Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Homestead

This past weekend Chris and I traveled to The Homestead for an event through his office. The Homestead is a historic resort located in Hot Springs, VA which is about four hours outside of D.C in the Allegheny Mountains. It's amazing how a few hours on the road can make you feel like your hundreds of of miles away from the hustle and bustle of Washington. It was such a beautiful, quiet and cool place to spend the weekend. There wasn't the slightest hint of humidity in the mountain air which was a special treat. The Homestead was established in 1766 so I thought I'd give you a brief history lesson before a recap of our weekend.

The History

The Homestead was founded ten years before the American Revolution started. This part of Virginia is well known for its minerals springs, which is exactly why people traveled to this part of the state. Presidents and princes are just some of the few guests that have traveled to Hot Springs, VA to soak in the "healing waters."

From 1755 to 1756, George Washington, only 23 years old at the time and the commander of the Virginia Militia, visited the springs several times and eventually became friends with Thomas Bullett. Thomas served as an officer in the Militia and by 1756 George Washington named him in command of Fort Dinwiddie.

At the time Militia officers were paid for their services with land. In 1764 Thomas Bullett and his partners received 300 acres of land that included seven mineral springs. Today those 300 acres form the heart of The Homestead. Captain Bullett took the lead in developing the area and many Militia members and their families vacationed there. In 1766 The Homestead was officially established and Thomas Bullett eventually died during his service in the American Revolution.

Between 1818 and 1820 Thomas Jefferson and James Madison visited The Homestead. It was in 1832 when The Homestead was acquired by Dr. Thomas Goode, a prominent Virginia physician. Dr. Goode had traveled to Europe and visited several of their renowned spas. He was the first to recognize the potential fine dining and romance had as an essential part of The Homestead. Dr. Goode added spacious dining rooms, new kitchens and beautiful ballrooms, which brought it to a new level.

For several years prior to 1888 The Homestead went through a bit of a slump. It was in 1888 that J. Pierpont Morgan, America's most prominent banker at the time, together with a number of wealthy investors required a corporation which purchased The Homestead. In 1892 The Homestead underwent major renovations and Thomas Edison, a regular guest, supplied their first electric power plant.

In 1899 President Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States, visited several times. President McKinley was the first President to tee off the from the legendary First Tee of the Old Course. In 1901 The Homestead was damaged by fire. Fortunately no one lost their life and the Spa, Casino building, Virginia building and cottages were not damaged. The new, main Homestead building and ballroom were completed after this fire.

In 1908, President William Taft visited with his family for three months and gave one of the first presidential campaign speeches ever to be recorded at The Homestead. In 1915 Woodrow Wilson visited during his Presidency on his honeymoon with his second wife, Edith Golling Galt Wilson. For many years following multiple Presidents visited The Homestead. As I mentioned earlier, it's a reasonable getaway from D.C. so I can see why so many Presidents traveled there for some quiet time.

In 1993 Club Resorts acquired The Homestead and began a complete restoration with an outdoor pool, shooting range, and ski slopes. The Homestead offers three championship golf courses, a 48 stable Equestrian Center, a top rated Shooting Club, falconry, fly-fishing, a 270 seat historic movie theater, a 45 acre ski area and a European-style spa. It truly is a family oriented resort.

My Experience

Travel & Leisure magazine ranked The Homestead #12 of 52 hotels in 2010:  "The World's Best Hotels for Families." It is a great place to visit with your family, especially if you enjoy the outdoors or you're simply looking for a quiet place to relax. I wouldn't rank it as one of the world's best hotels for young couples. There is nothing inexpensive about The Homestead so if I were to choose a place to spend that kind of money on a weekend getaway I don't believe it would be my top choice- at this point in my life.

