Monday, September 28, 2015

Oh Shenandoah, I Long to See You

"Oh Shenandoah" is a traditional American folk song dating to the 19th century.  It has been sung by many artist over the years and was the title track to the beautiful 1965 Civil War epic Shenandoah starring Jimmy Stewart set in rolling hills of the movie's namesake valley.  The song is figuratively narrated by an early American Western traveler who refers to Shenandoah, an Iroquois chief, and a lovely daughter that weary fur trader misses and longs to see again.
P. Buckley Moss - artist of the valley

While the song is not actually about the river or valley, to me when I hear the song it speaks to my love of this region and how it calls to me.  The Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac in Harpers Ferry at the end of it's journey through the Virginias.  In so doing the river helps to form a beautiful valley that lies between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains to the east and west.  The area is deep in history, beauty, and a certain elegant charm that transports its visitors to a slower pace that enriches the senses to the refreshing possibilities beyond that Beltway pace of life.

Where the Shenandoah & Potomac meet
Historically, the valley was the frontier of colonial Virginia; then was the breadbasket of the Confederacy; and now is a genteel land where apple orchards and horse country meet the exurbs and offer many wondrous adventures for those who want to flee the frenetic pace of Metro DC.  Many of those farm houses have turned from homes to charming country inns and many of those farmers have found that the warm climate and rich Virginia soil along the slopes of those gentle mountains are ideal for some of those grapes folks have been growing in places like Napa and the Rhone Valley.

Today I'd like to share with you a few out of the way spots you might think about visiting should you ever find yourself in my part of the world.  And yes, I have frequented some of these spots amid my various AM Adventures.  Who knows, that guy with the vacant look in his eyes you see on your visit might be Ryan!

Harpers Ferry, WV - Maryland Heights and the Appalachian Trail

View of town from Jefferson Rock
Geographically, the Shenandoah Valley starts near Lexington, Virginia above the James River (which flows east towards Richmond) picking up the North and South forks of the Shenandoah River near Harrisonburg, Virginia and then following that river north until it meets the Potomac at Harpers Ferry.

Once in Harpers Ferry you will feel you have been transported to the mid-19th century.  The whole town is, in essence, a museum.  The National Park area vividly depicts the famous events that occurred in the town and acted as the flash point of the American Civil War when John Brown and his raiders sought to begin a slave insurrection in 1859 thus catapulting the country forward towards war.  Now its hard to imagine such horror amid the beauty of the area.  Across the river a hike up to Maryland Heights (see above) is a challenging but not insurmountable 2 mile walk that leads you to a spectacular view of the rivers and the town.  The vista is one of the more famous in the United States and should be on anyone's "bucket list." Almost as spectacular is the view above the town at Jefferson Rock.  The Appalachian Trail runs through Harpers Ferry and the headquarters are located in town.  Throughout the town there are many attractions both historic and active such as Storer College (an important early location for the Niagara Movement, the forerunner to the NAACP) for the history lover or the zip line canopy tour of town for the thrill seeker.  Ryan and Sandee are more the thrill seekers!

Bloomery Plantation - Charles Town, WV

About 10 miles from Harpers Ferry is a quaint little distillery that makes homemade Lemoncello.  Bloomery Plantation's mantra is "an artisanal blend of vice and virtue," kind of like Ryan!  At Bloomery they grow their own lemons and berries and hand squeeze into their smooth delightful elixirs.  You can find their liquors in some of the liquor stores in Northern Virginia, DC, and Beltway, Maryland but you'll thank yourself for driving out into the country and visiting their home.  The tasting room is adapted from the log cabin kitchen from the old pre-Civil War plantation along the Shenandoah river.

If you venture through the doors you will be greeted by an exuberant and helpful staff that delight in taking you through a tasting tour of the distillery's lemoncello concoctions along with some wonderful recipe ideas.  When you walk away you won't be simply satisfied with the wonderful liquor, you'll be looking forward to that first BBQ you'll host and serve a Peach Tea Sangria with your Peach Sweet Shine or an intimate brunch where you could serve a lemoncello Mimosa.

Magnolias at the Mill

If you are hungry after hiking and/or tasting just drive along Rt 9 over the river and Blue Ridge Mountain to Hillsboro, VA and then turn right towards Purcellville.

 There you will find a real Southern Treat.  Magnolias at the Mill is a lovely restaurant built into a restored seed mill.  The restaurant sits adjacent to the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Park which is a rail to trail conversion running from Georgetown and culminating in Purcellville, VA.

