After visiting Agecroft Hall, my friend and I drove on to Maymont. Like Agecroft Hall, Maymont is an estate that has been turned into an historic house museum. There are wildlife exhibits, a children’s farm, and beautiful formal gardens.

The entrance to the Italian Gardens is marked by a stone arch with the inscription “Via Florum.”

The daffodil display garden:

The entrance to the Japanese Garden:

I love photographing people, but I generally try to avoid having them in photos of landscapes. On this day, however, the gardens were so bustling that it was impossible to avoid including them in the photos. Apart from the usual garden visitors, there were high schoolers posing in their prom outfits and a gathering of “LARPers,” (Live-action role-players) dressed in fanciful costumes and wigs. (Believe me, I was dying to take their photos, but I managed to restrain myself with great difficulty…). Looking back at the photos that include people I captured unintentionally, I love the effect. I think the people, dressed in clothing as colorful as the flowers themselves, add rather than detract from the scene.

Here are two garden poems that capture the idea of people as an integral part of a gardenscape:

Amy Lowell’s “Patterns” begins with this stanza:

I walk down the garden paths,
And all the daffodils
Are blowing, and the bright blue squills.
I walk down the patterned garden paths
In my stiff, brocaded gown.
With my powdered hair and jeweled fan,
I too am a rare
Pattern. As I wander down
The garden paths.

And here are the beginning and final stanzas of Adrienne Rich’s poem “Design in Living Colors.” Perhaps she had Amy Lowell’s poem in mind when she wrote this?

Embroidered in a tapestry of green
Among the textures of a threaded garden,
The gesturing lady and her paladin
Walk in a path where shade and sunlight harden
Upon the formal attitudes of trees
By no wind bent, and birds without a tune,
Against the background of a figured frieze
In an eternal summer afternoon.

And the final stanza:

The fleeing hare, the wings that brush the tree,
All images once separate and alone,
Become the creatures of a tapestry
Miraculously stirred and made our own.
We are the denizens of a living wood
Where insight blooms anew on every bough,
And every flower emerges understood
Out of a pattern unperceived till now.

Agecroft Hall

This Saturday I was very happy to catch up with a dear friend, who moved from Charlottesville to Richmond years ago. Even though Richmond is just a little over an hour away, it’s just far enough and we are both so busy that we don’t get to see each other very often.

My friend took me to Agecroft Hall, a 15th century Tudor estate originally built in Lancashire, England. By 1925 the house had become the victim of industrialization and had fallen into disrepair. The last living heirs were forced to sell it at auction. Thomas C. Williams, Jr., a wealthy entrepreneur in Richmond, bought the house for $19,000 and had it dismantled, crated, and shipped across the Atlantic. Over the course of two years and at the cost of $250,000, he had it reassembled as his own personal estate in the Windsor Farms neighborhood, on a hillock overlooking the James River. Sadly, Williams died only one year after moving into the house of his dreams.

In honor of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday this Saturday, Agecroft Hall hosted a “Bard’s Birthday Celebration” with singing, games, dancing, acrobatics, and other performances.

In the grassy lawn as you approach the house is a stone that bears the identical inscription that is on Shakespeare’s tombstone at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon:

The English gardens, designed by renowned landscape architect Charles Gillette, are a marvel. We caught the peak of tulip season:

The Knot Garden:

We were so taken with the lovely gardens, we decided to go on to Maymont…to be continued tomorrow.

Santa Monica Pier

Last California post, I promise!

We spent our last day in California at the Santa Monica Pier.

We strolled around the boardwalk…

and although it was mighty tempting, we did NOT ride any roller coasters!

We had seafood for lunch…

and then we spent an hour at the little aquarium under the boardwalk. I was mesmerized by the jellyfish. I could have watched them all day long:

This sea cucumber, aka “Dinner” was utterly grotesque and strangely beautiful at the same time:

Some of the creatures looked like space aliens:

This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen…These Swell Shark pups were pulsating with life inside of their egg casings where they will develop for 8 to 10 months before hatching.

Korean Wedding – Paebaek

Continued from yesterday’s post…

A traditional Korean wedding ceremony, or paebaek, followed the actual ceremony.

The bride and groom bow to their elders, who are sitting at a low table covered with foods such as dried fruit and chestnuts.

They share tea and are given blessings and advice for their future.

The parents toss dates and chestnuts into a cloth the couple holds. The dates represent how many girls the couple will have and the chestnuts are for boy babies.

Other elders are honored with bows and give their blessings to the couple:

The groom carries his mother and then his wife on his back to symbolize his willingness to support both of them.

More photos tomorrow…

Pictures from the Wedding

Here’s what happens when you have a sister who is super stylish and works in the hippest hotel in DC:

1) She scopes out the coolest places in LA to stay and visit during your weekend there. (See yesterday’s post)!

2) You show up at her house with your suitcase packed with an outfit you think is suitable for the wedding you’ll be going to with her. She makes you show her what you brought. She takes one look and shakes her head. She pulls out a much better dress, shoes, jewelry, and a bag from her own closet for you to wear.

3) She tries to help you out by taking a photo of you from a flattering angle…(from waaaaaaaay above)!

4) Your pot roast shaped feet overflow right out of your sister’s sleek shoes. In the end, unable to bear the crippling, excruciating pain, you take them off and end up walking around the country club with your fat, unshod, blistered, bright red feet. Because you’re just as effortlessly classy as your sister is stylish.

The wedding was in the stunning Mountain Gate Country Club in LA. The only thing more beautiful than the setting was the gorgeous couple:

One of the best things about a wedding is that you get to have a family reunion for the happiest of reasons.