The guys played golf all day Saturday so they couldn't have been happier. One of Chris' co-worker's girlfriends and I have become friends and we had planned on sitting by the pool all day. I checked the weather before we left town on Thursday and I thought we were going to have it made. Well boy was the weather forecast wrong. We woke up on Saturday to cloudy skies and very cool temperatures. Don't get me wrong, I didn't miss the humidity for one minute but it was quite clear that we wouldn't be sitting by the pool sipping fun drinks all afternoon.

After a nice breakfast and stroll along the grounds, Kelly and I plopped ourselves into a rocking chair on the front porch and off we went chatting....for two hours. I love a rocking chair as much as any other good ole' southerner but let me tell can only rock for so long before your rear goes numb. At one point in time I realized that Kelly and I were close to the only two people talking on the entire front porch. Keep in mind we were seated in two out of probably 25 rocking chairs. During the middle of one of our conversations a gentleman walked up behind us and said "excuse me ladies." I immediately thought that we were going to be told to stop talking because we were too loud but I was pleasantly surprised to hear him ask if we'd like a pillow to place behind our backs for support. Southern hospitality at its best!

After our two hour rocking chair expedition came to an end we decided to wander through the inside of the resort. As we walked the halls we came across one sitting room after another. Each room was beautifully decorated with inviting lounge chairs and multiple "game tables." I've never seen so many chess and checkers boards in my life! Throughout these rooms you'd find people quietly curled up reading a book. As Kelly and I roamed the hallways we would get a few dirty looks because I assume our conversation was disturbing their reading time. As we finished our walking tour we noticed folks coming out of the woodwork in the main foyer. What was going on? Afternoon tea!! Yeah, finally something to do!!

Not long after tea the guys returned from golf, the sun broke through the clouds and we headed to the pool to relax and enjoy a cocktail. We had wonderful meals during our entire visit. Friday night we ate at the Casino Club and Saturday evening at Sam Snead's Tavern. The breakfast buffet each morning was heavenly. 

Overall we had a wonderful visit, but if I had it to do all over again I would do it completely different. Kelly and I didn't plan an activity for the two of us to do because we counted on the weather being a little nicer than it was. Had we planned an activity I'm sure it would have been great; otherwise, I'm not cut out to curl up in a chair and read, quietly for hours on end....unless I'm at the beach or the pool. If you have a family it's great because you can keep the kids busy all day, or if you're simply looking for peace and quiet then The Homestead is your place.

I didn't experience the spa but Kelly went for a massage on Saturday. She said it was great but she did make a good comparison. She said that she spent just as much at The Homestead's spa as she did at the Bellagio in Las Vegas- for the same services. She said that you can't even compare the two and I simply think that is because The Homestead is very old and classic and the Bellagio is luxurious and trend-setting. Two completely different worlds.

Call me a trend-setter, or a city slicker, but I guess that's what I get for being born and raised in a fairly large city and starting my career in Washington, D.C.  I don't want anyone to think that The Homestead isn't a wonderful place to visit, because it is.

On Sunday we decided to take the scenic route back to D.C. which took us along the Maury River. It was one of those picturesque views where you wish you had packed a picnic so you could sit back, relax and enjoy the sound of the water. I think our next adventure along the river will be a tubing excursion!

Happy 4th of July! Safe travels to everyone driving and flying this weekend.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"The Hill People" 2011

Yesterday The National Journal delivered it's special issue on Capitol Hill staffers:  The Hill People 2011. Every four years the magazine profiles top congressional staffers who work tirelessly behind the scenes and more or less call a lot of the shots in this town. Yes, we as citizens elect our Members of Congress to serve on our behalf and represent our cities and states here in D.C., but you better believe it wouldn't happen without the hard work of their devoted staffers.

The crew at Bully's back in 05'

Carolyn's going away party

Who do you think really wrote that floor statement or speech you heard on TV last night? Who do you think gave the member a run down of votes on the 14 agriculture appropriations amendments that were brought to the floor for a vote last week? Who do you think actually drafts legislation? Who briefs a member on legislation? Who meets with countless groups of constituents/businesses that come to DC on a weekly basis? Who answers all of the constituent mail? STAFF! Whether someone works in leadership, a committee or a personal office, it's the staff that pulls everything together and makes sure that these Members of Congress are truly representing their hometown to the best of their ability.

