Oh Shucks: Best Oyster Bars and Festivals

May 3, 2012

For true Washingtonians, oysters are more than just a seasonal treat—they’re in your blood. Chesapeake Bay oysters have been a culinary and cultural mainstay for over a century. In the early 1900s, this city had over 150 oyster bars, which were frequented by politicians and day laborers alike. Those salty little pearls, small in size and full of flavor, bring us together, bridging the gap between blue-collar informatlity and culinary opulence. The District is still full of places to indulge our cravings, from Old Ebbitt Grill—where tickets for their Annual Oyster Riot last year sold out in ten minutes flat—to Hank’s Oyster Bar, which offers a half-priced raw bar every night from 11 p.m. to midnight.

And the surrounding Delmarva area is brimming with festivals and restaurants celebrating these briny little treasures. Oysters are in season in a big way, and there is plenty of time left to partake in this regional, epicurean eccentricity. So don’t waste these prime “R” months—head toward the water and try out these seaside bars, shacks and festivals for all the shucking oysters you could ask for.

Oyster Festivals

At the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Md., you can learn how to harvest your oysters and eat them, too. At the museum’s annual Oysterfest, sample Chesapeake Bay oysters right out of the water while exploring an oyster nursery, learning how to make a dip-net and viewing the museum’s restoration of the skipjack Rosie Parks, which once sailed the bay dredging for oysters.
Attendees will be challenged to an oyster slurping contest, while local chefs will be challenged to an oyster stew-making competition, with the winners of both taking home the grand prize of bragging rights for the rest of the year.

With other activities such as riverboat cruises, face painting, scavenger hunts, a touch tank, live music and cooking demonstrations, there are plenty of amusements for all ages.

There will also be educational opportunities to learn about the bay’s oyster culture, which is not only vital to the ecosystem but also part of the region’s heritage. A century ago, the bay had perhaps the largest populations of oysters in the nation, and though their numbers dwindled enormously due to over-fishing and pollution, they have been making a thundering resurgence over the past decade thanks to rehabilitation efforts and preservation initiatives.

To celebrate Chesapeake Bay oysters, head out to Oysterfest on Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit Cbmm.org.

In a small town in Virginia, the locals are gearing up for the fast-approaching Annual Urbanna Oyster Festival, now in its 54th year. What started as a small gathering to promote the local economy has now grown into a two-day event that draws some 75,000 people from across the region.
The festival features over 125 craft booths, more than 50 food vendors, wine tastings, two parades – the Fireman’s Parade and the Festival Parade – and the crowning of a Festival Queen and a Little Miss Spat. And of course, there will be mountains of oysters, cooked or served raw in their myriad forms.

Attendees can participate in an oyster shucking competition, browse through vendors selling everything from jewelry to furniture, and learn about the rich local history at the Oyster Festival Waterfront. The exhibits will highlight the restoration and preservation of the bay and its oyster industry, while providing live music and cruises. You can even attend demonstrations that will teach you how to be a pirate.

The festival will take place Nov. 4 – 5 from 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. Visit UrbanaOysterFestival.com for more information.

Oyster Bars

If you can’t make it to these festivals, don’t worry—you haven’t missed your chance to sample the best of oyster season. There are plenty of oyster bars surrounding D.C., big and small, white collar and blue, which offer up the freshest catch any day of the week.

In Annapolis, three oyster bars never fail to please an oyster-loving palate: O’Brien’s, McGarvey’s and O’Leary’s.

O’Brien’s Oyster Bar is the restaurant with history. The building has been some form of eatery or watering hole since it first opened as the Rose and Crown in 1744. It has been a tavern, a pizza pie shop, a cabaret, and was even rumored to be a brothel before it settled in its current incarnation as a celebrated seafood haven. Let’s hope it stays this way. Don’t miss out on their Chesapeake fried oysters—they’re the best around.

McGarvey’s Saloon & Oyster Bar is the great neighborhood pub. Relax in a casual atmosphere with a beer, an order of their delicious crab dip, and a dozen oysters. Voted Best Bar and Best Raw Bar last June by the Readers’ Choice Awards for The Capital Newspaper, this bar is clearly a people-pleaser. With oysters served raw, steamed and Rockefeller-style, there’s plenty of briny fare to sample.

O’Leary’s Seafood Restaurant is the fine dining restaurant. Enjoy fresh oysters while surrounded by paintings rendered by restaurant owner Paul Meyer himself, whose vision for O’Leary’s “attempts to capture the combination of sophisticated fine dining and ultra-fresh ingredients within a contemporary Annapolis environment.” Pique your appetite with Oysters Italienne, baked with prosciutto, basil, garlic and Parmesan cheese.

In Solomon’s Island, Md., try the appropriately named Solomon’s Pier, which serves the kind of delicious oysters you’d expect from a town surrounded by water. Munch your way through a basket of fresh-fried oysters while enjoying the view through the restaurant’s wide, arching windows overlooking the water.

But maybe you want an expert’s opinion on where to go to get your bivalve fix. Noted chef Jordan Lloyd of the Bartlett Pear Inn, in Easton, Md. has some excellent recommendations. For great oyster shacks, Lloyd says, it’s good to get off the beaten path. He and his wife Alice, who own and operate the inn and restaurant, recommend Brasserie Brightwell Café & Comptoir in Easton, which offers an oyster-loaded raw bar, and The Bistro St. Michaels, whose Oysters Du Jour are always worth the trip.

