The last weekend of December, I was invited to preach at the church where I interned last year. I felt honored to be asked and sad to have to turn Dave down. However, I was excited to be celebrating our 5-year wedding anniversary! J and I had been idly discussing how to celebrate, given that we would only have a short weekend sans children. I was flipping through a Long Weekends magazine and came across an ad for Oglebay resort in Wheeling. I had read about their Christmas light display for years in Southern Living and had been wanting to go. J had spent time at Oglebay with her parents when she was a pre-teen and had good memories of it. So, she got on the horn and made us reservations. We spent the next month gleefully anticipating our trip.
That much excitement and anticipation could have been a very bad thing, but the trip ended up being even more wonderful than we had thought it might be. After the kids were picked up Friday evening, we hit the road for Wheeling. We had a good trip and found Oglebay without any problems. It was interesting driving in the way we did, past all the big plants along the Ohio River. The area we drove through was definitely not a well-off one, but Christmas lights shone merrily from even the most humble single-wides, indicating a strong spirit among the people in the region. The huge plants we drove past reminded me of the big Dupont factory on the Tennessee River where my ex's uncle worked. I commented to J, "Mordor" as we passed.
Arriving at Oglebay, I was a bit dismayed at the outside appearance, as it looked like any other state park lodge. However, I decided that the accomodations didn't matter nearly so much as the company. After all, our favorite place in the world to visit is my mom's place, which is definitely not luxury accomodations but feels wonderful! We always leave feeling recharged and creatively stimulated, if profoundly grateful for running water. Once we entered our room, though, I was floored by its beauty. It was elegantly decorated, in rich reds and warm yellows, down to the last detail. The covers were sumptuous, the fireplace a delight, furniture giving off a classy vintage feel. The bathroom was plush, with a deep comfortable tub and large shower. The lighting was soft and cozy. Even the woodwork was beautifully carved. I could have happily stayed a week and never left the room. J had arranged for a platter of cheese and fruit to be left in our room and we stowed a bottle of Chandon champagne in the fridge, along with a mini bottle of Martini & Rossi from our last B&B stay. Moreover, my darling had called a local florist and ordered a gorgeous bouquet of pink roses, tulips and gerberas delivered to the room. The height of romance!
Since we hadn't stopped for dinner, we hit the GlassWorks Grill for a bite to eat. I enjoyed my pork spring rolls, but J was very disappointed in her white chili. It was much more like some kind of weird middle AmericanVelveeta dip than like any white chili we've had. Hard to believe it's award-winning, as the menu claims. The bread bowl was, however, good. Sadly, the service was not. We had so much fun looking at the glass vases displayed in the dining room that it didn't really even matter, though. After dinner, we went back to the room, where J lounged in the fabulous tub with her Chrestomanci book (Diana Wynn Jones, YA section, very good book) and I dived into The Barn at the End of the World, one of my favorite reads of 2006. Mary Rose O'Reilley is a former Catholic, now Quaker & Buddhist, who spent time in apprenticeship for sheep farming. She also made a visit to Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village in France. Luckily for us, she wrote about it all. When my professor friend Laura recommended it, I asked for it for Christmas and am so glad I did! In addition to reading just for fun, I also indulged in some guilt-free Food Network viewing.
In the morning, we had the buffet breakfast in the Ihlenfeld Dining Room, with its spectacular views of the countryside. Then, we headed over to the Mansion Museum and walked through all the lavishly decorated rooms, imagining what life had been like in days it had been a private home. For a couple of history geeks, it was a perfect start to our anniversary celebration. From there, we moved on to the Glass Museum, where we saw magnificent works of art, learned about local glassmaking history and even got to watch a couple of items being made. What fun! The gift shop was very tempting, but we held out.
Lunch was at the GlassWorks again and we had a new appreciation for the vases, having been to the museum. We popped in and out pretty quickly, wanting to have some time at the zoo before our dinner reservation. The outdoor exhibits were closed by the time we arrived but there was plenty to see indoors. We did go out for the light show, but it was less than thrilling. The best part was watching the little kids in the audience dance to the music. That was a hoot! What dolls they were, a tiny girl in cowboy boots and a bitty boy just having a ball. Inside, we saw gingerbread houses, a huge model train display and animals. My favorites were the red kangaroos, who were all resting and reminded me of nothing so much as my youngest cat. We were able to get very close to them and I watched for a good long time.
We drove back to the resort in an astonishing line of traffic, all moving at the pace of molasses so that they could see the lights. We had the holiday buffet dinner in the Ihlenfeld Dining Room. Somehow, J had procured window seats for us, so we were able to look out over the lake at the lights. There was a chef flipping pancakes, a fisherman in his boat making a catch, a steamboat and all kinds of other delights for the eyes. The structure of the dining room (especially the big windows looking downhill) combined with the carving station to remind me of childhood trips to the Apple Tree Restaurant at Orchard Lane. I used to love going there with my grandparents. I always felt so elegant and grown-up. Ihlenfeld's prime rib was delicious, the atmosphere cozy, the lights beautiful and my wife more so. I had worn my tiara all day and it was definitely a good tiara day!
After dinner, we lounged in the room some more, then boarded the trolley for a guided drive around the light displays spread out over 6 miles. I was so glad we chose the trolley option. There is so much to see that we never would have seen it all had one of us been driving. It was fun, too, to be on the trolley. I have a deep affection for public transportation anyway. I even like riding the Greyhound. I am considering taking the train out to Santa Fe in June. Wouldn't that be something? It would mean extra time away from J, though, so isn't as appealing as it would be if she were able to come with me.
We would have loved to soak in the hot tub and go for a swim, but the pool was already closed when we returned. I think all hotel pools, and especially hot tubs, should be open 24 hours a day. No matter, though, since the tub in our room was so delicious. I made a mug of tea and steeped myself in hot bubbly water while J rested on the bed with her book. That night, she started to feel the effects of a cold that would lay her low for quite awhile, so we never got to the champagne, but it was a glorious 5 year anniversary anyway. Both of us want to go back. I'd love to just hang out in the room and play sometime. I'd also love the chance to check out the museums (both toy and house), market and artisans' gallery in Wheeling as well. One of my very favorite things about West Virginia is how supportive they are of their artists. If there was a food plant for J and a church for me in Charleston, we would definitely move there. The likelihood is low, however.
In the morning, we again had breakfast in the Ihlenfeld Dining Room (J was absolutely delighted with her pecan waffles) before loading up the car for the drive home. The cold had really taken hold of J and she felt awful, so I did all the driving while she dozed beside me. It was wonderful driving along the Ohio River with my dearest sleeping at my side. I was sorry she felt so bad, but the sense of peace as I drove was beautiful.
We got home in plenty of time to welcome the boys back. New Year's Eve was pretty quiet, as J and both boys were suffering from colds. Boot was supremely cranky with his brother, so Pie and J had an X-Files marathon while I puttered about the kitchen. Boot sequestered himself in his bedroom for the evening. I made arancini and J made a pizza for our New Year's Eve dinner. As midnight approached, I took myself out on the balcony with a Tibetan chime and some incense made by one of my fairy godmothers on a stand made by my mom. I cannot bear the idea of being inside to welcome the New Year, much less watching it arrive on television, so I avoided the whole Dick Clark scene inside. At midnight, J & Pie came out. I threw a glass of water off the balcony in a miniature of the Cuban tradition of tossing out a bucket of water. I did not eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, but I did kiss my beloved, watch my 12-year-old merrily shoot silly string and toast them both with ice water as I gave a silent prayer of thanks for my good, good life.