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RVA Day Trip: Orange County Area Delights

Ever since cFl’s younger son decided to attend Woodberry Forest School, she has been touting the delights to be found in and around the fairly rural county of Orange. Turns out that rural does not mean backward as those of us used to more urban living so often assume. Like nearby Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Orange County is sophisticated and full of enough captivating pleasures that you’ll want to share them with your posse or your spouse.

lounging space at Grelen overlooking barns © The Gracious Posse

Since January kMg and I have journeyed to Gordonsville

Gordonsville downtown

and beyond for a few low key escapes. Each visit encouraged us to plot our next return. Only about 75 minutes away, day trips are no-brainers, though an overnight stay at one of the charming inns and B&Bs dotting the rolling countryside would be lovely, too. Either way, kMg and I recommend

The Market at Grelen.

The top of our Orange County bucket list has been to visit The Market at Grelen.

plants for sale at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

We finally found the time a few weeks ago and couldn’t have been more satisfied. Hundreds of acres set in bucolic hills

Piedmong landscape at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

just north of Gordonsville and west of Orange have been supplying Piedmont homes with trees and shrubs since 2003.

covered porch at Grelen © The Gracious Posse - 1

More recently, the nursery has expanded to include a considerable gift shop and market cafe offering indoor and outdoor dining.

covered event space at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

Grelen also offers covered event space with incredible views and Thursday night concerts during the summer season. Locally sourced products, many of which are grown on Grelen’s own property, highlighted our tasty lunch, which we just had to top off with a sample of two of their homemade ice creams.

homemade ice creams at Grelen © The Gracious Posseblackberry ginger (on left) and peach almond

If you are in the market for beautiful outdoor furnishings and statuary,

luch table surrounded by beauty for sale at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

Grelen likely has just what you need. The whole operation, including the friendly staff, provides loads of inspiration for your own gardens.

picturesque axis at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

Make a day of your visit and bring your hiking shoes: Grelen’s trails will provide your 10,000 steps while discovering why people love visiting Virginia’s beautiful Piedmont region.

market and cafe at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

Open from March – December, Grelen provides specific information on events and what is growing here. We can’t wait to go back and would love to enjoy dinner under the stars

dining patio at Grelen © The Gracious Posse

with live music in the background. We would begin the day


The joys of antiquing with your posse is two-fold: the thrill of the hunt and the sharing of reminisces that different objects bring to mind. Start at the Gordonsville Antiques and Flea Market

Gordonsville Antiques

on your way into that town. Filled to the rafters with tchotkes from days gone by, you’ll find yourself strolling down memory lane for at least an hour. If the antiquing bug really bites, forget the more modern pleasures of Gordonsville, turn left onto Route 33 and wind your way to Ruckersville just outside of Orange County. High and low antique/vintage shops dot the intersection of Route 33 and Route 29 heading south to Charlottesville. If you manage to get them all in, by the time you are done, you will be ready for dinner, whether at Grelen or


Pomme storefront

Hope you have made your reservation for this small bistro set in the middle of Main Street in Gordonsville.

haricots verte salad at Pomme © The Gracious Posse

Pomme packs people in for a taste of France in the Piedmont.

coconut ice cream at Pomme © The Gracious Posse

The gorgeous presentations, charming French country decor and delicious bites keep patrons coming back to this culinary outpost.

With wineries like the Zagat-recommended Barboursville and picturesque inns and B&Bs still to discover in Orange County, look for us to continue burning up I-64 to Route 15 North whenever we can get some of the posse together. Want to come along? Let us know when you are free. We are always in the market for a girl’s trip.


