Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First Snow

Our first snow of the year is gently falling right now, with maybe an inch on the ground so far, at least out here in Spotsylvania. According to Bob Ryan, this is the latest first snowfall in the Washington area since 1995, when it didn’t snow until Jan. 28. This is the way I like my winter. I don’t mind the cold or a little snow that lasts a day or two, but I can't handle the destructive elements of winter: the ice storms, the icy roads, the downed trees, the power outages. Sleet and freezing rain is in the forecast for tonight, but I don’t have anywhere I need to be. And now that I telecommute from home, I don’t even need to worry about getting past our untreated subdivision road to make it into the office. Ah, the digital age...isn’t it wonderful? I’m snug at home, and here is the view from my office window:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

SAD Party

Every year, our church has a fundraising service auction, where we bid on donated services, dinners and parties, excursions, etc. And one of the items that I always bid on is the SAD Party, which was given last night by our lovely and gracious hosts in their Fredericksburg home, as always in the depths of winter and after the holiday glow has faded, when people really need an excuse for a party. So the theme is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just the Winter Blahs, where we boost our spirits by eating, drinking, consuming mass quantities of chocolate (or was that only me?) and playing party games on the sad theme. In our first game, cards that they haven't seen were placed on players' backs, describing why they’re sad. And then you have to ask yes or no questions to try and guess your reason. It was a great ice breaker. I was sad because I had “passed up tickets to a Rod Stewart concert to come to the party” (spending most of my time trying to narrow down the list of British rockers), while my husband, in perfect keeping with his true nature, was sad because he “hates playing silly party games.”

For me, the highlight of the night was the crummy gift grab bag exchange, which gives partygoers the opportunity to unload some terrible gift, and bring home someone else’s terrible gift. Each person can choose an unopened gift from the pile, or take one that has already been opened, but as it turns out, rarely does anyone get a gift worth taking. Although the cheesy multicolored light-up fish lamp was a hot commodity. I came home with (and had to steal from someone else to get, who gladly gave these up) this kitschy Christmas themed salt & pepper shaker set (center back). Which as you can see, goes nicely with some of my other tacky salt & pepper shakers from a no-longer-displayed-or-added-to collection (hear that, family and friends?).

For the record, some of these are new shakers, bought in stores that specialize in 1950’s-looking kitsch, although a few, like the Siamese cats, the Capitol/Washington Monument, the feet, the ears of corn, and the violin/lute are authentic vintage sets, and the monks are Hummel figurines which I actually use. Looking at these all together makes me think it’s time to take these out of storage and put them in rotation in the kitchen. In recognition of recent events, I think I’ll start with the DC landmarks.

The illustration at top was borrowed from the blog of Sarah Douglas, a talented British illustrator with a whimsical style. Hope she doesn’t mind.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day

I can't tell you how happy I was today. Giddy, really. I am honored to be represented by this man as my president. Barack Obama is just so reasonable and intelligent. A progressive thinker. Heck, a thinker of any kind in the White House is such a welcome change. I couldn't get enough of the inauguration coverage over these past few days. Although I had to work today, I wasn't far from a TV, and was able to catch all the big moments.

We decided to head downtown this evening to see if we could find a little post-inauguration hubbub, but we found neither hub nor bub. The streets were quiet. So we stopped at Hyperion, where I got this perfect gingerbread latte.

Now I'm back home to catch some inaugural ball coverage. Finally, the suspense about Michelle's dress is over. Very pretty, but she seemed to have to adjust the train too often. A bit too long, and kind of fussy for a long night of dancing. But definitely Smithsonian-worthy.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Really Random Ramble

Despite the cold, we took a brief walk around town and I snapped a few random shots. At right is City Hall. I took the photo to show why Fredericksburg weather is pretty damn good--even in the dead of the coldest days of winter, there is still a sunny blue sky and some flowers in bloom.

Below is the Charles Dick house on Princess Anne between Amelia and Lewis Streets. Charles Dick was a city merchant who built the house in the mid-1700's (read more here). Most recently, it's been turned into The Little White House B&B. A painter I once knew told me that instead of painting the whole house at once, a very pricey proposition given its size, the previous owners would paint one side at a time. I have no idea if that's true, or if it's even an interesting fact if it were.

