Just a little chocolate…

May. 1st 2013


After my wonderful day running around Norfolk Botanical Gardens, I decided to spend some time with our daughter, Alexa on Monday. She has been in college working on a degree in psychology and was in bad need of some stress relief before one of her finals. So true to form we decided to take a break in one of our favorite day trip locations… Colonial Williamsburg.

After a quick lunch of sushi and catching up, we headed up from Chesapeake. She had been just the weekend before and had seen a hoodie at the William and Mary Bookstore she really wanted. The traffic wasn’t too bad on the way, but the rain didn’t seem to want to let up. I was getting concerned that our trip would mostly have to be inside the stores at Merchant Square. Not that that is a bad thing per say, but it can be hard our budget. But when we arrived, the rain seems to know and just stopped.

After purchasing her hoodie, she did a little arm twisting and “forced” me to go to the Wythe Candy Store. This is one of our favorite stops in Merchant Square. Coming in the door, you gain five pounds just breathing in all the sugar in the air. I am surprise they don’t hand out napkins at the door because by the time you leave, your month is watering.

Cheese Shop Merchant Square

Cheese Shop
Merchant Square

Before we got to the Candy Store,  we stopped at the Cheese Shop next door to the “Fat Canary” Restaurant. If you have never had a chance to eat at the “Fat Canary”, when you are in Williamsburg, you must stop! It is a little pricey, but well worth the cost! After looking over the cheeses they had and not finding any that jumped out at me, we headed to the Candy Store.


As we walked in, we were greeted by a staff member dipping carmel apples. Just in front of him were cupcakes with so much frosting on it, you would have died from a sugar coma! There were tons of different types of fudge and then we saw them. The chocolate covered candy apples! Oh my….


As we made our way around the display case, we saw clusters, chews, jelly beans, sours, licorice and endless confections! We rounded the back of the display where we were greeted by truffles of every shape and size. There were truffles that looked like cupcakes, egg shaped truffles, small “pop in your month” truffles and tons and tons of different favors.


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Alexa knew quickly what she wanted and had it boxes up before I knew it. She picked out a blueberry truffle and an Irish Creme truffle. I knew that I couldn’t go home without brings some back to Brett and our son Tyler. So I picked out four truffles for them to pick from. They had a choice of peanut butter, key lime, Irish Creme or raspberry.

The top right is a blueberry egg-shaped truffle

The top right is a blueberry egg-shaped truffle

I picked out some chocolate almond bark that was sugar-free for me. One was milk chocolate and the other was white chocolate. I know what you are think! Sugar-Free at a Candy Store, but yes! They make some of the best sugar-free chocolates I have ever tasted! And I don’t feel so guilty for eating it!

Once we finished purchasing our choices and heading out just in time to miss a large crowd of teenagers, I asked Alexa to allow me to find out if the “Young James Madison” was working today at Colonial Williamsburg. Bryan, who is the historic interpreter that plays “the Young James Madison” has been following us on our Belle Grove Facebook Fan page for several months. When he first contacted us, he was just studying for his part as James Madison. He had told me that he was given our page and blog information by the librarian in Williamsburg. So I knew I wanted to meet him if I could since I was there.

I stopped at the ticket booth there at Merchant Square, but she didn’t have any information on him. She sent me to the Visitor Center. So Alexa and I drove over to the Visitor Center. There I talked to the ticket supervisor who placed a couple of calls to find out for us. She ended up with his manager on the phone. When I told him who we were and what we were looking for, he told us that Bryan was there today and that he was at “Revolutionary City” doing a program. His manager then gave us the cell number of his direct supervisor there and asked us to call him in about five minutes because they were in the middle of program change. This gave us just enough time to jump back into the car and head back to the parking lot at Merchant Square.

When we parked, I tried to call the supervisor. No answer…

I looked at Alexa and said, “Well do we pack up and go home? Or do we hike down to the Revolutionary City Capital and hope that we might get the supervisor on the phone or see if we can meet him through someone there?” Now when I say it’s a hike, I am not joking. It’s seven large blocks down. For Alexa that wouldn’t be much of a hike, but for me… well…

Alexa said to me, “Mom, what do we have to lose? If we don’t go, you could have missed your one chance to see him.”

So you guessed it, off we went….

