Baby Steps

I made a little bit of progress yesterday.

See, one of the things I’m trying to do, now that we live in this rural spot, is find a way to write things in a freelance way. Other than a few writing samples, I’m pretty much starting this project from scratch.

But I have taken some steps. 

  • I signed up (and shhhh, don’t tell Jim, paid for) a course on getting a freelance business started. The instructor, Elna Cain, takes you through a wide scope of topics related to everything from setting up your website, to setting your rates, to finding ways to market yourself. I am progressing through the course little by little.
  • I am putting together a professional website. It’s in WordPress, like this blog right here. It’s not ready to go yet. I have found that setting up a website is not easy. (But yesterday’s progress? New portraits that I hope will say, “Hey, I’m a writer.”)
  • I have one client, our local news publisher, and I am delighted that they have been able to use some of my work! But wow, I want to get that website set up.

Because I’m finding the website thing to be difficult, I have found all kinds of ways to procrastinate. Like all the Christmas stuff (presents wrapped! Cards sent!). And a volunteer gig I’ve picked up (more on that next week). And, well, this blog, of course, which I’m not going to quit because it gets me writing every day and also out and about into the new environment.

So I’ll keep you posted on my progress here. And if anyone wants to come to my house and walk with me through WordPress websites, I promise I’ll drive you around on a cow-seeking tour AND make you some cookies!

Road to … Well, Not Here

I heard there was a holiday village at Explore Park so I jumped in the car to check it out.

Explore Park is run by the Roanoke County Parks, Recreation & Tourism, and it sounds great! Described as “hundreds of acres of rolling hills, pristine woodlands, hiking trails, river frontage, historical buildings and a visitor information center,” it sounds like an outdoor paradise that I should have probably checked out before now. But add a Holiday Market, and wow, I’m there!

Unfortunately, one of the highlights to Explore Park is its proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and today the Blue Ridge Parkway looked like this:


The GPS took me an alternate route to the park, which wound through neighborhoods and up very narrow roads that were still partially snow covered.

This was no way to get to a holiday market.

When I got there, I only found a few tents and some light displays that were still works in progress. Along with advertisements for that holiday market.

Well, joke’s on me: when I revisited the Explore Park website in order to write this post, it seems that the festivities will start tomorrow. I sure hope that they get the Parkway thing worked out by then.

I did get a nice view of the city in my travels, though — that picture at the top of the post. And I know, the holidays aren’t that hard to find. They’re just a little tricky to get to sometimes.

Holidays Happening

Well, the snow did not mess up our holiday revelry.

On Friday evening, well before the weather rolled in, we joined our fun friends the Marstons for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra holiday pops concert and listen, if you’re not in a festive mood after that event, you’re not trying.

The show is held at the Salem Civic Center (a town over from Roanoke), which gave us a chance to meet up with Brett and Colleen for dinner at Allsports Cafe, a friendly, tasty sports-themed family restaurant. We also got to catch a moment or two of the Salem Christmas Parade, which Colleen explained tends to inconveniently land on the same night as the pops concert each year.

We arrived to a very crowded arena and found our seats in the stands. Down on the arena floor, there had to be well over a thousand concert-goers who had purchased tables for the evening, all turned out in holiday finery. As they finished up their dinners, the orchestra members took their seats, accompanied by Rob Gallagher, a terrific vocalist, and four choral groups: the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, the Blacksburg Master Chorale, and the Holiday Pops Honors Chorus. That’s a lot of singers.

But the highlight came in the second half, when the “Electric-est Santa” brought out his guitar, along with Santa’s Six-Stringers, and they turned it up to 11. When the whole ensemble started in on an homage to beloved Virginia Tech football’s entrance anthem, “Enter Santaman,” the combined choirs jumped up and down as if they were in the stands of Lane Stadium

The evening wrapped up with a sing-along, which did not include “White Christmas” but that wouldn’t become relevant until Sunday morning anyway. This concert is a part of many Roanokers’ holiday traditions, and it is one we are looking forward to continuing!

Snow in the Mountains

So, how’s the weather?

That’s a perfectly logical question when you’re thinking about a place to live. So far, we have found that weather here in the southwest of Virginia isn’t that much different than what we were used to in the north. We just tend to get it a day earlier.

But on Sunday, we got a ridiculous snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow on our region, then slid off to the east before visiting anyone north of, say, Fredericksburg. Because we were well-warned about the storm (thanks, weather folks!), we were well-prepared with plenty of food, extra water in the tub, and flashlights just in case the power went out.

That snow was pretty impressive.

It kept on coming.

It was fun to watch from inside.

It finally stopped after dark

Digging out yesterday took awhile, but I know that many of our neighbors have driveways longer than ours. And it was a stirring sight to see the plow make its way up our street propelled by a large John Deere tractor.

