Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Historic Garden Week in Virginia 2016 Biggest Tour of the Year

Flower Arrangement Richmond Tour 
If you love Spring as I do, then you won't want to miss the biggest tour of the year, Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Beginning April 23 select communities throughout the state host home and garden tours sponsored by local Garden Clubs. Each year I get my grubby gardening gloves on the 250 page guidebook that explains in detail every tour site. You can pick up a catalog in local specialty shops and libraries or you can read the guidebook online. Proceeds from the tours help preserve historic gardens in Virginia.

Beautiful Flowers during prior Tour
Each year I blog about my favorite tour sites listed in the catalog. The following communities made my list mainly because of their emphasis on gardens. Some localities focus more on home interiors. Last year we visited Richmond and it was outstanding and over the years we have visited Ashland, Charlottesville, Lexington, Staunton, and Richmond (twice).

Note: Some tour tickets can be purchased in advance for a $5.00 discount.

Ashland Tour 2012
4/23, Saturday, 10-5, $35.00 - Staunton is pulling out all the stops with 8 properties open on tour day. They also have guest speakers and performances throughout the day. When we toured Staunton several years ago I was totally blown away by the floral arrangements created by the Augusta Garden Club. On tour this year are expansive gardens with over 1,000 Daffodils and Tulips, Azalea, Rhododendron, Peony, and Spring Shrubs. Featured are select Roses from the Garden Club of Virginia's Rose Collection. The Charles Gillette designed garden at the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum is included on the tour. While you are in town, check out the ongoing efforts to replant Dogwood trees in the sprawling Gypsy Hill Park.

This Spring on Forsythia Hill in my garden.
4/23, Sat, 12-5, $45.00 - Winchester-Clarke features native plant and organic food production gardens featuring herbs and vegetables. Specialty gardens are also highlighted on this tour; Dahlia, Rose, more than 15,000 Daffodils, 10,000 Tulips, and 15,000 Grape Hyacinths. Clay Hill will be on the tour and has been featured in several notable publications and includes an Orchid conservatory, Italianate boxwood parterre garden, and perennial & vegetable gardens planted within stone walls built by Hessian soldiers. Don't miss the Black Walnut tree said to be one of the largest in Virginia. If you have time, visit our State Arboretum of Virginia.

Ashland Tour 2012
4/26, Tuesday, 10-5, $25.00 - Petersburg is steeped in history and is a fascinating place to visit even without Historic Gardening Week to lure you in. Centre Hill Mansion has been featured in several movies and is a restoration project of the Garden Club of Virginia. Several other amazing historic homes are featured on the tour as is a billiard room, wine cellar, carriage house, potting shed, barn, gazebo, and guest house. Art, history, and antiques abound along with terraced gardens, flowering trees, walking trails, and native plants. The Marie Bowen Garden is a 30 year restoration project taken on by the Raleigh Parish Garden Club, named after one member who spent countless hours propagating native plants for an overgrown expansive ravine located within the garden. You may want to make time for the first Bank Museum in Virginia, Farmers Bank, one of the few in the USA,

Monticello during Garden Week 2014
4/28, Thurs, 10-5, $40.00 - Norfolk features homes from the early 1900's. Well known Virginia architect, John K. Peebles designed one home that is featured. Interior styles vary from Italian to Asian. Gardens include a pesticide free garden with herbs and vegetables and a sustainable garden featuring many edible / pollinator friendly plants. The eight acre Weyanoke Bird and Wildflower Sanctuary is also on the tour. For more than 20 years, the St. Andrews Episcopal Church has hosted a Flower Festival and will showcase arrangements during the tour. If you have time, you might want to make a trip over to the Chrysler Museum of Art or the Moses Myers House (one of the many Garden Club of Virginia's renovated gardens).

Richmond Tour 2013
4/29, Fri, 10-4, $40.00 - Middle Peninsula will open 6 homes; a mix of historic and contemporary and new construction. A Virginia planters home from the 1840's, a Georgian style home that has discovered two cannon balls on the property, and one home from 1763 that has a slave cabin and log cabin on the property. One newer home has a waterfront view with gardens, pool and outdoor kitchen. The "Old Customs House" referred to as "Sandwich" is on the tour and is named after the Earl of Sandwich who of course invented the sandwich! You won't want to miss the home with custom crafted interior wood detailing located on the salt marsh and creek. Stroll winding woodland paths covered in over 15,000 bulbs through a bog garden surrounded by native plants and trees.

