Saturday, December 11, 2010

Grand Illumination

Here's video links to the Grand Illumination, one of the very best fireworks displays I've ever seen.


(Click the number to see the video)

Grand Illumination 1: I absolutely love the little kid laughing at the end of this one.

Grand Illumination 2

Grand Illumination 3: Yes, there's a tree in my way, but still cool. And the building you see is the Capitol.

Grand Illumination 4

Grand Illumination 5

Grand Illumination 6

Grand Illumination 7: It's sideways, sorry, can't figure out how to rotate it, will work on that!

Grand Illumination 8

Grand Illumination 9: The fireworks that sound like crashing waves were my favorite! Plus, this is the finale.

Fife and Drums

Because it takes forever to upload video on here, I'm uploading all the video from this year's Grand Illumination on YouTube and will post the links here.

Here's the Fife and Drums. The image is terrible, we were too far away and in the dark for this to really work, but the audio did not let me down.

To hear the colonial sounds of Christmas, go here!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Colonial Christmas

You won't see any Christmas trees in Colonial Williamsburg, but the place isn't any less festive.

The colonial city and first capitol of Virginia is decked out every holiday for the Grand Illumination, which is one of my all-time favorite holiday activities.

The Grand Illumination started in 1934 with candles illuminating a few of the exhibit buildings and was known as the White Lighting.

The event has grown and Fifes and Drums and fireworks were added in 1959. This year, the event in the restored 18th-century town included massive firework displays in three locations in the historic town.

As the Fife and Drums finished up and the spotlights went dark, white lights in a house near the Capitol where we were watching flipped on, noting the event's simple beginnings.

I remember dragging a college roommate to the Illumination one year and it was then I fell in love with it. As kids, my parents had taken us on several tours of the colonial town and we never could get into it. But by the time I was in college, I'd started falling in love with Colonial Williamsburg and also my hometown, Yorktown. The colonial part anyway.

That was probably 2003 or 2004 when I went the first time and I don't remember it being anywhere near as crowded as it was this year. I'd heard marketing spots on the radio since I moved home to Virginia, enticing people to spend a weekend in the colonial town for all the festivities from an earlier era. I was glad to see the crowds flocking to the town for some history and fireworks, because I know the foundation needs to funds and support to keep operating and maintaing the well preserved colonial town. But that was met with a frustration that so many people were in my town and blocking my view of an event I'd loved for years.

It was also quite cold and parking was a mess and my mom was really not enjoying the cold, but once the fireworks started it was completely worth it. This year's Grand Illumination was one of the best fireworks displays I've ever seen and watching it light up the sky over Virginia's original Capitol was really quite cool.

That was Sunday, Dec. 5. The day before, I'd also dragged my parents out to Williamsburg for the Green Spring Garden Club's 51st annual Christmas Homes Tour.

The tour takes you into houses that typically aren't open to the public and they've been decorated in what would have been traditional styles in the town's colonial days.

It was pretty cold that day too and we got a late start so then we had to pick up the pace once we made it to town. That was not helped by the enormous lines in front of some of the houses. So we went out of order to help beat some of the crowd.

First, we went into Masonic Lodge No. 6. The current structure was built in the early 1900s replacing the original 1774 building that served as the Mason's meeting hall since the 1750s. We didn't find this building as interesting as the others, but I did learn about Masonic voting from one of the Masons there that day. It's also where the term 'black balled' comes from. They have a wooden box with a tray built into it. The tray had a handle, which is hollow, and drops to the bottom of the box. Originally, the tray held white and black balls. You put white into the tube for a yay vote, black for nay. Each member would have a black and white ball and with one hand would drop the color of their vote into the tube, the other back into the tray. But, as members aged some couldn't see the colors anymore so they made the black ball a cube, but the term 'black balled' stuck.

Next, we headed to the Tayloe House, which sold for six hundred pounds in 1759. The house was once home to John Tayloe, one of the wealthiest men in colonial Virginia. The colonel also owned Mt. Airy in Richmond County.

Next, the Grissell Hay Lodge House, which was built in the early 1700s. During the Revolution, the house was occupied by Rev. James Madison, then president of the College of William and Mary (also in Williamsburg) after Cornwallis and his troops took possession of the president's house on campus.

The William and Mary president's house was next and it had a long line and was packed on the inside. It took us forever to get through there since we waited in line and then once inside some of the staff gave mini-presentations on the artwork, the furniture, the architecture and more. It was interesting, but harder to take in the house when you're crammed in to a colonial house (even the big ones tend to have smaller hallways and rooms) and people keep talking at you. All the same it was an interesting Georgian style house built in the 1730s. It's the oldest official residence for a college president in the U.S.