July 13, 2016

This Memorable Wedding Embraces Rivah-Style

People in these parts head to the Rivah to escape the everyday, relax and enjoy the cool breezes and water views in a laid-back environment. While the concepts of stress-free and weddings rarely coexist, when a bride decides to combine the two at the Rivah, magic can happen. Take a look at how one bride embraced her low-key style to create a beautiful and memorable wedding that suited her and her beloved perfectly.

ceremony site at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

When jBr offered to host her dear friend Katie’s wedding at their newly remodeled Rivah home, she had a feeling the bride and groom would appreciate the setting for the intimate ceremony and reception with close family and friends. The home’s redesign

home base designed by Janet Wright for Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

by Janet Wright and Associates and

Janie Molster-designed interior rain site for Rivah wedding ceremony © The Gracious Posse

interiors by Janie Molster take full advantage of the sweeping Rappahannock River views

view to the Chesapeake Bay at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

to the Chesapeake Bay and embrace all the simple pleasures of Rivah living. Having moved to the Tidewater area to be with her fiancé, Richmond native Katie was delighted not only with the water view but also that this Rivah home was centrally located for most of the wedding guests from both regions and who could be easily accommodated by the reconfigured layout of jBr’s second home.

view from above at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

When you have such a beautiful view, the ceremonial spot just needs a simple arch

wedding arch at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

adorned with some greenery and a few flowers, as well as chairs for the guests. Following the Southern superstition tradition for insuring glorious weather on the wedding day that we described in Planning an At Home Wedding?, jBr and her husband buried a bottle of bourbon under the spot where the arch would stand one month in advance.

diggin up the upside-down bourbon bottle after ceremony at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

So far this tradition is 2-for-2 in our book as Katie and her groom were blessed with a picture-perfect day with the loveliest of cool river breezes. 

Katie’s motto through the wedding-planning process was to keep it simple and budget-friendly. Her mother and sister mJg prepared the vast majority of the food served on

family silver in use at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

family silver. Garden-style in-season flowers

garden flowers at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

filled vases

tabletop garden flowers at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

owned by the family.

garden flowers in stoneware pitcher at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

The ceremony chairs were simply carried over

dinner tables at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

to the dinner tables afterwards. jBr’s talented son ARB even mixed the music throughout.

music mixer at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

In keeping with the simplicity of the late-afternoon event, the newlyweds provided old-fashioned fun for their guests, including their personalized corn hole game

corn hole featured at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

with hand-painted boards, and a photo-booth

photo booth props at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

where guests could play dress up. Special touches

bar at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

at the bar included individually-made mojitos with

mojito bar at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

fresh-cut mint. Everyone left with

Two Less Fish in the Sea at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

a signature coozie.

reception area at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

Because the covered porch was used for buffet tables, jBr had her porch furniture moved out into the yard to provide extra seating as guests lingered.

beloved dogs at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posseeven the couple’s dogs make an appearance

While they could have enjoyed the perfect setting all night, the bride and groom needed to make their getaway before dark …

water getaway at Rivah wedding © The Gracious Posse

by boat, of course!

Congratuations and best wishes to Katie and Burney! Thank you for sharing your special day with us and proving that a wedding doesn’t have to become a stress-inducer, especially when it happens at the Rivah.


July 6, 2016

Welcome, July 2016!

Unless your child is a summer swimmer, things slow down in RVA as residents flee to the Rivah, ocean or mountains. For those of us left, there are still new things to try, including Walter Bundy’s new restaurant, Shagbark, and two newly opened rooftop bars at Quirk and Kabana. Here are just a few things we are looking forward to this sultry month.

Ashley Farley’s Latest Release

Friday, July 1st

Independence Day

Lady Liberty © The Gracious Posse

Monday, July 4th
If you are anywhere near the Rivah, check out the old-fashioned Hometown Parade in downtown Irvington, Virginia.

10 a.m. – 12 noon

The Richmond Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare at Agecroft Hall
July 7th-31st
(opening night is July 9th)
Agecroft Hall
7:30 p.m. (grounds open at 6 p.m.)
 tickets here

Wimbledon Finals

Players on Grass Court of Wimbledon © The Gracious Posse

Saturday and Sunday, July 9th & 10th
If you want an on-the-grounds experience, click here for Ellen’s coverage.

