Tag Archives: VA

Blue Mountain Brewery: Dark & Evil, a True Stand Out

blue mountain brewery sign

This week, Sharon and I went with her parents to check out Blue Mountain brewery in Afton, VA as a possible wedding venue. I remember stopping in for a beer tasting and dinner a couple years back and liking it.  It has expanded since then, and the beer just keeps getting better.

Short story: It’s a nice place but the indoor space is really not big enough for 80-100 people. Their beer is even better than I remember and they are friendly.

Long story- review of their beer:

blue mountain brewery

They have there own hop farm which is really cool. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much because the hops had just recently been harvested. If you live nearby, this is great news as it means you will soon be able to get fresh hop ales, lucky you!  The stand out of the beers we tried, which was universally liked, even by self professed non beer drinkers (Sharons parents, John and Melinda) was the Dark and Evil. This beer is actually a blend of three different beers. Pushing the limits, but not in a what the heck was that and just plain good sort of way. I also sampled an IPA, but I barely remember it, not because it wasn’t good, but it was overshadowed by the giant that is Dark and Evil. The blend of Evil 8deg Belgian, Dark Hollow Ale, and Summer Ale makes me want to try them individually.  If I were a betting man, I would wager that the Dark and Evil is better than any of the three on its own. I could probably say more about this brewery, but it would probably just be more about the Dark and Evil and I know they do other good beers and make food so I will end here.

blue mountain brewery and restaurant

New building at Blue Mountain Brewery that will serve as the main restaurant space with outdoor patio

Sharon adds:  they are also situated on a hillside overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, right near Skyline Drive.  Visit on a nice day so that you can sit on the patio and enjoy both the brews, food, and the view.

view from blue mountain brewery[View from Blue Mountain brewery]

Camp Fantastic: A Wonderful Escape for Kids Battling Cancer

Earlier this year I wrote about how my sister and I were celebrating her 25th anniversary of being cancer-free.  Besides being an awesome sister and fabulous maid of honor, Nora is also a remarkable survivor.  She was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at her 6 month checkup and then spent the next 3 1/2 years in and out of hospitals undergoing chemotherapy treatments.  These treatments were effective in the short run, but she relapsed and needed a bone marrow transplant.  In the midst of all this, I was born, and when I was two years old they found out that I was a match and could serve as Nora’s bone marrow donor.  Thankfully, that bone marrow transplant was effective and now we are celebrating a quarter century of having a healthy sister.

Nora at Camp Fantastic

Today, Nora heads to Camp Fantastic in Front Royal to give back and connect with kids who are currently living with cancer.  This camp is unique in that it is almost entirely run by volunteers.  This includes a large number of professional medical staff as well as a full team of camp counselors and staff, many of whom are cancer survivors.  The kids are seen by a doctor three times a day and the ratio of adult volunteers to campers is probably at least 1 to 2.  Nora’s car is packed with craft supplies and costumes, she has practiced her camp songs, and I can just feel her excitement and anxiety.  The excitement and anxiety that comes from giving of your entire self for a whole week to kids who really need this.  The kids not only get a fun week at camp, which is an awesome opportunity for any child, but they get a safe and welcoming space to be themselves around both peers and adults who truly understand what they are going through.  For some, this will truly be an experience of a lifetime.

As a nonprofit camp run primarily by volunteers, Camp Fantastic can really use your donations.  I was lucky enough to win $2,500 earlier this year, which I put towards the camp.  I hope that you will give at least $10 on Nora’s fundraising page to show your support and help make camp possible for more kids that need it.

CLICK HERE TO GO TO NORA’S Fundraising page


To find a camp for kids with cancer in your area click here.

*** NOTE: I understand that everyone needs to prioritize their giving in ways that are most important to them.  But if childhood cancer is a cause that moves you, I can strongly recommend this organization as one that is making a real difference in the lives of kids battling cancer.

