Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Road Trip: Brooklyn

We spent a few days with our daughter in Brooklyn this past weekend, doing what we usually do when we’re there: equal parts sightseeing and eating, with lots of walking in between. Brooklyn is a real mixed bag of neighborhoods, from the picturesque tree-lined streets of historic brownstones (the kind you see in the movies set in New York) to the gritty neighborhoods filled with graffiti and litter. Here are a few of the highlights.

My daughter lives in a 4th-floor walkup in Prospect Heights. This is the view from the roof:

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is just a few blocks from my daughter's apartment. The cherry trees, lilacs and tulips were in full bloom:

We had lunch in this tiny Mexican place, Chavella's. Great authentic dishes, and an awesomely chunky guacamole:

Sampling the artisan beers on tap at the Brooklyn Brewery:

On Saturday morning, we stopped at the greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza. Regional produce (I won't say local, because the farms aren't actually in Brooklyn), fruits, fish, meats, breads, baked goods, flowers, pickles, jams, and this sprout farmer:

Here is a traditional "pork store" selling meats, sausages, salami and Italian specialties. You don't find these in Virginia.

Haven't seen a bread bakery around these parts, either.

I've eaten in a lot of ethnic restaurants, but this is the first time I've seen the "Chinese-Latina" combo:

We went into Manhattan to visit the "Design and the Elastic Mind" exhibit at MoMA, and passed by Rockefeller Center:

More Brooklyn to come!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Battlefield Restaurant

After a particularly stressful week recently, my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to a full-blown diner breakfast after church—the perfect time to check out the Battlefield Restaurant. The place was fairly busy, with a crowd that represented a cross-section of Fredericksburg, anchored by locals and old-timers, and including families, 20-somethings, workers, and the little-blue-haired-old-ladies-after-church crowd.

The place is a traditional luncheonette, only open for breakfast and lunch, and has a menu that’s heavy on the breakfast items, and featuring old time Southern specialties like salt fish, country ham and fried tomatoes, plus soups, sandwiches, burgers, and dinner entrees in the “meat + 2 sides” format. Seven different kinds of homemade pies are also a big draw. Who knew that coconut custard and coconut cream are two different kinds of pie?

We decided to go all-out and sampled as much as we could off the breakfast menu: eggs, omelet, country ham, home fries, pancakes and a biscuit. (Okay, we avoided the scrapple and grits. I’ve never had scrapple, and though it sounds like a delightfully meaty word game, I expect I never will.) Everything was done in classic diner style, and was a completely satisfying meal. The highlight was the pancakes: literally dinner plate sized, with the perfect texture and flavor...more like dessert than breakfast.

There’s only one downside to this place for me—smoking is permitted in the entire small dining room. I guess that's to be expected in an authentic old time Virginia luncheonette, but for me, the smell of smoke gets in the way of my enjoyment of the food. And with the ashtray on every table that welcomes smoking, I suspect they get more than their fair share of diners who light up. There certainly were enough while we were there.

Our breakfast (yes, we ate it all):

You can sit at the counter and watch the cooking, or sit in the small dining room, decorated with Civil War portraits of Grant, Lee, Jackson, Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. The place is open Mon.-Sat, 6-2 and Sun 7-2. No credit or debit cards. In fact, a sign by the front counter says: Our credit manager is Helen Waite. If you want credit, go to Hell-en Wait.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Doings at Dodd

Last week, we went to two events at Dodd Auditorium at UMW. First up was the April 17th Great Lives presentation on Babe Ruth, by former Sports Illustrated writer Bill Nack. This was my third Great Lives lecture, and the third time was the charm: this was the best of the lot. Of course, it’s not surprising that the speaker was a good storyteller, given that he wrote for a popular magazine for over 20 years.

Then on Sunday night, we attended yet another event billed as a “Centennial Concert,” featuring the UMW Chorus, the UMW Women’s Chamber Choir, the Una Voce Chamber Choir, and the Fredericksburg Singers. All the groups are directed by Jane Tavernier, and all have similar repertoires. The groups are excellent and the evening was enjoyable, although a bit predictable. I wouldn’t have minded a surprise or two during the concert. Well, there was a “world premiere” of a piece by Mary Wash alum David Kidwell, and despite the fact that I'm generally leery of classical music premieres, I liked this one a lot, so that was kind of surprising. It was dedicated to the memory of Pat Norwood, longtime music professor (and fellow Chancellor pool mom) who passed away recently. And then there is always my favorite surprise, seeing what Jane Tavernier will be wearing. She must have a closet full of gowns, all very dramatic, including Sunday’s satiny gold number. All the singers are always in black, so I find my attention keeps drifting to the back of Jane’s dresses (the side of the conductor you see the most of). They’re riveting, really. And yet another surprise (did I say there were no surprises?): in the midst of a rainstorm, the roof of the newly renovated (to the tune of $1.5 million) Dodd Auditorium was leaking right onto the stage, a drip every 15 seconds or so. Dripping ceiling, Jane’s backside...I’m so easily distracted.