But Lloyd doesn’t have to go far at all for great oysters – Pear, Bartlett’s restaurant, has its own version of Oysters Three Ways that would knock the socks off even the most critical oyster connoisseur. Pear, which was awarded five stars by Open Table and received a near perfect score across the board by Zagat, serves its guests six Chincoteague Bay oysters, four prepared cold and two hot. The first pair is served cold with pickled shallots and tobiko caviar; the second pair, also cold, is plated with lemon preserve mignonette and ponzu sauce; and the final hot pair is served Rockefeller style with leek fondue and bread crumbs. With such delicious oysters, you might be inspired to spend the weekend away at the cozy inn and try them every day.

To try Lloyd’s Oysters Three Ways for yourself, visit Easton, Md. For reservations, email Reservations@BartlettPearInn.com.
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In Between the sheets: A Turn-On for Old People

Phyllis Diller sure has an imagination, doesn’t she? “The best contraceptive for old people is nudity.” What was she talking about? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of visually unattractive people out there in the “over 50” population. But the last time I checked, there are also a lot of visually unattractive people out there in their 20s and 30s, too. And while I would never say it to a mother’s face, not all babies are adorable, either.

We don’t all look like weather vanes with everything pointing south, though sometimes it takes effort to defy normal wear and tear. Personally, I don’t love exercise, but I do yoga and Pilates three times a week and, even at 70, much younger gentleman quite often flirt with me. But even those who admit to outside help work hard at staying in shape. For example, there’s Cher with her slim and fabulous body and Dolly Parton with her breasts riding high as mountain tops and a waist so small you could pick her up by it. And don’t even pretend that Tina Turner didn’t age like a goddess, either!

Fortunately, for us fabulous older women of a certain age, the men out there aren’t all Robert Redford look-alikes. George Clooney is getting closer to my age every day. Richard Gere grew hotter and more handsome every year after “Pretty Woman,” and I don’t care who you are or what you think, but Sean Connery is still a smokin’ hot piece of man.

To a degree, Phyllis Diller is right. And for the sake of the joke, I’ll let it go. After all, it is pretty funny. But let’s be real for a minute: your body won’t ever look as good as it did 10 years ago. Not everyone can be lucky enough not to not bulge, sag or droop in places. And staying super thin doesn’t mean you don’t get knobby elbows and knees and lines that seem to etch overnight. It’s not our age that shows in our bodies. It’s how we treat our bodies that shows our age. Diet and exercise are keys to health and vitality. If you don’t eat right and exercise often, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a life of turning the lights off to undress.

The final decision-maker for whether or not you’re going to be attracted enough to someone in order to head for a home run is desire, which comes from the brain. The brain, of course, is your biggest sexual organ. It combines all of the sensory stimuli that you receive when you’re in a sexual situation and then decides whether it wants to be “turned on” or “turned off.”

So, effectively, it really doesn’t matter if you’re in your 20s or 120, fat like Albert or slim like Jim, Sloppy Sally or Fancy Nancy, black or white, vegetarian or meat Viking, you are perfect just the way you are. This very minute, there is someone out there looking for you! You can and deserve to get your groove on.

Playgroup Rivalries

One of the best parts of living in Georgetown is the array of secret lives glimpsed through windows, down pathways, and even underground. In the basements of two churches on the east side of Georgetown bubbles a life of intense industry and social tumult, hurt feelings and life-long friendships. And that goes for the one-year-olds and their parents.

Open an ugly brown metal door and step into a world of bright floor mats, busy babies and equally engaged parents and caregivers. This is Blue Igloo, a playgroup for kids ranging from six months to three years.

The schedule here runs from “transportation toys and tumbling,” at 9 a.m., to “songs, bubbles, puppets,” an hour later. It all wraps up by lunch, after story time and clean up.

Blue Igloo was founded in 2000 in a rebuff to Georgetown’s other playgroup, the 35-year-old Intown. Like the papal schism, the creation of a new gathering place for the pre-pre-school sent waves through a certain section of Georgetown. Which one is better? Where are my friends going? Will all the cool people go to Intown while I am stuck at Blue Igloo? Or vice versa? But as the population that rides in strollers continues to boom, there are plenty of applicants for both playgroups, and, to the outsider, the two groups seem to be almost exactly the same.

Blue Igloo is now the morning home to 55 kids and their caregivers. It is mostly moms, though the occasional dad comes by for an hour or two. It is a French, Spanish, English and sign language immersion program, according to the director, Sabria Lounes. And the children learn key skills, even if they don’t necessarily learn them in French.

“The kids learn to sit, for snack they sit, and they get into a routine. I have to write recommendation letters for kids for the next schools, and these things matter,” says Lounes, who has been running Blue Igloo since its creation.

Gavin, who is two and a half, “gets to interact with other kids, he loves to come here, he loves the singing, he loves the snack most of all,” according to Myrtle Perry, Gavin’s nanny. She says she, too, loves Blue Igloo. “I talk to everybody, all the mothers and the nannies, I look forward to coming here every day.”

Two blocks away at Intown, the scene is much the same. One and 2-year-olds buzz around doing animal puzzles and playing with plastic cars. 45 families are enrolled at Intown and, like Blue Igloo, Intown often has a waiting list of families eager to get in. Get over the admissions hurdle and you get an emphasis on child-centered learning.

