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Especially when it comes at 4:50 a.m. It is clear to me that riding 102 miles on a bike today is perhaps not the best use of my time and/or buttocks.

Hope no one gets flattened today.

It’s the first Tour of Richmond and I’m on it. A different sort of tour than I usually do on a Saturday with Real Richmond–Food Tours & More. Gummy Bears and pretzels really can’t compete with what our Shockoe Bottom/Church Hill food tourists will get today from 2113, Globehopper, C’est Le Vin, Tio Pablo and Station 2. Damn. Good thing I hand-crafted trail mix for the ride last night.

Cowed by the Roads

I have had more near-death experiences in Ireland than in any other country and I’ve been there for a grand total of 4 months of my life–9 days just recently. It’s the roads and the people driving them, not the cows, that I blame. Too many beautiful things to look at just off the road. The way the light lasers through clouds and dances on the water must make people think they’re already in heaven so what’s the big deal if a car hits them or they hit a person to make it official. This cow in Doolin has a sweet spot just off the Clare Way, supposedly a walking route that puts people on narrow, winding roads where drivers are supposed to go 100 km an hour–62 mph–and often surpass that. It’s on the right side of the wall.

Four Play. Yes, it certainly can’t be at the forefront of the homophone to four play. Even the word homophone is making some people in Richmond nervous. And let’s not even talk about anything tongue-in-cheek. Earlier this summer there was the brouhaha over a fun, cheery and slightly cheeky poster that came out of the  i.e. series sponsored by the Greater Richmond Chamber: Get off in Richmond! I attended the initial session where several posters were born though I wasn’t a part of this group. It, even in its early stages, got the best response from the crowd which did not include any grumps, I might add.

The Offending Poster

Because this is Richmond, within 48 hours of a version of this going up on a billboard at 95 and 64, it came down. The innuendo was apparently not appreciated by the powers that bring down billboards in Richmond. Oy vey. Something tells me my latest idea just might get a rise out of  the same folks.

As I’ve written before, I just might be the only person who has done my made-up triathlon, Tri-RVA: I’ve rappelled the SunTrust building as part of Over the Edge Special Olympics, run the Richmond Marathon and rafted the James River through downtown. We could call it RVA Triple Play–and when the Flying Squirrels some year leave Richmond because they can’t get a new stadium built, it could be a typical, living in the past Richmond reference to the good ole days of when there was baseball here.  But that is all a moot point because now that there’s a fourth sporty addition to the scene, Martin’s Tour of Richmond, a Gran Fondo with a 102 mile option that takes cyclists from Henrico County into Richmond and then into Chesterfield, Goochland and Hanover counties on Oct. 6th.

So let’s call it RVA Four Play! I’m doing it–in public. Let’s get it on!

I just finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, with assists from her husband Steven Hoppe and daughter Camille Kingsolver. It’s the sort of book that makes me feel smug and superior compared to people who eat at McDonald’s and slovenly and inferior contrasted to the farm folks–depending on the sentence. She’s a beautiful writer and I wish I could do half of what she is somehow able to do in a year. Or perhaps I wish she would just do it for me. It’s possible I just have the wrong friends–few of whom would be all that helpful processing turkeys. It pissed me off to read that for her 50th birthday everyone brought her plants that she put in their front yard. That is a damned good idea. For my 50th birthday everyone bought me a dozen cupcakes. That was a pretty good idea, too, since I wasn’t hosting legions of friends–just a few–so I didn’t have to share so much.

I shop at farmers’ markets and have joined a food co-op to get more local produce and pastured eggs and meat and chicken. I do this and I don’t do that. I buy local and almost never darken a chain restaurant’s door. I like pulling basil out of my small kitchen garden to make pesto a few times a summer. I’m a big believer in weeding by hand, rather than by chemical and I have shrunk our lawn considerably over the years. I’ve made mozzarella twice and liked the results once. I’ve even eaten twice in one weekend at the farm-to-table restaurant Kingsolver and her husband started in Meadowview, VA, The Harvest Table. All good. I’m sure you’re tired now so I won’t tell you all the bad I’ve done–the plants I’ve killed with neglect, the plastic containers of organic spinach I’ve bought–that sort of thing.

