The Wilson House Monterey VA

The family wanted to take a little vacation after working so hard this summer. Steven worked with me 35 days straight, no days off, 14+ hours a day the last part of July and August flipping rental properties. We were in full tilt work mode. Kim had been working hard too due to big company changes. There was only one thing to do in this situation, head to the mountains where it was starting to cool down and there is some peace and quiet. The prerequisite activities from the restless crowd was as follows: hiking, shopping, trout fishing, medium-fine dining, photography, sight seeing things we have never seen before, basically a wild adventure of unknown sorts in an unknown place. The lot always seems to fall on me as the adventure guiding cruise director, but I don't mind though since I am pretty good at it.

So we narrowed it down to somewhere in Virginia. I was looking at photos on Google of places in Virginia to sight see and ran across Staunton, Virginia. It looked like they had a historic type town that would fit all our needs, but I didn't want to stay in a town so I got on VRBO rentals and starting using their map feature to find places around there within an hours drive or so. I located two that were old farms, just what the doctor ordered. So I contacted them both and Mary W. Lovelady from The Wilson House was the first to contact me back. So we setup everything we needed to rent the house. Mary was very nice and sent us lots of information about the area and things we could do. One thing Mary mentioned was her neighbor across the road, Tim Duff (also the Local Sheriff) was making homemade apple butter and had fresh eggs for sale. She also encourages us to explore the trails on the 80+ acre property. This sounded exactly like what the family needed.

So we set up for the following week to take off for 5 days and have a little R&R. The day was approaching to pack up and head out on our 6 hour drive to get there. The weather man was calling for rain all 5 days...Well, that wasn't in my plans when I worked on them for a week straight. I worked on every detail and had everything planned. What, where, and when were planned down to the hour. I found the best laid plans are not controlled by mere men, a quick refresher on Proverbs 19:21.

Day-1: So a rainy six hour drive later, and we were there in Monterey, Virginia, a small farm town near the West Virginia border. We met Jim who had the key for the house and opened the gate to the farm to let us in. Jim warned us to keep the gate closed at all times or the cows would come in, devour the lawn, and never leave. So Jim handed us the key, and we were on Vacation Mountain Time. We hauled everything into the house and unpacked. With just a light sprinkle coming down, we ventured outside. To our surprise we had our first guest at the house, a beagle with a wagging tail waiting to meet us. Steven greeted her first and noticed a name tag on it. Her name was Riley. She evidently was the neighbor's dog who loves visitors, especially the kind that feed her. So we broke out some braunschweiger (liverwurst) and gave her a taste. I believe we are friends for life according to Riley. Side note: if you stay here at the Wilson House, you will be greeted by Riley for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Please do not be late as the great squirrel-chipmunk hunter is greatly hungered due to all her activity. We were then greeted with a neighborly Kim mosied over to the fence to meet our next visitor, a big black Angus cow. The rain was starting to get a little heavier so we decided to go inside and cook some supper and plan for tomorrows activities in case the rain didn't quit. 

Day-2: Since it was raining the next day, we headed for some indoor places to explore. We found a little country store called Sugar Tree Country Store. We met the owner, Glen Heatwole, who greeted us when we came in. Glen and some of his family were in the back making maple candies and canning green beans. He offered maple candy samples to us, and we were hooked with one taste. Sugar Tree Country Store specializes in a variety of homemade foods including their top seller maple syrup that they gather themselves. As we shopped around, the no sugar added apple butter and blackberry raspberry jam captured my wife's eye while the some deep green sweet pickles had my attention. My grandma made the most awesome sweet pickles that has never compared to any other that I have found until these candied orange pickles. We bought a few jars, and they were out of this world good.

Steven, being the nostalgic person that he is, fell in love with old pocket watch that was missing the chain. I felt a hunt for matching chain was in our future. We laid everything on the counter, and by the time we finished, we had built a little delicious pile of items. I inquired about the history of the old pot bellied stove and all the historic memorabilia in the store, Glen said he inherited it all when he bought the place as the previous owners didn't want to haul it away.  Glen was more than happy to continue to display the antiques and maintain the old mountain charm. If you are ever up that way, make sure you stop by there and grab some of their homemade goods. A good time a year is the annual maple festival.

