November 20, 2014
I started writing our blog in May, 2012. I decided to do so because at the time, we were working on opening Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast. But I was also doing a lot of research into the history of the plantation. During that research, I remember wishing that some of the past residents would have kept a diary. Wouldn’t it have been something to find out what day to day life was like at the plantation during those many years. Of course it would have helped me in my research as well!
Since we have opened our doors, I have found that I am writing less and less in our blog. Facebook has become our main forum for communicating with Instagram and Twitter as backup forums for things like “Where in the World is Michelle” and my many antique auction adventures.
And what kills me is that I have a ton of blogs in my head that I have written as I have experienced new things or enjoyed our summer time here at the plantation. But like many business owners, our time just seems to slip away. Other things need more attention or you become just so tired that you can’t recall what day it is let alone those spectacular blog posts that you write as you are experiencing something.
So I decided to stop allowing time to slip away. Stop allowing those wonderful feelings and emotions that I am experiencing here to go unnoticed. I have decided it is time to start writing my blog as an online diary. Not that I think my experiences will benefit others in the future. But what a wonderful log of how we came to be here and how we progressed through our wonderful journey. And so that one day, people in the future won’t have to guess how I felt about something. They will know.
So today is the first of my new diary entries. Notice I am not calling it a blog post.
Over the last few days, Brett and I have taken some much needed time off. It has been one and a half years since we have had a break together. I get breaks throughout the week, but Brett doesn’t. He works Monday to Thursday at his normal job. Then he travels back to Belle Grove on Thursday afternoon. On Friday, he will work from home as I go about getting ready for the weekend. Then Saturday and Sunday, he works beside me with our guests or events. He will also do repairs, mow the grass, do grounds work, mop, sweep, clean windows or do whatever needs to be done. Then he is back to work on Monday. So I do believe he needed this break more than me.
So we decide to take Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off. I blocked the rooms off and we shut down the house for those days. We took off for a little secluded cabin in the woods just outside of Elkton, Virginia. Billy and Patty, the cabin owners are wonderful. We are even doing a little bartering with them on rooms and the cabin.
The cabin is on the side of a large hill, not the Blue Ridge Mountain, which is just fine with me. Driving to the cabin takes you down a gravel road then a sharp turn to the right takes you up the side of this steep hill driveway. I was driving when we first arrived and believe me I was worried all the way to the cabin door. It was a steep drop on my side of the car as we climbed up the driveway. All I could think about was how wet the ground was from the rain and how much I didn’t want to go down that hill. As soon as we got out of the car, I declared that I would not be driving for the rest of the time we were at the cabin.
This cabin was small and cozy. Billy and Patty had the heat turned on and the light on for us to arrive. I was so thankful for that. The temperature started dropping after we arrived. Tuesday night it got down to 13 degrees! But we stayed nice and warm the whole time. In fact we had to turn down the heat because it became too warm. The cabin is an open floor plan with the bathroom broken up and divided down the center of the room. It has a full kitchen, minus the dishwasher and all you need to have a quiet time away. The best part was that it has a hot tub in the screened porch. Our first night, we found this to be that best part of the cabin. Talk about relaxing.
Tuesday, we decided to venture out to see what was around us. We drove through Elkton and Shenandoah and enjoyed seeing the two mountain ridges along the way. We arrived in Luray and grabbed a quick lunch. Normally we try to eat at a local place, but this day, lunch was later and we didn’t want to fill up. So Taco Bell filled the bill for this lunch.
As we left, we decided to take a little side trip. We had not planned this side trip, but boy are we glad we did! We traveled over to Washington, Virginia to the Inn at Little Washington. For those of you who don’t know me or read my past blogs, I am a big fan of Chef Patrick O’Connell and the Inn at Little Washington. When we started working on opening Belle Grove Plantation, I used the Inn at Little Washington as our inspiration. I have both of his cookbooks and use them all the time. I have traveled to the Inn several times (this was the fifth time) in hopes of meeting Chef O’Connell and always have my cookbooks in hand just in case. But this time, I didn’t bring my books so I knew I would finally get to meet him and not have my books signed.
When we arrived, this small village was dead. Not a soul could be seen other than workers and staff. My heart dropped. It was Tuesday and the Inn is always closed on Tuesday afternoon! But we ran into what looked like a manager as we were walking away. I introduced myself and Brett and asked if there was anyway that we could take a peek inside. Belle Grove is so far away and Brett had yet to see the inside of the inn. This gentleman explained that he couldn’t help us, but if we go over to the gift shop and ring for the General Manager, he might be able to help us. So we made our way over and rang… and I held my breath.
A few minutes later, Thomas List, General Manager for the Inn at Little Washington appeared at the door of the Gift Shop. We explained who we were and how Chef O’Connell’s story had inspired us as we opened Belle Grove. I asked if there was any way that Brett could just take a peak inside for a moment. Thomas explained that he had two people in his office, but if we could give him a minute or two, he would see if anyone at the inn could show us around for a moment.
Now have you ever heard the phrase, “nothing ventured nothing gained”? We really do live by this phrase at times. So we waited in the cold, and I mean cold for a few minutes. I would have waited there for hours if it meant we might get to view the Inn. Thomas returned to let us know that he was going to be showing us around. And not only would we be seeing the Inn, but he would also show us two of the other buildings that they use for rooms at the Inn! What a wonderful surprise. The only sad part was that Chef O’Connell wasn’t there. He was in Paris. The last time I came, he was traveling with the James Beard Award. Missed yet again….