“We’re focused, right now, on sensory materials,” says Mandy Sheffer, Intown’s director. “Soft and hard, finger paints, there’s a lot that goes on behind what we do with the kids every day.”

“It is nice to come to a space where the play and structure is thought-out,” says Jacqueline Bourgeois, the mother of 15-month-old Ferdinand. “At home, I don’t know how to do that. I am learning as much as he is.”

And therein lies the real success of Georgetown’s busy playgroups. They are places for moms. Moms need the companionship and learning time offered by Intown and Blue Igloo as much as their kids do. They learn when should a kid quit using a pacifier and what other parents feed their kids. They find potty training tricks, tips for getting along with others, and how to create tight bonds. Nobody needs to get out of the house more than a new mother with a little kid. This is a place to go.

“I’ve made my closest friends here and it has been a wonderful place for us both to come and socialize,” Intown’s Elizabeth Taylor, the mother of Mac, 16 months, says.

“Parents get to talk to other parents,” agrees Annie Lou Berman at Blue Igloo. “We’ve made really great friends here,” she adds, as 2-year-old Teddy scuttles up to see her. “We’re all in the same life stage,” nods Karina Homme, mother of Sebastian, who is 20 months old.

There is a certain type of family called to these pre-pre-schools. One mother refers to her playgroup as “the cocktail party set.” Most are from Georgetown, though a few come from as far away as Alexandria. About half the moms work, though on a recent day the nannies outnumbered the parents at both places. The parents have to pony up between $3,000 and $4,000 for block building and snack eating. And Georgetown’s playgroups mostly funnel into the private pre-schools, and from there into the private elementary schools.

Of course, there are occasional storms in the world of the bouncy-bounce. Two-year-olds won’t share. Parents try to ditch their “duty days” (dates on which they are required to show up and help out) by sending their nannies instead. And the playgroup admission committees sometimes mess up by letting in imperious parents who can’t seem to get along with anyone, or parents who insist that their bodyguards accompany field trips, or the one child who bites: a serious no-no in little kid land.

And then there are the scary parents who really do seem to think Intown leads to Princeton. But they are few. For most of them, Georgetown’s playgroups lead to a sense of community, fast friends, and, most importantly, a place to go on a rainy October morning.

Ghost Stories (On the Rocks) at the Congressional Cemetery

Anyone who walks the historic streets of our capital city will undoubtedly have a few unexplainable stories to share…even if one of them only involves tripping on one of those wayward bricks and stumbling away with a forehead raspberry. Smacked heads or not, strange stuff happens in old D.C. neighborhoods and the spook quotient naturally spikes around Halloween.

One Washingtonian especially versed in good D.C. ghost stories is Cindy Hays, executive director of the Congressional Cemetery on E Street, SE. In fact, she relishes the graveyard’s best tales from the crypt.

 “One of our ‘residents’ has apparently been seen in town,” she says. She’s speaking of Robert “Beau” Hickman, who died in 1873 and lived in the old National Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. “When he died penniless, his drinking buddies decided he deserved better than the Potter’s Field where he had just been buried, and went to retrieve him,” says Hays.

According to legend, upon returning to the cemetery to collect their friend and give him a proper burial, Hickman’s posse came face-to-face with a group of grave robbers who were collecting bodies for medical experiments, a common, “no questions asked” practice at the time. Despite saving their friend’s remains from an undignified second purpose, the friends were spooked and ready to exit the cemetery as soon as possible. They quickly dug a grave for Hickman and ran out to soothe themselves with a drink.

However, it seems they were followed by their grateful (though deceased) companion. “Beau, it seems, missed the good times too much to stay put for long, and began to haunt their card games at the old hotel. After the National was torn down, Beau was often seen standing at the corner at 6th & Penn looking for his old friends.” Apparently, the cash-poor but spirited man managed to be stylish, even in the afterlife. “He’s been spotted in modern times, looking as dapper as ever,” says Hays. “He is easily recognized by his beaver hat, cane, and diamond stick-pin.”

Hickman is one of the ‘residents’ who will be making a comeback for the cemetery’s Halloween “Ghosts and Goblets” event. The cemetery has hired actors to dress in costume and lurk by the graves of the people they are portraying. Those with tickets to the event will go on a torch light tour of the headstones, where the actors will be ready with spine-tingling stories of dirt, death and drama. “We’re calling it the ‘Sinners and Scoundrels’ tour,” says Hays. It’s going to be pretty scary to visit the actual burial sites of these people at dusk while hearing their stories.”

Begged for more salacious details of the Congressional dwellers, Hays delves into the tale of Mary Hall, a famed nineteenth century Capitol Hill madam with a penchant for leaving her mark. “Her story came to light when the Smithsonian began construction on the new American Indian Museum,” says Hays. “As the foundation was dug, archeologists found a surprising number of champagne bottles and gilt dinnerware shards.” Evidently, capitalism was good to Hall in the capital city. Having managed a thriving booty business for years, she had some extra funds to plan for the inevitable. She bought 18 plots at the cemetery in 1867 for her family and friends.

Hays says when she first toured the cemetery years ago, she found the graves of Hall’s mother and sister marked with a lovely, twelve-foot-tall angel statue. “I found a long, dirty pink silk scarf around the neck of the angel. Thinking it unsightly, I had it removed immediately.” But the change in décor didn’t sit well with someone roaming the grounds. Hays found a new scarf draped around the angel’s neck a month later. “How did this happen?” Hays still wonders. “To get to that neck would require a ladder. We don’t allow driving in the cemetery, and there are families walking their dogs all hours of the day and night.”

