Sunday, April 26, 2015

Almost Heaven... West Virginia

Just a few weeks after the wedding of Adam and Courtney, Jim and I took a road trip to attend the wedding of our niece, Natalie, in Norfolk, Virginia. We decided to make a little vacation of it, and spend a few days before and after the wedding enjoying some rest and relaxation.

We started out the trip with a stop in Columbus, Ohio, to see a guy about a bed, then turned south toward West Virginia. The rain didn't make for the prettiest drive, but it was nice that we weren't on a schedule for a change, and we could take our time.
When I saw that we would arrive in Athens, Ohio, around lunch time, I did a quick search for places to eat and found O'Betty's Red Hot. (What did we do before iPhones? I guess we just had to read billboards!) Athens is home to Ohio University, and O'Betty's is a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot that we would never have found had it not been for my friend Google. :) The website says O'Betty's is located in the smallest building in Uptown Athens.
The charming (tiny!) dining room is a tribute to burlesque stars past and present, as well as a museum-quality collection of hot dog memorabilia.
The menu items are each named after burlesque stars, and Jim and I both ordered Blaze.
She did not disappoint. I think it was the best hot dog I've ever eaten. I didn't know what it meant when the website described casings that 'snap' when you bite into the dog, but I know now. And it's a good thing. And don't even get me started on the Cajun Spiced Fries. Almost heaven. And we weren't even to West Virginia yet.
Good thing I had eaten a good lunch, because as I took over my turn as driver, the rain picked up. And it just kept raining. We crossed the Ohio River into West Virginia. Still raining.
Four solid hours of the worst rain storm in which I've ever driven, including pelting rain, thunder, lightning, hail, and water running down the mountain and over the road, as I maintained my death grip on the steering wheel. And Jim? Four solid hours (or was it six?) calmly playing Candy Crush, occasionally looking at the radar on his phone to let me know that we were still in the eye of the storm. Thanks Jim, thanks for the update. :)

See that sign there? It says 'Runaway Truck Ramp.' Not too reassuring on a sunny day, but even more worrisome during a monsoon level storm. And do you think that little pile of sand could actually stop a runaway truck? I don't want to know.
Although the drive wasn't as picturesque as it might have been, we did arrive safely at The Greenbrier, hoping to be pampered during our two-night (Groupon!) stay. A lovely sight, indeed. When the front desk clerk asked if we would care for champagne? Why yes, yes I would, thank you.
We checked into our beautiful Dorothy Draper decorated room, then took a little walk around the main resort building.

Our Groupon included slot vouchers for use at the casino, so we went down to learn about that, and get the lay of the land. We stopped at the concierge desk so Jim could reserve a tee time, and we made reservations for a Bunker tour the next afternoon.

My first question to the (intern) concierge was "Where's the football field?", which elicited a blank stare from her before she thought to answer that it is not open to guests. I guess I'm the first one to have asked her that question. In case you're also confused, the Saints held their training camp there last summer, and plan to continue at the Greenbrier for the next several years. They built a lovely facility for it just down the way and across the road from the resort. Anyone care to join me in West Virginia in August? :)

Dinner that evening was in The Forum, an Italian restaurant at the resort, after which we watched the movie, Into the Woods, in the Greenbrier Theatre.

The next morning, Jim was off early for golf on the Old White Course. The course is the location of the Greenbrier Classic, which we will enjoy watching over the July 4th weekend. Between dips in the lake, of course. :)

