The Holladay House Bed & Breakfast

155 West Main Street, Orange, Virginia 22960
Innkeeper(s): Sam & Sharon Elswick

What Holladay House and The Ritz Have In Common……. 7 May 2015, 5:08 am

The Holladay House parlor fireplace is a little bit of a celebrity around here. During its long life, it’s witnessed a lot a history–and created a little of its own. Like making the cut as one of USA TODAY’s Top 40 Hotel Fireplaces in the US. Or providing an elegant backdrop to the beginning of many long, happy marriages. Or even participating in a tragic scene in which one Shadow Elswick, aged about three years, caught her whiskers on fire in a moment of cat foolhardery.

………OK, so Shadow hasn’t actually caught her whiskers on fire (yet). Still, if she keeps poking her face into the fireplace when the flames are doing their thing, the kitty who greets you at the inn could be a sadder, wiser, and less bewhiskered girl than she is today.

That being said, the bit about the USA Today is true, which means that the Holladay House fireplace falls in with fireplaces found at places like, ahem, The Ritz-Carlton. In the world of pyromania, I think that makes us part of the cool crowd (or, you know, since it’s a fireplace, the “not-cool” crowd. But whatever.)

The part about the weddings is true as well. Over a hundred couples have said their vows in front of the parlor fireplace over the years, exchanging their rings in the glow of the candlelit mantle. Still others have curled up on the parlor sofas nearby, drinking locally brewed coffee and fine wines, playing board games, and catching up with old friends in the warm comfort of home-away-from-home.

So, let’s talk about the fireplace. What makes it special-er than your average run-of-the-mill firepit? Where did it come from? Why does it matter? And (depending on your age and the time of year) is it Santa-friendly?

The fireplace is made of Port d’Oro marble, which was once, per the wisdom of The New American Cyclopedia of 1861, “the most popular and the best known foreign
marble in all parts of the United States.” The gold-veined black marble was mined in Porto Venere, Italy—probably on the island of Palmaria. It was then imported to the US, where an Orange County family looking to give their home a facelift decided to (seriously) upgrade their parlor fireplace. (Local architectural historian Anne Miller believes that the original wooden fireplace was moved upstairs into what is now the John Madison Chapman Suite, where it’s still functional today.)

The family who splurged was probably the Chapman family (who preceded the Holladays in house-ownership.) There’s a certain aura of mystery around when this splurge occurred, because no one can pin down an exact “when” for that. Still, Sam’s research reveals that most of the Port d’Oro marble fireplaces around the country (and in Orange) were installed in the mid-nineteenth century, placing the fireplace’s birth at sometime approximately between 1840 and 1860. And it’s still in fabulous shape, notwithstanding its advanced age. (Actually, Sharon shares that the biggest part of the “restoration” they had to complete upon moving in involved a 3-hour task of pulling candy wrappers out of the grate.)

As for Santa? Well, let’s just say that Sharon’s cookies have lured him back year after year, and if he’s coming in through the back door now rather than risking scratching the black marble with his sled keys, you didn’t hear it here.

……And More From Shadow Elswick 21 Feb 2015, 7:06 am

Following Shadow Elswick’s internet debut (where we got a glimpse into some of Shadow’s daily exploits) her fan base has been clamoring for more interaction with her whiskered mug. I caught up with her again recently to get a better perspective on this sly cat—what she’s thinking and feeling, what she wants out of life, and all the fascinating (and unexpected!) things that make her tick. She spoke candidly with me via “kennel-phone” (that’s cat-speak for “cell”) a few weeks ago, demonstrating that there’s more to this little cat than mere kibble and claws.

Me: What was the last book you read?
Shadow: I’m fascinated by cookbooks right now—I just finished Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Wow, it’s amazing all the different ways you can prepare squirrel—baked, roasted, fried. I’m just blown away. There’s a Creme Bavaroise recipe I cannot wait to try. I’m trying to convince Mom to let me try out my paw on some breakfast dishes for the guests, but she says it’s unsanitary and also that I’m not strong enough to lift a cast-iron skillet (or tall enough to reach the stove). So far I haven’t been able to find any cat-sized sterile gloves, so we’ve moved that discussion to the back burner, you might say.

