Thursday, August 27, 2009

Film Festival

The Rappahannock Independent Film Festival started today, and continues through the weekend. A young friend of ours was in a short film created by a fellow high schooler, so we went down to the showing at the library tonight to support the local talent. One day, when our friend is a famous actress, I’ll get to tell everyone I knew her when she was in One Time, Me and My Friends Robbed a Store! There was a good crowd in the auditorium, and the fun student film was very well received.

In a case of “these two films don’t match well,” the second film was a powerful and moving full length documentary about the Holocaust in Poland. No. 4 Street of Our Lady tells the story of a Polish Catholic woman who hid 16 Jews in her home for 20 months during the German occupation of Poland during World War II.

We enjoyed the evening so much that we decided we’ll go back on Saturday to see another block of films. Each block runs about 2 hours, ranging from two to eight films, and mixing homegrown efforts with bigger budget films. Admission is $6 a ticket. Check out the website for the full schedule and description of films.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Harrisonburg, Part 2

We stayed at the Joshua Wilton House until the 11:00 checkout time, when they had to drag me kicking and screaming from the room. Well, almost. We had planned to leave for home after checkout, but then discovered that Tom Principato, a master electric guitarist, would be playing the “Fridays on the Square” concert series on the courthouse lawn. My husband was excited about seeing his concert, so we decided to spend another day in town, essentially killing time until the 7 pm performance.

Our first stop was the Shenandoah Heritage Market, a large building that houses about 20 different vendors. It’s kind of like the Virginia Bazaar, except much, much better. There were two highlights to the visit: first, the Country Canner, featuring jams, preserves, pickles, and relishes of all kinds, (with plenty of free samples) and then Grandma’s Pantry, which specializes in bulk foods (plenty of free samples here, too), including more kinds of grains than I knew existed.

Country Canner:

Grandma's Pantry:

The market was also filled with the usual gifts and collectibles vendors, with not much of interest to me. Except that now, I’m old enough (my 50's) that the collectibles shops are filled with mundane items from my childhood. Look, an Eight O’Clock Coffee tin bank! Look, Barbie dolls that don’t bend at the knee! Look, vinyl record albums! I’m trying very hard not to be the kind of person who goes through these shops pointing and saying, “I had that! And I had that, too!” Most of it really isn’t all that valuable. People who think they’d have a fortune if they’d only saved all their childhood junk won’t end up with a fortune, just a lot of old junk no one really wants. Still, it’s kind of nostalgic to see all this stuff, and I have to admit I was highly tempted by the coffee tin bank.

After the market, we let our GPS guide us to Purcell Park, where we set our ever-present folding chairs under a tree and read for a couple of hours. With still quite a bit of time till the evening’s concert, we decided to head “down the valley” (which is apparently how you describe going north, which is the direction the Shenandoah River flows) to see if we could find the new location of Rt. 11 Chips in Mt. Jackson. We had been to the potato chip factory years ago when it was a tiny home-grown storefront in Middletown, where we remember their small showroom with samples of every flavor of chip they made. And after visiting the Valley Turnpike Museum the day before, we thought a ride down (up?) scenic Rt. 11 would be a good way to pass some time. Well, Rt. 11 Chips are now so popular (you can find them in most of the Fredericksburg supermarkets) that they’ve had to move to a big charmless factory. Hard to find, not even on Rt. 11, and only a few samples to try. We struggled to find the place, and then were disappointed when we did. Nonetheless, we came home with a giant bag of salt and vinegar chips that lasted us about a week:

After dinner at Clementine, a casual bistro restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg, it was concert time. Fridays on the Square is like our Bluemont, except possibly better funded. Tom Principato is an award-winning guitar legend, and he put on a great show. I do believe my husband died and visited heaven for a little while. The weather was beautiful (noticeably cooler out there in the mountains), and by the second set, the crowd was up and dancing. And we bought one of Tom’s CDs for the ride home.