I made a late morning appointment at the spa, then set off for a walk around the property. I started out toward the spring house, and picked up the Valley View Trail, which winds through and around the golf courses.
I remember playing shuffleboard with Pampaw and my brothers at Wits' End in Florida, but haven't seen a shuffleboard court in years. Later in the day, I saw a dad and his kids getting ready to start a game. I think it was a first for them.
The quiet beauty of the morning was interrupted by the construction of Center Court at Creekside, scheduled to open in late June, and to host the Greenbrier Champions Tennis Classic in September. Pete Sampras is Tennis Pro Emeritus at the Greenbrier.
It was a beautiful morning, after the previous day's rain, with the mist hanging over the mountain like a veil.
Howard's Creek runs through the property, and catch and release fly fishing is permitted.
I wish the photos could also transmit that peaceful sound of water slipping over stones, inviting us to breathe deep and soak in the beauty all around.
The Meditation Trail offers the opportunity to relax and connect among the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.
There are some beautiful homes out there, too. I could get used to living in a place like that. :)
I came upon a fountain offering Anthony Cave Spring Water, so I had a sip. Felt younger immediately.
There are many cottages for rent at the resort.
And forsythia! So beautiful!
My walk took me past the Golf Club, with this cool tee sculpture outside.
I also found Bubba Watson's parking spot, which was only fitting since it was Masters Thursday. :) They even have 'Bubba Tees' on the Old White TPC. They're waaayyyy back there.
Near the end of my walk, I saw a little girl getting a ride on this cute little horse. He reminds me of another little horse I know. :) When I got closer, I asked her what her horse's name was. Bingo. What a good boy.
This is the north facade of the main resort building. Our room was on the third floor, just to the left of the center portico.
The front entrance.
The West Virginia Wing is pictured below. It is under this wing, that a bunker was built, beginning in 1958, as a secret fallout shelter to house Congress in case of a nuclear incident or other such catastrophe that would necessitate the evacuation of Washington D.C. It was built to house 1100 people (members of Congress and staff), and was kept in a constant state of readiness for 30 years.

The West Virginia Wing is also where the Saints stay. :)
Finally a little blue sky, and a pretty picture of the main resort entrance.
After my walk, I was ready for my appointment at the spa, which is located just past the indoor pool. People have been coming to the Greenbrier since 1778 to bathe in the white sulphur spring water. I made a reservation for a sulphur soak. When in Rome, you know. I'm not sure I felt totally rejuvenated, but it was nice for a $60 bath. With an attendant. :)
I also had a Greenbrier pedicure. Not as good as Julie's, but still nice.
After Jim's refreshing golf game, and my relaxing trip to the spa, we gathered in the Trellis Lounge to begin our Bunker Tour. Our tour guide was a friendly gentleman who grew up in Washington, Indiana. I know. Always a small world. After confiscating our cameras and cell phones, he took us on a fascinating 90 minute tour of the Bunker, which was 'hidden in plain sight' for 30 years. It was so very interesting to learn that it was kept in a constant state of readiness, including food and water, medical supplies, and communication tools, for all that time. And it was kept secret. You can read more about the Bunker here and here.

We enjoyed a late afternoon break on the back terrace with a view of the West Virginia wing...
and a beverage...
and a selfie. :)
Dinner that evening was in Prime 44 West, a resort restaurant which honors the career of West Virginia native Jerry West.
This jersey hung right above our table.
Each meal includes a serving of cornbread in a little cast iron pot, which is made from the prize-winning recipe of Cathy Justice, wife of resort owner Jim Justice. The recipe is on the back of the ribbon.
Our waiter has worked at the Greenbrier for many years, and told stories of serving golfers who come to play at the resort, including Tiger Woods, who sat at the table right next to ours. He didn't see much of the football players, though, as they eat their meals together in one of the banquet halls. I may or may not have asked every one some of the hotel staff if they got to know the Saints when they were there. I heard a great story about our Drew from the girl who gave me my pedicure. :)

Because of a mix-up with Jim's order, we were offered a free dessert and selected Bananas Foster, one of our favorite New Orleans treats. It was prepared table-side by our waiter, and differs a bit from the traditional recipe in that it includes a sponge cake base.
That's a lot of Bananas Foster! Delicious!
Before leaving the resort on Friday morning, Jim and I took another walk on the Valley View Trail, with a little detour around the Golf Club.
Flowers blooming...
more forsythia...
and one more look at the spring house.
Jim's golf bag had been delivered from the club to our room prior to check-out, and was sporting a fancy new tag. A sweet reminder of our visit to the Greenbrier. Almost heaven.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A+C Ever Grateful, Ever True

Adam and Courtney's Purdue wedding was documented by photos taken on or around many of the well-known campus landmarks. We are a family full of Purdue grads, and we are proud and loyal Boilermakers. I wanted to share one more wedding post to wrap things up, although I can't promise that there won't be a mention or a photo in a future post or two. Weddings are just so much fun!