Me: If you could have a sit-down discussion with one person from the past, who would it be?
Shadow: Oh, Katherine Hepburn. For one thing, I feel like I’m her living feline embodiment—all that graceful athleticism and sparkling wit in one lithe package. It’s hard work being this charismatic all the time, so I’d like to know how she maintained that classic appeal for all those years. Also I’d want to chat about Spencer Tracy. Yum.

Me: Where do you come down on the political spectrum?
Shadow: All the major parties are represented by animals vastly inferior to cats. Elephants? Donkeys?….what the hey. Let’s just say that when a party comes along with a Lion mascot, a pro-Speuter platform, and a willingness to bribe me with tuna treats, I’ll be all over it.

Me: How did having kittens change your life?  
Shadow: They humbled me and made me realize that there’s a great big world outside of just me, me, me. (That’s what my manager told me to say.) Otherwise, I mean, not much, I’m still a cat, but for a second or two I maybe felt a little humbled. All I remember is that Mom & Dad were really impressed with my kitten care-taking skillz.

Me: Any chance of getting one?
Shadow: Oh, no, they’re all away in college now. Kits these days grow up so quickly.

Me: If I turned on your music playlist right now, what would I hear?
Shadow: I listen to Astrud Gilberto’s “Girl From Ipanema” a lot, I feel like it really describes the way people react to me best. “Aaaaah”. I like Superchick’s “One Girl Revolution” when I’m on the hunt. And when my kitten-daddy comes around, I just like to turn on some Taylor Swift and remind him that those days are over for me. This time, hon, we are never, ever, ever, getting back together. Spaying—it’s the quickest way to ensure permanent success for your breakup. I’m a big advocate for it.

Me: What’s the perfect day to you?
Shadow: Any day I can freak Mom and Dad out is a pretty good day, but I can be playful, too. Lately we’ve been playing this game–my parents call it “peek-a-boo”. (I don’t know why, I don’t really understand that name myself.) Basically, Mom or Dad or Grandma Cathe will poke their heads around a corner, look at me, and say “peek-a-boo!”, which is some kind of human phrase (Aboriginal, perhaps?). I’m not sure what it means yet, so each time they say it, I go hunt them down, just to make sure they aren’t in a “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” type scenario. When I find them, they act all delighted and praise my cleverness. I can’t really roll my eyes, so I swat them with a paw to say that I think they’re being silly (no claws, though, because it’s a good silly).

Me: If you had to pick one thing to take with you to a desert island, what would it be?
Shadow: Probably a little lipstick—being well-groomed isn’t just about sitting around licking your paws all the time, you know. You probably can’t tell I’m wearing it now–it’s very subtle. I’m all about snazzy-but-subtle. And I’d take my collar, so if a “dog-jail” person wandered by, they’d know I am Owned. And I mean Owned in the loosest sense. Mom & Dad & I like to think of ourselves as being in a “mutually beneficial relationship by consent of all parties”. We’re a very modern family.

Me: What’s your biggest fear?
Shadow: Warriors fear nothing and no one. But dragons are pretty scary. I’ve encountered a couple named Dyson and Hoover who were just plain evil. There’s a new one called Electrolux roaming the area these days, so I’m on high-alert.

Me: What would you do with today if it was your last day?
Shadow: I’d slap some marinated squirrel meat on the barbie, sit back with a cold one, and munch some fish-shaped tuna treats as I caught up with the drama on DVR.

Me: When was the last time you told a lie?
Shadow: Just now. You can’t trust cats. Frankly, I wouldn’t really sit back with a cold one. I actually don’t like liquids and refuse to drink out of my water bowl, so Mom has to mix it in with my food just to keep me from, like, dying. Or at least getting dehydrated. Fun fact of the day.

Me: What changes should we be looking for you to implement at the inn in the future?
Shadow: I feel like I’m being spread too thin right now—greeting duties, around-the-clock watch-cat duties, bell-hop duties. A girl really can do too much. I’m trying to get Mom and Dad to invest in a new security system so I can keep an eye on all parameters from a high-tech control room, but so far that’s also a “no”. And they refuse to change the name of the inn to “Shadow’s Lair”. So I can’t really say what will happen, they’re clearly not working with me.

