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He wears it well!

David Rohrer of WPA Bakery wears it well!

Julia Child didn’t become a famous cook until her 50’s. I didn’t become a t-shirt mogul until 51. There must be a book and movie and television show there somewhere. In all of the writing I’ve done, who knew that 3 words: Capital of the Confectionery, would make my day–or at least our latest Real Richmond Food Tours t-shirt. I’ve seen one disparaging remark on Twitter–from someone who mistakenly thinks the phrase is showing pride in the other phrase most associated with Richmond that makes my skin crawl every time I read a lazy travel writer’s take on our fair city. Poking fun at all of that is my favorite part of all this–not to mention showcasing (on the back) some of our favorite bakeries and sweet spots that we stop by or utilize on our tours.

We eat it up!

We eat it up!

Besides online, the shirts are available at shops and bakeries around Richmond, including Fountain Bookstore, Quirk Gallery, Pearl’s Cupcake Shoppe, Shyndigz, World of Mirth, Very Richmond and the gift shop at the Richmond Convention Center on 3rd St. Wear it with the proper amount of pride in pie and cupcakes and in Richmond for being worthy of attention for a baker’s dozen of 21st century reasons.

Just Ducky

Would that I had my ducks in a row on this first day of 2013. Came upon something I wrote in early Jan. 2002 bemoaning the lack of organization in these parts and our manic undertakings to improve this that and the other. Ducks have two advantages that we don’t–no email or paper to drown in. I think it might take some walking on water to stay afloat!

Time has flown along with those eagles I suppose. Or more likely I’m exhausted from cheering on the VCU Rams at the CAA Tournament. March isn’t about lions and lambs anymore–it’s about the Rams! It is so silly how nutty being in a cavernous place like the Coliseum with many thousands of rabid fans can make me. I am not usually a follower. Not gonna do the Macarena. But give me a V!  C! U! Go Rams Go! and I will wave my arms around and yell and give the important letters of the alphabet all I got. The Coliseum seats are old and ratty, but that doesn’t explain why I jumped out of my seat every other play during the Sunday and Monday games. The excitement (and tension) was contagious.

Not my arms

In the scheme of things basketball games don’t merit a blip anywhere important, but I have loved basketball since I was a little kid, going to hundreds of games. Most of my siblings played, I played from 4th grade through college (let us include intramurals), coached many seasons, my own children played, and way back in the day I went to my father’s alma mater’s games–Mt. St. Mary’s–in the glory days when Fred Carter was playing. We were family friends, so when he moved on to play for the Bullets (in Baltimore), 76ers, Bucks, and coach for the Bulls and other teams, I would on occasion be there, too. I am one of the few females who spent time hanging around outside NBA locker rooms and didn’t get a disease. We did eat some very late dinners after some of those games–on school nights, too! It was sometimes excruciatingly boring–NBA games go on much too long–but I am glad I got to see Walt Frazier and Earl the Pearl and Wes Unseld and Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Larry Bird and Kevin McHale and Michael Jordan and Fred play over the years. Sadly all the watching never translated into me having anything remotely close to a move. A shot, yes. But no move. As a fan, I have a damned righteous fist pump coupled with an explosive jump out of my seat. I’ve had lots of practice.

That is all well and good and old news, but the college boys are where my true fan’s heart lies. There is something about a real team. I’ve seen it all season long. They do not get down on each other. Often their opponents, even when the game is tight and could go either way, show signs of dissension and distrust. Coach Shaka Smart, who should be up for national Coach of the Year, knows how to mold the perfect team. As a pretty good bench player myself, and I mean I was better on the bench than on the floor, I really appreciate the way he, all season long, has played all his guys important minutes. That makes people buy in in a way just sitting there on the bench during a game and practicing with the real players doesn’t. Those coaches who roll over opponents and still only let their bench guys get in for meaningless seconds at the end are not my favorite. VCU is not perfect, but they behave as teammates ought. It really is a thing of beauty to see–when they make the beautiful plays–and when they don’t. I’m going to rest my fist-pump for the NCAAs now.

