Seven Ways to Beat the Post-Holiday Blues

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Some spend New Year’s Day packing up ornaments. I’d rather sleep in and go to brunch. I’m in the league of defiant revelers that leave their holiday lights up through the first week of January. Why? Because we’re trying to stave off the impending doom of a long, cold winter. In fact, many believe that all the hoopla surrounding Christmas is just a way to distract us from the misery gaining steam outdoors.

Here’s how to keep your spirits up after the holidays:

A Little Twinkle

We’re all a little taken aback at how stark a room looks when stripped of holiday accoutrements. Hold on to a strand of white lights, and wrap them around an indoor tree, or gather them into an oversized glass vase, to keep a bit of sparkle in your home.

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Getting Fresh

Don’t toss those candy canes! Swirl them as swizzle sticks in your hot cocoa or mocha. Smash them to pieces and lay them in an empty Altoids tin to use as mints on the go. And if it really feels like you’re going cold turkey after the holidays, here’s a little-known fact: You can get peppermint mochas at Starbucks year-round, though they don’t advertise it.

Get Moving

It’s no secret that working out is good for your heart, but the endorphins improve your mood and the exertion results in a great night’s sleep. Besides, when you peel off your sweater this Spring, how nice would it be to find a strong, lean body beneath it?

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Busted court aside, my favorite ways to blow off steam are tennis, yoga and dancing

Get the Party Started

Plan a small party! It’s so much easier to corral your loved ones in January than it is at the height of the holiday season. Plus, everyone needs something to look forward to. My go-to this year will be an Oscar party! Since it’s a weeknight and the show runs late, it will be a pajama party. People will be cozy, well-fed and filled with Prosecco. Go LaLa Land!

Green is Golden

If you can’t spend ample time outdoors, bring the outdoors in. Buy a palm and place it by a sunny window.

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Add whimsy to plants you bring indoors, with funny planters and conversation pieces

Doors to Enlightenment

So your holiday wreath is down. It doesn’t mean your home should go unadorned. Have something beautiful waiting for you every day when you return. There are plenty of gorgeous wreaths you can use year-round. You can even create one.

Think Spring

Spring may be a few months away, but now is a perfect time to imagine how you’d like to use the green space outdoors. Whether planning a vegetable patch or a fire pit, enjoy researching the best place to plant, the best deals on materials and read reviews if thinking of buying plants or seed online. My son is obsessed with blueberries, and I’m a fan of raspberries. When Spring arrives, I won’t be making a mad dash to plant these bushes before the heat of summer sets in.

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We added this pergola to our home to accommodate our Concord grapes – Max not included

…and then before you know it, the holidays will be back.

Happy 2017!

 

Postcard from Egypt

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Months before Arab Spring erupted, my husband and I took the trip of a lifetime in Egypt. It was only when we settled back into daily life did we realize how surreal it was. If you can spare it, you’ll need a good two weeks to explore the surface.

Here’s how to do Egypt right:

Shop in Cairo’s Khan-El-Khalili – the bazaar district. You can stock up on gold-threaded scarves, tea sets and spices. Make sure to go deep within the bazaar where the deals are. The stores near the entrances can charge more, as they see heavier foot traffic.

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What’s the frequency Kenneth?

Though I’m not Muslim, I wore a head scarf to help me blend in with the locals and avoid getting overcharged while shopping. Plus, it shields you from the scorching heat. Did  I mention how beautiful they were?

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See the sights – you will not believe you’re actually standing in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

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Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, but more affordable in Egypt. Don’t buy the pale saffron going stale in an outside sack. Go for the blood red saffron sealed in a jar by the registers. It’s potent and worth the expense.

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Kick off your shoes and see a mosque. They are historical and resplendent. As a tourist, it was a peaceful place to reflect, and a respite from the heat.

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Take a small boat to ruins off the beaten path, like Korfu. It’s less crowded, and you can touch the actual hieroglyphics. It’s shocking that Egypt still allows us to touch them, so handle with care.

