Search This Blog

Monday, May 28, 2012

Southside Ramble - warning, long and picture laden

It's well known that I'm unabashedly provincial, deeply, perhaps even ridiculously proud of being a Virginian and thoroughly rural. BD and I love to get in the car and roll on down the back roads exploring our home state, our favorite tool the DeLorme's Atlas.  I still haven't given up the dream of driving down every back road in every county in VA, although - maybe I need to limit it to counties with populations under 25,000. I'm not really interested in every cul de sac in every subdivision in Fairfax County. Besides, I like to head south and west whenever I get in a car. 

Every spring we have to clean the winter's mold and mildew off our north facing porch - a job always performed by the big guy since I'm deathly allergic to chlorine. This year I was determined to get outta Dodge while the fumes evaporated so I arranged to pick up BD once he was done and take him back to Chase City, VA - and the most magical garden I've ever visited.  A surprise decree from the county got me out of the office by 2:30 and by 3:30 we were heading west along the Caroline County route through Sparta and File and down 301 where we could take the fast roads around Richmond and head southwest.  

As we crossed the James on 288 I began to feel a pinching ache in my throat, because I almost never drive that bridge any more. This was the way I used to go to visit my parents. A year ago I was driving it all the time, visiting Daddy. It's hard to believe that it's been almost a year since he died. Most of the time I'm okay, but there are still those moments when the missing him hits hard and this was one of them. It grew even stronger as we neared the megalithic brick shopping mountain that used to be Watkins Nursery but is now called something more suburban ... Watkins Shop-a-rama or maybe Watkins Center - you know - something that would come out of a committee meeting. Anyway - the tears were pricking me by then when my truly darling Big Darling (whence BD) reached over and took my hand, squeezed it and said "Makes me think of Hank".  God I love that man!

Usually we don't get in cars on holiday weekends and usually when we go on a ramble I get to be the passenger, but this time I did most of the driving. BD was tired and I was not, plus, he is a better navigator (though I am no slouch) and he took me through places in Chesterfield I'd never heard of. Just past the Land of Brandermill on 360 we turned south onto Winterpock Road and drove right to Winterpock itself! who knew? And there was Crump's Store! Everything looked like home to me, since I grew up in this rolling piedmont  land. As soon as I climb up out of the flat fields of Essex I begin to feel like I'm going back in time. Old country stores and white farmhouses with huge hay fields and black cows dredge up all sorts of nostalgic emotions - most of them good, some of them funny. Boy do I love me some Virginia landscape!

We wove our way through beautiful undulating Amelia county, picking up Wills Road to reach a corner where Amelia, Nottoway and Dinwiddie converge along Namasine Creek.
Dinwiddie Co. is where the old Tobacco Belt begins - though tobacco was grown as far north as southern MD a generation ago. It's dying out now but there are still some farmers who know what the plant is and how to successfully coax it out of the ground. There is even a sobering and disastrous tale of our own failed attempt to grow the evil weed - but that is a story for another day. And  yes - there you see Himself - investigating one of the few tobacco fields we saw on our trip. This beautiful plant still supports some of the small towns that dot the lower tier of Virginia counties. 

 We drove about 35 mph most of the way so we could keep the windows rolled down and breathe in all the fragrances of the Virginia countryside in springtime - sweet grass, some few magnolias, the sharp tang of pine forests. All the roadsides were fringed with yarrow, daisy, mustard and roses - now and then a bit of Queen Anne's Lace and even a few Black Eyed Susans.

At the Nottoway River we crossed into Brunswick County - cooking pot of that delicious autumn offering, sold at church yard and women's auxiliary functions - Brunswick Stew. Yum! I could eat some right now - but it does taste better once the weather grows nippy. I was at the wheel and I always slow down for creeks and rivers - I frequently get out and photograph them - now and then I even get captured myself - smiling and relaxed on a warm May evening.

Since I was doing the driving, though, I didn't get all that many photographs - though - with a digital camera it was easy to snap 100 shots on this 24 hour ramble. The sky was filled with cumulus clouds, some grey with the hint of rain, but we rode the whole way dry. 

Again and again we slid down green tunnels, past white churches

over brown flowing creeks

beside long forgotten ruins.

The only real town we drove through was Alberta. There was not much business left and what was there was closed for the weekend. We saw only a few commercial buildings, faded to raw wood, and a dozen or so well kept modest homes.