Now the walk isn’t really bad when you can stop and catch your breath on one of the many benches along the way. But because it had been raining most of the day, all the benches were wet! And I don’t know if you know this, but most Colonial Homes didn’t have front porches! So most of the steps were wet too! Just before we reach our final stop, I did manage to find one dry spot to catch my breath. It was here that I started noticing historic interpreters walking pass as if they were leaving.

We quickly go up and stopped a lovely Colonial woman who was pushing cart filled with baskets. She informed us that the programs were done and that all the interpreters were heading home! I asked her if she knew if the Young James Madison had already left and she told me that she thought he had just walked by! But she asked me to follow her and she would see if he was still there. As we reached the next block, she pointed to another Colonial young man that she said would know where he was. I thanked her and headed over to him.

This kind young man did indeed know the “Young Mr. Madison” and asked me to stand by at the corner as he went inside to see if he was still there. We stood there for what felt like a long time even though I am sure it wasn’t. I started to think at first that we had missed him. Then I started to think the young man had forgotten us! Then I looked up to see “Young James Madison” coming out of a doorway.


Bryan was wonderful. I introduced him to Alexa and we discussed his studies and programs. He is working on a new script for a new program he will be doing soon. In the middle of our conversation, Bryan mentioned that we looked familiar to him. I thought maybe he just knew our faces from the blog or Facebook. But was we spoke, he mentioned that he lived in Chesapeake. A couple quick inquires and we found out that we attended the same church for many years together. Bryan was a couple years older than Alexa and several years older than Tyler, but we have known his family as members. Fun how we both had to travel to Williamsburg to find someone we knew from home.

We thanked Bryan for taking time to talk with us and promised to return to see him in his programs soon. As we headed back to the car, the rain started lightly coming down. It wasn’t too heavy to get us really wet and the trees offered some shelter from the mist.

We decided to end our outing to Williamsburg with a drive down Colonial Parkway between Colonial Williamsburg and Yorktown. This is a beautiful drive and with the rain on the new leaves, the greens were just so bright and wonderful! We took our time as cars rushing home from daily jobs passed us. It was nice to just drive to see what you can see and not to worry about when you are going to get there. Rushing around, we miss so much in our lives.


To see more photos from our past trips to Williamsburg

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Darnell History, Food and Recipes | 14 Comments »

Sitting Down with the Madisons

Mar. 21st 2013


On Saturday, Brett and I headed to Montpelier to celebrate James Madison’s Birthday. We were excited since it was the first time we would see the wreath lying at his tomb. Little did we know it would be a day we would never forget.

As we drove down Constitution Highway, just before arriving at the main gate, the sky threaten us by dropping a few rain drops on the window. Brett and I looked at each other and it was as if we were communicating the same words, “We are going to get wet today.” But as we drove up the long drive with the Montpelier Mansion as a backdrop, the rain stopped and we both breathed a sigh of relief.



We parked in the overflow parking lot having arrived with just fifteen minutes to share. I quickly gathered my important items and Brett grabbed our umbrella. We made our way down the road to a side road. From here we could see the family cemetery in the distance. There was a crowd of people already there. We could also hear music. I smiled at Brett as we head to the path.

Just as we arrived at the path which is located across from the Slave Cemetery, we saw a gentleman talking to what we assumed were exchange students from James Madison University. He was explaining to them the roles of the slave on the plantation. I caught myself smiling thinking about the history that would be shared today.


As we walked down the path, you could see just over the ridge a small hill and fence line. I looked up just in time to see a herd of horses running over to the fence line. It was as if they too heard the music and wanted to come and see what it was all about.

When we arrived at the family cemetery, we realized that the ceremony was going to include the United States Marine Corps. If you have been following the blog and have read about us, you know that I am a former Marine and Brett is a retired Navy Corpsman. It was such a wonderful surprise to see these young Marine honoring such a great man.

Kat ImoffCEO of Montpelier

Kat Imhoff
CEO of Montpelier

The master of ceremony was the new CEO of Montpelier, Kat Imhoff. The ceremony started off with remarks from her followed by the Marine Color Guard and Invocation. There was a presentation give to James Madison and the people of Virginia by Governor McDonnell through one of his representatives declaring Saturday to be James Madison Appreciation Day. In the remarks it was really quite exciting to hear the governor state that James Madison was born in Port Conway, Virginia. I looked at Brett who was video-taping the ceremony on the other side of the wall and gave him a smile and thumbs up.

