Oh Shenandoah | Part 3

Last time in the Shenandoah Valley, Ben and I visited the Luray Caverns before our early anniversary dinner. Today, we finally see what we drove down to Shenandoah for…

By the way, here’s the song, “Oh Shenandoah”, that I hum every time I write these posts.

We awoke for our final meal at By the Side of the Road: the breakfast soufflé.


I sat on the porch swing one last time and we were off, back to Skyline Drive. We drove down Skyline Drive from the northernmost entrance southwards just one week prior, before a Halloween party, because we weren’t sure when peak foliage was going to happen. The reports were unsure, the leaves were already late with turning, and we didn’t want to miss it this year.


Driving up from the southernmost entrance, we were a little worried. While the trees were mostly green when we came down a week ago, most of the trees by this entrance were browned or, worse, bare. Did we miss peak foliage within just one week?

We saw a few disappointing views from the overlooks that indicated that, if nothing else, maybe the southern parts of Skyline Drive had already passed peak. This was terribly disappointing until we started seeing much more promising views.


While stopping for lunch, we noticed that one of the hiking trails had waterfalls! It was listed as a challenging hike, and Ben and I were literally both wearing jeans, but whatever! Hike for a waterfall!

This was indeed a very strenuous hike. It was about a mile to the first waterfall and very very steep. We don’t hike much at all, so I was definitely huffing and puffing on my way back up the steep incline. I only got a break to catch my breath because Ben finally got signal on his phone and was able to conduct some fantasy football trades. Whodathunk I’d be grateful for fantasy football?


After catching our breaths and letting our body temperatures come back down, we were in time for sunset! I really thought we would miss golden hour because I was so tired during the hike that I didn’t think we’d last long to still be in the park.

But we made it.
And it was so worth it.dsc02219dsc02229dsc02231dsc02246dsc02250

I have so many photos from the brief half hour when the sun dipped below the Blue Ridge Mountains. With everything bathed in this sumptuous golden sunlight, I felt so content and at peace with the world.

Happy anniversary, Ben. I had a truly fantastic weekend exploring Shenandoah Valley with you, and I look forward to many more adventures together.


Where are your favorite places to hike? I am super new to hiking and am not sure where to start, to be honest. Any tips would be really appreciated!

What are the best places to see foliage, aka “leaf peeping”? (I swear this is a term that I read on the foliage report and not one that I made up!) Next year, we might look into going up to New York to check out the gorgeous foliage in the Catskills. I remember the leaves looking spectacular back in New Jersey, too, so we’ll see!

Oh Shenandoah | Part 2

Happy Veterans Day. Thank you to those who have served to defend our nation and our freedoms.

The results of the US presidential election have people feeling a lot of things.

Regardless of who you voted for, it is important that we actively work together to effect positive change. Voting for president is not the best that we can do as far as making this country or this world a better place. Whether you’re happy or upset about the outcome of the election, we can all agree there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

I’d also like to recommend this post by Tim Urban on Wait But Why and this video by John Green on vlogbrothers.

Back to your regularly-scheduled programming.

After checking into our B&B and filling up on fried chicken, Ben and I were excited to explore the beautiful Shenandoah Valley to celebrate our anniversary a week early!

We set an alarm so that we’d be awake for the lovely breakfast set outside our door: apple & sour cream pancakes with sausage and fruit and orange juice.


If you don’t like thinking about what to get for breakfast and like the idea of someone making that executive decision for you and then bringing it to your door, you’ll love bed & breakfasts. 😉

This was a vacation, so Ben and I lazed about sleeping a little more and watching videos on our phone before we headed out to see the Luray Caverns! But first, lunch! And being able to finally see the B&B and the properties in the daylight!


Although we were tempted by the many Burger Kings we saw driving out to Luray (we just don’t have enough BKs near home…), we went to Triple Crown BBQ for a delicious barbecue lunch. While I was still shaking off the sleepy not-really-hungries when we arrived, by the time I was breathing in the smoky barbecue scent next to the truck, I no longer wanted to share a meal with Ben.


He got a pulled pork sandwich with cole slaw and I went in with the seasonal smoked turkey (with bacon!) with cranberry sauce served alongside two perfect little corn muffins and potato salad. All washed down with a cup of sweet tea. So tasty! (Really glad that Ben didn’t go to Burger King when I sleepily mentioned it as we pulled into the BBQ parking lot…) I perked up immediately after our lunch and was excited to hit up the Luray Caverns!


