eat like a burg: downtown dinner party.

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For fifteen years, Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance has been working to restore vitality to our history-rich downtown and turn it into the economic and social center it used to be. Millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours later, Harrisonburg residents and visitors can enjoy living, working, playing, eating, shopping, and beer-ing in buildings and streets that were largely empty when I first moved here 25 years ago.

A Great American Main Street Award recipient, Harrisonburg can show other localities a thing or two about challenging suburbia and its glut of corporate-owned chain businesses and getting money back in the local coffers.

One way HDR has paid for all these improvements is through fundraisers. To be honest, that word — fundraiser — makes me cringe a bit. No one likes to ask others for money. No one likes being asked. HDR has a knack for raising money from generous folks who also get something great in return at events like Valley Fourth, the Friendly City Fortune, Skeleton Fest, Rocktown Beer and Music Festival, Renaissance Night, and more. Brandy and I got to attend the newest event — the Downtown Dinner Party — and it did not disappoint. Even the Turner Pavilion put on its fancy duds — long elegant drapes, plants and floral arrangements (from Fine Earth Landscaping and The Wishing Well), and string after whimsical string of twinkle lights. I heard many people refer to the evening as “enchanted” and “fairytale” and “magical.” Yes, the end result might have been magical. But the months of organizing this event involved no wands or potions — just innovation, grit, and sheer will.

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It started as a crazy idea, pitched to HDR by Jen Sodikoff and Kirsten Moore of Sub Rosa Supper Club. If you’re not familiar with Sub Rosa, it’s a secret supper club that (roughly once a month) hosts fantastic gourmet dinner parties for 24 people. Guests pay a flat fee, find out only the day before where the dinner party will be, and have no idea who else will be there until they arrive. Then they gobble up a five- to seven-course upscale meal, washed down with cocktails and wine and coffee. Bellies are filled, friendships are formed, and a professional photographer captures it all. Got it? Now multiply what I just described by twelve. (And a half.)

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Yep. Kirsten and Jen, over the course of several months, recruited and met with fifteen local restaurants to coordinate dinner for 300 people. Kirsten, you may or may not know, is behind The Hub Coworking space which won the Virginia Main Street Best Business award a couple years ago. Before that she owned and operated the food tour business Rocktown Bites and catering outfit Taste. Jen’s immense management, marketing, and event planning experience (she’s currently the Revenue and Marketing Manager at the brand new Hotel Madison) and hardcore can’t-NOT-do work ethic made this new endeavor a deliciously accomplishable challenge for them both.

Okay, let’s get to the food because GOOD GAWD I want to relive it!

Some of the restaurants represented that evening are new to Harrisonburg. Urgie’s Cheesesteaks, who have basically taken over Harrisonburg’s cheesesteak game, served up their authentic Philly Cheesesteaks with onions, peppers, mushrooms, cherry peppers, pepperoni, Griffin’s hot sauce, American cheese, provolone cheese, and — spoiler alert — Cheez Whiz. Hotel Madison chefs Michael Collins and Brian Bogan offered smoked + sous vide pork belly, pickled foraged ramps, with a damson plum gastrique, charred ramp bbq, and popped sorghum berries. Is your mouth watering yet?

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Chef Dilli Dangi of Taj of India brought warmth and comfort with his Chicken Malabar — chicken with coconut cream, Indian spices, onion, and garlic, served with rice and a clay oven-baked garlic naan. If you haven’t had their lunch buffet yet, gimme a call and I’ll join you. And new to Harrisonburg’s bakery scene is Bittersweet Bakery. Pastry Chefs Erica Ray and Alicia Barger presented a beautiful and delicious Ginger Blue-Barb, a ginger cremeux with blue-barb compote, white chocolate and a blueberry crunch. And Shirley’s Gourmet Popcorn was not going to miss this party! They brought their Cheddar Pretzel Ale, Polar Pop, and Afterburner varieties, made with non-GMO kernels from Green Acres Farm in Dayton. Whoever said you shouldn’t snack before, or through, dinner obviously hasn’t tried Shirley’s.