We spent the night in South Hill, a substantial town in Mecklenburg, strung along old Rt 1, which, once you get well south of Richmond, is a lovely road. South Hill is also kissed by I85, where we had a room booked at a chain motel. We had dinner at the oddest oriental buffet restaurant I've ever dined in. Along with the ubiquitous oriental dishes were hushpuppies and fried pork rind. Ah well. It's a southern thing.

The next morning we continued the slide down beautiful green-tunneled, flower edged lanes, heading west. Along the Sky Line Rd I saw a girl calling to her goats, who scampered up a rise like so many hooved puppies.

As we pulled up to the intersection with Union Level Road we found this abandoned schoolhouse. Can't you just hear the whispering of little girls, the twang of a rubberband as it flies from the fingers of some naughty boy?

Expansions in the 40's and 50's accommodated the baby boomer kids who must have swelled the neighborhood.

With slow creeping wheels we pulled into Union Level itself, first to be greeted by this exquisite Victorian beauty

and then this extinct little town  (the pink 'dot' at the far end of the road is a car parked in the driveway of the previous house)
The final boarded up business was an ancient filling station where, the last time anyone bought gas, he paid ... what's this? ...

Yup. 36 cents a gallon.

We passed scenes like this time and again - white houses, green slopes, blue skies, rich fields. But we were not just poking down country roads. We had a destination!

Chase City, Virginia

A beautiful town chock-a-block full of tidy spacious southern charm  

and the most magical garden in the world.

21 years ago, BD and I took a drive across southside Virginia, heading for Danville - a place I had visited in my teens, when I played a concert at Averette College - I guess it's a university now - but I believe it was a teaching college long ago when I was young. Coming into Chase City from another back road direction we stumbled upon the MacCallum More Gardens.

Well - at first we didn't realize it was a garden. First I thought it was someone's fascinatingly decorated back yard wall - adorned with with friezes and plaques. It wasn't till we rounded the block that we realized this was more than just a yard  - and that maybe it would be open to the public.

The most wonderful circular iron gate, painted glistening white, hinted at delights within - as did a peek through one of the iron trellised windows cut through the stone.

View through a window in the wall

There was a small sign posted that said "This garden is entrusted to the care of its visitors." and that was enough for us. There was another plaque that told us about Mrs. Hudgens, who planted the garden. We went inside. Back then there was nobody else around - except a cat, who met us by the fountain and took us on a guided tour. The silence of that May day filled us with enchantment. At the time the gardens seemed a little neglected but still healthy. It was crowded with statuary and iron, its beds woven with footpaths.

The most stunning thing of all was this bronze samurai warrior-vase, exquisite in proportion and detail. Alas - I didn't get a good photo of the whole thing - but the samurai is holding the vase on top of his head. 
There were ponds with rushes, statues and frogs ... 

There was a glorious mossy lawn which I would give anything to replicate in my shady front yard.

Emperors and goddesses, all cast reproductions of famous European sculptures, constantly demanded attention. 

Of particular delight were the wrought iron and twisted metal pieces - graceful even in their decay. I would love to have tried sitting on this bench but it seemed a bit delicate and I didn't want to chance it. This crumbling wheel is the pulley of a well

For all that these beautiful gardens offered of tranquility and green beauty, there was even more to see.  Twenty one years ago it seemed a little abandoned but since then the wonderful people of Chase City have formed a NFP Corp., now called the MacCallum More Museum and Gardens, to care for both this horticultural gem and an amazing collection of Indian arrowheads, stone tools and other prehistoric artifacts collected from the area. On this visit we were given the museum tour by the president of the NPF, herself a local woman with a wealth of Chase City Lore, who made this visit as magical and fey as our original trip.

In truth - every Virginian ought to make the drive south to visit this glorious surprise, tucked into the pretty Soutside Virginia landscape. I am thinking I need to come back again some year during Garden Week. Ooooo. Bring some girlfriends. Yes. The wheels turn. Plans develop. Hmmm.

We finished up our visit around 1:30, hot and thirsty and a wee bit hungry. All I could think of was watermelon - and at the local grocery store I bought some, along with a box of plastic forks. We found a shady spot among some beautiful Victorian and Edwardian architecture and refreshed ourselves.

