Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

Jan Williams Florals on William St.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homecoming Weekend at William & Mary

We spent William & Mary’s homecoming weekend in Williamsburg, not because I wanted to hang out with fellow alumni, but because that’s when they schedule a lot of the events I want to see. It was actually my 30th reunion year, but I didn’t register to go to any of the events specifically designed for alums. To me, nothing says “recipe for awkward” like an expensive cocktail reception with people you don’t really remember, and who certainly don’t remember you. But we had a great time anyway, so I will give you the highlights in photo form:

Although the forecast was threatening rain, it held off long enough to get in the Homecoming Parade, which was canceled last year because of bad weather. The parade marches down Duke of Gloucester St., the main street in the restored area. Historic eras collide when the 18th century costumed interpreters turn out to watch the 21st century parade. That's the colonial courthouse in the background, and the Pep Band in the foreground.

This float represents William & Mary's unofficial Triathlon: Climbing the wall of the Governor's Palace, streaking through the Sunken Garden, and swimming in Crim Dell.

Just for kicks, here's a couple of photos of the Homecoming float our campus apartment complex created for Homecoming 1975, my sophomore year. Those are my roommates, Jane and Leslie, carrying the banner. I was a budding art student, and I made the backdrop on the float. "Like Puss 'n Boots, Bobcats Will Beg for Mercy!" I have no clue who the Bobcats were.

While we were waiting for the parade to start, we walked around the Farmer's Market in Market Square, and ran into Dr. Pat Elliott, the owner and founding cheesemaker of Everona Dairy near Rapidan, in the countryside between Fredericksburg and Orange. We'd been to an open house at her dairy before, which is a great little outing, and were excited to hear that she's planned another one for Sat., December 6.

Right after the parade, we stopped at the student center for a buffet brunch. We started with made to order omelets. You can choose all veggies, and even fat-free egg substitute, but all the omelets start with a ladleful of oil, so there really isn't a healthy choice here. Actually, you wouldn't go to W&M for the food, and I'm sure the students get sick of basically the same lineup everyday, but for us, it's still a treat.

After his enormous sausage and cheese omelet, my husband moves on to southern biscuits covered in goopy gravy, some corned beef hash, and the piece de resistance, the homemade Belgian waffle. As soon as he sees that wafflemaker, his eyes light up. They had one at the hotel we stayed at, too, so he managed to have one at each breakfast. As the guy in front of him on line said, waiting for your waffle to bake is the longest 2 minutes of your day.

Before the game, the Pep Band plays for the tailgating alumni. I discovered this great trick that if I take a photo of my son while he's playing, he can't avoid the camera. We also got to see him play in the Wind Symphony on Friday night.

The Pep Band at the football game. I'm generally more interested in the band than the football, but in this case, there was a lot of scoring, we beat the Rhode Island Rams, and the rains held off, so it was a good day on all counts.

We ended Saturday evening by taking our son out to dinner at the Kings Arms, one of the colonial taverns in the restored district. I went when I was a student, so thought it would be nice for my son to experience it once before he graduates in May. The ambiance is lovely, with dining by candlelight and service by costumed wait staff who regale you with historical tidbits. Definitely don't go for the food. It's overpriced, and pretty pedestrian. But, hey, I promised to do something extravagant this weekend, right?

Thursday, October 23, 2008


From used books to used clothes, yet another post on thrift and the positive impact of recycling. Although I’ve been donating to Goodwill all my adult life, I didn’t really discover the wonders of shopping at Goodwill until my daughter was a teenager. She adopted a sort of funky, vintage look, heavy on ironic T-shirts, men’s plaid polyester pants, and the much sought-after bowling shirt. As a high schooler, my son worked summers in an office where he needed to wear collared shirts, instead of his usual uniform of T-shirts, and I was able to get his whole office wardrobe of shirts for about $20. Need those red shirts for your job at Target, or navy blue for Walmart? Or a black skirt for the choir, or a green sweater for a Christmas program? Goodwill is perfect for that. My most recent visit was to buy a turtleneck for my husband to wear as part of a musical group, a style he wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in. Of course, Goodwill is perfect for costume ideas--one Halloween, I found an adult priest’s costume for my husband for about $10, while I did the Catholic schoolgirl’s plaid pleated skirt, white shirt and cardigan costume. I used to make long shorts for my very tall, skinny son by buying cheap Goodwill pants and cutting them down. And I’ve bought many things for myself over the years, occasionally scoring designer labels or brand new items. The store on Rt. 3 is huge, with everything separated by style and color. And by shopping there, you’re not only making the environmental choice (remember, those new items require energy to manufacture), you’re supporting the work of Goodwill Industries, which provides training and career services for the disadvantaged or disabled.

