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a misnomer based on my reading of it...

It wasn’t supposed to go this way, but I’ve found a really crappy way to start the new year. I started reading Home Comforts, the old Cheryl Mendelson heavy-duty how-to about everything I don’t do that I picked up for a song at Chop Suey Books pre-Christmas thinking it would at the very least give me fodder for more RHOME columns forever and ever. Maybe even make me make my bed and make my home office less frightening to the other inhabitants of my home. I paired that with plowing through Joan Didion’s Blue Nights. The result is feeling instantly and utterly inadequate, inconsiderate, possibly even inhuman (because I could barely stand Didion’s book–even accounting for her rotten situation and even though I had been moved and awed by The Year of Magical Thinking), and certainly unclean.

Nowhere to go but up this year? Perhaps that was my strategy all along.

Christmas has come and gone, but not without my family celebrating it in a degenerate way that I don’t exactly recommend: spending too much of Christmas Eve and maybe even some of Christmas, and certainly the days after watching Seasons 1 and 2 of Sons of Anarchy. My husband tricked me into watching some episodes of season 4 this fall and with the Netflix instant thingie suddenly working on our tv and our children home, it just seemed like the thing to do to use our quality family time to watch people killing and swilling. It’s hard to argue with the warmth of the family gathered round the profanity-and blood spewing television. I have to admit, I do a damned good Katey Sagal cussing impression.Makes my kids proud.

During our holiday preparations, my daughter was baking molasses cookies and simultaneously catching up on an episode she’d missed on her laptop. I came in to the kitchen to see this and couldn’t resist snapping a photo.Blood and guts and batter. Such a heartwarming scene.The cookies turned out quite well, I might add.



As of yet, we have not been struck by lightning or more likely if we lived in Charming, the town where the motorcycle club’s activelifestyle takes place, gunned down by a hail of bullets with all the violent and disturbing (and occasionally funny) viewing going on here during this season of peace. Katey Sagal does say “Jesus Christ” an awful lot, so maybe we’ve got the Christmas spirit, after all. And I can remember the Jesuits who taught me in college sending out a Christmas card one year with the message, “Born to die” or something durned close–ok maybe there was a reference to the resurrection there, too, but I don’t remember that. I remember being somewhat shocked by the starkness of the message–exactly their point. So Jesus would feel right at home with this gang.

As this holiday season comes racing round the corner and the last Christmas cards are in the mail (unless I get one from you and I didn’t already send you one because I forgot all about you), I feel I must take full responsibility for the problems the U. S. Postal Service is having. All it takes is one look at my awful handwriting on the cards I sent to know that it is so unfair that anyone is expected to decipher the mess and actually deliver it to someone somewhere. And I often scrawl a return address on there–just as a cruel joke, really. From looking at it, you can’t get there from here. Most of my family suffers from the same lack of purty handwriting. I would show you a picture but you wouldn’t know what it was. Thomas Aquinas had some pretty crappy handwriting, it turns out, so that will have to do.

it isn't a sin to have bad handwriting

It does remind me of a time years ago when my son filled out his high school application to a very competitive regional school in handwriting so technically tight and perfect and completely indecipherable. Perhaps because it was microscopic. Especially his name at the top of the application. I don’t exactly remember how well I handled the scene I made in our family room when I looked upon this piece of paper that was to determine oh so much of his future since I knew that an extra application was not going to be easy to come by–pre-download everything off the internet days–and it was due the next day. I  bet I said small words in a big voice–easily decipherable.

So sorry, U. S. Postal Service. You should make me use 3 or 4 stamps per envelope to compensate you for the trouble. Actually, never mind. I’ve stood in my share of eternal lines at the post office, so maybe we’re even.

Continuing my Twitter RVA Holiday Gift Guide from an earlier post:

Holidays#rva Gift Guide #13 Cool books and jewelry from@Va_Architecture What will those architects think of next?

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #14 Chocolates from @GearhartsRVA@LibbieGrove See the gingerbread house, too! The sum is yum!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #15 A stay at a @HistoricRicInns Lovely B&BS that are getaways in the middle of go-to places!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #16 Dreaming of a Light Christmas?Take someone to @lewisginter GardenFest of Lights MT @rvanews

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #17 Insiders’ Guide to Richmond available at @FountainBkstore & Chop Suey Books Read it & leap!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #18 @vmfa membership so no one will have blue Christmas–Elvis will be in the bldg Dec. 24-March 18, FYI.

Holiday RVA Guide #19 Hanukkah candy: pretty sight-a better bite! Easy to buy @ For the Love of Chocolate in @Carytown

Holiday RVA Gift Guide # 20 Hatch Show Print Posters from@LibraryofVA Letterpress Love!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #21 Built by Blacks. Book or pamphlet. Fascinating guide. Buy @ Black History @Va_Architecture

# 22 will be sending you to Virginia Street Gallery in Shockoe Slip for goodies of food, art, and handmade cool things. It’s open 11-8 today through Christmas Eve. 

