Monday, May 30, 2016

Serenity at Maryland's Grotto of Lourdes

I don't normally visit religious shrines, but sheer curiosity drove me to explore this uniquely Maryland Catholic shrine near Emmitsburg. I'd been driving past Mount St. Mary's College, located along U.S. 15 since I was a kid. The college nestles against the base of the Catoctin Mountains in northern Frederick County. Behind the college looms a statue of Jesus set on a high tower. I'd always thought that statue was mysterious. But we never stopped. I wasn't brought up Catholic, nor was my family of a religious bent: there was never any reason to stop.

So that's where curiosity came into play. One day last February my husband and I were driving up to Gettysburg and we decided to stop (we were also playing Ingress, and there are a number of portals at the college and the Grotto). We ended up going back early summer with a family guest, who, being Catholic, expressed an interest in seeing the Grotto.

I ended up learning a little about a pretty amazing woman: Elizabeth Ann Seton. Actually, that's Saint Elizabeth Seton.

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton, (August 28, 1774 – January 4, 1821) was the first native-born citizen of the United States to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church (September 14, 1975). She established the first Catholic school in the nation, at Emmitsburg, MD, where she founded the first American congregation of religious sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She was a woman of prayer and service.

Despite coming from a wealthy family and marrying a wealthy man, the United Kingdom's blockade of Napoleonic France and the loss of several of her husband's ships at sea led to bankruptcy. The stress exacerbated his illness (tuberculosis), and he and Elizabeth went to Italy for his recovery. He died shortly after arriving. It was in Italy that Elizabeth was exposed to Catholicism, and she ended up converting shortly after her return to New York City. Wealthy, educated widows such as Elizabeth had few options to earn their livelihood, but becoming an educator was one of them. Widows often opened up academies for young women, and so Elizabeth did, but as news of her conversion to Catholicism spread, families withdrew their daughters. 

Her story became a Maryland story when, in 1809, she moved down to Maryland on the invitation of the Sulpicians, whom she had met during her conversion. A year later she established the Saint Joseph's Academy and Free School, a school dedicated to the education of Catholic girls. And there her story coincides with that of Father John DeBois.

DeBois was a French priest who fled the French revolution. During that turbulent time, priests were forced to denounce their loyalty to Rome. Many, like Debois, chose to flee. DeBois ended up in Richmond, where he was befriended by the likes of Patrick Henry and James Monroe. In time, he was appointed the responsibility of caring for the growing Catholic population near the Appalachian Mountains. He chose as his base Frederick, where he founded the Catholic church that is still there today: St Johns. Six years later, he moved to nearby Emmitsburg, where he founded Mount St. Mary's College and became its first president. The seminary trained missionaries, and was located on one of the major trans-Appalachian routes.

The campus of Mount St Mary's includes The National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, which draws thousands of religious pilgrims and tourists annually. The Grotto was first established in 1805 by the DuBois. In 1875 the Grotto was refurbished by Father Watterson to be a stone replica of the miraculous Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

It wasn't until 1975 that Elizabeth was recognized as a saint. Pope Paul VI canonized her on September 14, 1975, in a ceremony in St. Peter’s Square. The words he spoke about her appeal to me: “St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is an American. All of us say this with special joy, and with the intention of honoring the land and the nation from which she sprang forth as the first flower in the calendar of the saints. Elizabeth Ann Seton was wholly American! Rejoice for your glorious daughter. Be proud of her. And know how to preserve her fruitful heritage." Today, her remains are entombed in the National Shrine of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton in Emmitsburg.

The path leading up to the Grotto offers the stone-encased copper Stations of the Cross, installed along the path in 1958. The water itself, which many bring containers to fill, comes from a mountain spring. The water (usually) is drinkable and is filtered for impurities according to state law (when we were there last May it was turned off due to an unusually high bacteria level). It flows into a pool surrounding a statue of Mary made of Carrara marble; the statue is a replica of the statue in Lourdes, France, and was also installed in 1958. 