Who needs words when Jamie Betts’ photos from Virginia Special Olympics’ Over the Edge extreme fundraiser are here?! My second time rappelling down a 24-28-storey building, depending how  you count, just about 400 feet high, was more eventful than last year’s trip because the wind was gusting 20-30 miles an hour.

Nutzy, Kate Hall and I

Nutzy isn’t the only one who is nuts, but once you’re up on the top of the SunTrust Building in Shockoe Slip, the view is so spectacular, it’s easy to forget why you’re there.  Ostensibly it’s to raise funds and awareness of Special Olympics Virginia and the good work they do year-round. I’m all for that, but let’s face it–there are some of us who like doing  something that most people wouldn’t consider doing. As we were waiting our turns, Kate Hall, of asked if we could look over the edge before we rappelled. We were of course, tethered in, but kneeling near the lip of the building and looking down was the only thing that made my innards get all wobbly. There was no ground in sight. Even Paul Woody, who went ahead of me and who wasn’t that far gone, was out of sight. I backed away right quickly. Once it was time to do the deed, I was nervous only about making a better start than I had the year before when my quads froze and I had to sit  on my rear to push off from the building. Not my finest momemt, but there was no photographer to witness it, so why am I telling you now?

All went well this time around, and I even have the photo to prove it.

Hanging out in Richmond

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 gave a 5 minute talk last night at Midlothian Middle School to middle schoolers, their parents, teachers, and other book-loving folks, sharing the stage with much better known and accomplished writers Sheila P. Moses, Sue Corbett, Brooks Smith, Connie Lapallo, and Gigi Amateau. It was a most pleasant way to spend an evening, full of stories and inspiration. Look these other folks up and buy their books at your local bookstere. You won’t be disappointed.

I focused on the part of writing where I’m not stuck with the seat of my pants in a chair. Made me think I need to take my own advice! Here’s more or less what I said. Those Midlo folks are chomping at the bit to come into Richmond and take advantage of what it has to offer. That’s exciting to me.

Not me ziplining across the river (which would be cool, but isn't possible yet!), but a WIld in the City guest ziplining across Belle Isle Quarry. I had the pleasure of that trip another time.

I’m doing a couple of things this week that might rattle some nerves—public speaking and rappelling down a 25 storey building downtown as part of Over the Edge, a Special Olympics extreme fundraiser.  I’m doing both of those heart-pounding things this week because I’m a writer. And I feel very lucky to be doing both.

Chester Filbert in Nothing Ever Happens on My Block—one of my all-time favorite picture books– has a perpetual sneer on his face. I’ve been known to have that look, but there’s a big difference between me and Chester Filbert—he doesn’t see what’s all around him—he can’t get outside of his head—of his preconceived notions of how dull his life and his neighborhood is.

Chester says longingly, “Some places have marching bands or haunted houses, courageous hunters hunting, ferocious lions and tigers, pirates and buried treasure…” on and on..  He’s so busy wishing for what he doesn’t have that he misses what is going on right in front of his face.  Disgusted with his lot in life,  he finishes  with “But nothing ever happens on my block., and snarls, “When I grow up, I’m going to move.”

It’s easy to think our lives are dull and boring and for some stretches they are, but here’s the thing. Something is happening on everyone’s block—you have to be out there and be open to seeing it.  To be an effective writer, I need to spend some time stuck inside my head for sure—contemplating, questioning, revising, but I NEED to get outside my head and my house even more—meet people, ride horses, ask questions, rappel, go rafting, try new things, look at art, eat at cool restaurants, explore what’s around. All that feeds my writing and my life.

