Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fredericksburg's Mostly Historic Skyline

The week after Thanksgiving has been pretty adventureless (unless you count getting my teeth cleaned, which I suspect few would find blog-worthy). So in lieu of actual original content, I will show you a few photos I took on a recent walk, paired with more historical info than you probably care to read. What can I say...Fredericksburg is one hell of a historic place, filled with way more than its fair share of historically and architecturally significant buildings. The town's skyline, when viewed from across the river, is highlighted by the steeples of the town's historic churches. These buildings have been standing since the mid-1800’s, as you can see in the illustration of Robert E. Lee riding through town (that's St. George's in the rear center, and the courthouse on the right).

Fredericksburg Baptist Church: This Gothic Revival style church was built in 1855, and is the second largest church building in Fredericksburg. The building suffered extensive damage from artillery during the Civil War, and like many area churches, was used as a Federal field hospital. The building was repaired after the war, and the main building has remained essentially the same ever since. In 1990, the church bought the Victoria Theater on Caroline Street, and expanded the building until now it covers the corner of 2 blocks.

St. George's Episcopal Church: Built in 1849, it's an example of the Romanesque Revival style of architecture popular at the time. George Washington’s family was a member of this congregation, attending services in the original church building erected in the 1730’s. During the Civil War, it was used as a hospital. The central tower and steeple are city landmarks, and the clock in the tower was set in place in 1851 by the City of Fredericksburg, which is still responsible for its maintenance.

Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church: This Greek Revival style church was built in 1833 and is one of the two oldest churches in Fredericksburg. The building was severely damaged during the Civil War, and the church bell was given to the Confederacy to be melted down for cannons. The church was used as a Federal hospital and Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, worked here, nursing thousands of soldiers brought here from the Battle of Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse.

Fredericksburg Methodist Church: This building was erected in 1882, and is an example of Victorian Gothic style.

Fredericksburg Court House: Designed by James Renwick in the French Gothic style, and completed in 1852. James Renwick later designed "The Castle" of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. That's a pretty impressive resume. In addition to court business, the building houses the will of George Washington’s mother (she’s a big deal in this town).

Here is my church, The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg. Built in 1833, it's tied for the title of the oldest church in Fredericksburg. It was originally home to the First Christian Church of Fredericksburg, and during its long and varied history, it has served as a field hospital (surprise!), a warehouse, a school, and a bingo hall.

Last, and certainly least, is the monstrosity of a modern building known as the "Executive Plaza," our very own skyscraper. It gets the award for building that detracts the most from Fredericksburg's historic skyline. Most Fredericksburgers would probably vote to tear it down if they could. Clearly it was erected during a period in which the town's Architectural Review Board was smoking a lot of crack. I guess the only unique thing about it is that it never served as a Civil War field hospital.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Full Nest Weekend

Our post-holiday weekend with the kids was filled with the usual family activities: eating, playing, talking, shopping, and generally goofing around. With four trips to the train station thrown in for good measure. They played us a lot of music and showed us a lot of internet videos that they find hysterical.

On Saturday night, we went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant, Bistro Bethem. I’ve loved this place since it first opened. The place is upscale casual: artsy decor, gourmet food, casual dress code. I appreciate that the chef has developed an innovative seasonal menu with great attention to detail. Some of the dishes are little strokes of genius, like my favorite frisee salad with a sunny side up egg on top. Others are a bit Iron Chef-y, such as the Guinness ice cream (which we didn’t try, but honestly, that’s just a stretch. I’ve tasted their roasted corn ice cream in the summer, so I know that “unusual” and “unique” don’t always translate into “tasty”). And all of the entrees are paired with creative little side dishes, like my pancetta wrapped sauteed shrimp that was served with green papaya slaw and ricotta dumplings. It was a nice ending to the weekend.