But it was not only in the old established parts of town that we found beauty. Down a dead end road where modest trailer homes clustered we discovered this beauty - Patricia D has landscaped her Chase City yard to perfection and put the prettiest colors right out front to share with her neighbors - and snoopy tourists like us!
But finally it was time to leave our pretty destination. I wanted to see Clarkesville too, further south and west on Buggs Island Lake. On that long ago trans-Virginia trip we had spent the night there and breakfasted at a little drugstore on the sloping hill that took you down to the lake. I remember a quilting shop next door - this was in my pre-knitting days when my tool of choice was a sewing machine and the irresistible souvenir was a length of fabric.

Of course - we missed the turnoff because now there is a hideous mega-bridge that swoops east of the town, loomingly bypassing the town with it's gentler flat bridge. I suppose it keeps the trucks out of downtown - but it's massive industrial bulk is the sort of thing I try to avoid looking at. Swept across the narrow part of the lake we curved onto Highway 15 to get back to town where, right away we were greeted with more beautiful architecture.

We really love to gaze at architecture - both private homes and the public expression of community that one sees in civic construction of the 19th century. There's never an old courthouse we aren't ready to park by, walk around, and record with film - and sometimes even pencil. Here's a beauty that can't be hidden even with modern brick and cement.

Add caption
We took the flat bridge out of Clarkesville, truly on the drive back. Of course we had a long way to go and by now, in the late afternoon, we were thinking as much about home as we were admiring the scenery.

We took 58 into Boydton, the county seat of Meckllenburg, with it's white columned courthouse complete with defending Confederate soldier 
and stunningly restored tavern. 
The trip home included a final look at Chase City before heading north east on 49 and crossing into Lunenburg County, singing John Prine's Paradise, but substituting the Virginia county for Muhlenberg.  
We were particularly charmed by the outdoor staircase on this brick courthouse. 

Once through Victoria - another well - if sketchily - remembered town we visited on that long ago trip - we continued on into Crew where I took over the driving the rest of the way home. BD guided me down new, if similar, winding, fragrant, evening brushed roads in Amelia and Powhatan counties, on up to 522 - which took us across the James and into more familiar territory. By then it was well into dinnertime and we debated taking this road through Ashland or that road to Hanover Courthouse, deciding, in the end, to take our chances with the chain restaurants along 95. But even then, the trip had one more new and lovely bit of landscape to offer - along Dunns Chapel Rd - past Dunn's Chapel in fact. Proof that you don't need to go far in Virginia to find a beautiful marriage of man's industry and mother nature. 

Home at last, we pet our dogs and showered off the stickiness to tumble into bed - with two more happy holiday days left on this Memorial Day weekend. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wrist Brace - who knew?

The brace is no hindrance to important dog petting
For months now I've been waking up with a terrible back ache. Before my first cup of coffee it'd be gone but those first few minutes of the day had been awful. In addition, the big tendon on the outside of my wrist began to ache. I use my hands a lot but I couldn't think of what I'd been doing that would cause these symptoms. It was a puzzle.

I slacked off on the knitting and even on the typing (whence the lack of blogging). I began looking at new mattresses and even - gasp - considered talking to my doctor! Finally the wrist hurt more than the back so I decided to wear a wrist brace - both day and night. And that's when it hit me. I tend to tuck my hands up beneath my chin when I'm asleep. All my joints are pretty floppy anyway so the poor wrists were being pressed one way and then the next and forced to hold those awkward positions for hours on end. I've been wearing the brace now for about 5 days and not only is the wrist decidedly better but hey - what the .....?

No more morning back ache. It went away the first morning - but I didn't notice it till yesterday. woo woo - who knew? Makes sense, of course, what with the wrist bone connected to the arm bone - and the arm nerves connected to the spinal column ... It was truly a duh! moment.

So. No knitting news - and no real news about much else. We're winding down the fiscal year at work - 6 more weeks - can you believe it! No. Neither can I. And in 4 weeks we have to have the whole summer reading program (this year expanded to include middle schoolers) ready to launch. And we're getting a new server and a rebuilt network - think Ka-Ching! as we shift from WindowsXP to whatever the new transmogrification of an OS will be - oh yes and there will be a mobile app for the catalog just in time to start thinking about a new circulation system .... It all boggles the mind. What's a poor girl to do - except plan a vacation, of course. which I shall begin doing now.