Magnolias has several wonderful dishes including a fantastic wood fired Margarita Pizza, but my favorite is shrimp & grits.  The scenery in the restaurant alone is fantastic but they do have TV's and it's a great place to watch Big State U on a fall Saturday (at least when they are not screwing up and making Ryan yell at the TV)!

Valley view from Hillsboro Vineyard
Loudoun Valley Vineyards

As the Shenandoah river approaches the Potomac she crosses into West Virginia.  At that point the ridge along Blue Ridge Mountain (which also happens to be the path of the Appalachian Trail) forms the state line between the two Virginias with the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Loudoun Valley forming to the east of that last mountain on the Blue Ridges.  Along those slopes of that Eastern valley are the homes to some of the best vineyards in Virginia.  Hey, did you know that Virginia is #5 in national wine grape production!  And of course Virginia, namely Monticello (home to Thomas Jefferson), is the birthplace of American wine where Mr. Jefferson first started growing the grapes he brought home from his beloved France.

Anyway, Breaux Vineyard is the largest and probably overall the best vineyard.  If you like sweeter wines this is a great place for you.  They also do a good job with Merlots.  While I'm not overly fond of Viognier, an ancient and somewhat rare grape, the long growing season and moderate temperature needed for the variety makes Virginia and ideal growing location.  Thusly, Virginia Viogniers, including Breaux, tend to be exceptional and truly peers of their Rhone Valley European brethren.  Breaux also does a fantastic job with an iced Nebbiolo, an Italian grape one does not often come across.  But if you really have a sweet tooth, the tastiest of their wines is their Soleil a late harvest (always best and fruitiest) iced dessert wine.  Breaux also has a wonderful selection of cheeses and will bake fresh French batard to go with your wine and cheese; overall a great relaxing afternoon adventure - read what you will from that!  :)

Nearby is Hillborough Vineyard with a tasting room sitting high on the hill above the valley and yielding a spectacular and best view of the wine valley.

Just around the corner from Hillsborough is Doukenie Winery.  Doukenie has a beautiful little duck pond by the tasting room which provides a wonderful spot to picnic and enjoy your wine.  Doukenie has many wonderful selections but it's most unique selection is Hope's Legacy, a sweet Merlot infused with raspberries and blueberries - delightful!

A little hint when you are visiting Doukenie, Hope (the vineyards owner) is Greek and loves to cook.  If you see Hope ask her if she has any baklava, she usually does.  Ask her for a piece and tell her Ryan sent you.  Well, don't tell her Ryan sent you because that's not really my name but ask her for some, she has never failed to put out for me and it's AMAZING, the baklava that is!  :)

Rt 11 Chips

You may not have guessed it but Ryan has always been a little salty sweet.  At least I like to claim so because it seems all the hot women are hot for salted caramel and stuff like that.  So if you have had a little dessert wine at Breux or a tasty dessert at Magnolias you might want to take a drive south down Rt 11 to Mt. Jackson, VA (home of the apple tower) and to the best chip factory this side of anywhere.  Their savory treats will add a little salt to your sweetness.  Really, Rt 11 chips are fantastic and you can ask them for a tour or just watch them make the chips.  Either way it's fun and of course bring home some chips - the Chesapeake Crab chips are the best!  Well, second best chip actually.  I forgot that Zapp's Spicy Cajun Crawtators are my all time favorite but I'll have to save them for a New Orleans post.


Tucked between Rt 340 and Rt 7 (as if even that were on a big map) and somewhere between Winchester, Berryville, and Paris (as if those were big towns) is the hamlet of Millwood.  Millwood has a post office, an antique store, an artisan shop, and probably the cutest, quaintest little wine/gourmet food shop you'll find anywhere.  They are often having wine tasting so check them out on the web.  But for a great picnic get a slice of quiche or a bowl of oyster stew along with a nice Pinot and hike across the road to the wonderful little picnic area below the Burwell Morgan Mill.

Trust me, it's a great first date!  Except if it's a date just tell her it's a romantic place; telling her you want to get away for some wine and quiche is just not real manly you know!

Sky Meadow State Park

Running just to the East of the Shenandoah River is Sky Meadow State Park, home to some lovely vineyards and a particularly lovely country Inn.

I make no political statement here but around these parts if a country inn is named after a Confederate Cavalry officer there is a good chance it's quite elegant, refined, and charming.  Turner Ashby was Stonewall Jackson's chivalrous cavalry officer from Fauquier County (heart of Virginia horse country).  He led Jackson't cavalry during most of the famed Shenandoah Campaign before he was killed in action near Harrisonburg, VA in rear guard action just ahead of Jackson's penultimate resounding victory at Port Republic.

