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Burgerology 101

“Everyone has a right to a university degree in America, even if it’s in Hamburger Technology.”
– Clive James

If I were up to a regular 5+ hour round trip, I can tell you where one of best burgers in Virginia is to be had: Blue Dog Art Cafe in Buena Vista. (Side whine, everything is far away out here, nothing is easy to get to. And poor Mum, this is the same town she teaches at, this is her regular commute!) I had to drop my sister off there the other day for a summer camp and unfortunately they weren’t planning on feeding the kids lunch on the first day, so I had to feed her before leaving her to her fate. Luckily for all concerned we’d passed a rather dilapidated sign on the way into town announcing this gem’s existence. So off we trotted off to support the local economy and eat the local cuisine.

Good. Choice.

Like many businesses in rural Virginia, there isn’t so much as a Facebook page for BDAC, much less a website. Don’t worry. Come visit and I’ll show you the way, like some wise mystic burger guide.

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Pardon the phone picture quality.

Buena Vista is right along the Appalachian Trail and has become a quiet, known only to insider hikers place to stay. Blue Dog Art Cafe actually has a spare room or two for hikers to spend the night. And their walls are covered with the signatures of hikers and where they are/were/started/ended up on the Trail.

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Behold the guestbook.

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Yes, there are deer heads everywhere. And you grab your own cutlery, coffee, and condiments. It’s great!

The menu is almost entirely dog based. The Yorkie, a veggie sandwich. The Irish Wolfhound, no idea but something with meat. But Snickers and I both opted for the Cowboy Joe burger.

Another. Good. Choice.

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Homemade chipotle sauce makes this sucker the glorious, perfectly cooked, bacon wrapped, nothing frozen at all beauty that it is. Those fries, unassuming as they seem, are actually quite deceptive. They’re called Freddie Fries and we couldn’t reach a consensus on their seasoning. We agree there’s something lemony in there along with sea salt, but beyond that it’s a mystery.

all images my own

You Don’t Know What You’ve Got…

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
― Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt

Hey team, glad so many of your are still with me in spite of the crazy pre-scribbled posts I’ve been putting up (though I hope you have been enjoying the snapshots of local life).

Now, a quick vent. As gorgeous as it is, I understand what various family members have said about it being difficult to live out here. We are a good half hour to and hour away from basic things like grocery stores. And I’m not talking a dash on a suburban road, I’m talking a country two lane-r through the woods without shoulders and usually with at least one moderately size roadkill carcass along the way. Possibly stuck behind a very slow moving tractor.

Picking up my mother’s tasks means that I regularly lose several hours round trip on any given day. I’ve taken on quite a bit of the cooking and cleaning as well, plus I just try to help my family out when I come around to visit because I like doing so. But the most inconvenient thing has been trying to work reliably. It’s ten times harder here to do very basic things than I ever imagined possible.

h49CAD505Headache the first: semi-reliable internet. Back West Jeff and I complained about our internet which was, to be fair, not always good. But compared to here in Virginia it was luxurious! The town in which we live (and we live a good 15-20 minutes away from the center of town itself) is far enough off the beaten path that there is no real infrastructure to connect it up. My parents have to make due with a wifi hotspot creator which is so laughably bad it makes me want to cry. First and foremost it doesn’t hold a charge – for reasons the local service provider can’t explain satisfactorily – and second it only broadcasts a signal for about three minutes before dying – for reasons the local service provider also can’t explain. Dad’s already replaced it once in the month I’ve been here and it hasn’t helped at all.

Headache the second: mobile phone service. Mine vanished last Saturday and has yet to reemerge. Calls to the provider only serve to tell me that they are aware and working on it but can’t give me an estimate when coverage will be restored. Causing a minor panic because even though the internet at home is non-existent, I could still get and respond to work emails from my mobile. It’s been three days without that thing and I swear my blood pressure has spiked as I try to scramble to get work projects done borrowing my father’s mobile between his own calls and needs. I’ve started coming into work with him at 7:30 in the morning and borrowing an unused conference room (with permission of course) just to have a place with an internet connection.

I think my data needs rather perplex my family who by now are used to getting by with much less…but when your job is information gathering, blogging, social media management, and being able to respond quickly, the lack of connectivity is a legitimate terror. It’s barely Tuesday and I feel jittery and stressed trying to accomplish what should be quick and easy tasks that now stretch far longer than they should.

On the other hand, all whining can and should be kept to a minimum. Our visas have been approved and are on their way to us. Jeff flies in a week from today, which is an instant balm to my stress level. Weekends without the internet, though initially vexing, are really quite relaxing. Inconvenient work is a pain, but it won’t kill me. It’s also compelled me to learn some basic blogging skills – such as scheduling posts ahead of time, cheers.

Pass the Honey (a bit trickier out here)

“I’m covered in bees!”
― Eddie Izzard

My Dad was born in the wrong century, his real vocation is to be a gentleman farmer. Unfortunately he’s a bit hobbled by things like the 21st century and neighbors too close for his liking, but he makes up for these inconveniences by working on his land to turn it into a wild kind of estate.