Following the path back from the Grotto and the pool of water, you'll encounter a series of 15 lovely mosaics, the "15 Mysteries of the Rosary," which recount the biblical stories of Jesus and Mary. These were imported from Italy and installed in 1966. Interspersed along the way are statues of holy men and women, such as St Francis of Assisi. It is a quiet, reflective path -- even for those like me, who don't practice Catholicism. 

If you're a tombstone tourist like I am, then the nearby St Mary's Cemetery holds some interest as well.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

New Hope -- a Bucks County Jewel

New Hope lies on the west bank of the Delaware River at its confluence with Auqetong Creek. It is an old town -- colonial era -- and is located along the route of the Old York Road, the former main highway between Philadelphia and New York City. Because it was the halfway point, its inns and hotels would host travelers overnight, and then they would be ferried across the river the next morning. Lovely old stone homes are common around New Hope, testifying to the town's lengthy history.

From the original settlers, the Lenni-Lenape Indians, to the Dutch and English followed by the Quakers to today’s varied population; New Hope maintains its historic status as a place where diversity is celebrated. New Hope (then, Coryell’s Ferry) is proud of its role in the American Revolution and its 300 years of history, from the early ferry boats, mills and canal boats to the magnificent and eclectic variety of galleries, shops and restaurants today.

You need more than a single day to explore New Hope!

In addition to its colonial and Revolutionary War history, New Hope has historically been a popular spot for Broadway shows to be tested and fine tuned. The Bucks County Playhouse featured a constant stream of plays and musical productions. The weekend we stayed there, a jazz band performed in this historic playhouse.

So what is there to do? Where do I begin? You can browse the variety of boutique and antique stores and art galleries...

 ... or walk or bike along the Delaware Canal towpath ....

 .... or enjoy a performance at the Playhouse ....

... or tour the historic Parry Mansion ....

or dine at the many fine restaurants, such as Marsha Brown Restaurant, a refined Creole Kitchen & Lounge located in a 125 year old stone church right in the center of town ...

..... or enjoy a fabulous meal at Zoubi Restaurant and Bar, which features a sophisticated, Euro-inspired setting and offering a creative global menu ......

...or enjoy a meal at the comfortable Logan Inn Tavern, which offers live performances by local artists on Friday & Saturday nights and live jazz during Sunday brunch. Its menu offers a variety of "New American" cuisine. You might just see a friendly ghost while you're dining at this very haunted inn!

Just outside of town are several wineries, Washington's Crossing State Park, a number of picturesque covered bridges, Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, and further up county, the under-rated treasure, Ringing Rocks County Park. Be on the lookout in the blog in the coming months for posts about all these places!

Websites: and

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Made possible by Visit Bucks County

Updated May 2019

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Day Trip on a Budget: Best Summer Day Trip for Kids!

It's definitely that time of year again -- and with summer just around the corner, you may be looking for some interesting places that will both entertain and capture the imagination of your kids. There's a long summer ahead... so consider this day trip on a budget!

If you're trying to day trip on a budget AND entertain your kids, or expose them to some new and interesting experiences, your best bet is to check out the state parks. Nominal entrance fees -- even if you're from out of state -- make these a great go-to resource for anyone watching their bottom line.

Calvert Cliffs State Park is unique among hiking opportunities in the region for its up-close views of the Calvert Cliffs from below, fossil hunting opportunities, and hiker-only access to the Chesapeake shoreline along a mile of sandy beach.

So go, sift through some sand (take along some sifters and a bag or two), and enjoy the short hike through freshwater and tidal marshland, and explore the wonders

To read some more about Calvert Cliffs, click here.

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Know before you go: The Calvert Cliffs' beach area is a sandy quarter mile stretch located on the Chesapeake Bay. The shortest route to the beach is the 1.8 mile red trail. Fossil hunting, swimming, sunbathing and an open play space are common reasons people visit the beach. For a trail map, click here.

On-a-Budget: Day use service charge is $5/vehicle, small bus $10, large bus $25. Cash only.

Getting there: Take Route 2/4 south to approximately 14 miles south of Prince Frederick. Exit onto H.G. Trueman Road. You will be facing the park entrance

Hours: Sunrise to sunset daily, year round.