I think we’re just about done with the centennial events, and the recital season at UMW is coming to a close, and just in the nick of time... I’m really starting to get tired of that auditorium, and look forward to those lovely outdoor evening events for a change.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Riverbend’s South Pacific

Tonight we had a choice of three high school musicals to attend. We decided to see one of our favorites, “South Pacific,” at Riverbend High School. The production was completely adorable, with sweet-voiced leads, a couple of crazy characters, a solid ensemble, and a good pit orchestra. My favorite performer was the young man who played Emile, the romantic lead, with a respectable French accent and a strong voice. As a bonus, the auditorium in the relatively new school is spacious, with plenty of legroom between the rows. Like most high school productions, this one had its little quirks and technical difficulties, but I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. You can catch the final performance tomorrow at 7 pm. Tickets are $10.

You can also check out North Stafford High School’s production of “42nd Street” or see “The Wizard of Oz” at Courtland High School tomorrow. For your $10 ticket, you get a night out, and support your local high school’s performing arts departments at the same time. It’s a good deal.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


We spent the last couple of days in Chicago attending a family event and visiting some of the sights. The weather was pretty cold, and of course, windy—not ideal for sightseeing, but we managed to get in some good walks around town. Chicago is a great place to visit. It has all of the attractions you’d expect from a big city, but with a Midwestern sensibility. I always say it’s like New York, but without the edge. Chicagoans aren’t as aggressively hip or fashionable as New Yorkers, and the tourists don’t stand out quite so obviously. The town has amazing architecture, great shopping on the Magnificent Mile, Broadway-quality theater, good restaurants (not as good as NYC), serious pro sports mania, and a setting on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River that is really lovely.

My one complaint about Chicago? Revolving doors. Revolving doors were the bane of my existence for the last 3 days. Nearly every building in downtown Chicago has revolving doors. I get why—Chicago is cold, and in cities with lots of bad weather, they keep the snow, wind and rain from coming inside every time someone goes in or out. But you don’t have control over them the way you do when you open a door yourself. Sometimes the person ahead of you gets the doors going fast, sometimes slow, sometimes they’re automatic, sometimes not, sometimes there’s a real door right next to the revolving one, and sometimes you can use it, but sometimes you can’t, and on least one occasion, I tried to exit just a tad too early and felt like a bird flying into a picture window. Okay, maybe it’s just me being uncoordinated, but even at Bonefish in Central Park, I always avoid the revolving door.

At top is the John Hancock Center, the fifth tallest building in the U.S.

Our first stop was the Navy Pier on Lake Michigan, a Chicago landmark since the early 1900’s. It’s part amusement park, part shopping mall, part museum—what I guess you could call an “entertainment complex.”

The Crystal Gardens at the Navy Pier is an atrium filled with palm trees and fountains:

A Tiffany window from the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, yet another attraction at the Navy Pier:

An interior view of Crate and Barrel, my favorite store on the Magnificent Mile:

A view of the financial district, with the Chicago River in the foreground:

We made sure we hit Chicago’s culinary highlights: steak, hot dogs, and deep dish pizza at Gino’s East:

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Motts Run Hike

This morning, we took advantage of the beautiful weather to do some hiking at Motts Run Reservoir. This time of the year is perfect for hiking: signs of spring are budding all along the trail, but it’s too early for the underbrush and bugs that will start to grab at you later on. We took the medium length Hidden Creek Trail, a 1.5 mile loop that takes about 45 minutes, and includes some pretty steep areas. There are other trails as well, from the .4 mile Laurel Trail to the 2.6 mile Mine Run Trail. Motts Run is a very peaceful place to be. You can rent canoes or jon boats, and although electric motors are allowed, most of the people there are fishing, so noise is at a real minimum. (If you’re into fishing, you might be interested in this blog.) There’s a nature center and several picnic areas, and we’ve had church get-togethers there in the past that have been a big hit with the kids. It’s a serene getaway just a short drive from home.

I guess this was the "Hidden Creek." I realize photos can't really do this trail (or any other forest setting) justice, and this looks like a flat brown mush. I feel compelled to snap away nonetheless.

The "big tree burl," one of the trail's landmarks:

As I always say, I like the flora better than the fauna. (I know, I know, it's a harmless black snake. Still don't like it.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eagles Softball

On Wednesday, I stopped by Dickinson Stadium to catch a few innings of UMW baseball, and when the game was over, we headed over to the softball field to catch some of the second game of the UMW women’s softball double-header against Virginia Wesleyan. It was the first time we’d seen the UMW women play—they were great competitors, and the quality of play was top notch. But unlike men’s baseball, with the women there’s a lot of chatter on the field, and lots of cheering from the dugout. Lots of shouts of “good eye.” It reminded me of the days watching my daughter play softball, starting out on a county Parks & Rec team when she was 9 or 10. Some of the girls playing Parks & Rec were frankly afraid of the ball, and stood like statues at the plate, never even attempting a swing. And since the 9-year old pitchers had a hard time finding the strike zone, the games featured many walks. Innings you feared would continue indefinitely, walk after walk after walk. All to the sound of teammates and crowd shouting, “Good eye,” as if the girls at the plate were consciously making the decision to pass on a bad pitch, instead of immobilized with intimidation at the ball, make that “softly lobbed” at them. So I chuckled at hearing “good eye” again, but at least now it was warranted. The Eagles split the double-header, winning the first game 1-0, and losing in the second 4-0. The season is over except for the tournament, but next year, we’ll add women’s softball to our “things to do” list.

