I started writing this from our gym, when the hour was not quite 6:00 am. This early rise was brought to me by our daughter, who likes to exercise and who also flew back to Auburn this morning to pack up her remaining gear for her move to her new city.
“Let’s get in a workout before I have to leave!” she suggested.
So, before 6:00 am, I had swam (swum?) some laps and had a shower and time to start this blog post.
Surprisingly, there were folks in the pool when the place opened at 5: two fellas who were very nice about sharing their lanes. It’s a good thing that the pool worked out, because on the drive over I realized that I had the wrong shoes on for any other kind of exercise.
Cora and I have kept busy while she’s been home over the past month, including getting to the gym at a rate I’m kind of proud of (thanks for the push, kiddo!). So it’s fitting that this was our final outing before she starts her move to her new home.
No, that’s not “country fried” (but I guess you could say that).
Franklin County, our home for the past year and a half, is nothing like the harried and fast-paced Northern Virginia we came from. One of our kids (the one who just finished college and will be moving to a city next week) is not amused. The other one is much more enchanted with our new-ish home.
Maybe he had a hard semester, but he talked a lot over winter break about how peaceful it is out here. Like his mother, he appreciates the cows and tractors. He grew a beard, which startled his grandfather enough to make that gentleman exclaim that he looks just like a native of our neighboring state, known for its country roads and coal industry.
And then, when his car was pretty much flattened in October by a hit-and-run (thankfully, without him in it), he put his sights on a vehicle that would be harder to crunch, and he headed back to college last week in a brand new (to him) truck. He said that he likes driving it around here because when he drives it, “more people wave.” He is definitely fitting in.
We sampled breads, herbs, coffee, and cheeses, all made fresh and locally, served up by friendly vendors. There was plenty of wine, beer, and even moonshine (two different distillers!) but we had a long afternoon planned and didn’t want to slow ourselves down.
Plus, because the emphasis of the conference was organic and biological farming, most of the crowd there were actually farmers or people associated with the food community. You would think that, living down here, one would have more opportunity to hang out with farmers but on the other hand, those folks have pretty long hours.
We went home with some delicious Persian kolompeh cookies and some chutney from Kelly’s Persian Foods, located in Charleston West Virginia, some chimichurri spice and pimiento cheese from Piemonte Kitchen & Garden, whose Facebook page has some cool photos of the event, and a jar of lavender jelly and great-smelling soap from Green Roof Soaps, right up the road in Bedford (and on Etsy!). The diversity of offerings was incredible and the crowd was large enough to feel festive without being too crowded. In fact, I felt a little like I was in on a secret.
But now you know, too.
This is an event that I want to make sure is on my calendar for next year!
I have not been writing much here lately because the two Reynolds kids are home and I have been trying to squeeze in work writing in the early part of the day and kid activities in the afternoon and evening.
Alas, though, all good things (like college holiday breaks) come to an end and our boy is heading back to school tomorrow morning. He and Jim are driving out there together, leaving me and Cora with a quiet weekend. So we’re heading to Charlottesville!
Charlottesville is the home of the University of Virginia, of course, and the community sits geographically (and culturally, I think) in between busy Northern Virginia (whence many UVA students originate) and the rest of Virginia — with its tempestuous history and pretty mountains. I think that it has a cultivated country-cultured vibe.
Which is illustrated in our planned outings for the day. We are first heading to Blue Ridge Pottery, just north of the city. Then we’re going to have lunch at one of those shops that has bowls of superfoods and quinoa because that’s what the girl likes to eat and you really can’t find too much of that in our local vicinity.
And we both agree on our final stop:
We don’t have Trader Joe’s in Roanoke. Our nearest one is Charlottesville. It’s going to be a well-timed, really good day.
We bid Cape Cod farewell on December 27, driving off into a beautiful sunrise.
Though we considered breaking the trip in half, we found ourselves pretty lucky with the traffic and decided to plow through. This meant we had a 13½ hour drive but we split up the driving and were rewarded with a full weekend at home before Jim had to go back to work on Monday.
I have had an extra week off because my place of employment closes down for two weeks at the holidays, hooray! This meant that I got to enjoy more time with the Reynolds kids at various coffee shops around the area.
Besides determining that the nonstop Cape Cod – Wirtz trip is survivable, I learned (or was reminded of) at least four other notable things over this holiday break.
FIRST. That song gets it right. You know, the holiday song, “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” which is actually about traffic. That went through my head more than a few times in the course of the past few weeks. We were #blessed to travel between two homes and both felt pretty homey.
Having said that, though, I have drooled over pictures of some friends’ holiday vacations and I think I could work with that, too.