Dogs: A tired dog is a happy dog. This is the perfect place to tire out your favorite pooch!


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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Out Door Adventure in Farmville, VA

Prince Edward County, VA is about an hour southwest of Richmond and about four hours from Washington, DC. In country referred to as "Southside" in Virginia (traditionally, the term Southside refers to the portion of Virginia east of the Blue Ridge Mountains and south of the James River), this rolling countryside is an ideal destination for a weekend adventure getaway.

Start that adventure with a ropes course and ziplining at the aptly named Outdoor Adventure at Sandy River Retreat. This is a great place to get away from the hubbub of fast-paced suburban life. Get back in touch with nature while challenging yourself to overcome your fears on a ropes course.

The five cabins at Sandy River Retreat were built as replicas of a by-gone era, but inside are modern amenities, making them both rustic, and comfy. Sit and rock on the front porch, enjoying the sights and sounds of the farmette on which the retreat is located -- don't be surprised by a strolling chicken or wandering sheep! Bring your own vittles for the fully equipped kitchen, which offered basic pots and pans and baking dishes and tools. I noticed a griddle as well. (No, we didn't cook any meals during our stay, but I noted it would be comfortable to cook up a nice dinner in this kitchen!)

After you get settled in, take a walk around this 11 acre haven, looking at the farm animals and listening for rustling high up in the trees.

You might even hear a shout or two, and that's because the largest aerial obstacle course and zip line in Virginia is on the grounds. Wander over to check in for your training, which involves being fit for your harness and some basic safety guidelines to ensure your line is always secure. Then spend the next three hours challenging yourself to new heights up to 40 feet above the ground on the ropes course.  Scream like a little kid as you navigate the ropes course and a variety of challenging obstacles through the trees. At the end, you zipline to your reward.

Photo courtesy Sandy River Outdoor Adventure

Photo courtesy Sandy River Outdoor Adventure

Photo courtesy Sandy River Outdoor Adventure

Photo courtesy Sandy River Outdoor Adventure

Photo courtesy Sandy River Outdoor Adventure
For the ropes course you receive harnesses and training on how to secure your line.

If you get a chance to meet the owners of Sandy River Retreat and Outdoor Adventure, be sure to chat with them -- they're pretty cool folks. Candace and her husband created the place -- he built the cabins as well as the ropes course. Candace runs the retreat and outdoor adventure while raising her family and maintaining a farmette with sheep, donkeys, and chickens.

As advertised, you'll be sure to challenge your mind and body while learning what you are really capable of! Go ahead! Surprise yourself! Once you overcome your fears, you'll end with the reward of ziplining through the tree tops.

If you enjoy this blog, please tell your friends about it!

Getting there: 147 Monroe Church Rd, Rice, VA 23966

Hours: Check the website for available hours and times.


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Monday, May 16, 2016

Taking Pride in the C&O Canal and a Couple of Recipes

This year the Blog officially volunteered for the Ninth Annual Canal Pride Days, a program sponsored by the C&O Canal Trust to work on projects, in coordination with the C&O Canal National Park, to improve or help the park. Projects such as pulling out invasive plants, planting gardens for the lockhouses, cleaning garbage and debris from the canal itself are completed by an army of helpful volunteers over several weeks each spring.

Founded in 2007, the C&O Canal Trust is the official non-profit partner of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. Our mission is to work in partnership with the National Park Service to protect, restore, and promote the C&O Canal. The Trust engages communities and individuals to realize the Park’s historical, natural, and recreational potential.

The C&O Canal National Historical Park is the ninth most visited among this country's national parks, welcoming over 5 million visitors a year -- more visitors than signature parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite, or the Grand Canyon host each year! If you've ever spent a warm spring Saturday at Great Falls, it's easy to believe. The C&O Canal Trust works in partnership with the C&O Canal National Historical Park to raise funds and resources to support maintenance and visitor programs in the Park.

The Canal carries importance to our region beyond its historical significance or that its a wonderful recreational resource: it's ecologically important as well, helping protect the mighty Potomac River. From an ecological standpoint, the canal is of incalculable value to the health of the Potomac River and, by extension, the Chesapeake Bay. The best way to protect the water quality of a river or stream is to protect the land around it from development, and the park provides a natural buffer along more than half of the entire length of the Maryland side of the river.