More photos tomorrow…

Santa Monica Chic

It sometimes seems like Virginia is all brick, columns, and colonial architecture and interiors. It was fun to see a totally different design vibe in Santa Monica…

Le Méridien Delfina Santa Monica

I loved the art behind the reception desk. It’s the first line of this poem by American poet Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962), which also happens to be perfect for Earth Day:

To feel and speak the astonishing beauty of things – earth, stone and water.
Beast, man and woman, sun, moon and stars –
The blood-shot beauty of human nature, its thoughts, frenzies and passions,
And unhuman nature its towering reality –
For man’s half dream; man, you might say, is nature dreaming, but rock
And water and sky are constant – to feel
Greatly, and understand greatly, and express greatly, the natural
Beauty, is the sole business of poetry.
The rest’s diversion: those holy or noble sentiments, the intricate ideas,
The love, lust, longing: reasons, but not the reason.

Even more spectacular was The Penthouse, the restaurant in the nearby Huntley Hotel. We met up there for brunch on Saturday with a small portion of my very large family:

The views!

The ultra-hip lobby designed by Thomas Schoos:

Library Love

In honor of National Library Week, I want to show some love for the libraries that have been important to me.

We moved around a lot when I was very young. Our neighborhood, our home, our school…these were always changing. What remained constant in our lives was our interior landscape. No matter where we were, we would always be surrounded by shelves crammed full of my dad’s treasure – the books that he couldn’t be parted with. Books were always a priority, so the other constant in our lives was that wherever we moved, one of the first places my dad would take us would be the public library.

I remember the feeling of joy and relief to see so many books when my dad took us to the local branch of the public library system in Arlington, Virginia. We had recently moved there from a postage stamp sized town in Pennsylvania, where the public library was housed in a minuscule house. I remember being worried that I would run out of books to read; if we had lived there much longer, I certainly would have. There was no shortage of books in the libraries in Arlington. Every week my brother and I would stagger out of the library under the weight of a grotesquely large mountain of books.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Library of Congress. My husband and I spent our first year of marriage doing research there side by side. My husband had not yet gotten a permanent teaching position and I was still in the very early stages of working on my dissertation. Our life was unsettled, but spending our days at the library made us feel like we were moving forward, even though we were really just treading water. It gave a comfortable and quiet rhythm to our days.

Years later in Cranbury, New Jersey, where we lived when the terrible events of 9/11 took place, I found solace at the public library. I would take my little son there every day and sometimes twice a day. Whenever we showed up, the white-haired librarians would come running to see my toddler. When they realized I was pregnant with my second child, they were reproachful. “You’re going to make him grow up too fast,” they told me as they put their arms around their beloved pet as if to shelter him from his monstrous and overly fertile mother.

What I checked out that year probably did nothing to endear me to them. I had never had trouble sleeping before, but all that year, the only way I could fall asleep would be to listen to books on tape. I discovered murder mysteries that year. I would listen to them all night long to banish the horrible images in my head. At the end of those stories, there was always a reckoning where good would triumph over evil. I got through that year with a lot of help from Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James.

Of the many libraries in my life, the one I have loved most of all is Crozet Library. When we moved to the western part of Charlottesville, I discovered this library, located in this teeny tiny, adorable little train depot:

I spent many happy hours there with my children when they were very young and I was staying at home with them.

The librarians here were the loveliest, kindest, most generous people in the world. They tended to the library as lovingly as they personally tended the little garden out front, which would brim with roses, poppies, and geraniums all summer long.

Story time was a revelation. Miss Rhonda put so much love and creativity into her presentations, it felt like a privilege to be there. Sometimes during story time a train would start rumbling by and she would encourage the kids to run to the big picture window overlooking the tracks to wave as it went by. Once at the end of story time, she brought all the kids out to sing Happy Birthday to her fellow librarian, who stood with her eyes shining and her hands clasped together. The library always felt like a snug harbor where only good existed.

I was amazed by all of the wonderful programs they would put on with very little resources. There was the “Fancy Nancy Party”:

And the “Winnie the Pooh Party”:

There was always a terrific summer reading program with themes like “Under the Sea”:

One summer we participated in the “Where in the World is Claudius Crozet” program with our cutout figure of the man for whom the town is named. We brought Claudius on our trip to California and, as is my wont, I took things a little too far…

By the end of our trip to California, I feared that my exasperated husband would do bodily harm to our my little cutout friend.

One summer we marched with the library in a town parade. It was so much fun…

until the kids started broiling under the brutal heat of the sun:

The library had been bursting at the seams for years. The county finally broke ground on a beautiful new building just around the corner from the old one. Last year there was an incredibly moving ceremony to move the last of the books from the little train station to the new building. Members of the community, including many children who walked over from the local elementary school, stood in a long line from the old library to the new library. They passed books hand over hand from one to the other. I was so sad to miss this because it was during work hours. Hopeless sap that I am, I shed tears watching the video of the ceremony.

The new building is pretty spectacular:

The librarians continue to be the very heart and soul of Crozet. They continue to provide wonderful programming in their beautiful new space.

But life’s gotten busy and the kids have gotten older. Once I started working, it got harder to get the kids to the library. We drive past the gleaming new building every week on our way to my daughter’s violin lesson. Every week, she was begging to go to there and would sigh when I said we didn’t have the time to fit it in. One day, she made it clear to me how important it was to her when she advised me that she had done some research and that we could go on Monday or Tuesday, when it would stay open until 9.

I felt chastened when I thought back to my own childhood and about how my dad would take us to the library every single week without fail, no matter how busy he was. I’ve promised her that I would do my best to take her there every week.

Life is busy, but you have to make time for the important things.