Day One of 40 . . . .

1.  This week marks the beginning of Lent…will you be giving something up or adding anything to your life during this season of the year?
I have given up things for Lent in the past, but the last two years lost track of time and we were two weeks from Easter before I realized it.  Among other things, I have given up sodas (and never really picked them up again), TV, and sleep.  Yes, sleep.  Or more accurately, giving up the snooze button.  I was trying to get to the gym every day before work, and it worked for a while, but then I got sick.  So not so much.  Besides, giving up sleep?  What was I thinking???  A few years ago (okay, more than a few) I was listening to NPR on my lunch break, and I heard a Catholic priest talk about how when he was in school, his roommates were trying to figure out the whole Lenten sacrifice thing.  They didn’t think it was right that he got to pick what he was giving up, because he’d pick things that were easy to do without.  So they decided they should pick his Lenten sacrifice for him.  And they have done this for over 20 years.  You can read the article on NPR here.  It really is a fascinating account of what it means to him and his friends to have this ritual every year.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to figure out what or if I’m giving up anything this year.  Refined sugar?  Lately chocolate cravings would really make this difficult.  I thought about TV again, but I’m also realistic.  Facebook?  I am not sure.  My mother doesn’t get why I agonize over this–we were raised Baptist, she says.  Baptists don’t do Lenten sacrifices, she says.  She doesn’t get that it’s an exercise in discipline for me, and a way to connect closer to God as I am still trying to decide . . . .   Edited to add:  This year the Father has to give up ginger (ale included), lollipops and donuts.  

2. The day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday… tradition states you eat pancakes on this day. In some parts of the world Shrove Tuesday is actually known as ‘pancake day’. How do you like your pancakes? Or don’t you?
I never heard about this!  How do I not know about this????  I love pancakes.  Haven’t made them in a while, but I do love them.  Must have lots of butter and a bit of real maple syrup.

3.  I’m sure there are many, but what’s one love song you really love?
“Wonderful Tonight” by Eric Clapton.  I think I listened to that on repeat over and over and over again in college.  Second place would be “This Night” by Billy Joel.

4.  What are some things you do to let others know you love them?
Tell them.  Show them.  Pray for them.

5.  Roses…red, pink, or do you prefer another color? Can you recall the last time someone gave you flowers? Given your choice would you like to open the door and see a dozen red roses, a dozen purple tulips, or a dozen pink peonies?
My boss’s wife gave me flowers for my birthday last year.  Such a sweet lady.  Bright pink Gerber daisies.  I love live flowers of any kind.  Peonies are beautiful, tulips are fun every now and then, but I love yellow and orange roses too.

6.  President’s Day will be celebrated in America next Monday. Does US Presidential history and trivia interest you?  Many Presidential homes are open to the public and offer guided tours…Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Mount Vernon (Washington’s home), Montpelier (James Madison’s home), Hyde Park (FD Roosevelt’s home) and The White House (home to the sitting President) to name just a few. Of those listed which would you be most interested in touring?  Why?
Considering that four of the ones on your list are in my home state (well, if you count the White House) and three of them are within an hours drive, you couldn’t grow up in Virginia without having it crammed down your throat.  Plus if you add in Ash Lawn, home of James Monroe.  It is sort of fascinating.  Yes, I do enjoy it.  I haven’t been in decades though.  I should go again.  I could also go see Pine Knot, Teddy Roosevelt’s country hunting lodge, Woodrow Wilson’s  birthplace and library, and President Hoover’s camp at Rapidan.  I’m telling you, this area is a political history buff’s dream come true.

7.  Are you good at keeping secrets?
Sometimes.  Depends on the secret and my level of interest.  I don’t like to be the secret keeper for friends, as it’s usually a bitter and hateful kind of thing.  If it’s good news, that’s another story.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.
Hmmmm.  Random thought . . . random thought.  I really need to clean my house.  Like I REALLY need to clean.  And you know what?  I just don’t care. 

Happy Wednesday y’all!

RVA Represent!

I am going to cheat.  I will freely, unabashedly, and totally say so up front.  There is no way I can list only five items, so I’m listing five generalities so I can get particular in the list!  Yay for cheating!

First, your history lesson.  Richmond City is the capital of Virginia.  Richmond County is about 50 miles outside of town and no relation whatsoever.   Virginia is unique in that its cities are not part of a surrounding county.  With the exception of Baltimore, Carson City, and St. Louis, the remaining 39 independent cities found in the US are in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Like many urban areas, the city itself has either a high income or low income population, with very little in between. Most of those that work in the city live in surrounding counties.  Yet we all call ourselves part of the RVA.

Home to four colleges–VCU, UR, VUU, and VC, two seminaries, and two more colleges within 20 miles (Randolph Macon and Virginia State), the city has a large loyalty factor.  Former seat of the Confederacy, it’s proud of its Southern heritage, but also recognizes its role in the founding of the country during the Revolution as well.  All elementary school children have field trips an hour east to see the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria in Jamestown, to Williamsburg, and downtown to see reenactments of Patrick Henry saying “Give me liberty, or give me death!”.  Located at the fall of the James River, it’s also 75 miles from Charlottesville and the Appalachian Trail and two hours (give or take) from both Virginia Beach and from Washington, DC.