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Drink hibiscus juice, which vendors walk through the streets selling. A small cup of the sweet red nectar will counter the afternoon heat.

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Take a cruise down the Nile. Or shall I say, up the Nile? The water flows from South to North, and takes you all the way from the border of Sudan up to Alexandria. Your boat will glide past small towns, where a call to prayer can be heard emanating from speaker towers many times a day. In other towns, children crowd the shoreline just to wave at the boats sailing past.

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Feast on glorious food; roasted lamb, hummus, tabbouleh and more. Try not to visit during Ramadan, a Muslim holiday in which the locals cannot eat or drink until sundown. They’ll still serve tourists, but the guilt will be distracting. We learned this the hard way!

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Try and land a hotel with a rooftop pool, because baby it’s going to be hot! In Cairo, our hotel also oversaw Giza. At night, we watched laser shows on the pyramids, which made them even more surreal than they already were.

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Take a hot air balloon ride over the desert.

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Of course, do so at your own risk. It wasn’t until we were at airplane height that I realized we’re just a bunch of fools standing in a wicker basket with no parachutes. Even a sneeze could set the contraption rocking!

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Visit Valley of the Kings, where you can see King Tut’s tomb.

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Take a train ride through the Fertile Crescent, where a lush green world emerges from the desert. It’s said to be the cradle of civilization.

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Go to Luxor and take in magnificent statuary. The fact that the ancient Egyptians had time to create such beautiful things is proof of the powerful, comfortable position they held in the region. War-torn and hungry civilizations don’t focus on art and storytelling.

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Bring your sunblock, but soak up that vitamin D! The color will last for months!

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Get pulled around the city in Raiders of the Lost Arc style!

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Eat fresh dates!

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And don’t forget your camera!

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The Ultimate Eighties Care Package

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After a recent family tragedy, friends and family surprised me with support I didn’t know I had coming. There were bouquets of sunflowers, roses and  pink carnations, homemade batches of chocolate chip cookies from three different families. There was an Edible Arrangement so large, we popped off and froze pieces of fruit for smoothies, else they went to waste. I was overwhelmed by kindness, but not as overwhelmed as I was  last week, when I came home to a large box from New York City.

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Every surface of the box was Hodge Podged with symbols from the happiest era on record.

Beneath layers of bubble wrap, I uncovered The Ultimate 80s Care Package. The painstaking amount of time my friend dedicated to the project still makes me feel unworthy.

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homemade chocolate chip cookies

I should have expected no less from my friend Amber. She used to live in the duplex below me in L.A. and her apartment was a Pee Wee’s Playhouse for girls obsessed with pop culture. The walls were lined with art and memorabilia, there was a karaoke machine, candy, a library of romantic comedies, and mud masks galore.

Her package included pampering…

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It encouraged us to have fun…

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And most importantly for me, it provided escape…

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Even the inner lid of the care package was plastered with images from a happier time…

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I would be remiss to not show off each side of the box…

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She even wrote individual cards to my husband and I…

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We followed this advice and watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High that very night…

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This would describe my friend Amber…

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Party Girl vs Natural Disasters

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The shelf cloud that swept into our city. The turquoise light is a power flash, likely from lightning hitting power lines.

Last week, we were hit with a derecho. I didn’t know what a shelf cloud was until I Googled it. Except I couldn’t Google it. Fallen trees had forsaken our electricity and worse, our wi-fi.

We had two options; lament or make the most of it. Character is often measured by how one rises to the occasion, and recent studies found a direct link between adaptability and happiness. We had no get on with it, darling.

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Our yard was strewn with roof shingles and plants from other yards, though we have a privacy fence.

How to make the most of a natural disaster:

BE PREPARED

It’s hard to be cheerful when you’re tossing out a deep freezer full of steaks and homemade soup. Invest in a generator so at the very least, you will have fresh food and hot showers. Keep a few gallons of gas in the garage, because if roads are blocked or flooded, you’re out of luck.