His projects have run the gamut, including clearing a handful of acres for a meadow, digging for a pond (I’ve driven the excavator and the power trip is enormous!), digging a well and building up a natural stone wall around it, planting an orchard (a bit sparse still but we have high hopes), and planting berry bushes. All of these are ongoing, and lot of fun to help with when we’re in town.

But as far as I’m concerned, his most interesting venture has been beekeeping.

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Amy and Ryan were in town and tagged along like troopers when I wanted to watch him start the summer harvest. As a reward they got to witness the (hilarious, I’m sure) sight of me running to escape a disgruntled worker that at one point tangled up in my ponytail. I’m just glad he didn’t summon his friends!

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Nothing alarming happening here, oh no, sir. Just keep very still.

Wild honey, especially from the forest, looks nothing like what you buy in the store. It’s as dark as molasses and almost punchy with flavor.

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This venture has been completely hobby based. Dad’s built up his supply of equipment and gear piece by piece and solved problems as they’ve come up.

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To pick one example, not entirely at random, the problem of bears has been solved by that electric fence. No one has figured out a solution to the problem of bears in the neighborhood, however.

Once he smokes the bees and takes the hive boxes he wants to harvest, the next step is to extract the honey.

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You use an electric hot knife to slice off the cap of the comb and a machine that uses centrifugal force to spin the honey out of it. Then you take the comb (still intact) back to the bees who will refill it with honey for themselves and use it to survive the winter. Resourceful animals, they make litres of the stuff a year. Dad and I experimented around a bit one evening, entertainment being somewhat harder to find around here, and turned some of those hive caps into a brick of pure beeswax. When you need to strain a pot of  boiling hot liquid, a t-shirt is a normal substitute for cheesecloth right?

The only problem is that we can’t quite eat the stuff fast enough. Amy went home with a jar of it, the better to drink American style tea, my dear, but we need to figure out some other schemes too.

all images my own

Past Education

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
― Albert Einstein

Want to see a typical schoolhouse for most of rural America for the better part of two centuries? Brace yourself:

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That thing is, no exaggeration, smaller than most garden sheds I’ve seen. I went to high school in what used to be a WWII weather station, graduating class of 60 students max. Tiny by most suburban measurements (Jeff, for example had a graduating class bigger than my entire school combined). And even I can’t even wrap my head around school in a closet.

Meet Magnolia

“Old houses were scaffolding once and workmen whistling.”
– T.E. Hulme

My desire to own a historic home is a deep, throbbing one born of being travel-spoiled and living too many places with too many fascinating houses (at some point I’ll have to take some photos of some of the local estates that were built before founding of the country!), it messes with your sense of proportion. In Germany we lived in an old house with an orchard in the backyard and a ruined castle up the hill. Our village in England was primarily famous for an Anglo Saxon silver hoard being dug up in someone’s garden. History!

I’m an 18th century house lover myself, but a few miles walk from my parents house is a late 19th century farm house that’s been recently restored. And I want it.

It sits on a couple acres with two huge paddocks/lawns fenced in prettily. It has its own stables (no good to me, I haven’t ridden in years, but it adds beautifully to the charm), and the drive is honest to goodness an old carriage and wagon track. It even has its own herb garden, for heck’s sake. The name of this gem:

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Blame Britain but I am a firm believer that every proper house should have a name. My family’s land doesn’t have a house on it yet (Dad has ambitions) but it’s named Stonewell.

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See? Absolutely charming. As with all local, old farmhouses, at least one extension was built onto the back, though this view hides it. And it isn’t just the house that gets branded:

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In case the horses forget to which house they belong. And, in case you forgot I live in Virginia (home of 18th century, democratic ideals and titles to match), the even older across the country road is called…

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Equanimity Farm. You can’t even see that house, it’s set far back from the road and surrounded by privacy protecting trees.  The whole spot is just riddled with character!

And really, that’s what I love about old houses – they have character. Mass produced houses built inches apart from and completely identical one another seem just utterly soul-less. But these old houses, they have stories behind them. You can see that lives have been lived in them, you can see that time has left it’s mark on them (some more than others) and you want to know how they went from families living there, people being born and dying for generations, to being reclaimed by the woods. Older houses don’t just have characters, like Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame they are characters in their own right.

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Come. On.

Anyone got $350,000 they can spare me?

Movie Night

“Do I want to go to an old drive-in movie theatre [called Goochland] in the Virginia backwoods? What kind of question is that? Get in the car!”
– C.

No doubt about it, things are different ’round here. Last week, after a particularly long day getting my sister to a doctor’s appointment and returning to find the internet in a complete state of disarray (not an unusual event around here, but a consistently frustrating one), I spent the entire afternoon trying to input a load of edits for a project I’d been working on and then send it off. I was also putting a bunch of interview information for another project into some semblance of order. It took hours longer than necessary.

