Monday, September 27, 2010

Proud Mary

It was Parent's Weekend at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia this past weekend and, like the devoted parents that we are, we went happily down to visit our son Kevin, now in his second year at this historic and beautifully landscaped liberal arts university no longer tucked quietly away in this famous colonial and Civil War town just north of Richmond, but rightfully claiming its place, according to many college review magazines, books and surveys, among the best public universities in the country.

The campus is expanding and growing, boldly into the future, in spite of today's economy while confidently honoring it's historical heritage as one of Virginia's oldest public, and since 1970, coeducational, state universities.  The new buildings are modern yet sympathetic to the existing ones that have stood on this campus since it's founding in 1908, originally as a college for women.  Today, the splendor and grandeur of this school is not in its size of not quite 5000 students, but in the attention to detail and history here that contributes to the quality of education and the serene beauty of this pedestrian campus.

This makes us very glad indeed because, as we all know, a college education, especially in this day and age, is not easy on the bank account.  So, if you are going to send your child to college, you might as well send him to one that's easy on the eyes.  Okay, so that isn't why we sent him to The University of Mary Washington which is gaining the reputation as a school that provides "an Ivy League education at a state university price."  Actually, Kevin chose it himself and although I'm sure he understands the value of the education he is getting here, I'm not so sure he fully appreciates the Georgian architecture and Jeffersonian influence exuding from the brick lined walkways and boxwood gardens to the neoclassical columns and archways right down to the location of the campus itself, on the edge of an area called Mayre's Heights.  The Battle of Fredericksburg took place here in 1862, right in front of the mansion which now houses the university's President.

Two years ago, when we first visited UMW, part of the Rinek pre-college circuit tour, we were pleasantly surprised to find grand old magnolias, dogwoods, box woods, evergreens and more, all gracing this campus, intertwined among the buildings and common areas.  Both Peter and I, having grown up in the Midwest, are Big Ten Graduates from schools so large and vast, even 30 years ago, they encompassed the towns they were attached to so, walking through a campus that is strictly a campus truly something to behold.

A Landscape Architect by trade, Peter fawned over all of the specimen plantings, thoughtfully placed walkways, fountains and statues and neatly clipped trees and bushes.  I think if he could have justified it, he would have enrolled himself, right then and there, as a beginning freshman.  However, I quickly reminded him that someone had to show up to work, and collect a regular paycheck that would pay for Kevin's education.  (It's Kevin's turn now, Dear.  You did the right thing.  We had our turn at college, albeit long ago, and that was good, too.)  Snapped back into reality, he glumly agreed, put on his game face, and started talking up UMW to Kevin, who I think had already made up his mind to go there anyway, each time we toured another school. 
In the two plus years since we first walked on to that campus, Peter has resigned himself happily to being a UMW Dad always insisting that we walk the campus from end to end--about 15 minutes one way--and take in the sights of this Virginia gem of a school.  Once, last year while walking through the campus, Peter discovered poison ivy dangling from a tree in a manner that anyone not familiar with this vine could easily brush up against.  He emailed the University Maintenance Department the next day and received notification back, almost immediately, thanking him for bringing it to their attention and that they had taken care of the problem.  Thus strengthening Peter's ongoing love affair with UMW! 

Kevin just sighs to himself and, thankfully, humors his parents who often play tourist and ask him to pose just about everywhere around the place.  In fact, last fall, to Kevin's mortification, Peter and I spent some time collecting fallen magnolia seed pods in order to make handmade gifts and crafts from nature.  The magnolia trees had some of the biggest seed pods that I had ever seen and I could not let an opportunity like that pass me by...until the campus police drove by and inquired as to what Peter and I were doing...sigh.

The University of Mary Washington is named for our country's first president's mother, a strong individual in her own right and the town itself, having weathered the tests of time, is quaint and historic.  In fact, before 1970, UMW was known as the University of Virginia for Women and was affiliated with UVA but became it's own entity in 1972.  This past year, I met a women in her late 70's who proudly told me she graduated from the University of Virginia over 70 years ago and I said that my son is now going to UMW and how much we liked the school, too.  She, in all of her wisdom, mirth and denial promptly corrected me and said that SHE graduated from the University of Virginia!...Okayyyyy, whatever! 
I did detect a note of frustration from Kevin, however, this past weekend as we asked him to stand under the centuries old Linden tree, said to be the oldest tree on campus and situated next to the President's Mansion, for yet another picture.  "You know," he said turning to me, "I think you've taken more pictures of me on this campus than you ever took of me playing all of those years of baseball while I was growing up."  Admittedly, that may be true.  But, how can you compare the beauty of a baseball field to the beauty of an historic arboretum-like college campus...I ask you?!  And, by the way, we have plenty of pictures of Kevin playing baseball along with every other sport that came along since he, after all, is our pride and joy.
In any case, if you are driving through Fredericksburg and find yourself with nothing to do, or if you are on your own pre-college circuit tour, I heartily recommend visiting The University of Mary Washington. During the past couple of years, we have also visited numerous museums and homes very close to the campus, most of which at one time or another, belonged to various members of George Washington's family here in Fredericksburg and their plantings and landscapes are just as beautiful as UMW's Campus.  
I  also happen to know a student on campus at UMW who will be happy to stand and pose for a picture along with you and your own college-bound child.  And, by the way, I do have a picture (or two) from last year of that same student playing baseball here, as a matter of fact.  Hmmmmmm, it looks like a nicely clipped lawn and pretty good pitcher's mound, too.  Don't you think?!?

