Whelp, it’s finally here. Sheryll’s Solo Summer (SSS) is coming to an end next week, as my schmoopies-for-life comes back from his sabbatical taking care of his father.
It truly has been a long three months.
And a lot of physical and emotional work for my beloved XFE in the midst of an unprecedented heat wave. Now he’s coming back to me and the cats and I will be running around this weekend trying to prepare and cleaning like a fiend. My lackadaisical summer cleaning schedule is probably not going to impress him.
But it’s been a fairly good summer, overall. I did not write as much as I had hoped but I did read a lot. I made jam for the first time (turned out well) and pickles (not that great – not enough snap, I think). I cooked and ate all my favorite things (lots of cheese and veggies and beans) and binged on true crime documentaries.
I was socially engaged with friends out here at the cabin – including volunteering for our Lost River Pride Festival in June and attending all the fun activities around that event.
I wrangled up the cats, closed up the cabin and drove the 2 hours into the city all by myself in early July so I could fly out to Vegas and visit XFE and his dad. Then I came back to the city, grabbed the cats and returned to/opened up the cabin again. I used to think it took both of us to snag the cats (without a major incident), but I’ve gotten pretty good at it on my own.
I had out-of-town guests for four days in late July and we did all the fun things, including tubing, wine tasting, vintage shopping, hiking and more wine tasting. I even fired up the hot tub for them (literally. It’s a wood-fired hot tub) and cleaned it out all by myself after my guests had left). I did all the planning and cooking and prep cleaning for the visit, including cleaning the grill, which I was also in charge of cooking on (again, usually XFE’s domain).
Plus, we have a nice Mexico vacation coming up, before we jump into fall work schedules with both feet. XFE already has work obligations piling up in September, as well as ongoing dad care, so I suspect the rest of the year will be busy.
But, the main thing is: I survived. XFE survived. We are all going to be okay (I think).
We’ve never been apart this long. Especially during the pandemic – we didn’t have family nearby or a pandemic bubble. We spent every waking minute together for 2.5 years. What if things have changed in our relationship? Will I be willing to relinquish control of the remote? Will I step up more on the meal planning and cooking? Maybe XFE will be so exhausted he won’t want to be in charge of everything anymore? Then who’s going to make sure things run smoothly?
I guess we’ll just have to figure it out – starting next week. This weekend, I’ll be watching all the true crime documentaries while eating roasted veggies off the grill that could really use another cleaning. Who knows? Maybe I’ll fire up the hot tub again just for me.
Last week kind of got away from me. It was eventful. Our cats chased a mouse from the screened in porch (we have a crack under the door) and into the house during the final Vanderpump Rules Reunion episode.
This has happened once or twice before, and usually, my live-in mouse remover/exterminator XFE takes charge and captures the intruder, while I hold the cats back and squeal and offer (unwanted) suggestions.
This time, the mouse ended up hiding in the water filter closet and, for a variety of reasons, including a few glasses of celebratory Vanderpump rose, I could not catch it until the next morning. Which meant blocking off the closet with a variety of rugs, blankets and any movable furniture for the night. BUT, I did manage to catch it the next morning all on my own and relocate it to the woods.
High on my success, I hopped into my fairly new and hardly driven car (we bought it in 2021 and it has 7,000 miles on it) to go to the grocery store (again, my personal chef, XFE usually does the grocery shopping). But poor Jolene the Jeep started making the loudest, screechiest racket that was echoing off all the hills and nearby valleys nearby.
I recorded a video of it and showed it to the dealership repair people the next day, who agreed that I should not drive it and sent a tow truck to the cabin to take it in for repair (it’s most likely a large rock or some gravel caught in the rotor cover or brake dust shield).
Car repairs are generally something that my darling XFE takes the lead on (Not that there have been many occasions on my part. This is the first car I’ve had since moving to DC in 2002. But his car, is what I’m speaking of).
Anyway, while I’m here brushing up on my adult survival skills, XFE is toiling away in the Las Vegas heat, taking care of his dad. XFE is not only helping him with some immediate medical things, he’s also trying to help him deal with a lot of possessions, simplify his finances, and get him on a path to an easier, less cluttered life.
It’s no secret that Americans, on general, have too much stuff. According to one statistic that’s all over the internet, the average American home has over 300,000 objects in it. And while our homes have grown – today, the median single-family home is 2,355 square feet while in 1970, it was 1,500 square feet – we’re actually paying to store stuff. There are over 51,000 self-storage units in the United States and the entire self-storage industry rakes in $29 billion a year.