The Boilermaker Special is the official mascot of Purdue University, and celebrates the University's renowned engineering program. (And Adam has an engineering degree!) It was only fitting that we gather the wedding party for a photo on the Special. Toot toot! The Boilermaker Special makes appearances at home and away sporting events, and occasionally shuttles a wedding party around campus. Boiler Up!
The Stew Crew.
Gettin' silly.
The wedding party posed at the 'Gateway to the Future.' An appropriate spot for a new bride and groom to stand on their wedding day.
On the steps of Hovde Hall.
For spring commencements, graduates walk up the steps of Hovde Hall, through the building into Elliot Hall of Music where the graduation ceremony takes place. If I counted right, there are 13 Purdue graduates in the photo!
The bell tower, site of Adam's proposal to Courtney. We're so glad she said yes!
Following the ceremony, they even made a quick stop at the famous Chocolate Shop. Harry's Chocolate Shop. For years, I thought they sold chocolate there. They don't. :)
It is a campus icon. The pastor even posed for a photo behind the bar. She's a good sport. And a Boilermaker.
The guys.
The girls.
The last official stop on the wedding day campus tour was the Purdue Memorial Union for the reception. Courtney's maid of honor and long-time best friend, Chellsey, entertained us with her speech recounting some of the memories they shared together over the years. 
She told about the close relationship she shares with Courtney, and when she first started to realize that there may be something more than friendship between Courtney and Adam.
Chellsey is such a good friend to Courtney and Adam. She planned an awesome bachelorette party, helped Court with lots of little details, and was the designer of their beautiful wedding invitations and programs. She is a talented girl!
Courtney's sister, Britney cleverly wrote her speech on the back of one of the Courtney spirit heads we had used to decorate the rehearsal dinner room.
Her sweet speech was thoughtful and touching, and brought a tear to little sister Courtney's eye.
Britney shared her love and support for Courtney and Adam on their wedding day, and will be getting married herself in a little over a year.
And though sisters grow up and get married, they'll always share that special bond between siblings.

Best man David started out his speech by explaining how he was speaking for all 4 of Adam's older siblings and spouses, and the love they have for Adam and Courtney. Sort of a 'best man by committee.' He told how the 4 brothers had long ago decided that #2 would serve as best man for #1, #3 for #2, #4 for #3, then #1 for #4. He got a laugh by saying that Adam may never get his opportunity since Jonathan has no plans for marriage.
He then pointed out for all the single ladies, a guy who is "super-fun, gainfully employed, home-owner, who does NOT live in his parents' basement!" All in good fun, and with Jon's permission, of course. :)
David shared about the early secrecy of Adam and Courtney's relationship, the grace with which Courtney has joined in on Stewart family game nights (which can get a bit cut-throat intense), and some of Adam's quirks that Courtney will have to endure lovingly embrace.
He told about the closeness he and Adam have always shared, their nicknames "Big" and "Little", their combined seven broken arms, and how David used Adam's cuteness to his advantage when he would send Adam to me to say, "Mommy, I love you, and can David have some friends over?"
When David entered high school, Adam even started sleeping on the floor in David and Andrew's room until Andrew finally moved to Adam's room and David and Adam became roomies.
David shared a fond memory from his college years when he coached the local youth swim team, including Adam and some of his friends (who were present at the wedding). David knew all of Adam's times by heart, and hoped for his success even more than he had for his own when he was swimming.
He talked about Adam and Courtney being awesome individuals, and being even better together. He said that they can "get through anything, conquer anything, and achieve anything, together."

He closed the speech with the following:
In Purdue's fight song there is a line which says, "Ever grateful, ever true", which refers to how those singing feel about the university. I think it is a great motto for a marriage as well: ever grateful, ever true. First, be ever grateful for each other. As I mentioned above, you are both wonderful individuals, so don't take each other for granted. Thank God that you get to spend the rest of your life with someone so awesome, and make sure to tell each other how grateful you are as well. And lastly, be ever true to each other and your marriage. You can do this in a number of ways: be honest, work hard for one another, grow your faith in God together, and love each other unconditionally. May God bless you with health, happiness, and love, and to your marriage, may you always remain ever grateful, ever true.
I think he put it just right (and I can say that, since I'm his mom). :)
It was a beautiful wedding, and a special day in a place with many fond memories for our family. The wedding will be another treasured memory. A marriage is, as we know, more than just a wedding or a day. It is many days of give and take, love and laughter, mountains and valleys, sweat and tears, and lots of prayer. Adam and Courtney are on their way, as they seek to be grateful for the blessings God has given them, for the love and support of family and friends, and for the ways they bring out the best in one another. May they remain true to their God, their wedding vows, and their commitment to love and to cherish all the days of their life. 
Ever grateful, ever true.
Photos by our friends Sarah and Rachel