We were nervous that we wouldn’t be able to actually see the caverns because we wound up arriving quite late and the line was very long. However, we lucked out and managed to grab our tickets and hop on one of the one-hour tours.
Bonus: Your admission ticket includes admission to:

  1. Car and Carriage Caravan Museum – awesome museum with vintage cars, from old horse-drawn buggies to swagged-out Rolls Royces from the ’40s – definitely stop by!
  2. Toy Town Junction – collection of antique toys and trains throughout the years that we were unable to visit this time around
  3. Luray Valley Museum – learn the history of the this part of the Shenandoah Valley, including its role in the Civil War and how the people here lived


And of course, the actual caverns themselves! You can definitely spend a few hours here on top of the one-hour tour with the additional attractions that are included on your ticket, but this is what you came for:

“Fish market”!
This looks like an alien planet and I’m not convinced it’s not


“Bacon” in the curtains
A seasonal formation that I thought looked like an ice cream cone!
A wedding was being set up down here, surrounded by the stalactite organ
Wishing well (with a lot of paper money in there and even more gleaming coins)
“Fried eggs” that I thought looked more like oysters

So glad that we were able to visit the caverns on one of the last tours, we drove from Luray back to Harrisonburg while the sun set. It was a really gorgeous autumn day, and we were almost a little sad that we spent so much time in a cave! But off we went for our early anniversary dinner!


Dinner was at Local Chop & Grill House, which we found great reviews for when looking for places to eat in Harrisonburg. It was a really delicious meal and a super awesome value. You pick your meat, the way you want it seasoned, a sauce, and two sides for a very reasonable price. After a few disappointing higher-end meals, we were super happy with this one.


Duck rubbed with gremolata served with mushroom bordelaise, roast broccoli, and mushroom risotto
Filet with house rub served with gravy, mashed potatoes, and asparagus
Crème brûlée with a little message


Quick stop for some bubble tea before flopping on the bed after a big day!


I am currently in Cincinatti at a conference (and giving a quick 5-minute talk that I’m super nervous about!) but there is one more Shenandoah post coming your way!

Have you visited caverns like Luray before? I visited a really cool one in China once that had a lot of multi-colored lights to light up the formations!

What was your favorite nice meal out? This was a pretty good one, and last year was also very nice, but I want us to not do a steakhouse for our anniversary next year. (This year we had a geographical constraint to take into consideration.)

Oh Shenandoah | Part 1

US citizens: make sure you vote today if you haven’t already! It is one of the most important things you can do that affects you and the people around you! What else can bring people together with a free sticker like exercising your civic duty?

Ben and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary a little early this past weekend because I am actually going to be out of town for a conference during our actual anniversary. (I felt so guilty about it, but Ben was so supportive in encouraging me to apply and attend for my career. I’m so lucky!) We started brainstorming a way to celebrate this milestone anniversary and began by thinking of a staycation in DC… which led to us thinking of bed and breakfasts in the area…

… which eventually led to us booking a bed and breakfast in Shenandoah Valley for the weekend!

After driving for a few hours, we ended up at By the Side of the Road, which has a place in the rich history of the region including the burning of the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War and the beginnings of the Mennonite Church. We had a truly lovely stay here for our first-ever B&B experience!

Photo courtesy of By the Side of the Road, whose website is definitely new and improved since we last checked it out about a week ago!
Photo courtesy of By the Side of the Road


Flutes + champagne = celebration!

As soon as we were checked in, we booked it to Bojangles, one of our favorite fried chicken joints that is really difficult to find the farther north you go. As we were driving the short distance to Bo’ Time, I started wondering… wasn’t the Bojangles we visited on our way back from Roanoke near some JMU (James Madison University) stuff? Like an athletic stadium or something? And Harrisonburg, the town that our B&B was in, is home to JMU. Proceeding down the street, even though it was much darker than our drive up from Roanoke…


… it was very familiar. We were back at the same Bojangles! That was nice. Almost as nice as digging into that delicious fried chicken.


Belly full of Bojangles and sweet tea, I took a nice little candlelit bath to get settled in and got ready for our weekend away! I haven’t taken a bath in a long time, and it really set the tone for a relaxing weekend with my favorite person.

Pausing here so I can get things ready for my conference this week and the rest of the recaps from the weekend!

Have you stayed in the Shenandoah Valley before?
Have you stayed at a bed & breakfast before?
And maybe most importantly, where are your favorite places to get fried chicken???

