Summer Fun

School’s out and it’s time to explore. Living in Virginia, we’re lucky to have plenty to do in our home state – from beaches to mountains and from historic sites to theme parks to national parks. We also have Washington, DC on our doorstep, opening the door to plenty of cultural offerings. Want to do something this summer and need some ideas? Try these:

  • Napoleon: Power and Splendor exhibition, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond – This unique exhibition takes you inside the world of Napoleonic Europe, showing artifacts from Napoleon’s own daily life, as well as commissioned pieces and propaganda that helped legitimize his empire. Through Sept. 3.
  • “Body Worlds: Animals Inside and Out,” Science Museum of Virginia, Richmond – This Richmond museum offers a great day out for families. The animal exhibit teaches kids and adults alike about the biology of animals through plastination, a process that preserves blood vessels, muscular systems and more. Through Aug. 19.
  • Astronomy and Night Sky Summer Series, Chincoteague National Wildlife Reserve/NASA’s Wallop’s Island Flight Facility, Chincoteague – Space lovers can explore the night sky at this evening lecture series that begins inside and concludes outdoors with telescope viewing of the night sky. July 13.
  • Tank Museum Vehicle Run Day, American Armoured Foundation Inc. Tank and Ordnance War Memorial Museum, Danville – One one special day this summer, this military museum fires up the engines of its tanks and runs them. Inside the museum itself, a wide variety of exhibits, such as “Black Panthers, African-American Tankers of WWII” and “Elvis – His Military Years” will please any military enthusiast. July 14.
  • “Wings and Wheels,” Ingalls Field, Hot Springs – Head out to Virginia’s western highlands to take in this event packed with cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles and airplanes. A vintage car show, air shows, rides and plenty of family fun await. July 14.
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Celebrate America on July 4

Virginia is a great place to celebrate Independence Day. We have authentic Americana and historic sites galore. Here are some of the best places to visit for July 4:

  • An American Celebration, Mount Vernon – Fireworks, military re-enactments, a naturalization ceremony, birthday cake and a visit from George and Martha Washington are highlights of July 4th at this American history museum.
  • Independence Day Celebration, Yorktown – Enjoy a 5k/8k run/walk, parade, U.S. Coast Guard band, concert and fireworks.
  • Independence Day at Patrick Henry’s Red Hill, Brookneal – Featuring a speech by Virginia’s first governor, Patrick Henry, and fireworks at dusk, this is a unique, family-friendly Fourth of July celebration.
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  • Fourth at the Fort, Fort Monroe – A flag ceremony, food, live music and a fireworks display mark the Fourth at this historic fort near Hampton.
  • Independence Day at Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg – Readings of the Declaration of Independence take place throughout the day, alongside musical performances, hands-on activities for the kids and an evening fireworks display.
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  • Independence Day in Historic Port Royal, Port Royal – Special appearances by George Mason, Dolly Madison and Harriet Tubman, performances of period music from the Revolutionary and Civil War areas, pipes and drums and free surrey rides.
  • 4th of July Concert and Fireworks, Dogwood Dell, Richmond – Long-running local favorite featuring a patriotic performance by the Richmond Concert Band and a fireworks display at dusk.
  • Stars and Stripes Explosion, Virginia Beach – Enjoy live music performances throughout the day and end your evening with a bang at the massive fireworks display.

Homemade Pizzas

With five people in our house who all have different tastes, making a meal everyone can customize makes feeding a crowd easier. I use my bread machine to whip up a big batch of pizza dough and from there I can make large pizzas, individual-size pizzas and breadsticks. Everyone can pick their own toppings, from pizza sauce and plenty of cheese to meats, veggies and more.

Ingredients:

2 tsp. dry yeast

3 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

2 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 cup plus 2 tbsp. warm water

Place ingredients into the bread machine in the order they’re listed above. Run them on the dough cycle. Remove dough and store in a bowl or plastic bag drizzled with olive oil. Stretch the dough out thin onto a baking sheet and top with sauce, cheese and your favorite toppings!

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On Anthony Bourdain

There is nothing I can write about Anthony Bourdain that won’t be written far more eloquently by those far better at writing things. I never had the chance to meet him, though I would have loved to. His unique style of travel writing and documentary filmmaking was a huge inspiration in creating my blog, and in my life in general. The closest I came to meeting him was in 2014 when my husband and I attended a UFC fight in Baltimore. Anthony and his then-wife, Ottavia, walked right past us as they made their way to their seats octagon-side. “Holy shit!,” I remember saying, “That was Anthony Bourdain!” There was no fuss, no fanfare. Just a man and his wifeon a night out watching the fights.