Turner Ashby is now immortalized by the beautiful inn bearing his name in Paris, VA at the Northern end of Sky Meadow State park.  The Ashby Inn dates back to 1829 and is nestled into the charming hamlet of Paris, VA.  It is the perfect launching point for excursions around the local valley.  The restaurant is wonderful offering a seasonal menu and featuring local ingredients.  Sky Meadow State park offers several wonderful hiking trails, horseback riding, and beautiful picnicking areas.  The area between Paris to the north and Delaplane, VA to the south (along Rt 17) also offers a collection of vineyards that rivals it's northern counterpart in Loudoun County (mentioned above).

Ryan's personal favorite in this area is Three Foxes Vineyard, seated just above Crooked Run and offering a gorgeous view of the valley.

Twilight Polo at Great Meadows

As much as equestrian polo may seem to be a sport for the aristocracy, at Great Meadows (just outside of Warrenton, VA) the sport is delightfully accessible.  Over the summer months the equestrian event center hosts twilight polo matches.  You pay by the carload, just $30/each so it's a great chance to entertain some of those polyamorous ladies or perhaps that threesome you just met on AM.  Most people make it pot luck but there usually is a local vineyard selling wine by the glass and bottle.

Oh, yeah; the "eye candy" there is, in a word, SPECTACULAR!  :)

But, I tell you; polo really is fun to watch and the sun setting over the mountains in the background is wonderfully peaceful.

So there you go; that's Ryan's little tour of the Shenandoah and areas thereabouts.  Come join us, as you know -

Though Shenandoah is a uniquely American song this Norwegian singer touches me deeply with her rendition.  And OMG, the penny-whistle in this song is gripping!

"Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter; away you rolling river....."

Friday, September 25, 2015

I am a Sex Machine Ready to Reload

I bet that got your attention!

Actually I didn't plan on posting today but I wanted to send out some scientifically proven feel good thoughts on this Friday morning to all of you.

And by feel good I mean sending you some up-beat music at +150 beats per minute, happy lyrics, and in a major key.

Apparently a survey by British electronics manufacturer Alba, and confirmed by cognitive neuroscience Dr. Jacob Jolij, confirms that a combination of a fast beat, major key, and happy lyrics is the exact recipe needed for a feel good song.

And what is the most feely-good song ever?  Well according to the survey it's Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," containing those very gripping lyrics above.

This recent Huffington Post (daily Ryan required reading, yes I'm a pointy-heady liberal) article outlines Dr. Jolij's research:

Something tells me Freddy Mercury has something to do with all that feel good stuff.  He is, in my opinion, the best front man in all of rock and roll history.  Now in saying best front man I have no clue if he was a pitcher or a catcher (frankly I don't care) but by best front man, I mean best lead singer.  Anyway the song is fantastic, Freddy is fantastic, and the song also has one of those classic Queen guitar riffs at the break.

Some of the other feel good lyrics to this witty song are:

"I feel alive and the world I'll turn inside out -yeah
And floating around in ecstasy"

"I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky
Like a tiger defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva"

"Yeah, I'm a rocket ship on my way to Mars"

"That's why they call me Mister Fahrenheit"

"I wanna make a supersonic man out of you"

"Don't stop me now I'm having such a good time"

"Don't stop me now (yes I'm havin' a good time)
I don't want to stop at all
La da da da daah"

I think the last line says it all!  I definitely feel happier now, don't you?

Jolij states "my analysis confirmed very nicely what we already knew from literature:  songs written in a major key with fast tempo are best at inducing positive emotions... virtually all 'feel good' songs were in a major key and all of them were at least 10 beats per minute faster than the average pop song."

So now you now why some songs make you want to roll down the windows and sing loudly!  Essentially major chords are sharp (or bright) as opposed to a flatter bass sound.  I'm no music history major but dudes like Beethoven tended to write in those melancholy minor chords.  Beautiful music, but sometimes it makes you just want to crawl back to bed, pull the covers over your eyes, and sleep all day.  Actually, come to think of it, Beethoven's Fur Elise (in an overall melancholy A minor) is an excellent example of movement from minor to major chords that takes one from somewhat doleful reflection to joy back in forth in a rondo format!

But keeping it happy, the Huffington Post article goes on to point out other "feel good" anthems:  ABBA's "Dancing Queen (you know I have a major hard on for Agnetha)," the Beach Boys "Good Vibrations," and Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl."
Nordic women in bikinis also make
me happy!

The article failed to mention but I believe it's true that Ryan's blog makes one feel good as well because you can stop reading after 10 words or 10 seconds and feel very good about your fast paced major decision!

Now take a listen and be ready to FEEL GOOD!

