Good Food from Everywhere

Last week I stumbled upon an advertisement for a Taste of Virginia food expo to be held at the Hotel Roanoke.

It was offered as part of the meeting of the 21st Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference, and since Cora and I were going to be downtown anyway, we knew we wouldn’t want to miss it.

It surpassed our expectations!

We sampled breads, herbs, coffee, and cheeses, all made fresh and locally, served up by friendly vendors. There was plenty of wine, beer, and even moonshine (two different distillers!) but we had a long afternoon planned and didn’t want to slow ourselves down.

If I’d indulged in a wine sample, it would have been with H.T. at the Brooks Mill Winery

Plus, because the emphasis of the conference was organic and biological farming, most of the crowd there were actually farmers or people associated with the food community. You would think that, living down here, one would have more opportunity to hang out with farmers but on the other hand, those folks have pretty long hours.

We went home with some delicious Persian kolompeh cookies and some chutney from Kelly’s Persian Foods, located in Charleston West Virginia, some chimichurri spice and pimiento cheese from Piemonte Kitchen & Garden, whose Facebook page has some cool photos of the event, and a jar of lavender jelly and great-smelling soap from Green Roof Soaps, right up the road in Bedford (and on Etsy!). The diversity of offerings was incredible and the crowd was large enough to feel festive without being too crowded. In fact, I felt a little like I was in on a secret.

But now you know, too.

This is an event that I want to make sure is on my calendar for next year!

Road Trip Ahead

I have not been writing much here lately because the two Reynolds kids are home and I have been trying to squeeze in work writing in the early part of the day and kid activities in the afternoon and evening.

When your kids are in their 20s, a favorite activity is thrift shopping.

Alas, though, all good things (like college holiday breaks) come to an end and our boy is heading back to school tomorrow morning. He and Jim are driving out there together, leaving me and Cora with a quiet weekend. So we’re heading to Charlottesville!

Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia, of course, and the community sits geographically (and culturally, I think) in between busy Northern Virginia (whence many UVA students originate) and the rest of Virginia — with its tempestuous history and pretty mountains. I think that it has a cultivated country-cultured vibe.

Which is illustrated in our planned outings for the day. We are first heading to Blue Ridge Pottery, just north of the city. Then we’re going to have lunch at one of those shops that has bowls of superfoods and quinoa because that’s what the girl likes to eat and you really can’t find too much of that in our local vicinity.

And we both agree on our final stop:

This beautiful sighthttps://www.traderjoes.com/ is from the Trader Joe’s website

We don’t have Trader Joe’s in Roanoke. Our nearest one is Charlottesville. It’s going to be a well-timed, really good day.

Roanoke’s Christmas Market

We had a chance to visit the Hyde Park Christmas Market in London a couple of years ago, and we found out last night that Roanoke’s “Dickens of a Christmas” has a very similar vibe.

Dickens of a Christmas happens during the Friday evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas. On one Friday, the city hosts a parade. Last night the big event was a dog costume contest.

The city was filled with very cute dogs.

There were singing kids…

And lovely shop windows …

And all of the restaurants seemed to have a crowd, including this Roanoke institution:

Cora and I wandered around and left with a lot of holiday spirit (and a cool needlework kit from the Crafteria (a former cafeteria restaurant converted into booths of crafty stuff).

During the week, you can even get coffee in the Crafteria! This is where I’m taking out of town friends next time we have visitors!

A Warm Farewell, Warm Welcomes

A trip out of town to a far-away place gives me more reason to appreciate the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. It is the chillest airport you may ever visit.

Jim dropped me off on his way to his office; the airport is about a five minute drive from downtown so I don’t even feel bad for hitting him up for a lift.

There was no line to check my bag, and plenty of time to have a conversation with the lady at the counter about her beautifully-manicured fingernails. They had a tiny gold Louis Vuitton motif; she explained that she has a funeral in her near future where she will be wearing a Louis Vuitton ensemble and her manicurist crafted a coordinating nail look. I wished her well and told her I would offer a prayer for her loved one, which she appreciated. All this before my second cup of coffee.

I got that second cup in the tiny coffee shop/bar in the departure part of the airport. I think that we have eight gates. The lady serving coffee told me that I’d missed the big rush, which is usually around seven a.m. They had just made fresh coffee, luckily for me.

Breakfast with a view

Our plane was a bit late coming in, and I got to hear the Delta agents at the desk enthusiastically welcoming everyone who stepped off the flight. Some of them seemed a little surprised at such a warm welcome but if they’re in the area for more than a couple of minutes, they’ll pick up that this is just the way this place is.