That’s part of what made him so great. He was unpretentious, honorable and endlessly curious. He treated the Michelin-starred chef the same way he treated the Vietnamese street food cook or the Portugese grandmother – as a valuable human being, someone to learn from, to share time, space and food with. He was as impressed by West Virginia coal miners as he was by celebrity chefs. He sought out the extraordinary in the ordinary and the ordinary in the extraordinary. He had every travel junkie’s ultimate dream job, and he used his platform to tell the stories of the places he visited in a way that went far deeper than which sights and restaurants to tick off your bucket list.

I tried to travel like Bourdain, to take the extra time to connect with those I met along the way. I’m reminded of a dinner in Colmar, Alsace, ironically not far from where his life ended. It was November of 2016, and Trump had just been elected President. We’d been in Reims – Champagne country –  the day before when the news broke. Our trip plans had entailed toasting Hillary Clinton’s win with some celebratory champagne. Alas, that was not to be.

We walked through the cobbled streets of Colmar, a medieval town with timbered buildings dating from the 1400’s, looking for somewhere to eat. In the center of the old town, Le Fer Rouge is a classic Alsatien restaurant in a quaint and charming old building. My husband and I sat in the back corner and chatted about the election. Our waiter, overhearing us, asked where we were from. I said we were American, and, in broken franglais, explained how terrible it was that Trump had won the election. Over the course of our meal, we spoke with our waiter about immigration, European right-wing politics and French stereotypes of Americans. At one point, he whizzed our cardboard coasters to us with a joking shout of “for Trump!”

Our shared connection made that dinner far more memorable and meaningful than if my husband and I had sat in the corner, ordered our food and only spoken to the waiter to give our orders. Because of our waiter’s sociable personality and our willingness to share a conversation, we learned that not every French person sees the immigration issue the same way, that in small, rural, fiercely independent Alsace, there is nervousness at the prospect of their way of life changing with large influxes of people from elsewhere. After following the restaurant on Facebook – just a click away in today’s social media world of constant connectivity – I was saddened to learn of our waiter’s passing earlier this year. I thought of Anthony’s words from his book “The Nasty Bits”: “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

Everyone who loves food and travel idolized Anthony Bourdain. Everyone wanted to do what he did, aspired to be half the writer, speaker and thinker that he was. He used his talents for good, to shine a light on injustice, to let neglected and overlooked communities speak for themselves. He used food and travel as tools to get to the heart of our shared humanity, one plate at a time, one road at a time, one place at a time. He seemed to always be searching for what is real, what is true – which was often beautiful, but nearly as often ugly. The tragedy of his death is that this world has lost his unique voice, and his powerful way of looking at and reflecting the world back to us. There will never be another Anthony Bourdain. My heart aches for his daughter, his family, his friends and associates and all of us whose lives he enriched and inspired. I hope that he has found peace.


If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources.

 

 

My Contest and Sweepstakes Hobby – Part 3

If you’ve read my previous two posts on entering contests and sweepstakes, you learned how to prepare for entering and where to find online contests and sweepstakes to enter. Besides the contest and sweepstakes websites I mentioned in my previous post, there are also plenty of opportunities to win via social media.

Have you ever been scrolling through your Facebook feed and noticed a sponsored post offering a chance to win something? When you click on “Sign Up” or “Learn More,” you’ll have the chance to enter the contest. Often, these social media contests and sweepstakes are sponsored by a brand you’ll recognize. If not, I strongly suggest right-clicking on the brand’s page and opening the link in a new tab. From there, you can take a look at the brand’s Facebook page to see if it appears legit. A legitimate brand should have contact information on their Facebook page, including a location, website and phone number. If a brand doesn’t have this information, you may want to refrain from providing your contact information or access to your Facebook profile information.

Instagram is another social media platform whose brands offer contests and sweepstakes. Entering on this platform often entails liking accounts and/or tagging friends in the comments. There may also be a form to capture personal information. Again, be sure to look into the brand and make sure they are reputable before handing over your contact information.