Chilling, sure. But a cemetery director gets used to the natural—and the supernatural. Sure enough, Hays’ most startling story came at the most inconvenient time: while planning a high-profile funeral.

“An event manager had been hired by the family to plan an extravaganza,” she remembers. “He was describing in great detail what he wanted to do as we walked out of the chapel. The afternoon air was totally still, not a breeze to be felt. As we turned the corner, all of the drawings and loose papers flew from his hands into the air. Some were propelled as far as half a block away.” Hays imagines a spirit was none too pleased by the conversation. “Whoever she was, she was obviously not happy about what she was hearing that was being planned in her cemetery!” Hoping to avoid another paranormal protest, the funeral planning was simplified. “The extravaganza was significantly toned down and we had a very dignified service, with no more outbursts.”

There are plenty of stories at the Congressional Cemetery and visitors can get their fill at the Halloween party Oct. 29. A skeleton key scavenger hunt and a demonstration of the chapel’s immense organ are on the schedule, along with, uh, spirits and a buffet. Tickets are $75 a person and can be purchased on the cemetery’s website at CongressionalCemetery.org. [gallery ids="100329,108537,108540" nav="thumbs"]

Start of the Season: Q&A with Middleburg Christmas Parade Director Jim Herbert

No matter where you live, the season doesn’t feel complete without tuning in to see that annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade every year on television…or, if you want to be part of the festivities, watching it go by in person. While the spectacle of those high-budget floats, top-tier music and celebrity appearances must be thrilling to experience live (and this writer is especially jealous of those who got to see Tim Burton’s “Bee” balloon make its debut), the body-crushing crowds and merciless winds somehow put the whole experience into the “not worth it” category. Okay, maybe it’ll go onto the “just once” bucket list.

But even with all the chaos, you’ve gotta love a parade. Luckily enough for Washingtonians, Middleburg, Va. keeps one of the holiday’s treasured traditions more relaxing with the Middleburg Christmas Parade. For 33 years, a group of grassroots organizers and selfless volunteers have been keeping this small-town tradition alive and it’s become something of a draw for tourists around Delmarva. With its Christmas cheer and small town atmosphere, the parade is the perfect backdrop for those one-of-a-kind holiday memories.

The Georgetowner spoke with the parade’s head organizer this year, Jim Herbert, about the parade’s unique personality and how it speaks to the overall feeling of this irresistible historic town.

Georgetowner: What makes the Middleburg Christmas Parade so unique?

Jim Herbert: Honestly, we have everything but the kitchen sink. And even there, we have something close in that a dog grooming business has someone dress up as a Dalmatian and sit in a bathtub, trying to wash his spots off. Because they make dogs spotless. Get it?

GT: Good one.

JH: Yeah, you gotta have a sense of humor in this parade.

GT: So it’s all local people putting together their own floats?

JH: People and businesses, yes. What makes this parade special, essentially, is that every float or part of the walk represents something that the people of this town really care about.

GT: So what is Middleburg, in a sense? Why should people want to find out what makes this town tick?

JH: Well some might see it as just a part of horse country. It’s an 18th century village and yes, we’ve got a lot of big horse farms. But what we’ve really got here are clauses of care and concern where people reach out and help each other. For example, we have a lot of animal rescue organizations that come out to be in the parade. We’ve got the Methodist Church hosting a breakfast to help an organization called Seven Loaves, which helps out need families. They’re the busiest they’ve ever been in this tough economy.

GT: But that horse country atmosphere is a big draw for your town. So will that be a part of the parade too?

JH: It’s actually one of the most visually stunning parts of the event. The Middleburg Hunt Review, which we’re pretty famous for, has its own event right around this time and we combine it with the parade. They have their biggest meeting of the year, usually about 90 to 100 riders turn out with their hounds on the west end of town. From there, they send a pack of hounds down Main Street and ride through at about 11a.m., when throngs of people are waiting to see them. It’s breathtaking and so significant, a real piece of history. For me, it feels like when the troops go by in front of the grand stand. It’s really beautiful to see.

GT: What else does the parade have going on?

JH: Oh, so much: polo teams, high school bands, acrobats. I’d like to say I had entries this year from A to Z, but it’s really only A to W. I want to be honest.

GT: It sounds a little like New Orleans.

JH: It is like New Orleans! Only we’re a little more family-friendly. [gallery ids="100401,113229,113207,113221,113215" nav="thumbs"]

Wine Away the Winter In Charlottesville

While new wineries continue to pop up across the East Coast from New York to North Carolina, there is no region gaining more ground in both quality and recognition than the greater Charlottesville wine region. Farmers over the past 200 years cultivated the soil for fruit crops like apples and peaches, which set an ideal stage for what is now known as the Monticello American Viticultural Area.

One major factor in its success, according to King Family Vineyards owner David King, is precisely its lack of newness. Time has already proven many of the rolling Blue Ridge slopes conducive to cool-climate fruit production, and with the help of Virginia Tech’s viticultural research department and some recently acquired expertise, Monticello has lived up to the wine-growing potential that Thomas Jefferson foresaw there centuries ago.