And by 8:54 tonight, both kids were back where they needed to be, via Amtrak trains that ran closer to schedule than usual.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Day

Both of my kids (the 20 year old son in college and the 23 year old daughter living in New York City) were home for the holiday weekend. As much as I love the empty nest, it has been wonderful to have the family all together, which only seems to happen a couple of times a year these days. New York Girl couldn’t wait to move to the big city, but she finds that a trip home to our little patch of woods in Spotsylvania definitely has its charms: the quiet surroundings, the smell of the leaves, the quaintness of the town, weather warm enough to play tennis or go running in the neighborhood in shorts and a T-shirt.

Of course, I planned a Thanksgiving menu that was designed to give everyone the nostalgic holiday tastes they look forward to. I cooked a 20-pound turkey for the 4 of us (Did you know the rule is one pound of turkey per person? Okay, so I overshot), which apparently is what we’ll be eating till Christmas. We’re sometime vegetarians, but I guess for a while we’ll be turko-vegetarians. The one thing I don’t do is bake. Oh, I can throw together some gingerbread from a boxed mix and serve it with ice cream, but don’t go looking for anything really homemade. Well, this year, in a delightful turn of events, my daughter decided to bake an apple pie from scratch. Crust and all. All I can figure is that the baking gene skips a generation. I know living in New York, she’s gotten used to eating some pretty amazing food, and she works for a publishing company that publishes a lot of culinary reference books, so she’s gotten to hobnob with some foodie experts. But when she lived at home, she had very little interest in cooking—well, other than watching all the cooking shows, which we still love to do. To make a long story short (or is it too late?), she baked a beautiful apple pie, using every apple-pie-baking tip she could gather, including the interwoven lattice top. And I was so impressed that I couldn’t resist blogging about it.

Hope your holiday was as delicious (in every way) as mine!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pre-Thanksgiving Festivities

This past weekend, we were busy with church activities, including the Thanksgiving Pageant. The adult choir was accompanying the children’s choir for the pageant, so my husband had rehearsals or performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I saw the play on Saturday, and I thought the whole thing was ├╝ber-adorable. Our church has learned that kids don’t do well if they have to learn lines, so we’ve gotten smart about it, and have a narrator telling the story while the kids act out the narration. There’s plenty of room for improvisation: the kids who wave to their parents, or rearrange their costumes, or scratch private itches, or suddenly display jazz hands. The play was called “The Tree in Tappen Wood,” about a centuries-old tree (played by the minister) that has seen the history of America played out, including, but not limited to, Native Americans, Pilgrims, runaway slaves, Abraham Lincoln, and forest animals (because you need roles for all of the littlest kids). All tied up with a heavy dose of peace, love, freedom, and gratitude.

On Sunday, I spent the day helping set up and serve at the church’s annual Thanksgiving Potluck, held following the Sunday service/pageant. Our church is growing so much that this year, we had to rent the community center to fit the whole congregation together. For $135, we got a room set up with tables to seat 220 people. Including paper products, drinks, and decorations, the whole tab came to about $1 a head. If I ever have to pay for a wedding, I’m thinking a potluck at the community center might be the way to go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tuba or Not Tuba?

Yes, tuba. On Sunday night, we went to a tuba recital at the college. Now just in case you’re starting to think I’m a classical music connoisseur, I assure you I’m not. If left to my own devices, I probably would have spent Sunday night curled up in my jammies with a good book. But my husband didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see two top level professional musicians play. The performance featured piano-tuba duets by the U.S. Marine Band’s tubist (Mark Thiele, above) and the principal tubist from the Boston Symphony (Mike Roylance, below), accompanied by the Marine Band's pianist. So those are some pretty big guns. The concert was in a recital hall that seats about 75 people, and we sat up front, within about 10 feet from the musicians. I was pleasantly surprised to find that tubas really do make very lovely music.
And the musicians themselves were very entertaining: two youngish guys who had both started out playing for Disney in Florida, a gig they were very positive about. They got to be good friends there, auditioned for the Marine Band together, and the one who didn’t make it with the Marines found a position in Boston, both simply delighted to be able to make a living playing music. And both clearly in love with the tuba, and both just thrilled that the small recital hall was packed for tuba music. They were infectious...I just couldn’t help smiling.