We are, figuratively speaking, drowning in stuff.
Meanwhile, over in Sweden, they practice something called, “döstädning” which literally means “death cleaning” in English. While death cleaning is supposed to take place before you die, it’s really about living and maximizing your living space and really taking stock of what’s important and deserves space in your life.
But it’s also about getting rid of all your unnecessary stuff so your children don’t have to do it when you die. And seriously, we need more old people to do that.
There’s a reality show about it on Peacock. It’s called “The Gentle Art of Death Cleaning,” and it is charming, amazing, uplifting and funny. I loved it and binged all eight episodes in a weekend. If you aren’t sure you want to watch the whole thing or don’t know where to start, just watch episode 3. It’s relatable and it’s a great overview of the whole show and philosophy.
Here are seven tips I got from the show:
Do not pay for storage. — Especially for items you are holding onto for other family members. Do not hang onto stuff for other family members, past or future. You don’t need to keep things to keep the memories. You and the life you have built are the family legacy. You don’t need to store and pass down old stuff. And for all that is holy, do not keep things that bring back bad or sad memories. Seriously, who needs that?
Only you know what is a family treasure. – Do not send a whole box of stuff to your family members to sort through or invite them to the storage unit to go through a mountain of stuff. If you think there’s something collectible in there, take the time to go through and research each item and send the valuable item to the beloved family member. They do not have time to go through your stuff to try to decipher what’s valuable.
Actually, give up on the idea of collectibles all together. — Most shit that was supposed to be collectible when first purchased, really isn’t. I’m looking at you, Beanie Babies. If you like to collect something, fine. Enjoy it and then let it go to someone else who actually shares that passion. You really see this at work (hilariously so) in episodes one and seven. Do not leave it to family members or friends who do not share your passion.
If you have multiples of treasured items, just keep one or two of the very best and let the rest go. In one episode, a woman had a bunch of crocheted or knitted blankets that her mother had made, but most of them were in horrible shape. She kept one or two of the best ones and prominently displayed them in her house.
Treat the “treasured” items like treasures. When you do pass them along to a family member, treat the item like a true gift, with a box and a story. This is something you’ll see pretty prominently in episodes three and six, and it is very touching. Your family members don’t know why something is important unless you tell them the story behind it.
If you really just cannot let something go, make a plan for it. Either display and enjoy it or put it in a purgatory box to revisit at a later time. But have a concrete plan to deal with it at some point.
Clean up your finances and technology. – This one isn’t so much from the show, just from life itself. Consolidate bank and investment accounts, credit cards, have bills sent and paid electronically, get rid of catalog clutter, factory reset and recycle old electronics like phones, tablets and computers at the appropriate facility.
By the way, I’m actually a pretty unsentimental minimalist who is not emotionally attached to my stuff. We don’t have a garage and have never paid for self-storage, which definitely helps keep the stuff in the house to a minimum. That, and no kids, which I hear helps.
Even still, I am always working on having fewer things and only keeping things that I really love and use. I’ve gotten much better — and much less materialistic overall — as I’ve gotten older, so I guess that’s one perk to getting older.
Young people: heed my advice. Do not get old. I do not recommend it. 0 out of 10. Negative stars. It sucks. And yes, I know the alternative is not getting old, aka: death. But sometimes, the indignity of watching your own slow degradation makes death seem like an attractive option.
I got my second shingles shot yesterday. See children, shingle vaccinations are something you have to get after 50. And apparently, shingles itself is ruuuuullll unpleasant and painful. So, like a good geriatric beholden to big pharma for life-extending options, I lined up at the Walmart in March and got my shingles vaccine (a year later than I was supposed to. Guess I was hoping for a waiver or a patch or some other option).
I’m already a bit wary, and yes, weary of vaccines. There’s been a lot of them the past few years, especially for old folks, which somehow includes people over 50 now. And I generally have the same reaction after each of them: 24 hours of headache, fatigue, low-grade fever and all over body ache to the point I cannot sit or lie comfortably.
But after my first shingles shot, not much happened. My arm ached and I had a slight soreness all over but honestly, pretty manageable. The second one, not so much. I’m very achy and fatigued. Which pisses me off because I did not expect it. Plus, it’s a legitimately gorgeous day out here in Lost River Valley and instead I’m inside, shivering and trying to find a comfortable position.
Other things to look forward to after 50: Colonoscopy. Got my first one of those a month or so ago. Not fun, but I’m sure you’ve already heard. I can confirm, the prep is the worst part. I went the pill option, which I’ve heard is better than the drink. Still, the same “outcome” if you know what I mean. Plus, I’m not a girl who skips meals, so liquids only for 24 hours was torture. And, I did not lose an ounce of weight.
On the plus side, the anesthesia-induced nap was pretty great, I gotta say. I woke up talking about Vanderpump Rules and Scandoval. Unfortunately, no one in my recovery area seemed to be wise to all the VPR goings-on’s so my hot takes were underappreciated.
As a day one watcher of Vanderpump Rules, I am heavily invested in the Scandoval and by “invested,” I mean easily distracted by all snippets of news and “theories” about all of it. I even started keeping a timeline that I could refer to while rewatching episodes, diligently sniffing out clues of what stage the relationship was in at each point in time. I definitely missed my calling as a private investigator.
Another perk of getting old: Dense breast tissue. Apparently, my lovely breasts (which are holding up quite well in my opinion) are now “dense.” So whereas two or three years ago, I could just have a preventative (and free, yet still painful and embarrassing) yearly mammogram, this year I had to have a more in-depth diagnostic mammogram (semi-expensive), an ultrasound on one of my boobs (slightly expensive), and an MRI (surprisingly, expensive). Which, by the way, the MRI is way easier in the first place (you lay face down and your titties go in these cups and then you just have to stay still – my specialty). BUT an MRI also requires an IV line for some contrasting fluids.
I am not a fan of IVs. Somehow, I did not know that MRI’s required an IV. I went skipping in there like it was no big deal and then blam! Let me poke you with this needle. Definitely ruined my MRI napping buzz. Going forward, I’m not sure what to expect. Will I just go straight MRI each year or do the whole preventative first rigamarole? Guess we’ll find out next year.
Then, of course, there’s the big one – Menopause. Well, peri-menopause first, because for some reason, we need a warm up to the big one. I started mine during the previous administration – so think, unsatisfying impeachments, family border separations and lost children, fears of North Korea bombing us, throwing paper towels after a hurricane, trying to buy Greenland, fighting with a porn star, colluding with Russia, COVID, Roe v. Wade, January 6.
I was full of hostility and rage and acting OUT. But I wasn’t at all sure it WAS hormone related or just general anger and anxiety over the downfall of democracy in real time. I thought for sure I was having a breakdown during that whole period. I honestly did not even recognize myself. I could tell I was raging and overreacting to stuff but I could not stop it.
Then, of course, the hot flashes and night sweats, which considering I used to be someone prone to chills, was so weird. Then my gynecologist said, no, no, no, you’re not crazy. Here’s some lovely low-dose Paxil. You’ll be fine.
And honestly, I had a fairly easy menopause. I just didn’t know what to expect and didn’t really have anyone to talk to about it. Now, I openly (maybe too openly) talk about it and I now know lots of women who have had it far, far worse. I haven’t had to go on any hormone treatments yet, but totally will if I feel like it’s getting to that point again.
So to recap: Old age sucks. If this is 50, I shudder to imagine 55 or 60 or some truly ancient age. I just know that there are more indignities to come.
Whew. It’s been a long-ass six (or seven?) months since my last post. Not like a whole second global pandemic long, but not too far off the mark.
For the last – gosh, I want to say, for 10(!?) months — my lovable and wonderful non-husband, XFE has been dealing with aging family members’ health issues. Since August of last year, XFE would go out to his parents’ house in North Las Vegas and stay for a few weeks, or even a month to help out, while trying to work remotely at the same time. And then when he was here at home, he would try to work at his high-pressure, stressful job while dealing with his parents’ health issues remotely.
It all felt like failure, all the way around and we knew it would not be sustainable at some point.
Over the past two months, his dad’s health issues and the associated responsibilities have ramped up to the point where XFE has had to take a leave of absence from work and move out to North Las Vegas to help care for his dad. We went out in mid-May and XFE stayed behind while I came home.
So, I’m spending the next three months without my own caretaker, my partner, my support system, my best friend/co-cat parent/personal chef/comic relief/entertainment coordinator/activity planner/handyman/chauffeur/remote-control pilot/accountant/weekly shopper/emotional sounding board/gut checker/work advisor/ride-or-die/partner in crime and all-around motivator.
Basically, I am having to go without my everything and all the things.
I feel entirely unmoored while having to pretend that everything is fine. Just fine. Because there’s someone close to us right now who really needs him more than I do. And I’m an independent and self-sufficient adult (allegedly).
As we were preparing for this time apart, we talked about all the things XFE was going to miss while he was away. One of those things is mountain laurel season at the cabin here in West Virginia.