Music in the Valley: The Roanoke Symphony Rocks the Holidays

Last night was the Holiday Pops concert for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and I have now gotten there two-for-two years in a row.

This is a wonderful show, the largest holiday show in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to the symphony’s executive director, David Crane. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?

The crowd in the Salem Civic Center loves it, particularly the sing-along portion. And yeah, we all did the wave at one part (the chorus started it).

I enjoyed the evening with our friends, the Marstons, and their family. They introduced Jim and me to the symphony; they know of all the good things to do in town, I’m pretty sure.

Terrific folks who treated us to bbq delicacies from Wildwood Smokehouse before the show. BBQ+friends+symphony = fantastic.

The line-up included the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, the Hollins University Choir, and choirs from three local high schools. The show also featured a guitar playing elf…

And the Radford University Highlanders Pipes & Drums.

Also the knockout musical talents of Adrienne Danrich, an accomplished soprano whose stage presence and powerful voice were stunning.

The music director and conductor, David Stewart Wiley, has me convinced that no one loves their job more than he does. He is wholly a part of every joyful moment. And his silver jacket is to die for, am I right?

Spending the evening immersed in music has got me thoroughly in the holiday spirit, enough to get working (finally) on decorating the house for Christmas. That’s powerful!

They Brought the Party

Oh, what a weekend it was!

This past weekend, Jim and I were deep into a road trip to the Midwest, and that’s not what I’m talking about.

The weekend before that, we received a marvelous gift, named Lorenda, Meg, and Aviva. These are three friends of ours from our former neighborhood AND THEY DROVE THE FOUR HOURS FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO COME VISIT!

It is not an easy trip. They did it on a Friday afternoon, which is a doubly difficult maneuver. But they arrived with White Claws, and wine, some AMAZING applesauce cake and a ton of laughter.

The neighborhood we moved from was one of those neighborhoods that circles around the local school system. Thus, everyone’s kids are about the same age, doing similar things, and you all pretty know the main structural information about your neighbors’ lives. Then, of course, those kids go off to college and some people move to Smith Mountain Lake where the new neighbors might not even know where Robinson Secondary School is located.

Lorenda’s husband is a Virginia Tech alum, and now her youngest fella is a student there. She popped in back in April after hiking with her lad, so she knows a little about Franklin County. Meg and Aviva were real newcomers.

And they were wonderful, enthusiastic, energetic guests. We got up relatively early on Saturday (not as early as Aviva, who took in the lakeside sunrise) and drove into Roanoke for the Farmer’s Market and some exploration of the establishments on Market Square.

We saw the Star getting polished up
We pondered purchases as La-De-Dah
We made it over to Black Dog Salvage
And we had a great time in Floyd
The Floyd Country Store has fantastic food and Saturday afternoon entertainment
We even got up early on Sunday morning for water sports! Look at that paddle board skill! True KICK ASS ROCK STAR BABES!

They were tolerant of the ride over Windy Gap and a little disappointed that the Booker T. Washington National Monument was closed. Homestead Creamery Ice Cream was enjoyed by all. And we are so looking forward to them coming back!

He Went By in a Flash

One morning when I was in eighth grade, I was waiting at the bus stop with my middle-school colleagues when a car sped by. We looked up in time to see that the back seat passenger had pressed his rear end up against the window to be admired by all.

We guffawed like eighth graders do, but I also made the mistake of telling my mom about the incident. By that evening, the Fairfax County Police had paid a visit to the house to jot down a description. My friends were disappointed that I had ruined the potential for continued spectacle (because the undercover police car joined us at the bus stop the next morning and very soon the mooning stopped).

Fast-forward forty years to this evening, when Jim came home with a story that brought back that middle-school adventure. It seems that a woman in his office was bringing her trash cans from the curb one evening when she heard the sound of a motorcycle approaching. She glanced up as he sped by and realized that he was either wearing white shorts or, well, no shorts.

She didn’t have to wonder long. As she made her way up her driveway she heard the motorcycle approaching again. This time, a little slower. And this time, the rider shouted, “Oh, NO! I’ve lost my SHORTS!” She looked over. And indeed, there were no shorts. The rider sped away.

As I had long ago, Jim’s colleague called her mom to share the story. But she got a different reaction. “Sweetie,” said her mom. “Make sure you tell me the next time he comes by. Because I want to see him.”