As we stand on the precipice of winter, vineyards may seem low on the list of worthy discussion topics. Now, of course, is the time where vines begin to go barren and production comes to a standstill until the spring thaw. But while everyone else with the winter wonderland bug is waiting in line at the ski slopes, Charlottesville’s wineries offer intimate afternoon getaways off the beaten path. With the last of the fall wine festivals behind us, tours are down and crowds have dwindled, leaving true wine enthusiasts with a selection of world-class vineyards to explore without the fuss of traffic. And with more than 20 vineyards to choose from, it is just a matter of knowing where to start.

Winter is the season to have long, intimate discussions with the winemakers, get nearly one-on-one tours of the cellars, and odds are, there are some great deals to be had. Underneath the brown landscape and the cold, bustling wind, there lies a world of winter wine, waiting to be discovered in Charlottesville, Va.

Castle Hill Cider
In 1998, a great barn was built in Keswick, Va., on the Castle Hill estate, just a stone’s throw from Charlottesville and Monticello. Located on a 600-acre plot of rolling, endless hills, the barn was designed to accommodate cattle auctions for the surrounding ranchers. Like much of Keswick, the land is undeveloped and still entrenched in the natural beauty of Virginia, with a prominent view of the Southwest Mountains. When architect and landscape designer John Rhett saw the abandoned barn in 2008, with its 8,000 square feet of open space and 25-foot ceilings, he had other plans for it.
Rhett was approached to put a vineyard on the property and convert the barn to a winery, but his thoughts were a bit more interesting. “I prefer trees to vines,” he said. “I thought, why don’t we plant an orchard and start a cidery.” The Barn at Castle Cider is now a fully functioning traditional cidery and the area’s newest event space.

What makes this cider so unique is its ancient production techniques, which go back to the origins of cider production. The cider is aged and fermented in kvevri, traditional amphoras from the nation of Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, lined with beeswax and buried in the cool earth. “We are the only cidermakers in the world making cider in kvevri,” says cidermaker Stuart Madney. “We really have no idea how long it’s been since cider has been made this way — possibly thousands of years.”
The apple varieties are all fermented individually to retain their unique flavors, and then blended to create different ciders. The apple orchard Rhett planted in the fall of 2009 is made up of 600 trees with 28 different types of apples. Its most prized variety is a nearly forgotten native breed, the Albemarle Pippin. “It’s an apple that became a favorite of Queen Victoria,” says Rhett. “She was given a basket of them, and she liked them so much that she removed the tariff from the apple just so it was cheaper to import them.”

The Albemarle Pippin got here by the hands of George Washington himself. Originally from New York, Washington gave a cutting to Colonel Thomas Walker, Thomas Jefferson’s guardian and mentor, who planted it in Albemarle County.

While cider production has been underway for over a year now, The Barn at Castle Hill Cider just celebrated its grand opening, and now is the perfect time for a visit. CastleHillCider.com

Keswick Vineyards
Al and Cindy Schornberg founded Keswick Vineyards with a mission to listen to the land. Taking a minimalist approach to the winemaking, this family-owned and -operated vineyard focuses its attention on the vineyards themselves to produce the best possible fruit with which to make the wines. Using natural, native yeast, all of their current red wines are also unfiltered and unfined — meaning that all the natural sediment in the wine remains with it in the bottle, ensuring peak flavor and body. And while their wines are in top form right off the shelves, this process makes the wine age superbly. It will keep developing in depth and complexity for five to 10 years in the bottle — good news for the connoisseurs among us.

The Schornbergs chose the historic Edgewood Estate as the site for their dream vineyard after searching the country, recognizing its potential of producing world class wines. It’s also a downright gorgeous property, and with a fine winter frost blanketing the dormant grape vines and the grey hush of the mountains looming in the distance, there is hardly a more beautiful spot in Virginia to warm up with a bottle of vintage Petite Verdot.

They’re also not bad if you like white wines. Their 2002 Viognier Reserve was voted Best White Wine in America at the Atlanta International Wine Summit. They have a slew of other awards from across the country, and they keep raking them in. Give them a visit — we’re sure you’ll agree with the judges.

Barboursville Vineyard
Barboursville Vineyards, quite frankly, has it all. Founded in 1976, the winery has been a leader in establishing the credibility of the Virginia appellation with an array of wine varietals, cultivating wines of a European heritage best suited for the regional terroir, or land.

Luca Paschina, the Italian-born winemaker of Barboursville Vineyards, came to Virginia in 1991 after years working in Italy and California, and has since been producing some of Virginia’s fully ripe and high-quality grapes. Paschina got his viticultural training in Piemonte, the renowned winemaking region in Italy. And in good years in Charlottesville, he says that he sees little difference from its growing season and Piemonte’s.

And you can’t go wrong with their wines. From their Cabernet Franc to their Sangiovese, and the Chardonnays and Pinot Grigiots in the whites, Paschina has developed the portfolio of Barboursville wines into a world-class achievement. Their crowning viticultural achievement is surely Octagon, a seamless blend Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot.

This award winning wine, with a dark, rich garnet color and an intense aroma of plum, cassis, coffee and berries, was woven together in barrel for a phenomenally full and silky palate. The tannins are resplendent and graceful. This is not a wine you want to miss.

And beyond the wines and the vineyard, the Barboursville Estate also maintains the 1804 Inn, a converted 18th century vineyard cottage and residence, and the world class Palladio Restaurant, which even offers cooking classes and wine dinners with Barboursville wines. Combined with some of the region’s finest wines, Barboursville Vineyards is an ideal location to while away a wintry weekend.