We participated in Canal Pride Days, in part to give back to a park that has provided the Blog so much material. I've blogged about the C&O Canal more than any other local or national park. The 60 or so volunteers gathered just before 9 a.m., and were divided into groups, each assigned a specific task. Jobs varied from planting a garden for the lockhouse to filling in potholes in the parking lot. Our group's job was to pull out garlic mustard, an invasive, non-native plant that has insinuated itself into the flora along the C&O Canal. All things considered, we got off easy!

I'm not immune to the irony of spending four hours weeding along the Canal. My yard and gardens were simultaneously being weeded and mulched by a landscaping firm. My husband, who was there with me, joked that "if we'd only spend four hours each in our own yard, we could have saved ourselves $700." Oh well.

Garlic mustard is unwelcome in our parks because it has the potential to form dense stands that choke out native plants in the understory, by controlling light, water, and nutrient resources. Garlic mustard is a non-native species originating from Europe and parts of Asia. It is believed that garlic mustard was introduced into North America for medicinal purposes and food. The earliest known report of it growing in the United States dates back to 1868 on Long Island, NY. It has since spread throughout the eastern United States and Canada as far west as Washington, Utah, and British Columbia.

Had I realized its uses before weeding, I would have put some aside for tonight's dinner. But I only learned of its potential while researching for this post. According to the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area web site, there are a variety of uses for Garlic Mustard. I do have to admit, I enjoyed the garlicky aroma while pulling this weed.

Here are some of the suggestions:
  • Young tender leaves can be torn up a bit and added to salads. 
  • Sautee garlic in olive oil or sesame oil or bacon grease; add chopped garlic mustard and other greens if available (garlic chives, spinach, arugula, lambsquarters, mustard greens, what-have-you); a little salt or soy sauce; add a bit of water or stock and cook gently. A dash of vinegar, balsamic or otherwise, may be in order. Taste and decide. This could be spread on toast, added to casseroles, eggs, quiche, stir-fries, etc. 
  • Garlic mustard pesto: crush garlic, slice up garlic mustard and also garlic chives if available, puree both in food processor with olive oil and walnuts (or pine nuts); add parmesan cheese. Start the water for pasta! 
  • Cream sauce: heat 1/4 cup oil and add 1/4 cup flour and cook; add hot milk. Separately cook finely chopped garlic mustard in a little sesame oil; and tamari or soy sauce. Add some of the sauce; puree in food processor and add back to the sauce. Add cheese as desired. Good on stuffed grape leaves for one. 
  • With leftover garlic mustard sauce, add a little yogurt, balsamic vinegar, and tamari and serve as a sauce for steamed asparagus. 

It is an invasive species, so please don't go planting it in your garden. But if you notice a stand of it in the wild, along a road for example, consider harvesting it (root and all, to prevent it from continuing to propagate) and using it in cooking. Although we did our best to eliminate it from the old railroad bed along the Canal in Williamsport, there is still plenty to be found there.

Controlling garlic mustard and other invasive species is important to preserving the native plant vegetative cover, which helps to filter and slow down the precipitation that runs off neighboring roads, parking lots, fields, and rooftops on its way to the river. Because the riverfront forest has regenerated in the years since the park was established, it now provides tremendous habitat for birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. The ecological health and wealth of the river corridor is only possible by virtue of the park.

In addition, as a model of a largely intact riparian (riverside) forest buffer, the canal provides an incomparable scenic amenity. Potomac Conservancy has long called the Potomac River the “wildest urban river in the world” thanks to the abundance of trees found up and down the river corridor. Both Scenic Maryland and Scenic America have identified the Potomac River corridor, and the C&O Canal NHP, as a scenic treasure requiring constant public vigilance to protect it from potential encroachments.

