Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Picasso at the Lapin Agile

We saw Stage Door Productions' performance of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile in the theater of the downtown library this past weekend. That’s a great venue for a play: if 40 people show up at a high school auditorium, the turnout seems dismal, but in the library’s theater, that’s a solid showing.

As usual, this theater group turned in a fine effort. And the audience around us was laughing heartily at Steve Martin’s comedy about Einstein and Picasso meeting in a Paris bar at the start of the 20th century, before each had produced their most important creative works. Normally, I love Steve Martin’s work, and this play has received wide acclaim by theater critics, but for me, the script fell flat. There were a number of amusing moments, but I didn’t find it quite as laugh out loud funny as the audience around me. Still, I’m always happy to recommend a night out enjoying local theater. You can catch the play this Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. The show runs about 80 minutes. Admission is $10.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blue & Gray Brewery’s Oktoberfest

We spent early Friday evening at the Oktoberfest celebration at the Blue and Gray Brewery. Although this was the brewery’s 6th annual Oktoberfest, it was our first visit.

When we first showed up, they were still setting up tents and food vendors and beer tastings, and the lines for beer and brats were long. But before long, we got into the swing of things, splitting our waiting-on-line duties, nabbing two early-bird specials of bratwurst on a bun and a 12 oz. beer ($5), and sitting down to enjoy the Lake of the Woods-based oompah band, the LOW ‘n Brows (I think the name says it all). The band handed out song sheets, and by round two, we were happily singing German drinking songs and ignoring the rain showers. We hung around to watch Spotsy supervisor Hap Connors ceremonially tap the keg of Oktoberfest beer (no speech–thanks, Hap). And as an employee of a Chamber of Commerce member company, I even got a free souvenir pint glass.

And I learned two important lessons about attending festivals: 1. Never go right at start time. It takes awhile for most events to get into full swing. And 2. Everything seems a lot more fun after a couple of glasses of beer.

The main attraction:

Delicious potato pancakes, and a cup of Oktoberfest beer:

On line for bratwurst:

The Cake Lady baked a beer keg cake:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Poker Party

Last night, I got together with a group of friends for our almost-annual Ladies' Poker Night, an item we all bid on at our church’s service auction. We had a couple of tables of poker going all evening, playing mostly for pennies and nickels. We weren’t overly competitive (especially since we donate our winnings to a local cause each year), and we tried to mix up the games as much as possible. Besides the usual draw and stud poker games, we played Hi-Low, Pass the Trash, Spit in the Ocean, Lowball, 3-2-1 Left, Baseball, No Peeky, Cold Hands, 7-27, and Blind Man’s Bluff Poker (that’s the one where you hold your unseen card up to your forehead and bet on whether you think yours is the highest), plus every other game any one of us could remember. Thanks to our hostess (a veritable Martha Stewart of the poker theme), we kept our energy levels up by consuming mass quantities of high brow snacks, beer, wine and chocolates. I kept dipping into my tub o’ coins without really keeping track of how I was doing, but I suspect I ended up in the red at the end of the night. Although I definitely made up for it in shrimp, Toblerone and cheesecake bites.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Duck, NC Vacation

Our vacation last week started off on a shaky note, with Hanna blowing across North Carolina and into Virginia on the day we were supposed to leave for the beach. We hung around on Saturday just long enough to make sure none of the trees around our house toppled onto the roof, and by 3 pm were on our way to Duck, our favorite beachfront village. We were crossing our fingers for days before, hoping the vacation wouldn't have to be cut short or even scrapped, so the fact that we didn't miss any days, and had great weather to boot (only Sunday was a no-swimming day because of high waves) made us appreciate this vacation more than usual.

We’ve been spending weeklong summer vacations on the Outer Banks off and on since around 1980, and have stayed up and down the beach, but we’ve been going back to Duck since we discovered it 17 years ago. Since we emptied the nest, we’ve started taking our week in September, when everyone with children in school has cleared out. It’s amazing how restful and stress-free it is to vacation without kids. Kids are fun, don’t get me wrong, but you don’t ever get a vacation from parenting when the kids are around, and having to keep them entertained while keeping them in line (well, at least enough to prevent them from disturbing other vacationers or from killing each other) is tiring at best. I used to feel exhausted after the typical family beach vacation.

This past week, we quickly settled into a comfortable rhythm, getting a lot of beach time, playing tennis, taking long walks, reading a stack of books, eating plenty of seafood, or just relaxing on the deck with a cold drink. With a little shopping and sightseeing and jigsaw puzzling thrown in for good measure, and not a minute of negotiating, or cajoling, or consensus building, or referreeing. Ahhhh...

We had two standout meals in or near Duck, so if you're looking for a gourmet, cheffy sort of meal, we highly recommend The Blue Point or Meridian 42. Great meals, open kitchens, and at Meridian, they even angle a mirror over the counter so you can see the meals being plated, a little like Iron Chef.

Here's the stretch of beach where we hung out, by our neighborhood of Schooner Ridge. The beach didn't stay this empty all day, but we liked to get an early start.