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It was fun to see whether Harrisonburg’s “old dogs” had any new tricks. Turns out they did! Matthew Clancy and William Bleeker of Clementine/Ruby’s Arcade showed up with an impressive five-spice beef brisket with shiitake mushroom slaw, wasabi aioli (I mean, daaaaang), sticky rice, chili gastrique, and shaved nori, served with a frisee, citrus, and endive salad with toasted almonds and goat cheese. Somehow, all these things worked together in an exceptionally delicious way. I ran into Kevin Gibson at that table and I literally saw him drool. Straight out of his mouth. Bella Luna’s chef Jacoby Dinges pulled out a much simpler but equally delicious spiced lamb hand pie that was the crispiest, butteriest thing ever, filled with succulent spiced lamb, currants, spinach, and feta.

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It was great to see the Friendly City Food Co-op in the house — Melissa Lapp prepared a light and refreshing radish and quinoa salad with mint, cherry tomatoes, and feta cheese. In addition to usual grocery store items (which, by the way, come from more than 150 local vendors), FCFC offers bulk items like dry beans and spices AND a fantastic deli and hot bar where you can get a surprisingly fresh and delicious lunch.

When I saw Thom Metroka of The Artful Dodger serving up artisanal French toast, I was first a little surprised since this was a “dinner” party… but good grief, how many of us have been at the Dodger late enough that it was practically time for breakfast?? So it made sense. And it was absolutely dinner-worthy: fresh hearth bread with a fruit compote, whiskey maple syrup, whipped cream, and nuts. On a side note, the hearth bread came from Bella Luna. I love to see these supportive collaborations among local restaurants.

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Chef Cameron Grant of Union Station Restaurant & Bar brought his Louisiana roots to the dinner party with his alligator sauce piquant containing alligator tale and smoked andouille sausage, highlighted by tomatoes, green pepper, onion, and celery, and served over rice, a perfect warm-up when the sun was getting lower and the wind was growing cooler. Old dog Jacktown (Billy Jack’s/Jack Brown’s) REALLY stepped out of its usual game with Chef Mike Sabin’s Jacktown Poke, a beautiful and flavorful dish featuring Hawaiian big eye tuna, macadamia nuts, hijiki, avocado, shoyu, and sesame oil. Not sure they’ll add this dish on their regular menu, but I predict it would be a big hit. Maybe they can make it an occasional special and Aaron can wear his Captain Stubing outfit again.

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Even Harrisonburg classic Tim Richardson of Pulp Organic Acai Bowls and Smoothies whipped out a new sensation: the Vegan Acai Cheesecake, with a date and walnut crust (and perfect cheesecake-to-crust ratio, I might add), cashew and coconut milk, mixed berry sauce, and cacao nibs. Amanda Cannon, owner of one of my fave’s Food.Bar.Food, also brought dessert: an Irish chocolate milkshake make with Kline’s ice cream. Kline’s uses an old-school continuous freeze method that results in an exceptionally smooth and creamy product, perfect for blending into a milkshake. And Kline’s makes their ice cream every single morning so it’s as fresh as it can get. The “Irish” part of the milkshake was housemade Irish cream. All the cocktails being passed around that evening also came from Food.Bar.Food: a sparkling rose with roasted rhubarb-strawberry sorbet, a hibiscus ginger greyhound, and an Indochine soda mocktail with lemon, ginger, and Thai basil syrup.

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And rounding out the restaurant offerings was Chef Isaac Coles of Jimmy Madison’s Southern Kitchen and Whiskey Bar, serving his Hand-Pulled Mozz Caprese with whole wheat focaccia, perfectly sweet-tart rhubarb jam, Turner country ham, and basil grown right on the roof!

It’s worth noting that all of these restaurants and chefs make every effort to use ingredients that are local, fresh, and high quality. That night, we ate products from 18 local or very nearby producers, including Seven Hills Food, Golden Angels Apiary, Edgewood Farm, Wayside Produce, Season’s Bounty Farm, Green Haven Farm, Main Street Farmstead, Turner Ham House, Woods Edge Farm, Wade’s Mill, Autumn Olive Farms, Virginia Vinegar Works, Hickory Hill Farm, Radical Roots Farm, North Mountain Produce, Mt. Crawford Creamery, Virginia Distillery, and Green Acres Farm.