In yesterday's NJ issue they profiled more than 300 top Capitol Hill aides, including staffers for House and Senate leaders as well as congressional committees. More than 90% of congressional staffers in this particular issue are white and more than two-thirds are male. Close to one-third have law degrees, but only a few have a M.B.A. or military experience. I thought I'd highlight some of the demographics mentioned in this issue to give you a glimpse into what my working world looks like.


Top Hill aides range in age from 25 to 73. The average age is 43. The average age for Democratic staffers is 44 and for Republican staffers it is 42. In my particular age group (25-34) the ratio of men to women is 45:21. For men, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 20:25; for women the ratio is 10:11. The largest age group is 35-44. The ratio of men to women is 74:38. For men, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans is 24:48; for women the ratio is 21-16.


As you can imagine, Capitol Hill staffers come from across the country. Some staffers get started working on their hometown member's campaign and eventually make the move to D.C. A lot of college students intern in member's offices during their summer break or during their fall/spring semester earning college credits.Those who work for Republican members of Congress tend to settle in Virginia, while staffers who work for Democrats are more likely to live in D.C.


Overall, 68% of staffers are male; 32% are female. Democrats are 62% male and 38% female. Republicans are 73% male and 27% female.

Marital Status

Overall, 68% of staffers are married; 32% single. 64% of Democrats are married and 36% are single. 71% of Republicans are married and 29% are single. 72% of men are married and 28% are single while 58% of women are married and 42% are single.


Overall, 93% of staffers are White, 3% Black, 3% Asian and 1% Hispanic. Within the Democratic party, 91% are White, 4% are Black, 4% are Asian and 1% are Hispanic. Within the Republican party, 95% are White, 1% are Black, 3% are Asian and 1% are Hispanic.

Undergraduate Degree

Overall, 49% of staffers went to a public university, 41% went to a private university and 10% went to an Ivy League school. Within the Democratic party, 49% went to public, 36% private and 15% Ivy. Within the Republican party, 49% went to public, 45% private and 6% Ivy.

Top Schools

Georgetown 10
Yale 7
Columbia 5
Notre Dame 5
University of Arizona 5
Virginia Tech 5

Georgetown 7
GW 6
American 4
Catholic 4
George Mason 4
Harvard 4

Advanced Degrees

Overall, 59% of staffers went to graduate school, 35% went to law school and 3% M.B.A. Within the Democratic party, 63% went to graduate school, 35% went to law school and 1% M.B.A. Within the Republican party, 55% went to graduate school, 34% went to law school and 5% M.B.A.

Military Service

Only 4% of Democrats had military service prior to coming to Capitol Hill and Republicans had 7%.

Lobbying Experience

11% of Democrats had lobbying experience prior to coming to Capitol Hill and Republicans had 13%. Typically you work on Capitol Hill first and then move into the lobbying world.

So that's the run down. I've been working on the Hill for 7 & 1/2 years now. I never took one political science class in college nor was I involved in local politics. But before I knew it I was hired to work on Robin Hayes' congressional campaign in 2004 and with the blink of an eye I was moving to D.C.

I owe a lot to this special man. I miss him every day!

The Hill is a world like no other and I will always consider it a valuable learning experience. Working on Capitol Hill can open numerous doors to continued education and other career opportunities. Eventually I will move on but the Hill will always be here.....with the young guns basically running the country. :)

Most of these pictures are from the White House picnic that I attended each summer with Robin.

My visit to the Oval Office in the summer of 2008 with the Hayes family. The rest of the pictures are classified.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Deals at Marshalls

I'm sure most of you know that I love Marshalls. I'm a bargain shopper and there isn't a better place, besides Home Goods, to find great deals. I have to be in a particular mood to go to Marshalls because you have to dig through the racks to find the good stuff. This mood usually hits me every month or two.