The only downside to visiting the Shenandoah Valley is the ride over the mountains. I’m not keen on twisty mountain roads with insufficient guard rails. I’m really not keen on them in the dark. And the rain. So our late night ride home was nerve-wracking for me. I had to lean back, pull a blanket over my head, and think happy thoughts.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Joshua Wilton House

Our real reason for choosing Harrisonburg for our road trip was to stay and eat at the Joshua Wilton House. My husband and I have been visiting inns about once or twice a year since our youngest left for college, and we’ve been to quite a few in Virginia. This inn has been on our list of possibilities for quite awhile. The inn is a lovely Victorian right on Main St. in downtown Harrisonburg, a short walk from the Visitor Center. Our room wasn’t the most luxurious we’ve stayed in, but it had all the elements I need: a tastefully decorated room with a big bay window and appealing architectural details, a queen bed with comfy linens, and a sparkling bathroom with terrycloth robes and nice toiletries. We found a welcome treat of the most delicious fresh-baked blondie bites, butterscotchy with dried cranberries and nuts, in our room, along with sparkling water. And it was one of the less expensive inn rooms we’ve stayed in, so we definitely feel we got our money’s worth.

Room #3, behind the bay windows on the 2nd floor at the right of the photo above:

We had read about the restaurant beforehand, and knew that the chef developed the menu using local, seasonal foods from the area’s farmers, so we were really looking forward to dinner. We’ve cut back on our expensive dinners out lately, so we had a lot of pent up anticipation for this one. We weren’t disappointed. The highlights were an appetizer of peach-stuffed quail with prosciutto-corn flan, summer succotash and expresso-Zinfandel sauce, and an entree of coffee cured and smoked duck breast with cherry tomato-pearl pasta and roasted corn salad.

I didn't take photos at dinner (sometimes, it's just too intrusive), but here's our lovely breakfast, starting with fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh fruit with granola and yogurt, and a square of coffeecake still warm from the oven...:

plus French toast with coffee-maple cream, bacon and fresh peaches:

Another view of the inn:

The front foyer:

The flowerbeds in front of the inn:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Road Trip to Harrisonburg

My youngest moved out of the house on August 8. For the first time in my life, I am retired with no dependent children. Go, me! To celebrate this rite of passage, my husband and I decided to take a little road trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia, in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley. It’s the home of James Madison University and the seat of Rockingham County (known as the Turkey Capital, with the largest production of poultry in the state and Tyson signs everywhere), although the main point of interest to us is that it’s the home to the historic Joshua Wilton Inn, where we had booked a room and had dinner reservations awaiting.

With our new GPS guiding us west, our first stop was Stanardsville (pop. 476, and the Greene County seat) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We took a quick look at the town, which seems like it could be a little jewel if the recession ever ends and some serious restoration work could be completed. They do have a prominent courthouse building, a beautiful new county library (where we used the bathroom and the internet), and a quaint inn under renovation.

After a lunch stop at Hank’s Smokehouse in McGaheysville (hometown of one of my longtime F’burg friends), we headed to the White Oak Lavender Farm, just south of Harrisonburg. Rows of sprouting lavender...

farm animals to greet, including miniature horses, goats, sheep, one fat rabbit, and ducks in a beautifully landscaped pond...

and lavender scented gifts to buy.

The owner mentioned the CrossKeys Vineyard a few miles down the road, so we headed that way. CrossKeys is the kind of winery that really doesn’t appeal to me. The minute we parked, I could tell it was as much a wedding venue as a winery. Huge, brand new building with a big courtyard with fountain, indoor seating for a large crowd, and a bar with fireplace just right for the cocktail hour. All in that pseudo-European villa style, but lacking any of the warmth or charm of an actual historic villa.

The wine was fine...I really am not much of a judge of wine. I like drinking it, and I like what I like. My taste in wine is decidedly unsophisticated. But I always love a trip to the country, and wineries are always in such lovely, pastoral settings. The only thing that saved this winery for me was the beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains:

From there we drove into Harrisonburg, where we checked into the inn, and headed back out on foot to check out the downtown area. We stopped at the Visitor Center, which doubles as the Valley Turnpike Museum. Here’s a museum I could sink my teeth into: just one room on just one topic, the evolution of the Valley Turnpike (otherwise known as US Rt. 11), from Indian path to important transportation route to country byway following the construction of I-81. Rt. 11 stretches from the Canadian border in NY all the way to New Orleans. We’ve taken several trips over the years to explore the Shenandoah Valley via Rt. 11, from Winchester in the north to Waynesboro in the south, and it’s one of Virginia’s most scenic areas.

