannon whenever I can. Anyhow, we drove into Rock Cave and through a few fields to an un-assuming pavilion where Dale Hawkins, the chef and owner of FHA was preparing a gourmet meal with items that were all grown in one of 14 farms nearby.
Dale talked some about his theory on sustainability and farming, food and cooking, and his pleasure in returning to the family farm in WV to do what he loves. He found that he was more a chef than a farmer so he partnered with Patti and Lupe Espinosa who took the endeavor from a 3 acre row-crop farm to a 30 acre farm to supply his cooking. Before we ate, Dale and Pati took us on a walking farm through a few fields to describe how they manage and conserve water and soil as well as how they plant vegetables and manage weeds. It was an incredible operation and one that made me wish I could undertake such an adventure.
We returned from the field, ready to eat. I guess there were 100 or so people that dined on beef tips and pork loin, asparagus and fresh roasted potatoes. We had cucumber-basil mojitos (not bad) and salad made from fresh greens.
After dinner, Sarah Loudin Thomas, a WV-native who has authored two books read a few segments from each novel for us. In her blend of WV and now-NC accents, she told us a story of life in WV in the early 1900s. After she read, a number of people asked for her to sign their books including her 5th grade teacher who was in the audience! It was one of the coolest things of the night!
On our way back, we had to stop for gas. For some reason, I felt the need to pollute my palette with ultra-processed ice cream. Still, we had a wonderful time as a family, enjoying one of the many gems that WV has to offer!
It’s that time of year again…stuff is growing…including my aching back and sunburned neck…but that’s a good thing too I guess. It’s great to be outside and doing stuff. We put the main garden in on Mother’s Day weekend when our chance of frost is gone. What may be more exciting though, I think, is that I got sorghum in the ground again and that it should grow. We planted it at Emily’s grand’s house where we used to do the bulk of our gardening. It’s too big a plot for us to garden in right now but will be perfect for a good sorghum crop.
I tilled a bunch of the land and we planted every sorghum seed I had. We first did sorghum a few years ago. Year 1 was great. Year 2 was a total flop…so bad we didn’t harvest a single cane. I expect that this year we will do well. We planted in good soil with appropriate spacing, etc. It’s a good bit of work processing sorghum and the end result yields not a lot of sorghum syrup but it is so cool to be a part of this old-timey process…kinda the same way I feel about beekeeping. It’s a great family time and, in both cases, the end result is literally finger-licking-good!
I didn’t get many pics of our work but Emily, Abigail and Emily’s Dad planted at the end of a long day’s work tilling and mowing and weeding.
The other big thing that is growing now is our raspberry patches! There are tons of berries on the plants and, after we got fencing in place, they are remaining there not being eaten by the chickens. I think raspberries are my favorite berry and possibly my favorite fruit. It’s hard to beat being able to eat out of your own yard!
I know I have been posting a lot of band stuff lately but it has been our lives lately. School is winding down so band is slowing too although lessons and playing are definitely not! Anyhow, I have been remiss in posting about our kids’ participation in All-County Band for Kanawha County!
Abigail started lessons a few years ago as a younger-than-normal flute student. She had her ups and downs with it initially, but has developed into quite a flutist. Jump ahead to this year, the first year she is actually old enough to play in band. She was ahead of the curve some from experience which set her up well to try out for All-County Band. As I understand it, she was the only 6th grader in the county to make the band and to boot, she made 9th chair out of 22! I am so proud of her and she really stepped up her game. She rose well to the challenge and plays all the time now around the house.
Isaac also made the high school All-County Band for tenor sax. He’s such a funny kid…he did his audition but felt like he didn’t play as well as he had hoped. He was disappointed and never bothered to even look at the list of students who made the band when it was released. By dumb-luck, one of his friends made a comment along the lines of “See you at practice tonight.” He had to query what the friend meant who of course, let him know that he was in the band…the day of the first rehearsal! Isaac had no idea that he had made the band as second chair! Anyhow, he also played very well and I am so proud of his playing as well. Band truly does mean a lot in our house and we enjoy watching the kids develop into really great musicians!
