Category Archives: Virginia

Virginia Part II: Suffolk

Our drive to Suffolk came with a couple of maintenance errands en route. The campground in Milford had a large propane container for refilling canisters. We have a 25 gallon tank in the Monaco, and we had not refilled it since we were in Maine at the end of July. It fuels our grill, my kitchen stove, and provides back-up power to the fridge if we lose electricity. We are doubtful that the gauge actually works, so we never have any idea how much is actually in our tank. Since it was available right there on the premises, we figured it was a good time to top off the reservoir. Mike drove the bus around to the office and backed up to the industrial sized container. The campground maintenance man filled us up and we only needed 7 gallons. We were both surprised that was all it took. I cook A LOT, and we grill almost every evening that the weather is tolerable. I asked Mike if he thought the maintenance man knew what he was doing. His answer was that he wasn’t going to worry about propane for at least another year.

When we pulled out of Milford, we drove directly to a Pilot Truck Stop. We needed diesel and Mike wanted to weigh the bus on their scales. He had made some adjustments to the pressure on the tag axle to relieve some weight on the drive axle. I have no idea what any of that means, but he needed to get a weight measurement to make sure the adjustments he made were correct. We were traveling on the Monday after Thanksgiving. The Truck Stop was a zoo. All the commercial truck drivers were back on the road after a break for the holiday weekend. They needed fuel before they could get on with their routes. The diesel tanks were located behind the building. Everyone was entering and exiting from the same small opening to the right of the building. There were no lane markings and barely enough room for two rigs to pass side-by-side. Total chaos. We pulled in and got in line for the first pump… mainly to try and get out of the way as soon as possible. The Honda was attached to the tow bar, so we were extra long. The guy in front of us was second in line, we were third. Truck number two had left a large gap between him and the rig that was currently filling up. There was lots of chatter on the CB, but we clearly heard the trucker in back of us cussing us because we were blocking the drive. We knew that, but there was nowhere for us to go. Mike calmly got on the CB and stated that he could move up if the guy in front of us would close the gap in front of him. Luckily, his CB was turned on too and he did. We inched forward and everyone behind us was free to play ‘chicken’ in the parking lot again.

When it was our turn at the pump, I handled the refueling while Mike disconnected the Honda. We couldn’t have the car attached to the rear when we drove onto the scales, or our reading would be off. When our tank was full, he did a big crazy-eight in the parking lot in order to pull onto the scales. I moved the Honda to the front of the building where all the regular cars were located. Once the Honda was temporarily out of the way, I went inside to pay for the scales. We have three axles. The scales are divided into three sections – in order to get a separate weight on each axle. I paid the cashier for the read-out and hurried back to the bus so we could get the heck out of there. I briefly looked at our print-out and realized there were only two weight listings. They had combined both back axles into one reading. Great! Needless to say, Mike was already stressed, and I was the one who got to tell him we had just done all that for nothing. I got in and he started to fight his way toward the parking lot ‘extrance’. I calmly pointed out to him that the weight measurement did not seem right. Then the cuss words inside the bus mirrored those coming from the CB speaker. He drove in a big circle to get back in line for the scales. I went back inside to tell the cashier her reading was incorrect. I’m sure I was the only female customer they had seen all day, so they naturally assumed I was clueless. They kept trying to tell me that is ‘just the way it works’. I asked to speak to the manager. After I explained the problem, he used his condescending tone to tell me I didn’t understand how it worked and there was no way to get an individual weight reading for each axle. Isn’t it fun to have a conversation with someone who thinks you are an idiot, when in actuality they are the moron? My attempts to fix the problem were futile. I went back out to the zoo and told Mike he was going to have to go inside and talk to them. He did, we re-weighed. Guess what! This time we got three weights, one for each axle. The manager didn’t want to admit his ignorance though, so he told Mike the reading was probably inaccurate.

Before we could get back on the road, we still had to reconnect the Honda to the tow bar.  There was no way we were going to accomplish this feat anywhere near the Truck Stop. I got in the car and waited until Mike approached the highway in the Monaco. I slipped in behind him and we made our escape. About a mile down the road, he pulled over on the side of the entrance ramp onto the interstate. It was a crazy place to hook –up, but much better than where we had come from. The rest of the drive to Suffolk was uneventful… thankfully. We registered at Davis Lakes Campground on the edge of The Great Dismal Swamp (really) and did the usual unloading and setting up. I can assure you that our first night martinis were extra delicious that evening.

The campground we found in Suffolk was nice, big, clean and pretty. Characteristics that were much appreciated after some of our other recent locations. The price was also reasonable, so on the first morning we decided to extend our stay for an extra week. It was a family-owned park about 3 miles from downtown Suffolk and about 1 mile from the local airport. They had three small lakes that Mike could fish in. There was a swimming beach at the lake located closest to us, although not something we planned to take advantage of in the cold weather. From what I could tell, they had three separate rental rates. The campers surrounding the edges of each lake were semi-permanent. Most of these sites had ‘screened porches’ built onto the campers with decks extending out over and down to the water. They weren’t going anywhere.  The trailers around the lake were either occupied by full-time residents, or they were used as weekend get-a-ways for people who would come and go. The next section was a large ring of sites for 5th-wheels and RV’s. These weren’t near any of the lakes, but they all looked onto a football- sized field of grass. The guests in this section were temporary workers in the area like line-men or construction crews. Our section seemed to be for weekly or daily guests. We had neighbors on both sides, but the area in front of us was empty of any other patrons, so we did not feel crowded at all.  We had plenty of space between us and the RV to our right. We even had a small deck beside us where the picnic table was located. This was great because the dogs could hang out on the deck and stay clean from dirt and fallen leaves.