Last on our tour was my favorite, the Lightfoot House. It's where the president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation lives currently with his wife, Nancy. Also a Georgian house, it was built around 1730 and was built as a double tenement but was brought into its present form in the mid-18th century. It's also one of the few homes in Colonial Williamsburg to have a balcony.

I think what I liked most about the house though was that Nancy was at the door welcoming people in and telling them about the house. Her husband, president of the foundation that runs the historic town, was at the William and Mary football game. It was nice to see them care so much about the house and the town and the people coming to see it. Plus, she was funny and friendly. She told my mom about squirrels eating the fruit from the wreaths on the door the night before.

Everything in Colonial Williamsburg is decorated as it would have been in the colonial days, meaning all the Christmas decorations are natural and appropriate for the time period. Many of the wreaths on doors were made with fruit and other live greens. No one had Christmas trees since O Tannenbaum didn't show up in Williamsburg until the 1840s when a European political refugee brought the tradition with him.
Christmas and the holiday season is my favorite time of year and my love of the colonial towns where I grew up continues to grow, so the combination of the two is a perfect holiday treat for me. If you've never been, I recommend it. The colonial towns are great any time of year, but I think they're especially lovely during the holidays. Many of the activities are free, and when they're not, the funds are supporting the foundation and the upkeep of these colonial gems.

I didn't it to Yorktown's lighted boat parade this year, but I hear that event has also become quite popular. I went to the first one during college and certainly plan to go again next Christmas. You should too.

Happy Holidays y'all.

A handful of photos

My mom and I at La Push.

La Push


I'm uploading loads of photos on the blog's facebook page, look for it, Jenn's Travels. I'll also upload some more here. And video is coming too.

Travel Thanks.

I was reading my November issue of Real Simple magazine not too long ago and came across a blurb from a woman who's dream it was to go to New Zealand.

It occurred to me how lucky I was to have spent a semester abroad in a place that someone else might dream their entire life of visiting.

It also inspired to me to think about the things I'm thankful for, although I'm a but late, I figure any day is a good day to give thanks.

I'm thankful that I spent that semester in New Zealand and was able to take a quick trip to Australia while on that side of the globe in 2005. The semester made me realize how entirely capable I was of getting on a plane and going just about anywhere -- on my own. I didn't need much, just a rucksack, map, and a most strategic use of limited funds.

I'm thankful for all the trips that came after that semester in New Zealand and that each time I gain confidence and boldness and a willingness to do it all again despite the cold showers, weird diets, long rides on uncomfortable buses, not speaking the language, getting lost, missing train stops and losing things.

I'm thankful that despite some of the heartache this year, the uncertainty, the self-doubt and the frustration, that things really do work out. That I somehow managed to quit my job without another one lined up, but also managed to get a new one before I hit the road back to my mighty Commonwealth and spend these holidays with family and friends.

I'm thankful that despite loads of traffic and road construction, I get to see the Washington Monument, the Capitol and more on my drive to and from work, my way to church, to the grocery store and the dog park.

Which reminds me, I'm thankful for my puppy, Grover, even if he does eat my shoes, clothes, furniture and my Christmas tree and pees on the carpet. He teaches me patience, responsibility and I know that his entire wellbeing relies on me. He rewards me with a wagging tail.

I'm thankful that I spent the weekend at home with my parents for my dad's birthday and we went to Colonial Williamsburg for the festivities, including the Grand Illumination (post coming!)

It's been a crazy year, but it's proven that anything is in fact possible, and for that, I am very grateful.

Travel Alert

Didn't make it to Ecuador while I was in Peru, but heard good things. Hope this volcanic action doesn't cause too much damage or scare travelers away once the ash has cleared.

Headlines from previous trips

This is crazy. I was in Lima in 2008. Don't think I wandered as far as this particular part of the city, but still crazy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Down in the Duwamps

Seattle, was once called Duwamps, before it was renamed for Chief Sealth Seattle of the Duwamish and Suquamish native tribes.

Seattle is definitely a better name.

If I remember right, I tried desperately to stay awake Monday night to watch the new episode of Castle, but it was a failed effort. I crashed about 10 minutes into the show. Even on the pullout sofa bed in the hotel I slept like a rock. I'd not slept much the nights before and had changed time zones quite a few times.

But on Day 2, I was up early and went for a run downtown and along the water. I was training for another half-marathon, so I figured the hills and change of scenery would help make running seem like more fun. It was great to run in the city but the hills were absolutely brutal. Some of them had somewhere around a 12 percent grade. Doesn't sound like much but go try to run up that hill, especially after you already ran a few miles. It's amazing just to not roll back down.