Day-3: We awoke to the sound of rain again. This didn't dampen our spirits because  we had plans to go to the "big" city of Staunton VA. We ventured on an hour long ride through some of the prettiest scenery you will ever see. We arrived and drove around a bit just to sight see. Our first stop was the Sun Spots Glass blowing. Kim and Steven wanted to try glass blowing while I took some photos. So they signed up to make a Christmas glass balls. It was only $35 to give it a try. Each selected the ball shape, colors, and finishes for their masterpiece. We passed the time shopping the huge gallery of impressive artwork as we waited for the next class. Note: be sure to call ahead to make a reservation for these special events. We were lucky, and they had two spots open. We were called into the blowing studio about 15 minutes later. I got a few shots of a girl who was doing a pumpkin piece for her ornament. Kim was the first one up in our group as owner Doug Sheridan gave her instruction on what to do as they went along.  Now it was Stevens turn at it. Basically Doug does all the work at lightning speed and lets you blow the air through a long surgical tube connected to the blowpipe creating the ball shape ornament.  I was lucky to get some shots of the action because Doug moved so fast.  After our ornaments were done, they were placed in 900 degree oven for 24 hours. Glass has to be cooled slowly at one degree intervals throughout the night; otherwise, the glass will shatter. Doug was kind enough to discuss how they create some of the different items and the techniques used.  You can view the process from the bleacher area without paying as well.

Once we were done with Glass Blowing at Sun Spot Studios, we strolled over to the AMTrak train station in Staunton VA. I really enjoy the nostalgia of old train stations, and this one fit the bill. Old relics on a rainy gloomy day seemed like the perfect photo shoot. I had some ideas of what I wanted to try to capture with my Canon 7D. As I plan our adventures, I will research Google images to find places with photographic interest and formulate a plan to capture it with my own twist or something nearby that other photographers missed. I didn't see many photos from the bridge above the train station, so I focused on capturing this quaint historic town from a bird's eye view. After the rain started to come down a little harder, we headed over to the Shenandoah Valley Brewing Company, also known as the Brewery Taproom, for lunch. The helpful bar tender explained like many of the breweries in town, they don't serve food and recommended the Depot Grill across the street. We promised we would be back to sample a few beers and then headed to the Depot Grill. It was so good that the family unanimously voted to visit again before the long trip home. Upon arrival, we were greeted with friendly service and ambiance of amazing woodworking throughout. The bar's design was a most grand piece in particular. Each table is covered with butcher paper with crayons for your artistic pleasure. I could only conclude they wanted me to draw. We had a contest who could draw the best cartoon characters. To my surprise it seems every one in our family was pretty good at drawing. I was the winner of course with my old standby Andy Cap drawing. They display the best of the best drawings near the entrance, but I was so amazed at the woodworking at the bar that I totally missed that part when I walked in. After eating some awesome sandwiches and homemade soups, we returned to the Brewery Taproom for some beer samples. I got their sampler pack of 4- 6 beers of your choosing. They like brewing their India Pale Ales. I really like two of their IPA's. Some were a little to stout for me. We chatted with the girl running the place and the owner too. He is quick to share his brewery expertise to home brewers that happen by and even sells home brewery supplies. Steven was showing the bartender his pocket watch and told her he needed a chain for it still. She was quick to reply she knew just where to find such a thing around the corner in Staunton, VA as well a few rainy day activities.