This rather grand little entryway has a lovely awning, a fancy chandelier through the window, topiary at the door, and a pair of stone lions guarding the tiny front terrace. I have no idea what this place is...a private residence? Apartment rental? It's just to the left of the Happy Endings Bar & Grill on Princess Anne Street (it actually seems to be attached).

This is the downtown Marriott from the side (the front was still covered in Tyvek). Do you see the tiny house in the red circle? I never noticed that before. It looks like the building has gone up around it. That must be one pissed off homeowner. (Click to enlarge image)

Friday, January 16, 2009

St. George's Cemetery

St. George’s Episcopal Church, which is the centerpiece of the Fredericksburg skyline, was originally constructed at its location on Princess Anne St. in the 1730’s (the current building was erected in 1849). George Washington and his family attended services there, and the original pew they sat on is on display inside. The little church cemetery contains such noteworthy gravesites as those of John Paul Jones' brother William, and Col. John Dandridge (Martha Washington’s father), as well as other notable townspeople of the day. Originally, the boundaries of the cemetery were much larger, so there are actually a number of people buried under what are now adjacent streets and sidewalks, and Fielding Lewis (GW’s brother-in-law) and three of his children are buried beneath the church steps. Here’s more information about who’s buried there than you are likely to ever need.

Above is the view of the cemetery from the street. At the left is the marker for William Jones; closeup below:

Another view:

Just outside the cemetery gate is this saint, painted by the Sunday school children of St. George's to watch over the workers currently doing renovations to the church building. She seems to have a screw through her armpit and what looks like a buzzer for a nipple. Ouch.

(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Culpeper Continued

On Saturday, after we visited the wineries and made a detour to check out the Plow & Hearth outlet, we headed back into Culpeper to check into our room at the Thyme Inn. This year, in a nod to tighter economic times, we booked the smallest room at the inn. But in a stroke of good luck, the inn had another guest who wanted the small room for a long term stay, so we were given a free upgrade to the largest room, the same we stayed in last year. We made a quick stop at the Frenchman’s Corner for provisions, and then spent the afternoon holed up in our room in front of the fireplace. (The room had a TV, and I did have to tolerate quite a bit of football—it’s playoff season, after all. Call it an anniversary compromise.)

We had a lovely dinner at It’s About Thyme, one of our favorite restaurants, downstairs from the inn rooms. The food is wonderful European country cuisine (big portions, with many people leaving the restaurant with leftovers), and the service is of a style I've never seen anywhere else: a whole team of employees roams the dining room in endless circles, stopping to check on every diner so often that it's almost distracting. Multiple people will try to take your drink order, and will refill your glass whenever you take the tiniest sip. If there's such a thing as too much service, It's About Thyme manages to pull it off.

On Sunday morning, we walked down the block to the Raven’s Nest coffee shop, where the barrista (a recent Fredericksburg transplant) offered friendly conversation and fresh baked goodies. We snagged some almond scones for breakfast, still warm from the oven.

Our afternoon snack, bought at the Frenchman's Corner, which sells cheeses and chocolates. The Dogfish Indian Brown Ale came from Kybecca.

It's About Thyme's "Palazzo Pot Roast," braised in red wine:

The Thyme Market is next door to the restaurant, and sells all kinds of gourmet foods, including upscale sandwiches and deli salads, plus dinner entrees and pizza. The special of the day was suckling pig.

Here's a new boutique hotel called the Suites at 249 that just opened up on the main shopping street in Culpeper:

The Plow and Hearth Outlet, about 20 min. south of Culpeper, has lots of stuff. I'd always wanted to check this place out, since I like their catalog, but nothing called out to me. Take away the fancy photography, and it really is just a lot of stuff I don't need.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Culpeper Vineyards

For a romantic anniversary getaway, we headed to Culpeper on Saturday for an overnight stay at the Thyme Inn. We decided to take in two of the wineries closest to Culpeper. Our first stop was Old House Vineyards, just east of Culpeper. The winery is housed in what had been an abandoned 1800’s farmhouse before it was purchased and restored. The place is very charming, with a cozy tasting room, a parlor, and a dining room where they hold special events. January isn’t the best time to enjoy the scenery, but in the summer, the view of the mountains across the lush vineyards must be lovely. For $5 each, we were given a souvenir wineglass (all the wineries and festivals use pretty much the same shape and size glass, so I’ve accumulated a whole set of not-quite-matching souvenir glasses), and a taste of 9 different wines. We brought a bottle of their Vidal Blanc home with us.