No, I’m not always this frugal, although I’m more likely to spend the big bucks on recreation and entertainment than on consumer goods. I promise I’ll try my best to figure out something extravagant to do this weekend to stimulate the sagging economy.

Men's buttondown shirts are in particularly good condition:

Kids outgrow clothes before they wear out, so there's a lot to choose from:

Lots of jeans, fully broken in:

My finds:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Library Book Sale

I love the downtown library’s used book sales. I rarely buy new books, but used books always seem like such a good deal to me. There is a large table full of cookbooks, my particular weakness, and I’m always able to find one to add to my collection. The library’s auditorium is filled with loads of novels, plus non-fiction books on all kinds of topics, and the stage is lined with children’s books. Most hardbacks are $2, and paperbacks are 50 cents each. The sale runs through Oct. 22 during regular branch hours. Tomorrow is half price day, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, they have box day, where you can cart off boxloads of books for a few dollars. It’s getting to be curl-up-with-a-good-book weather, so run down and grab a bunch.

Here are a few I came home with today:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

International Market

I found a recipe for a vegetarian mu shu stir fry that I wanted to try, which called for mu shu pancakes. And luckily I remembered about the Five Mile International Supermarket, a storefront grocery in the Chancellor 5-Mile Center (on Old Plank Rd. near George’s Pizza) specializing in all things Asian, with some Latin items thrown in for good measure. The store is a colorful kaleidoscope of products...and I probably couldn’t identify half of them. But if you need any specialty items for your Asian cooking, this is definitely the place. In addition to the mu shu pancakes (frozen), I came home with a big bag of fresh bean sprouts, a tub of peeled, fresh garlic cloves (the height of convenience), and a few different spicy seasoning sauces.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Buy Less! Enjoy Life More!

While traveling through North Carolina recently, I saw a billboard that looked something like this:

Nothing on the board indicated who had sponsored it. But the sentiment echoes one of my personal philosophies. I know that we’re in hard economic times, and just about everyone has been adversely affected. People are losing their homes, their jobs, their savings. But if we are heading into the kind of difficult economic times similar to what America experienced in the 1930’s, then perhaps the upside is that we’re also heading into another era of frugality. Some baby boomers make fun of depression-era thrift: carefully saving used wrapping paper and aluminum foil, reusing teabags, saving bread crusts to make bread crumbs. And Americans may never go back to that kind of thrift. But the positive outcome of a negative situation may be that some Americans are considering giving up their consumer-centric, wasteful ways and shifting their thinking in order to get by in a struggling economy. Do we really need to live in such enormous houses, to drive such gas-guzzling cars, to refurnish our homes every few years, to buy new wardrobes every season, to see shopping as a recreational pursuit or mood lifter? Hallmarks of American consumer philosophy today include wastefulness, disposability and overspending, and in many cases, the result has been debilitating debt. New stuff not only takes money to purchase (which translates to more hours on the job), it also takes energy to manufacture. So re-using or recycling or repairing your old stuff is not only good for your personal finances, it’s good for the environment as well.

Hmm, you’re thinking, isn’t this off the topic of things happening in the Fredericksburg area? Turns out, it’s not. A couple of Sundays ago, I eagerly attended a presentation by Jeff Yeager, the author of The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Roadmap to True Riches, held at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship downtown. Jeff’s point is exactly the same as the North Carolina billboard: More stuff doesn’t make us happier. In fact, being willing to buy less stuff means more financial security and less stress. His talk didn’t cover any new ground for me, but it was nice to see that frugality is back in vogue and he’s making the rounds. I haven’t read the book, so can’t recommend it. And if I do read it, you can be sure I’ll be checking it out of the library, not buying it.