I recently purchased a cute shirt at Marshalls right before we left for Napa. I purchased it without trying it on, which is never a good idea. I don't even know why I do this because every single time in the past that I have tried to pull this off the article of clothing never fits! You would think I've learned my lesson but obviously not. This was a pretty simple shirt so how could I go wrong? Well lets just say that when I pulled it out of my suitcase in Napa it did not fit the way I wanted it to.

Yesterday I decided to return it to Marshalls. I always have intentions on walking straight to customer service when I want to return an item, get my money back and not be distracted by browsing the store. As soon as I walked into Marshalls they had a huge bathing suit area off to the right with a large, red clearance sign. I don't spend a lot of money on bathing suits and honestly most of mine came from Target. I have the same three or four bathing suits in rotation that I have had for the past three years so why not check the clearance racks and see what they have?

Well boy did I score! I found a Trina Turk bathing suit marked down to $39.00. It' isn't anything fancy but it's a nice bathing suit that will carry me through the summer. Chris and I are headed to the Homestead in about two weeks and I'm sure I'll have quality pool time. We're also taking a cruise to the Bahamas in July so it will be put to use again, not to mention the countless weekends I spend at our neighborhood pool.

Marshalls- $39.00

Trina Turk- $166.00
Most Trina Turk bathing suits are between $75 and $100 per piece, so considering I got the entire bathing suit for $40 is a deal.

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping."
~ Bo Derek

Monday, June 6, 2011

Napa Valley

For several years Chris and I have discussed taking a trip to Napa Valley. We heard from many of our family members and friends what a wonderful place it is to visit so we finally planned a trip to celebrate our third anniversary in May. Fortunately I work in the CA Delegation, surprising I know, so I was given many recommendations on vineyards and restaurants to try during our visit. We spent months putting everything together and we couldn't have asked for a better trip. Here's the scoop.

San Francisco

We had a direct flight out of DC bright and early on a Saturday morning and were in the heart of San Francisco at lunch time. Neither one of us had been to San Francisco so we decided to spend most of the day there. One of my co-workers recently sent me an article on the Oscars of the food world. There were several places listed in San Francisco so we decided to try The Slanted Door. The restaurant is located in the restored Ferry Building overlooking the Bay Bridge. They serve upscale, modern Vietnamese food and it was amazing! We enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a few cocktails to get our trip started off right.

The Bay Bridge

We rented a car for our time in CA so after lunch we decided to hit the streets and drive around the city. Between our handy map and Chris' iPhone we navigated the city quite well! Our first stop was Lombard Street. I couldn't get over the steep streets in San Francisco. I was worried the car was going to roll backwards when we would come to a stop. It was also pretty funny to see tourists huddled on a corner just to take pictures of one, windy street. This street is basically known for it's steep drive with tight turns. Since we had a car we decided we had to take a drive down.

Lombard Street

Driving down Lombard Street
From Lombard street we headed to Haight-Ashbury. This is an area of San Francisco named for the intersection of Haight and Ashbury streets. This area is known for its role as a center during the 1960's hippie movement and still maintains is bohemian ambiance. The neighborhood is also known for its restored Victorian homes which are stunning. There are many independent clothing boutiques, restaurants, bars, bookstores and grocery stores. It's definitely a neat area of town to visit.

Next we headed down to the Fisherman's Wharf. This is a world famous tourist attraction and home to the sourdough bread bowl filled with clam chowder. This is also the home of San Francisco's fishing fleet, the WWII submarine, USS Pampanito, and Ghirardelli Square. Most of the boats in view belong to a third generation of fishing craft, which have made history at Fisherman's Wharf.

From the wharf you can catch a glimpse of the seals sunbathing in the late afternoon. You can also get a great view of Alcatraz from the end of the pier.

