Tuesday, July 29, 2008

First Blogversary

It’s been exactly one year since my first blog post. I’ve gone to a lot more local events and visited more “diners, drive-ins and dives” than I ordinarily would have, and combing the Weekender for blog-worthy events has become a habit. But I’ve enjoyed (almost) all of it. I’m not sure where the blog will take me from here....more of the same, a change in direction, a blog vacation from time to time? For now, I’m planning my next week with blogging in mind.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Fredericksburg Fair 2008

After a year of blogging, we come right back around to where we started: the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair. The Fair this year was touted as being better than ever, so my husband and I visited on Saturday. Admittedly, we probably would have gone even if it had been advertised as lamer and more broken down than ever...it’s just become one of those traditions. I can’t really explain the appeal, since we don’t go on any of the rides, don’t play the midway games, and aren’t interested in tractor pulls. There’s just something about the carnival atmosphere that we can’t resist. The animals are a big draw for us, too, and since last year was a disappointment in that area, we had high hopes for the animal displays.

The fair has been spruced up a bit with some fresh coats of paint and quite a few new rides. But most importantly for us, the animals were back in force. In addition to the chickens and rabbits we’re used to seeing, there was a petting zoo with farm animals (ducks, geese, goats, sheep, pigs), as well as “exotic” animals—emu, wallaby, african tortoise, alpaca, camel, llama, zebu and Patagonian cavy, my favorite. Did you know the capybara is the largest rodent in the world (we’ve seen them at the zoo), and the Patagonian cavy (above) is the second largest? My husband and son are both rodent lovers, so our family has always paid attention to rodents of unusual size. My husband, who feels a kinship with the slowest, most lumbering animals, enjoyed the zebu (Asian cattle) and of course, the cows.

In a stroke of good luck, we happened to be at the rabbit barn while the rabbit judging was going on. It was really fascinating, and we watched for quite a while. The judge (certified by the American Rabbit Breeders Association) handled each rabbit so gently, stroking its fur, positioning it just right, cupping its bottom...okay, I admit it, I think I’m in love with Chris, the rabbit judge (right). And I realized that while you might not like the whole notion of sweet looking animals in small cages, breeders have to really treat their animals with great care if they want to win awards. I’d like to think that after a few days in small cages, all of those rabbits (and all the other fair animals, too) go home to live in roomy enclosures with good food, plenty of exercise, and lots of attention.

So we missed Miss Fredericksburg Fair on Friday night, but figured we’d take in one of the other pageants that was scheduled for Saturday. The Fair sponsors Tiny Miss Fredericksburg, Little Miss, Pre-Teen Miss, Junior Miss and Miss, but so far, we’d only seen Miss. Turns out that Tiny, Little, and Pre-Teen are very brief affairs, nothing like the hoopla that surrounds Miss. I was glad, really, for the sake of the little girls. We watched Pre-Teen Miss (ages 9-11), which was over in less than 20 minutes. Each girl came out in a casual outfit, introduced herself, walked around the stage, and then answered an easy question requiring not much more than a one-word answer, like what is your favorite thing to do at the Fair, or what is your favorite holiday (ride the rides, Christmas—no surprises there). I like that anyone can enter the Fair pageants by filling out a simple form and paying $25, no weeding out, no pre-selection committee, and the pre-teen pageant had girls who mostly seemed like this was probably their first pageant, done just for fun. The winner (being crowned above) was the most rehearsed, and probably wanted it the most, so cheers to her. I’ve come to the conclusion that pageants are a traditional part of small town American life, and aren’t harmful unless the parents or child get overly invested in the outcome. I’m not crazy about what they teach little girls about competing on the basis of physical appearance, but many will counter that pageants teach poise, improve communication skills, and bolster self-confidence. Nonetheless, I expect the popularity of pageants will eventually fizzle out entirely, and I certainly won’t mind when that happens.

The Fair isn’t cheap if you’re going for the rides: $7 per adult admission, plus more for the rides and attractions, with an unlimited ride ticket at $15. With food and extras, it isn’t exactly a cheap family outing, so be forewarned. The Fair runs through August 3.