27th Week in Review: Wedding Overload

We are back in my hometown of Fairfax, Virginia to celebrate Terri Defazio’s wedding.  Terri D was born 3 days before me and lives life a week in advance so that she can pass on great advice.  We have grown up together, following similar paths in life – learning ballet from Debbie, swimming for the Cudas, going to State schools for undergraduate and then moving back to Fairfax and earning masters’ degrees from George Mason University.  She is of course older and wiser and is currently pursuing a 2nd masters’ degree (which she was doing while working full time and planning a wedding!).  Anyways, needless to say this is a wedding we were looking forward to celebrating and knew we would have to come back for no matter where we were.  Congratulations Terri and Phil!

Terri Defazio and parents

As much as we enjoyed seeing our friends wed, it was a bit stressful at the same time because this week we have started planning our own wedding.  We have no idea when we will be back in Virginia for another visit, but we are currently planning to have our wedding here, so we are trying to look at possible venues.  I also had the opportunity to go dress shopping with my sister.  It is both fun and overwhelming.  In between all of the wedding craziness we are finding time to visit with friends and family and volunteer for our local passions.


Pretty flowers from my dad's garden

Hours volunteered: 2 at Ronald McDonald house pulling out bushes with my dad and 7 building trails in Meadowood Recreation area with the Bureau of Land Management in Lorton

States & Provinces: 1 Virginia, Fairfax, Arlington, Charlottesville, Afton

Budget: under!

People Visited: Terri Defazio & Phil Jordan, Earlene & Al Defazio, all of Terri & Phil’s family and friends that attended their wedding, Aunt Madelon & Uncle Chris, Aunt Mariel & Uncle Nathan, Aunt Anne, Dan Bloom, Dennis & Hadyn Kihm (& Soren), Stephanie Kihm (& Natalia), Janet Giampapa & Franklin & Aki, Panah Bhalla, Andy Browne & Margaret Olivier, Carmelita & Julius Lewis, Lisa Dorsey, Aaron McCready, Hanna Tadesse, Kelly Pugh, Chris Hannemann

Nights under the stars: 0 – our tent is in Spokane … we miss it

Best meal:  Bacon cheeseburgers on homemade buns at Aunt Madelon and Uncle Chris’ house

Best beer:  Dark and Evil by Blue Mountain Brewery

tomato on the vine

there are lots more where that came from!




Photo Review: Royal Lake, Burke, VA

Growing up in Burke, I spent a lot of time at Royal Lake.  It was at the end of our street and was our closest place for recreation and nature.  I played soccer at the fields there, tried to fish with slices of cheese on a string at the dock and used the exercise loop in high school to get in shape.  Now that we are back home to attend my best friend Terri’s wedding, I went back to Royal Lake to try bird watching.  Who knew there were so many species of birds at our local lake!  I hope you enjoy these photos that I took along the way.
bird at royal lake

Gray Catbird

26th Week in Review: 6 MONTHs!!

Wow, 6 months, I can’t believe we have been on this adventure for half of a year already.  At the same time, if this is really the half way point I can’t imagine how many amazing adventures are in front of us.

Sharon with the harvest from dad's garden

Sharon showing off the 2nd bushel full of harvest from dad's garden

For this week in review we will do both the stat for the week as well as a 6 month overview at the end.

This week we experienced culture, temperature, and time disorientation as we traveled by plane for the first time this year from Spokane, Washington (Pacific Time) to Washington, DC (Eastern Time).  After only a day in northern VA, we hopped on a bus to New York to celebrate Sharon’s sister, Nora’s birthday.  We generally avoid big cities on our road trip, but since we are in New York anyways, we are trying to enjoy what the city has to offer, while keeping up our usual interest in breweries, bacon, and volunteering.

For Week 26

Hours volunteered: 4 at the Materials for the Arts in Astoria, New York

States & Provinces: 1 Province and 3 States

British Columbia, Rossland; Washington, Spokane; Virginia, Fairfax; New York, Astoria  — technically we took a bus through a few other states to get to New York, but I don’t count those because we didn’t stop and experience them

Budget: over – New York is expensive!