So hopefully frugality will make a solid comeback. And if you think frugality is dull, take a look through this blog for all of the things you can do around here for free, or for cheap. Wherever you live, I promise you there are plenty of free things to do, too.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Although it’s just a short drive from home, before today I’d never been to the historic Ellwood estate, part of the Wilderness Battlefield. In fact, I had no idea that it has been open to the public since 1998. The circa 1790 home was originally part of a 5,000 acre working farm that likely played host to notables such as James Madison, James Monroe, Lafayette, and “Light Horse Harry” Lee (Robert E.’s dad). Because of its unfortunate location right in the middle of two major Civil War battles, it was used by the Confederate Army as a hospital, and later by Federal troops as a field headquarters. But its major claim to fame may be as the final resting place of Stonewall Jackson’s arm, buried in the family cemetery (the rest of Stonewall is buried in Lexington). I was also interested to discover that the Lacy family, who owned the estate for 60 years, also owned Chatham Manor in Stafford, and originally used Ellwood as their “summer home.”

These days, it’s in the midst of an extensive restoration. The National Park Service, which owns the estate, has partnered with the Friends of the Wilderness Battlefield, who are raising the funds for the work, and who give tours to the public. Our volunteer guide today was a lively storyteller who would have been happy to go on for hours, I’m sure. The home is mostly unfurnished, and will likely remain that way, in keeping with how the house would have looked during the Civil War. The house tour, which currently includes a good look at the guts of the house, was informative, and the grounds are lovely. I’d recommend Ellwood to anyone who is doing the battlefield tour...especially anyone who is a little burned out on military strategy and troop movements.

Here lies Gen. Stonewall Jackson's arm:

Toiletries like the ones used by Union Gen. Gouverneur Warren during his occupation of the home. Bloody battles or no, good grooming is a must:

Here's part of the house that is still awaiting restoration:

Ellwood is open weekends and holidays through October 26 from 11-5. Admission is free, but if you make a donation to help fund the restoration, you get to choose a gift, like a commemorative cedar pencil ($2), notecards ($5), or this lovely mug for a $10 donation:

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Festival 'o Dogs

I didn’t know there was a Dog Festival at Hurkamp Park on Sunday, and if I had, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to go (if you know me, that won’t be a surprise), but we were taking a stroll after church and that’s where we ended up. And I can’t resist the sight of a festival of anything–yes, even dogs–so we checked it out. There were a lot of enormous dogs strolling with their owners, but I have to give credit where credit is due, and say that they all had leashes, and were very well behaved. As were their dogs (ba-dum bum).

Normally, since I am not a dog fancier, I am the target of dogs everywhere. They seek me out for licking, sniffing, rubbing up against and jumping up on. But I guess when you put a lot of dogs together, they’d rather sniff each other’s crotches than mine, so I was safe. And generally, I don’t blame the dogs for that behavior, I blame the owners who think it is just adorable that their Great Dane loves me so much that he wants to jump on me, so I should be honored! And delighted! Which I’m not! So all in all, the Dog Festival was just fine. Although I didn’t hang around downtown long enough to catch the dog parade. I have my limits.

The scene, which included booths for animal organizations and animal-related information, plus a lot of puppy paraphernalia, including an alarming amount of doggy fashion:

I'll admit this is a handsome dog:

The crotch-sniffing event:

Sunglasses for dogs. Is this for real?

Doggie cookie jars, I guess for dog biscuits. Because some dog lovers can't get enough of a bad thing.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Battle of the Marching Bands

On Friday night, we went to the football game at James Monroe HS, and watched the Yellow Jackets beat the Orange County HS Fighting Hornets 42-15. Which brings up a very interesting matchup in my fantasy mascot showdown: who would win, a yellow jacket or a hornet? Seems like that one is a real toss up. Usually the Yellow Jacket loses, because while a yellow jacket can annoy, it can’t really deal a fatal blow unless its opponent has a very serious allergy. But I digress.

My reward for sitting through 4 quarters of football is getting to watch the marching band, in this case both of them, perform their half time shows. Ironically, half time at a football game may be the worst time to see the half time show: everyone is talking, and moving around, blocking my view and trying their best to drown out the sound of the band. The Orange band performed at the end of the game, with only interested parties hanging around that long to watch, so the audience was quiet and paid attention.