So if you’re in the Fredericksburg area, and are looking for a pleasant night out, you should check out some of the concerts put on by the UMW Music Department. Classical, jazz, choral singing, holiday pops, kids’ concerts, can find the upcoming concert schedule here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Holiday Open House

As happens each year around this time, the downtown retail merchants kicked off the holiday season this past weekend with their annual Holiday Open House. This “event” isn’t really that much different from any other weekend downtown, except that the merchants bring out their Christmas decorations, there are strolling carolers, and many of the shops provide refreshments. And therein lies my motivation for going. I will unashamedly admit that I hit up every downtown store that I think might be offering snacks, from a simple plate of cookies, right up to the punch and full dessert buffet.

Oh, I don’t just march right in and grab the food. I shop around, clearly expressing interest in whatever the shop is selling, and put on what I like to think is a convincing act that I’m only bellying up to the buffet as an afterthought. “Oh, look, cookies...who knew?” I don’t buy anything while I’m there, but I don’t feel guilty about that, because I figure that if I tell other people about the treats a store is providing, and they stop in and buy—well, that’s the best advertising you can get. And I will go one further. I will right here tell you that the most generous downtown shops in terms of refreshments are the Made In Virginia store (samples of ham, soup, crackers and dips, sparkling cider, sweet treats), plus two gift shops, Kranberry Twist (hot cider, dips, cookies), and Deborah’s Place (punch, cake, cookies and candies). In fact, the two gift shops get extra points, because while the Made in VA store is handing out samples of food they sell in the hopes you might buy some, the other two are just trying to be nice to customers. Sadly, they don't have websites, or I’d have linked them. Because isn't a little free advertising worth a few treats?

I will also say that the biggest disappointment was the Pavilion, an upscale gift shop that used to put out samples of all of their gourmet foods: Chocolates and candy, nuts, spreads, pound cake, chips and salsa, and other samples of gifty-type foods they sell. This year, they put out nothing at all. Not a single thing. Then today I found out that they are going out of business after Christmas. Hmm, correlation or causation? Did they put out nothing because they’re going out of business, or are they going out of business because they put out nothing? Okay, it’s probably the former. And just to show there’s no hard feelings, here’s their website, too.

Colonial carolers:

Whittingham's has the best seasonal windows, and they change them frequently. Here's a white wolf in a woodland setting with an expensive necklace. I guess he's trying to lure Granny with the good stuff.

No grannies, but he managed to lure the ladies of Fourte (well, actually, I think one might really be a granny):

One of the gardening shops had this decorative bush of Italian parsley. I've never seen a parsley plant this big:

Here is the horse-drawn carriage, parked in front of the Visitor Center. Until this day, I had never before seen a horse pee. It was like someone turned on a hose full blast for 15 seconds, resulting in a huge puddle of pee in the street. Welcome, tourists! That old saying about peeing like a racehorse completely makes sense to me now.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened

It’s about three quarters of the way through the semester, which means it’s time for the music and theatre departments at Mary Washington to be presenting their fall performances. So we have a windfall of events to choose from in the next few weeks, and so far this weekend, we’ve gone to two UMW performances. Last night we saw the Wind and Percussion Ensemble (aka concert band) present “An Evening of Student Selections,” all pieces chosen by a committee of students, which turned out to mean that for a change, the concert featured completely accessible pieces, like John Williams’ movie music, selections from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and ending with a bang (a boom?) with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. My kind of music. Yes, I admit I like my classical music to be familiar and my bands to play movie themes. And when two musicians wait secretly in the balcony behind the audience through the whole second half of the concert, just waiting for the very end when they will get to bang the hell out of the bass drums for a few seconds, well, that’s just a bonus.

We got doubly lucky this weekend, and caught the UMW Theatre Department’s presentation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (running through Nov. 18). Mary Washington has an above average theatre department, and almost everything they put on is really good. But feel-good musicals are rarely on the schedule—you’re more likely to get an obscure and intense drama. So this turned out to be an unexpected treat, and they really did a terrific job. Snappy direction, great sets, and a cast that could sing well. I would even say that it exceeded expectations. So in this case, I was actually thinking about joining in the inevitable standing ovation, but surprise! The cast took their bows so quickly, that before anyone had a chance to stand, the houselights were back on.

