Poking Around Pine Camp

fence made of tree limbs in the woods at Pine Camp in Richmond's Northside

At the suggestion of my friend Ross, I headed north to Pine Camp this morning to ride some really light, non-technical trails through the woods. I don’t typically ride single track or any sort of mountain biking (I’m more of a party pace, chill rider), but I do enjoy pointing my wheels off road and into nature. The weather was gorgeous, and I only got ensnared by thorns once, so I call it a win!

"Lolly the Bear" - sculpture made from scrap metal near a trail entrance at Pine Camp in Richmond's Northside

Fog Hunting

a small island surrounded by fog in the middle of the James river with the US-1 bridge in the background.

Today was pretty foggy in Richmond in advance of some rain, so I did what many photographers do and headed out with my camera. I got a late start, though, so most of it was cleared around my neighborhood by the time I hit the bike. So I headed south toward the James River where I was rewarded with an entire river of fog!

people and bikes cross the T. Tyler Potterfield Bridge in the middle of morning fog

The T. Tyler Potterfield bridge gave me the perfect vantage point for some exciting views up and down the river. I would have loved some foggy scenery in a few more places, but I’ll take what I can get these days.

the Richmond city skyline above the foggy James River
old rail bridge piers robed in fog in the James River with the Manchester Bridge behind it
the T. Tyler Potterfield bridge extends into the fog toward the southern bank of the James River.

And That’s Why it Really Hurts

So after a few years of pandemic and all attendant precaution, I let my guard down in a predictable way with predictable results. My office had their holiday party on the 15th, and I attended without a mask, including a tightly-packed after party where everybody had to yell to be heard. And yesterday on the 23rd I tested positive for COVID. My family was planning to visit my mom and grandmother today for Christmas Eve (this, before the extreme cold front knocked out their power for most of the day, threatening those plans anyway), and I wanted to be careful; my grandma is in her 80s, and my mom has had some chronic respiratory issues. So I took a test – the first one of many prior tests to clearly indicate a positive result.

I’m pretty lucky. I’ve had every vaccination and booster I could including more recent bivalent booster. I believe this is a major contributing factor to the mildness of my case. My symptoms feel more like an upper nasal sort of cold with a bit of sinus pressure, clear runny nose, and very faint headache. No fever whatsoever. I can still taste and smell everything just fine.

HOWEVER.

Because my nuclear family has generally been (and generally remains) pretty careful about COVID, I’m now isolating in my room through Tuesday. That means I’ve been up here all day today on Christmas Eve. That means tonight I’ll be crying at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life all alone, watching it on my iPad, sitting in my bed. That means tomorrow I’ll be watching my kids unwrap their gifts on Christmas morning via FaceTime call with my wife downstairs.

I know how I got here, and I know my own part in it. But it still sucks.

New Old family

Through some combination of various folks using consumer genetic testing and genealogy research websites, my family found out that my maternal grandma has a half sister that’s not quite a year older than her. This past Saturday, my family was visiting my mom and grandma on a day that coincided with my Uncle Scott visiting from New Jersey, and this newfound great aunt visiting along with her daughter (who is around my own mom’s age), my first cousin, once removed.

My mom and her brothers, along with my grandma, had already spoken to them several times over the phone and were excited for this visit, and I was pretty excited to meet them, too. Sure, I’m still on-balance an optimist, so I recognize what may be inherent awkwardness in this sort of first encounter. But my new relatives are wonderful. Truly wonderful. My grandma, the oldest of four (and the only gal) in her household growing up, is thrilled to find that she has a sister. It’s already a celebratory time of year, and we were already happy to visit family close to the holidays for a get-together. Meeting up with new family and having a terrific time learning about each other and sharing some laughs was the most unexpected extra gift.

Miracle on Cary

"Miracle on Cary" sign hanging beside the front door of The Jasper in Carytown, Richmond, VA

Last night I waited in line for 30 minutes to get into “Miracle on Cary”, a Christmas-themed pop-up bar hosted at The Jasper (and other participating bars around the world) for the past few years. Because I am An Old who has kids that can’t stay home alone, my wife and I have heretofore been unable to experience this seasonal event at our favorite bar. But with some of Valerie’s recent out of town travels, she let me have a night to myself which finally gave me the opportunity.

The entire bar was positively dripping with decoration from the ceiling to the floor, and I could not have captured it all unless I’d taken 100 photos, but I did at least get a few fun shots of my beverages and other stuff around The Jasper. The drink menu for Miracle is, frustratingly, an image instead of text. Rather than link to something inaccessible I’ll at least provide the description of each cocktail I enjoyed. But first, some of the decor!