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Also in the house were Bluestone Vineyard serving a chardonnay, a vidal blanc, and their 2015 Market and Main, Old Hill Cider pouring Yesteryear, four Harrisonburg breweries (Pale Fire, Restless Moons, Brothers Craft Brewing, and Three Notch’d), and coffee drinks from Black Sheep, Broad Porch Coffee, and Shenandoah Joe. As I milled about, eating and drinking, it struck me that this is like, you know, having a friendly potluck dinner at your house. Everyone brings something to share.  Except in this case, all your friends are professional chefs with access to amazing ingredients, a wealth of knowledge and experience, and exceptional talent. Miles and miles and miles beyond a crockpot of meatballs, y’all.

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I was so distracted by all the tastes and smells surrounding me that I didn’t notice the cute little photo booth at first. The Rosy Co. mobile photo booth is a bright red 1968 Shasta Lo-Flyte travel trailer outfitted with a camera, a bunch of props, and a printer. All night long, guests of the dinner party enjoyed getting in that thing and being silly, sexy, or serious and were thrilled when they got to take their photos with them for free! You can rent this adorable vintage photo booth for your event, too. It’s great for outdoor events and the rental fee includes free prints for everyone. If your event is indoors, you can opt for the open air photo booth, which can accommodate larger groups than the trailer.

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The musical stylings of Ryan Clark provided the soundtrack for the evening. While everyone was eating, his original piano compositions filled the pavilion, punctuated by laughter and conversation and excitement.

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You know, this evening IS starting to sound magical, but we can’t forget the reasons for this event: to celebrate HDR’s 15th anniversary AND to raise funds for their continued efforts. It was time for the auction, hosted by auctioneer John Puffenbarger. Each announcement of an auction item brought hoots and cheers from the crowd — seriously some of the most unique auction items I’ve ever seen, and ALL LOCAL. Local items made by local people being used to raise money for local initiatives. It’s a new level of local. It’s, like, meta-local. Auction items included a beer-brewing session from the Friendly Fermenter where you get to leave with your own unique beer accented by a custom label created by Matt Leech. Pottery sensei Kassy Newman offered a 25-piece pottery set plus six private lessons for four people!! If you haven’t seen her work, you must.

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Mossy Creek Fly Fishing and Jacktown owner Aaron Ludwig donated a full-day fishing trip for two, dinner at Jacktown, and a free night in the all-new Jacktown loft. AND there’s beer in the fridge waiting for you. !!! How about a private Off the Eaten Path Ride and Dinner for ten? This bike-to-farm-to-table event was generously provided by Dusty Burchnall. Next up, an item from event co-planner Kirsten Moore, Amy Nesbit, and Taste catering — a day enjoying the Shenandoah River followed by a low country shrimp boil and gourmet s’mores around the firepit. Other outdoor items included a farm-to-table dinner for twelve at Second Mountain Farm accompanied by live music from The Walking Roots Band, or a 3-hour plein air painting lesson from local artist Erin Murray at Showalter’s Orchard, plus a French picnic provided by Heritage Bakery and Cafe.

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Not feeling so rugged? Hotel Madison and the Arts Council teamed up to donate a private 8-person dinner prepared by chefs Collins and Bogan at the Smith House Gallery with music by Mark Whetzel. The Romantic Downtown Getaway, provided by Hugo Kohl, Local Chop & Grill House, and the Joshua Wilton House, starts with AN ACTUAL PIECE OF JEWELRY! Put on your new sterling silver and blue sapphire bracelet and take your hungry self + 1 to the Chop House for a fantastic dinner, followed by a night at our beloved Joshua Wilton House. What a treat!! Rounding out the auction items was something that got all the Dukes in the crowd pumped up — twelve football tickets to the season opener in September, parking passes for tailgating, and Urgie’s Cheesesteaks catering just for you!

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After the auction, Ryan Clark stood up from the piano and put on his DJ-ing hat, spinning vinyl while we all spun on the dance floor. Sometimes, there are no words.

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Things were winding down. Everyone was feeling exhilarated and exhausted and joyful and a bit sweaty. Maybe Ryan felt we were all too hepped up to get any sleep that night, or maybe he thought we’d never leave if the music kept playing, or maybe he was just inspired by the energy in that moment, but his piano serenade at the end of the night was pretty magical. Everyone fell silent and just listened, buzzing with connection.

