Mary and I have been friends for nearly 10 years. We met our junior year of high school, attended college together, and were roommates for a year and a half. She came up to visit last month, so naturally we went to Skyline Drive. It’s one of the most impressive parts of this state and I’m lucky to live so close to it. I especially love the foggy haze and flash storms that visit the mountains in summertime. It’s like exploring a primordial rain forest.
We roadtripped to Harrisonburg with my friend, Taylor, to take part in the Valley Fourth festivities this afternoon. Amusements included art booths, a couple food trucks, a BBQ competition, giant cups of lemonade, and bluegrass music by the Hackensaw Boys. We ate Polish cabbage and noodles for lunch, stopped into the Artful Dodger for drinks, participated in the People’s Choice voting portion of the BBQ competition, and chatted up Bruce Rosenwasser of Wildwood Design. The weather was pleasant, the journey was scenic, and the festival was fun. Virginia’s full of pleasant mountain towns with scenic downtown streets.
I took Friday off and we spent the long weekend in Baltimore. Aunt Kathy (Daniel’s great aunt) and her husband housed 6 guests in their townhouse. We slept in the living room on an air mattress and couch, respectively.
On Friday, Daniel, his mom, and I ate at the Bel-Loc Diner, his Pop-Pop’s favorite after-shift haunt during his days as a Baltimore police officer. We had the thrill of watching a car smoke and burn from the restaurant window before firefighters arrived to spray it out. Then we headed into the city to peruse the Maryland Historical Society exhibits, which included a 3-D slideshow of Civil War images originally meant to be viewed on the stereoscope. It was stirring to see fields laid out with bodies of American dead in three dimensions, as if you were standing on the field yourself. A substantial portion of the family went out to hear a friend’s band at a local bar Friday night, reminiscing on the outside deck when it got too hot to stay inside.
On Saturday, Daniel reunited with his long lost child-hood cousin/best friend, Dustin. He ate breakfast with the eight of us staying at Aunt Kathy’s, then we headed to a movie later in the day before meeting up with 30 or so family members for Uncle Paul’s marriage celebration on the deck of their house situated along Middle River. We listened to live music courtesy of various family members; ate delicious, homecooked food, including awesome bbq ribs; sat on the pier as the sun went down; shared stories about our lives and the collective life of the family; ate some cake; and played with sparklers until night fell (you could just make out one of the dippers in the night sky).
On Sunday, we slept in, drank coffee in the back yard, ate blueberry pancakes, and prepared for a Maryland tradition: eating steamed crabs encrusted with Old Bay seasoning. After I peeled and cracked my way through the second crab, one of Daniel’s relatives told me I passed the crab test, a sacred family tradition. I’m officially accepted by the Nizer clan (but really, I think I already was).
Sometimes you leave town anticipating joy and come back empty-handed. This time around, though, my heart is full. Things weren’t (aren’t) perfect, but family (even ones you’re not related to) is special. And maybe the fact that I’m not related is what made this visit feel lighter. I had a beautiful time getting to know people; observing family reunions, discussions, and arguments; and sitting out by the Middle River for hours, just breathing the moment in with the cool, humid air.
Daniel and I went on an awesome, two day Spring Break trip last Thursday and Friday. It’s amazing to me that we can visit several historically and culturally significant locations in less than two hours via car. When we lived in Tallahassee, it took almost 3 hours to get to Jacksonville with only small towns and forest in between.
We spent Thursday in Richmond. Our itinerary was as follows:
- Hollywood Cemetery – final resting place of two presidents, James Monroe and John Tyler (and president of the confederacy, Jefferson Davis). It has a great view of downtown Richmond.
- Stella’s Restaurant – really delicious Greek food in a contemporary atmosphere.
- Carytown – full of students, vintage and consignment shops, and other cool local businesses. I perused many racks of great vintage dresses.
- Virginia Museum of Fine Art – features an extensive collection of art nouveau and art deco stained glass and furniture (we love that stuff), as well as works of art from all eras from all over the world. There’s also a a terrifying statue of a woman that looks so realistic I refused to get too close. I bought a postcard of Georges de Feure’s stained glass window.
- Heritage Restaurant – We shared the charcuterie platter, then I ate some pork belly, Asian barbecue style.