FELLOWSHIP

After the event (earthquake, hurricane, etc.) many venture outside to assess the damage. Go beyond your property. If it’s dark, grab a flashlight. After the derecho, our city streets were pitch black, save for wandering flashlight beams. We found crushed vehicles and blocked roads from fallen trees. You can lend a hand to neighbors in need, and feel thankful that you likely weren’t the worst hit. Admittedly, it’s exciting to wander around in the dark with strangers, taking in the surreal scene.

The morning after the derecho, my husband wielded a hand saw and joined neighbors in an effort to clear the road of debris. Neighbors caught up, shared bottled water and felt a sense of community.

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Bellevue, the morning after.

MOOD LIGHTING

A candlelight bath and candlelit dinners? Yes please! That lighting is much more flattering, and it lends a sense of excitement to everything. Tell ghost stories!

COOK-OUT

No stove or microwave? No problem! Fire up the grill and enjoy char-broiled rib eye and veggie kabobs rubbed in chopped cilantro and olive oil. If you don’t own an iron skillet, invest in one. That way you can still have a grill-top pan to fry eggs and heat up sauces.

POWERING DOWN

Cable wires were ripped down, so even those with generators couldn’t watch TV or have access to the Internet. While some complained, I saw it as an opportunity. I tanned on a picnic blanket and took long walks with our greyhounds. Our son climbed giant fallen pines with other kids in the neighborhood. We caught up on our reading, and I resumed a few crafting projects – things that get pushed aside on manic weeknights when all I want to do is escape into Netflix.

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Found on a back alley walk

FARMER’S MARKET

Grocery stores are likely closed, so head out to your local farmer’s market. Many are out-of-towners whose stands run on generators anyway. We dined on Vietnamese spring rolls and stocked up on ready-made foods we needn’t cook, like goat cheese spread, banana honey peanut butter, salad greens and glazed doughnuts.

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Catching up with Andrew, founder of the inimitable Reginald’s Homemade peanut butter.

PORCH LIVING

No power means so AC, so if you’re lucky enough to have a porch, go lounge on it. It’s likely that all the neighbors are enjoying the cool air. You’ll see their candlelight, and before you know it, everyone’s shouting across the street. Invite them over for a cocktail and board games on the porch. A glass of scotch and competitive Scrabble are my idea of heaven.

THE BIG PICTURE

This is America. Eventually order will be restored, and insurance (after a good fight) will cover the damages. In the meantime, look for the silver lining. Your electric bill will be smaller, you have an excuse to eat out sans guilt and you’ll likely have a restored sense of community in your neighborhood. Natural disasters do that to people. We’re more resilient than we realize. In fact, once the grid lights up again everyone is resealed into their homes, you may miss the sense of adventure that comes when Mother Nature swings her hammer.

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Fauquier Avenue, a week later.

The Museum Behind Everyone’s Profile Photo

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Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room

Even from 3,000 miles away, I couldn’t resist the lure of L.A.’s Broad Museum. My friends’ Instagram accounts blew up with images from the ethereal Infinity Mirrored Room, which also became everyone’s Facebook profile photo. Overnight. Newly-opened and with a minimum two month waiting list, (even longer for select exhibits), attendance seems to delineate who’s who in the art world of LA. Which does exist, for all you naysayers. Most of the people who say L.A. has no culture simply repeat it because they heard other people say it. They also have an identical eye-roll when someone mentions “the valley.” Sheep.

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The curators at The Broad (pronounced “Brode”- I know) prove that a taste for captivating art is alive and well in the City of Angels. Work from local artists and brooding up-and-comers are mingled with stars of modern art, such as Jeff Koons, along with pop art icons Lichtenstein and Warhol.

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For those of you who are still on the waiting list and hoping for a sneak peek, here’s a smattering of what you’ll see. For everyone else, it’s simply here for you to enjoy.

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Unusual piece by Andy Warhol, featuring Jacqueline Kennedy at JFK’s funeral.

 

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Takashi Murakami

 

The two pieces below by Jeff Koons are always tempting to touch.