It is truly a gorgeous time of year out here in Lost River. The mornings are still pretty cool (in the 40s) but it warms up to the high 70s by mid-day and it’s just a pleasant, comfortable time to be here.
The trees are all filled in, creating this little green oasis that feels so private and removed from the rest of the world.
There’s also the sound of constantly rustling leaves as deer, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels and who knows what else move through the underbrush completely invisible to the human eye. You hear a rustle and turn your head but can’t see anything. Then you wonder if you really heard anything at all but now you hear another noise and it’s from a different part of the forest, so maybe that’s what you heard the previous time? Who can tell?
The early birds are nesting and having baby birds. We’ve already had round one on one of our drain spouts. Miss Bird was still nesting some eggs when we left. There were at least three little fuzzy-headed baby birds by the time I got back out here. I accidentally scared them all out of the nest the other day after returning from the grocery store. I hope they’re all ok.
More and more mountain laurel are popping every day, going from tight pink buds to fluffy white blooms. The air smells just gorgeous and spring-like, especially as the day warms up. Bees and butterflies are flying around them lazily.
We’ve got a lot of the mountain laurel on the hill behind the cabin and last year, XFE and I sat on the back porch in the evenings with a cocktail or some wine just listening to the bees and the breeze, taking tons of pictures of the flowers.
This year is very different and I’m sad that he’s missing it. I know there are bigger things to be sad about – in particular, his dad’s health and what’s going to happen next – but I am sad. I just am.
Anyway, XFE has asked me to use this time to get back to blogging, so here I am. I don’t think this is what he had in mind, but it’s at least a new start. Like a mountain laurel bush in the spring.
Winter has settled in at the cabin, it gets dark at like, 4:30, and with the holidays and probably snow right around the corner, I thought I’d travel back in time to much warmer days—ie: my ongoing trip report for Southeast Asia.
When last I left off, we had just finished the first leg of our first big post-COVID international trip—three days in Singapore. The next leg of our trip took us to a familiar destination: St. Regis Bali.
We loved St. Regis Bali on our first visit in 2014. The staff, the food, the villa, the lagoon, the private pool – it was all just perfection. So much so, in fact, that we tried to go back in 2017 but because of some WTO ministerial or some other international governing body visit, we were informed just weeks before our stay that St. Regis was unavailable, but the fine Starwood folks would be happy to put us up at literally any other Bali hotel. However, my shrewd travel-agent-for-life, XFE instead suggested that they put us up at the newly opened St. Regis Maldives and that’s where we went (spoiler: It was really, really nice as well).
We woke up early and made our way to the Singapore airport, where I proceeded to have a bit of a meltdown at pre-boarding security. Let me start by saying: I am a very conscientious packer. I’ve seen too many people (including on this trip) try to take all sorts of items that they must know by well would not make it through security, including food and drink items, lighters, lighters that look like replicas of guns (!), handcuffs (?!), box cutters, literal scissors (hand on my heart, I saw an Indian woman trying to take scissors through security in her carryon this very trip. And also, baby food and formula. Lots of it).
So I always make damn sure there is nothing in my bag that could set off security, not even a sewing kit. Except for this time. This time, I had a pair of cuticle scissors in my makeup bag. They were part of a nail kit that I had thrown in without realizing. And boy, was I adamant that I did not have any scissors in my makeup bag. I threw a hissy fit and kept insisting that nope, not me, no way, I did not have anything even remotely sharp in my makeup bag. Except that I did. Oops.
Now sweaty, flustered and embarrassed, I settled in for our two-hour flight from Singapore to Bali.
True to form, Bali was again getting ready for an international gathering of trade and politics, the G20 Summit, which took place in mid-November. Signs and advertisements were up everywhere. However, this time, we would not have to reroute our trip and would be staying at our favorite resort again.
Check-in at St. Regis was easy and we were in our villa in no time. And, it was just as wonderful as our first visit. The villa was the exact same; ie: gorgeous and smelled like frangipani. The private deck and plunge pool was amazing and secluded. XFE had called ahead and made sure we had a kite ready and waiting in our room, which was really sweet.
We changed and got in some beach and pool time. Now, I’m not much of a beach person and while Bali does undoubtedly have some lovely beaches, there is one small issue (actually not small, it’s a real problem) – trash. A ton of trash washes up on Balinese beaches. Although to be fair, this isn’t just a problem in Bali. It’s all through Southeast Asia. Just a lot of single-use plastics, Styrofoam, and other debris wash up on the beach all day long. Despite the resorts best efforts to clean it up, it just keeps coming.