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What the HDR team and the Sub Rosa Supper Club were able to create using only locally- available resources was not “magical.” It was not lucky or superhuman or miraculous or even unbelievable. It was innovative. It was intelligent, creative, intentional, and inspired. It was meticulously planned and organized by a group of smart, dedicated individuals willing to commit to a large project and donate their time and goods and services to their community.

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Innovation is not new to Harrisonburg. I remember when Calhoun’s first opened. I thought, “Holy cow, we have a BEER FACTORY right downtown!” It made Harrisonburg unique. And since then, lots of folks have introduced all kinds of innovative ideas, products, services, and experiences. Like Harrisonburg’s new Pedicab. New shopping experiences at Agora Downtown Market and Bring Your Own. New art experiences like Art Lotto and the Super Gr8 Film Festival. New community initiatives like the Northend Greenway and improved bike lanes. I can buy beer at a movie theater, and there’s a living, breathing permaculture community on the north end of town, Vine & Fig. All because people had an idea and worked hard to make it happen.

If you missed the Downtown Dinner and would like to contribute to the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, you can do so in multiple ways. You can purchase Downtown Dollars — gift certificates that can be redeemed at many downtown locations. Keep your dollars local! You can also by a Friendly City Fortune raffle ticket — $100 buys you a chance at winning cash, a vehicle, a vacation, a shopping spree, and more! Or you can just click the big ol’ Donate button and give what you can!

The next HDR event is Valley Fourth. See y’all there!

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Copyright © 2012-18 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Words by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

 

heaven on wheels: costume bike parade 2013.

Bike Parade 1Oh, suburbs, you’re killing us all.

The invention of suburbs was one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” developments of the modern era. People could move out of those crowded, noisy, dirty cities and into a larger home on a sizable lot and enjoy peace, quiet, relative privacy. It sounded divine at the time and was quickly accepted as “a good idea.” But, as humans are wont to do, we didn’t think about the consequences… longer commutes in the car, more gas, more time, more water and other resources all for the sake of having a slice of real estate all to yourself. And the cities, vacated, simply fell apart. Businesses left. Factories closed. Crime increased. What a mess.

Then postmodernism came along and showed us that we don’t know jack. We have no foresight. We bulldoze along without thinking of ramifications down the road. At least we started to become aware of our lack of awareness, right?

And now we’re in some kind of post postmodernism where we’re trying to stem the tide of all those bad consequences. For example, we woke up to the fact that cars use too much gas, and the hybrid was born. Yay — fuel conservation! But what do I do when the battery in my Insight poops out?? I can’t just throw that thing in the landfill… And plug-in electric cars that require no gas at all — what a great idea! But if you’re plugging it in to an outlet fueled by coal, then… there’s not much environmental advantage. These are the problems we now see and are trying to fix… but when we fix them, will we finally have developed some foresight so we don’t create yet another new problem?

Problems like this reach an apex, where they’ve been worsening at an exponential rate and they start to double-back on themselves… and the only option is to start over. Get back to basics. We probably all recognize, on some level, that we can choose to simplify now, or we can wait until conditions deteriorate so badly that we’re forced to. Here in the burg we’ve been working on simplifying for some time. We have a number of community farms, like Port Road Community Garden, Collicello Gardens, and Our Community Farm, to name a few. The folks at The Natural Garden will actually arrive by bike to work in your yard. We’re a town of co-ops and collectives and local businesses and farmers markets. All of these endeavors underscore Harrisonburg’s desire to get back to basics: to reduce urban sprawl and make it easier for people to ditch their cars and walk or bike to work and school. To spend money locally. To undo some of the damage we’ve caused and try to conserve a little here and there. And to work as a community to solve our own problems, rather than leave those solutions in the hands of strangers. Slowly but surely, this community is gaining ground.

