A West Virginia Kind of Weekend

 With unending twitter and facebook updates and four different email accounts synced to my iPhone at all times, I rarely find myself totally disconnected (even when I’m sleeping, MetroAlerts continues to ping my phone with updates about the broken Red line). But I was lucky enough to enjoy a pause from all that this weekend in an adorable cabin on the outskirts of Berkeley Springs, WV. When describing the trip to a friend, she pointed out that saying “rural West Virginia” was a bit redundant; West  Virginia doesn’t have much space that’s not rural. Just so where we were: situated along the edge of the Cacapin river (just a hop away from the Potomac, funnily enough), the cabin is literally enveloped in trees, and in the entire weekend, only one truck passed by on the road outside.

Saturday was the big day of our trip, for we were visiting the acclaimed (at least by the citizens of Berkeley Springs) Applebutter Festival. Berkeley Springs is also home to the famed (by more than just the citizens of Berkeley Springs) hot springs that Washington dignitaries would historically visit. You can even stop by George Washington’s bath (please visit Wikipedia at your leisure if curious). Despite the sun, it was brisk and windy, and we were all aghast at the (obviously local) little girl splashing around in her bathing suit. Despite the shivering, we had a marvelous time testing out applebutters and other preserves, chowing down on county fair-type food, selecting the best Honey Crisp and Crispin apples for the to-be-baked-that-night apple crisp, and engaging in some awesome, unabashed people-watching.

On the drive back from festival, the trees were literally exploding in front of our eyes–vivid reds and oranges burst out of the forest of green surrounding us on all sides. It’s beautiful country, no doubt. The only catch? Nestled amid the lush greenery, scores of neglected or abandoned farmhouses, barns, trailers and sheds slowly sink into decay. The deterioration is quiet, unassuming. It’s a reminder of the scores of people that have struggled–are struggling. In my world of DIY and design blogs, fixer-uppers are a fun challenge for the budding homeowner. In the quiet roads of West Virgina, not 3 hours from my own neighborhood, windows are broken and the paint is peeling, and a quick trip to the local Home Depot won’t be enough to stall the slide into ruin. In West Virginia, 17.4% of people live below the poverty line. That’s almost every 5th person living in poverty. And that’s enough to give you pause.

But inside that cabin, the mood was light. We sipped on hot apple cider, crouched close to the woodstove for warmth, and played with a delightful toddler and baby duo. A six-year-old amazed us all in the game of Taboo when she guessed that the word was “pipe-skirt” (not being familiar with the word “kilt,” but completely understanding the concept). We ate simple food – grilled chicken and sausage, grilled veggies, corn-on-the-cob (well, I didn’t), baked beans (again, I skipped those), and rosemary bread with apple butter spread (applebutter, cream cheese and cinnamon), and finished the meal with a bowl of hot apple crisp made by yours truly.

A gorgeous evening, followed by 2 days of relaxing, reading, playing board games, telling ghost stories, and watching Seinfeld on DVD (to distract us from said ghost stories at 3am). We drove home in a steady rain, none of us quite ready to rejoin civilization and the stream of texts and alerts that erupted on our smart phones as soon as we finally regained service on the road…

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Vacation Series Part I: The North Woods

I may be back in DC, writing this post from a rooftop with a view of the National Cathedral (not too shabby, eh?), but my heart is back at the lake, basking in the serenity of the water. Presque Isle was the destination for the first part of my vacation—a tiny town nestled amidst the hundreds of lakes of Wisconsin. My mother’s best friend invited us to stay with her and a goofy, loyal Golden Doodle named Manfred.

In preparation for the 3 day stay, and the laughably understocked “supermarkets” (gas stations) of the North Woods, my mother and I went to the Madison Farmers Market to get our share of fantastic fresh produce and cheese. The Madison Market is perhaps the market of all markets, and packs the four immense blocks of Capitol Square. Suffice it to say, we loaded up on veggies of all kinds and a certain sheep’s milk cheese that’s hard for me to even talk about.

Tradition demands that after our tour of the market, we head to a bakery on Madison’s East Side, where I have never NOT gotten a scone. Lazy Jane’s is known for their baked goods, and we may or may not have picked up a morning bun in addition to a lemon cream and a cherry scone. A four-hour drive requires sustenance, you know. The scones there are criminally moist, and break apart into chunks of heaven, dribbled with a tangy lemon cream glaze. Some of my best memories from Madison are set in that funky little café—tackling a crossword with my high school boyfriend, catching up with my best friend on her acting adventures in New York, and just sitting with my mom, talking about trifles while sipping a latté and eating those scones. You go home for a reason, you know.

But this visit to Lazy Jane’s was brief, as we had to set out on our little road trip, accompanied by a stodgy British man, narrating the plot of an Agatha Christie mystery (in CD form, obviously). My expectations of jumping in the lake immediately upon arrival, however, were squashed when we finally got out of the car, only to be almost blown over by the brisk wind. No matter—if getting out of the DC heat meant bundling up in three sweaters to read 1Q84 on the dock, watching the sunset over the water, then so be it!

Despite its vast amenities, the lake house lacks a TV, a solid internet connection, and cell service. We reveled in it.

We read and talked, played tag with Manfred, and made gallons of tea and chai. And we ate. We made pizzas on the pizza-stone my mom brought along, fried up heavenly Nueske’s bacon for our BLT’s (or rather, BATs, since we used fresh arugula from the market), roasted orange beets and covered them with sheep’s milk cheese, olive oil, mint and thyme, and baked a massive blueberry buckle with lemon glaze. We also made a pan of brownies, but as my mother has a strange tendency to take a perfectly delicious recipe (Smitten Kitchen’s cocoa brownies), and omit various ingredients…they came out more like a very dense fudge.

It was a glorious few days up at the lake house, albeit chilly ones. I read about700 pages of a 900 page book (Kindles only deal in percentages, but raw numbers are much more satisfying), played with a giant dog, and thoroughly enjoyed catching up with my mom.

It was a bitter goodbye, but only a 2-hour flight and 4-hour bus ride to my next destination…New York!

Stay tuned for Part II!