One thing that I have been up to the past month has been working out with the personal trainer at the local gym. I love that one-on-one experience with exercise and it really helps to have someone there to push you. Especially one who is your own age and prefaces every session with sincere urging for me to "tell me if it hurts". Happily, I am not of the no pain no gain school. I happen to know when what I'm doing is right for me and when it is wrong - and I do not like pain. What I do like is this tauter fitter shape I'm creating - and it is a surprise how quickly that occurs. What I do NOT like is the dietary slacking that seems so irresistibly inevitable. So. The philosophical question for this Monday is ...."Why do I slack off in one area the moment I begin paying increased attention to another?"  Is there some psychological gyroscope within that insists on keeping me Out Of Shape? Some belief that I come from the fat side of the family and by golly I am going to stay there? Hrm. Not true - so - must talk to my inner wild child. Where's my notebook......

Happy Monday to you all. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

How About Some Golden Silk?

No need to point out that this is a knitting post. And I know. It's yellow, not gold. But in the morning sunshine it had that look of gold. And no. I have not finished any of the beautiful garments hanging on needles and scattered about the house. I will get to them one day. Not today. And besides - this is not a knitting project - this is research. I am getting to know a yarn and seeing if it will do what I want it to do. What size needle it likes - what sort of fabric it creates.

So far - no surprises. Silk always knits up more easily than cotton in spite of it's surface drag and lack of elasticity. I think it's because the long fibers of silk don't need to be twisted as tightly as the short inch log bits of cotton so the yarn has much more flexibility. This makes for gentler knitting but also for droopier fabric. Thus - silk makes beautiful lace and dreadful ribbing. The surface texture will make cables and ribbed stitches pop out until you wash them - when they flatten out into mere shadows of their original crisp definition.

You already know all this? Yes. I thought so. I'm just typing this into my blog in a classic ENFP solve-your-problems-in-public behavior to remind me what this yarn will do and what it won't I don't design a garment that disappoints me later.

I intend to make a dress out of this yarn. I have about 1200 yards of it and it looks to knit up at about 5 stitches to the inch. I'm willing to make a lace skirted dress - lace makes lots of fabric out of not that much yarn. Also, I've discovered some very lovely silk fabrics that would make a gorgeous under-dress or lining. I think I'd like some fluttery cap sleeves - maybe even lace fluttery cap sleeves. The bodice will be plain, though I may try to do something that allows it to narrow in a bit towards the waist. Cables? Elastic thread knit along with it? We shall see. I can always shape it with decreases.

The lace skirt could be something really easy like feather'n'fan stitch or Old Shale or it might be only a lacy flounce at the bottom. That will depend on how much yarn there is when I get to the skirt.

Apologies for this enormous photo - I didn't realize I had the camera set so badly - I promise - next time I'll check.

And next time there will be progress shots of the pretty cotton lacy tank top. Just....not today. Today it's all about the golden yellow silk dream. Knitting projects are never so perfect as when they are in the imaginary planning stages.

Happy Friday!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Here's another fine Maryland Sheep and Wool I've missed

It's almost getting to the point where I can't even remember when I last went to MS&W.  I do remember I went with C and K. C was still working in the corporate world and she's had 2 weddings, 2 grand and moved her house hold since then - so I'm guessing it was 2009? I'll have to look at the old blog to see. What I know is that this year, at the thought of making that long drive - 6+ hours - after the past week of city dr visits with BD, evening functions and meetings - to what? add More Yarn to my world? Although I really wanted to visit with C, whom I have not seen in years - I just couldn't bring myself to get in a car again and make that round trip.

Still and all - in honor of the event I did pick up my knitting again - it has been AGES since I've knit a stitch on my lacy tank top - at least, knit a stitch I didn't soon rip out. I had reached the underarm opening and just couldn't seem to decide on how I wanted to handle the shaping. I'm bigger in the front than in the back and usually I take care of this with short rows. I tried it with this lacy pattern, though and did not like how it looked. I put the project in time-out. I picked it up again, ripped out the short rows and tried again. This time I did not divide the tank in half at the side seam but made it wider in front than in back. Then I began to worry it would never work and put the poor thing back on the shelf. Yesterday I picked it up, tried the thing on - basically it was just a wide lacy band - decided the strange division will work and began knitting away on the front slightly-more-than-half - and of course completely forgot the lace stitch, refused to look it up, knit the whole durn thing wrong with the holes on the side of each flame instead of up the center. Ripped those rows out and tried a final time and now I am very happy with the progress I've made.