People Visited: Melinda Bloom and John Tewksbury, Nora Tewksbury, Rebecca Weiner, Sarah Bishop, and our cat, Elsa

Nights under the stars: 1 – in Rossland, BC

Best meal: Falafel sandwiches at the Jerusalem Pita House in Astoria, New York

Best beer: the unique roof top brewed beer from Birreria in New York


6 Month Review

Hours volunteered:  196 hours (combined)

Sharon posing with the flower mural we installed in the school's courtyard

Favorite Volunteer Experience:  tie between helping at Zoe’s elementary school in Goochland County, VA and clearing trail in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Bob Marshall Wilderness

Just one of the many amazing views along the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

States & Provinces: 3 Provinces and 26 States (traveled through… we didn’t stop in New Jersey or Delaware)

Miles on the car:  estimate, over 15,000 – we will update when we can get back to the car and check

Sharon and Jay with the Rav4 fully loaded

Ready to get on the road from Phoenix to New Mexico

Top Posts (most views):

  1. The Accident: Service Driven is on Hold
  2. We are Alabama: Tornado Relief and Recovery
  3. Photo Review: Overland Expo 2011
  4. At Your Request: Our Engagement Story
  5. 25 Years of Life Saved – Celebrating My Sister’s Survival

First picture of Jay post-accident

Budget: over – although our emergency fund had to be tapped for multiple emergencies, we are luckily still on the road.  We have had support from family, friends and strangers, and are getting better at keeping expenses to a minimum on the road.



Nights under the stars: 57

Favorite Camp Site: 

tent at Lake Mead

Our camping spot at Lake Mead

Favorite Brewery:  Franconia Brewery in McKinney Texas

Only 3 beers on tap and no bottling or distribution system, but this brewery is really worth going out of your way to visit.  If you are in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and are interested in beer, make sure you check it out.

Franconia Brewmaster

the Brew Master for Franconia brewing

Favorite Biking:  

Sharon’s favorite biking experience was the mountain bike trails in Revelstoke, British Columbia.

Jay’s favorite biking experience is a tie between the trails in Copper Harbor, Michigan and the trails in Fernie, British Columbia.

Sharon biking near Lake Mead

Sharon on the River Mountains Loop Trail at Lake Mead

17th Week In Review: the Car is Fixed!

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!  Voting has closed for the Travelocity, Travel for Good contest, and we received a total of 3,109 votes.  When voting closed, we were in 15th place, which should be enough to get us into the 2nd round.  The 2nd round is determined solely by the Travelocity judges, and we will not find out the results until the end of June.  By then we should be in Alberta, Canada.

This week was all about getting the car back and getting ready to hit the road once again.  My mom and I drove down to Huntsville, AL, all in one day.  The following day we retrieved the Rav4 (thank you Lott Motor Company!), dropped off the money hungry rental car, and headed back to Virginia (in 2 days).  It was an exhausting turnaround, but blessedly uneventful.  Big shout out to mom for tackling 24 hours of driving with me.

welcome to virginia sign

Back to Virginia in the Rav for the first time since early February

Tomorrow we plan to get back on the road, this time for the longest stretch yet: 5 months between “headquarters”.  We’re already registered for a week-long trail building volunteer trip in northern Montana through the Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation.  The trip starts on June 16th, so we are going to be moving at a pretty quick pace through the great lakes and the Dakotas to get to our assignment.  After using hand tools to clear trees from a historic phone line in the wilds of Montana, we will continue north towards Canmore, to visit Sharon’s Uncle Tony and Aunt Barbara.  On the way we plan to volunteer with a First Nation community through the Muskoka Foundation.  We will be teaching teens about photography and helping them to develop a portfolio.

john patton at Chrysalis Vineyard

John Patton at Chrysalis Vineyard

It’s going to be an awesome summer discovering the Rocky Mountain states and provinces and the Pacific Northwest. … and hopefully Alaska!

Hours volunteered: 0, but completed registration for a volunteer trail building trip in Montana in mid-June


4 (Sharon and Melinda), Virginia –  Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Manassas; Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama

2 (Jay): Virginia & Maryland

Budget: Over – finally got to drop off the rental car which was acting as a hole in our wallet

People Visited:  Kelly Pugh, John Patton, Susan Barrett, Angela Churchill, Cousin Amy & Karl & baby Samantha, Aunt Mariel & Uncle Nathan, Uncle Steve, Aunt Janet, Cousin Janet, Cousin Will, Cousin Dennis & Hadyn & baby Soren, Tracy Rickett, Aunt Madelon & Uncle Chris, Cousin Stephanie & “baby” Natalia, Carmelita & Julius and their son Xan, biking buddies: Matt & Tom; the REI crew: John, Nick, Mike & Maria, Mike

Nights under the stars:  0

Best meal: Homemade beef tenderloin with horseradish sauce and greens from Sharon’s parents garden

Shout out to Celadon Thai Cuisine and the Afghan Kabob Restaurant in Springfield for some standout dishes.