We arrived on December 2nd, and the family was just finishing with all of the Christmas decorations. They had placed wreaths on every building like the bathhouse, storage sheds, a community pavilion, the office, and the guard shack. In addition to lights and wreaths, they had a huge collection of inflatable Christmas characters.  A 12’ tall redneck nutcracker was located at the entrance. He had a beer belly, a shot gun, and he was missing one of his front teeth. Santa and some reindeer in an airstream greeted traffic as it approached the main section of the park.  This one was automated. The door opened and closed. When it opened, Santa popped out with a huge grin on his face. (Piper barked at him for the first three days every time he ‘appeared’).  There was an inflatable Santa cooking on a bbq grill. At another spot Santa and some reindeer were roasting marshmallows over a campfire. A snowman dressed in hunting gear was out by one of the fishing piers. At another spot, two more reindeer huddled over another campfire while Santa slept inside a tent beside them. They even had an inflatable Taco Truck that Santa drove while one of the elves served customers from the back window. Everything was so cute and festive; it was very easy to get into the Christmas spirit at Davis Lakes.

One of my dear friends, Amy (who happens to be extremely creative and talented in the art department), even made us a wreath for the Monaco and shipped it to us! The surprise box was waiting at the front desk when I checked in. She was worried we wouldn’t have any holiday decorations, so she covered a wreath with Christmas ornaments that were color- coordinated to the bus’ interior. It was made of sparkly blues, greens, teals and purples. I was totally surprised when I opened the box. She was clever enough to include a door hanger too, so we immediately placed it on an inside wall between my desk and the captain’s chair. Up until that point, I had not intended to decorate for the Christmas season. Now I was daydreaming about options for a tiny tree somewhere else in our living room.

Downtown Suffolk was a cute place. There was a good inventory of historic buildings, although not all of them were occupied with tenants.  I had seen a ladies hair salon on Main Street when we arrived to town, so I went back one afternoon to see if I could get a long overdue haircut. One of the stylists told me she could take me in 45 minutes, so I explored some of the streets while I waited. There were only a few retail stores to visit so I had to walk very slowly to stretch the time. I did stumble upon one establishment called the Shooting Star Gallery. They featured works by local artists and I was able to purchase a few small Christmas gifts to send to my friends. There were a handful of restaurants in downtown too, so Mike and I went back another evening to see about them. We stopped in for a drink at a trendy upscale place called Harper’s Table, and then made our way across the street and to the opposite end of the block to check out a more casual place called Baron’s Pub. Finally, we wandered one block over and had brick oven pizza for dinner at an Italian restaurant called Amici’s. I did accidentally find another place I REALLY would have liked to try called Ndulge Eclectic Soul Cuisine, but it was too late before I stumbled upon it. I found it on the outskirts of downtown the day before we left Suffolk, and it was closed.  I was bummed.

Guess what we did on our first real outing from this location? Found the closest DDD restaurant, of course! Our pick this time was a place called Moseberth’s Fried Chicken in Portsmouth. We got there a little before noon and the parking lot was fairly crowded. We noticed two separate cars in the lot had people eating inside of them. That seemed weird… until we got inside. The building was fairly large, but there was absolutely no seating. Take out only. Cash only. We placed our order for a family dinner and asked the girl at the counter for directions to the closest park in the area. We hadn’t planned on having a picnic that day, but luckily the weather was nice. The park we found was a wonderful city park with a playground, several waterfront picnic shelters, tennis courts, and a golf course. The chicken was great, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. The potato salad was so so, and the hush puppies were grease balls. After we finished eating, we let the dogs run around on the fenced in tennis courts and then we kept driving east to Virginia Beach.

I have always been curious about Virginia Beach because it seems like you hear about it a lot as a vacation destination. After a couple of hours of walking around, my curiosity was satisfied. It did not make my list of places we want to return. Granted, it was December and it gets cold in Virginia… so most places were closed for the season. I might have had a different impression if we had been there on a warm sunny day when the businesses were open and lots of tourists were wandering the streets. On the day we went, it was more like a ghost town. The atmosphere is what I now know to be typical of an Atlantic Shore beach. There was the water, then there was a big section of sand, then there was a boardwalk (this time it was concrete), and then the hotels bordered the boardwalk. I wouldn’t have picked to stay in any of the hotels we saw on our walk. They all looked pretty grungy. We made our way down the boardwalk for about a mile. It looked like the city had spent lots of money and time erecting metal structures of all shapes and sizes that were outlined in lights. These decorations were located on the hotel side and in the sand along the beach too. Later we found out that it all lights up at night, and people can drive on the boardwalk in their cars to see the ‘show’. I would have liked to have seen that, but we did not return. They showed it all lit up on the news, and it looked very pretty.

When we had seen enough of the boardwalk, we cut to the west and returned to our car along the ‘main drag’ just off the beach. This did not appear to be a high rent area. Mainly t-shirt shops and souvenir establishments. I didn’t notice any boutiques, art galleries, or anything along those lines. About half-way back to our car, one block of the street was shut down by fire trucks and emergency response vehicles. We were okay to walk along the sidewalk, but the street was closed to through-traffic. Lots of firemen and women were standing around their trucks, just hanging out. The scene looked very much like an emergency was in place, but no one was acting very concerned. When we were watching the news later that evening, we learned they had busted a guy for setting up a meth lab on the 6th floor of one of the hotels. The fire department was there in case any sort of explosion ensued as they were clearing the hotel room. I knew my hunch was right about not finding any of those hotels alluring! We tend to try and stay away from meth labs while on vacation.