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The three pieces below are from my new favorite modern artist, John Currin. He captures the hope and humiliation in our everyday lives in a way that’s sometimes hilarious, sometimes embarrassing, but always provocative.IMG_4464 IMG_4463 IMG_4461

Taste of Richmond

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A true bon vivant relishes good food, and the inaugural Taste of Richmond did not disappoint. While the event took place weeks ago, I figured it was better to post late than never. The historic John Marshall Ballrooms were packed with the top restaurants in Richmond. Many were still riding the wave of romanticism surrounding New Southern cuisine, which has swept the nation. There were gourmet samples of shrimp and grits and pork belly macaroni and cheese.

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But to further prove that Richmond is a foodie town beyond Southern fare, there was 14 carat gold-flecked sushi. And the best amuse bouche was being dished out by the stellar Indian restaurant Lehja. I can’t remember what they called it. But it was heaven.

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It was a way for Richmonders to sample all the places we’re been meaning to try but hadn’t had a chance to. There was a cooking show by Comfort’s Jason Alley, winestopper party favors and that overall glow from being well-fed.

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Socialite Obsession: Susan Strasberg

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True socialites believe in discretion. They believe in being written up only twice; their birth, death, and if they make the cut, their wedding announcement. It was easy to live by his maxim before the Internet. Blogs and social media provide freeways of information that didn’t exist in the days of the Vanderbuilts.

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Thankfully, socialites get written up for career accolades these days. University isn’t used for sharpening cocktail banter and finding husbands, but to practice law and run fashion houses. Actresses however, aren’t allowed into the fold. Susan Strasberg was an exception. Perhaps she was accepted into the upper echelons for being the youngest theatre actress to score a Tony award, for The Diary of Anne Frank. It also helped that her father was the famous acting coach Lee Strasberg, noted for his “method” acting style. Al Pacino, Daniel Day Lewis and Jack Nicholson are noted method actors, following her father’s lead and moving on to win Academy Awards.

Ironically, Susan’s father never trained her, which was well-known among his devotees. Her critical achievements were a thorny subject for their already-complicated relationship.

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Strasberg and Monroe

Marilyn Monroe was  a devotee of Strasberg’s, and became part of the family. So much so, that she and Susan had a sibling rivalry of sorts, as described in Susan’s book,  Marilyn and Me: Sisters, Rivals, Friends. It was a bestseller, as was her second book, Bittersweet. 

Former suitors include Richard Burton, Warren Beatty and Cary Grant. Her natural talent ushered her from theatre to the film world in the blink of an eye.  The camera loved her incredibly delicate bone structure, which was an amalgamation of Lee Bouvier and Natalie Wood.

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With her much-older beau, Richard Burton

Like many socialites who needn’t follow the rules in order to be accepted, she indulged eccentric passions that social climbers would be afraid to touch. One of which, was new age spiritualism. She meditated, practiced yoga, worked with spiritual healers and sought alternative treatment for her breast cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer consumed her before she could complete her last book, Confessions of a New Age Heretic. 

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Strasberg in the 1950s

Hollywood Noir

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There are two versions of Old Hollywood. One is the rat pack at the Coconut Grove, Clark Gable driving his Deusenberg down Hollywood Boulevard and all things Liz Taylor.

The other Old Hollywood is a bit darker. It’s the Black Dahlia and zoot suit riots. It’s the debauchery of silent film stars in the roaring twenties, lasciviously described in Hollywood Babylon. This version was the theme of our recent rental in Los Angeles, and it created an atmosphere around our trip. The built-in bar was red, as were the leather bar stools. It was eclectic and full of secrets. A stolen street sign from Hollywood’s famous Cherokee Avenue loomed over the bar. There was a old pay phone (a relic; no dial tone), neon signs and vintage bar mirrors.

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If these walls could talk…

Instead of running around town to see old friends, they came to us. They took refuge in the dark recesses of the place. Huddling at the bar, rifling through the book collection and gathering by fire pit out back, where cotoyes howled all around us.