Best beer: This week we branched out with margaritas and wine, we did not tour any breweries or sample any unique beers

Relay for Life: A Community Event for the Whole Family

Wednesday, I helped out counting money that had been raised for the Falls Church Relay for Life, to be held on Saturday, June 4at George Mason High School.  For the last 12 years I have been involved with Relay for Life, a


Nora at a Camp Fantastic Fundraiser

fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.  As most of you reading this know, as a toddler, I was a bone marrow donor for my older sister, Nora, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia at 6 months old.  Nora survived, and grew into a successful adult and a great sister.  She volunteers each summer with Camp Fantastic (for kids with cancer), my mom volunteers each week with the Ronald McDonald House (she and Nora lived in one while she was having her bone marrow transplant), and I raise money for the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life.

What is Relay?

It is NOT a race … or even a sporting event.  No one wears running shorts or heart rate monitors.

It is an all night celebration of life and remembrance for those we have lost in the struggle against cancer.  Because of this, it is a great event to attend or to volunteer at, even if you are not a participating team member.

relay for life 2009

Relay is a fun event for kids of all ages

Here are some of the highlights if you want to just come for the day of:

The Survivor Reception & First Lap:  If you are a cancer survivor (or currently battling cancer), this is your opportunity to gather with others in a special reception before the event.  After the reception, all of the survivors walk out to the event grounds together (wearing complimentary survivor t-shirts) and lead the Relay teams in the first lap around the track to kick off the event.  It’s a really heart warming and triumphant moment.

relay for life cancer survivors

Cancer survivors kicking off Relay for Life in Falls Church 2009

The Caregiver Lap:  Have you ever been a caregiver for someone with cancer?  The caregivers are invited to join the survivors for the 2nd lap around the track to kick off the event.

mr. relay

One of my earliest and favorite Relay memories -- my friend wearing my dress for the Mr. Relay competition 12 years ago

Day time events and on site fundraisers:  During the event, each team sets up a booth or team area on the inside of the track (usually a high school or college track and field).  Many teams will be selling food or handmade items to benefit ACS.  There are also games and activities that you can participate (some of which have a fee that also goes towards ACS).  In the past I have participated in cake walks and Twister and have bought delicious cookies and handmade greeting cards.   It’s like a combination County Fair and bazaar.

Luminaria Sales and Ceremony:

luminariaIf you are ready to be moved to tears, then come back at around 9 pm for the lighting of the luminarias in honor or in memory of cancer survivors.  You can purchase a luminaria in someone’s name and decorate it.  Every year I get one in honor of my sister and then I can light the luminaria during the ceremony and remember how thankful I am to have her.  Most Relays also collect pictures ahead of time and then show a slideshow during the ceremony.

Last week!!  Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.

These 2 hours of volunteering were sponsored by Greg Castano, Coordinator of Volunteer Arlington.  Thank you for the support!

16th Week in Review: Our Eastern Headquarters

The car saga continues as the car still sits in a repair shop in Alabama.  Luckily, there are no new issues with it, we are just waiting on the part to arrive.  Meanwhile, we have been very busy with Sharon’s commencement on Friday, Angela and Paul’s wedding in Front Royal on Saturday, the Taste of Arlington on Sunday, Sharon’s mom’s birthday on Monday, and lots of visits and catching up in between.  We even managed to get some volunteering in by joining Sharon’s mom at the Ronald McDonald House last Friday.

This week will hopefully involve a trip to Huntsville to pick up the car and then more visiting and chores in northern Virginia before we head north for the next leg of our journey.