Check out the seals!


After visiting the Fisherman's Wharf it was time to jump in the car and start our drive to Napa.

Napa Valley

The drive from San Francisco to Napa was about an hour. It was a gorgeous drive, especially since this was my first trip to California. I've heard many people comment about the beautiful trees in NC and how it's the first thing that stands out to them when visiting or moving to the state. I always thought that was a funny thing. I guess that's because everywhere I've traveled there have been plenty of tall, luscious trees! Well, not in CA. There are massive, brown rolling hills; one after another. You'll see a few green patches on the hills but not many. There are no tall trees that line the roads. You can see everything for miles ahead. You can see the small clusters of neighborhoods, the tall buildings....everything! You never think about it, but when you drive through NC the one thing you can always see miles ahead of you are trees. You can't see downtown Charlotte until you've basically reached downtown. It was really neat to see the change in landscape from one coast to another.

We stayed at the Napa Valley Lodge in Yountville, CA. I cannot say enough good things about our precious little hotel. Chris stumbled across it somehow but ends up that one of our good friends recommended it as well from their recent visit. I knew I didn't want to stay in the heart of Napa because I heard it was too commercialized. I also didn't want to stay at a chain hotel. I knew most of our time would be spent at the vineyards but I wanted a quaint place to stay. This was it! Our room had a fireplace, which we used every night, and it overlooked the vineyards. Everyone in the area takes great pride in their flowers. Every single hotel, restaurant, and vineyard had stunning flowers. Our room overlooked part of the patio that was overflowing with gorgeous roses and honeysuckle!

The town of Yountville is another little slice of heaven along with St. John. :) It is the sweetest little town you have ever seen. It is also home to the French Laundry. We did not have reservations but we did walk by it several times and even saw the chefs in the garden picking ingredients for their guest's dinner that evening. There were so many cute little restaurants and shops in the town. Food Network star, Michael Chiarello, has a restaurant there named Bottega. We didn't eat there this visit but we heard wonderful things. Maybe we'll give it a try next time. If you go to Napa, stay in Yountville. I can promise you won't be disappointed.

Upon our arrival in Napa the rain finally cleared out and a beautiful rainbow appeared!

Sunday was our first full day in Napa. The first vineyard we visited was Cakebread. We did a tasting there with two other couples that had just gotten engaged the day before. We had a great time talking to them and tasting the wonderful wine. I believe we left Cakebread with four bottles of wine.

Cakebread Cellars
From Cakebread we decided to stop and have an early, big lunch. I knew with all the drinking we were doing I better have a full stomach at all times. We ate lunch at the Rutherford Grill which was highly recommended by another one of my co-worker's, Tara. Tara's parents have a time share in Napa so they are experts on the dining scene. We had a grilled artichoke with garlic dip as an appetizer that was melt in your mouth good! I had the best enchiladas I've ever tasted for lunch and I can't even remember what Chris had. I was too focused on my delicious meal!

While we were at Cakebread I overheard a gentleman talking about a small vineyard in Napa named Elizabeth Spencer. He had great things to say about this vineyard and it just so happened to be right next door to the restaurant. So after lunch we decided to stop in and give their wines a try. We weren't disappointed! It was a very small vineyard, but it had a great selection.

Anyone up for a drive to the Outer Banks?

During our tasting at Elizabeth Spencer I started chatting with a lady who is the head of hospitality at Mumm Napa. She gave me her card and told us to make sure to stop by Mumm during our visit. That made things easy, so we took off from Elizabeth Spencer and headed straight there.

The grounds at Mumm were stunning. It was raining when we first arrived but by the time we were seated the sun decided to appear. I gave our waiter the lady's card that we had just met at Elizabeth Spencer and he told us that she had given us a two for one tasting. Score! Even better was the fact that they gave you full glasses of sparkling wine! Before we knew it we were seated with 6 glasses of sparkling wine in front of us. Everything we tasted was great. We chose the wines that you cannot get on the East Coast. Why travel that far and taste things you know you can buy at home?