Now if we wanted to complete the Trifecta, we could go to a tuba recital tomorrow night. Not just any tuba recital, but a tubaist (tubist?) from the Boston Symphony and one from the U.S. Marine Band. But that might make the weekend just a little too highbrow. I might have to stay home and watch reality television while chugging beer and eating chips.

Image courtesy of the UMW Dept. of Theatre and Dance, because you know I can't take pictures during a performance. And by "courtesy of," I mean I stole it from their website.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

UMW Alumni Center

Last week, I went to a business luncheon at the University of Mary Washington’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center. I don’t go to these types of events very often—maybe a couple of times a year. This was my first time at the Alumni Center, and I was very impressed. It’s a beautiful place to have an event (although I hear it’s very pricey), with an elegant ballroom, a brick courtyard with fountain, and lovely grounds. The food was quite good—better than the usual business luncheon fare. The event (the annual meeting of an economic development organization) can be summed up in three words: Men in Suits. Make that Men in Suits Who Enjoy Statistics. Oh, there were a few women, and I happened to sit at a table of more women than men (and among the men was one of my favorite MiS’s), and had a nice time. I always have a nice time when you take me out of the office and give me a free lunch--who says there’s no such thing?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Birthday Girl

Happy 23rd birthday to my beautiful daughter!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Last night we went to a bonfire party, hosted by friends whose home is tucked in the woods of Spotsylvania. I love to sit by a fire. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in a fireplace, or a campsite, or a bonfire like this one. I even like gas fireplaces. There’s something very soothing about staring into a fire, watching the flames dance. I get the same feeling watching the ocean waves at the beach. I even like the smell of wood smoke in my hair that lingers till the morning.

I do admit that I get a little paranoid about fires that I’m in charge of managing. I’m much too security-conscious to be able to sit back and relax. I don’t even like it when the barbecue grill flares too high. Isn’t it too dry for a fire in Virginia, anyway? Don’t forest fires start from innocent campfires gone awry? I’m thinking California, people. Shouldn’t we saturate the area around the fire with water? Where’s the hose? Who’s in charge of fire safety around here, anyway? Luckily for me, last night’s fire was someone else’s responsibility, so I was able to relax. Mostly.

The gathering included many of my favorite people, started with a terrific chili and ribs supper (with more potluck dishes than I could ever have hoped to sample), and then moved on to S’mores by the fire. The S’more making was turned into a highly efficient process with the arrival of the “Marshmallonator,” a homemade Tim Allen-esque device designed to perfectly toast 9 marshmallows at once, using a battery-powered, variable speed power drill with a dowel rod into which hooks had been inserted. Genius, really. Patentable, we all thought. At parties hosted by this very musically talented family, music always breaks out, and last night was no different, as a number of musicians brought out their guitars and played late into the evening. A fine time was had by all. And as an added bonus, an extra hour of sleep as we set the clocks back.

Here you can see the nicely constructed (and very safe) fire ring:

Marshmallonator at work:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Weekend Wrapup

Here are a few more photos of our weekend trip to William and Mary. On Sunday morning, we strolled through Colonial Williamsburg and Merchant Square (including Williams Sonoma, right) like we usually do, and then treated ourselves to lunch at the Blue Talon Bistro. Our last stop was the Cheese Shop for cheese and bread for an easy supper when we got home (see, that's the kind of meal you can have when you're an empty nester).

This is the "back door" of the Wren Building. If you took all of the brick on the campus of the college, plus all the bricks used in the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and laid them end to end, they would circle the earth three times.

Okay, I made that brick thing up. Bikes on campus:

Colonial reproduction bell jars in a colonial reproduction garden:

Colonial reproduction baskets for sale:

Colonial reproduction house, hedge, garden and fence: