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Yard Work; A Navy Reunion; New Friends; Extraordinary Wines; Ladew Gardens; Vito’s; Uh-Oh; Fall Colors; A Russian Feast; “That Very Dangerous Place!”

Well, it’s been awhile since my last post, and Suzanne and I have been very busy. Hurricane Matthew came and went, fortunately with little impact on The Villages. We had winds in the high 30s and moderate rain, but no significant damage in our area. We are quite far inland, and significantly higher than the low-lying coast of Florida. Okay, so 87 feet elevation doesn’t sound like a lot to you folks in Denver or Pinedale, WY, but we are happy to be in the Florida Highlands. 

After the storm, we got some yard work done, including a new Sylvester palm tree (Phoenix sylvestris) for the front yard. This sucker weighed about a ton, and was delivered with a truck and front end loader. It replaces a scraggly crepe myrtle whose leaves were staining our front porch…

The same delivery brought us a small fountain for the area between our patio and covered lanai. I thought about horsing it around myself until the guys said it weighed about 400 lbs. “Nah, go ahead and use the loader.” This was one of my smarter decisions this month…

We were home for a few weeks before departing again for Suzanne’s events in Northern Virginia and Asheville, North Carolina. On the way, we stopped in Richmond to visit Dottie Cleal, a Naval Academy staff colleague of mine from 1977-1980. We were both lieutenants back then, and both retired as Captains. Coincidentally, Suzanne and Dottie served together at the Naval Academy in the late 90s. It’s a small world. We had dinner with Dottie and retired Navy Commander Paul Galanti, an A-4 Skyhawk pilot who was shot down over North Viet Nam in 1966 and spent 7 years as a Prisoner of War. I had met Paul when he was a Battalion Officer at the Naval Academy; it was great for the four of us retired Navy officers to catch up after so many years. Dottie prepared a magnificent meal, and we enjoyed the spectacular view of the James River from her beautiful home on a bluff overlooking the rapids.

Our next stop was in Manchester, Maryland, visiting our good friends Jerry and Karen Facciani. They live in a renovated hunting lodge on 35 wooded acres near Prettyboy Reservoir, where we enjoyed a great hike. But trees weren’t the main draw – it was getting to know this fascinating couple. And oh, by the way, Jerry is a wine expert with a wine cellar that made me green with envy. Here is Jerry showing off a few bottles of his favorite Chateauneuf du Pape… 

Karen is a jewelry designer/maker and certified gemologist. Her studio and workshop has a selection of tools and equipment that astonished me, but we were most impressed by her beautiful jewelry creations… Suzanne is very happy because she now has one of Karen’s beautiful necklaces and matching earrings! 

Karen and Jerry took us to world-famous Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton, MD. I would have taken some photos of the neat topiaries (this is the tiny Tivoli Tea House), but the rain started to pour down. We headed for the main house where the docent started her tour with us standing in the rain while she stood under the porch overhang… for almost ten minutes! I felt that I was in a parallel universe… but being a Southern gentleman, I didn’t complain – until later.

After our visit to lovely Ladew Gardens, Jerry and Karen took us to dinner at Vito’s Ristorante Italiano, one of the best Italian restaurants in the world. Now, I have to ask you wine lovers out there if you are familiar with the point system that wines are given, like in Wine Advocate magazine, and on the bin labels in wine shops? Of course you are… well, the guy on the left INVENTED that system! Yes, you guessed right, that’s Robert Parker, the world’s most distinguished and influential wine critic, and his wife Pat. They are best friends of Jerry and Karen, our hosts for our Maryland visit. Robert and Jerry brought some spectacular wines which perfectly complemented the fabulous dinner that Vito’s Chef Luca prepared. (My favorite was the 100 pt Domaine de la Janasse Chateauneuf du Pape; Suzanne’s was the 99 pt Aubert Chardonnay). Needless to say, we were all treated like royalty. (I could get used to that!!!) Boy, I’m glad that I didn’t bring that bottle of Manischewitz…

As we were departing Jerry and Karen’s lovely estate, I made the worst decision of the trip (and maybe of the year)… I backed out of his drive, and we got stuck… for two hours our coach was a yard ornament. I called our roadside assistance service and a tow truck the size of a fire engine showed up from Littitz, PA (no crude jokes, please, I’m very sensitive). Fortunately, one of Jerry’s assistants, Chris, and the tow truck operator were able to jack up the coach and get some boards under the drive wheels and we were on our way with no damage (except to my pride).

We departed Maryland for our campground at Prince William Forest Park, in Dumfries, Virginia.The fall colors were in fine form. I got several hikes in, and Suzanne and I had a great bike ride in this large preserve near the Marine Corps base at  Quantico. Suzanne’s Serving Spirit class (almost an hour away from our campground) was filled to capacity, and everyone loved it. My Lovely Bride was a bit tired when it was over, but the forest setting provided an opportunity for her to recharge her batteries before starting the next leg of our journey. 

But before we left, we had a very special event – a homemade Russian dinner with Rita and Anatoly Kozushin. Rita has attended several of Suzanne’s events, including last summer’s Unity Village retreat (when Suzanne’s guide Boris singled her out and spoke to her in Russian) and was attending her mediumship class this weekend. Rita and her husband Anatoly prepared a dinner typical of what they would have served to friends back in Moscow.  Caviar, pirozhki, vodka, pickled herring, borscht, vodka, black bread, and oh, did I mention vodka??? I am afraid Toly must have thought that I was a bit of a wuss, just sipping on my vodka unlike a real Russian. It was a magnificent experience, made even more special by Rita and Toly’s stories about life in Moscow and their transition to life in the USA.

Our next stop was Asheville, North Carolina, where Suzanne would give her YES (Your Emerging Soul) Workshop. But first, she had to get her nails done. (This seems to be a regular personal maintenance requirement for ladies.) I dropped her off and returned an hour later after making a grocery run and walking the puppies. She had a big grin on her face, and I asked her what was up. She said while her nails were drying, she chatted with another client about places to hike. The lady said that there was a beautiful waterfall nearby. The owner of the nail salon chimed in and said, “That very dangerous place. I have client who go there. She slipped on rocks and broke nail!”

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