Colonial Williamsburg: Week 251

A carriage ride in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Between 1699-1780, Williamsburg was not only the seat of power in Virginia but also the most influential city in all of the colonies. For strategic reasons, the capitol was moved north to Richmond towards the end of the Revolutionary War and the cultural and political importance of Williamsburg waned. It wasn’t until the 1920s that preservation work began on what was once the most important city in the US.

A man in period costume strolling the streets of Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg was so much more immersive and larger than I had imagined. It is 301 acres of restored and historically furnished buildings. On top of that, employees in period costume lead tours, tidy gardens, run auctions, and stroll down the streets.

A large two story brick house in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Within the historic district there are also period-specific shops, restaurants, gardens, and even private residences. There is no cost to stroll through the area, but an expensive day pass is needed for any tours.

A traditional garden in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The Brick House Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A garden shed in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The reconstructed capitol in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

Because it was about three-hour drive to get to Colonial Williamsburg, we arrived in the early afternoon and decided not to buy the day pass. Instead we picked up some hot coffee and enjoyed a long, ambling walk.

A door trimmed with Christmas decorations in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

It was New Year’s Eve and the traditional Christmas decorations were still up. I loved the doors outlined with real boughs of pine and the wreaths decorated with leaves, apples, oranges, pineapples, and cotton.

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

A window decorated for Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

The only thing missing in this wonderfully preserved town was snow.

A fruit-themed Christmas decoration that is located over a door: Colonial Williamsburg, VirginiaAbout: Colonial Williamsburg

Christmas at Home: Week 250


I was really looking forward to having Christmas in Manassas at my parent’s house. It had been five years since I’d been home for Christmas and the first one in which all of us ‘kids’ had moved out of the house.

The house hadn’t changed too much, but it felt different not having my brother shuffle out of the room at 2pm wrapped in a blue robe.


It was also a lot more tranquil in the morning. My sister is infamously grumpy when she wakes up for work or school.

My hair. I HATE my hair. Uggh. UGGGHHH! Why can’t I find my comb? Everything disappears in this stupid house!

It’s a bit masochistic, but I could’ve handled a few more of her guttural morning salutations.


The only thing that hadn’t really changed was my sister’s dogged love for wacky decorations. It didn’t help that she had picked up temp work at a year-round Christmas store. She took home all the broken ornaments and repaired them with hot glue and glitter.


I had helped my mom to decorate the tree, but it didn’t quite feel complete until my sister anchored a giant paper vulture to the top of the tree. Then it really felt like I was home.


Kayaking on the Occoquan: Week 183

Polaroid of Barret kayaking on the Occoquan River: Manassas, Virginia

My parents store two kayaks along the southern side of their house. One is red, the other is orange and the both of them are covered with a few days’ worth of cobwebs. It was hard to navigate them around the corner of the house and when I finally had the right angle, I bashed into a beautyberry bush. The impact caused small purple berries and a variety of spiders to scatter across the cement.

“The spiders come be back an hour after you put them away,” my Dad warned me as he stated brushing them off with his hand. “You can’t keep them away.”

He was right but I grabbed a broom anyway. I didn’t like the idea of being trapped in the middle of the river with a spider crawling up my leg. Once the kayak was swept down I plugged in the leaf blower. The nozzle blasted all the plastic crevasses and then I positioned it so that the air created a spinning vortex of debris inside the kayak. Nimble little spider bodies swept along the walls like those dizzying theme park rides that just spin and spin and spin.

When the kayaks were as spider-free as they were going to get, Barret and I carried them down to the Occoquan. The river was one of the reasons my parents bought that house. You can’t see it from the windows, but it’s only a short stroll through the patch of trees on the other side of the road.

Because it was summer, a million miniscule bugs bounced along the surface of the water, their bodies so light that their movement doesn’t even cause a ripple. As we paddled down river we saw jumping fish and turtles resting on water-logged branches. One statuesque white heron watched us approach before it suddenly burst skyward.

Colvin Run Mill: Great Falls, Virginia

Most of the homes along the river use the water for recreation. However, it wasn’t too long ago that these bodies of fresh water were important for food and transport. The Colvin Run Mill, which is 45 minutes north of my parent’s house, is a beautiful example of an early 19th century mill. The mill is still used for grinding and the nearby gift shop sells bags of cornmeal, grits, wheat and buckwheat flour.

Polaroid of flowers at Colvin Run Mill: Great Falls, Virginia

While my parent’s bend of the Occoquan is too tranquil for a watermill, it is the perfect speed for a gentle kayak ride. There is nothing better a hot summer’s day than a shady river and the rhythmic splash of a paddle breaking the water’s surface.

How to get to the Colvin Run Mill: 10017 Colvin Run Road, Great Falls VA 22066

Guest blog: Pig-Pickin’ with Penny

At the Pig-Pickin in Virginia

Blog reader Penny (aka Mom) goes into the heart of Tea Party country for a neighborhood Pig-Pickin’. While not necessary, I recommend reading this post with the voice of a BBC announcer. My mom is the only person I know that could (and has) made the question “are you in a hurry to pound some meat,” sound positively dainty.