King Family Vineyard
King Family Vineyards is a family-owned and -operated boutique winery located in Crozet, just 15 minutes from Charlottesville at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The winery specializes in small productions of ultra-premium wine that showcase the remarkable qualities of nearly 100-percent, estate-grown fruit. Founded in 1998, the winery’s first vintage was only 500 cases. Today, the winery produces approximately 5,000 cases of wine per year.

But David King, owner of King Family Vineyards, is on a larger mission: to make local wine more accessible in the state of Virginia. “We sell everything we make,” says King. “Yet wine made here is only 4.5 percent of the wine consumed in the state. Our biggest goal right now is merely to make more wine.”

There is a large local market in Virginia and its bordering states that has yet to be developed, he says, but with the state legislators helping to promote local wines in more shops and fine dining establishments, consumers have more opportunities to support local growers. King hopes for more wine lovers to discover the burgeoning industry right in their backyard.

During the summer months, the veranda, expansive lawn, or brick patio are perfect for outdoor picnics. In the winter, however, the winery’s tasting room is home to a warm stone fireplace and rich, family-friendly seating areas. Bring your own goodies or pick from the tasting room’s gourmet assortments of chocolates, cheeses, salamis, spreads, and hot French bread.

Blenheim Vineyards
In 1730, John Carter, Secretary of the Colony of Virginia, obtained a patent for 9,350 acres in what is now Albemarle County, Va. In the 1790s, John’s son Edward built the first Blenheim house.
It was at Blenheim where Thomas Jefferson and his bride, Martha, are said to have rested and warmed themselves after their coach stalled nearby during a snowstorm.

Hopefully, you will have better luck with your vehicle than the Jeffersons, but in whose footsteps would it be better to follow in the historic Blue Ridge tradition of fending off the winter chill than the author of the Declaration of Independence and his brilliant, lovely wife?

Blenheim Vineyards is located on the foothills of Carter’s Mountain in southern Albermarle County, and their varieties include Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Viognier and Petit Verdot, among others, and all are outstanding examples of the varietals. Their wines reflect the climate, soil and beauty of the surrounding Piedmont landscape.

The tasting room offers a peak into the barrel room below and a breathtaking view of the southern vineyard.

On the adjacent property, a historic home has been refinished with a freestanding Library, complete with a wraparound porch and fireplace. Try the wine, take in the sites, and don’t forget to thank Mr. Jefferson for finding it first.

Give The Greatest Gift: You

Chrismahanukwanzakah is upon us once again, and regardless of your religious beliefs or cultural traditions, December can be a wonderfully romantic time of the year to rekindle the romance in your relationship.

I have written numerous articles about the health benefits of sex, including masturbation. Sex is our birthright. It flushes toxins from our bodies, pumps blood through our veins, releases positive endorphins in our brains that make us happy, and provides good exercise — especially for those over 50!

Here are a few ideas to consider when revving up your gift list this year.

Santa’s toy bag isn’t only for boys and girls, adults love to play with toys, too. My personal favorite line of vibrators is the designer brand, Lelo. Vibrators aren’t just fun to play with; they can also improve the health of your erotic zone by stimulating the muscles and tissues within the vagina. Respectably priced, packaged and designed, Lelo products are great gifts to give and to receive.
If you and your partner enjoy using sexual lubricants, I am a strong supporter of Sex Butter: an organic, plant-based lubricant that I believe may help improve your erogenous zone while giving you a healthy dose of the holiday spirit.

Made in the sacred mountains of New Mexico, Sex Butter has been featured in Hollywood gift bags and is a stocking stuffer for almost everyone on my Christmas list this year.

If time is on your side this holiday season, perhaps a short getaway is in order. There are several parts of the country that offer “off-season” prices during the winter. Do you know how many charming bed and breakfasts are out in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia? Gettysburg, Manassas, and Charlotte are all within a day’s drive and all feature fabulous accommodations and things to do and see!

Want a more elaborate adventure? Join my friends at the 30A Songwriters Festival based in Seaside, Fla. It’s a great way to enjoy a long weekend on the beach at heavily discounted prices.
After a walk on along the coast, cuddle up with your special someone in the Backyard of Love at the Hibiscus Guesthouse while relaxing to the melodies of some of the greatest singer songwriters in the country.

If money is tight, opt for the free gift of thoughtful love. Instead of giving things this year, give yourself. Give time to someone special. Give love to someone who wants it. Give yourself to someone you care about!

There’s nothing quite as romantic for me than warming up with my husband with a bottle of wine by the fireplace followed by some present unwrapping in the bedroom . . . if we get that far!

Most importantly, give thanks this holiday season. 2011 has been a challenging and educational year for all of us.

The earthquake and hurricane brought us together, the occupy protests and political scandals drove us apart.

But in the end, we made it through.

Continuing Education

In D.C., it seems that no one can hold just one occupation. Slashes abound in everyone’s job titles, as in: “I’m a CEO/mother/philanthropist,” or “I’m a doctor/writer/foremost WWII expert.” This says something not only about the current job market, in which competition is the name of the game, but about the kind of people who live here.

Washingtonians are diverse people with a myriad of interests and even more varied careers. In the District, one career path can carry a person through multiple fields, from one occupation to the next, making continuing education all the more important.

Whether or not you decide to obtain you Master’s or Doctorate, the benefits of continuing your education throughout your life are enormous: the qualifications you receive can help to keep you competitive in the job market; you can learn more about an area of interest that you’ve been curious about; you can receive certification in a new field, expanding your career opportunities.