The soundfront:

ENOUGH already with the painted animals. Chicago was the first city to do this, planting huge painted cows around the city back in 1999 as part of the "Cows on Parade" public art exhibit. Since then, cities large and small (including F'burg) have jumped on the painted animal bandwagon, and the idea hasn't played itself out yet, although the novelty wore off years ago. This year at the beach it was winged horses like this one, and not particularly good ones at that.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fredericksburg's Downtown Marriott

The construction on the Courtyard Fredericksburg Marriott is progressing quickly now. This photo was taken 2 weeks ago, and the third story has gone up in the meantime. The jury is still out as to whether this is going to turn out to have been a horrible mistake, or a tasteful boutique hotel. On the plus side, it could hardly be worse than the “Executive Plaza” building across the street. And at worst, we’ll confine our “high rises” to one city block, with the Exec. Plaza, the Marriott and the parking garage as our “urban center.”

The artist’s rendering of the finished building is displayed on signs around the construction site, and here (click to enlarge).

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Potomac Nationals Playoff Game

Last night, my husband and I made our annual trek up to Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge to see Carolina League baseball. These days, the stadium is home to the Potomac Nationals, the single A team affiliated with the Washington Nationals. Just like last year, they were playing the Wilmington Blue Rocks, although this time, it was the opening game of the playoffs for the P-Nats, and their first trip to the playoffs since the start of the franchise in 2004.

I’m not a big fan of watching baseball on TV, but I do enjoy the occasional (no more than once a year, please) trip to the ballpark. I’ve been to the bigs, where you get top-notch ball without too many frills, but there’s a lot to be said for the small minor league stadiums, where you can get up close to the players, and where the management tries to keep the “entertainment” coming. And then there are the promotions, where fans are enticed by the promise of giveaways, or fireworks, or discounts, or like last night, food. It turned out to be “Belly Buster Night,” where for $12, we got better than our usual seats, and an all-you-can-eat buffet of the finest ball park burgers, dogs and burritos (ballpark burritos?). Talk about your fatty, salty overload.

And for those of us who find baseball less than mesmerizing, between innings there are the goofy contests. In addition to the always popular dizzy bat race, last night’s competitors raced Uncle Slam, rode tricycles, tossed stuffed chicken legs, and did pushups. For a chance at $10,000, one poor guy got to humiliate himself by trying to hit a target with a teed-up baseball (the ball never getting anywhere even close). But my favorite was a new one to me, the frozen T-shirt contest. A wet t-shirt is folded and frozen, and then contestants see who can crack open the shirt and get it on first. Now that’s entertainment.

I learned a new baseball term last night, too: an easy-to-catch pop fly is referred to as a “can of corn.” Here's the most popular explanation.

The game itself was what I guess would be called a defensive battle. That means not much scoring. After 9 innings, the teams were tied at 1-1. Ultimately, the P-Nats won after 15 innings (that’s right...3 hours and 45 minutes of baseball), but 12 was all I could take.

Warming up:

The Belly Buster Buffet:

My pal and yours, Uncle Slam:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Somerset Steam Engines

We hadn’t been to something completely new to us in a while, so after reading the big write-up in the Weekender in the Free Lance-Star, we decided to check out the Somerset Steam and Gas Engine Association’s Pasture Party yesterday. Somerset is a bit south of Montpelier, which is a bit south of Orange, making it just under an hour’s drive in the country for us.

I really didn’t know much about steam engines before we went, but now I have a pretty good idea of how they work. They had their heyday during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, and were used for many industrial and agricultural purposes well into the 1900’s. We saw dozens of steam engines on display, chugging around, powering equipment, and performing farm chores. The thresher-baler was the most fascinating to me: loads of wheat are loaded into the thresher, which separates the grain from the stalks. The grain is collected in bags, and then the leftover straw is fed through a baler, which compacts it into the bales, which are then hand-wrapped with wire. I know, I know, this is basic stuff for anyone who grew up anywhere near a farm, but I’m not one of them. So the steam thresher was an amazing labor-saving advancement in the world of farming, but man, that’s still a lot of work. In fact, that was my basic impression of the work of the steam engine: labor saving compared to what went before, but still dirty, sweaty, dangerous and exhausting work for the men running the machinery.

And here’s a confession: In a post about the Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair, I said I wasn’t interested in tractor pulls. Actually, at that point, I had never seen a tractor pull, and didn’t even know what they were all about. So yesterday I saw my first tractor pull, with antique gas tractors (I had no idea what I was even watching for the first 10 minutes until a spectator clued me in). For anyone besides me who doesn’t know what a tractor pull is, the tractors have to pull increasingly heavy loads, and the tractor that carries the most weight the farthest is the winner. Between tractors, there’s a sort of dirt zamboni tractor that flattens the track. The “sport” started among farmers who would have contests to see whose horses could pull the most, and when horses were replaced by motorized equipment, the tractor pull was born. I have to say, there is a whole world of diversions popular in rural areas that I know absolutely nothing about, and entire subcultures of people participating in them. Next thing you know, I’ll be going to a Nascar event.

We finished the day visiting the vendors (tools, hats, blankets with dogs and flags on them), sharing a milkshake made by the ever-popular (well, to us anyway) Orange County 4-H Dairy Clubbers, and listening to a little music. I highly recommend the whole event for anyone interested in mechanical things.

Steam power involves a lot of big wheels:

Got to keep that big wheel oiled:

The thresher end of the thresher-baler:

The baler end:

The steam powered sawmill demonstration:

The antique tractor pull:

Plowing the field and kicking up some serious air pollution. Not exactly a green machine.

I got excited when I saw the sign for tractor jewelry. What a disappointment to discover that it was just regular jewelry at the tractor show, not actually tractor jewelry.