Back to the nature

This tomato plant came from the Meadowview Farmers’ Guild General Store, adjacent to the Harvest Table. I am a neglectful gardener and as I sow so shall I reap. And perhaps weep. I want the plants to be independent. I think they should tie themselves to posts as they grow. Figure it out. Water themselves. That sort of thing. Forgive me, Mother Nature, for I have sinned. But I also bought a Twin Oaks hammock at the General Store, so somehow that works out so that I can feel smug and superior and supportive of the local little guys while I nap in the shade. I haven’t made my hammock, but I can still lie in it. Living la vida loca…

Why are tiny things so appealing? Miniaturized things? In the case of dollhouses, it can only be that one doesn’t have to clean the toilets. In the case of this display from Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County, MD, where I grew up (and pretty much the best thing in Montgomery County), it must be that there are no weeds that need pulling or no deer chomping on the azaleas.

Tiny is about control. If my garden consisted of a potted plant, I might be able to deal with it. Perhaps that is why writing picture books and poems for children appeal to me more than longer forms.

Image

Sometimes it’s hard to see that I’m making  headway in a given area of life. It could be my tendency to weed 62% of the weeds in one spot of my yard, meaning to get back to it to get the rest before they go to seed and undo any of the % I just took care of, but then something else gets my attention and it’s weeks before I return to see that I was 100% dumb not to finish the task the first time around.

Painting on Wood by Cris Pool Wise

A couple of Pileated woodpeckers have been visiting my house and yard frequently–occasionally at full tilt–as was the case last week when we all heard a terrific BAM that could only mean a big damned bird had just hurt itself somewhere. We were shocked to see a dazed and dopey-looking Pileated woodpecker wobbling around in some bushes under a set of living room windows. Its pal was freaking out nearby as was I a little, wondering what I was going to have to do with this bird. Thankfully, in a few minutes, it had hopped over to a small tree and was more or less recovered. That had to be one big headache, though.

Later my husband and I watched as one of the woodpeckers went nuts on our oak tree stump that’s carved into a throne of sorts out front. It was making headway, quite literally, chipping away at something that a few years ago seemed as solid as stone. More than one chainsaw gave its life for the cause of my throne. I should probably go sit in it and ponder where I next should make headway, what else I should bang my head against, before the woodpeckers reduce it to a pile of mulch.

Mais non, je ne pas cuss all that much in writing. In speaking–that’s another thing. My roommate in college did not approve of my cussing though it was tame, very tame. I truly learned to cuss when I taught at a Catholic boys school right out of college. And no, cursing is not the right word. Too prim. Anyway, nothing like being one of the few females who wasn’t a nun or obese in a school of hundreds of males to turn one into an expert on Anglo-Saxon phrases. I believe I kept my cool around the boys, but nowhere else. The administrators were every bit as annoying. Of course I cleaned up my coarseness once I had children and haven’t really gone back to serious cussing since. I certainly don’t like hearing blue streaks come out of people’s mouths when I’m in public. The other day as I was leading a tour on Brown’s Island and in no one’s way whatsoever, some runner ran close to our group and let rip with “motherfucking something” seemingly directed at us. It wasn’t even Mothers’ Day. Not nice. But every once in a while, those sorts of words are just the right thing and make me laugh out loud–always a good thing for words to do.

It seemed appropriate that just as I’m barely keeping up with my blog and certainly not doing Tumblr and being exceptionally lame on Pinterest and ignoring Google+ and tiring of Facebook and even Twitter though they sure are handy for the food tour biz, I share this little gem:

Fuck You and Your Blog Journal

Darned right!