Madison Women's Rugby girls at Angela's wedding

Madison Women's Rugby girls at Angela's wedding

Hours volunteered: 3 – moving boxes at the Ronald McDonald House in Fairfax, VA

States: 1, Virginia –  Fairfax, Front Royal, Arlington, Alexandria, Reston

Budget: Under – We haven’t actually had to pay the car repair bill yet since the car hasn’t been repaired yet.  I guess that’s a bright side…

People Visited:  Angela Valerino and Paul Davis (now Mr. & Mrs. Davis), all of the Madison Women’s Rugby alums at the Davis wedding, Miles Grant, Aunt Madelon & Uncle Chris, Stephanie Kihm, Natalia, Terri Defazio & Phil Jordan, all of the GMU ODKM graduates, Janet Bloom, Son Pham, Vicki Doff, Pam Hannah

baby Soren

our first cousin, once removed, Baby Soren, who we hadn't seen since January

Nights under the stars:  0

Best meal: Wild Boar Pappardelle & Fettucine with Jumbo Lump Crab at Ozzie’s in Fairfax for Sharon’s mom’s birthday

The apple donuts from the Apple House in Linden deserve a shout out as well.  They are always a reason to get off I-66 and pick up a treat.

Best beer: Mad Fox‘s Diabolik (a Belgium Strong Ale)

Mad Fox sampler

Sampler at Mad Fox Brewery

Less than 2 weeks left to vote!  Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.

15th Week in Review: Our 2nd Setback – The Car Dies

Rav4 being towed

Rav4 getting towed by AAA - thanks for the free towing!!

This photo makes my heart sink.  Our formerly trusty companion, who has been with us through 14 states and over 6,000 miles on this trip alone, gave up on us last Wednesday.  It has now sat in an auto mechanic shop for a full week and we have been left to feel that we are hemorrhaging money with no way to stop the bleeding.  The car needs a new throttle body and it has been beyond difficult to try to get one and get it fixed.   Of course the fortunate part of our breakdown was that it occurred in a parking lot in a city with a choice of mechanics, rental car companies, and lodging options.

view from behind waterfall at Opryland

a view of the atrium from behind the largest waterfall at the Opryland Hotel

While the car has sat, we have kept moving.  In a rental car, we headed to Nashville Tennessee to visit Sharon’s parents who were on a Road Scholar trip there.  They spoiled us with a stay at their hotel, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.  We also got to ride along on their tour bus visiting Andrew Jackson’s home and the Belle Meade Plantation.  On our own we toured the Yazoo Brewery and had dinner with our friend Brendan O’Connor who attends Vanderbilt.  After finding out that the car would not be fixed by the end of the week, we kept moving, all the way to northern Virginia where Sharon will be hooded on Friday at her grad school commencement.  We will also attend wedding #3 in Front Royal before heading back to Alabama as long as the car has been fixed.

Hours volunteered: 0

States: 4 (in a rental car)

Alabama – Athens, Huntsville

Tennessee – Cleveland, Cherokee National Forest

North Carolina – Weaverville, Asheville

Virginia – Harrisonburg, Fairfax

Budget: over — we are piling up the costs with a rental car and car repairs

People Visited: Brendan O’Connor, Melinda Bloom & John Tewksbury, Carmelita & Julius Lewis, Kim Durand, Greg Castano, Ileana Mayorga, and Tiffany Kudravetz

Nights under the stars:  3:  Monte Sano State Park, Alabama; Joe Wheeler State Park, Alabama; & Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee

Best meal: 5 Star steak with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes at the Old Hickory Steakhouse inside the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville

The Well-Bred Bakery and Cafe in Weaverville North Carolina also deserves a shout out for their delicious baked goods.  The Po Boy Factory is a local hot spot in Huntsville Alabama that we hope to visit again when we go back for the car.  And, The Spot in Cleveland Tennessee is worth a visit if you ever happen to be in that town.  They have been around since the ’30s and are still in business for good reason.

Best beer: Yazoo‘s Dos Perros — they have a great brewery tour every Saturday that is worth the visit.

old hickory steakhouse

the Old Hickory Steakhouse, as seen from the boat ride which circles through the hotel's Delta atrium

Less than 2 weeks left to vote!  Please remember to VOTE for us everyday in the Travel for Good contest.

Pocohontas State Park, south of Richmond, VA