Category Archives: Photos

Black Rock Sands & the Festiniog Railway

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I’m sure the first thing that pops into anyone’s mind when they think of the U.K. is the beach…what with the endless sunny days and the balmy, tropical climate.

On a morning that was forecasted to be sunny and mild, we packed a picnic lunch and headed to Black Rock Sands to lounge about, soaking up the warmth of the sun:

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It’s a wind baby!

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As we walked along the beach looking for a place to have our picnic, I was literally shaking violently from the cold. Not being a very stiff-upper-lip kind of person, I decided I would forgo the picnic and hang out in the car until the rest of my crazy family was ready to leave. I watched them trudge off into the dunes, their bodies bent over at right angles as they battled the winds. I felt ever-so-slightly guilty, but mostly gleeful as I settled down for a nap in the car, which we had parked right on the beach. After just a few minutes, my husband came back to drag me into the sand dunes, insisting that it was  “almost warm” in the shelter of the dunes…IMG_4572

Almost warm? Possibly to an Eskimo! Nevertheless, clad in our finest beach attire, we kept calm and carried on with a picnic on the beach. IMG_4580IMG_4581

Our picnic was a little rushed, because the tide was coming in and we were afraid our car was going to be swept out to sea. Oh, and also because it was freezing cold and had begun to rain.

We drove on to our next destination…a train ride on the Festiniog Railway.

IMG_4599Unfortunately, the driving rain prevented us from seeing anything but the odd cow from our windows. On the bright side, the company was pleasant and we were out of the rain!

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The Festiniog Railway holds a special place in my husband’s heart. During his gap year before starting college, he spent some time working in their archives. They gave him this World War I document as a parting gift:

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Perhaps they gave it to the promising young historian about to embark upon his studies at Cambridge as a reward for his exceptional work in the archives. Or perhaps they gave it to him for pitching in to help with the buffet cart whenever they were short-staffed. My very tall husband makes me laugh every time he reenacts how he would carry trays of scalding hot tea through the aisles of a swaying train, his head bowed to avoid hitting it on the top of the train carriage.

He and his brother were waiting to pick us up at the station at the other end. The first order of business was to find a cup of tea – the sine qua non for life in the U.K.!

As we drove through Canaerfon and past Canaerfon Castle, my father-in-law pointed it out as the place of Prince Charles’ investiture… i.e. where he became the Prince of Wales. That’s when my mother-in-law broke out a story about her own personal encounter with Prince Charles…

My in-laws were living in St. Andrews, close to Gordonstoun, the boarding school in Scotland where the young prince was studying. My mother-in-law was asked to be his external examiner in French and German.

I didn’t know how I should address him…Prince? Your Royal Highness?

Wait a minute…First of all, I can’t believe you never told me this story before! Second: so, what did you call him?

Well, I don’t think I called him anything at all. I just got on with the examination.

And how did he do?!

He was very nervous! His French was not bad, but his German was hopeless! For some reason he got onto the topic of wine-making, but he couldn’t remember the word for grapes in German so he kept referring to them as “little black balls”!

We stopped in a newly-opened café in Porthmadog.

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Hot cocoa for a change of pace!

The proprietor came over to ask us a favor…”I can tell you’re not from around here, and as we just opened today, I was wondering if you could put a pin on our map to show where you’re from.”

So there you go…a little piece of Charlottesville in Porthmadog, Wales. IMG_0921

We’ve been back home in Charlottesville for a couple weeks now. Yesterday our one missing suitcase was finally delivered to our doorstep!

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With the last bit of our belongings safely back in Charlottesville, and my last U.K. story posted, that lovely interlude has now really ended. I will remember the glorious walks, the beautiful scenery, and the ghastly weather. Most of all, I’ll remember the precious time spent with family, who – while far away – are ever close to our hearts.

Cwm Idwal in the Ogwen Valley

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From the cultivated beauty of Bodnant Garden, we drove on to the wild beauty of Cwm Idwal…IMG_4450IMG_4452IMG_4458A stone path guided our steps…IMG_4466IMG_4465IMG_4488IMG_4494

…to a lake:

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It was a bit windy…

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Actually, it was CRAZY windy!
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Brooding Heathcliff moment.

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No brooding here. This is the face of a man in his element.

 

Blitz Family Reunion

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My family headed to Arlington this weekend for a gathering of the clans…

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The boys were exhausted after their last day of summer PE

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Patches” proudly shows off the latest alterations to her ancient vest…

The cousins bonded over Minecraft…IMG_3837

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The oldest cousins reconnect…

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It feels like this photo was taken about two minutes before that last photo was taken…

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We had dinner at Peking Gourmet, a sentimental favorite…

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After dinner we headed to Old Town, Alexandria, where my friend Victoria gave us a ghost tour. (More photos in my next post).IMG_3919IMG_3925

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Completely wrapped around her little finger…

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Goodbyes…IMG_4012IMG_4014IMG_4042IMG_4054

Weekend Snapshots 49

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Friday

We joined C’ville’s brand spanking new Y.

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It’s fun to be at the Y.M.C.A.!

Saturday

Fireworks in Crozet…

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Sunday

My 17 year old was going to cut quite the figure tooling around town in my rusty, dented minivan with a dying transmission and 268,000+ miles on it. Fortunately for him, my cousin came to the rescue and passed on his muuuuuuuuuuuch cooler car to the kid.