Spring Fever

Spring has sprung down in Franklin County and with the warm weather, people were going hard at the garden stores this weekend.

Unfortunately, out in Wirtz, the hardware store and the garden store are not open on Sundays (a lot of things aren’t open on Sundays), so we had to drive into the city to get to a garden store.

It’s not a hardship. And we got coffee, too.

The garden store we found is Walter’s Greenhouse. It’s just a few minutes outside of Roanoke, on the road out to the lake.

It’s family run and super friendly. Also super hilly. The lady at the cashier table cheered on the people buying plants: “Come on, girl! Keep going!” We didn’t buy too much, just enough to get started. But Jim loves lurking around garden stores so I know we’ll make this a habit.

The view from the bottom of the hill
… and from the top (how cool is that truck?)

Showing Off in Person

It’s my friend Lorenda’s birthday today, but last week she gave ME a present by coming down to Wirtz and letting me show her around.

My friend is a middle school teacher in a large public school system in busy northern Virginia. Her son is a student at Virginia Tech, a terrific university down the road in Blacksburg, Va. She decided to use the large public school’s spring break to visit her boy and me as well! I’m so grateful.

I’m also grateful that she is a good sport — instead of hiking all day, as planned, we had to spend a chunk of the afternoon waiting for a tree guy to remove a tree that had fallen on the side of the house in a storm.

But first, we hopped in the car and drove all around Smith Mountain Lake and into Roanoke for lunch at the tasty On the Rise Bakery in the Grandin part of the city. Then hustled back to sit on the porch to wait for the tree guy.

Our cat, who has liked no one since we moved him from Fairfax, even liked her.

I hope she wants to come back so we can get that hike in. Or, as the weather gets warmer, a swim. And some belated birthday Homestead Creamery ice cream.

Five Intentional Travel Tips (with Pictures!)

I don’t do a whole lot of traveling, and maybe I should, because I just got back from a great trip with our eldest child. Here’s the experience boiled down to a couple of quick thoughts:

Keep open to new ideas

For her last spring break of college, our daughter suggested that the two of us take a trip to Sedona, Arizona. I didn’t know much about the destination but we got started researching and it turns out that it’s a phenomenal place. If you can imagine the nicest person you know, and then imagine that person is a place, that’s Sedona.

Keep up the best you can

My girl is 22. She’s a fit little mountain goat when it comes to climbing around on trails. Me, not so much. But I jumped in on those hikes and was rewarded by beautiful scenery and very fine company.

I did not, however, even try to keep up with a 22-year-old when it came to prickly pear margaritas. I did the driving.

Keep an eye on the weather

We went to the Grand Canyon. It was cold. Like, slushy roads and snowballs cold. Boy, I know those tourists at the canyon were surprised because we sure were, too. And by the way, this challenged my expectations of what “Arizona weather” was all about. I was grateful for the hat I’d popped into my bag at the last minute.

Serendipity is everywhere

As I was flying through Charlotte, NC, on the way out to the Phoenix SkyPort, our son happened to be flying through on his way home to Roanoke. We caught up for just a minute right there at the airport. (Okay, I stalked him a little.) But to have a day where one runs into both of one’s kids in airports thousands of miles apart? Magic.

Even the bad stuff isn’t all that bad

On the flight home, my journey took me through Philadelphia instead of Charlotte (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke). The plan was to fly out and land in Roanoke in time for dinner with the husband and that younger college kid mentioned above.

But then the flight crew was late.

And the weather went south.

We sat on the tarmac for 2-1/2 hours before the plane rolled back to the gate and the flight was cancelled. By the time we got off the plane and were wiggled into flights for the next morning — none of which were heading to Roanoke (one does not simply fly directly to Roanoke) — it was after midnight. I don’t know Philly. I didn’t know where to go for hotel with a shuttle that would get me back to the airport by 6:30 for my early flight to Charlottesville, VA. So I elected to stay overnight at the airport.

It’s quiet at 2:30 am outside security.
Good morning, Philadelphia!

I don’t recommend it if you can help it. But I did learn that the security screening opened up at 4:30 am (and the lines are much shorter!), which allows a bit of a nap at the gate before the breakfast spots start opening. Au Bon Pain never tasted so good.

The flight to Charlottesville’s (posh) airport was blissfully short and I was met by a husband who drove the extra hour to come pick me up. And even though they aren’t made of red rock, our mountains never looked so welcoming.

While I was away, the flowers had started blooming and I’m pretty sure there are some baby cows out there in the fields. It’s nice to come home to something that looks spring-y and new.