Prior Garden Week in Richmond 2015
4/30, Sat, 10-5, $35.00 - Blackstone & Nottoway County features homes ranging in age from 1800 - 1900 plus one new contemporary home. Garden details encompass a herb garden, Asian garden, Koi pond, cottage garden, heirloom plants, mature specimen trees, and over 100 Hostas. The Virginia Bluebird Society will host a garden presentation. One home features 500 martini glasses and a collection of Buddhist and Hindu statues. In town there is a carriage museum and The Nottoway County Courthouse has been described as one of the most beautiful of its style in Virginia. Trend is hosting a waffle tasting from 9 - 11 am.

Richmond headquarters for Garden Club of Virginia
4/30, Sat, 10-5, $30.00 - Lexington features 6 properties, many tied to the production of grapes. Rockbridge Vineyard is on the tour as is a nearby home with natural wood detailing, a shaded woodland garden, and a fruit and vegetable garden. One home that has been modified over the years since 1790, had Union forces camped on the farm prior to Hunter's raid on Lexington and now has "rocking chairs on the front porch over looking the countryside and grape vines". Another home on the tour features natural gardens with birdhouses, hand-hewn fencing, and an amphitheater near the creek. Art is a feature in several homes on this tour. A sweet Herbery is filled with hundreds of bulbs, spring ephemerals, herbs, and a greenhouse. Also tour a rustic treehouse and log-cabin smokehouse, barn, pool and pool house surrounded by garden walking trails leading to the creek.

Garden Week in Richmond 2015
This is just a small taste of beautiful homes and gardens in Virginia. I hope you will pick a location and explore. I'm still on the fence where to go this year but at least my list has been narrowed down!


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Navigating the Prepaid Wireless Cell Phone Smart Phone Landmines

Phone pile
It's been 11 years since I've seriously investigated cell phone options. I've tried to navigate through the plans in the past and ended up throwing my hands up. It has taken way too much time to search online for plans, phones, coverage, and fees. One would think the quagmire would not be so great. I believe the majority of the trouble comes into play because there are too many carriers and options.

Do I buy online or go to a store? Do I really need smart phone "surfing" capability or just talk? How do all those cards work that are displayed at the Grocery Store, Sears, Kmart, Sams, Walmart, Best Buy, and nearly on ever street corner? When one goes into a store and sees the vast racks of companies and the monthly fees they are bartering, boasting unlimited this and that, it can lead to a mental overload. It all seemed like a big fat hassle to me.

It may not be straight forward but financially it might be worth shopping around, especially if you have not done so in the last 5 years. If my 80 year old mother and father-in law can figure out the monthly flip phone reload, how difficult can it be? Well, let's just say they are much smarter than I. During my quest to convert, I decided sharing a few tips might help guide others through the landmines.
My series of phones over the years
"Plans" that are conveniently set up by the major wireless players will cost you. It certainly was costing me! For 11 years I got great support, coverage, and service but I overpaid in comparison to buying a phone and reload card off the store shelf. My major hindrance was the fact that I had to go into a store each month and buy a reload card. That's how my mother does it. I thought to myself - what a PAIN. It was worth it to me to stay put if I had to do this every month.

For 3 months I had been unsuccessful at wandering around Walmart's and Best Buy's to get the lowdown. I also had been researching online for which carriers to choose in order to get good coverage in my area. Very few of my questions were answered until I got lucky last week and spoke to a very competent employee at the Cville Walmart. It absolutely does matter who you speak to. Terry (a female) explained the cell phone quagmire effortlessly and was so helpful. She explained that you initially buy a card but that you can set up auto-pay with the wireless carrier so you never have to buy another card from a store (YAY). My biggest barrier was conquered.

