A Proper Soaking

Richmond city skyline viewed from Church Hill

I was about halfway through my lunchtime bike ride today when it started raining. It was earlier than expected, but given the forecast I’d known it was a risk. After waiting for the downpour to settle down a bit I decided to start climbing the hill from Shockoe Bottom back up toward VCU, weather be damned.

The rain varied in intensity for the back half of my ride, but you know what? Once you’re fully soaked, you might as well enjoy the ride. I couldn’t get any wetter, but I could be grateful to ride my bike instead of sitting at my computer. I took my glasses off at a stop light (better visibility, ironically) and squelched my way through town until I returned home.

Morning (Bike) Passages

A simple plank swing covered in writing and scribbles hangs by a rope from a tree with many scattered roots on the ground

The weather is so fantastic today, and circumstances lined up such that I could get a morning ride in before even starting work. That meant excellent lighting, and a good excuse to bring my DSLR along for a few shots. Logged over 17 miles before my first conference call 😀

A decaying, disused Greyhound Bus repair building with peeling paint and a sign reading "Reverse Parking Only"

Overpriced Agritourism as Entertainment

A cardboard box filled with 7 pounds of freshly-picked strawberries sits on the ground at Mt. Olympus Farms

My wife and I *love* pick-your-own-fruit farms as fun, seasonal outings. Yeah, we’re paying a lot per pound and *we* provide some of the harvesting labor, but it’s ultimately a fun excuse to get everybody outside and a whole bunch of fruit all in one shot. This past weekend we took the kids and my mother-in-law to Mt. Olympus Farm for strawberry picking. There are a number of berry patches in the region, but this was the first where, upon stepping into the field, we were overwhelmed with the smell of strawberries. It’s pretty dang tasty fruit, with ample supply of ripe, fragrant, delicious gems.

My wife crouches down to pick strawberries at Mt. Olympus Farm

Of course, when you find a pick-your-own farm with a large quantity of high-quality fruit, you actually don’t spend a whole lot of time there. We picked way too many berries in the span of about 30 minutes! But it was still fun, and the weather was beautiful. I’m already looking forward to returning later in the summer for blueberries.

My son marvels at a massive strawberry he collected at Mt. Olympus Farm

Like Green Tater Chips

raw baby spinach in a plastic container
raw baby spinach in a plastic container on my lap

Part of what’s helped me maintain healthier eating habits over the past year (in addition to being scared stiff by a frightening medical visit in late 2021) is having some go-to veggies that I can just grab out of the fridge and start eating. Lucky for me I’ve liked carrots and spinach for most of my life, raw or cooked. The raw bit is critical here, because it removes most of the resistance to me eating the healthy stuff. All I have to do is grab some out of the fridge and start putting it in my face.

So nearly every day, for over a year now, I eat a serving of carrots after lunch (even if I get take-out or go to a restaurant) and a serving of baby spinach after the kids go to bed at night. Most people eating raw carrots (sticks, chips, peeled carrots, etc.) eat them with their hands. But the spinach? Well, I just get in there like it’s a hand salad. I like a lot of veggies, but I’ve never cared for salad (nor most salad dressings), so why eat greens with a fork? My wife laughs at me most of the time while I sit on the sofa with my approximately 71 grams of raw, baby spinach, eating it by the bunch like chips out of the bag.

So I had to chuckle at myself when I visited Garnett’s a few weeks ago and ordered a plate of spinach while chatting with a pal behind the bar. A huge plate of unadorned spinach arrives at the bar in front of me and I stared at it for a minute before realizing it probably wouldn’t be appropriate to tuck in to my food with my hands. I settled for a fork 😛

A Grand Day Out

a gravel path through the woods on part of The North Bank Trail by the James River

My family is heading out of town for a few days, so I wanted to get in one more big bike ride on a day off when the weather was incredible. After meeting my wife and son for coffee at the VCU area Blanchard’s, I pointed my handlebars toward the river.

A hazy view of the James river and the Route 1 bridge crossing toward the south bank

I puttered around the river and canal for a while, appreciating a quiet weekday morning.

Virginia spiderwort with three-petaled blooms

Not quite sure what they’re doing in the Kanawha Canal, but maybe it’s dredging out a lot of the scunge that’s built up over the years?

A trench digger on a mud berm in the middle of the Kanawha Canal by Brown's Island

After crossing the river twice (first over the T-Pot bridge and back over the Mayo after some Manchester meandering), I headed over to the Capital Trail for a few extra miles out to Varina and back before wrapping up my ride at Journeyman’s for a maintenance drop-off.

The old steel shell of a building down by the river on the Capital Trail out by Rockett's Landing

I was under the impression my bike would be at the shop for a few days, but I got the call a couple hours later that it was ready and tuned up. So my wife dropped me off and I rode it back up the hill to the Northside. Crispy shifting, and no more squeaking! All told around 26 miles on the bike, and it felt incredible.

Garbage In

I was procrastinating. Rather than write the technical documentation that is my ostensible job, I went to the kitchen to deal with a sink problem that’s been a pain in the butt for the past month. The solution was so stupid, and left me so mad at myself, that I can only get relief by sharing the story with the internet.

Some time in February my garbage disposal stopped working in the kitchen sink. Flipping the switch did nothing. Resetting the breaker in the basement did nothing. Pressing the reset switch on the unit under the sink did nothing. With the switch on, there wasn’t even a hum, nor any vibration from the disposal itself. It’s a 1/2 horsepower motor, so I’d expect *something* if there was current running through the device. So I figured I had to call an electrician.