Old House Vineyards:

The dining room for special events:

A narrow stairway, with a little vintner's philosophy (click to enlarge):

An oversized stone chess set in the front yard:

After the charm of Old House Vineyards, we were disappointed in our first visit to the Prince Michel Winery. This place is much more commercial, with a very large tasting room that had the vibe of an interstate travel center and gift shop, with enough wine paraphernalia to gag even the most avid wine lover. Not much charm there, but on the plus side, you can taste all of their many wines for free...enough to designate a driver (22 on our visit). Not all of the grapes are grown at Prince Michel. In fact, some are trucked in from California. I’ve since learned that you can call it a “Virginia wine” if at least 75% of the grapes were grown in Virginia. Here’s an article about it. After the tasting, we took a self-guided tour of the winery, although honestly, wine tours are all about the same. Here’s where we stem and crush the grapes, here’s where we ferment them in steel or oak, here’s where we bottle and label them. We didn’t buy any wine there...they had a crowd of people tasting and buying wines, plus you can find their wines all over the state. Not quite as satisfying as buying a bottle from the little guy.

Prince Michel Winery, right on Rt. 29 south of Culpeper:

The tasting room/gift shop:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Knitter's Cottage

I’m not a knitter, but my mom is, so while she was visiting over the holidays, we stopped in at the Knitter’s Cottage on William St. It was my first time in the bungalow-turned yarn shop, and it is a little gem. A group of women were knitting convivially at a round table in the front room, and the shop had a very friendly atmosphere. I don’t have the patience for knitting (my lack of patience seems to be an on-going theme), but I loved seeing all of the bright skeins of yarn, the colorful notions, and the beautiful hand-knit pieces on display. If you are a knitter who is used to getting your yarn at Michael’s or A.C. Moore, give the Knitter’s Cottage a try. If we don’t support the little shops, it won’t be long before only the big box stores remain. Think globally, knit locally.

Fun buttons:

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I came across this labyrinth marked out on the field across from the downtown library this past weekend. I don’t know who put it there, or how long it will stay (it may be gone already). If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they are ancient meditation paths, which you are supposed to walk very slowly as part of your meditation practice. It’s not a maze—there are no dead ends. Just a winding, circular path to the center, and then back out again. I’ve seen indoor ones (like the one at St. George’s Episcopal Church), and use a mini-labyrinth in my Sunday School class. I’m not much for walking them...I don’t really have the patience required for the extremely slow movement or quiet meditative thought. But I love the designs.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jail Alley

On a random Sunday afternoon walk downtown, we wandered into Jail Alley, which runs behind the buildings of Princess Anne and Caroline Streets between Hanover and George. Originally named Hay Scales Alley, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that in colonial times, one could weigh one’s hay there. Assuming weighing hay is something people needed to do, I have no idea. And then I'll say there was a jail there. It's a wonder I didn't turn out to be a historian, with such keen insight.

It's a mixed bag down in the alley:

Parts are historic and charming, like the entrance of the Academy of Ballet, with its purple door:

Or the stairway up to St. George's:

Parts remind me of Brooklyn:

Here's what it looks like to Google Streetview, one of my new very favorite things. Check out some of downtown Fredericksburg on Streetview now. You can take a virtual walk through town.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Peas on Earth

The southern tradition on New Year’s Day is to eat black-eyed peas for good luck and prosperity. Our church had an open house today for folks to stop by for a lunch of black-eyed peas with rice (put together, they make hoppin’ john), collard greens and cornbread. I have had very few encounters with black-eyed peas in my life, certainly not as a main dish like these were served, despite having lived in Virginia for over 30 years. And I never would have guessed I’d be a fan. But these were delicious, cooked with ham hocks into a tasty bean stew (vegetarian version also available, of course). It was a perfect afternoon, spent with good friends and simple food (special thanks to the cooks!), and although I’m not generally superstitious, I think it bodes well for the new year.