Bike Parade kids 3To that end, it’s Bike Month in Harrisonburg, kicked off on May 3rd with a Costume Bike Parade downtown. As I headed to the Turner Pavilion to meet Brandy, I saw the first cyclist of the evening: Noel Levan, sporting Kermit The Frog socks and a clown nose, among other silly items. Little by little bike enthusiasts started rolling in. Some of the costumes included a Banana, Mario, and a shiny metallic sword-bearing Robot (Nate Shearer). Some type of fox-like animal, which might have been a kangaroo because I heard him refer to himself as marsupial. An old man in a bathrobe, a spring fairy, and a cat with a bull horn. A cow wearing a boa, a butterfly, and a disco sompn-or-other.

Bike Parade group 2 Bike Parade group 4There were a dozen or so kids — a little Spiderman, Pebbles, a doctor, a knight, a couple of fair princesses…

Bike Parade kids 2And there were a few scoundrels — one who looked like Captain America but might have been a sinister Gladiator… gun totin’ Blue Bullet and the Bandits (they actually had a horse head on the bike)… and <eeek!> Jason.

And let’s not forget Tony Lopez being assaulted by Dark Spiderman!

Bike Parade group Bike Parade group 3After the parade, participants attended Singletrack High and the Adventure Seen Cycling Film Festival at Court Square Theater. What a night!

Bike Week theater 1 Bike Week theater 3But that’s not all. The month of May is full of bike-related events to bolster support for our ever-growing cycling community. Just last week Harrisonburg enjoyed Bike to Worship, Bike to Work, and Bike to School events, as well as the annual Ride of Silence. Still to come, an Ice Cream Ride, Sunday the 26th at 2pm at the Wolfe Street Kline’s, and if you donate to the Northend Greenway this month, you could win a bike with accessories! And the burg has lots of long-term bike initiatives in place, including Rocktown Trails, Bluestone Trail, the Northend Greenway, and the Bike-Ped Plan, all in the name of improving safety and accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians.

Bike Week theater 2When we look at the world, or rather, our corner of it, it’s easy to see the problems, the destruction, our detachment from nature, other people, and ourselves. But little things, like this event, start as a seed of hope in one person’s heart, germinate into an idea hatched among friends over a few cups of coffee or mugs of beer, grow into a community event, and then evolve into a movement. Action. Awareness. Progress. I moved here nearly twenty years ago. I was a 21 year old wearing a huge set of blinders and didn’t know squat about art or the environment or social consciousness. I essentially grew up here; most people do mature a great deal between age 21 and 41. But this city made me evolve; it made me aware; it woke me up. This is where I learned to care about things way bigger than I. I am so grateful my kids are learning, too. So grateful this is my community. So grateful for all of you.

Copyright © 2012-13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers.This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

girl talk: women in focus at the court square theater.

Part One of Four (yes, I’m serious.)

Well, what a night this was. One that dredged up all sorts of psycho-emotional sludge I try to pretend no longer exists… stuff that, at age forty, I should be beyond, I guess. And so what started as a pleasurable outing with several ladies of the ‘burg, our conversations meandering innocently enough, turned quickly and unexpectedly to doubt about my ability to “successfully raise” two children, anger and shock, dismay at my evolution as a human being, and sadness that as a woman, maybe I haven’t “come a long way, baby,” and really, I have no one to blame but myself. As I work through my notes about the Women In Focus social at the Artful Dodger and the documentary Miss Representation hosted by Court Square Theater, I see they reveal a disappointing truth. Warning: this is the first ever potentially offensive ilovemyburg.com post, lol. And, the views expressed in this post are solely mine… unless you agree with me, which would reeaally make me less nervous right about now.

Women In Focus was a celebration of women’s stories hosted by the Court Square Theater, featuring presentations of Miss Representation, a documentary about women and the media; North Country, a film starring Charlize Theron as a mine worker; and The Vagina Monologues. The series kicked off with a social at the Artful Dodger. Lots of ladies, and men who love and admire them, attended – including several strong female members of our community, like Sara Christensen, owner of The Lady Jane, Lara Mack (she’s back!), Alice Wheeler, Ashley Hunter, Laurie Benade, Suzi Carter, and several others.