Weekend + Wedding in Roanoke

Back in May, my friend Yufeng asked me for my mailing address. Yufeng is one of my oldest summer camp friends. We met back in 2005 and I’ve seen him a few times during my visits back to New York. He got engaged back in December, so me and our mutual friend Barry (who was at summer camp with us, in New York when I visited the both of them, and actually shares an alma mater with Yufeng) were 99.9% sure that we were going to receive wedding save-the-dates. Hurray!

About a week later, Barry informed me that he received an invite! For a July wedding! Ohmygosh so soon! And I waited and waited and… started wondering if maybe I wasn’t actually invited? If maybe Yufeng and his [now] wife decided to remove me from the guestlist? Barry offered to bring me as his +1 but I thought that would be pretty awkward if I was explicitly not invited. Luckily for everyone, I got an email with more details about the wedding and found out that the postal service randomly returned my invite to the bride’s parents. With that, we booked our July 4th weekend in Roanoke and prepared to celebrate Yufeng’s big day!

(Note all photos are by Pat Cori unless otherwise indicated.)

After my first ever Cracker Barrel visit (I can’t believe it took me so long to go! I had a great meal and love the little general store!), we arrived in Roanoke and checked into our hotel, buzzing and ready for the wedding.

One of mine: a shot of St. Andrew’s that does not do it justice in the slightest

The ceremony was late Saturday morning at the absolutely stunning St. Andrew’s Catholic Church. (Random fact: This is also the childhood church of one of my coworkers, who is from Roanoke!) Gorgeous stained glass windows, an amazing altar, beautiful statues. We took a few photos with my friend Barry and I got my first-ever in-person look at the bride. You see, before the wedding day, I had actually never met Deirdre before!

A sneak peek at the couple and the beautiful church

First of all, it needs to be said here that the singer was magnificent. Her voice was so clear and pure but strong, she had excellent breath and tone control… I mean, this congregation is so lucky to have her! Such a lovely voice.

Second of all, this was easily the most-Catholic wedding ceremony I have ever sat through. There was much singing, to the chagrin of me, Ben, and Barry, who missed a cue to refer to the book of hymnals. I felt so awkward and embarrassed that I just started giggling uncontrollably, and it was very difficult to keep it in. While I do appreciate the ritual and ceremony of the Catholic Church, it is very easy to feel out of the loop if you haven’t learned all of them. However, I later learned that the ceremony was modified to accommodate folks who were unfamiliar with Catholic ceremonies and that everyone was kind of playing it by ear and just following the priest’s lead. For example, he made an unexpected joke about double happiness, which is traditionally used in China for weddings, that took Yufeng and his family by surprise.

Random fact: I was happy to see that the rehearsal dinner was actually done with the bride and groom in traditional Chinese dress!


After the lovely (if sometimes stressful-for-me) ceremony, we broke for a little recess. The families had set up an excursion up Mill Mountain to hike, look out over Roanoke, and enjoy a delicious lunch of biscuit sandwiches! It was a nice view and we got to meet some of Yufeng’s high school friends, who marveled at the fact that he had invited two of his summer camp buds to his wedding years and years later.

But the best thing about the excursion up was the Mill Mountain Star, the largest freestanding man-made illuminated star! (Citation needed…)

One of mine: not pictured, me looking around wondering why complete strangers didn’t understand why Starr was so excited about the giant star

This was the star of many of the Roanoke Snapchat filters. (Yufeng had his own Snapchat filter for the wedding!) (Also, let me make this confession now: I was very confused when I realized Roanoke, Virginia was not Roanoke the Lost Colony.) While we were enjoying the mountain air, the bride and groom were taking photos with the wedding party.

14680825_10154575257737114_1260532255936933526_oAnd then it was time for the reception! Luckily for us, while we knew no one at the wedding but Barry before the mountain hike, we were seated with our new Mill Mountain friends! The food was yummy (and even worth the huge oil splatter I got on my dress), the dancing was great, and everyone had a wonderful time.


Yufeng’s younger brother did a great lion dance!14633206_10154575269367114_5704007812831381321_o

And of course, the moment of fear when I stand at the very back of a crowd of women with my hands firmly behind my back.



It was a really lovely wedding and I couldn’t be happier for Yufeng and Deirdre.


The next morning, there was a lovely brunch at the  Maridor Bed & Breakfast, where we got to send off the couple one last time.

2015-09-28 22.24.00
And now

Until next time! Thank you for inviting us to your wedding, Yufeng, we truly had a wonderful time and are so happy for you both. I am so grateful to have been able to call you my friend for the past 11 years and could not have imagined, back in 2005, being able to see you marry the love of your life.

Congratulations again!