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Very "Fair" Weekend

If you happened to be rambling down country roads in far Western Loudoun County this past weekend, chances are you may have meandered by the Bluemont Fair and could not resist stopping to take in the sights and sounds of this historic and beautiful village. Crystal blue skies, soft breezes, bright sunshine, country music, cotton candy, lemonade, llamas and lots of home-style cookin' coupled with beautiful crafts and an old-fashioned flea market added up to a perfect day in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  At least, that's how I enjoyed my weekend.

As a vendor at the fair, selling my home-grown lavender and everlastings from the garden, Peter's eucalyptus wreaths and folk art paintings of Loudoun Towns as well as many other crafts, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, once again, seeing my neighbors and meeting new friends who all have an interest in preserving this country way of life while living in a fast-paced modern world.  Above is a picture of my booth just before the fair opened on Saturday morning--colorful yet peaceful and everything made with love and care. I thought it was one of the prettiest booths we've ever set up.

Along with our Blooming Hill Craft Booth, Peter was ambitious enough to man a second one selling some antiques and garden statuary at the other end of town where he could watch the passersby wander through a farm market, petting zoo and antique cars and tractors.  Everyone was just a bit laid back, even if they didn't stop for the wine tastings.  They were just having a good time. 

Peter's booth neighbor, Joan, who I know through my Night Bloomers Garden Club, brought cookies to share with him on Sunday, which made his weekend all the more sweeter.  He has all of the luck...

As for me, well, my friend Tammy acquainted herself with running a craft booth by bringing some of her own very sweet and intricately made little handbags to sell at my booth.  Even though this was her first time as a craft vendor, she was also a seasoned professional at meeting and greeting customers and selling the purses she has put her heart and soul into.  I think, between the two of us, we probably new at least half of the fair visitors--helps to be a local around here.  The other half became our friends by the time they left the Blooming Hill booth.  I always love hearing from the people who come into the booth, how they were drawn in by the scent of lavender, mint, eucalyptus, lemon and rose.  One french woman told me how the sight of lavender and it's aroma in my booth reminded her of her childhood in Provence and the home where her parents still live.  What a wonderful compliment.  She made me feel a little homesick for Provence as well and I haven't even been there...yet!  Note to self...tell Peter that we are going!...sometime soon, I hope.

And then there was Peter's picture of this beautiful town of Bluemont, Virginia which was a highlight in both of our booths this past weekend.  I think it attracted as many fair visitors into our booths as the lovely lavender and the showy eucalyptus wreaths.  It depicts 28 historic homes and buildings throughout the village including period horse carriages and even a country wedding.  Village old-timers and new transplants all came to ooohhhh and aaaahhh over his glimpse of Americana.

Bluemont is situated on a narrow and winding road that climbs up through a mountain pass which opens up to a vista of rolling hills and valleys that once led settlers to the west. Later, it was known as a resort town for busy Washingtonians during  the Victorian era.  I think, in many ways neighbors and visitors, alike, would tell you Bluemont is still a bit of a resort to live in.  And, on the third weekend, each September for forty-one years now, people come to visit here, where neighbors meet neighbors and even the strangers are friendly and the sun shines down on this quaint little town.

Monday, September 13, 2010

36th Annual Orange Street Fair

It was another busy fair weekend for Peter and me as we traveled down country roads, with the rolling vistas of the Blue Ridge, off to the west of us all of the way to the historic town of Orange, Virginia where we set up our garden wares and crafts to sell at the 36th Annual Orange Street Fair. Packed with history, I thought this lovely, old farming and railroad town would have a better story for how the name Orange came about but, not really.  According to Wikipedia, Orange was founded in the 1700's and named after William lll of Orange, a British King, way back when...

This quaint farming town sits among the rolling Virginia countryside and has welcomed visitors for more than a few centuries now, yet it reminds me of a town that is steadfastly holding on to its mid-20th Century character and charm.  Residents and visitors, alike, came out to honor the somber anniversary of this historic day in American History, September 11, as well as celebrate the beginning of the fall harvest that area farmers are preparing for in the days to come. The weather was glorious and marked the beginning stages of autumnal color--perfect for a fall street festival!

Municipal organizations, Orange County High School groups and charities from the American Legion to the local chapter of  Hospice were out to make their presence known along with many different craft and food vendors.  Somewhere around 10,000 fair patrons made their way down the street meandering through booths and antique shops and looking for a special find. I think most of them had an ice cream cone in their hand while taking in the sights of the day.