The District’s universities offer its residents hundreds of educational opportunities, from certification programs to individual classes open to those with curious minds. In Georgetown’s back yard, Georgetown University is a prime example of all that continuing education programs have to offer.
At GU, the School of Continuing Studies offers numerous certificates to supplement the degree or degrees you already might have, including Budget and Finance, Business Administration, Business and Professional English, Corporate Executive Leadership, Digital Media Management, Diversity Strategy, Financial Planning, Forensic Accounting, Franchise Management, Government Executive Leadership, International Business Management, International Migration Studies, Leadership Coaching, Litigation Technology/Legal Project Management, Marketing, Nonprofit Management, Organizational Consulting and Change Leadership, Project Management, Social Media for Government, Strategy and Performance Management and Paralegal Studies.

Of course, the school also offers full Master of Professional Studies programs, and many of the people who get their Master’s are working and going to school part time, according to Maggie Moore, Communications Officer at the University.

However, if attaining your Master’s isn’t part of your game plan, Georgetown provides at least one certificate in the department of each Master’s program called an Advanced Professional Certificate. For instance, you can obtain an Advanced Professional Certificate in Journalism through the Master of Professional Studies in Journalism department; similarly, you can get certificates in either Diversity and Inclusion Management, International Human Resources Management or Strategic Human Capital Management through the Human Resources Management program.

Georgetown also has more unconventional learning programs such as Mom Congress, hosted in partnership with Parenting magazine, which gives parents the opportunity to hear from education experts while sharing their own concerns and ideas.

Additionally, the university offers a non-degree program to senior citizens in which those ages 65 and up can audit undergraduate level courses. The School of Continuing Studies can be reached at 202-687-8700. Visit scs.georgetown.edu for more information on these and other programs.

Where to Ski around D.C.

Throughout the post-holiday lull of January and February, as we try not to let our winter weight-gain springboard from the gastronomic massacres of seasonal indulgence, a strange and uncomfortable claustrophobia begins to sink in. The unrelenting cold keeps us holed up indoors, making it hard to get out even for the morning commute, let alone exercising and soaking up a stray beam of frosty sunshine. Of course, the weather is perfect for one winding winter activity. Ski season is just around the corner.

Whether it’s your first time out or you’re a veteran to the sport, there is really nothing like cutting into fresh powder on your first run of the season. And while the Northeast slopes don’t equal the Western mountain ranges of Utah and Colorado in terms of intensity, abundance and sheer scale, we are chalk full of beautiful, banking ski terrain perfect for families, leisure ski trips and enlivening wintry getaways, with just enough edge to satiate the more adventurous appetites.

If you’re in search of a quick, one-day getaway, a family outing, some serious mountaineering or a relaxing weekend of winter activities, there is a ski slope for everyone within reach of the Washington area. All of the resorts below also have up-to-date, to-the-minute snow and trail reports on their websites that let you know the slope conditions everyday. So, if the snow beckons and the conditions are right, it will soon be the perfect time to take advantage of these frosty offerings.

Liberty Mountain: A Stone’s Throw from the District

The Washington community is notorious for its work ethic. Six-day, 60-hour workweeks are just part of the scene here. Many of us barely have two days to rub together, and long weekends are often more like distant fantasies than potential realities. Still, even workaholics need a temporal and physical release. If you fit this description, Ski Liberty is the perfect day-trip whenever you find yourself with a stray Saturday and in need of an adrenaline boost.

The closest ski resort to the Washington area, its wintertime adventures are available within two hours of the District. They have a range of diverse activities, whether riding solo or visiting with family or friends.

If you are looking for good old-fashioned fun, you might want to try snow tubing on Liberty’s Boulder Ridge slope. It’s a throwback to the days where snow meant no school and sledding. And there is no experience necessary. Enjoy all the fun of zooming down a perfectly carved sled lane and relax on your up back up the hill, with their “moving carpet” that rides you and your tube quickly back to the top for another run.

After the slopes, the Boulder Ridge Lodge is the perfect place to warm-up, complete with party rooms, snack bar, arcade and wrap-around decks to watch the action on the hill. LibertyMountainResort.com

Massanutten: A Wintry Haven for the Whole Family

For more than 30 years, Massanutten has welcomed vacationers to experience the wonder of the Shenandoah Valley. From Massanutten Peak, you can gaze out over panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding valley. And from the peak, there’s nowhere to go but down. Make sure those skis are strapped on tight!

More than just skiing, Massanutten is a fully equipped family resort year round. But during the winter, the skis have the floor. This year is the 40th anniversary of its ski slopes, and deals, parties, and and fun are this year’s themes. For information on anniversary specials, visit MassResort.com/40th.

Massanutten’s slopes boast 1,110 feet of vertical incline — the most in Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania. If you ski, snowboard, snow tube or want to learn how, Massanutten is the place to be. MassResort.com

Bryce Resort: An Intimate, UnCrowded Winter Retreat

Voted the most family friendly resort in the Mid Atlantic/Southeast region in 2010 by online ski guide On The Snow, Bryce Resort is a small mountain nestled deep in the Shenandoah that will rekindle your love of the Blue Ridge and allow you the intimacy and privacy usually afforded by only more expensive, exclusive resorts.