Note the shorts in the top photo. Someone please tell me how you slide in shorts. We didn't see any slides while we were there, but I wince just imagining it.

By the way, the men lost to Salisbury on Wednesday, 5-3. But more importantly, when I got to the stadium, there were Hot Dogs! And Blow Up Boppers! And Free T-Shirts! And even though I got there too late to catch his appearance, there was an actual Eagle Mascot, doing the full mascot shtick. Just days after I said the college games had none of those things. I’m not sure what the reason was for all of the hoopla, but I’m certainly not expecting those extras on any kind of regular basis. I can only hope that someday I’ll get my chance to see that eagle mascot. Oh, the missed photo op!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Multicultural Fair

I don’t think I can adequately explain why I love UMW’s Multicultural Fair so much, or why I start obsessively checking the weather forecast a week ahead of time. I only know that on Saturday morning, when I arrived on campus at 10:30 and saw the tents set up on Ball Circle and along Campus Walk, I was elated.

Attending this event is a long standing tradition in our family since our kids were little. It’s a great family event, with lots of children’s activities, and plenty of room for them to run around. There are three venues for music and dance going on simultaneously, so there’s always something of interest, from jazz and gospel to reggae and world music, from African and Asian dance troupes to belly dancers and country western line dancers. As always, the “crafts” are a mixed bag, with more business ventures than artisans, but I’m always able to pick up my annual pair of handcrafted earrings. And the whole scene is scented with the smells of the food vendors churning out ethnic and carnival-style street food. But I think the reason I love it so much is just the crowd—college students mixed with locals, lots of young families, and plenty of the artsy liberal aging hippie types (my kind of people). People who think a celebration of diversity is a good thing, not an irritation.

The scene in front of Trinkle Hall:

There were a couple of these big smokers on Ball Circle, filling the air with the scent of grilling meat:

We chose the Jamaican stand...

for this fried trout with sweet potato fries:

Mystic Vibrations, a reggae band:

Girl on stilts, entertaining the crowd:

Unusual twisty-wire figures:

A Hawaiian shave ice treat, complete with palm tree decor:

No cloggers this year, but I took this photo of Black Hats & Diamonds, the country & western "performance dance team" for my daughter. So she doesn't forget her roots.

Even James Farmer was in a festive mood:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

UMW Centennial

The University of Mary Washington, founded in 1908, is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. As usual, my birthday greetings are late (just ask anyone in my family), since the actual big day, Founder’s Day, was March 14. For those not in the know, the school’s original name was the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg. Catchy, no? At any rate, the university scheduled a line-up of events throughout the 2007-08 school year in celebration.

While some of the events are new, quite a few seem just like the usual events with the word “Centennial” in front of them. In that spirit, last night we went to the Centennial Concert of the UMW Wind and Percussion Ensemble. In keeping with the theme, one of the guest conductors was James Baker (no, I didn’t mean to imply he’s 100 years old), chair of the music department at Mary Wash from 1970 to 1998. He’s as emeritus as it gets.

I’m not an expert on music, so I won’t review the concert. I’m the type who likes things to be familiar and snappy and preferably hummable, and I get nervous whenever I open a program and see the words “world premiere.” Of which there were two last night, one by current department chair David Long, and the other by conductor of the ensemble, Craig Naylor. I will also admit that after a long day of work on a Friday, you might catch me occasionally closing my eyes to “appreciate the music” just a bit once the house lights go down.

Today is one of my favorite events of the year, the UMW Multicultural Fair. If the weather is nice, it’s the most delightful day outdoors, flitting from concert stage to ethnic food vendor to craft booth. If it rains, it becomes a much less festive indoor event, so I have my hopes high that when I get there this morning, the rain will have held off and the booths and stages will be set up outside. But even though this is listed under the “Centennial Calendar of Events,” there’s not a thing centennial about it. It will be back next year.

Post-concert trip to Carl's:

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Eagles Baseball

The Mary Washington baseball season starts in February, but we usually wait until the weather warms up towards the end of the season to take in a few games. I joined my husband after work last week to catch a few innings of the game against the Catholic University Cardinals (the perfect nickname, no?). I’m not a huge baseball fan, and prefer to go to games that feature funny mascots, dizzy bat races, cold beer, a bag of peanuts, and a seventh inning stretch with a hearty rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” The college games feature none of that, but on a warm spring day, the Dickinson Stadium on Hanover Street is as good a place as any to enjoy an afternoon in the fresh air, and the quality of play is generally pretty high. Although the Eagles lost to the Cardinals 7-6, they’re perennially one of the strongest teams in the Capital Athletic Conference (currently in second place), and have had winning seasons every year since 1989. The next game is against Villa Julie College (never heard of it) on April 5. Catch a few innings, but don’t miss the Multicultural Fair on campus while you’re over there. Here’s the rest of the schedule.