In general, the only information a social media contest should be asking for is information necessary to contact you if you win (i.e. name, address, phone number, email address). Be very leery of brands asking for information that could be used to hack or modify online accounts, such as social security number, last four digits of a credit card number, high school name, mother’s maiden name, etc.

Unless you are entering a raffle that requires a charitable donation, which should be explained up front, you should never be asked to provide a payment or credit card information in order to enter an online or social media contest or sweepstakes. Likewise, you should never be asked for credit card information or any kind of payment if you win a contest or sweepstakes. This is one of the main ways to determine that a “win” is actually a scam. Legitimate online contests and sweepstakes do not require a purchase, and should state in their terms and conditions, “no purchase necessary.” You also should not be asked to participate in any type of timeshare presentation, phone call or Skype call in order to claim a prize.

So what does a legitimate contest win look like? When I win trips or other large prizes, I typically receive a personal email from an individual who works for a promotion or marketing company. This email will state the prize I have won, the contest name, and may ask that I respond within a certain amount of time to confirm that I plan to accept the win. Sometimes the person will attach a tax document, which is used to provide a 1099 form at the end of the year. Wins over $400 are required to be reported as income, and should be added to your income when you prepare your income tax return by providing the 1099 form to your tax professional. I typically remember the contest and having entered it. I can Google the name of the contest or prize online and find it quickly. The sponsoring brand should be mentioned in the email.

A scam “contest win” email will typically have a clickbait subject line, like “You Won an iPhone! Open now.” There won’t be an individual’s name or contact information, and there often won’t even be a brand or sponsoring organization name. There may be a link you are prompted to click and fill in personal information, which can later be used by hackers or sold to additional spammers. It might be a timeshare scam, where you’re told that you’ve “won” a hotel night or two if you attend a timeshare presentation. You may be asked to pay a fee to “claim your winnings.” If you do, you may find your credit card or Paypal account compromised.

It never hurts to do a little bit of verification before providing your personal information for any contest or sweepstakes win. If you’re concerned that your winner email may not be legit, don’t hesitate to do a Google search for the marketing or promotions company mentioned in the email. Call them and ask for the person who contacted you. That way you can verify the win is legitimate and also ask any questions you may have about the win.

Good luck, and tune in next time for information on what to do once you’ve won!

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Richmond’s French Food Festival

As a Francophile, I knew I had to take my kids to Richmond’s French Food Festival last weekend. The Festival is a mission of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who assist the elderly poor with independent and assisted living as well as nursing care. Richmond has plenty of food festivals, from Greek to Indian and every type in between, but the French Food Festival was a great opportunity to try foods from all regions of France and introduce my kids to some French culture.

There were bouncy houses for my younger son to play in and a marketplace full of vendors to explore with items from gourmet foods and home decor to clothing, books and more.

For lunch, we tried a bunch of different things:  Ratatouille, Beef Bourguignon and Coquilles St. Jacques for lunch and crepes and la glace (ice cream) for dessert.

The food was delicious and my kids enjoyed trying new things, especially the desserts!

 

Quick and Easy Southwestern Chicken and Veggie Skillet

This delicious and easy-to-make dish is perfect for the whole family. You can serve it with some Mexican or Spanish rice, or just a loaf of crusty bread. It was a great excuse for me to use my mandoline slicer too.

Heat 2 tbsp. of vegetable oil on medium heat in a large skillet. Dice two cloves of garlic and add them, plus salt and pepper to taste and 2 tbsp. of powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning mix to the pan. Dice a pound of chicken breast and cook it in the skillet until brown, then add a drained can of corn, 2 to 3 zucchinis, sliced thin, one small green pepper and one small red pepper, sliced. Cook the skillet, stirring frequently, until all the vegetables are cooked and everything has soaked in all the seasoning.

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Quick Southwestern Chicken and Veggie Skillet

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, diced

dash salt

dash pepper

2 tbsp. powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning

1 lb. chicken breast, cut into small chunks

1 can corn

2-3 zucchinis

1 small green pepper

1 small red pepper

Preparation:

Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced garlic, salt, pepper and powdered Mexican or Southwestern seasoning and mix, then add the chicken breast. Cook the chicken until brown, then add the corn, zucchini, green and red pepper. Cook the whole skillet until all vegetables have cooked through and soaked up the seasoning. Serve with Mexican or Southwestern rice or some crusty bread.