It’s the season of band! Well. it seems like it anyhow. Last night, Isaac played in 2 separate concerts. First, the George Washington High School band played their final concert together as the 2015 band last night. Seniors are hitting the road so this was a nice opportunity for them to get together one last time as a group and play a killer concert.
I think what made it especially nice was that it was outside and that the weather was perfect! We enjoyed their music as always and especially liked the opportunity for a little vitamin D!
Like any good kid, Isaac refused to look up at his parents so I sort of had to sneak a few pics. Meh. I’m good with that. More excellent were the selections they played…of course, it was outside with my cell phone sitting on metal bleachers where kids played and adults shifted about so please excuse the extraneous noises:
After that concert, a number of the high school band members ran over to the middle school which was performing their annual arts showcase. The middle school jazz band director had arranged with a few former-middle-school-jazz-band-now-high-school-band members to return to perform in an alumni jazz band as part of the larger concert…and of course, they were great!
Tonight we celebrate the end of high school band season with a banquet. After that, we have one middle school band concert, a banquet and an end of the year trip. It’s been a little wild around our neck of the woods lately, but I am so proud of my kids in particular and the entire bands in which they both play as well!
I have mentioned many times that the kids are both very involved with band in their schools. Band means many things to different people but I never ceased to be amazed at how incredible these kids play and how truly kind and awesome the majority of our band kinds are.
Isaac’s high school band played their spring concert this week at the Clay Center in Charleston. Truly, Charleston is fortunate to have such an amazing performance hall. And even more fortunate is that our high school has the opportunity to play in the same hall as the WV Symphony. It’s a high-class, beautiful location!
Isaac was principle chair for his instrument, the tenor sax. I am very proud as you might imagine. His band-mates all seem to be very driven and really respect their band director. He’s a serious man, and demands excellence from these kids and absolutely gets it. I think the kids very much respect him for helping them to see how great they can be. I am very pleased with his ability to inspire the band to play as he does. It’s clear he loves the music and the kids and that’s just perfect in my mind!
So friends, I know that these may take a bit to download, but if you find the time or the inclination, please enjoy the music from the George Washington High School Spring Concert – 2015!
In town, there is a business called “Uncork and Create“. I’ll make up some of the history but mostly, it started as a place where an artist walks a group of people through doing a painting…everyone does the same painting with their own unique touches. Wine and snacks are welcome and it’s a fairly social gathering. They have since branched out from painting into all sorts of cooking/food classes.
Emily got me a gift certificate to go to one of their classes for Christmas. I am no cook, but I do like wine and sweets, so when I saw that they were offering a class on making chocolate truffles, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to give the place a try!
My class was offered on Valentine’s Day so taking it was either a really good idea or a really bad idea. I figured that if I arrived home with a pile of homemade truffles for my Valentine, I would be off the hook.
They have a local chef prepare a few easy recipes and we dug in with ingredients and kitcheny tools and stuff needed to make our recipes. The chef was a fun woman who was easy going and clearly enjoyed what she was doing. She teased and played and taught us some tricks for proper chocolate coating. There were a number of ingredients she brought so we could customize our truffles also. Several couples attended so I was at the “singles table”. We all agreed to customize our truffles with Grand Marnier orange liqueur. We tasted it and decided it wasn’t flavorful enough so we added more…and more. Well, you get the idea.
Once the truffle ganache is mixed, we had to refrigerate it so it would set up…chef came to our table after a bit and asked us how much hooch we had added to our mix…it turns out our mix was slow to set up…ooops! It wasn’t that much was it?
We finally got everything pulled together and made some really delicious truffles. I guess they aren’t as beautiful as I had hoped but for my first go at it, I was pleased. I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed my time at the event. I won’t be able to make these things too often though or I’ll either be three sheets to the wind or overweight!