It rained heavily most of that night. Every morning is the same in the Monaco, regardless of weather conditions. I usually fall asleep and wake up first. Mike usually watches television in bed until after I’m snoring, and sleeps a little later than I do. The dogs sleep on their beds in our bathroom. In the winter we don’t close the pocket door so the heat will circulate better. No wonder Mike doesn’t sleep well: every night he has me snoring on his right side and Piper snoring on this left side!  When the sun appears I open my eyes and my sweet Piper boy is sitting up on his bed patiently staring at us – willing us to wake up and take him out.  I don’t know that I would be as polite if I had to wait for someone else to help me use the bathroom first thing every morning. I always try to go back to sleep, but guilt overtakes me and I get out of bed to take the dogs to pee. This morning was no different, except for one upsetting factor. As I was getting their leashes on them I heard a dripping noise. Falling rain usually does make a dripping noise, but this sound was coming from the INSIDE. I tracked the sound and discovered water was POURING from the ceiling above the co-captain’s chair. When I looked more closely, I saw that it was actually coming from the cabinet above the seat where our stereo equipment and cable box are located. Oh crap! I scrambled for towels to mop up what I could. The dogs did not appreciate the delay. Should I wake up Mike with the joyous news, or let him sleep? I figured his day was already going to be ruined, so I let him sleep. I removed the cable box from the cabinet and let it dangle from the cords that were still connected. I figured he would notice something was awry when he saw the box in the air and a giant beach towel shoved up into the compartment above. Then I made a mental note to be as quiet and pleasant as possible for the rest of the day. It was not going to be pretty.

The campground hosts were having a little Christmas party that day, so I planned to stay busy and out of the way by preparing a dessert to take to the event. The staff had distributed an invitation to all the guests. They would be preparing a lunch of pulled pork, baked beans, cole slaw, and fried apples. If we would bring one child’s toy per person, we could exchange it for a lunch plate. We could also bring a dessert to share with the group if we wanted. They would take all the gifts to a local children’s charity after the party was over. What a great idea! Since I haven’t mastered any baking in my convection oven, I decided I would make a chocolate Chex mix. All I needed was the microwave for that recipe, so it was a good choice. I got dressed and went to the store to get the ingredients. We had already purchased our toys on a previous Wal-Mart run. When party time arrived, Mike opted to stay at home because it was the last Saturday for the regular college football season. He wanted to zone out with some football on the television. I went without him. I planned to stay and visit, but everyone there knew everyone else and I felt like a very conspicuous outsider. I fixed a plate to go and thanked the hostess, explaining that we had a leak in our bus and I needed to get back and help my husband by holding the flash-light. It was sort of true. More rain was in the forecast for the next three days.

It was time for our regular dental visit and cleaning during the time we were in Suffolk.  Mike called around and found an office on our insurance plan that could take both of us. Luckily for us, he found the wonderful practice of Dr. Steve Gwaltney. Mike’s mom ran a dental office in Garland while he was growing up, so he knows a thing or two about this environment. We went in together. They saw me first while he waited in the lobby, then they saw him while I waited in the lobby. I was introduced to Mike in 1999 and we married in 2003. One thing I do know about the man is that he is a cynic by nature and not impressed by too many things. You can imagine my surprise when he was typing away on his iPad the next morning and I asked him what he was doing. He answered that he was writing a thank you note to the dentist so he could tell them what great service they provided to us. Oh really? He has never complimented any business on any services provided to us. Ever. When I printed the letter for him and stuck it in the envelope to address it, I felt like adding a little side note to the bottom. It would have said something like “you people have NO IDEA what kudos you are getting right now”. It was less of a thank you note and more like a full page review complete with glowing comments about their service, their attitude, and their professionalism.  I’m sure it made their day to get the letter in the mail, but I doubt they realized what a huge deal it actually was. I hope they at least stuck it up on a bulletin board in the break room instead of tossing it in the trash.  If you are ever in Suffolk, Virginia needing the services of a dentist, be sure to call Dr. Steve Gwaltney. They will treat you right.

We were getting into the holiday season with our sparkly wreath, the tiny metal tree I bought at the downtown gallery, and all the funny blow-up decorations around the park. On cold rainy nights when we couldn’t have a campfire, we watched whatever Christmas special was on television. I don’t think we missed very many of the classics this year. One night we were making dinner and watching a show about a competition of lights at various American homes around the U.S. As it happened, one of the houses featured was in Chesapeake. We looked it up on the map, and it was only about 20 miles from us. We used to drive around The Woodlands once or twice each season to look at lights in our neighborhood. When Mike was still a member of his flying club, we even went up and flew over a couple of ‘famous’ neighborhoods in Houston to see the lights from above. Those were fun date nights.

The article I found through google.com said the Chesapeake house was illuminated from 5:15 until 11:00 each night, so we battled rush-hour traffic late one afternoon to see for ourselves. We found it without any problems. There were only three other cars there when we arrived, so our timing was good. We had actually parked our car on a side street and walked over take to it in up close. The house was on a corner lot, so they had the front yard and side yard all decked out. I can’t imagine the electricity bill they have at the end of the year! In addition to lights, they also had dozens of inflatable characters sprinkled around the lawn. The owners had even synchronized the lights to music so that different strands flickered at different times in unison to the beat of songs that were broadcast on a local radio station.  They didn’t have speakers blaring from the yard for people on foot, which meant for us it looked like some of the strands were faulty at random intervals. I don’t think this family has any other hobbies because it must take them all year long to prepare for this show each December. I’ll bet about one-fourth of our total Christmas budget was what they spent on power alone. I got all caught up in the logistics of the scene. Did they have to have a separate breaker box installed? Did they run all the lights off of a separate temporary generator? Was that loud and stinky for the neighbors? Did they have to rent a separate storage unit to store the gear during spring, summer and fall? How much time did they spend each day tinkering with strands that stopped working? Did they get ‘shorts’ in their system on wet and rainy days? How many extension cords did they own? With all this pondering I had worked up an appetite. Before we drove back home I found a restaurant on urbanspoon.com for us to try for dinner. The Courthouse Café was just down the street in a Plain-Jane strip center. We never quite know what we are getting into when we try out new restaurants, but this night was a wonderful surprise. Although the exterior would have never caught our eye, the inside was cozy and the menu was sophisticated. The special for the evening was prime rib, which Mike ordered. I had local flounder and house-made crab cakes. Everything was fresh and delicious with plenty of leftovers to bring back to our fridge.

