thanksgiving in the valley

snowy path

We spent Thanksgiving at my stepmother-in-law’s house in the Shenandoah Valley. Daniel’s dad grew up in this area, so he took my sister-in-law and I on a walk down to the river. The town was quiet, blanketed in fresh snow.

winter tree in snow

snowy field

haint blue roof

At about this point on the walk, I realized I couldn’t feel my toes.

snowy path

winter river

They have a lovely dog I enjoyed petting while we waited for the turkey to finish cooking. Donna, the aforementioned stepmother-in-law, makes delicious brussels sprouts with bacon, which I greedily ate with a heaping mound of mashed potatoes.

dog face

candle bokeh

summer roadtrip

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After our car broke down, my grandparents graciously offered to sell us one of their cars. The only problem was that it was in Florida. So, within a week, we booked our one way flight to Tampa and prepared for a week of travel through the south.

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We spent a relaxing few days in Bradenton at my grandparents house, enjoying Grandma’s beef with Amish noodles and watching a documentary about Florida on TV.  On Sunday, we headed up to Orlando to attend church with Daniel’s mom before caravanning up to St. Augustine to be tourists for the afternoon.

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A pirate ship!

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After spending the night at my sister’s house in Jacksonville, we traveled up to Charlotte, NC. After a day of driving, we were fairly well exhausted, so we ordered takeout and watched trashy television into the evening.

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The next day, we took a self-guided walking tour through Charlotte, admiring the Painted Ladies and modern downtown architecture, visiting a local Episcopal church, drinking delicious coffee, and eating at a local Greek restaurant.

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It was the sort of trip everyone should take in the summertime. We paced ourselves and managed to see lots of friends and family as we snaked our way back to Charlottesville. I’m grateful that fate forced us to get down to Florida this year. Being with people who have known you forever is quite grounding.

surprise!

After I heard that my friend Gillian was flying to England to surprise her mom for her birthday, I decided it’d be perfect to surprise my sister by showing up for her college graduation in Jacksonville, Florida.

graduation girl

I’d been homesick for awhile anyway, and with a new job that provides generous personal leave, everything fell into place. I boarded a plane from Charlottesville last Friday morning and arrived in Jacksonville (after a bout of nausea, serious sinus pressure, and a nearly missed connecting flight) before 11 am, just in time to catch Jenny before extended family arrived. Even though my dad had explicitly mentioned my name in connection to weekend events the day before, Jenny didn’t suspect a thing. In fact, she called me while I was in the grocery store parking lot 5 minutes from the house to talk to me about post-graduation plans.

family graduation

We enjoyed post-graduation hors d’oeuvres courtesy of our mother,

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spent some time relaxing and shopping on Saturday,

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and hung out with my Florida friends (and the kitten) on Sunday afternoon.

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It was a wonderful, albeit brief, trip home. I’m so glad I survived my first time flying alone to see loved ones and enjoy the Florida weather. Congratulations, Jennifer!

sisters at beach

Woodstock, VA

After we visited Luray Caverns, we drove further into the Shenandoah Valley. At one point, we stopped on the side of a winding mountain road to fill up jugs with spring water gurgling out of a pipe. We stopped at my father-in-law’s friend’s family’s campground to park our car, then carpooled over to Woodstock, his childhood home.

Woodstock is a tiny town with a nearly 360 degree view of mountains. We ate at one of the only privately owned restaurants in town, then traveled a short distance to the church Daniel’s grandfather pastored for several years. We explored the small cemetery in the back. I have always enjoyed the stillness of cemeteries. They put life in perspective and reveal the universality of living across centuries and places. Everyone dies. Everyone grieves.

The next part of our journey required our tour guide to drive up a narrow dirt road with corkscrew turns and no barriers to keep us from falling off the mountain. I was glad I didn’t have to navigate it myself. We saw hang gliders and parasailers at their takeoff site on our way up. We parked the car, then took a brief hike up to Woodstock Tower. A narrow steel structure, it used to serve as a fire tower, but was later opened to the public. It provides a panoramic view of Woodstock and its surrounding towns and landscapes. The cold air numbed our faces, but I didn’t mind.

There are few experiences that can transport me out of the daily – the anxieties, the anticipations, the expectations. Looking out from the Woodstock Tower stands out as a moment I’ll continually cling to for comfort. I felt peace and liberty there. I felt refreshed and acutely aware of my body, of myself. Shutting down my internal dialogue – muting the white noise – and experiencing silence within myself, I looked out, my skin reacted to the chill, I was happy, I was fully aware of that happiness, what it meant, and how long it’d been since I’d felt exactly that way.

I came back to Charlottesville with a brimming-over love for the place I live. I am proud to live here. I love this town and its majestic, natural surroundings.