Despite the trash, the days became a peaceful blur and we settled into our resort routine – early breakfast at the buffet and some kite flying (and trash pickup) on the beach.
Then back to the room for a very liberal application of various sunscreens. We had all the SPF numbers in cream, gel, stick and powder formulations. Properly protected, we’d head out to our deck and pool to read and listen to music.
At lunch, we’d head back down to the beach area to eat with our feet in the sand and people-watching—my favorite resort activity. My lunch favorites were the fish and chips and a pizza with tomato confit. XFE had an amusing encounter while ordering a club sandwich. He asked for extra mayo and ended up with extra chicken, bacon, and lettuce instead.
We’d fuel up with mojitos at the beach bar and then head back to our room for more reading, lounging, napping until 5-5:30, when we would clean up and go to the King Cole bar for sundowners and to watch the champagne sabering and the sunset fire dancers.
We made a meal off their appetizer menu one night and ate at the resort restaurant, Kayputi another night (my fish dish was divine) but most nights we ordered room service (the mushroom risotto and Caesar salad were particularly good).
We usually fell asleep pretty early most nights because we are just such hard-core partiers (raging till 8 or 9 every day). On our last day, we gave our Balinese kites to two boys from Switzerland and XFE showed them how they worked.
Everything was just as wonderful as our first visit and the staff was exemplary and friendly as before. It was a truly idyllic resort vacation. I didn’t even miss my cuticle scissors.
I’m writing this from the very back of the struggle bus. We got back from our Singapore-Bali-Indonesian islands vacation about a week ago and we are still trying to get back on schedule.
I don’t know if it’s because we’re old or just out of practice or what, but both XFE and I are having a hard time staying awake past 8 pm and we both keep waking up at 4 am, unable to get back to sleep. We’ve never had this type of jetlag before, at least as far as I can remember.
BUT, it was a truly great and memorable, once-in-a-lifetime trip, so there is that.
We started with three days in Singapore, which we’ve been to before. I absolutely love Singapore. It’s a vibrant busy city that’s a mix of history and modernity. There’s amazing modern architecture, plenty of things to see and do, most everyone speaks English, and the food is just phenomenal. It’s overall bustling and busy with these surprising pockets of peace and serenity (like a garden or a temple). I just really love it.
We stayed at the Westin Singapore which is right near one of our favorite hawker centers, Lau Pa Sat. We had a memorable dinner of satay skewers and beer while sitting at a communal table set up in a closed down street that just an hour before had been a major thoroughfare. It was busy and chaotic in the very best way.
We landed at 6 am after an 18.5-hour direct flight from New York to a soggy and very humid Singapore morning. After a quick shower and refresh, we headed out for (what else?) a private food tour with a guide from WithLocals.
Since it was our second visit to Singapore, we decided to skip the museums and arranged a couple of “insider” tours. A food tour seemed like a great way to get to know the city better and get acclimated to our Southeast Asia schedule.
Our three-hour tour with William took us from Kampong Glam to Little India and finished at a Chinatown hawker center where we had “the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world” – soya sauce chicken and noodles from Hawker Chan.
We finished the tour stuffed to the gills and while it was all very, very good, I think our favorite thing was the garlic naan served with a side of butter chicken sauce at Tekka Center in Little India. Not butter chicken, just the bright orange, creamy delicious sauce. Genius.
The next morning, armed with an iced coffee, we went back to explore the Kampong Glam neighborhood a bit more. We also wanted to stop in for an early(ish) gin and tonic at Atlas Bar.
While I gawked at the gorgeous Art Deco-inspired interiors, XFE put the bartender through their paces, ordering (and getting) the most obscure gins we’ve come across in our various travels and which we can’t get in the U.S. Handcrafted gin from the Swedish island of Hven? Oh yes, they carry that, and in a couple of different variations. South Africa’s Inverroche gin? One of the barbacks would have to go up the gin tower to get it, but Atlas definitely had it in amber, classic and verdant.
We skipped lunch at Atlas that day (though we came back for a late lunch the next day) and made our way over to Clarke Quay for chili crab at Jumbo Seafood. We had learned our lesson from our last visit and came prepared with a Ziploc filled with napkins, hand sanitizer and our own latex gloves. We were seasoned pros this time, ready to dig into our sweet, saucy bowl of chili crab with a side of fried rolls and large Tiger beers.