Santa’s Tipsy Village

A view of the Jasper interior with ribbons tied around light fixtures, bows covering the wall above the bar, garland hanging from various places, and Santa's lower body hanging through the ceiling as if he’d fallen through
Photos of children crying with Santa Claus covered the underside of the bar
Even the bathroom was decorated with festive wrapping paper, garland, lighted candy canes, and a glowing snowman

Like I said, dripping with decoration. There was a TV at the far end of the bar playing Christmas movies (Elf was playing during my visit), and there were little nooks of classic Christmas movie paraphernalia all over, from the Griswolds’ hockey jerseys to Ralphie’s air rifle wrapped in lights (and lights extending from the barrel as if shooting). This kitschy, nostalgia-laden decor would put even the Grinch in a holiday frame of mind.

But I didn’t just go for the decoration! This is The Jasper, to me the best bar in town, so I wanted some of these holiday drinks. The menu appears to be standardized across participating locations, but not to the level of specific brands of spirits (at least as printed on the menus). I imagine this allows for participating bars to use whatever is available to them in a given category (e.g. whatever Trinidad rum they have/can get), but it also, theoretically, provides a bit of latitude for those bars to interpret the menu how they see fit. Anyway, what did I drink?

The Christmas Spirit(s)

My first drink served in a ceramic barrel-shaped mug decorated with candy canes and holly, and the words, "Fa la la la la". A cocktail umbrella sits atop the cup

My first drink was the Holiday Spiked Chai which, according to the menu, contained:

  • brandy
  • Jamaican overproof rum
  • coffee liqueur
  • amaretto
  • chai
  • almond milk
  • egg white
  • tiki bitters
  • grated nutmeg as a garnish

All of this was served on ice in the adorable barrel-shaped mug in the photo above. It was delicious, and a bit too easy to drink. Great texture from the egg white, and despite the presence of coffee liqueur, the drink really did taste quite like an iced chai latte. A pretty delicious tiki-esque start to the evening.

My second drink served in a rocks glass with inebriated Santa Claus illustrations and a large ice ball in the glass.

Round two was the Snowball Old Fashioned, which was made of:

  • rye
  • “gingerbread” (I suspect this was some sort of ginger Demerara syrup)
  • aromatic and wormwood bitters
  • orange essence

This was stored and strained over an ice ball which looked like it was made of compressed, crushed ice, which really sold that snowball effect (The Jasper typically serves old fashioned cocktails over a large clear cube with their logo stamped on one face). The illustrations of tipsy Santa on the glass were cute and, well, old fashioned looking! And the drink was a perfect late fall/early winter twist on the classic.

My third drink was served in a ceramic mug shaped like Santa's pants and boots with a large belt and buckle, garnished with a cocktail umbrella, fresh mint, and powdered sugar

My third drink was called the…uh…Yippie Ki Yay Mother F****r! Heh. Yeah. Sure it’s the name of the drink that will get your attention, but this was deeeelicious. It had:

  • Barbados rum
  • rhum agricole
  • Trinidad overproof rum
  • ube and coconut orgeat
  • acid-adjusted pineapple juice

It was served over coarsely crushed ice in a Santa pants mug and garnished with some powdered sugar and fresh mint. More holiday tiki! Absolutely delicious.

I had one more round before walking to dinner and getting a ride home, but it was “only” a Sazerac (my favorite classic cocktail, and made to perfection last night). It’s challenging for my wife and me to find time and a babysitter to do this sort of thing, but if I can make it happen, I will, because this was the most fun I’ve had at a bar in a long time. It would be ten times more fun if I can share it with Valerie. At any rate, I highly recommend it to anybody who can safely/comfortably drink in the Richmond area at least – though I imagine similarly excellent bars are participating elsewhere.

Happy holidays, and drink responsibly!

Riding on the Menomonee River Line

My bike leaning up against bridge railing over the Menomonee River in Wauwatosa, WI

Here are a few unremarkable photos from my ride on the Oak Leaf Trail in Milwaukee County, WI. I rode a healthy chunk of the Menomonee River Line while exploring Wauwatosa, where my sister-in-law lives with her family. The whole trail network seems incredible, and I fully intend to bring my bike every time I return to Wisconsin so I can explore more of this system. I was lucky to see it with enough snow to add some beauty without being so much as to interfere with my ride.

Morning light over the snowy Menomonee River (with a little bit of trash here and there).

The entire trail was paved and pretty well maintained, with enough winding pathways and river crossings through the landscape to keep it interesting.

The Menomonee River with stone retaining wall viewed from a bridge

My favorite part was the Hoyt Park Footbridge, which I think was a WPA project:

The Hoyt Park Footbridge over the Menomonee River