In the Visitor Center lobby, we encountered this glass-encased giant hornet's nest. Just a little oddity on display:

We left the Visitor Center, and took a walk around town. There are interesting shops, restaurants and taverns all along Main Street, with Court Square at the center. Not as scenic or charming as Fredericksburg, but probably better suited to college students. Here's the historic county courthouse:

The gazebo next to the courthouse is actually a springhouse. Unlike the springs of Saratoga Springs, NY, this aqua esta mala:

This is the original stone cottage of Thomas Harrison, the first settler in the area, who deeded the land to create the town. It's privately owned by the church across the street, not open to the public, and you can see that another commercial building is stuck right up against it. Not the best example of historic preservation, is it?

We returned to the Joshua Wilton House for a wonderful dinner and overnight stay. More about that, and day 2 in Harrisonburg, to come!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Lake Anna State Park

Our uncharacteristically moderate summer temps gave way to a few days of real Virginia heat, so yesterday, we headed down to Lake Anna State Park for a little “beach” time. The 13,000 acre lake is man-made, created to provide cooling for the North Anna nuclear power plant (no, there are no two-headed fish, as far as I know). The swimming beach is very popular, filling up by early afternoon on the weekdays, and can get so crowded on the weekends that the park has to close to additional people. For us, this is a weak substitute for an oceanfront beach—there’s no surf, no ocean breezes, no salty sea air. But if you are looking for a safe place for the kids to splash on a hot day, it's a nice outing. The water is warm, there are clearly defined swimming areas for different levels of swimmers, and there is a lifeguard on duty.

Besides the swimming and picnic areas, the park has a camping area, with campsites for tents and RVs, as well as cabins ranging from 2 bedrooms with all the amenities, to tiny, rustic one-room cabins. We checked out the campground, but decided that it really wasn't our kind of place. We like to tuck our tent in the woods, out of the way of the RVs, and at this park, all the campsites are pretty out in the open.

Here's the beach area. If you need to stay out of the sun, you can set up in the grass under a shady tree:

There's a snack bar if you don't feel like lugging the cooler:

Next to the sandy beach is a shaded picnic area with grills:

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Odds & Ends

This was a quiet, hardly bloggable week. Mostly, I’ve been helping my 22-year old prepare to move to Kansas, including all of the administrative tasks required to set up residency in another state (that's his new home-to-be at the U of KS, above). We’ve had some of our usual weekly outings, including a stop on Friday night at the University Cafe to hear some music. So far, most of the live music there is just too loud for my tastes. When you can’t carry on even the simplest conversation over the sound of the music, it’s too loud. No doubt that’s a sign of advancing age...none of the kids there seemed to mind. I think the music at Kybecca is more my style. We also went to Bluemont last night, a perfect, breezy evening with a terrific fiddle-guitar duo. Very Prairie Home Companion.

I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and have been cooking up a local-foods storm with wonderful produce from the farmer’s market. I bought my first heirloom tomatoes, my first cage-free eggs, and even though I don’t eat much meat, I bought some Italian sausage made from locally raised, pastured piggies. I’ve started buying fresh corn and cutting the kernels off for recipes, instead of just eating it on the cob. Plus buying plenty of everything else that is abundant at the Farmer’s Market in July: all kinds and colors of peppers and squashes, greens and herbs, beautiful berries, peaches and melons. And in a crazy fit of domesticity, I actually baked bread. So it’s been a successful week in the kitchen.

Here's my sausage and peppers...

and my corn-zucchini-pepper-onion-basil salad:

The only new event of note this week is that I donated blood for the first time. My son has done it several times, and I decided it would be something worthwhile to try. So I made my appointment and went to the Red Cross donation center at the Southpoint shopping center (formerly the Massaponax Outlet Center). Everyone, including my son, told me it would be a snap. Just a pin prick, not really painful, and after a brief exchange of information, about 10 minutes to actually donate the blood. Now, I certainly don’t want to dissuade anyone from giving blood. And I’ll admit that I’m a bigger baby than most people. And now that several days have gone by, it doesn’t seem like it was all that bad. I’ll do it again, I’m sure. I’d just like to say, for the record, that it was more than a pin prick, definitely had its painful moments (okay, seconds), and it took more like 20 minutes for them to squeeze out a pint. It turns out there are all kinds of tips for what to do before you give blood that I didn’t know anything about. Like drinking mass quantities of water. So next time, I think I’ll be better prepared. Less nervous, too.

And I did get a cool pair of flip-flops. They were actually printed all over in white letters saying "American Red Cross" and "Donate Blood," but I was able to sand all that stuff off. And on the bottom, there are letters carved into the sole, so that when you're walking along the beach at the water's edge, your footprints will leave behind an important message. Cute, right?