Stuffed yet again, we opted to walk back to our hotel, walking past all the fun bars and restaurants that line the Singapore River. XFE even recognized the bar we had stopped in for beers the last time we were here. Since it had begun to rain (did I mention we were there mere days after the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix, the start of which had to be delayed over an hour due to thunderstorms?), we did not revisit the bar, but kept on going, winding our way through Ann Siang Hill Park (a total oasis and hidden gem right in the CBD) on the way to our hotel.
Our final day in Singapore we met up with another WithLocals guide (the delightful Joise) for an “off-the-beaten-track” tour of the Hougang neighborhood. It was really, really fascinating!
We learned all about Singapore’s unique housing situation – most of the homes (condos and apartments) are built and owned by the government, who then sells them at subsidized rates to citizens. Approximately 85% of homes in Singapore are owned in this way, with very few homes (and hardly any land) being privately owned.
This policy has guaranteed that most citizens can “own” their homes and has kept overdevelopment and speculators at bay. It also prevents foreclosures, since the government works with anyone who falls behind on their mortgage payments to keep them in their homes, sometimes putting a pause on the loan or even lowering the monthly payments.
We peppered Joise with questions about other public policies and citizen’s attitudes towards education, crime and punishment, retirement and aging, COVID and vaccinations, religion, same-sex relationships–all of the things. It really gave us a lot of insight into the typical Singapore person’s life.
The rain started coming down pretty hard around noon, so we had a pretty low-key rest of the day, including room service dinner, catching up on some shows on our laptops, and packed up to leave early in the morning for our next stop — Bali.
It’s official – COVID lockdown has ended. I know this because I’m pretty sure we were the last holdouts and we have finally loosened up our protocols.
We are no longer sheltering in place, just the two of us and the cats. We’ve slowly peeked our heads out of our collective shells and gradually started to return to a semblance of our previous lives.
My non-husband XFE has gone into his re-opened office over the summer with increasing frequency and also attended some work events. I attended my first work-related conference in person in DC last week. We’ve gone on a couple of small trips, including our first international trip (a week in Mexico in July). We’re even going to a wedding this weekend.
Our assimilation has been at a slower pace than a lot of people we know but it all still feels super weird and risky to us. As far as I can tell, most folks have already had COVID at least once so they feel slightly safer than those of us who never caught it. And, with vaccines and boosters, it seems like we all feel comfortable that even if we do get COVID at this point, we won’t likely die from it (This is the group we’re tentatively in. However, we are still very afraid of the unknowns around long COVID).
In many ways, we had to loosen up. We didn’t really have a choice. The world was starting to move on without us. XFE got promoted this summer, which continues to produce many celebratory get-togethers. Conferences went back to being in-person and no longer offered a virtual option. Offices have gradually opened and companies are encouraging/pressuring people to come back in the name of “culture.” Family health issues came up that needed to be addressed immediately and in person. Despite XFE’s best hair-cutting efforts of the past two-and-a-half years, I could no longer ignore the state of my hair. And we keep getting invited to things we really didn’t want to miss.
So that’s where we are — nervously tiptoeing our way back into society.
But I have to say: I kinda miss our pandemic lockdown bubble.
I actually liked not feeling pressured to socialize. Right before the lockdowns, I had a ton of work and personal travel planned, and to be honest, I did not want to attend all of it. I liked having that built-in excuse for bowing out – “No, sorry, we can’t go. We’re still being very COVID cautious.”
I liked how we all slowed down, reprioritized what was important, and focused on self-care. Of course, I didn’t like being scared—even downright paranoid—about catching COVID. But I did like feeling like the safest thing we could do for everyone was to just stay home.
Plus, I learned a lot about XFE and his job while we were both working from home. While we worried about ourselves, our loved ones, and the country (A LOT) over those two-and-a-half years, we also had fun and laughed and ate awesome homecooked meals three times a day and watched a lot of really bad TV.
We bought a cabin and hunkered down in a place that felt spacious and safe. We got to enjoy a slower pace of life in a place that still stuns us with its’ beauty. We quickly established a routine and fell into a nice rhythm. Right now, things feel very much up in the air as we try to figure out where we need to be and when.
So after an already busy September and a hectic-looking October, I’m ready for another lockdown bubble. I don’t want another pandemic (obviously), but I’m not ready for the world to go back so quickly to the way it was before.
Even though my non-husband XFE and I are fully vaccinated, we have still held off on traveling. Which, if you’ve read this blog before, you know it’s a big, big change for us.
And, as the COVID breakthrough cases went up over the summer, and news of ICUs being full and hospitals overwhelmed, we wanted to stick with that decision. We did not want a breakthrough infection and we did not want to potentially expose anyone else.