Jonathan AlgerPresident of James Madison University

Jonathan Alger
President of James Madison University

The main speaker was Jonathan Alger, President of James Madison University. In his speak, Mr. Alger called for a “Return to Madison”. There were birthday wreaths presented by several public organizations and locations in honor of Mr. Madison as well as a wreath presented by the Marines by order of President Obama.












After the ceremony and just a small passing sprinkle, Brett and I had a chance to meet Mr. Alger and Ms. Imhoff. We also had a chance to say “Hello” to some of the other staff members we had met during our visit in October. One of them was Tom Chapman, one of the staff that works with the archaeology department. We renewed our invitation for Tom and others to visit us at Belle Grove.

Afterwards we headed to the Visitor Center to purchase our tickets to tour the house. We have seen the mansion many times and could almost do tour ourselves. But we were more interested in seeing “Mr. and Mrs. Madison”. We skipped the film and headed to the Mansion hoping to get into one of the tours. There we were greeted by a staff member helping to direct people. When we asked where the Madisons were, he told us that they were meeting people in the Constitution Room located in Nelly Madison’s wing. We asked if we could skip the tour and go straight there and we were happy to hear that we could.

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley's Clothesin the Visitors Center

Reproductions of Dolley’s Clothes
in the Visitors Center

As we entered the room, we observed Mr. Madison sitting with a young girl on one side of the room deep in conversation. Her father was sitting across the aisle tapping the conversation on his cell phone. Mrs. Madison was on the opposite side of the room also holding a conversation with a young boy. It was really fun to watch the children interacting with these two actors as if they were the real people. Of course I can’t say anything about that. When I met them in December, you would have thought I was meeting the man himself then too!

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mrs. Madison holding a conversation with a young boy

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Mr. Madison holding a conversation with a young girl

Once the conversations were done and the family made their way out the door, we sat down and spoke to the Madison. All I can say is, “Wow!” It was really a lot of fun discussing history with them and talking about our plantation and his birthplace. Both were just so knowledgeable about the Madison that I could see why other people have told us that these two re-enactors were the best. We talked about the possibility of them coming to Belle Grove for a birthday celebration next year. Mr. Madison even made the suggestion that we have them come to Belle Grove in September to celebrate his  and Dolley’s anniversary. He explained it would be good because his father and mother, James Madison Sr and Nelly Conway Madison were also married on September 15th. This would be one of many things I would learn from Mr. and Mrs. Madison during our visit. He even asked if he could provide a menu for the dinner!

I think the best part of the visit was when we were discussing our final upcoming public hearing on Tuesday, March 19th with the Board of Supervisors of King George. Mr. Madison offered to come and speak on our behalf. Now wouldn’t that be something! To have Mr. Madison walk into the board room and give his blessings for our business. We were so touched!

We also asked Mr. Madison if he would consider giving us a list of books he would like to see in our library. We most definitely need a shelf of “recommended reading” by James Madison. We also discussed our Cookie Contest that is currently going on. We explained that the theme is “a Cookie James Madison would like”. This seemed to please them both.

All told we spent the better part of an hour talking with them. For Brett and me, it was truly the highlight of our whole trip. While I know that this isn’t really Mr. and Mrs. Madison, it really makes me wish I could have really known the man and woman. What great things he must have said and what a wonderful personality she must have had. But if this is as close as we could come to the real persons, I have to say, we got the best that there could have ever been.

Flowers at Montpelier

Flowers at Montpelier

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Meet the People of Colonial Williamsburg

Dec. 5th 2012


Meet Elody. This is not one of the reenactors, but a guest. Children can rent costumes and enjoy the life of a colonial child for the day!

Meet Elody.
This is not one of the reenactors, but a guest. Children can rent costumes and enjoy the life of a colonial child for the day!

This young gentleman and I had a wonderful conversation about James Madison.

This gentleman and I had a wonderful conversation about James Madison. He stated that his attended school with the young Madison. He also talked about how Madison was very shy and short. He stated that he was teased about his height. But he did say that Madison was a very smart man. He showed me a pamplet that Thomas Jefferson had written talking about the taxation of the colonies. He explained that at first he didn’t understand it, but when Madison explained it to him he had a better understanding.






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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in Year of the Virginia Historic Homes | 32 Comments »