After my run I was hot and freezing at the same time, but feeling refreshed from running along the harbor and seeing the islands, the city and the water. I could do that almost every day. Minus the hills.

We went back to the market that morning. I had to get a dark cherry mocha from the original Starbucks. I'm mildly addicted to coffee. (It seems I only have the picture of the store. My sister has a picture of me and my coffee and I think dad has one of me in front of the store. Must find!)

In the market, Sam (the middle sister) and I came across a booth for Moon Valley Organics. The family run local business produces their own line of health and beauty products and also honey and beeswax products. Sam spent the summer on an organic farm, so she was very interested and I was also impressed by their operation. Plus, they made some pretty cool stuff.

After that Sam and I had lost the rest of the family and then Sam and I lost each other. We were all around wandering at our own pace.

I also found Hammering Girl and I loved her jewelry. A few of y'all might be getting some of her creations for Christmas.

After spending the morning at the market, we headed back toward the hotel and Sam wanted to go by the REI store, which was only a block or so from the hotel.

At REI, I walked in a saw a sign for an SPJ event. I sent a message to my friend Dana who is the regional director out there and lives in the Seattle area. Then I ran into her in the store. She invited me to an SPJ mixer later that night and it was great to spend some time with her and meet other journalists. I also met a guy who was planning a trip to Slovenia so he wanted tips from me. I hear his trip was great.

The Emerald City, formerly known as Duwamps

When my little sister moved to Seattle for graduate school at the University of Washington, the whole family went along.

We went for a week, she stayed.

My parents and two sisters arrived before I did since I worked the Sunday shift. I then stayed up far too late packing and drinking wine and doing other things so that I nearly slept through my flight. Thankfully, my roommate tapped on the door a few minutes passed the time I had wanted to be at the airport and said something like "Hey Jenn! Wake up!"

Good thing I had done most of my packing the night before, because I frantically tossed a few more things in the bag, got dressed and raced out the door. Miraculously, I made it to the airport with time to check my bag.

Around mid-day, I arrived in Seattle. Dad picked me up at the airport and took me to the hotel so I could drop my bags and clean up a bit. I hadn't showered in my mad pre-dawn dash and just felt icky after all that flying.

It was much cooler than I had anticipated, so I was of course inadequately packed, but I love the cool air.

Dad and I walked down to Pike Place Market to meet my mom and sisters. There was some confusion over which sign to meet by. They were at one, we were at another and it took until someone said something about flying fish that we figured out what the other person was talking about.

We wandered around the market for awhile then headed down Alaskan Way to get tickets for the harbor cruise with Argosy Cruises. We grabbed lunch at Elliott's Oyster House while we waited for our 1:30 p.m. cruise. We loved our food and the staff there was friendly and hilarious.

Stuffed, we walked a few feet to board the ship. And headed out.

The kids (my sisters and I) all ended up standing outside taking in the view and getting some air. Our hair was all over the place in the wind and our cheeks were getting rosy from the cold air off the water, but it was great.

As you cruise, you see the city, the islands, sometimes can see Mt. Rainer and get background and historical information on what you're seeing. I also spotted the Seattle P-I building. Too bad it no longer prints a newspaper, they've gone all online as so many publications are doing.

After the cruise, which lasts quite awhile, we explored the shops and views along the water and went back to the market for a bit.

Eventually we were hungry again and tried to find some Italian place, but there seemed to be confusion as to where it actually way. We did end up at an Italian restaurant, not sure if it's the one we were looking for or not.

The food was great (I'm failing you, because I cannot remember the name of the place!) and the service was alright. We didn't really care, we were all together for the first time since Christmas 2009 and I'm pretty sure we were the loudest people in the place, laughing and talking for quite awhile.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Coming attractions

Since my last entry I quit my job at the Montgomery Advertiser, without a new job lined up. Got a new job, moved back to Virginia, this time in the DC area, got a new apartment with a friend and basically did an overhaul of my life.

Now that we're finally connected again at the apartment, I'll have new posts coming in the next few days about the family trip to Seattle, the SPJ conference in Vegas, my last days in Dixie and the adventures there.

I'll also fill you in the move from 'bama back to my mighty Commonwealth, which was an adventure in and of itself since I drove a 16 foot truck while towing my car and with the puppy in the front seat. I also got that truck stuck in a ditch somewhere in North Carolina and that has become a funny story. It certainly wasn't at the time.

So, prepare yourselves, I'll be back on the ball with posts soon and then I'll keep them coming!