October Weekend Recap

Brushing aside what I have said in the past about slowing down, I stayed busy again this weekend. Despite that, I didn’t feel like my schedule was jam-packed. The activities I did were really relaxing, and I was able to feel very present in the moments that I was enjoying. This is kind of an ideal way to experience these memories – not rushing through them but savoring them.

RENNFEST // I finally had my first-ever Maryland Renaissance Festival visit on Saturday! While my initial impression of the RennFest was that it was for super nerds, I later came to realize that I am a super nerd and these are my people. The best decision I made was attending in costume, because I felt too cool for school with my red cloak billowing behind me and the butterflies in my hair made me feel like a little fall fae. Also, the weather was so perfect that I often found myself just standing there, breathing in the crisp air, feeling the wind in my cloak and my butterflies, soaking it all in.

Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you the way that they should…

It was actually the 40th anniversary of the Maryland RennFest! We didn’t eat as much as I thought we would! Just a turkey leg (fun to wield but actually really annoying to eat because it’s tough and tendon-y) and a berry tart. We got to see Danger Committee (a comedic stunts show that makes you laugh and gasp and was featured on America’s Got Talent), Puke and Snot (some of finest and fastest wordplay I have ever heard, from an act that has been around for over 40 years!), and a great jousting match. Did you know the state sport of Maryland is jousting? Some folks think it was modernized to be lacrosse, but lacrosse is only the state team sport. Jousting remains the official state sport.

Commemorative 40th anniversary tankard: “Let Merriment Abound!”

We chose this past Saturday specifically to see a gathering of Game of Thrones cosplayers, but there were so many people at RennFest (they sold out shortly after we arrived!) that we weren’t able to find them among the masses. We did see several cosplayers on their own: Daenerys, Sansa, Melisandre, Joffrey, Robert, Cersei… it would’ve been nice to have seen all of them together though. (Especially when Cu Dubh played the show theme song for them!) I still had a really lovely time with my friends and look forward to coming back many more times in the coming years.

FLEET WEEK // Maryland Fleet Week ended yesterday with US and Canadian Navy ships leaving Baltimore’s harbor. My family went out on Sunday to have a peek at the newest naval destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, which was actually commissioned in Baltimore on Saturday. It looks very different from the other ships and is claimed to be the most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world. While we couldn’t get a closer look, we did get a chance to quickly tour the deck of the USS Letye Gulf.

See how different the USS Zumwalt looks?
Super different design, super different tech and strategy

While an air show roared overhead. Yep, while we waited in line to board, we got to see the Blue Angels do their stuff (deafeningly) above us.


We wrapped the evening with a seafood dinner. Successful visit back home with my brother, and still very relaxing to boot!

ROCKET LAUNCH // NASA launched an Antares rocket from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia last night! I didn’t know about this until yesterday morning, so I went to the Marine Corps Memorial to watch the launch with a coworkers in the evening. This was the first launch of an Antares rocket since 2014, with a failed launch, so it was very exciting for everyone. The livestream on NASAtv proved to be a little bit delayed because before we even saw liftoff on the video, we could already see the light from the rocket shooting up into the sky. While it’s not as ~cool~ as watching the footage of the explosive force that sends the rocket into the atmosphere, it was still pretty phenomenal to watch a manmade rocket go up… up… and away. The fact that we were still able to see it as it reached 180,000 ft altitude was a testament to just how bright and explosive the rocket must have been. I’ve never seen a rocket launch in person before, so this was really surreal to experience!

Also, is anyone watching Westworld? I didn’t love this week’s episode, but I think I like the show. I am a little bit in love with James Marsden’s face, so that doesn’t hurt at all. Plus, science fiction has been one of my favorite genres of everything since I learned to read.

Okay, I really am going to take it a little easier from here on out… until Halloween, of course!

East Coast friends, were any of you able to spot the rocket launch? It looked like a little red star for us a few miles away, but with its speed, you would’ve noticed a bright point in the sky going up, up, up, and then disappearing into the atmosphere.

Have you seen an air show before? I never thought about how much my dad probably enjoys them but we’ve seen the Blue Angels a few times over the past few years (Fort McHenry is a popular spot for them because of its historical significance) and I have a very early memory of seeing an air show with him… probably the Blue Angels!

Would something like the Renaissance Festival be your type of thing? You know I looooove dressing up, but I also really liked the historical aspect of the festival and just the… festival aspect! The shows were top-notch, the crafts were beautifully-made, and the people were all there to have a great time together.

P.S. Get hyped for peak costume season with me by looking back at an old Halloween Costume Reveal. Also, can you believe that disastrous Craig Robinson show I watched was 2 years ago?