Full Moon

Good Morning Moon on the Rappahannock River © The Gracious Posse

Tuesday, July 19th
Have you ever had one of those days – when everything seems to go wrong – and you look out the window and discover a full moon in the sky? Although no scientific evidence backs up the correlation or causation of bizarre events and a full moon, it’s more than just peculiar coincidence. Even the words LUNACY and LUNATIC are derived from the word moon. So next time you get a flat tire, forget an appointment and lock yourself out of your house all in one day, it’s not you, it’s the full LUNA!

Thread the Needle Day

Thread the Needle © The Gracious Posse

Monday, July 25

Who knows the origin of this curious day, but it can be celebrated literally by pulling thread through the eye of a needle, or metaphorically as in politics (navigating a diplomatic path between opposing views) or in sports (moving a ball successfully through the narrowest of courses). Look for a Christmas in July post to celebrate
Thread the Needle Day!

Dogwood Dell Amphitheater


July 29th-31st and August 5th-6th
8:30 p.m. curtain but arrive early

International Day of Friendship

Founded by the United Nations, the International Day of Friendship promotes

friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals to inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities

Cheers at the Pitcher Inn © The Gracious PosseOn Saturday, July 30 raise a glass and toast your posse!


June 30, 2016

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Summer 2016 Reading

Summertime and the reading is easy.

reading at the beach © The Gracious Posse - 1

With summer now in full swing, I am stealing every opportunity to indulge my favorite activity of the season: reading. Give me a book, a shaded seat and water, and I am in my happy place. Pool, Rivah, ocean ~ it doesn’t matter, just a little something to cool me off when the heat and humidity intensify.

Veranda July:Aug 16 cover

(can’t imagine a more perfect spot to read than lounging on a chaise in this breathtaking pool-side Palm Beach gazebo featured on one of the July-August ’16 covers of Veranda magazine)

Unlike so many kids who don’t know what they are missing, I always loved summer reading and still remember my first serious required summer reading as one of my favorites: The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Though I spent quite a chunk of the summer getting through that one, the reward was huge.

When my son received his high school summer required reading books, I would review that pile he refused to touch until August and take some for a test ride first. Like Julia Johnson, I couldn’t resist To Kill a Mockingbird, which had never been on my required reading list, and also discovered the charming The Housekeeper and The Professor. Much to THF‘s dismay, his college issued the freshman required summer reading, and my curiosity couldn’t keep me away from the disturbing yet ultimately satisfying Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.

Always on the lookout for one serious read of the summer, I pepper the rest of it with the lighter fare that I snatch up from some of my favorite chick lit authors as soon as their annual offerings debut. I’ve already devoured these new releases:

All Summer Long by Dorothea Benton Frank


Here’s to Us by Elin Hilderbrand

and thoroughly enjoyed the audio versions of

A Lowcountry Wedding by Mary Alice Monroe

and particularly

Flight Patterns by Karen White.

Julia Johnson, author of the marvelous

Be Frank With Me,

mentioned both in our interview and at her reading that

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

is her favorite book, so naturally I had to hunt that one down. True to Julia’s word, it is a beautifully written novel in a most unusual setting.

The Gracious Posse’s favorite women’s lit author has a new book coming out this Friday, July 1st. Ashley Farley’s sequel to

Her Sister’s Shoes

takes you back to the town of Prospect, South Carolina and my favorite trio of sisters (other than my own), the Sweeneys, and their eponymous seafood shop.

Lowcountry Stranger is full of more intrigue in another fast-paced story that celebrates life in a small town and the importance of family ties. If you haven’t yet had the chance to meet the Sweeney Sisters, Her Sister’s Shoes is now also available in audio format through so you can listen in the car or while you are walking, gardening or otherwise working out.

My last two summer recommendations are considered Young Adult books, though they definitely have broader appeal. Each features a heroine on the cusp of adulthood, but their circumstances couldn’t be any more different. The first, which Julia Johnson mentioned on her Richmond visit and that I had adored a few years ago, is

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (the author of the original 101 Dalmatians).