When we walked into the lobby of the inn, Thomas spent a few minutes asking us questions about Belle Grove and about us. What a wonderful and refreshing feeling! To have him truly interested in our place and who we are! He could have easily just showed us a room and said good day. But no, he really took the time and effort to show us two or three rooms per building. Of course, Brett and I were just in awe! We were also taking notes on what we would like to improve on at Belle Grove. The best part was that we found out that we were doing a lot of the same things and held a lot of the same attitudes about our guests. It really made us feel like we are going in the right direction.
As we drove back to the cabin, we made notes of things Thomas told us and notes of things we want to change or add or improve on. Most of all we were just so grateful that Thomas spent the time with us and showed us around. Not many places would have gone as far as he did to show us things that would help us in our own business. This is the kind of partnering we truly love and hope to continue as we grow and become successful. And one day, I will get to meet Chef Patrick O’Connell! One day I will get to sit at the Chef’s table and enjoy one of his meals! One day, I will get to take one of his two or three day cooking classes. And one day, perhaps he will come to the plantation and enjoy one of my breakfasts!
Wednesday, our last day off, we packed up and headed out for a day of fun. Our first stop was Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, Virginia. You may remember my “Where in the World is Michelle” trip to Oatlands in October. But since Brett had not seen it, I wanted to share it with him. We didn’t have time for a full tour, but they were gracious enough to allow us just a quick walk through. To our great surprise, they were just finishing up decorating for Christmas! What wonderful ideas I have gotten by this trip for Belle Grove! Many of their decorations included Magnolia leaves. With our two trees in front, their ideas will truly look wonderful here! As we were leaving we passed by their Osage Tree and noted several Osage Oranges on the ground. If they weren’t using them for their decorations, I would have been all over them! We used Osage Oranges last year and they were wonderful! As we started back to our car, we ran into Tansy, my new friend from my last visit. Tansy has since been following us on Facebook and it was like meeting an old friend. She gives such wonderful hugs! After a quick conversation, we said our good-byes and headed out for our last stop.
This last stop is one that I have been looking forward to. We have saved for several months and now was the time to make our stop! We headed into Gettysburg to a shop called “Abraham’s Lady”. I have been doing research online about Civil War clothing since we are planning a two day encampment in April. Last year we had just a one day event called “Civil War Day at Belle Grove Plantation”. But this year, we are having a really big event because this year is the 150th Anniversary of the death of John Wilkes Booth. Booth was captured and died just a few miles away from Belle Grove at Garrett’s Farm in Caroline County. The town of Port Royal is planning a huge event during that weekend and we will be partnering with them to create a wonderful event.
Last year, I created my “Civil War” outfit at the last minute. I had found a skirt at an antique mall called “Present and Past”. I then found a white, collared shirt with quarter sleeves that I could use from a thrift store. I added two arm sleeves I also found at the antique store along with a shawl to cover my arms and hide the added sleeves. A hair pin with a cameo on it became my neck decoration and very scratchy tulle became my hoop skirt because I couldn’t find one at the last minute. My hair style, I found on the internet. The only reason I selected this style was because it didn’t require bobby pins, which I didn’t have. But this coming year will be different.
“Abraham’s Lady” is owned by Donna Abraham. When we arrived, it looked like they were closed. My heart sunk. All I could think was that we had traveled all this way and I didn’t check to see if they would be opened. So I called the store and Donna answered. She let me know that she was only open by appointment. (Nothing ventured, nothing gained) I asked if we could make an appointment for today. That we had traveled from Virginia just to come to the store. Donna was so gracious and told us that she would be there in a few minutes. True to her word, only a few minutes later, she opened the door.
The store is filled with dresses, hats, gloves, shoes, fabrics and accessories for any outfit you might need. Brett quietly sat down and watched as Donna pulled dresses, hoop skirts, collars, sleeves and so much more for me to try on. The first dress was beautiful, but just not my color (red stripes). But the second, wow! This dress just spoke to me. With the hoop skirt and all the accessories, I was completely outfitted for our event.
This is the dress my dress was made from
Now what I didn’t know and found out was we talked to Donna was that we weren’t just buying a Civil War dress just from anyone. Donna was a consultant for the outfits used in the movie “Lincoln”! It is so funny how we keep running into this movie! Donna spent time helping them put together outfits that are confirmed as used during this time period. She also has written books on the subject! When we purchased our items she donated two of the books, “The Way They Were: Dresses in 1860-1865″ a Photographic Reference Volume 1 & 2. So I am sure I will be consulting these books over the next few years as I build our party dresses.
It was a wonderful time, at least for me. Poor Brett had to sit and endure our endless conversations. He is such a sweetie! But I was so appreciative of Donna taking us at the last second and spending time helping me understand what was right and what wasn’t right when it came to Civil War dress. Her advice and suggestions were more valuable than she will ever know.
We arrived back at Belle Grove around 7pm last night and tucked into our bed, which I have to say I truly missed! Isn’t that always how it is when you travel? There is no bed like your bed. Today we worked on repairing the front, glass door, meeting with a caterer and florist, having the heat and cooling system quarterly maintenance check and sharing Belle Grove Plantation during a tour. There were endless emails and to do list that we hit today and hope to finish before the weekend.
Back to the reality …. if you can call what I do “reality”. To us, it is more like a dream.