There are so many historic destinations in Virginia, and we did not get to everything during our month in Old Dominion. However, one cannot pass through the area without visiting Colonial Williamsburg. We decided it was time to immerse ourselves in the 18th Century on a cold but sunny Thursday. This Revolutionary City is to history buffs what Disney World is to a third grader. Approximately 300 acres contain more than 500 historic buildings from the late 1700’s. Exhibitions by artisans and tradesman using period tools and early techniques are in progress at every glance. The ‘citizens’ of Williamsburg stroll the streets and work in the shops wearing period clothing and speaking ‘the King’s English’. Horse drawn carriages transport them around town on their daily errands. The perk about being there during the holiday season is that the streets and buildings were adorned with traditional Colonial Revival decorations, making the atmosphere incredibly festive.

The drive was more than two hours to get there, so we got up early and headed out as soon as possible. As I was getting dressed the local news was warning motorists about a terrible back-up on our intended route along I-64 North. We took Highway 60 through Newport News instead. I have always heard about Newport News and was hoping we might get to see another charming community as we passed through the area. Not so much. It was kind of like driving from Willowbrook Mall to I-45 in Houston… strip centers and fast food joints separated by traffic lights at every intersection. The travel was stop and go like it would have been on the interstate, but we were looking at street lights instead of brake lights. When we finally got there, we followed the signs to the Visitor’s Center. We parked in the parking lot and Mike went inside to use the facilities. I asked him to grab a map of the area when he came back. What I meant was: figure out what the drill is for seeing Williamsburg today. Where do we park?  Is there a fee to get in? Are dogs allowed? Piper and Cessna were certainly hoping so, since they were in the back of the Honda. Ladies: one critical tip for a successful marriage is ‘say what you mean, mean what you say’. This is a strategy that I remind myself of repeatedly, although I have not yet mastered it. Mike returned to the car with a map, just like I asked. He handed me the literature and waited for instructions. I figured we would drive to the center of town and find a parking spot. We left the Visitor’s Center and drove around in a circle. As we began recognizing landmarks we had just passed, I figured we were lost and confused. We needed to get our bearings before we were both so irritated with each other that the daytrip became a bust. I asked Mike to please drive back to the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center. This time he parked and I stomped inside to find the information desk and get the facts. Yes, dogs were allowed. The colonial town was three-tenths of a mile from us down a designated walkway that started at the other end of the building I was standing in. We could buy a ticket and take advantage of some of the tours and exhibits, or we could skip the admission fee and take the self-guided approach. I stomped back to the car and informed Mike we were already “there”. Since dogs were not allowed inside any of the buildings, we decided to save ourselves the price of admission. It was a beautiful day with pristine blue skies, but the wind was brisk and neither of us wanted to be waiting outside with Piper and Cessna in 30-degree temperatures while the other one took a tour inside. Our time was limited also (it was almost noon by now), so we were sure we would have a full day as it was.

As we walked along the trail, the fresh air helped clear our heads and forget the frustrations of being clueless tourists. I stopped stomping and started strolling. The dogs were so happy because they thought we came all this way just to take them on a walk. The first thing we passed was an historical working farm with all kinds of animals. Since Piper doesn’t have the strongest reputation with being courteous toward farm animals (or cats, or birds, or other dogs), we decided to save ourselves some embarrassment and skip this exhibit.  We had seen an historic working farm at George Washington’s birthplace, so we had a general idea of what was behind the fences. As we approached the center of town, the first thing I noticed was a giant wreath hanging up high on an old barn. It was made of twine, pine cones, oyster shells and dried artichoke. This is when I realized we were going to see the place all decked out in Christmas decorations. Season’s Greetings to me! We passed by the Governor’s Mansion and ambled down the Palace Green until we got to Duke of Gloucester Street – or the main drag. I pretty much stopped at every building, snapping photos of all the creative wreaths on each door and window. We were no longer irritated with each other, but we both knew we would be even more amicable if we had a beverage and some food. Time to find a spot for lunch.

We turned right and followed the street until it ended at the College of William and Mary. We love exploring college campuses too, but that was not our agenda for the day so we reversed course. We window shopped at some of the stores in Merchant’s Square and made our way back to a place we had spotted called Dog Street Gastro pub. Their tag line was Sit. Stay. Our dogs are not very well trained, but we are, so we did. There was a sidewalk patio with heat lamps and two dog bowls filled with water near the entrance. I went inside to see if we could eat at their outside tables. I told the hostess they probably didn’t want to provide wait service to any fool’s out there, so I would be happy to get our drinks and food from the bar and take them out myself, if it was okay. She had no problem with that.  We situated ourselves at a corner table in the direct sun. Mike pulled the heat lamp close to our table and fired it up. I went in to get menus and drinks. They had a huge beer selection, so Mike got a local craft ale. This wino ordered Chardonnay. Between the sun, the heat lamp and the booze it turned out to be a wonderful atmosphere. The trick was to ignore the steam that came from our mouths when we talked. We had dressed warmly. It was fun. I had the Ploughman’s Lunch. Slices of white cheddar, ham pate, apples, beet root, a deviled egg, salad greens, a branston pickle and fresh baked bread were all served on an individual chopping board. Mike ordered warm honey ham and cheddar cheese on English sandwich bread. It was served with ‘crisps’. The dogs enjoyed their bowls of water and lots of attention from passing tourists.