Me: Do you have a dream career in mind for your second life?
Shadow: ….you mean my third, actually. This girl has some miles on her paws (if only Mom & Dad knew!) I think I’d like to get into forensics next time, maybe go back to school to get my degree in criminal justice. I had to drop out before when the babies came, but I’ve landed on my paws. And I’d like to sing professionally (sometimes I’ll sing a few bars for my guests when they’re here—gotta keep the public entertained.) I’m quite the acrobat, so I might try that for awhile.Dad just brings out my blue feather toy, and I come alive. It’s part of what keeps me so svelte. I’ve got a lot of lives left in my deck, so we’ll see what happens.

Me: One last question before we go–what are you thinking of all the snow we’ve been getting lately?
Shadow: Cold. Wet. Yuck. Physically I hate going out in it, but there are perks–it’s much easier to spot intruders and track my prey. So, you know. I try to look on the bright side.

Antiques to Junktiques 4 Feb 2015, 6:21 am

My mom is the queen (or at least reigning princess) of junk-shopping, and goes to thrift stores the way most people pop into the grocery store: weekly making her rounds to check on new arrivals. One of my earliest memories involves trotting along behind her as she assembled my entire wardrobe with yard-sale purchases (I vividly remember neon-colored, lightning-patterned shorts–but then, it was the 90’s, and I was still young enough to feel pretty cool about it.) As I grew older, she taught me that junk-store shoppers need not feel burdened to keep the same furniture forever, and it became a running joke–“always check for a chair before you sit!” as my mom cruised through a never-ending cycle of refinished kitchen tables/dressers/couches/bedframes/anything not nailed down. Consequently, when it came time to write about a junk-shop & antiquing trip around Orange, I knew who my Go-To Chick would be.         

Gypsy Willow

The little-bit-of-everything shop! Just when you think you’ve reached the end, you find another cubby to explore. Quaint ceramics, eclectic framed art, clothing (some vintage), clocks, saddles—you don’t know what you’ll find in this “previously enjoyed” gift shop. A fun shop to explore, located at 212 Byrd Street.

The Painted Lady

Hand-painted furniture, knickknacks, and art—this store feels a bit like an antique store, but with a twist. All painting is done by the owner, who updates classic furniture into unique and personal works of art. Located on East Main Street.


Melrose Antiques

Huge gallery-style antique store, filled to the brim with quality 18th & 19th century furniture (much of it imported from England), statues, and upscale decor. The store also furnishes a huge collection of Oriental rugs–the owner, Gale Danos, is an internationally known rug dealer.  Located at 101 & 107 East Main Street.


Shabby Love

Lots of things you’ve seen before, but probably never before like this. This store offers proof that with a little imagination and elbow-grease, even the most unassuming things can be spruced up into something special. Located at 112 East Main Street.

D&J’s Thrift Shop

There’s arguably nothing you can’t find here if you look long enough. A huge, multi-room inventory includes aisles jam-packed with furniture and antiques, clothing and accessories, linens, cds & dvds, tools, baskets and rugs, cooking utensils and dishware, books, and “dust collectors” of every variety and description. Allot a little extra time to spend exploring this “picker’s paradise”. Located at 266 Butler Place.


J.S Mosby Antiques & Artifacts

Canteens & whisky flasks, belts & tassels, sabers & flintlock pistols, original paintings & sculptures, reference books & musical instruments—J.S. Mosby’s stocks not only artifacts for the Civil War enthusiast, but inventory from many of the other great conflicts as well. (Luftwaffe helmet? Check. WWI mess kit? Check.) For the less military-minded, there’s a collection of civilian wares, including antique jewelry. The owner, Stephen W. Sylvia, runs one of the largest annual Civil War trade-shows in the country, and publishes “North South Trader’s Civil War” magazine. Located at 125 E Main Street, next to the train tracks.


Friends of the Library Bookstore

Find a great mix of new(ish) and antique books from all genres, shelved in a little shop  that has that classic used-bookstore feel: books everywhere you look, for prices that allow you to take home an armload without breaking the budget. Located at 120 Chapman Street.

Austin’s Alley

Used furniture and home decor, some sold “as is” and some refurbished with chalk paints and other improvements. Some really cute stuff with a more modern flair than your average “junk shop”. Loved the license-plate topped coffee table, the bench cleverly made out of an old GMC tail-gate, and the purple china cabinet! Check out the great photos, along with pricing info, on their website. Located at 129 B Berry Hill Road.