I want to finish this up quickly because I have aNother idea in my little knitting math brain - a summer dress, loosely based on and inspired by the Kristy McGowan's SoHo Smocked Dress - knit in yellow silk (and I am thinking seriously of adding some yellow wooly nylon to the bodice so it won't droop out of shape) but with a different rib cage treatment - probably ribbed and then maybe smocked with sewing. And I am thinking of a lacy hem instead of a straight knit one. More about all this Later. But first I simply must finish this tank top. It's absurd to let something this easy and this small sit idle while warm weather creeps into Virginia.

Ooops. Late fer werk. Ta. Happy Monday.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

12 in 12 - my habit of choice for May

So here it is a brand new month and this time, I want to concentrate on the people around me instead of always focusing on mememememe. There are some (mostly sisters) who will say that's all I ever think about. It's not true, but maybe it seems that way. I'm not really interested in changing other people, but that's not to say I'm not interested in them. I just think there's room for lots of ways to go about things and your way is probably as good as mine. Still - I'd like to be sure I'm not so busy working on my issues that I don't actually let people know I'm interested in them too. So this month I plan to add complimenting others to my days.

Originally I was just going to do this with my staff. I really like the people who work for me - and they deserve to know it. Also - in order to compliment someone you have to look at what they're doing - and when you do you often notice strengths they have that could be used in other areas of the workplace. People get tired of doing the same thing all the time but they always love being asked to do what they do well. I need to take advantage of these strengths to enliven their day while also enriching the workplace! But there's no reason I can't do this with friends and family too. So the little tweak I'm giving my May 12 in 12 will be to compliment someone every day. 

As the year rolls around, though, and I keep adding things, it's getting a little harder to be sure I'm actually doing all of them. I tried to keep them small so that they'd become ingrained, habitual, a part of me. I also tried to choose at least some things that I already did some, but knew I would benefit if I did them all the time; things like exercise and drinking enough water or planning my tomorrow at the end of today. But now that I'm seriously trying to juggle 5 of them I need some way to keep track of how well I am doing - especially when it involves pro-actively touching others. I've decided to keep a list in my 2012 journal of every one I compliment, what the compliment was, how I made it real, not just nice, and if possible, what was the underlying good trait about the person that prompted the compliment. I certainly value the act of speaking a kind word on impulse as often as I'm prompted, but I want these to be a little deeper - to touch upon the essential goodness of a person, not just the pretty outside.

Keeping on top of some of the other things will require a bit of note taking as well. I already journal the food I eat - and have done so faithfully for 4 months. I know it's becoming a habit because on the one or two days I don't/can/t I get all antsy and cranky about it. If I forget my little Weight Watcher's food journal, I grab a scrap of paper and write down what I've been eating. I've lost about 5 lbs since Christmas. Nothing to turn cartwheels over, but down is down and that's always good. More importantly, the food journal often keeps me out of the kitchen after dinner is over - my bugaboo time when chocolate ice cream whispers to me. Yes it is a tiny low fat ice cream on a stick - something I do not intend to expunge from my life - but No. I do not need to eat 2 of them. Or 3. The little food journal is a gentle guard on the refrigerator door.

I also bought a little exercise journal I can keep in my gym bag. I've been working out with W the Personal Trainer at my gym. I love having a personal trainer. It's ... it's a little like being a kid again. Like having a parent set the bar for you and praise you when you reach it. Or, maybe not a parent - because they love you too much. More like a really good private teacher. While WthePT is friendly enough, he is not invested in me. In an impersonal, though always courteous way, his interest is in my trapezoids or my triceps - not my obedience, cooperation or agreement. He's so full of different exercises that I can't remember how to do them all between one week and the next. There's lots of demonstration and discussion about why we do what, but it's information overload. So from now on, at each session I'll make little notes of each group of exercises so I can practice during the coming days. The point is to give me an arsenal of movements and choices that work all the muscle groups so that I don't get in the habit of doing the same old routine - and my muscles can't figure out how to make those exercises easy. It's challenging and fun, but so rich I need to take notes.
As for how I'm doing with the other new habits - well -  I have probably not always been as good at drinking enough water, there are days I don't get to the gym, but I'm stronger, steadier and fitter than I was 4 months ago. Prayer has helped me over a lot of tough patches this year and I'm exploring new avenues to fulfill my spiritual hunger. So - I am making progress - and for a classic ENFP, that's all I really wanted anyway.