After our al fresco meal concluded it was time to walk off our lunch. We headed east along Duke of Gloucester Street and I continued to get my thrills from the sight of all the decorations. Piper got his thrills from the horse-drawn carriages traveling down the middle of the road. I guess the near-death experience with the white faced horse in Tupelo had no effect on him whatsoever! The dog is stupidly fearless. Does he not realize these animals are 100 times larger and stronger than he is? Apparently, he has an inflated ego. Mike kept him in-check and he did not embarrass us too much. Cessna searched for her favorite thing in the universe: kids. It was the middle of the day during school season, so she only found a few to stop and love on. We knew we had reached the other end of town when we got to the Capitol building. We moved north one block and headed west on Nicholson Street until we were back at the Palace Green again. Since we knew we had another two hour drive ahead of us, we decided to call it a day and take the path back to our car. It was time to say good-bye to the charm of America in its beginning stages, and reacquaint ourselves with the congested and commercialized America of today. I could have stayed inside the idealistic bubble much longer.

Mike was still busy trying to find the source of our roof leak. He planned to work on the bus for most of the next day, so I took myself to a small historic town just north of Suffolk called Smithfield. The girls in the salon had told me about it when I was getting my hair cut. They are most famous for their hams. Smithfield Foods, a Fortune 500 Company that owns Smithfield Packing Company and others, is the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer. The company raises 12 million and processes 20 million hogs annually. I wanted to serve us a Virginia ham for our Christmas meal this year, so the main mission on this trip was to get us a ham. Mike pointed out that I could also buy the ham down the street at the local grocery store, but that wouldn’t have been as much fun. I figured it would taste better if it was totally authentic! The area is on the Pagan River and was first colonized in 1634. The town was established as a seaport in 1752. Smithfield’s Historic District includes over 70 buildings of exceptional architectural importance, including residences of the Colonial, Federal, and Victorian periods. I knew I had arrived when I started seeing magnificent homes lining the street that leads into downtown. I parked in the parking lot of a beautiful church and started wandering the sidewalks. I didn’t know exactly where I was going to find the ham of my dreams, but I figured I would stumble upon it when the time was right. Two blocks down, and there it was: the Genuine Smithfield Ham Shoppe. Situated in a beautifully restored corner building, it was half restaurant and half gourmet food shop. Virginia is also famous for its peanuts and the store offered an abundant selection of both.  After talking to a very friendly and helpful employee, I ended up getting the perfect glazed spiral cut ham for our Christmas dinner.  I also got us a small salt cured ham that could be used to accent various recipes. The flavors were totally different. I purchased a couple more of the salt cured hams and had them shipped as a gift to each of our parents. Finally, I sent a selection of flavored peanuts to some other friends in Tyler before putting my wallet back in my purse.

Even though I had no money left, I made my way down the Main Street and peeked into each of the shops. Too bad my Christmas shopping was virtually complete; I saw so many cute things that day… from art to jewelry to linens. One store I found was an artist’s coop. My favorite thing in that store was a collection of purses made from hard back book covers. The sides of the purse were the front and back of an old book. The artist had attached handles to the top and they were held together with thick fabrics in colors that matched the designs on the book covers. How creative is that? Mike’s birthday was approaching on the 18th, and when I asked what he wanted as a birthday gift his answer was a pecan or cherry pie. I found a bakery with fresh pecan pies in their cooler and brought one home to him. Maybe I should have eaten a large lunch before I took off on this outing. It seems like I couldn’t stop purchasing all the yummy food that was for sale. To my credit, I did wander into a cute little cake shop and emerged with not even one cupcake! Yay me.

On my way out of town I stopped at Windsor Castle Public Park along the river. Windsor Castle is a former plantation that dates to a land grant of 1,450 acres by the King of England to Arthur Smith in 1637. The manor house and surrounding 208 acres is now a public park. The public space features hiking trails, a dog park, a mountain bike trail, a fishing pier, and a canoe launch. The manor house overlooks the junction of Cypress Creek and the Pagan River. The terrain is very marshy where the waters come together. There was a super long boardwalk that reached out over the tall grass that danced in the breeze. It led all the way up to the historic ‘castle’. I did not have on the most comfortable walking shoes, or I would have made the time to take a little hike along the path. Across the street was a tiny marina. There was a restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the boats that were moored there. If I had not been alone, I would have wanted to find a spot at the restaurant and enjoy the view of the charming waterfront community a bit longer. I had food in the car though, and no cooler with me. It was time to get back to the campground. Smithfield is a small town with only about 8,000 residents, but it was a wonderful place to spend a relaxing afternoon.  When I got home Mike had a roaring campfire to keep us warm for the evening. We grilled sweet potatoes and beer brats. I told him he could start his birthday celebrations early with pecan pie for dessert. We had five days to go before the 18th, and the pie would have been stale by then!

We stayed close to camp for our last four days in Virginia. We did the usual errands in town, went to church at a beautiful Methodist Church on Main Street, and walked the dogs around the three Davis Lakes. The weather was nice enough for one last fire on Monday evening. I’m so glad we came to this spot at the beginning of December because I was expecting a dull and melancholy season for our first Christmas on the road. By the time we left, I had mailed out over 150 Christmas cards, completed my shopping, mailed my gifts, and even purchased a few decorations for us. We would be in North Carolina by the time December 25th arrived, but I will fondly think of Virginia when I remember the Christmas season of 2013.