But that meant looking into reliable, recommended contractors. Calling said contractors. Hoping at least a couple actually answered and/or returned my calls, let alone actually showed up at a reasonably near-term appointment date and time to take a look at the situation. So I put it off. Putting it off had consequences: the sink started clogging up – not because I kept putting anything in there without a strainer, but because there was probably already stuff that was unground in the disposal that dislodged and stuck in the wastewater pipe. Now I had only the left sink, and running the dishwasher would cause gross water to bubble up from the right sink (if you didn’t know, dishwashers will often feed their wastewater through a disposal) before slowly draining. This is gross, yes, but more tolerable than trying to, you know, *call* somebody.

Back to the present where I reveal a key piece of information that I left out at the top. I had read the manual for the disposal. In addition to the reset switch on the underside of the unit there is a hex-shaped nut where you can insert some key (it is literally an Allen wrench in the illustration) to rotate the grinder in order to dislodge any stuck food. Buy why would I need to try this? It’s a high-draw electrical motor! If the unit was receiving power, it would have at least hummed, right? RIGHT!?

I got down on the floor and found the right size Allen wrench to fit the hole and rotated about one full turn in each direction. It was effortless – how on earth could anything be stuck enough to prevent the disposal from starting? Just for good measure I pressed and held the reset switch for a couple of seconds (as I had last month) afterward, and stood up to give it a last ditch try. And the disposal spun to life. Immediately.

At least I don’t actually have to call an electrician.

DC With the Girl Scouts

Exterior facade of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC

This past Friday I had the good fortune of accompanying my daughter and her Girl Scouts troop to Washington DC by train. The main event was a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall. I’d never yet made it to this museum and WOW, it’s incredible. From David Adjaye and Philip Freelon’s building design to the breadth and depth of the collection and exhibits, it was nearly overwhelming. Black history IS American history, and Black culture is a critical component of American culture (whether acknowledged or ripped off), so exhibits ranging from Black innovators to educational history, from the performing arts to the world of sports, presented a rich assortment of artifacts and informative displays.

Curving stairwell from the lower concourse level up to the entrance level in the American Museum of African American History and Culture

I really need to revisit when I’m not with a large group of largely elementary school girls. When half of your attention is ensuring that everybody stays together and behaves, you cannot fully appreciate all this museum has to offer. I could spend an entire day just exploring the exhibition hall for Black contributions to music, for example. Which is where I stumbled upon The Mothership:

"The P Funk Mothership" stage prop from George Clinton in the American Museum of African American History and Culture

I was also delighted to stumble upon a display all about Richmond’s own Maggie Lena Walker, complete with a number of artifacts and news clippings on loan from the Maggie L. Walker Historic Site, somewhere in a hall about Black entrepreneurship and innovation (3rd floor, I believe).

The weather was otherwise kind of crummy that day, so our secondary plans to have a scavenger hunt around The Mall were scuttled. But it was a great day traveling with my kid and her troop.

The Washington Monument viewed from a window on the 3rd floor of the American Museum of African American History and Culture

Practice Hikes

My daughter jumps off a rock on the North Bank Tail

In June my family and I will travel to Maine for a week. Using the Every Kid Outdoors program as a thin excuse, we’re going to spend a week between Bangor, Bar Harbor, Portland, and a few places in between. Also, my best friend Robert lives up there until he moves down to PA for his new professorship, so we’ll absolutely hang out with him as much as possible.

Acadia National Park isn’t exactly the most mountainous, but Robert is used to hiking all over the pace doing field work. And I suspect we’ll have more fun in Acadia and elsewhere if we’re all a bit more comfortable hiking for more than a few miles on moderate terrain. I wanted to make sure that my whole family understood that visiting national parks is more enjoyable when you can venture farther from your parking spot, so I decided we should start a series of family practice hikes.

The ironic bit here, for anybody who has known me for more than a few years, is that I may previously have been the least likely to suggest hiking at all, let alone a preparatory regimen. But since I ride my bike all the time now, I’m in quite a bit better shape to wander up and down hills than I’ve ever been. And these days, it’s actually the rest of my household that doesn’t regularly get much exercise (excepting Maddie, but really only on Fridays at gymnastics).

With that, we parked by the Oregon Hill overlook and walked down the hill to the North Bank Trail, part of the James River Park system. For the first half of our adventure my daughter kept pace with me while my six-year-old hung back with Valerie, constantly talking about how “skinny” the trail was, and wondering why there were no railings. But he loves nature, so he wasn’t complaining that hard.

my son saunters up a hill with my wife climbing up behind him on the North Bank Trail in Richmond

Once we reached the fork between the Texas Beach parking lot and continuing on toward the pump house, I gave the family the choice of walking up and back via neighborhoods back to Oregon Hill, or continuing on a little further and walking back the way we came. Everybody wanted to get off the trail and walk back through the neighborhoods, hoping for mostly flatter terrain.

Some mirror-polished balls nested in rebar structures - sculptural decorations - in a front yard of the Maymont neighborhood

The walk back through the Maymont area, Randolph, and Oregon Hill was pleasant in its own way, but at this point both kids dragged behind so much that I frequently had to stop in order to let everybody catch up. I’m no athlete, but I guess being regularly active gives me a bit of a speed advantage that I wasn’t expecting.

A stone entrance pillar to Hollywood Cemetery in Oregon Hill, with the name, "Hollywood" carved in a stone plaque

We finally made it back to the car, about 3.75 miles and 2.25 hours later, and I think Valerie agreed we needed more practice hikes ahead of our summer trip! But it was a great way to spend a brisk February morning outside with the family.