When I wrote Insiders’ Guide to Richmond, I was well aware that many people say nothing ever happens in Richmond a la Chester Filbert. It’s not D.C. or New York or Chicago.  It’s stuck in the past, dull and boring. Who would ever want to visit? There’s nothing to do! I’ve heard it all. And I don’t believe it!

So I drew on my experiences living here 19 years, being an outdoorsy, involved, art and history-loving, quirky and curious type and wrote an upbeat book that makes it easier to find the good stuff in our city and region.

WIth apologies to Ellen Raskin:

Some places have a free and fantastic Folk Festival along the river, –did you go?! Class IV and V whitewater you can raft through downtown, one of the 50 most beautiful buildings in the country, awesome mountain biking and multi-use trails. Some places have torchlit walks on a Slave Trail, and herons roosting along the Pipeline, a Final 4 basketball team, artsy and involved universities, a Native American village to visit, bald eagles soaring above  the James, one of the best art museums in the country that’s open every day and free!!! And will be full of MUMMIES next month, a creepy crypt under a historic church, sites related to revolutionaries you’ve heard of:  Patrick Henry and GW and  Thomas Jefferson, and sites related to ones you might not have: Gabriel, Maggie Walker, John Mitchell, John Jasper. Some places have a one night internationally-curated light exhibit INLIGHT this Friday night at Tredegar!!!!  NASCAR, recreational tree-climbing, even Mid-lothian Mines Park where 9 year olds once worked down in the shafts doing the dirty work  And that place is Richmond. (And I could go on. For another 300 pages, but I won’t! I didn’t even mention that war you might have heard about….)

Chester Filbert said “When I grow up, I’m going to move.” Once again poor Chester has it all wrong!.  Don’t wait till you grow up to move. Move NOW!  Don’t worry–I don’t want you to move away from home or away from Richmond! I mean MOVE! Don’t stay in one place! Don’t say there’s nothing to do or sit staring at computer or television screens. Get out on your block in your neighborhood, in the city and the region and be active and involved, observe and experience. Think outside the block! Be a part of the world—not apart from it.  Be a part of Richmond–not apart from it.  And if you’re in Shockoe Slip Thursday around 3:45, look up at the SunTrust building and wave!  That’s where I’ll be hanging out.

Hope to see you around town!

After signing a bunch of books and talking to the people at the event, I know I will see them around town. Cool!

It’s time to get your money’s worth from all those Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, and Final Four t-shirts you spent your money on in March and April.  Pull those babies out and take them on your next trip. They should be waltzing around every beach, every boardwalk, airport, and city sidewalk. Climb every mountain; ford every stream with one on. Take it to the streets with a bit of Richmond on your chest.

People will no longer look blankly at the VCU and think it’s Virginia Christian U or some such. Of course with the #1 Sculpture Department in the country, #1 public arts school (#4 overall), #1 Nurse Anesthetist program, Gerontology and on and on, plenty of people already knew the name and growing reputation, but now it brings more smiles to people’s faces as they remember that fun run through USC,  Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State, and Kansas–unless those people are fans of those storied programs who underestimated our guys. Then you might want to run as long as the VCU men did in the touranment.


Wear 'em out!

It’s too bad the NCAA didn’t use VCU art school grads to come up with their bball t-shirts–the NCAA tourney ones are garish and tacky–and I bought enough of them to know that.

Of course, the University of Richmond did us proud, too with its foray into the Sweet 16. Richmond should be on the map for more than just the capital of you know what. If our basketball teams keep making national news, perhaps the Weather Channel will stick us on the weather maps more often instead of leaving a void in Virginia. Don’t avoid the void, I say.