Holladay House Celebrates 25 Years 19 Jan 2015, 5:12 pm

To a house that’s been around almost 200 years (witnessing, in the course of its long life, Civil War battles, weddings, and generations of residents) its latest gig as a bed & breakfast is practically still in its infancy. Still, time passes quickly, and, this year, the Holladay House will celebrate 25 years of running with the “inn-crowd”.

Two and a half decades ago, Pete Holladay decided to re-purpose the old Federalist-style family home/doctor’s office into a bed & breakfast. Flash forward through a few years, a few owners, and a few renovations, and you’ll find the inn still operating, stronger than ever, under the care of owners and innkeepers Sharon & Sam (and Shadow, a crack security team of one). This year, it looks forward to hosting a steady stream of old friends and newcomers as it hits the 25th anniversary of its latest “inn-deavor.”

In celebration, the innkeepers have put together a year-long “thank you” to the guests who have made it possible. On the 25th of each month, visitors staying at the Holladay House will receive (or be invited to participate in) the following activities.

Sunday, January 25, 2015: Rename the Garden Room contest
Wednesday, February, 25, 2015: Craft VA beer and cheese reception for guests at the inn.
March 2015: Celebrating your own anniversary? Take 25% off your second night stay.
Saturday, April 25, 2015: ½ price appetizers at Elmwood at Sparks
Monday, May 25, 2015: Free kayaking ride with Rapidan River Kayaking Company.
Thursday, June 25, 2105: A gift basket filled with local treats.
Saturday, July 25, 2015: Free 2-hour Montpelier tour.
Tuesday, August 25, 2015: A copy of the Red Chair visits the Holladay House photo book.
Friday, September 25, 2015: Free jam class with Berrywood Crafters at Honah Lee Tasting Room.
Sunday, October 25, 2015: A “book basket” filled with books about local history.
Wednesday, November 25, 2015: Free one-hour horseback ride with Oakland Heights Farm.
December 15th: Free Holladay House mug with your stay

Another landmark this big won’t happen for another quarter-of-a-century (2040, if you’re looking to schedule ahead) so if you miss out this round, you’ll be living with that for a very, very long time. Save yourself 25 years of regret–pick your date and call for reservations now…

New Year’s Resolutions…. 8 Jan 2015, 10:09 am

I think it goes without saying what New Year’s Resolution #1 was this year (as usual). If you need a hint, linger in the checkout line of your local grocery store for about five or six seconds. The magazine racks and book displays have rectified their philandering ways from over the holidays (evidenced by cutesy cookies sprinkled with colored sugar, six-layer coconut cakes, and beautifully decadent chocolate cream pies.) Now reformed and back on moral high ground, these same magazines are now promoting (with grins bent into grim, determined cheerfulness) how to make all the joyous calories you inhaled over the past month “just go away”.

OK. So, like the rest of us, you’ve avowed to lose weight/get in shape. In which case, you need to make it interesting–make it count for something more worthwhile and life-affirming than merely how bikini-ready your buns are by Beach Week. When you’re ninety, looking back at your life from a creaky pinnacle that stretches for miles in hindsight, you’ll realize there are better memories to be made than huffing and puffing along with a workout video. Here are a few ideas, all located an easy drive from the Holladay House.

#1: Hike Old Rag
This is a multi-terrain trail that will challenge your stamina, your mountain-goat moves, and your view of the world at once. Not for novices nor for the faint of heart (as the saying goes) though I once hiked it while possessed of both unfortunate accoutrements. Prep your hike with tips and helpful info here.

#2: Play Paintball
I think anyone who’s ever watched a war movie (or the Hunger Games) has wondered how they’d hold up in combat. (For the record, I’ve always suspected I’d be the recruit credited at the end as “Body #1”.) Try out your mettle at WarPlay Paintball. This fantastic course is set back into a wooded environment replete with bunkers, sandbags, and “bombed out” buildings. Walk-on prices start at $60 for 500 paintballs, including gear and field fees.

#3: Go Skydiving
Skydive Orange is the largest tandem-jump skydive center in the region, featuring USPA-certified instructors, jumps from 13,500 feet, videos & photos to prove to the family that you did it, and the reputation as one of the oldest “club-operated drop zones in the country.” Tandem jumps start at $255, and licensed skydivers can jump for as little as $20.

#4: Ride
There’s nothing like horseback riding for relaxing, bringing out your inner cowboy, and getting that bowlegged walk down pat. Guided trail rides are available 7 days a week out at Oakland Heights Farm, for $45 per person.