And y’all?  When it comes to the people here?  We’re all crazy.  Just ask native Shirley MacLaine.  Other natives by birth (or those that we claim anyway due to proximity)?  Warren Beatty.  Arthur Ashe.  Blair Underwood (well, Petersburg.  Close enough).  Patricia Cornwell.  David Baldacci.  Leslie Bibb.  GWAR.  Corey Reynolds (used to play poker in my costume shop after his show finished for the day at a nearby theme park, long before his days on The Closer).  D’Angelo.  Robert Lanham (or Robbie, as I knew him from the youth group days before he wrote The Hipster Handbook).  Jason Mraz. Emily Skinner.  Aimee Mann.  Edgar Allen Poe (maybe not born, but certainly bred.  Has the museum in town to prove it.  We share him with Baltimore). Eric Cantor (though many of us try to forget).  Ray Easterling (may he rest in peace at last).  Tons of good people that we love to claim at every turn.

On the rare occasion I get out to actually enjoy my hometown it’s a whole lotta fun.  So here’s my cheater’s version of Tuesday Topics!

The Austin Family Diary

Five things to do in RVA:

  1. Enjoy the history.  It’s not just the trips to DC, Jamestown, and Williamsburg; Mount Vernon, Monticello, or Ash Lawn.  We have a ton of history right here.  Hollywood Cemetery has two presidents (three, if you count Jefferson Davis), a wonderful gothic architecture, and plenty of tours and ghost stories to share.  Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.01.44 PM
    We also have Monument Avenue.  Home to more Civil War heroes as well as Arthur Ashe.  And more beautiful architecture.  The Avenue itself is on the register of historic places.  (more on that later)
    File:Monument Ave Robert E. Lee.jpgIn case you’re not a history buff and are more into the arts, we have that too.  In a historical fashion, of course.  My favorite is the Byrd Theater, a $2 movie theater that is in a 1928 movie house with a chandelier that had to be assembled inside the theater itself.  On Saturday nights, before the show, the Wurlitzer organ rises from the floor and you get a concert.  There are no previews, just the anti-litter PSA that was filmed in the 1980s, and that’s our own cult favorite.  My brother came home from the army and went to the theater for the first time in a decade on a Friday night.  Sold out crowd, and we’re all quoting along with our favorite part of the clip.  He was blown away.

    I think I’m there at least twice a month.  Great way to see movies, and it’s in a part of town that is about six blocks long full of great restaurants and shops.  http://www.byrdtheater.com.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.10.08 PM
  2. Go to the Festivals. Y’all, we’re all about the festival.  Find a Saturday on the calendar, and we’ve got something going on.  Especially if it has something to do with food.  Watermelon Festival.  Kite Festival.  Arts in the Park.  Dragon Boat Festival.  Greek Festival.  Lebanese Food Festival.  Chili Cookoff.  Strawberry Festival.  Not to be confused with the Strawberry Street Festival.  Hanover Tomato Festival.  French Film Festival.  Brunswick Stew Festival.  Vegetarian Festival.  The now defunct World Beer Festival.  The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival.  Italian Food Festival.  2nd Street Festival.  Yes, that’s right, we close down and celebrate a street.  Why not.  Better yet, there is the Easter Parade when they close down Monument Avenue and we all parade in our homemade hats.  The parade is the people.  And oh, what people.  Young.  Old.  Tall.  Small.  Drag Queens.  Costumed.  Activists.  And the homemade hats.  Best part.  These in the photo are slightly tame by comparison.  I may or may not have one I made almost 20 years ago hiding in an Ariat boot box in the closet of my living room.
  3. Experience nature.  We’re at the falls of the James River, so you can either ride the rapids or lay out on river rocks.  Pocahontas State Park is beautiful.  And yes, it’s named for that Pocahontas.  She’s from here too, you know.  If you prefer your nature more refined, there’s the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.   Developed to show the best of all four seasons, it also has a phenomenal light show at Christmas.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.38.09 PM
  4. Become one of the best of.  Thankfully, we’re no longer the murder capital of the USA.  The mid-90s were not a good time for us.  But in the last few years we’ve become known for other things.  We’re the third most tattooed city in the US. LOTS of people watching opportunity there.  We’re the 2nd most obese city in the country.  Might have something to do with all those food festivals.  We also have the Monument Avenue 10K.  If you have to be athletic, might as well make it on one of the most beautiful streets in town in the 4th largest 10K in the country and one of the top ten most beautiful races in the US.  We’re also the town to go to for minor league sports.  Baseball.  Football.  Arena Racing.  We have it all.
    Screen Shot 2013-02-04 at 10.44.26 PM
  5. The sanctioned voyeurism.  I never knew it wasn’t okay to just walk into people’s houses and look around until I lived somewhere else.  There are at least a half-dozen tours that I can think of each year.  The Fan (historic district).  People just randomly throw open the doors and let others walk in.  From the centuries old row houses downtown at Christmas, the museum district at Mothers Day, Garden Week twice a year to admire the green thumb that I’ll never have from those with more money than I’ll ever earn, and even those stuck in ordinary neighborhoods, like the Virginia House and Agecroft Hall–which was built in England in the 1400s, dismantled in the 1920’s, reassembled on our side of the ocean and is now open to visitors and Shakespeare in the Garden during the summer.

So that’s my cheaters list!  Next time you’re in the neighborhood (loosely defined as within a hundred miles or so) come on in!  Have some sweet tea and sit a spell.

And if that’s not good enough for you?  There’s always the people watching when NASCAR is over at RIR. . . .