 

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk

The Virginia Beach Boardwalk

A marsh just outside of downtown Smithfield.

A marsh just outside of downtown Smithfield.

A small marina near downtown Smithfield

A small marina near downtown Smithfield

One of the beautiful and creative wreaths decorating the historic buildings in Williamsburg

One of the beautiful and creative wreaths decorating the historic buildings in Williamsburg

BBQ Santa

BBQ Santa

Campfire Santa with some of his reindeer

Campfire Santa with some of his reindeer

An impressive organ and a gorgeous stained glass window above the altar at Main Street United Methodist Church in downtown Suffolk.

An impressive organ and a gorgeous stained glass window above the altar at Main Street United Methodist Church in downtown Suffolk.

Fighter jets buzzed the City of Virginia Beach the whole time we walked around town that day.

Fighter jets buzzed the City of Virginia Beach the whole time we walked around town that day.

The Governor's House in Colonial Williamsburg.

The Governor’s House in Colonial Williamsburg.

There were geese all over the golf course next to the park in Portsmouth, VA where we had an impromptu picnic with our fried chicken lunch.

There were geese all over the golf course next to the park in Portsmouth, VA where we had an impromptu picnic with our fried chicken lunch.

The swimming beach at our campground

The swimming beach at our campground

The dogs were waiting for me to come home from the downtown salon where I got a hair cut.

The dogs were waiting for me to come home from the downtown salon where I got a hair cut.

The fabulous wreath my friend Amy made for us and sent to us so we could have Christmas decorations this year.

The fabulous wreath my friend Amy made for us and sent to us so we could have Christmas decorations this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virginia Part I: Milford

Wed 11/13.              Woke to sunny, cold near 25.  Wind came up late morning.  Departed about 11:30.  Drove west with northerly crosswind.  Not too bad crossing Bay Bridge.  Then turned south with northwest wind.  It seemed to help with gas mileage.  But, crossing one more bridge in Virginia was a bit hairy because it was a single lane with no median OR shoulder.  Opposite direction traffic, including one semi, was inches away.  We crossed the Potomac river.  Got to new park about 3:00.  Unloaded, sunset was clearly seen at our site at 4:45.  Had multiple martinis and watched some local Richmond, VA news while the temperature plummeted.  Ate homemade enchiladas.  Slept well. Water froze in hose or at faucet; had to go on water pump.

Thurs 11/14.                Cold morning.  After water in faucet thawed, worker drove by and saw water spraying the side of our coach.  The plastic y valve had cracked.  Put a new one on and he connected some kind of electric wire wrapped around the pipe.  Nice and warm afternoon.  Bought some wood.  Walked the dogs.  I waited on tech to come by to help get wifi and satellite dish working, and Dina ran to store in Bowling Green.  Got back a little after sunset and tech never made it, so built a fire and played CDs.  Grilled chicken with cauliflower and salad.

Fri 11/15.                  Left dogs here and drove south to suburb of Richmond.  Found small DDD diner and had late lunch.  Took some corn pancake black bean appetizer and part of Cuban sandwich to go.  The smoked roast beef sub disappeared.  On way back, stopped for groceries.  Made it back at sunset. Everything covered in prep for rain later, so stayed inside and watched network tv shows.

Sat 11/16.                Light rain overnight. Warmer. Stayed cloudy, then misty foggy late afternoon.  Watched games starting at noon. Our game came on after another finished overtime. Got blown out anyway.  Other games were better. Dina grilled baked potato, pork chops and pear.  We ate a feast.  Then watched the end of late games in bed.

Sun 11/17.               Drove with dogs north 45 minutes to Fredericksburg.  Parked downtown and walked up and down 3 or 4 blocks next to Rappahannock River.  Some shops closed on Sunday.  Had drinks at two Irish pubs.  Saw where to park for train station and got info for trip into DC.  Drove back to site before sunset.  Cloudy with rain after ten.  Ate fried rice and watched usual Sunday night tv inside.

Mon 11/18.               Nice clear, but windy.  Down day to relax and nap on hammock.  Decided to stay here extra 5 days. Move on Dec. 2nd. Built campfire and watched satellite tv on outside tv only, with there was DirecTv box.  Then listened to CDs and grilled hotdogs with chili and cheese and potato salad.

Tues 11/19.                Beautiful weather but chilly.  Ran to store for groceries while Dina wrote.  Talked to neighbors Wayne and Elaine, and Pam with two labs.  Walked dogs at sunset and saw deer in the soy bean field next to the park.  Built campfire and grilled burgers.

Weds. 11/20.              Nice day, warmer but still cold in the shade or near the Chesapeake Bay.  We drove with dogs to George Washington’s birthplace and walked the grounds next to an opening to the Potomac river.  Saw the rebuilt house and kitchen, along with other buildings and artifacts of the period.  It was a working farm with pastures and fenced yards for birds and animals.  Next, drove a few miles east to the edge of the Potomac river and the Lee plantation, preserved by a private entity.  We paid at the entry and drove some of the grounds of the 1900- acre estate.  Drove by the mansion but not to it and continued on to the far end.  There we parked at the restored grist mill and walked the dogs along trails.  Saw the beaches and cliffs at the water’s edge.  A private jet or some kind of security flight was circling the River (about 5 miles across, near Chesapeake Bay) at low altitude the whole hour that we were there.  While walking, we saw a pair of bald eagles moving amongst the trees and across the bay was Maryland.  And driving out, we saw funny long haired cattle.  Got back to site just after sunset.