#5: Kayak
Enjoy a three-hour, 4.5 mile kayak tour of the Rapidan River, courtesy of the the aptly-named Rapidan River Kayak Company. Negotiate not-too-crazy rapids and peaceful flats while taking in the wildlife and birds lurking in the treeline. $65 per person for groups of 2-4, or $75 for loner cruises.

#6: Bike Skyline Drive
Or at least part of it. The views into the valley are gorgeous throughout, rarely obscured by trees. Just make sure your gear is in good working order (particularly your brakes!) as the entire route is challenging: uphill, winding climbs and long downhill descents. Find out more here.

#7: Dig at Montpelier
Take a week-long archaeology class at Montpelier. Participate in one of four intense (but beginner-friendly) expeditions: “Locate” (metal detect around the grounds), “Excavate” (dig, sift, and scavenge in the dust, side by side with the pros), “Analyze” (learn about and repair ceramics found onsite), or “Recreate” (help build the period-accurate log cabins and timber frame structures that populate the grounds).

Now those are some stories to someday share with the grandkids.

I’m Dreaming Of An Orange Christmas… 18 Dec 2014, 12:15 pm

Some of us will be shopping (and wrapping, and cleaning the house) until the wee hours of Christmas morning–which, if you have the constitution for it, is as chaotically fun as it is stressful. For the rest (those whose stockings are already hung by the fire with care) this weekend is the perfect chance to take a breather, enjoy some holiday music and lights, and let the folks at Holladay House worry about what’s being served at the breakfast table. Below are two cool events happening this Saturday & Sunday, as well as a collection of seasonal decorations from around Orange (all located within walking distance of Holladay House.)

A Blue & Gray Christmas

Come meet a Civil War-era Santa Claus, attend a 1860’s church service, take a historical walking tour of downtown Gordonsville, and experience living history displays and ghost stories. Cap it all off by attending the Gordonsville Holiday Ball, where you’ll have the opportunity to join the Shenandoah Valley Civil War Era Dancers in partying like it’s 1863. Find out more here.

A Musical Winter Wonderland

The elusive (but talented) Orange Community Band & Chorus has finally released the dates for their holiday concert schedule. The choral performance will be December 20th at 4:30 PM, at the Orange Presbyterian Church. (There are a lot of historic churches within walking distance of the inn; Sharon will point you towards the right one!) Meanwhile, the band concert will be held December 21st at 7:30 PM at Orange County High School. Check it out here.

And now, a few photos from around Orange…..

























….and a few from Holladay House.


The Jackpot Question (in advance) 11 Dec 2014, 1:18 pm

There’s a song that surfaces on the airwaves about this time of year–you’ve probably heard it. One of many crooners is revealing his date-desperation by asking (repeatedly, and, as he freely admits, “much too early in the game”) if his crush will welcome next year with him. In the words of songwriter Frank Loesser, the “jackpot question (in advance)” remains–“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

My answer, personally, would have to be: nothing at all. When it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve I’m arguably one of the world’s biggest party-poopers. I find that watching the countdown on TV is tedious, staying up late makes me grouchy, getting confetti in my hair (and clothes and food) makes me grouchier, and I don’t drink enough to blur all those details into cheerful forgetfulness. In my little world, no “Auld Lang Syne” will be sung, no obnoxious noisemakers will be tooted, and I won’t be watching to see what spherical thing will be descending in Times Square.

Fortunately for the rest of the world, most people in the area (including Sharon, Sam, Shadow, and the rest of the gang at the Holladay House) are preparing to have a wonderful time, and, fortunately, there are better ways around the area to toast 2015 into existence than merely turning on the television. In fact (all my personal misgivings about New Years aside) my research into “local going-ons” has turned up several events that tempt me to reconsider my stance on the celebration and venture out.

For a dressed-up, high-heel-friendly New Year’s Eve, add the New Year’s Eve Package to your stay when you book your room here at Holladay House. Pick your favorite of four acclaimed restaurants in the area (each serving 4-5 course, gourmet dinners complete with wine and champagne pairings from local wineries) and Sharon will take care of all the reservation details for you. All the eateries are nearby (the closest, Elmwood at Sparks, is only a block away) so if being out late on New Year’s is a concern for you, drive-time is reduced or even eliminated altogether. Complete details (including restaurants and pricing) available here.