After researching online I decided that Straight Talk, Verizon, US Cellular, and Boost were 4 carriers that would work well in Charlottesville. I can vouch for US Cellular as that was my carrier for 11 years while living in Southwest and Central Virginia. You can set up different levels of minutes based on the monthly prepaid card options (you will see them listed in big letters over top of phones and cards beside each wireless carrier's logo).

The next step is to choose a phone. If you choose to go directly to a wireless carrier and set up through them, you will most likely be charged all sorts of hidden fees. When US Cellular advertised 6G for $40.00 I was giddy until I talked to them (4 separate times) about upgrading my account from 2 dumb phones to 1 smart phone and 1 dumb phone (talk / text only). This actually is what sent me over the edge. I do no appreciate false advertising and US Cellular is not the only carrier guilty of adding fees into their advertised plans. The advertised $40.00 a month plan zoomed up to $85.00! There was a $18.00 phone purchase fee even though it was advertised as costing a penny.  There was another monthly something or another fee and there are always taxes.  In order to avoid any hidden fees you generally have to choose a prepaid card at the store (NOTE: you will be charged a .50 911 fee in addition to the amount on the store card but nothing more, no taxes, no hidden fees).

If you want to pay for what is advertised, you will have to go into a store and buy it off the shelf. Prior to purchase I recommend that you look online at the store cell phone options and reviews. I didn't want to break the bank for a cell phone so I ended up getting a smart phone for $40.00 that had good online reviews. There were some slightly cheaper monthly plans through other wireless carriers but I could not get an inexpensive good phone. I ended up paying a little more a month on the prepaid card for the smart phone and a little less on the dumb phone to make it all balance out.

Steps to success:
  • Research websites of local stores that sell phones and prepaid cards and write down the online cost of the phones of interest (my flip phone was $3.00 cheaper online than in the store and the store matched this price).
  • Look for switching coupons. Many carriers will pay you to switch from say US Cellular to Verizon, even if you go from a direct wireless carrier plan to a prepaid card.  I was paid $75.00 to make this switch. I was credited this by calling the wireless carrier after I purchased my phones and prepaid card at the store. This covered my cost of purchasing the phones!
  • Go into the store and decided what plan works for you. Do you only need a phone for emergencies and very light calling? You may only need the $15.00 a month / 300 minute plan and an inexpensive flip phone. Are you planning on searching the Internet with your phone? You may want to go with a 3 GB - 6 GB plan just to be sure you will not use up all your minutes quickly. If you are going to play games and watch movies - be sure you get a unlimited card, the higher the GB the better. Most plans offer 2 GB - 5 GB and some unlimited. Apparently there is a limit to the response time of 1 GB, 2 GB, etc but you still can get unlimited searching, it will just be slower after the specified GB is used up. If you have a wireless provider at your house (like Comcast) then you can save your GB's by setting up your phone to use that service when in the house. That will save a ton of GB each month.  
  • Write down all the costs, the cost of the phone, the monthly prepaid card rate and the details of what your card provides.
  • Before you take the plunge, call you current carrier and tell them that you want to close your account and go with another carrier. Often they will quote you a better rate to try and keep you. I probably would have stayed with my carrier if I would have been offered a good plan early on. After I had switched everything, I spoke to the department that intervenes when you are getting ready to pull the plug. My carrier reduced their rate from $108.00 down to $68.00. They still could not beat what I was paying via a prepaid card so I did not accept their offer.
  • Also ask your current carrier if you are locked into a contract. My contract expired many years ago since I did not take them up on their offers to get a new phone every 2 years which renews you into a contract. To get out of a 2-year contract, it will cost you money so wait until it has expired and then cut the tie.
  • If you decide to transfer to a different wireless carrier and want to keep you current phone number, do NOT close your current (old) account until your new carrier makes the switch and your new phone is up and running. You do not have to contact your old carrier, the new carrier will take care of this for you - but you need to talk to a representative with your new prepaid plan to keep your existing phone number. Do not activate your new phone or load prepaid minutes until you talk to a live person. After your new phones are up and running, you can call your old carrier and make sure all ends are tied just to ensure you won't be billed any longer.
I hope this helps you in your quest.


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