Thurs 11/21.           Cloudy and cool.  Warmed to 50s by afternoon.  Went fishing at large creek a little south of here.  No luck, one non keeper.  Dina wrote a little.  Built fire and grilled pork ribs with potato salad and bootlegger beans.

Fri 11/22.              Cloudy then sun and warm 75.  Drove to Tappahannock for lunch.  Stopped at Lowe’s there for supplies, then parked near town center.  Lots of historic buildings renovated to become courthouses and law offices. Walked dogs to waterfront of Rappahannock River.  Ate at seafood restaurant.  No to- go’s.  Crossed the river on the way back via different route.  Dina pulled over for cop that was stopping another speeder.  He came to window, asked how fast were you going?  She said 63(in a 55) but thought the limit was 60.  He said that’s right, you can go. Lucky!  Got back to site before dark but just stayed inside with rain approaching.

Sat 11/23.             Chilly but clear.  Rain passed overnight.  Warmed up afternoon.  Dina made chili outside with campfire, while I worked on repair projects till three.  Then watched games rest of day.  Low tonight in twenties, so disconnected water faucet before retiring.

Sun 11/24.            Colder, below freezing several hours.  Wind from northwest all day.  Stayed in the thirties.  Drove to Spotsylvania and the Courthouse Battlefield National Preserve.  Walked with dogs through a portion of the ravine located on the Landrum family farm turned historic civil war killing field.  Monuments, ancient house material and rows of hand dug trenches are all that remain.  We walked about a mile or more in the biting wind.  Then we drove through the rest of the preserve and stopped to read some of the battle descriptions along the route.  Drove through the small town called historic Court House, but didn’t find a place to stop.  So, next, drove to Fredericksburg Battlefield, since it was just a few miles away.  We parked at the visitor center and walked the preserved area there called Sunken Road and the Stone Wall at Marye’s Heights.  It was about two and the route description stated, “…leisurely hour long walk along the sunken road…”.  But it was 33 in a frosty wind; I think we did it in 45 minutes or less.  Very interesting because this battle took place on one day near a large town. There were photos of scenes from the following day.  Many of the buildings in the photos have been preserved at their same location.  A cemetery lay at the top of the hill.  My camera phone froze at this point.  Dina snapped a few before we darted for the car.  We had planned to go into town for a thawing refreshment, but with the temperature at 32 now at about three, we had to race back to our site and disconnect the water hose and other cold weather chores.  Tonight’s low forecasted for our area was 18-20.

Mon 11/25.                 On water pump till late morning due to frozen obstruction in hose.  Below freezing until around noon.  Drove to Charlottesville to see Thomas Jefferson’s Plantation, Monticello.  Dina rode shuttle to house from visitor center and took the guided tour of the house.  She learned all about TJ.  I walked the dogs up the trail to the house and met her.  We walked some of the grounds and by the cemetery on the way back to the car.  Cold, but above freezing with wind from SW.  Drove into town where UVA is located and parked near downtown.  Walked along pedestrian only block and saw shops and eateries.  Took dogs to pet friendly place called Millers Downtown, but they don’t allow dogs inside.  Too cold for outside, so put dogs in car and went back there to eat and drink.  Nice bartender Jessica served us for an hour and a half or so.  She said Dave Mathews worked and played there. Drove back to site before precipitation started.  Got back at eight and hovered around freezing for the rest of the night.

Tues 11/26.                 Light rain early but above freezing.  Stopped for awhile mid morning.  I went to grocery store for Thanksgiving Day supplies.  Got back after noon. Rained off and on rest of day.  Greenberg turkey arrived.  Stayed inside with wet dogs.  Dina began the process of preparing turkey day feast.  Had martinis, ate soup and sandwich, while music played.  Walked dogs in the rain one last time, but it had warmed to the 40s.

Weds 11/27.               Rained most of the night.  Above freezing with light rain all day.  Dina did more cooking and writing.  We all stayed inside.  Received delivery of dog food in the afternoon.  Watched some tv after dark and ate the last of leftovers…for now!

Thurs 11/28.                 Game Day…oh and Thanksgiving!  Clear and 22.  Dina finished prepping a wonderful feast.  Gathered some wet wood for all day campfire. Discovered our satellite tv won’t work, so no watching our game tonight.  Ate at three; we were bloated.  Went back to fire, but sleepy.  At dark got really cold, so came in and watched Cowboy game.  I kept up with our game on ESPN Gamecast app.  At half, walked dogs then went to bed.  Kept up with game, since we had free wifi, till it was over at 11:30.  Very nice Thanksgiving and cherry on top was the victory!

Fri 11/29.                   Cold start, 24.  Warmed to 40s.  Drove to Colonial Beach.  Parked at waterfront and walked dogs up and down sidewalk next to Potomac River.  Shops were all closed except for a video gaming/horse racing casino/restaurant.  It was built over the water and after entering from Virginia, one enters Maryland, where gambling is legal.  We just looked around and used the facility.  Then we drove back to the main route and turned north toward the Nice Bridge.  Came upon box stores and strip malls and parked at a seafood restaurant and bar.  Tied dogs to outdoor table and sat inside for drinks and appetizers.  We got steamed crab legs and shrimp to go.  Drove back to our site and arrived just after sunset.  Ate and relaxed inside and Dina did some turkey leftover magic.  Watched a little tv before retiring.

Sat 11/30.                   Cold start.  Warmed some.  Did chores to get ready to move. Built fire early and burned all afternoon.  Dina did some writing by it while I watched football.  After dark, watched from outside and grilled sweet potatoes the small ribeyes.