"The island in the parking lot looks amazing, our visitor center has a shiny new floor paint, the garden at Lockhouse 44 looks lovely, and I don't think we left behind any Garlic Mustard within a mile of Cushwa Basin! Our park employees are very grateful for the wonderful cleaning job that was done in the Trolley Barn, Museum and Lockhouse 44, and our visitors can drive safer now that all of the potholes at Cushwa Basin are filled in!" said Josh Whitman, C&O Canal Trust volunteer coordinator, summing up all the work. "All of [the volunteers] did an amazing job!"

For more about the C&O Canal at Williamsport, click here. Click here to read an interview with Josh Whitman.

When: This year Canal Pride Days took place on:
Saturday, April 23, 2016: Great Falls 
Saturday, April 30, 2016: Williamsport
Saturday, May 7, 2016:  Hancock
Saturday, May 7, 2016: Lock 75


For other parts of the C&O Canal, check out the below articles:
Brunswick to Dargan Bend
Canal Pride Days 
Edwards Ferry
Fort Frederick to Hancock
Great Falls
Locks 33 and 34
Lander Lockhouse
Maryland Heights (Harpers Ferry)
Monocacy & Catoctin Aqueducts
Paw Paw Tunnel to Lock 56
Swain's Lock to Seneca Aqueduct
Kayaking at Swain's Lock

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Updated June 2020

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Virginia Renaissance Faire

Looking for something a little different to do for Mother's Day, we found ourselves headed to the Virginia Renaissance Faire, at the Lake Anna Winery in Spotsylvania.

It's cozier, more intimate than at least two of its cousins to the north: the Maryland Renaissance Festival, in Crownsville, and the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire at the Mount Hope Estate Winery in Manheim. At Lake Anna Winery, the actors, dressed to the nines in exquisite period garb, also seemed friendlier and more chatty than at the Maryland events, although that could be a by product of the less crowded setting. Overall, we thought it had the nicer atmosphere.

Shorter lines, fewer crowds, perfect weather -- it was a fun choice for a weekend day!

Despite the standout steam punk (which is more closely related to the Victorian-era run amok) mom and daughter duo, and two individuals dressed up as characters from Stargate -- I guess they were on a mission to explore a new world -- the attendees were costumed more in the spirit, if not the letter, of the renaissance. There were little girl fairies and princesses, too, and that was really fun to see, and as well as many little boys dressed up as pirates or waifs. There was less of the goth/fairy/S&M/black sparkly faux medieval witch thing going on, and to my 14-year-old's disappointment, significantly less boobalicious than the other two festivals; oddly exaggerated cod pieces were also noticeable by their absence. I believe it's more family friendly than the Maryland one, which towards the late afternoon starts picking up the vibe of a seedy, run-down bar.

For lunch we had our choice from among chicken curry, kabobs, Italian sausage, and of course, turkey legs. The typical Renaissance fair speared food items, such as pickles on a stick, cheesecake on a stick were there, of course. But the nut and pretzel peddlers didn't rove around hawking their wares. It's less expensive than the other, splashier fairs -- sodas and water cost just a dollar, and it was my sense that the food was a little less expensive as well.

We enjoyed a tabletop game, driven by cards and dice, called Pirate Raiders. There were blacksmith demonstrations; an explanation of herbal medicine through the ages as well as wool dying and medieval cookery; a variety of craft, artist, and drygoods vendors; and games, from a dunk tank to knife throwing.

There was a may pole dance, an enjoyable spectacle while eating lunch -- and the little kids certainly enjoyed participating! In addition to jousting (which was not on the scale of the Maryland festival), there was also an archery tournament, a militia muster in which participants were taught basic moves involving spears and which involved much laughing, and a knighting ceremony and Queen's court.

Big names such as the Rogues were on the main stage, but there were performances on the other three stages running constantly.

There's something for everyone at the Virginia Ren Faire. It's a great way to while away a spring afternoon in the Viriginia countryside.

Getting there: 5621 Courthouse Road, Spotsylvania, VA 22551

Hours: The Virginia Renaissance Fair runs every weekend through 5 June, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Dogs: There was a tent exhibit of rescued greyhounds and a couple other dogs in the fair, but I'm not sure if they were special for some reason, so call first to ensure Fido is welcomed.


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Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!