With the only true beginner terrain in Virginia, Bryce is the perfect place for kids and adults to learn how to ski or snowboard. And for parents and grandparents who might prefer the role of spectator, Bryce has the perfect mountain layout: all slopes funnel down to one central area, so you can keep an eye on your children while sipping hot cocoa on the back deck. While their lower slopes are very accommodating for beginners, they have just enough in the way of advanced slopes and short, steep drops to keep seasoned intermediate and advanced skiers engaged.

And with many of their cabins and lodges opening right onto the slopes, Bryce is like a small taste of Aspen in the Shenandoah. BryceResort.com

Wintergreen Resort: The Beauty of the Blue Ridge

Treat yourself to magnificent mountain views, sumptuous luxury and thrilling recreation at Wintergreen Resort. Spanning 11,000 acres on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, their spacious condominiums and vacation homes are surrounded by winding trails, cascading streams and lush forests. Wintergreen Resort is peaceful and refreshing, with an endless variety of winter activities.

Twice named “Best Ski Resort” by WashingtonPost.com readers, Wintergreen boasts a thrilling winter playground, whose amenities include the most extensive beginner-to-expert terrain for skiers and riders alike, as well as Virginia’s largest tubing park. Nestled atop the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains, Wintergreen Resort is perfect for skiing, snowboarding and tubing, whether you’re a beginner or pro. Enjoy more time on the slopes while avoiding the lines thanks to five chairlifts, including their two lightning fast “six-pack” lifts for those with an insatiable ski craving. For more information, visit WinterGreenResort.com
Snowshoe Mountain: Adventure Around the Corner

Residing in the mountains of West Virginia, Snowshoe is not like your average ski resort — it’s an “upside down mountain.” Since the village and resort sit on top, you’ll start your ski day going downhill, not up. But chances are, you’ll want to do it again. They also offer new, lower mid-week rates. So, if you can get away for a day or two inside the week, you’ll save as much as you’ll surely enjoy the fresh powder.

In addition to great skiing and riding, Snowshoe offers a wide variety of winter adventures including snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross country skiing and much more. The Village is the resort’s bustling hub of restaurants, shops and events, all within steps of accommodations. It’s the Village that makes it worth turning a weekend into a week at Snowshoe. You won’t simply have fun. You’ll feel at home. For more information, visit SnowshoeMtn.com
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Empy Nest? Think Again: Your College Grad Is Back

Doesn’t it feel like just yesterday your baby was born? Days were spent taking naps, playing in the mud, jumping in leaves, learning the ABC’s and reading bedtime stories. Money went towards diapers and swing sets, and whatever was left over was placed in savings for college.

Eighteen years went by pretty quickly, didn’t they? Are you wishing you had stashed a little more away?

Today’s statistics for college graduates aren’t pretty. With just a few weeks left before the class of 2012 tosses its caps, many parents are beginning to panic just as much as their children. Not only are their loans weighing on the family’s shoulders, but those vacant bedrooms may soon be full again. Just when you were getting used to an empty nest, your little birdies may soon be frequenting their old stomping grounds a bit more permanently than you had thought. A recent Time magazine survey found that 85 percent of new college grads move back in with mom and dad (up from 67 percent in 2006).

The Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., last month hosted an event, “Why Am I Still Living In My Parent’s Basement?” where Alex Schriver, the national chairman of the College Republican National Committee, said, “18 percent of youth are unemployed, a number that is more than twice the national average, and graduating student-loan debt has reached record-breaking highs of more than $22,000.”

$25,250 to be exact, according to a National Public Radio. It cited the outstanding student debt at around $1 trillion.

Which part of the country has the highest student debt? Yes, you guessed it. The great and grandiose cherry blossom District of Columbia. CNBC’s special program, “Price of Admission: America’s College Debt Crisis” stated that 67 percent of students leave college with debt and among the highest are of those who attend American University (averaging $36,206 of debt).

So, what does this all mean? When students leave college with such a large amount of debt, they may not shoot for the stars to be the next Barbara Walters or Mark Zuckerberg but settle in to a small office position or retail shop just to pay the bills.

Founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council, Scott Gerber, said that just 54 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds actually holds jobs right now. He says Generation Y has been labeled lazy, but it isn’t necessarily the only reason why many are crawling back home. “The cards are also stacked against them,” he said. “They are going to college and getting a degree that doesn’t equate to anything. More college grads are unemployed than ever.”

Not only are they jobless, but Paul Conway, president of Generation Opportunity, said that 77 percent of today’s youth will also delay a major life decision — such as buying a house, saving for retirement or getting married — because of their debts.

The lack of jobs after graduation, Conway says, is the reason for this delay.

“Graduates are not the first to be hired when the job markets begin to improve,” notes Rick Raymond of the College Parents of America. “We’re seeing a shocking number of people with undergraduates degrees who can’t get work.”

Three million young men and women are expected to graduate from college this year, according to a poll by researcher Twentysomething Inc. Time magazine says these graduates will face a double-digit unemployment rate for their generation.

Such statistics confront both you and your children. Perhaps it is time to remove the boxes you began storing in their rooms upstairs and continue to be a supporting shoulder for them when they move out of their independent college apartment where dreams and aspirations once ran rampant and move back home under the roof where rules and chores will once again be assigned.

My grandfather always says the one thing no one can take away from you is your education. Whether there is a job out there for your child immediately or not, their time in college was not worthless and there will be something to come of it in the future. Allow them to grab the reins, hold on tight and continue to dream, because the mind is a terrible thing to waste.