I see them on the streets–parents with their high school-aged children, couples holding hands, retirees–wandering around Shockoe Slip looking a little lost, wishing they could be on a food tour. I’m pretty sure that’s what they’re thinking. Often I see people huddled around an old interpretive sign about Gallego Mills that sits in the middle of the busy road at Canal and 10th St. The interpretation I get is that was a terrible place to place a sign you want people to read. Nothing much in their line of vision is enticing and the cars zooming by are surely not expecting pedestrians there.

walk the walk

I was once a sad Richmond tourist. When we were about to move here in the early ’90’s we met my parents downtown with a couple of hours to kill. We wanted to go for a walk with our young children. We saw some sort of historic marker for Kanawha Canal and walked across Cary St. to the concrete expanse that doesn’t even deserve the term concrete jungle. There was no there there and there was no Canal Walk yet, so it was disconcerting to say the least. 

Richmond is too fond of saying what used to be here and not good enough at telling and showing people what is here now.  Standing at the foot of the Capitol and hearing about who used to be here resonates, but standing in front of a sign that shows a building that isn’t there where a highway is doesn’t.  Hence the Real Richmond: Food Tours & More effort. 

I walk all over Richmond now. No sad tourists on our food tours. So far that’s actually true. We specialize in happy folks walking and eating and seeing the sights and sites. We have opinions–and some of them are even based on facts. Food, facts & fun.

So I was right. I really like being right. When both UR and VCU made it into the Sweet 16, I told my sister who used to work at Sports Illustrated for Kids that I thought both Chris Mooney (men’s bball coach at UR) and Shaka Smart (new Richmond deity and men’s bball coach at VCU) would say no to the twinkling lights of bigger conferences and stay in our town to build their programs.

Richmond--Crazy to Love, and I mean that in a good way!

She scoffed. Said I was naive. Maybe, but I thought these guys were a world apart from  the usual suspects in college coaching. They are no doubt ambitious and talented. But they believe they can be successful here.      Yippee. This is very good for Richmond, and not just for basketball players and fans. Bloom where you are planted works so much better when you live and work in a great climate and now both Mooney and Smart are saying this is where they want to be. For good reasons. Richmond is a town that will reward them with love and loyalty, as will their universities. And I haven’t even offered them free food tours for life–yet.  And in the A-10 and CAA conferences, now that perhaps the tournament selection committee gets that parity has arrived, they have perhaps an easier road to the NCAA tournament each year than if they took on an N.C. State or Georgia Tech in the ACC (nowhere to be seen in the Final Four this year).

Forgive my analysis.  As anyone who has watched a basketball game in the same room as my sister and I knows, we have opinions and share them.  With her vast store of knowledge and my endless store of opinions, we analyze the hell out of every game we watch when we’re not obsessively tapping our feet and fingers and jumping up and down and cussing and cheering. Must be our Catholic upbringing. My tiny, retiring grandmother (as opposed to my larger than life, oversized one) would go nuts whenever Notre Dame played.

It’s nice to be able to celebrate the good news that both Shaka Smart and Chris Mooney are staying in Richmond so soon after the disappointing defeat the other night. Welcome home!

But so much fun to watch the other night at the Grace Street Theatre as a part of VCU’s Southern Film Festival, was In This Our Life with Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, and many more. Based on Richmonder’s Ellen Glasgow’s Pulitizer Prize-winning novel, the film is a hoot to watch on the big screen with a crowd of Richmonders. 

It’s REALLY bad, so full of melodrama and a creepy uncle and horrible dialogue, close-ups of Bette Davis’s  eyes and teeth (someone should write a song about the latter), and her playing with her shoes and the funniest fire extinguisher scene ever. Lots of slow scenes with “Yes, I’ll see.”  “Of course, doctor” and then sickening ones with Bette Davis climbing all over her obese, creepy Uncle (with similarly bad teeth) tickling him and saying, “I’ll do ANYTHING you WANT!” and meaning it. If that doesn’t make you get the movie and rent a big hall and find 300  people from Richmond to watch it with you, I don’t know what will.  Richmond should have kicked Glasgow to the curb after this rather than welcome the movie premiere here. The gall that when the uncle gets sick everyone says he should go to Johns Hopkins. Quite the slap in the face to MCV!

I’m back!