That being said, while I like Don't Stop Me Now," I have to say I like "Keep Yourself Alive" even better.

Who can't identify with those lyrics:

"well I've loved a million women in a belladonic haze...
and I ate a million dinners brought to me on silver trays..."

Ryan notes:  the song "Keep Yourself Alive" speaks to Freddy's debauchery on the road.  Strictly speaking "belladonic haze" likely means having sex with women while under the hallucinogenic affects of various drugs and alcohol.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

You Say Why and I Say I Don't Know

So I don't talk much about politics on the blog but it is one of my favorite sports.  One thing I really enjoy about my relationship with Sandee is that we are so far apart on politics yet we have fun with it. See I grew up a "left of center" guy which means in America today I'm a Saul Alinsky socialist.  :)

Sandee is totally tea party.

Btw, does anybody actually know who Saul Alinsky is other than Sarah Palin?  Or did she just read about him on a bubblegum wrapper?

Anyway since I'm being lazy today I'll just cut and paste our commentary from last night's Republican debates:

Ryan - Are you watching the Insane Clown Posse tonight?

Sandee - You're saying my posse is insane when your's can't keep a lid on their server?

Ryan - So I'm to vote for the DONALD because he says he will "get along" with Putin and I should just trust that?  Is that kind of like looking into his eye and seeing his soul?

Sandee - Are you talking about my W?!

Ryan - I know nobody can replace W in your heart but your Cuban Senator just sounded good.  Carly is pretty sharp tonight.

Sandee -  Sigh,

Ryan - Is Ted Cruz an actual living creature or is he actually a Disney animatronic figurine?

Sandee -  lol, yeah he's an odd one.  Glad you're watching , your next Pres is up there!

Ryan - Scott Walker is sweating like a Johnsonville brat on a hot grill!

Sandee - Christie might eat him.

Ryan - I want to see Christie debate the Pillsbury dough boy!

Sandee - I can't hear what's going on with ****** (Sandee's daughter) shouting at the TV!  She needs to be up there.

Ryan - At least she doesn't have to listen to Lindsey "I'm John McCain's biyotch" Graham!  Sorry I had to pull over to text that.

Sandee - lol yeah we wouldn't want to lose a democratic comedian :)

Ryan - I just realized why Bernie Sanders scares me, he reminds me of the evil preacher in Poltergeist!  "I just love gettin' around and talkin' to people 'bout minimum wage increases and common core and reducing CO2 emissions, even on a rainy day!

Sandee - Hahaa, I keep telling you to campaign!

Ryan - You wouldn't want me, I'm limp wristed liberal; we would all be on welfare and living under Sharia Law with guns only in the hands of bad guys and only Mexicans for neighbors.

Sandee - Lol, well if you won't run at least write a political humor column.

Ryan - "We need government to get out of the way and let the people lead?"  Has Ben Carson ever seen the people in Walmart at midnight?  I don't want the guy with no teeth, baggy shorts, and drinking out of a paper bag in the back of sporting goods to determine my tax code!  I'd rather have government bureaucrat.

Ryan -  OOHHHH, Carly is getting pretty catty about Hillary!  OMG Marco you just scared the bejesus out of me, I think I'm going to crawl in a hole and never come out until Iran and North Korea stop nuking us!  :(

Sandee - NO, don't diss my Marco

Ryan - Hey Donald, I'm a business man doing businessy stuff, I guess I'm qualified to be a Republican candidate.

Sandee - Don't know about that but... You probably have more accomplishments than Hillary!

Ryan - Marco is doing well tonight, I bet he seizes the momentum.

Sandee - He is, Rand Paul tanked a long time ago.  They don't even ask him anything hardly.

Sandee - I miss my W  :(

Ryan - W is nicer and more genteel.

Ryan - Oh no he didn't!  Donald just dissed your boy (W)! He lost me vote!  :)

Sandee - I KNOW!  NOPE!  He doesn't win now!  He's popcorn to me now!

Ryan - I'm just not sure I see the next "decider" in chief on stage.

Sandee - He's right here!

Ryan - I will say Rubio and Kasich are the only ones that are not Crackalackin' craza!

Sandee - lol, stop

Ryan - So are we voting Cristie or Walker off the island tonight?

Ryan - OMG, where was Rand Paul when I was in college - he's a pot fiend!  :)

Sandee - Are you saying you were a pot fiend in college

Ryan  - I didn't inhale!

Sandee - Sure!  That's what all you Democrats say.  You know you never got that stain off my dress!  :)

Ryan -  Goodnight, I'm tired from all that brainy thoughtificational talking!

Sandee -  Goodnight sweat pea! Don't have bad dreams of Hillary!   :)