Still, we needed a vacation. Not a ‘work 12-hour days AT your vacation home’ vacation, but a real break. A COVID-safe vacation. Preferably something outdoors with minimal human interaction.
I take no credit for this vacation. It was all XFE. He found it, he researched it, he booked it and he was very, very excited about it.
I was a bit more reticent. After all, we’ve never really done anything like that before. There was that one time we went dune riding in Peru, but we were not allowed to drive those dune buggies. This would be a total self-driving situation. For three full days. On muddy trails. Plus, we’d be staying in a cabin, which seemed silly to me since we HAVE a cabin. And a really, really nice one at that.
This whole thing was not exactly my typical luxury travel vacation. Still, it was a vacation and a chance to unplug from work and other distractions.
We packed up the SUV and drove five hours west towards the border of West Virginia and Kentucky for our ATV adventure.
We (and by we, I mean, XFE had actually timed it perfectly because there’s a huge festival – National TrailFest – that takes place every October and brings in thousands of people from all over the world. This year it took place October 7-11. XFE arranged our vacation for the week before, which was perfect. The trails weren’t crowded at all, especially on the weekdays. By Thursday afternoon though, you start to see an uptick in traffic.
We chose Gilbert as our home base and rented a self-catering cabin at Canebrake Cabins, which is just across the street from a trail entry point (RockHouse trail entry #17). Our cabin (the Willow) had a grill and a full kitchen, and it was clean and well-equipped, if a bit noisy (it’s right on a busy road), but it was perfect for our purposes. It also had an ATV washing area in the parking lot, which we definitely needed at the end of each day.
Gilbert wasn’t much to look at. In fact, considering it’s such a tourist destination, it seems a bit run down, if I’m being honest. Since we’d brought all our own food and beverages, we didn’t spend much time in town, so I can’t really speak to any of the amenities there.
The first morning, we picked up our super fancy Kawasaki KRX 1000 side-by-side from Mountain Top Adventures at the Twin Hollow Campgrounds. After filling out some paperwork, purchasing all our trail permits ($50 for non-residents), and a brief run-through of how to operate the ATV, we were allowed to drive off and start getting muddy on 700-plus miles of trails.
I will say, ATVing is a lot more fun than maybe I had expected. Yes, it’s loud and bumpy and even muddy, but it’s also really fun. It feels a lot like being a kid again and riding the rides at a carnival or amusement park. Getting dirty was just part of the fun. And, there’s no cell service on a mountain trail, so nobody was checking phones or replying to emails. All you can do is hold on and ride (or drive, which was mostly left to XFE. )
We obviously didn’t hit all 700 miles of trail, but we did rack up 200-300 miles each of the three days we were out there. We made it out east to the Buffalo Mountain system in Delbarton and Devil Anse system in Matewan. We got up early on those days and drove the ATV on the highway (albeit, slowly) to get to the far side of the system and work our way back towards Man or Gilbert via the connecting trails. But our favorite trails turned out to be in the system closest to our cabins, RockHouse.
And ladies, if you are worried about whether ATVing is for you, just think of it as a very primitive spa vacation. You start early in the morning with a cryo-therapy treatment (those mountains are cold and foggy in the morning). This is followed by alternating treatments of microdermabrasion (in the form of sand) and organic mud facials, all while receiving an all-over body massage via the constant rumbling. Aromatherapy comes in the form of the forest plants and shrubs whipping past you at 25 miles an hour. Plus, there’s the adrenaline flush you’ll receive as you look over the side of steep mountain inclines sans guardrails.
If that doesn’t convince you that ATVing is for everyone, I’m not sure what will.
We’re slowly coming to the end of the initial list of projects we wanted to undertake here at the cabin.
But there is a project that is still on our not-immediate-but-eventually project list: replacing the toilets in our two bathrooms.
And, oh my.
As someone who has never shopped for toilets before, I had no idea there were sooooo many options. Like, a lot of options.
Do you want a one-piece toilet or the traditional tank and seat setup? Or what about a tankless option?
What sort of flushing options do you want or need? Gravity flush or pressure assisted? Or you could really splash out and get a dual flush model.
What bowl shape can your space accommodate? Do you want a round or elongated bowl? Maybe even square elongated? How about that?
What about the height? Should we get the traditional 15 inches or maybe a taller 17 or even 19 inches?
How much water will the new toilet use (that would be “gallons per flush,” for all you lay people out there)?
Do we want floor mounted or wall mounted (that one is pretty much already decided by existing plumbing and all)?