This eggplant was the winning entry in the vegetable category of "unusual plant":

The blue ribbon quilt in the applique category (if you click on the photo, Mom, you can see a bigger version):

Sweet faced goat from the petting zoo:

Here's an animal you don't often see around these parts (well, except for the occasional live Nativity scene in December):

New this year were these barns with special attractions, the giant horse and the giant steer. Like fair freak shows of old, they were hidden behind curtains and only paying customers could get a look. We didn't bother:

The Ferris wheel was back this year. Here it's getting some maintenance prior to the first ride of the day:

One of the new kiddie rides this year, Dylan's Dozers:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Odds & Ends

Here are some photos I took in the last couple of months that never made it into a post. Consider this just a little cleanup.

First, eating. My favorite place downtown to get a quick lunch is Eileen's on Caroline Street. They always have creative sandwiches and salads:

And right next door is the Java Connection, where we've been buying our coffee beans pretty much our entire adult lives. They've downsized in recent years, but they still have our favorite coffees, and some great T-shirts and gift-y things, too:

Here's a recent lunch we had at the incredibly tiny Here and Abroad Bistro and Bakery, tucked behind Hyperion. The place seats no more than a dozen people, with a tiny courtyard for a few more.

Have you been to any of the Bluemont concerts this summer? Here's the schedule, and a photo of L'Angelus, a great Cajun family band, who played on July 12:

Don't forget Music on the Library Steps every Monday night. Here's Laurie Rose Griffith and Peter Mealy playing on July 7. I love this duo, and catch them often. Laurie reminds me of Judy Collins.

Here's the fountain in front of the library, ringed with roses. I rarely buy books, but use the library constantly, and support them by running up substantial fines. It's the least I could do.

Random shot of the Confederate Cemetery on Washington Avenue:

Tim's Mart is a huge store that sells menswear and wigs, but I never see any customers in there. How do they stay in business, with Caroline Street rents as high as they are? It's a mystery to me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mineral Bluegrass Festival

My husband and I got hooked on bluegrass music when we were in college. Bluegrass was experiencing a revival, and bluegrass bands would occasionally put on outdoor concerts on campus. As married 20-somethings, we used to go to 3-day bluegrass festivals regularly. We’d camp out in our little backpacking tent and listen to music all day and late into the night. Before Saturday, the last festival we went to was when our daughter was about 2. Turned out camping with a toddler was harder than we thought, and 3 days of bluegrass music didn’t amuse her quite the way it did us.

We’ve continued to be bluegrass fans, though, and decided that now that the kids are grown, we should get back to going to the festivals. So we decided at the last minute to dip our toes back in the water by spending Saturday at the Mineral Festival. We’d done this one a couple of times back in the old days, and while it was rough camping without any frills, we loved that it was so close to home, and never overly crowded. Even though this time we were just there for the day, we had a terrific time, and were kind of sorry we didn’t have our own campsite for relaxing. We're already planning to come back and camp next year.

The lineup of bands was good, but all of the acts throughout the day were clearly eclipsed by the headliners, the Del McCoury Band. We’ve seen Del perform many times, but not lately, and his performance still excels. He’s an elder statesman of bluegrass, one of the few oldtimers of his caliber left, and a real master of the genre. He and the band played a full 90-minute set, and I could have watched him for another 90 minutes.

The scene in the concert area. Music started at noon, and didn't end till around 10:30 pm:

Food vendors, mostly selling the usual unhealthy carnival food (like deep fried Oreos)...

but I did enjoy my roasted corn (hold the butter):

Most of the campers were in RVs. Everywhere you walk, you hear the sound of generators:

The bands travel in buses, although the Grascals' bus was the only I saw with corporate sponsorship. Check out the Mayberry's Finest website for a glimpse of their "spokesgroup" singing the jingle.