After an evening out on the town, feel free to come back to the inn for a casual New Year’s countdown with the innkeepers. Sharon and Sam will be serving VA-produced bubbly, wines, and beer, and visiting with guests in a relaxed (pajamas and black-tie attire both welcome!) environment. Breakfast will be served late the next morning, and include a special treat to get 2015 off on the right foot.

For a celebration filled with music and entertainment, consider First Night Virginia, which is located just a little over a half hour away. Festivities start at 3 PM and continue into the evening, featuring everything from improv groups, acrobats, bagpipe bands, spirit walks, comedy skits, and ongoing music by local musicians throughout the evening. The Main Event performers include a former Cirque du Soleil juggler, and comedian Brett Leake (not, however, appearing at the same time!) There’s always something going on (often several things at once) so plan your night using the event calender here. Over 25 area restaurants will be open throughout the event—so plan your appetite accordingly. You’ll want to be finished dinner and have your spot selected in time for the official countdown, beginning at 11:15 at five different venues (featuring five very different events.)

First Night Virginia has been going on since 1982 (the 2nd oldest “First Night” in the US!) so apparently they’re doing something right. As always, the event is alcohol-free and family-friendly. Access to all events (plus free parking) can be achieved by purchasing your wristband—it’s $16 beforehand.

So. Not to bring up that dastardly little question again…and I hope it’s not too soon…but what are you doing New Year’s Eve?


“Holladay” Shopping 5 Dec 2014, 1:06 pm

As of now, there are 18 shopping days ’til Christmas–providing, of course, you’re not the type of Champion Procrastinator who will be resting up for the next few weeks in order to make a mighty Shop Til You Drop effort on Christmas Eve. (You know who you are, and I salute you.) If that sounds like your modus operandi, this list probably isn’t for you. However, if you’re staying at Holladay House this holiday season and looking for some leisurely shopping–no crowds, no lines, and truly unique finds–all within walking distance of the inn, read on. My mom and I spent a few afternoons browsing Orange’s collection of gift shops, and the stores listed below made our Top 5. However, the list is by no means all-inclusive, and you’ll discover that if you bundle up and take a brisk stroll along Orange’s decorated streets to a few of these highlights, you’ll find other treasure troves along the way.

Briarwood Florist

Don’t be fooled–the unassuming exterior is no indication of what’s inside this aesthetically spot-on shop! Carrying everything from “tea purses” and fancy chocolates to stuffed animals and baby clothes, sparkling ornaments and sweet soaps to garden gnomes and vintage-look umbrellas, this beautifully arranged store has something for everyone– whether you’re buying for your stylin’ little newborn nephew, or your great-aunt who has “everything” already. Located at 307 B Madison Road.

Daisy Chain Gifts
Charming little gift store! Most stocking-stuffers for sale are handmade by the owners, with a few imports from the UK. Handmade soaps, paper chains and greeting cards, scarves and baby blankets, and much more—at friendly prices. Plus, you can warm up with a cup of the quintessential English beverage—hot tea, served help-yourself-style in the seating area as you go in. Look for the Union Jack flying outside, by Orange’s train depot at 111 Short Street.

Arts Center
Check out the latest art gallery display, and visit the handmade-by-local-artist gift shop. I’ve found some great things here over the years, including local-landmark postcards, handmade jewelry, novels by local authors, feline coffee mugs, and “soap in a sweater”. The inventory changes frequently, so you never know what will be available. A great place to shop for people who want to know the origins of their gift. Located at 129 East Main Street.

Maddybugs (named for the owner’s granddaughter) carries wares with a “country living” flare. Find mailbox magnets, locally-made jewelry and knit goods, candles, soaps, flags, and a wealth of ornaments, snowmen, and wreaths at this cute store. I always enjoy the collection of “sarcasm magnets” and added several to my fridge this shopping trip.
Located at 207 N Madison, next to Schewel’s.

Shabby Love
Lots of things you’ve seen before, but probably never before like this. This store offers proof that with a little imagination and elbow-grease, even the most everyday things can be spruced up into something special. Located at 112 E Main Street.