Though I’ve been stocking up on Christmas baking supplies, I haven’t fired up the mixer or oven just yet. It seems too early since I have no plans to give what I bake away unless you show up at my house. How generous of me. If I start baking too soon, I’ll eat it all myself. But I feel the lack of happy Christmas tastes, so lucky for me I went into For the Love of Chocolate in Carytown today and bought one of my essential Christmas treats–Guittard mint chips. I tell myself I’m buying them for mint brownies for Christmas parties and such, and that is somewhat true. But I sliced open the bag already this afternoon with no party in sight and mixed a small handful with a small handful of Ghiradelli Dark Chocolate chips for the easiest Christmasy snacking ever. Joy to the world-or at least my mouth.

simple pleasures

The green is a little harsh–a bit sickening–reminiscent of Seafoam Green Crayola color back in the day. For several months as a child I loved that color. I was wrong to. Perhaps the first in a series of fashion mistakes I’ve made was when I overused it in coloring books for men’s clothing. This was before leisure suits even. And if the seafoam ever looks like that green above–run the other way. Actually, having that green on the top of brownies might make people choose sugar cookies instead, which is fine by me.

To sum up  and flesh out my RVA holiday gift guide from Twitter for the first 12 days of December:

Holiday RVA gift idea #:1 Rusty’s Cream Puffs from Aziza’s on Main St. Too big to be stocking stuffers; they’re stomach stuffers instead!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #2 Dollop Desserts Nicole Lang’s treats will have recipients shouting whoopie!


Holiday RVA Gift Guide #3 Chef Bundy +3 regional chefs do 5-course James Beard Foundation Dinner at Lemaire 1/14. SOLD OUT as of 12/12.

Holiday RVA gift #4 Andy Bality James River/Huguenot Bridge print. $20 at Riverside Outfitters and Once Upon A Vine/South in Stratford Hills wine/south.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #5 Real Richmond  gift certificates. Food tour fun for all. Fairly obvious. Awfully easy. Doesn’t expire!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #6 Steve Hedberg holiday cards of his gorgeous wintry paintings– available at TaZa in Westover Hills.

in case you forgot what snow is like

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #7 Clean up your act! Not the sexiest present, but if you hate Lexus commercials, see my previous blog post. A recycling cart to love.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #8 Anything from Virginia St. Gallery in Shockoe Slip. Open 11-8 Thursday -Sat. Til 5 on Sun. Art, food etc. Great photos, small paintings, sweet and savory items.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #9 Any number of cool Richmond books and ephemera at Black Swan Books on W. Main. St. I can’t say what I bought!

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #10 Handmade items, including Terrarium ornaments, at Bizarre Mkt upstairs at Chop Suey Books in Carytown.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #11 Ben Campbell’s new book, Richmond’s Unhealed History.  Book-signing at Fountain Bookstore Dec. 21st.

Holiday RVA Gift Guide #12 Lovely and local cards of Jackson Ward scenes and spots. Available at Box Brown, 518 N. 2nd St. in Jackson Ward, right near The Hippodrome.

for the sort of husband I have from the sort of wife I am. It isn’t the sexiest present. It isn’t the most expensive. It’s not hand-made or home-cooked, but it is pretty durned thoughtful. You don’t have to go to a store to purchase it. And after you purchase it, you don’t even own it, so that’s weird. It does have wheels, but it’s not a new car–or even a motorcycle or the classic bike under the Christmas tree. Nope, so much better.  Next-day delivery, even, which surprised me at 9 a.m. the morning after I ordered it online at 9 p.m. It will be appreciated year-round, so that’s something. It is in the home improvement category. Also the we really are getting older, huh? category. There’s a lot of stuff available in that category.

Love at first sight

This recycling container on wheels from Central Virginia Waste Management Authority made the man’s day–well in advance of Christmas. I still put a bow on it. Just like those Lexus commercials that I’m fairly sure everyone hates. I don’t like being put in a hateful mood at the holidays. And now I will never be in a hateful mood because we can get rid of our crappy collection of recycling bins and roll out the barrel!

I would like to discuss traffic. Mostly my happiness at not being stuck in it today. Also how thrilling it was not to be stuck in it on Wednesday even though we left Richmond the morning before Thanksgiving and headed into the belly of the beast that is I-95 North up to Philadelphia for Turkey Day. Not a slow-down worth mentioning. One of the most efficient car trips to Philly ever. Can I talk about it some more? Can I tell you about our last minute decision to take the Harbor Tunnel through Baltimore? It really was something to see. And we didn’t have to pay for one good trip with a bad return trip.