So when we saw that Spotsy High was hosting “Knights Under the Lights,” an invitational competition for area marching bands on Saturday night, we decided to check out the local marching band scene under ideal conditions. We’ve been to a few band competitions before, back in the days when our son played trumpet for Chancellor’s Lightning Regiment Marching Band, but this was the first one we’ve been to where we didn’t have a vested interest in the outcome. So we watched, and took notes, and did a little judging on our own.

First up were the smallest “A” division bands (up to 50 members), from Louisa, Caroline and our own JM. It was good to see a repeat of JM’s performance, this time with a perfect view and an attentive and respectful audience. Their “Jayem Mystery Tour” was well done, with a version of Bohemian Rhapsody that we really enjoyed. Good color guard, nice choreography, solid marching—we had them as the winners of their division.

Next up were the AA bands (51-70 members), all from the local area: Stafford, Brooke Point, Chancellor, and North Stafford. All of them had solid shows, and we were thrilled to have the chance to see Chancellor’s show, since we won’t have a chance to see them at home this season. But for creative concept, you just can’t beat Stafford’s “Grease” show. In fact, if you can only see one local marching band this fall, this is the one to see. Talk about “Best Execution of a Theme.” Props included a Rydell High School backdrop, a beauty salon backdrop and an actual classic car on the field. The drum majors, dressed as a prim teacher and young bobby soxer, opened the show with a dramatic flair, as the entire band streamed out from behind the high school facade. The color guard wore poodle skirts, and for “Beauty School Dropout,” carried oversized brushes and mirrors, instead of the usual flags. The percussion section was dressed in leather jackets, and even the pit crew (the adult volunteers who set up the equipment, percussion and props) were outfitted in white T-shirts and shades. Comic touches and unexpected choreography made this whole show a real crowd pleaser. The other schools did excellent jobs as well, but this band was definitely the show stopper of their division, and we gave them the win, on the basis of pure entertainment value.

Up last were the big boys, the AAA bands with 71-95 members (there are 2 band divisions even higher, but I’ve never seen any), including our own Riverbend, plus northern Virginia’s Woodbridge, C.D Hylton, W.T. Woodson, and Potomac. Most of these bands play very traditional shows, with the emphasis on precision marching and solid musicianship. My favorite color guard of the night was Woodson’s, whose show was “Victory at Sea.” Giant banners resembling waves, fabric seagulls flapping in the breeze, and white fringed flags evoking wind really helped illustrate the nautical theme. But our favorite show of this division was Hylton’s “Night Out on the Town.” This marching band’s sound was outstanding, with a terrific big band arrangement that was so well played, I would have enjoyed the show even if the band had been standing still. Really concert quality musicianship, precision marching, and some fancy footwork for good measure added up to a top-notch show.

Spotsylvania HS, one of the smaller bands, finished the show with an exhibition performance. We didn’t wait around for the judging and handing out of awards, since this can take a very long time. There are individual awards for drum majors, drum lines, marching, color guard, music, and more I’m sure, and after more than 3-1/2 hours in the stands, it was time to go. So I don’t know if the judges agreed with us or not...probably not. But our overall Best in Show was C.D. Hylton, which edged out Stafford HS by a slim margin. As entertaining and fun to watch as Stafford’s show was, we had to give the nod to the Hylton band, who presented a traditional field show which displayed excellence in every aspect of marching band performance.

Kudos to the students from all of the schools on a job well done. Now if only football games were a little more halftime show, and a little less football.

James Monroe High School:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sometimes There IS a Free Lunch

We’ll go to just about any promotional event that promises free food, so when our bank branch handed us a flyer advertising food and prizes at their “grand re-opening” last Saturday, we marked the date. There isn’t really all that much new about the branch—they added some glass privacy walls around the bankers’ desks (a bit zoo-like, if you ask me), but I wouldn’t call that grand. And they never closed, so I’m not sure about the re-opening either. But no matter. There were free hot dogs and drinks, popcorn and soft pretzels, a moon bounce and face painting for the kids, and a spin-the-wheel for prizes game, where Everybody Is A Winner! Grand opening or no, I’m just glad my bank is still in business.

Dishing up the dogs:

You spin the wheel and win a prize, although it was highly weighted in favor of plastic footballs and drink cozies. Our generous wheelmeister let us trade in 2 plastic footballs for the coveted BB&T stadium throw. Score!