A Day With Shadow Elswick 3 Dec 2014, 8:41 am

If you’ve stayed at the inn recently you’ve probably felt eyes staring you down, or developed a sneaking suspicion you were being followed. Your instinct was not unfounded. Shadow has long been a visitor at the Elswick household, stopping by on her daily rounds of the neighborhood, but a few months ago she came to stay. These days, she enjoys sleeping in the cushioned wicker chairs on the side-porch, peering at guests through the dining room window, and doing meet-and-greets with her new friends as they come and go. I caught up with Shadow and got her to take a break in her busy schedule to discuss her new lifestyle with me.

5:00 AM Time to rise, shine, and alert my humans to what a big, bright, beautiful day it is! Sam mutters unflattering things about my sleep habits as he grumblingly lets me out, but I can tell he loves me. After all, if he didn’t love me, why would he tolerate the way I walked across his face in the wee hours?….hmm.

6:00 AM Spending this time doing top-secret cat things, like sniffing stuff and stalking the tree squirrels. This is my “me” time, my time to recharge before I have to head inside, turn on the charm, and share with the two-leggers my insight about inner peace and contentment. And stuff.

8:45 AM My Biggest Fans (which is how I like to refer to Sharon and Sam, the servants I have brought into submission beneath my mighty paw) are serving breakfast in the dining room. I think I’ll hop up on the AC unit outside and stare fixedly at their guests through the window for awhile. If they think I’m cute I’m in luck, and if they don’t maybe I can freak them out. Freaking out people with my stare is one of the best parts of being a cat! Hehehehe.

9:10 AM No luck winning over the humans inside. I’ll just stroll around to the back door and meow piteously, looking as lonely and neglected as I can manage until someone lets me in. Looking lonely and neglected, by the way, is very hard work because I have that sleek, well-fed appearance that’s difficult to disguise. Also a very snazzy new collar. *Sigh*

9:15 A likely suspect took pity on me. Now I’m doing Sam the honor of accepting his invitation into his office. My game-plan is to spend an hour or so making his work difficult by draping myself across his keyboard and forcing him to pet me. (Sharon loves it when I do this, also.)

12:00 PM I’m smelling good things brewing in the kitchen. It’s not really fair that I’m served cold stuff in a bowl on the floor. I like pizza too, you know (the meat on top, anyway. The cheese part is kind of icky and gets stuck in my whiskers.) I know they think they’re doing right by me with this fancy organic pet food, but, sheesh. It’s like they think I’m an animal, or something. Having four paws does not make me an animal, it merely means I won the Leg Lottery and they did not.

1:00 PM Having filled my belly, I meander back outside and stretch out on the back porch to admire my kingdom: everything the light touches, and whatnot. I take some time to reflect on my life choices and wonder if I should consider a course of self-improvement: give back to the community more, further my education, etc. Fortunately I fall asleep before I can stress about it.

1:15 PM There’s a squirrel situation that needs investigating. Can’t decide whether or not it’s worth pursing that pesky critter all the way up the tree, so I’ll just sit at the foot and twitch my tail for awhile.

2:00 PM Was so exhausted by my busy and hectic morning that I fell asleep for awhile in a patch of sun. While I dreamed, I sensed the presence of another cat somewhere in the periphery. This jolted me back into the realities of my life. Must protect my kingdom from intruders!

2:47 PM Making the rounds of the neighborhood. I used to live with a family in the area, but their dog and I had differences of interest. I’m not really a “dog person” so I began to explore other options in the community. Still, I like to say hello occasionally.

3:00 PM Check-in time!!! Gotta get back in time for this. This is a big moment for me. I like to sit at the backdoor and watch guests arrive. I turn on the full megawatt radiance of my charm, gazing up with sad eyes and meowing piteously. People love that, and I always get lots of pats and make lots of friends. I’m such an admired public figure these days.

6:00 PM Most of the guests have made it in by now. Still, I bother to drape languorously over the back-porch railing, prepared to provide a welcome for any stragglers. If someone wants to tell me what a pretty kitty I am, I won’t deprive them of the pleasure. (I’m amazingly humble and generous despite what a glorious creature I am.)

6:30 PM Suppertime!!! I scold my people for making me wait ALL DAY LONG, but then apologize by acting eager to get at my supper-dish. It’s a delicate balance, managing all of these sensitive human emotions.