I don’t mean to gloat, but isn’t it better than somebody whining about traffic? I’m sure Twitter is full of that. No need.

This Thanksgiving I was reminded of another one or two or three Thanksgivings I had 30 years ago when I was JYA in Dublin at University College. Our program had a group Thanksgiving for us that we young morons cooked–first time I ever picked feathers out of a bird and did anything to a turnip. Then after a bad play and a better dinner a few of us rushed from St. Stephen’s Green to catch a ferry to Liverpool from whence we took a bus to Durham and met friends of mine from college for their dorm’s version of Thanksgiving. I see squash pie and a dark room that looks like it should be in England because it was and that’s all I got. A winding road to a grocer’s. Maybe a hobbit or ghost or something. Then the next night their program had a more formal Thanksgiving for all the Americans around and we were invited and had our 3rd in a row–the first one with sherry beforehand. I see long tables covered in white tablecloths and more squash pie. It looks more like Hogwarts than it possibly could have been. I’m fairly sure Maggie Smith was nowhere to be found. Something tells me there is no way in hell that I comported myself as someone at a formal dinner at an English university should. I was dressed more for a soccer match I daresay. But that was quite a Thanksgiving trip–hitchhiking from Durham to London where we crashed at some other college friend’s flat, but not before almost losing touch with half of our traveling party and loitering around a posh hotel lobby that was to be our meeting place until it became clear we couldn’t stay there a minute longer. Somehow it all worked out. No idea how. A  fake Brit who was really an ex-pat awful American in a Jaguar had something to do with our trip at some point. And broad smiles at a bus stop in Liverpool on our way to the ferry terminal. The smiles had nothing to do with the guy in the Jag, I swear, unless it was that we’d gotten rid of him. Or perhaps the smiles were merely giddiness at the almost completion of a most successful Thanksgiving trip extravaganza.



Some used to say that my husband of many years used to look like Patrick Duffy, he of some trashy TV show I’ve forgotten, or a young Mel Gibson–before the true and complete insanity set in– for Mel. My husband’s insanity is incomplete as of yet. This Saturday, he made himself a hefty omelette and some bacon. I was having grapefruit, but was happy for a piece or two of bacon–especially when the presentation was made:


That he put the the bacon art  on the last surviving hideous Corelle ware plate his mother gave us and I’ve always hated makes it even more meaningful. But it does allow me to remind readers of the importance of eating non-poultry based meals in the run-up to Thanksgiving. Bring on the bacon!

DaVinci Does Cadiz

Zoom with a View

This summer while I was visiting Cadiz, Spain I went to Torre Tavira, the tallest point in Cadiz. It’s a tourist attraction for the views from the top of the tower and for the camera obscura guided exhibit that costs 5 euros.The 20 minute visit with the camera obscura show was entertaining and a great way to get one’s bearings.  The youtube video gives a sense of what you’re looking at. They limit the tour to 18 people at a time and run it several times a day.

Basically, using mirrors and lenses and a concave viewing area in a darkened room, we were able to see what was going on at street level and rooftop level 360 degrees around. Our guide could swivel the camera and zoom in and out and we had an amazingly clear view of the entire city. He pointed out architecture, historic spots, natural features, and people walking on the street that moment. It really had a magical feel to it. Our guide conducted the tour in several languages, which was entertaining as well. We saw a lot for just standing still.
Here in RVA, City Hall has the viewing platform already but it is woefully inadequate as a tourist site as is. With the addition of the camera obscura, a guide could tell the whole story–the then and the now of Richmond. The rapids and rocks, Native American history, Christopher Newport, colonization, Patrick Henry, Gabriel, liberty and slavery, TJ’s Capitol, Civil War, Elizabeth Van Lew, Jackson Ward, Maggie Walker, VCU, Monumental Church, CenterStage, on and on, all the way to RIR .  Zoom in on former tobacco warehouses now with pools on top, zoom in on Hollywood Cemetery. The juxtapositions could be dizzying.
Since DaVinci was one of the major forces behind the development of the camera obscura and given that VCU has a DaVinci program that brings together their engineering and art schools, I think there might be a way to get some funding from them. It could be a good way for VCU to show its creative and technical sides in a new way downtown.
It’s a remarkably simple concept–see what’s going on all around you in one place–but with the right guide and tour, there was quite a wow factor. Leading food tours walking around Richmond with Real Richmond , I see how hungry people are for cool things to do in town. People want to learn more, want it to be easy to see what the city has to offer, and don’t want to have to figure everything out on their own. This could be one-stop gawking. I don’t know what height building suits a camera obscura, the cost, or if there would be a better choice than City Hall, but I think it’s something Richmond ought to look into it, so to speak. We’ll see if the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, of which I’m a member, has any interest….

There is such a thing as seeing too much

I’m back!