So, when I threw my metaphoric pen down and looked up, I and everybody else were in need of some evening entertainment. The family have turned into big movie goers of late so that’s what they suggested. But going to the movies (locally) these days is taking a step back in time.

Welcome to…

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Goochland Drive In!

Pay your fare, find your preferred space, tune into the correct radio station for audio, and play badminton until your double feature starts.

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What? How do your kith and kin pass the time in a drive in parking lot, then?

Hands down the best thing about Goochland is that they do things old school! Cartoons before previews, animated urgings concerning concessions, and some old Americana (like the famous Keep American Beautiful commercial featuring a weeping Native American). The preshow is just about as fun as the movies themselves and really preserves this form of entertainment nicely.

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Our heroine is kidnapped!

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Our well intentioned, but somewhat clueless hero is finally on the way.

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The dramatic showdown!

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Everything is of course resolved by a quick trip to the concessions stand.

In between features they played old cartoons from the 1960s with villains that looked like these guys:

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With everyone’s car radios around you tuned in the movies, the audio is in magnificent stereo and drowns out even the nighttime frogs and bugs. Fireflies add rather perfectly to the atmosphere too. Just pull up some gravel and enjoy! I highly recommend it.

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Derelict

“He loved the extensive vaults where you could hear the night birds and the sea breeze; he loved the craggy ruins bound together by ivy, those dark halls, and any appearance of death and destruction. Having fallen so far from so high a position, he loved anything that had also fallen from a great height”
― Gustave Flaubert

Alright, we’re all clear that a certain morbidity level is to be tolerated, yes? Excellent, let’s proceed.

I was talking to friend and Favorite of the Blog, Caitlin Kelly the other day about how philosophically weird the county is. Civilization and wilderness run smack into each other and wage a constant war for supremacy. Unbelievable poverty live side by side with immense wealth – I’m talking massive, old family estates next door to collapsing trailers. This neck of the Virginia woods is a textbook study in contrasts.

And I’m afraid I often come down on the side of rust, ruin, and wreckage. Goodness knows I can scheme about owning my 18th century red brick pile someday, but the truth is I find the falling down bits more fascinating. Some houses and buildings were abandoned slowly, as farms failed, wars took their toll, or families simply died out, and others you get the sense that people just walked away from them all at once and never looked back.

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For some reason or another (I suspect the lone, flapping, ghostly curtain and creeping vines), I find this house charmingly spooky. I could be reclaimed and fixed up beautifully – or it could be haunted. Either is possible.

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You can see how the area was settled and developed. This is one house built in stages: the left bit is the original (probably single room) cabin and the family, or later generations of it, added on the right bit for additional room and respectability. Then, who knows what happened – I for one long to!

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Some of it is haunted (probably), some of it is sad, and some of it is just photogenic.

Waste Not, Want Not

‘”We’ve restored this building to how it looked over fifty years ago.’
‘No, surely not, no! No one was alive then!'”
– Eddie Izzard

Our county is old, predating the country old (wait until I show you our “main street” with the old courthouse that Patrick Henry worked at). Which means that’s it’s a fantastic mix of layers of history just piled haphazardly on top of one another and land, buildings, and items are constantly being re-purposed. Case in point:

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This humble abode was once a local schoolhouse.

 

A Sort of Churchyard

“Before I die, I want to change my name to “Here,” so that my tombstone could simply read, “Here lies.” And then people who knew me could walk by, shake their head, and say, “Ain’t that the truth.”
― Jarod Kintz

The church with two faces doesn’t have a proper graveyard, there are only five graves total. But the other day (during the daytime, naturally) I wandered over to take a look.

It sounds morbid but birth and death dates interest me. We don’t tend to think of ourselves as living in momentous times but when you think about it for the last couple of centuries at least no lifetime has been devoid of some really amazing breakthrough, technology, interesting world event, etc. I like to take a gander at gravestones and go through what that person must have seen in his or her lifetime. It’s a weird compulsion, I do the same thing with authors, artists, the lyricists in church hymnals – if I get a DOB and TOD I think about it.

In this particularly tiny “cemetery” (word used loosely because there was no rhyme or reason to the gravestones’ placement and they are already being reclaimed by the encroaching woods), there’s a WWI vet and a couple relatives, but the salient point is that every single person buried there was born in the 19th and died in the 20th centuries.

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Think about it. Sallie there was born one decade after the American Civil War (which, given the area we live in, I’m willing to be money she had a relative of some kind participate in) and lived to see rock’n’roll. To say nothing of the Spanish American War, two World Wars, the Korean War, both Roosevelts, the invention of the automobile, the rise and fall of the British Empire, the rise and beginning of the fall of the Jim Crow South, the death of the corset and the rise of women’s hemlines, the eruption of Krakatoa, electricity, the Titanic sinking, the Panama Canal, the development of the cinema, the ratification of five amendments to the Constitution and the repealing of one, the Great Depression, the dropping of a nuclear bomb, and goodness knows what else!

What a life! And one she probably thought was pretty small and humble. Perspective.