Set in England in the 1930s and first published in 1948, the story was reissued in 2003 and has been rediscovered in recent years by the likes even of J.K. Rowling. Jane Austen fans in particular will appreciate it (you will also enjoy Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield, a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice).

The second book was released by local author Meg Medina earlier this year. She’s a member of my very special posse, and her stories about growing up with Cuban heritage are reaching an audience of young people not used to reading about themselves in books.

Burn Baby Burn portrays the life of Nora Lopez who graduates and turns 18 in Queens in June 1977 as the Son of Sam terrorizes everyone stuck in sweltering New York City. The book provides a thought-provoking platform for teens to consider and discuss fear and violence (domestic and otherwise) and seems especially timely after the recent incomprehensible terror in Orlando. Despite its difficult subject matter, the novel seamlessly engages the reader as it recalls those tumultuous disco days.

With these reads under my belt, I can’t wait to see what escape-through-the-written-word I will take next. I always welcome suggestions, so please leave your ideas in the Reply box below.


June 28, 2016

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An Impromptu Visit to Tangier Island Satisfies Our Curiosity and Checks Another Item Off My Bucket List

Sunday, June 19 was a beautiful day for a boat ride on the Rivah. As we zoomed down the Rappahannock with friends, the water sparkled gently as the humidity-free air hovered at a delightful 80 degrees. Overcome with the perfect conditions, our captain TSK mused, why don’t we go to Tangier Island? The rest of us quickly checked our mental calendars and conceded instantly to Carpe Diem.

Visiting Tangier Island has languished on my bucket list. I’ve always been curious about the tiny remote island in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay.

map of Tangier Island via Daily Press

We aborted an attempt last fall when the swells on the bay proved too much for us. Knowing the unpredictability of the weather and waters, we knew we had to seize the opportunity and go for it.

Why Visit Tangier Island?

It’s Historic

Evidence suggests the Native American Pocomokes vacationed on Tangier Island for centuries. In 1608 John Smith discovered and named it during his explorations of Virginia, claiming it reminded him of Tangier, Morocco on the continent of Africa. In the 1680’s English people from Cornwall settled permanently on the remote island.

It played a significant role in the War of 1812 when the English came aground and used it as a staging area. They built Fort Albion for the failed attack on Fort McHenry in Maryland. You may recall Francis Scott Key wrote our National Anthem during that famous battle. Islanders are also proud of the fact slaves who escaped during that war were liberated by the English and experienced their first taste of freedom on Tangier.

It’s Isolated – Physically and Culturally

Located in the middle of the lower Chesapeake Bay, the world’s second-largest tributary, Tangier Island is 12 miles from the shores of the mainland Virginia and its Eastern Shore. Noticeably absent are bridges and tunnels, reducing access to the island to either boat or air transportation.

approaching Tangier by air via Swayne Martin

photo by Swayne Martin

The physical isolation of the residents creates an insulated community. Only recently did cable television and internet service arrive. The islanders speak with a curious accent which linguists refer to as Elizabethan or Restoration-era. It’s a peculiar dialect mash-up of Old South twang meets English countryside. But the accent is going by the wayside as the next generation of islanders leave Tangier for jobs and education on the mainland, and television and internet influences and normalizes their speech.

It’s Disappearing

Not only is the accent disappearing, so is the island and its population. Whether the island is sinking or the waters are rising is debatable, but the inhabitable land is receding. Fort Albion is gone, and more recently an area called the Uppards, as well. The highest point above sea level is 4 feet. With a total size of only 740 acres, a mere 83 sit on ground high enough to inhabit. The coastline has been shrinking three feet per year.

Most residents make their living on the water: crabbing in the summer, oystering in the winter, or crewing on fishing vessels or tug boats. Seasonal tourism exists but with scant few jobs at gift shops, restaurants, a few B&B’s, and guided tours by boat or golf cart. The population peaked at 1120 in 1920, sat at 727 in 2010, and today has dwindled to 450.