As for Peter and me, well, we too busy to look around much and the day went fast. By 5pm, we were tired but happy as we had made many new friends who live in this lovely town and stopped by to peruse our booth and take a gander at our tiny gurgling fountain, among other things.  Both dogs and children took turns dipping their tongues and hands into the cool water while mothers picked out bundles of be-ribboned lavender, plump pomanders, pretty pictures and wonderful wreaths.  At one point both Peter and a woman rushed to stop a toddler from taking a drink himself from the fountain after watching an affable Golden Retriever take his turn.  How I wish I had a picture of that!  Everyone who stepped under our canopy told us how they cold smell the intertwined fragrance of lavender, rose, mint and eucalyptus from far down the street, setting them on their path into Blooming Hill's Booth.  How perfectly delightful!

Scented geraniums and rosemary plants along with Swedish Ivy's were big sellers at the fair.  Thank goodness I planned ahead and made several cuttings of these to have at future fairs as they are wonderful plants to bring inside to grace a sunny window or table during the winter months.  Our booth matched the sunny colors of the late summer season and encouraged visitors to linger.
It was a wonderful day to spend in this lovely and friendly town where everything seemed to be, as my mother-in-law, Lynn would say, "In apple pie order." As we drove away, just after 6pm, the rain clouds began to gather, and hopefully, Orange, Virginia  received some much needed rain as we did also here in Philomont late into the evening, long after we returned home.  We'll be going back again next year to be in the Orange Street Fair and perhaps, even sooner than next September.  The surrounding area is full of history and lore from American Indians and the Civil War to American Presidents and colonial mansions.  It's certainly a Virginia town to see.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Colorful Country Road Blend

My early morning walks with Tucker afford me time to gather my thoughts and take stock in the day ahead as well as consider the bounty of the local countryside. I am so blessed to breathe in the peace and harmony that these unpaved roads have to offer--from neighbors driving slowly by and stopping, just for a moment, to share their latest news, to watching the seasonal colors change, everyday, from dusty shades of burnished browns and silver grays to newborn pinks and chartreuse greens and later to majentas, yellows and mossy greens that finally give way to autumn's rich golds, hunter greens and bronzes before turning, once again to silver grays and burnished browns. 

Here, we find ourselves in the bright to muted transitional phase from summer to fall.  These days, even with little rain having been in the forecast, Mother Nature's colors have been more subtle but no less beautiful.  The warmth of the sun and the moisture in the air have created a lively blend of late summer settings that are too lovely to pass by.

Roadside vignettes of  bountiful nuts, acorns and pine cones tucked under the first of the freshly fallen leaves rest along the pathways and beckon me to gather some of these seeds for my own autumnal blend of potpourri.  Everyday lately, Tucker and I spy squirrels busily gathering perfect pine cones along with green-tinged acorns and rough-hewn hickory nuts.  Their pace at collecting seems frantic--maybe they know something the weather forecasters don't and this hottest of hot summers will end sooner than we think.  There is still plenty of natural treasure for the local wildlife and me to share and, I think, still plenty of time before the first hint of the colder weather makes it's "Fall Debut" here in Philomont. .  But that doesn't seem to stop the squirrels from stock piling their caches of acorns and nuts.   Thank goodness for the sheer abundance of them as well  magnolia pods and rose hips, wild mint and scented geraniums. All wonderful ingredients for my country road potpourri.

Oh-ohh...those sweet-faced "Devil Deer" are cautiously making their way back into my view, eying some of the same things the squirrels and I are both already vying for.  Ahh, those cunning "Devil Deer."  I have no intentions of sharing with them my country road potpourri.  They'll just have to collect their own mix of magical magnolia pods, "piney" seeds and fragrant rose hips, preferably on another person's property but, I don't think I'll be that lucky.  Just to be on the safe side, I think I'll stash my autumnal blend, while I'm jazzing up the colors and mixing up the textures, in the garage where the "Devil Deer," around here, still fear to tread...
I'm combining these blissful little nuggets from Mother Nature to create my own "Colorful Country Road Blend" to highlight and brighten my indoor tables with the shine that seems to accent  golden autumn days and pay homage to this glorious late summer season...

I've spray-painted baby pine cones from Hemlock trees, star magnolia pods, hickory nuts and acorns then added them to fuzzy pussy willow catkins, dip-dyed eucalyptus leaves and even added some orange brushed pumpkin-like spindle berries mixed in with aromatic Wild Mountain Mint leaves and Lemon Balm leaves for a fragrant forestry experience.

Then I started layering each group of cones and nuts and leaves one on top of the other and my "Colorful Country Road Blend" started taking shape as I began to tweak the color and fine-tune the texture with each additional handful.

All of it came to together in a whimsical combination of Autumn shine that looks enchanting set in a pretty bowl on a bedside table or complimenting a favorite stack of vintage books that lay on the living room coffee table. Bronze intertwined with silver and gold, complimented with mossy green and deep red, showing off the minty-sage green of dried and scented leaves with a pop of orange for cheerfulness.  I love the way it turned out.

Subtle hints of pine and lemon, mint and eucalyptus will blend with and freshen a favorite potpourri or it can stand all by itself, looking pretty as a picture and smelling fresh, like a crisp Fall day in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  Close your eyes and are on a country road with a friendly black lab named Tucker, trotting at your side, to keep you company...I'm already there!