From Mumm we headed to Robert Sinskey. This vineyard came through a recommendation of one of Chris' friends and it was great. By this point in time I had more than enough to drink so I decided to sit this one out. Chris enjoyed some great wine while I wandered the grounds and took pictures. By this point in the day the rain had moved out of the area, the sun broke through the clouds and it was nice and warm!

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

Baby grapes
From Robert Sinskey we decided to head back to Yountville and walk around the town for the afternoon before going to dinner. As I was wandering around the back of Bottega near some marketplace shops I was quickly stopped by a gentleman who whipped out his police badge hanging underneath his necktie. He told me that I was restricted from going any further and needed to turn around. Well if this doesn't peak your interest then I don't know what does. Of course at that point I was very curious! It didn't take me long to realize that a wedding was taking place. I could see the bridesmaids lined up outside a large white tent and then I saw a million paparazzi running around like crazy people with their cameras. One guy came running around the corner jumping up and down about the footage he just got.

At this point I decided to go around the corner and stand on the opposite side of the tent near the parking lot. You could clearly hear the minister over the microphone as he started the ceremony. He mentioned Tamara and Adam, but of course that didn't mean anything to me. I quickly pulled out my blackberry and "googled" Tamara and Adam, wedding, Napa Valley. Of course it didn't pull up anything. After about 20 minutes Chris told me I had to leave to go back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. Honestly, I had really forgotten about this entire event until I just recently started reading through People magazine.

In the May 30th edition of People I came across the mystery couple's wedding! Tamera Mowry, the former Sister, Sister actress, and Adam Housley, the FOX News correspondent, were happily married at the Villagio Inn and Spa in Napa Valley on Sunday, May 15, 2011. I witnessed a celebrity wedding! Well, sort of, ha-ha.

Sunday evening we had the best meal of our entire trip at Terra Restaurant. Once again this came highly recommended by Tara and her parents and I am so glad we took her advice. Everyone tries to get into the French Laundry which is nearly impossible so friends of theirs stumbled upon this restaurant several years ago and said the food and experience was just as good. It's in the small little town of St. Helena about 15 minutes up the road from Yountville. Terra offers a prix fixe menu by Chef Hiro Sone. The dining room will seat 30 guests and the menu lists 17 savory courses, followed by five sweets. Diners compose their own menus choosing from four, five or six courses. The food and service was spectacular and I highly, highly recommend this restaurant to anyone visiting the area.

On Monday we woke up to dark skies, rain and cold temperatures. We were determined to make it a great day as we started off at Schramsberg. The drive to Schramsberg was beautiful. They are located in Calistoga which is one of the points furthest north in Napa. We passed the Culinary Institute of America which was really neat. We've heard that's a great place to eat lunch; however, we didn't have reservations.

Schramsberg was the only vineyard we toured. They took us into the caves and informed us of the process they use to make their signature sparkling wine. It really was interesting to hear the time consuming and detailed process they go through. We actually did our wine tasting in the cave which was neat. We were so impressed with their wines that we joined the wine club and received our first shipment last week!

Bottles of sparkling wine that go back more than 40 rows

Riddler boards

Lemon trees

From Schramsberg we headed into St. Helena for lunch, a little shopping and one last stop at V Madrone. This is very small family vineyard that you  had to make reservations to visit. We had a private tasting and came away with several great bottles of wine.

Monday evening was our night to dine at one of Thomas Keller's restaurants, Bouchon. The food was excellent but the atmosphere wasn't nearly as nice as Terra. We heard really good things about Keller's restaurant, Ad Hoc, so maybe we would give it a try next time.

This about wraps up our time in Napa. On Tuesday morning we hit the road for Sonoma. I will write about that trip in a separate post.

Happy Monday!