6:35 PM Still not pizza. Or venison. Or anything wonderfully delicious. I swear. Still, this stuff from a can ain’t half bad. And it does smell fabulous–I don’t know why they don’t think so. What’s more appealing than dead-fish-smell?

7:00 PM Time for a thorough after-dinner bath. My favorite place is atop Sharon’s laptop: it warms me as I lick, and it forces her to take a break. She views it as a cute inconvenience, but I like to think of it as a public service, really.

7:30 PM Just enough time for a good long nap before bed.

11:00 PM The guests are all safely tucked away in their rooms, and the humans are at last finished their work. I curl up in between them while they put their feet up for a few minutes and watch something on television. Their choice in programming is pretty lame—hello, have they never heard of Animal Planet?!? I need to watch my cousins take down antelope in Africa and stuff.

11:15 PM Drifting off to sleep. Gotta rest up for later. Right about the time my people go to sleep is when I conduct the first fire-drill across their faces. Gotta keep them sharp, just in case there’s ever a legitimate emergency they need to wake up for. I regard this as a another public service—my little way of keeping my guests safe. They’ll never know everything I do to make their stay at the inn better—constantly patrolling the perimeters, monitoring what’s going on, keeping the tree squirrels at bay. You see these things around my neck? They aren’t I.D tags, they’re my Medals of Honor.

At least, that’s what my people tell me.

Shop Local This Holiday Season 28 Nov 2014, 9:10 am

My husband and I spent last Saturday exploring downtown Culpeper (one of my favorite small-town Main Street areas). Along the way we found some pretty great stuff, both for sale and on display—the dapper camel in the top-hat was my favorite! We picked some of the top shops to make the cut as “Best Places to Buy Gifts”, and they’re listed below.

My Secret Stash
Looks (and smells) like an old-fashioned candy store, complete with candies of every description in glass jars lining the counters. Gourmet chocolates, peppermint bark, and some rare finds, like licorice Scottie dogs and green Army-men gummies. The grapefruit gummies are a favorite with the Elswicks (all except for Shadow, who’s a bit dubious.)

Culpeper Cheese Company
Lots of cheese (including my local favorite, Everona Dairy’s “Stony Man”), meats (my husband is mildly obsessed with the black-pepper-coated Italian salami), and a vast variety of craft beers and fine wines.

The Cameleer
A store stocking merchandise from over 80 countries—and the only place I know where you can buy “merino & possum-down” socks. Hand puppets, leather hats suitable for wear in ‘the Outback’, beautiful knit clothing, carvings and sculptures, linens, soaps & salts, and lots more.

The Frenchman’s Corner
If you can think of something you want dipped in chocolate, they probably have it, in a long glass display case running the length of the counter. According to their website, they’re the #1 independent authorized Neuhaus chocolate dealer in the US. Additionally, they have a number of European items you don’t normally see on this side of the pond, such as French soaps and teas.

Green Roost
The Balsam Fir soy candles (made in small batches) when you first walk into the store smell amazing. Also—cardboard deer-heads on the walls? Made me smile. They’re a “kind-to-the-earth” gift shop featuring clothing, vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, natural lotions & soaps, and really cool all-wood watches.

Harriet’s General
A “made in America” store. I used to love paper dolls, so it was cool to see them again—even if the selection was somewhat bizarre: the Clinton family? TV moms? Woodstock? Also small-batch candles, attire for men/women/children, mugs, footwear, colognes, soaps, and a whole lot of Miscellaneous. Kudos to them for their “Partridge Family in a Pear Tree” Christmas tree.

Love the ambiance of this store. They stock Pandora jewelry, soft toys and apparel for baby, handbags, personalized ornaments, and the smile-worthy “Happy Everything!” plate set.   This is a “pretty” pastel store.

Designer’s Choice
The majority of this shop is devoted to the holidays, making it the only year-round Christmas shop in the area. One-stop shopping for all things Christmas, be it ornaments, Byers Choice Carolers, lighted house collections, or nativity scenes.

Reigning Cats & Dogs
Lots of custom, unique gifts for pets (and their people) that you won’t find at Petsmart. T-shirts, patterned collars, stuffed animals, toys, hand puppets, jewelry, keychains, pet-food bowls— there are lots of breed-specific gifts, which makes buying a custom gift easier. The store is filled to the brim, so it’s unlikely you’ll walk out empty handed—at the least, you’ve got to get these awesome dog-friendly Christmas cookies!