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At the base of the Hollywood Hills, this is where it all began. Looming over landmarks such as The Knickerbocker and Capitol Records, this home was built back when Pacific Palisades was “out in the country.” If walls could talk, there’d be tales of wannabe starlets who didn’t make it, hippies who had chance encounters with the Manson family and screenwriters working their way up at RKO.

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If you want to be surrounded by Mexixan kitsch, pin-up girls and a print of Krampus, this Airbnb rental will give your entire trip a once-in-a-lifetime feeling. To rent this place, click here.

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A house full of friends

Airbnb has truly saved us. We spend good money to travel someplace new, only to end up in a hotel that could be in any city.  You’re remote, with just a bird’s-eye view of the place you really want to be. The only place where giant hotels give you a feel for the town, is Las Vegas.

The other option used to be just bed and breakfasts. While they emote a local feel, the breakfast is always served too early and you’re forced to make pre-coffee conversation with strangers.

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Like many homes at the base of the Hollywood Hills, the yard is sloped and lush from mountain run-off

Thank goodness Airbnb swept in, with  rentals that range from log cabins in Colorado to five-star yurts in Nigeria, designed with tlc by the locals who own it. They fluff your nest with their old silverware and mix-matched dish sets. You use the towels from their old color scheme. Even if you never meet them, they were all around you. And if you pick carefully, it feels kind of great.

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Ecuadorian Feast

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“Friends with benefits” should include friends that cook. When my friend Jackie entertains, guests are spoiled rotten. Picking up your finished plate will earn you daggers.

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First, you’re served a hand-muddled cocktail, made with small-batch tequila, lime and sugar.

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While you sip, you can linger in Jackie’s spotless kitchen and steal plantain chips fresh out of the fryer.

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Buen provecho! Shrimp ceviche, home-fried plantains, tortillas and homemade salsa are served fresh.

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After the meal, guests are offered shots of  MamaJuana, an earthy libation from the Dominican Republic that’s said to cure any ills, from digestion to libido.

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Dessert is a tres leches-style cake with fresh fruit. The creaminess tempers the heat from our spicy meal. Not too sweet and 100% delectable.

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Every time we leave Jackie’s home, we’re left wondering what we could have done to deserve such star treatment. But we keep that to ourselves. We wouldn’t want Jackie to start wondering that too.

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Cheers!

Virginia Wine Country

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Veritas Winery

Virginia had been quietly making wine for centuries, but lately, it’s been hard to contain the enthusiasm. In the past 20 years, Virginia has become the 5th largest wine-producing state in the US, and many claim (including Forbes) that it’s becoming the Napa Valley of the East Coast.

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Central Virginia, particularly the Charlottesville area, is considered Virginia Wine Country. The rolling hills are lined with rows of grapevines, and set against the backdrop of mountains, it easily mimics Napa in the summer.

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Tasting at Blue Mountain Brewery

Gourmet grocery stores spot the landscape. They’re quaint, with chalkboard menus and outdoor tables shaded by umbrellas. And like the wineries, they have their resident dog. Benign but watchful, sweet but aloof. These small markets are packed with truffle pate, French bread and an array of cheeses for impromptu picnics.

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Many dirt roads lead to intimate, family-owned wineries.

Both wineries and breweries feature local farm-to-table menus. The nearby farms that supply them sell peaches and strawberries at dusty, roadside stands. The mountains offer getaways for wine enthusiasts, and range from rustic cabins to elite ski chalets. In the winter, the area is bustling due to the ski resorts. But in the summer, the area accommodates wine lovers and the endless stream of wedding guests who attend nuptials at the wineries.

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Running free through vineyards, careful not to crash any weddings

The difference between Virginia Wine Country and other wine regions would have to be history. Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is at the heart of wine country, and Monticello grows grapes too. Tours are available, from his gardens, to a specialized Slave Tour that sheds life on the Hemings family, his direct descendants. Dave Matthews owns a winery next door. There are old plantations, Civil War and Revolutionary War battlefields and many museums.

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Gathered with friends for a relaxing wine country weekend

Visitors have long been coming from Richmond and DC. Lately however, it’s opening up as a national destination, and for good reason!