What color do we want (again, this one is pretty much already decided – we have one white and one “almond” toilet already in the house, but maybe we just want to live less wild and go for two whites? Or one white, one biscuit? Or linen? What is the difference between biscuit and linene? I don’t know!)
Do we want a discreet quiet flush model?
Where do you want the handle? Right, left, top? If we go with top flush, do we want oil rubbed bronze or brushed gold?
What about slow close seats? That seems like it might be nice, right?
This is a lot more than I expected to have to ponder. And the stakes feel very high here. It’s an important part of your daily routine, so you want it to be the best you can afford. But—and here’s another thing I never knew—toilets can get really, really expensive. Sure, you can go with a pretty basic model at around $100, but once you start adding in all these nice-sounding features, it can really get up there, like, $1,500 range. Generally, for a one-piece, elongated, single or dual flush, comfort height, soft-closed seat model, it’s around $400 to $600.
A fully-loaded TOTO toilet with dual-flushing system, heated seat and air purifying system? That will set you back $14,000. (BUT, it does clean itself, which I argue makes it totally worth it.)
Plus, I mean, how often do you really replace a toilet? Not very often. So you want to make sure you get it right. You don’t want a toilet that’s going to be obsolete in a year or two. You want the latest toilet innovations and a commode that’s built to stand the test of time.
There’s also the tricky issue of disposing of the old ones. How? Where? Will the trash guys just take them?
And so, the toilet replacement project is at a standstill. Clogged, if you will, by indecision on my part and an unwillingness to spend silly amounts of money. Maybe we’ll get to it in the spring.
Our corona cabin in Hardy County is surrounded by lots of great hiking. We’ve got, of course, all the trails at the Lost River State Park, the Wolf Gap Recreation Area and the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests. Plus, we have our own five acres to tromp around on.
But one of our favorite day trips is to Canaan Valley and the Blackwater Falls State Park. Located 47 miles west of our cabin, Canaan Valley is a national wildlife refuge at the headwaters of the Blackwater River, and home to a major ski and golf resort.
Canaan Valley has a pretty standard story for this state: It was full of wild and beautiful forests until logging, railroads and coal came into the area and all the forests were cut down for industry. By the 1920’s, the Canaan Valley was completely barren. In the 1930s, after plans fell through to establish a hydroelectric power plant, the West Virginia Power and Transmission Company donated the canyon and falls to the state and the park was formally established in 1937. All the forests on view today are second- and third-generation growth.
We’ve not been to Canaan Valley Resort in the winter, but in the summer and fall, you can pay $8 to ride the ski lift up to the top of the mountain and hike down to the valley. We did this in July, hiking the provocatively named Bald Knob Trail and the wild blueberries were out of control. We were wishing we had brought a Ziploc bag to haul some out with us. I’ve heard it’s even more gorgeous in the fall when the leaves are turning and the whole valley is ablaze in color.
We did not see another single soul out on Bald Knob Trail in July, which was a moderately challenging hike. At the end of the hike, back at the chairlift base, is a bar and restaurant called Quenchers, which has some outdoor seating. The service is meh and the chef is usually completely missing in action (I guess summer hours are a bit lax?). But the local beer, Big Timber Blonde Ale, is very satisfying after the hike, as are the sidewinder fries (which the waitress can fry up, even if the chef isn’t in yet).
We’ve also hiked and fished along the Blackwater River Trail, which was a nice easy 1-mile loop with beautiful wetland scenery right off the parking lot near the golf area. There are a ton more trails (I think about 18 miles worth) within the resort area to explore, either hiking or via mountain bike.
Just three miles down the road is Blackwater Falls State Park, which is a pretty popular tourist destination. The falls are five stories high and are named after the amber-colored water that’s a byproduct of the tannins picked up from all the fallen leaves and pine and spruce needles along the river’s 31-mile journey.
The park has several overlook platforms to view and photograph the falls, including a handicap-accessible platform. In addition, the park has a 20-mile system of hiking trails. We’ve hiked the short, out-and-back Lindy Point Overlook a couple of times, which has an amazing view of the Blackwater Canyon, and the Elakala Falls Trail, hooking up with the Yellow Birch Trail to create a 4-mile loop that started and ended at the Blackwater Resort parking lot.
The Blackwater Resort has been closed for renovations throughout the summer and fall, so I cannot comment on their waitstaff or the fries.
So there you have it. A nice little daytrip in West Virginia’s Tucker County. As for us, we do plan on visiting sometime during the snow season to check out some of those activities as well.