She recommended 17 E. Beverley Antiques. She had bought a beautiful 50's dress from that store for $7and said you can find all kinds of vintage treasures there. So off we went to shop. We stopped by half a dozen stores as we roamed Beverley Street downtown, including Staunton Olive Oil Company. Note: you have to check out their super smooth blueberry balsamic vinegar. We are currently perfecting our smoked baby back recipe with it. As we arrived at 17 E. Beverley Antiques, we decided to browse around inside. The downstairs was pretty neat overflowing with wide variety of antiques, many of which you could recognize from your childhood. The friendly storekeeper helped us look for a pocket watch chain. About 1 minute later, she pulled out and old pocket watch chain that perfectly matched Steven's watch. What are the chances of that. Steven was ecstatic with the great find. She was about to ring us up on the register when she asked if we have been upstairs. We responded we had not and climbed the stairs to check it out. OH BOY! There was where the fun began. The upstairs has old toys and memorabilia, eclectic stuff everywhere, funky sunglasses, and clothing. We particularly enjoyed the hats as you see from the photos below.

After our great hat adventure, we dined at Zynodoa Restaurant, which specializes in farm to table fresh food. This food was fabulous, some of the best food we ate on planet earth. Steven and I had the black tip shark special, and Kim had fettuccine Alfredo that was made with homemade pasta, ham, and the most robust flavors of vegetables and herbs. We rounded off the meal with homemade apple turnover and bourbon pecan pie both with a dollop of french vanilla ice cream. Note: be sure to make a reservation, we did not and were lucky enough to find a place at the bar. We finished our evening with spectacular performance of a Shakespeare's Mid Summer's Night dream that absolutely blew us away and had us in stitches the whole night at the American Shakespeare Company, a replica of Shakespeare's original indoor theater. We had never seen Shakespeare so entertaining with a few modern day interjections, multi-talented over actors, singers, and musicians and vaudeville acts with musical performances before the show and at intermission. You have got to go see this. If you drove to Staunton for this one event, you will agree that it is an unforgettable performance.

Day-4: We slept in the next morning till 8AM and woke to rain again. Luckily for us it seemed to be a lighter sprinkle than the day before. So we decided to venture onto the trails that Mary told us about on the Wilson House property. Mary had mentioned to us of her water was a natural spring when I inquired whether the property was on a well. We have been at vacation properties before with a short well that had sulphur in the water. That isn't a big deal to me growing up on my Grandmas property who had a 40' farm well and sulphur was so strong you could barely bath in it. Mary assured us her water was as fresh as it gets on her spring fed water. She challenged us to find the spring house because most folks who walk the trail can't find the spring. She told us, "There is a short path to the spring which turns off the hiking trail. It's along the property line fence (or what remains of the "fence" between my cousin and me). The spring is protected by a little cement-block building inside a wooden fence. See if you can find it. Most guests cannot. LOL." Well, we hiked about every inch of her property that day and found it on the NE side of the property. Throughout the day, we saw lots of deer and we found several apple trees on the property. If you venture out on the property, you most likely will be accompanied by Riley the beagle dog. She just loves to hunt for chipmunks and squirrels. This dog does not make one barking sound the entire trip, until she trees a rodent of some sorts. When she does, she will howl for 15 minutes straight. The great beagle hunter.

Day-5: On the final day of our trip, we awoke to sunbeams breaking through the clouds. The sunshine brought out all the birds as they started to gather around the bird feeder just off the front porch. We had seen lots of blue birds, finches, and sparrows but not at the bird feeder. So when the birds started to gather around the feeder, I broke out the Canon 7D with my Sigma 150mm f/2.8 APO EX DG Macro HSM lens. I was excited to see them get so close to us, perfect since I only have a 150mm lens. I especially enjoyed the quirky White-Breasted Nuthatch who was fond of hanging upside down. They are entertaining birds for sure. Then, the Tufted Titmouse came on the scene, and the show was on. When you throw in a couple Carolina Chickadees, it was a show stopper. It was quite a challenge to keep up with all the activity with birds zooming in and out. I was thrilled that the pictures were able to capture them perfectly in flight which was the icing on the cake for our peaceful vacation in the country. We'll be back in a couple weeks to see all the things we didn't have time to see. Thanks to Mary for all her hospitality. We are already longing for that country farm house again.