Tangier remains a working-class island. Gentrification has not arrived, so do not expect to find quaint coffee shops, tempting retail boutiques, high-end waterside eateries or chic art galleries. Luxury does not describe anything about this destination, but it does offer a view into an old, authentic and rapidly disappearing way of life, not to mention the best-tasting crab cakes around. Tangiers are busy working the water and supporting each other.

Getting There

To get to Tangier Island, you must go by ferry, private boat or by air.

The ferry runs year-round from Crisfield, Maryland, and seasonally from Onancock, Virginia and Reedville, Virginia. 

If going by private boat, dock at Tangier Harbor at Parks Marina.

Boats at Parks Marina © The Gracious Posse

From the mouth of the Rappahannock to the island, expect your voyage to take approximately one hour traveling at 26 knots.

Tangier Island has an airport, KTGI, with a 2426′ runway.

Tangier airport runway via Swayne Martin

photo by Swayne Martin

Posse member aMarrived by air last May when her son flew her on a surprise Mother’s Day trip. Click this link to see their experience from the air. 

Our Trip

Approaching the island,

Farewell Tangier © The Gracious Posse

our captain and first mate LDB navigated the Overruled into Tangier Harbor,

ramshackle dock on Tangier © The Gracious Posse

out-of-service crab pots © The Gracious Posse

where we docked for a brief stay at Parks Marina.

Parks Marina © The Gracious Posse

The village of Tangier is compact. Transportation is limited to pedestrian, golf cart or bicycle.

the main road on Tangier Island in the Village of Tangier © The Gracious Posse

Cars are too heavy to traverse the small bridges,

going back to town on Tangier Island © The Gracious Posse

so we splurged on a 15-minute golf cart tour.

ready for the golf cart tour © the Gracious Posse

Our guide, a 2016 graduate of the Tangier Combined School (K-12, graduating class size of 7),

Tangier Island School © The Gracious Posse

spoke with the thick island brogue. We had more questions than he had answers, but what he lacked in facts he made up for in authenticity. When asked what he was going to do now that he had graduated high school, he said he didn’t know. I might try to scrape up some money for college, but I might stay right here. It’s a good life.

Protestant religion figures prominently in the life of the islanders.

Christ is Life sign on Tangier via Swayne Martin

Joshua Thomas, the Parson of the Islands, spread Methodism in the early 1800’s throughout the region.

Joshua Thomas marker © The Gracious Posse

The island supports two congregations, one being a Methodist Church

Swain Memorial United Methodist Church © The Gracious Posse

on the site of the original church. 

Almost as noteworthy, our guide pointed out this charming bungalow,

Southern Living House © The Gracious Posse

reputed to have been featured in Southern Living.

Fittingly, islanders have painted onto the omnipresent water tower a cross on one side

Tangier Island water tower with cross © The Gracious Posse

and a crab on the other.

Water tower crab side © The Gracious Posse

The island does not have full-time medical facilities, but the new

David B. Nichols Health Center © The Gracious Posse

David B. Nichols Health Center holds a weekly clinic served by a doctor and nurse who fly from mainland Virginia to provide medical care.

The islanders are a conservative lot. The island is dry, so don’t even think about ordering a cold one with your crab cake sandwich. When our tour ended in front of Lorraine’s, a favorite of the locals,

Lorraines Seafood Restaurant © The Gracious Posse

we indulged in crab cakes, crab soup, crab cake sandwiches and crab bake. And iced tea.

With full stomachs and a waning day, the time had come to return to the mainland. We boarded the Overruled

The Overruled at Tangier Island © The Gracious Posse

and puttered out of the harbor

Leaving Tangier Island © The Gracious Posse

waving to the local boys fishing 

Boys fishing on Tangier Island © The Gracious Posse

and thankful for high-tech GPS navigation

GPS navigation of Chesapeake Bay © The Gracious Posse

our boat’s location circled in pink

to guide us home.

Much like a visit to Appalachian coal country, the natural beauty of the island will remain strong in our memories, as will the vision of the islanders’ daunting yet picturesque way of life.


June 22, 2016