Delicious parallels begged to be drawn between Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ theme and our October 2013 invite to a  ‘Pig-Pickin’. Most readers would recognize the presence of certain essential elements in both: the one chosen pig, the bonfire, and two opposing groups of guests, Democrats and Republicans.

But herein lies the current problem: whether to define the radical Tea Party supporters as Republican – or to acknowledge a created schism within the ranks of the Republicans, so viewing the Tea Party as a parasitic graft and independent of conventional Republican ideology. The host of ‘Pig Pickin’ was a masterful diplomat. With warmth and hospitality he negotiated his way through the gathering of incongruous persons and the hostile mud of the barbecue area.

The modern version however of the outcome was decidedly cheerful. A six day duration of falling rain failed to dampen the spirited barbecue celebration of Columbus Day. Politics was cast aside as everyone’s attention became focused on ‘Piggy’ who shared billing with boat rides, fishing, live music, a giant bonfire, hush puppies, coleslaw, beer, soda and cider. Baked beans were also on the menu. Never mind that the enormous cast iron pot in which they were warming tumbled into the fire. Scraped up and herded back into the pot the baked beans tasted … woodsy perhaps.

“In my opinion the Tea Party is not unlike the Nazis taking away the people’s freedom.” Clearly the man next to whom I was seated was not the guest who had earlier arrived in a car sprouting slogans in support of extremists running for government in Virginia. Consider one such extremist, Jackson, running for lieutenant governor who warns against yoga by asserting, “Beware of systems of spirituality which tell you to empty yourself. Satan is happy to invade the empty vacuum of your soul and possess it. That is why people serve Satan without ever knowing it or deciding to…”

I was curious about my dining companion’s comparison of the Tea Party; here was a man who’d been born and raised in Germany in the 1940s, the son of a German soldier on the front, solely acquainted with his father by having but three telephone conversations with him. I wanted to ask more. I really did. But after downing two beers I felt I could hear my mother admonishing me.

“Never discuss sex, religion or politics. And never go out without a fresh handkerchief and money in your purse.” For the most part, useless advice by present day standards. And then our table conversation shifted to safer ground: native Virginia plants and shrubs, the convenience of Dulles airport and future highway projects within the area.

The giant bonfire which was lit rapidly became a fluttery fire before extinguishing itself. A steady deluge of rain had converted the mountain of timber into an island unto itself. The Occoquan River had wrapped its watery arms around the wood, obliging the lighter of the fire to wade towards the pile with unusual hope and determination.

And yet the congenial spirit of the evening prevailed as we came together for Columbus Day. The holiday is after all not just about remembering Christopher Columbus, but about taking time to reflect upon who we are and what we can achieve together.

Fashion Advice From Mom: Week 80

“I have the most beautiful silk shirt for you,” my mother declared as she stroked the polka dotted black fabric.

“Mom, it’s a large. It’s too big.”

“No!” Then, with a tone of gentle persuasion she explained,“It’s a Ralph Lauren and it was only three dollars.”




“Stephanie. It looks stunning on you.”

“I don’t need it.”

“Fine,” my mother conceded as she put the shirt away. “I just don’t know your taste anymore.”

My mother is tenacious though. Despite frequent rejections she sends clothes in care packages, picks out items for my boyfriend, and every guest at our house leaves with heavier luggage.

It was during my last week at home, when my mother was trying to convince me to take her woolen pageboy cap back to New Zealand, that I thought: what if I just went with it? What kind of outfit could my mom really create? I had never given her that much power over my wardrobe, so I decided to throw down the gauntlet and issue a challenge: produce three complete head to toe looks using her personal styling collection. The winning look would be the one I wore for the rest of the day.

Here, in my mother’s words, are the outfits she chose for both Wellington and Manassas, VA.

Our model’s first look addresses nature; taken into consideration are weather and terrain concerns, and the suitability of the garments relating well to frolicking amongst goats in Manassas and sheep in Wellington. The model is at home in her woodland setting, and is stylishly protected from head to toe against the elements; not so the goat who unfortunately disintegrated shortly after the fashion shoot.

The second look, with a nod once again to nature begs the question: what would a young lady wear on a Tennyson’s summer’s day beside the Occoquan River? The answer lies in a light and flowing dress, mimicking the mood and colors of the river. The sunlit sparkle on the water’s surface is captured by the model’s necklace. “And by the moon the reaper weary, piling sheaves in uplands airy, listening, whispers “‘Tis the fairy Lady of Shalott.”

But even fairy models have to earn their keep. Ours must emerge from her forest dwelling, and take that long walk down the road to gainful employment. Our model looks both fashion forward and purposeful in a dynamic, darker color palette. Her hair is swept up, her shoulders and arms unexposed. She wears sensible yet feminine footwear. She is perfectly ready to do battle in a political campaign in Manassas, or to cheer on hobbits in Wellington.


As my mother said, “both cities exude an air of practicality and an affinity for nature.” Considering river nymphs and goat frolickers are an unusual sight at the post office, I picked the third choice. My mom was happy I was wearing her clothes and I was happy I didn’t look like a clown. Maybe she does know a thing or two about fashion, just don’t tell her I said that.

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