This may be a crappy photo of Del McCoury, but it's MY crappy photo:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Welcome Center

A building most Fredericksburgers are unlikely to visit is the new and improved Virginia Welcome Center on I-95 just north of Exit 130. I stopped there today on the way home from a trip to Quantico just to check it out. The original center was built in 1967, and the newly rebuilt center opened last fall. I guess it’s state of the art as far as rest stops go: it's newer and shinier and bigger and cleaner and better landscaped and more environmentally friendly than most rest stops, but it still has all of the usual features: bathrooms, vending machines, tourist information, picnic tables. Lots of open space inside, just in case you wanted to rent it out for ballroom dance lessons. The most powerful electric hand dryers in the restrooms that I’ve ever used—imagine actually getting your hands dry with one of those things, and not having to wipe them on your pants. And a giant computer display showing VDOT's “511 Virginia” website that gives you updates on traffic conditions:

Does that make you want to rush right out and visit? Probably not. I’m sure I’ll never go again. Can you tell I haven’t gotten out much this week?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

An Evening of Not Quite Shakespeare

Because of a sudden rain shower, tonight’s free performance by Stage Door Productions of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) was slightly abridged. No matter—it was still the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. The play was presented on the grassy field across from the downtown library, a great venue for a summer evening (sudden showers notwithstanding). The play is a silly, slapstick romp through the works of Shakespeare, performed by just three actors, with hilariously condensed versions of Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus performed as a cooking show, Othello as a rap, Shakespeare’s histories as a football game, and all the comedies distilled into a single plot. The second half of the play was a performance of Hamlet cut tragically short by the weather. Hopefully I'll get to see the whole show someday. Kudos to the cast.

Stage Door’s next production is Oliver, starting on July 18 at Massaponax High School.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hartwood Winery’s Mid-Summer Festival

Thanks as always to the calendar of events in the Free Lance-Star’s Weekender section, I saw that Hartwood Winery was having a “Mid-Summer Festival” today and tomorrow. Admission is $10 per person, and although I usually balk at paying that much for events (especially ones that are designed to try to sell me something), I needed a blogworthy outing, so I sucked it up and went. We hadn’t been out there since shortly after they opened many years ago, so I guess it was about time for a return trip.

It actually turned out to be not a bad deal: For the price of admission, we each got a complimentary wineglass (two more to add to my growing wineglass collection consisting entirely of souvenir glasses from festivals and wineries), and got to sample a total of 17 wines, from both the Hartwood Winery and Cooper Vineyards in Louisa (and the Hartwood folks were pouring “tastes” that were 2 or 3 mouthfuls). We took a short “tour” of the winemaking cellar (is it actually a tour if you stand in one place the whole time?), and our guide was happy to answer all of our post-tour questions. There was a small buffet of snack foods, acoustic guitarist Gerry Maddox sang on the front porch, and tables and chairs were set up inside and out for anyone wanting to sit for awhile with a glass of wine or a picnic lunch. The farm winery’s country setting, right on Rt. 612 on the road to Curtis Park in Stafford, is downright pastoral. And the wine has improved tremendously over the years—we found several (particularly the whites) that we thought were excellent.

The festival continues tomorrow from 11 am-5 pm, so here’s my advice: go out to Hartwood with a couple of friends, bring a blanket and a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine, and while away the afternoon listening to music and relaxing on the grounds. If you miss this weekend, consider checking out their Harvest Festival in the fall.

The tasting room is the main floor of this unassuming ranch home, and the winemaking operation is in the basement:

Lots of wines to taste:

The lovely country setting:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Madison's Montpelier

Having already taken my brother and his wife to just about every historic home in the immediate Fredericksburg area, on Saturday we decided to head to Montpelier, the home of our fourth president, James Madison, and his wife, Dolley. From my house, Montpelier is a peaceful 45-minute drive in the country. We had been there many years before, when the house was as much a preservation of the lifestyle of the duPonts (the last private owner) as it was of life in Madison’s day. This visit saw everything changed, as the home has been completely restored to its appearance when the Madisons lived there: the elaborate extensions the duPonts added have been torn down, the pinkish stucco removed from the exterior, and the rooms inside restored to their 1820’s form. (The pink extension on the left of the photo at top is slated to be demolished this week.) The grand re-opening is set for the fall, but the majority of the work has completed.

You could easily spend an entire day at this estate. There are guided tours of the mansion, elaborate gardens to stroll, a “restoration tent” demonstrating building crafts, and galleries showcasing artifacts and furnishings from James and Dolley’s life, as well as representing the duPont era. Two videos introduce visitors to the historical and political highlights of the Madisons’ life, and audioguides are available with additional detailed information about every aspect of life on the estate. There are slave quarters, cemeteries, archaeological sites, and forest trails. Adult admission is steep ($14), but worth it if you leave plenty of time to see it all.