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First car…IMG_3767

First time driving the whole family…IMG_0428

First time being the sound engineer at church…(with his trusty sidekick).IMG_0433

 

Friday in Arizona

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I had never been to Arizona and was surprised by how different it was. I may as well have been in a different country…

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The middle school my kids have gone to looks nothing like this one!

Or maybe even a different planet with alien life forms…IMG_3596IMG_3599

I’m so disappointed I didn’t get a picture of the two scorpions who terrorized us in our airbnb house.

 

On Friday morning we went to the Tohono Chul Park Botanical Garden & Galleries at the foot of the Santa Catalina mountains.IMG_3558IMG_3555The gardens were filled with cactus and wildlife…

IMG_3561Here’s a fun fact! Those iconic saguaro cactus can live for hundreds of years. They don’t grow their first arms until they reach about 70 years old. We saw birds feasting on ruby wreaths of fruit that crowned the tops of some of them. Birds nested in holes in the sides of the cactus.

Others just plopped their nests right on top of the prickly spines:

IMG_3571…which just goes to show you that you can find a home in the unlikeliest of places.

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Southwest Coral Bean

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Jimson Weed

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Bougainevillea

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Two rare desert flowers.

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Desert Willow

The garden was humming and buzzing and rustling with all kinds of wildlife, from jackrabbits to…

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Let’s play “Spot the Critter”:

IMG_3562IMG_3586IMG_3595.jpgIMG_3602We cooled ourselves off in the bistro with Arnold Palmers mixed with pink prickly pear lemonade…

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In the afternoon we headed to the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun. Ettore (Ted) DeGrazia (1909-1982) was an American artist who is probably best known for his paintings of Native American children. To be honest I didn’t love his art, but I was impressed by the Gallery in the Sun, built so his paintings would have a place where they would “feel good inside.” A self-taught architect, DeGrazia designed and built a whole complex of adobe structures in the 1950s with the help of Yaqui and Tohono O’odham friends. Other than the gallery, the complex includes his own house and the Mission in the Sun –  a chapel which was unfortunately closed to visitors because of a very recent fire. The complex is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

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In one area of the gallery, DeGrazia used slices of cactus embedded in concrete as flooring.

IMG_0090The cactus courtyard was filled with an unearthly, metallic thrumming.

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Weekend Snapshots 48, or: Amor vincit omnia

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Friday

Twenty years ago, I woke up early in the morning and crawled into bed with my mother. I was going to be married later that day in an outdoor ceremony and I had been fretting all week over the iffy-looking weather forecast. We flipped back and forth from one TV channel to another to compare the different local weather reports, which were all  slightly different. My mother humored me by agreeing that the most believable forecast was the one with the most favorable prediction.

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Even if it did rain, my mother reassured me, it would mean good luck for our marriage. She soothed me by repeating: “Showers of blessings” like a mantra. It eventually did rain that day, though not until we moved indoors after the ceremony.

Our twentieth anniversary was on Wednesday, but my husband and I decided to celebrate the occasion on Friday. Leading up to the day, we were both privately scrambling to figure out a way to mark such a momentous milestone. In desperation I turned to my 11 year old daughter for advice:

“What do you think I should get Dad for our twentieth anniversary?”

She didn’t have an answer for me, but she laughed out loud and said, “Daddy asked me the very same thing!”

My husband finally took matters into his own hands and announced that he was going to pick me up from work and whisk me off to a secret destination. On Friday, the weather was not just iffy – it was downright dismal. The rain was coming down in sheets. My husband kept sighing and saying, “Too bad the weather’s going to be so awful for our rugged hike in the mountains…”

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The last time I got dragged up a mountain…

We drove through the rain for a little more than an hour, past the neighborhood where we bought our first house together, through little hamlets, and past fields of cows and horses. The whole way there, he kept tutting about how our picnic on the mountainside would be ruined, while I gave him serious side eye and badgered him to tell me where we were really going.

The secret was finally revealed when we pulled into Washington, Virginia and to the Inn at Little Washington. We were first ushered to a beautiful foyer with a crackling fire…

IMG_9769and then to “Anniversary Row.”

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Everybody sitting to the left and right of us was celebrating an anniversary. The waiter asked each couple how many years they had been married, and as we overheard the answers from the other tables, we were very proud to have been married the longest! IMG_9784

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Saturday

From the violin recital…

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…to the soccer field:

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We went to a party later that evening. Our hosts had devised an ingenious adult scavenger hunt with stops along the way for wine and sake tastings complete with paired hors d’oeuvres.  As we hiked through the woods and up to the top of the mountainside to find the grand prize, I remarked to my husband: “We’re having our anniversary hike, after all!”:

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The Grand Prize

Sunday

Our last day of choir:

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This boy’s Confirmation:

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Mother’s Day Photo Op…FullSizeRender 15FullSizeRender 13FullSizeRender 7IMG_9834

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She ain’t heavy, she’s my sister…

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Purple Passion afternoon tea break with my buddy…

I rejoined my family for dinner and then got dropped off at another friend’s to head to the Downtown Mall…

You may have seen the news about a group of torch-bearing, knuckle-dragging Neo-Nazis who marched in Lee Park in Charlottesville on Saturday. On Sunday night, a much larger group of people gathered at the park and vowed to love and protect each other.

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This is the Charlottesville I know and love.

Some days the rain will fall. Some days a band of retrograde half-wit Nazis will try to spew their hatred in your beautiful little town. In the end, love conquers all and showers us with blessings. That’s the forecast I want to believe.