SECOND. Inspiration comes from unexpected places. Jim has a couple of cousins on Cape Cod, and they come to his parents’ house with their families for Christmas dinner. It is wonderful, because they are all very enjoyable folks and we don’t get to see them often enough. One of the cousins’ kids is working hard to apply for a selective position in the military, and he is seriously in tip-top shape. He runs daily, spends intentional time at the gym, and eats only things that are good for him. From the standpoint of someone (ahem, me) who has worked way too much baklava into her holiday life, this gentleman encouraged me to take a good look at my bad habits. And he’s only 24, people.
THIRD. Christmas lasts a little longer in Franklin County. I’ve talked in this blog about the solid waste sites in Franklin County, where you bring your household trash and converse for a moment with some of the nicest folks around: the fellas who tend the sites. I have also learned that if you’re tossing a particularly serviceable item, these gentlemen will encourage you to leave it on top of the dumpster/compactor in case someone else can use it. This practice goes into high gear at the holiday season, making the dumpsters look like a second Christmas, a veritable buffet of holiday gifts. At the dump site in Burnt Chimney, evidently a woman had discarded an entire box of angels, and the gentleman at the site there was offering angels to anyone who came through. That’s hard to beat.
FOURTH. The holidays end when your kids go back to school. When I was growing up, the holiday season started on October 23, with my mom’s birthday, followed by Halloween, my November birthday, Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, and wrapping up with my dad’s birthday on January 10 (we then rested for a minute to regroup and celebrate my sister at the end of February). Now my dad and mom are gone, but our daughter’s birthday is in early January, so the holiday energy goes strong until then.
But the thing about having kids home from college is that you know they’re going to go back, and the house will become quiet again, and the cats will get depressed, and then, you know, it’s just winter. So even though we’ll celebrate that young lady this weekend and I need to get back to work on Monday, we’ll have one more week to savor with “kids” in the house, and that’s an even better gift than anything else this season.
This is one of those days when this blog becomes a travel blog because that’s what we’ve been doing.
Our trip to Jim’s parents’ house now takes us two days because we live that much further south. But the bonus is that instead of driving straight up I-95 through Baltimore, past Wilmington DE, and over the Jersey Turnpike, we now drive up I-81 through the wilderness of Pennsylvania.
Easton, PA, is a good halfway point. It’s a cute town right on the Delaware River.
On the second day of travel we roll through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut (not such bad traffic on Christmas Eve!), Rhode Island, and on into Massachusetts.
I hope that if you have travels this season they are safe and happy!
I try to keep this blog about the local environs here in Franklin County and elsewhere in southwest Virginia, but as you know we’ve been lured here and there with other exciting events lately.
And since we’ve been home, I have been toiling over holiday cards.
I’ve made a big deal over holiday greetings in the past. For years I made them myself, and during other years I worked pretty hard to get the perfect picture of Reynolds kids.
This year I shopped local and got some cute cards at the Gifts Ahoy! store (where you can also get a sample of fudge, hello!).
But I didn’t buy enough and had to supplement with a trip to CVS.
Then my sister’s card came and it was so great, that I just had to take a break from my cards and stand in awe.
These guys have holiday cards that people look forward to every year. They are that clever. Every year! And she has pointed out that the beauty of photo cards is that you don’t have to write things on them.
I like writing things. But I’m at the point in my card process where I’m not writing much more than our family’s names on the cards anyway (sorry S’s, T’s, W’s, and my one Z friend; I run out of steam), and I hereby vow to concoct a photo card next year. It will not measure up to my sister’s, but hey, I have 11 months to get creative.
For years, Jim’s mom would make amazing toffee bark during the holidays.
It has four ingredients. Two more if you want to get fancy. But the basics are:
two sticks of butter
about a sleeve of Saltine crackers
a cup of sugar
a bag of chocolate chips
For the butter and the sugar, you just use the plain stuff you have in your kitchen already. For the crackers, even basic, off-brand Saltine-type crackers work great (Kroger had a box for 99 cents. Yes, please!). For the chocolate, you might splurge a little and get posh chips (I’ll explain in a minute).
If you melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sugar and boil it for five minutes (stirring constantly), pour that mess on crackers spread evenly on a baking sheet, bake it for five minutes at 400, turn off the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips on the confection, return it to the oven for two minutes, spread the now-melted chips, and pop it all into the refrigerator to firm up, you will have achieved culinary alchemy.
If you want to get fancy you can add chopped pecans before it goes into the refrigerator and/or powdered sugar after it comes out and you break it into shards. I added pecans because I like them and also to hide the fact that my regular old Toll House morsels didn’t melt in a nice way (and I’ve since learned that it may be a moisture issue in my oven, check this out, but also, I looked online and there is some controversy out there about those chips). The bark still tastes good but is not as aesthetically pleasing as Jim’s mom’s bark was.
Sadly, my mother-in-law no longer eats things that contain gluten and has not made the bark for years. Neither had I, and now I remember why. I cannot stop eating it.