Sun 12/1.                    Awoke early for trip.  Cold, 24.  Drove to Fredericksburg train station.  Rode to Union Station in Washington, D. C., just down the street from the U. S. Capitol.  First stop was to eat at Irish pub.  Had two hours for sightseeing, so walked briskly, most of the time, past the Capitol, down the Mall to the Washington Monument.  Then further south to the Lincoln Memorial and back north along Constitution Ave. Past the White House and back to Union Station…whew!  Took lots of pictures.  Had a drink before getting to the gate for boarding.  Got back to car about 4:30 and let the dogs out about 5:20.  Watched football and regular Sunday evening shows.  Ate leftover turkey soup and grilled cheese sandwich before walking the dogs and bed.  Very tired and moving tomorrow.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 10, I mean 2. A special thanks to my 8th Grade History Teacher, Ms. Ready, for telling me I could make my dressing in the crockpot. I didn't know how I was going to pull it all off in my tiny microwave/ convection oven.

Thanksgiving Dinner for 10, I mean 2. A special thanks to my 8th Grade History Teacher, Ms. Ready, for telling me I could make my dressing in the crockpot. I didn’t know how I was going to pull it all off in my tiny microwave/ convection oven.

The cows were very furry at the Sutton Hall Plantation. We stopped to talk to this one from the car. The dogs were barking like crazy. He was looking at us as if to say "tell those dogs to shut up or I will do it for you with my pretty horns".

The cows were very furry at the Sutton Hall Plantation. We stopped to talk to this one from the car. The dogs were barking like crazy. He was looking at us as if to say “tell those dogs to shut up or I will do it for you with my pretty horns”.

We had some very beautiful sunsets from this location off of Sparta Road.

We had some very beautiful sunsets from this location off of Sparta Road.

Sutton Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

Sutton Hall, birthplace of Robert E. Lee.

I've said before that Mike is obsessed with geese. Needless to say he was almost hyperventilating at this sight!

I’ve said before that Mike is obsessed with geese. Needless to say he was almost hyperventilating at this sight!

You can't tell, but this is an eagle. We 'chased' it through the woods while on a hike at Sutton Hall. He was flying through the trees above us and around us. I figured he would have a mate nearby, so we tried to follow him. Sure enough he flew to a perch high up in a bare tree and retrieved his 'wife' before they both flew away.

You can’t tell, but this is an eagle. We ‘chased’ it through the woods while on a hike at Sutton Hall. He was flying through the trees above us and around us. I figured he would have a mate nearby, so we tried to follow him. Sure enough he flew to a perch high up in a bare tree and retrieved his ‘wife’ before they both flew away.

I walked the dogs to the other side of this soybean field every morning. We thought the crop was dead, but a giant machine showed up for harvesting one afternoon.

I walked the dogs to the other side of this soybean field every morning. We thought the crop was dead, but a giant machine showed up for harvesting one afternoon.

Looking at the mall from the Lincoln Memorial.

Looking at the mall from the Lincoln Memorial.

Monticello from the 'back yard'.

Monticello from the ‘back yard’.

Can you see the Star Wars soldiers to the right of the picture by the reflecting pond? There was a convention in town. Very wacky to see hundreds of these characters wondering around the capitol area. We even passed R2-D2. He was shorter than I thought he would be.

Can you see the Star Wars soldiers to the right of the picture by the reflecting pond? There was a convention in town. Very wacky to see hundreds of these characters wondering around the capitol area. We even passed R2-D2. He was shorter than I thought he would be.

Thomas Jefferson's grave.

Thomas Jefferson’s grave.

Union Station was all decorated for Christmas. This hallway was beautiful to me.

Union Station was all decorated for Christmas. This hallway was beautiful to me.

I'm thankful I did not have to look for my father's name on the wall at the Vietnam Memorial.

I’m thankful I did not have to look for my father’s name on the wall at the Vietnam Memorial.

This is what I have looked like on every daytrip over the past year. "Now where are we"?

This is what I have looked like on every daytrip over the past year. “Now where are we”?

On Amtrak to D.C.

On Amtrak to D.C.

Happy Hour in Charlottesville.

Happy Hour in Charlottesville.

The shore from Colonial Beach on Virginia's Northern Neck. Alexander Graham Bell once lived in this tiny town.

The shore from Colonial Beach on Virginia’s Northern Neck. Alexander Graham Bell once lived in this tiny town.

The shore of Chesapeake Bay from Sutton Hall.

The shore of Chesapeake Bay from Sutton Hall.

Who could resist this face?

Who could resist this face?

They were decorating the tree in front of the Capitol on the day we visited.

They were decorating the tree in front of the Capitol on the day we visited.

We postponed our travel to Virginia from Delaware by one day because of wind warnings on this bridge.

We postponed our travel to Virginia from Delaware by one day because of wind warnings on this bridge.

Touring the Spotsylvania Battlefield.

Touring the Spotsylvania Battlefield.

President Lincoln is very big.

President Lincoln is very big.

I love to cook, but I don't think I would be as enthusiastic if I had to do it in a kitchen like this one at George Washington's birthplace.

I love to cook, but I don’t think I would be as enthusiastic if I had to do it in a kitchen like this one at George Washington’s birthplace.

 

I call this the Holy Moley Bridge. Mike mentioned there was no median and no shoulder. But the side wall was also only about 2" tall. Cessna and I thought we might fall off sideways into the water below.

I call this the Holy Moley Bridge. Mike mentioned there was no median and no shoulder. But the side wall was also only about 2″ tall. Cessna and I thought we might fall off sideways into the water below.

 

Piper and Mike are discussing their blessings on Thanksgiving afternoon.

Piper and Mike are discussing their blessings on Thanksgiving afternoon.