Going to be showing off Richmond’s riverfront (even that phrase seems almost funny as I write it–Richmond hasn’t had a riverfront so much as a river in the backyard) with Off the Eatin’ Path: Richmond’s Riverfront starting this Sunday, May 6th at noon. We’ll start in Shockoe Slip and wander around the canals and Brown’s Island and wind up at Canal Bistro at Off the Hookah for lunch. 1.5-2 hours of art, architecture, adventure and me blabbing in between bites! The RVA Street Art Festival sure spiced up one section of our route with the fun (and possibly ephemeral if a buyer buys the Hydroelectric Plant and wants them removed) multiple murals that live there now. Get down there to see them one way or another, please!

see what's behind the scaffolding...

You know I’ll season the tour with lots of James River Park System info, ways to get out and enjoy the river and the creatures who frequent it–not all of them fitness-crazed people yelling “Hoo-rah!”–and several lesser known historical tidbits. It should be a relaxing yet exhilarating tour. The high school group who were my guinea pigs for this tour in March said I saved their lives by taking them on the tour. I don’t recall pulling any of them out of the rapids, but maybe I was so engrossed by RVA’s riches that I didn’t notice that part of the tour….

All Aboard!

On our typical food tours, I push the river as worthy of a visit all sorts of ways. I’m glad that on this route the James will get to speak for itself.

a flood of interest in the James these days...

I have been to the mountains and I didn’t want to leave. No cell phone coverage. No internet. Sky–lots of it. Also more maple syrup than I technically needed, but that’s Highland County’s thing, so can’t really argue with it. It won’t make me popular at Monterey’s doughnut-selling shack, but I just think maple-glazed doughnuts are a bad idea. Maple-glazed chicken I could get behind–and my mouth in front of, and maple syrup on buckwheat pancakes tasted as maple trees intended in their infinite wisdom. The folks who still make the syrup the old way are a different sort than most Americans. Spend time outside. Touch trees. Wonder if bears might wake up too soon and cause some trouble at the sugar shack. That sort of thing. The early summery weather made it tough on syrup production this year, FYI.

Ahhhh

During my two night visit last month during the Maple Festival, I was able to come up with t-shirt slogans that will make someone other than me not the least bit rich, tour several sugar camps, stare at countless gorgeous views with sun and shadow and mountains and meadows playing so well together-almost as well as maple syrup and Jack Daniels purportedly get along over ice. Perhaps the highlight was having wine and cheese alongside a rushing creek with some friends. For the rest of the story, you’ll have to read whatever else it is that I wrote in a travel piece for the May issue of Richmond Magazine.

With the passing of dear Mary Shumate, who lived and loved the house and yard I’ve lived in 16 years, I’ve been appreciating her handiwork with a sharper eye. She and her dear husband Stuart built this house and fashioned this yard starting in 1955.

Mary's garden still grows.

It helps that the lamium and azaleas and vinca and phlox and dogwoods are all blooming exuberantly, and that I finished clearing the paths she and Stuart laid out and lined with cobbles decades ago and lined them with pine straw the past week. I tell myself it doesn’t much matter what’s going on on either side of the path as long as it looks well-tended. It’s not true, I know, but thank goodness the phlox are bobbing along here and there to take one’s eye off the ivy explosion. If it is a sin to plant English Ivy, that’s on her, God–not me! She just kept it under control better than I do. I’ll take the heat for that.

A good path to follow

During the service for her yesterday, her own exuberance was still quite evident since she had planned it–so many references to the natural world: For the Beauty of the Earth and Let All Things Now Living made me smile–which doesn’t often happen to me in church. And then there was the particularly well chosen Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

All that she planted and plucked, all those stones she lugged up from the creek, all the banks she built up, all the times she made her kids and grandchildren hate the gully (since she made them weed it for 5 cents a bushel, I heard yesterday! I offered them a quarter), and all the love of beauty she shared–they’re all evident right outside my window. And I am so grateful to be able to see her hand and eye at work still–even if I can’t keep the yard up to her standards.

Not sure she was much for keeping silence, but it was so much fun to listen to her that I think she was the exception to that rule. I’m happy to hear her voice in my head through the seasons.

I’m back!

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