For a little extra fun, we used my brother’s GPS on the trip. I had never seen one in action before, and was actually sad there weren’t more twists and turns to give the tiny lady (Jill) who lives in the GPS device more to do. Technology is awesome, and I’m certain there’s a GPS in my future. On the way home, we took her advice just for kicks, and right before the intersection in Orange, we let her lead us down a hilly road, stopping just as she recommended we turn left onto the railroad tracks. Recalculate, Jill.

A view of the gardens, established in Madison's time, and renovated by Annie duPont in the early 1900s:

The Madison Temple, a classical gazebo built over the estate's ice house:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fredericksburg's Fourth

The 4th of July is celebrated in downtown Fredericksburg pretty much the same way it’s celebrated in a lot of towns across the U.S.: street festival, food and craft vendors, kids activities, music and fireworks. It looks like it was pretty much the same idea in Port Royal, Culpeper, Colonial Beach, and Caroline County. Fredericksburg has the added attractions of a raft race on the Rappahannock, a parade that anyone can participate in, and sometimes a chili cook-off (sadly, not this year).

We were entertaining visiting dignitaries* for the holiday, so decided to check out the downtown festival, and then take the trolley over to the Ferry Farm celebration. Of course, every Fredericksburger knows the big news at Ferry Farm: that after seven years of archaeological excavation, they announced this week that the digging has unearthed the actual foundation of George Washington’s boyhood home. George lived there from the age of 6 until he was 20 and moved to Mt. Vernon (1738-1754), and while Ferry Farm has been open for years as the “site” of George’s home, everyone is pretty worked up that now we can see the exact location. To the non-history buff, I imagine it’s still just a hole in the ground. But everyone out there is energized by the finding, and the combination of that big news, plus the usual Fourth of July festivities (and a July day less than 98 degrees) made the event especially successful.

The day ended as it has almost every year we’ve lived in Fredericksburg: watching the fireworks. We’ll go wherever the city decides to shoot them off, from Park & Shop in the early days, to Old Mill Park, to Central Park, but are thrilled to have finally landed back at Old Mill in recent years, where the traditional fireworks viewing can always end with a trip to Carl’s.

What the Ferry Farm fuss is all about: that hole is George's basement!

Colonial interpreters fixing themselves some 18th century snacks:

George himself takes a load off:

Who doesn't love a trolley ride? And look how quickly they got those "Washington House Site Found" banners made:

Some colonial entertainment–the slack rope walker:

Back downtown, where the Italian ices get a good review:

There were reportedly 160 vendors at the street festival on and around Sophia Street. You could buy a wooden pelican with a rubber fish in its mouth. Hard to believe we passed this up.

*as my brother likes to be called

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

America's Largest Pork Display

On the way home from the beach, we passed a big sign that said "Nahunta Pork Center: America’s Largest Pork Display.” We weren’t sure exactly what that meant, but decided it was time for a culinary adventure, so left the main road to follow the signs into the countryside to Nahunta, NC. About 6 miles from the highway, we found it: the Nahunta Pork Center (Where Pork is King). I’ve actually never seen a “pork display” outside of the meat department at the Giant, but I have no doubt that this place lived up to its claim. Inside the store, we found long rows of refrigerated cases with every kind of pork product you can imagine...and frankly, quite a few I would never have imagined. We could watch the butchers at work in spotlessly clean surroundings, and checked out the chops, roasts, ribs, sausages, hams, and quite a few things I have never encountered. Souse, for instance. I had to look this up when I got home. It’s basically a terrine of pickled pig trimmings (head and feet and organs, oh my). Not to be confused with head cheese, scrapple, or liver pudding, just a few more creative ways to use up parts of the pig no one really wants, and three more things to add to the list of “things I will never eat.”

After we left America’s largest pork display, we went across the road to check out the pork in its primal state: the pig pens. The pigs seemed to be well taken care of, had plenty of room, clean pens, and the whole place was surprisingly un-smelly. Wherever the pigs went to “cross over to the other side” (literally and figuratively) wasn’t on display, thankfully.

This was the sight that greeted me upon entering the store:

The more familiar cuts:

Sorry, guys. It doesn't look good.