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event organizer, Laurie Benade! Bravo!

womeninfocus4 Brandy, Sara, and I got on the topic of Condoleezza Rice, and how some magazine called her a dominatrix because of her outfit – forget the fact that this highly educated woman was at one time the US Secretary of State and that she could smoke your butt on Jeopardy. Somehow her outfit that day smacked of sexual power (not intellectual or political power)… even though she was not at all dressed in a manner one might call “provocative.” Then we talked about what THAT means – dressing in a provocative or promiscuous way… and then the question was posed: can a man dress promiscuously?
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What would that look like? Low-slung pants? Tight pants? No pants? No shirt? And would a man look at another man’s outfit and say, “Look at that slut!”? Then again, when did “we” (whoever that is) decide that any type of attire is bad or inappropriate? I know I am uncomfortable showing a lot of skin, but I don’t know WHY I am. Gosh, this is confusing. But somehow, in terms of women’s fashion, most people equate conservative dress with frigidity/prudishness, and revealing dress with promiscuity/porn stardom.

This led to a discussion of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show. My kids and I watched the Superbowl. My daughter watched the game with great interest, and when Beyoncé performed at halftime, she made no mention of Beyoncé’s outfit, but rather remarked about the TV screen dance floor and “cool special effects.” My son, who for the entire first half of the game ran in circles around the family room, wearing a cape and underpants and wildly waving a foam sword, had a different reaction. He sat down and watched her performance, every second of it, mouth open, eyes fixed on the TV. He dreamily said, “Mom, she’s shaking her body” and “Why is she only wearing her underwear? Isn’t she cold?” Now, these are children, and I didn’t coach either of their responses –these were their natural reactions to Beyoncé’s show. Interesting. And I really don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from it. My son seems to admire the female form.

Okay.

My daughter complimented her singing and did notice that Beyoncé’s entire band was female. But neither of them criticized her. What were the adult viewers thinking? Did the men ignore her talent and dedication and only see her thighs? Did the women also ignore those things and secretly hate her thighs? Geez. Now I sound like some kind of feminist. Or chauvinist. Or alarmist. Or extremist. Or maybe just a polite receptionist. I don’t even know.

Later, as the effects of this evening sank in, I wondered… should I have told my six-year-old son not to have stared at Beyoncé? Would that have shone a light on something beyond the scope of his kindergarten mind? Am I a bad mom for letting him – or both kids – see it? By doing so, have I created in my daughter a self-destructive habit of comparing herself to others? Egads. Beyoncé is a beautiful woman – yes – she’s also talented and successful, whether you like her music or don’t. Can we praise her and condemn her in the same breath?

And so I think about what I want to impart to my children. My kids see what many people don’t see – they see me in the morning, with my pale face and crow’s feet, my rumpled, frizzy hair, no makeup, frumpy bathrobe – they see me in the raw. But they also see me prepare to leave the house, in full hair and makeup and appropriate under- and outer garments. Am I silently teaching them something I don’t want to – that I am ashamed to leave the house without my mask?

womeninfocus6As I reread this post now, I see how confused I am. Or was on that night. Or still am, because I’m not done thinking about it. I even noticed the “lol” I typed earlier, like I’m apologizing for having an opinion someone might disagree with. If I were a man, would I have typed that “lol” ?

Lol.

A thousand words, and I haven’t even GOTTEN to the documentary yet. Also, the word “Beyoncé” starts to sound weird when you’ve read it/written it 27 times. Okay, I’m taking a break to watch something with Will Ferrell in it. I’ll be back with more heavy stuff soon. Stay tuned for part two.

PS–a big thank you to Court Square Theater for bringing these issues to the forefront, as uncomfortable as they might be sometimes. And to the Artful Dodger for letting us hang out.

Copyright © 2012 – 13 · All Rights Reserved · ilovemyburg.com. Written content by Katie Mitchell. Photos by Brandy Somers. This material may not be copied, downloaded, reproduced, or printed without express written consent. Thank you for respecting our intellectual property.

building from the heART: art in the park, northend greenway, and blake somers.

If people seem in these photos to be dressed funny, there’s a reason, and I’ll get to it. But first, let me take you back to the night I first heard The Greatest Idea Ever Hatched by a Ten-Year-Old Kid. (Actually, he was nine at the time.)

Back in May, Brandy and I attended the final meeting of Ignite! Harrisonburg to present our blog to the other attendees there and get some feedback. It went fine. But what I didn’t know was happening that night, and I’m sooooo glad my kids were there to witness it, was that cute, little SUPER-BRAVE Blake Somers was giving a presentation about his own idea for our community. Which is (drums rolling)… a giant memorial ribbon sculpture made entirely of Legos and painted pink in honor of his grandmother, Peggy Somers, who succumbed to breast cancer last summer. When it’s finished, the sculpture will be on display on Harrisonburg’s soon-to-exist Northend Greenway. Of course, most of us were sobbing at the end of his presentation, and he won the People’s Choice Award that night, beating out his own mom. Twice. :) And my kids hugged and high-fived him to pieces and cheered his name in the car the whole way home.

Since then Blake’s been busy scrounging for Legos here and there to amass a collection large enough to build his vision. And he’s getting there.

His most recent Lego-raising endeavor was at Art in the Park this past Saturday. Art in the Park is a monthly event hosted by the Arts Council of the Valley. The goal is to explore social issues through art, and it’s aimed at kids. The next one will be August 25.

This past Saturday, Blake Somers hosted the event. Kids came to build with Legos provided by the Arts Council of the Valley and to drop off any donations. Sharing the event was the Northend Greenway and Suzi Carter. She was there to inform the public about the Greenway: where it’ll be, what it’s for, and when it’ll happen. Personally, I can’t wait for the Greenway–it’s an awesome way to preserve green space, it’s a great use of that land, and it’s one more thing that will make Harrisonburg special. Another reason to love my burg.

Okay, so getting back to the funny clothes. I don’t know if any of you remember Saturday and the weather forecast, but it was calling for upper 70s and a thirty percent chance of rain. So we all dressed in short sleeves and flip flops with no umbrellas or rain coats… and it was a truly icky morning.

I got downtown with the kids at about 8:20 (Art in the Park started at 9) because I wanted to get a few things at the Market first. Sheesh! It was rainy and chilly and windy… people were all huddled up under whatever they could find, and Tom’s coffee stand was slammed. I bought a couple of pairs of earrings from Jan Carter, and she was trying to rig some kind of multiple-umbrella rain barrier because she was getting literally sprayed with rain, the little bitty stinging kind. Ick! So before the kids and I walked over to Art in the Park, we went back to the car in search of more layers. I happened to have a bag of clothing for Good Will in the back of the car, and I was able to grab a sweater or two and a couple of long-sleeve shirts to offer other shivering people. Sarah Murphy had several coats in her car, too, so we managed to get warmed up. Hence the “layered look” you see in some of the photos.

Then we pitched tents. The Arts Council had a couple, and Suzi had a couple, and soon we were all snuggled under there with our strange outfits. And the humidity was causing my Ronald McDonald hair to come out, but I had coffee and Legos and friends, so all was good. And there was even an amusement park feeling because every so often, too much rain would collect on top of the tent and then suddenly splash down on the lucky person who happened to be sitting there or walking by at that moment.

People came and went, playing with Legos (they were building Lego flowers for a garden) and chatting, and even blowing bubbles, which remained on the grass for quite some time, because of (we hypothesized) the moisture and low pressure. At one point two different conversations morphed into one and I swore I heard someone say, “In school you lose all of your youth through your head.” In reality it was probably “all your heat through your head,” but the other statement is equally true (I know, I’m a teacher)… and that’s why grown-ups like Legos, too.

Toward the end of the event, the Daily News Record arrived to interview Blake. The story was in yesterday’s paper; if you missed it, you can go to their website and, for a limited time, search for Blake Somers. Hopefully, the news exposure will bring in some Lego donations. Just so you know, Blake plans to donate to charity any Legos that don’t make it into the sculpture. So this week, rattle around in your attic or garage, call your parents, negotiate with your own children, and see if you can get your hands on some Legos for Blake. If you can, please drop them off between eleven and five at the Arts Council, located at 311 South Main Street. While you’re there, be sure to see the Lego garden created by Harrisonburg kids that day. Or if that doesn’t suit, you can email Brandy at brandysomersphotography@gmail.com to make other arrangements. And then YOU can have a part in a memorial that’s meaningful to our community and to one really special kid.

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