Someone who lives in my house got the car stuck at the top of the driveway, which I didn’t appreciate too much

It was an unusually large snowstorm, even for this place, and we’re glad to have gotten through it with no complaints other than sore muscles.

Holiday Hustlin’

It was a peaceful Saturday morning, trying to get the holiday cards done and out before the massive snow predicted for Sunday (and the Post Office closes at 11:30 on Saturday!).

Wishing that nondenominational stamps were easier to obtain out here in the country.

Change is in the Air

In about 50 million ways.

Yesterday, the Roanoke Times reported that a local family (and their charitable trust) made a huge donation, $50 million, to the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke. 

Carilion is our local health care network. About ten years ago, they teamed up with Virginia Tech to start up a medical school in Roanoke: the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. It’s been a big success.

Now, these new funds are earmarked to lure more scientists — faculty and students — to our little city. According to the Times, the university is planning to move some of its programs from Blacksburg to Roanoke, and there is talk of a “technology corridor” running through the town.

You get the feeling that something big is about to happen, and we feel lucky to be here to see it.

Five Ways that Swimming in the Country is Very Different

And these have nothing to do with a swimmin’ hole.

I am not a terrific swimmer, but because it’s a form of exercise that does not hurt my knees, I have kind of learned to enjoy it. For the past few years, my former job at George Mason University gave me access to a really great swimming venue at the university’s natatorium (Michael Phelps once swam there!), which had not one, but two pools: this one for the big dogs, like my high school swimmer nephew, and this one for the regular folks. 

Of course, in the summer, I was able to pop in the lake, which is pretty great. But sometimes you want those lane lines, particularly now that it’s cold. And never fear: our membership at the Franklin County YMCA gives us access to a lap pool so I can go flap my arms around from time to time. But things are different here:

  1. You need to want to get there. The pool is at the Y in Rocky Mount, and it’s a solid half hour of driving to get there. That’s in the morning, on those winding roads, with less-than-patient drivers behind you. One foggy morning I timed the whole thing wrong and ended up trying to combine my swim trip with a trip to the dump, which didn’t open until 7, so I just drove around with nasty cat litter in my car, looking for a trash site and feeling sorry for myself.
  2. Once you’re there, the pool is yours. At Mason, in the community pool, you had to share a lane most of the time (and there was one guy who, if you asked to share, would look around to see if there were other lanes he could suggest to you). At the Rocky Mount Y, you might get quite a way into your workout before someone even shows up to swim in one of the other lanes. You can actually Rule the Pool.
  3. The pool is kind of tiny. Just three to four lanes, depending on how they have it set up. But it’s 25 yards long, which is enough for anyone.
  4. The hot water consistently works in the shower at the Y. I could not always say that at Mason, particularly after the high school swim team blew through there.
  5. The locker room scene is very different. In the mornings at Mason, the locker room would be packed with high school girls, showering, changing, and loudly talking about important high school topics. In Franklin County, modesty is the name of the game. There are many more changing rooms available, and the only person changing in front of a locker is me, hoping not to shock anyone.

Finding a pool in which to grab some laps has gone a long way to making me feel like my life is “normal,” even in a new place. Who knew that goggle eyes would be so comforting?

See you next week, Rocky Mount pool!

A Good Place to Visit? Clearly!

When friends come to visit and you learn that they’re also scouting potential retirement spots, it would sure be nice if your new home showed itself to its advantage.

SW Va did not get that message this weekend, though. It was cold, drizzly, and cloudy. Fortunately, our friends are hearty.

We got to our favorite spots to bring visitors, including the downtown farmers’ market, Black Dog Salvage, and the Mill Mountain Star.

That’s Roanoke out there in the mist.

But we also included a visit to the Starr Hill brewpub and Bamyan, a tiny and delicious Afghan restaurant that opened in Roanoke this fall.

And we can only hope that Susan and Greg will come back when you can actually see the mountains!

The Edge of the Map

It’s not that easy to get here.

When Jim’s parents and sister came down for Thanksgiving last week, his dad flew from Boston and the ladies flew from Dallas (where they gather to holiday shop each year). They met in Richmond, which is three hours to our northeast. (Virginia is a wide place.)

Because of an unplanned stop at an urgent care place (everyone is okay but you know, people can get sick here and there), they didn’t arrive until nearly midnight. But on they came, and you just have to appreciate that kind of tenacity.

And just as appreciated are the friends who are on their way to visit even as I write this. They are coming down from northern Virginia, and breaking up their four-hour drive with a lunch stop up the road in Lynchburg. Smart! When my sister and her family did a trip here in August, they stopped for lunch at the brewery that’s north of Roanoke. Also smart!

My point is, even though we might not be the easiest place to come visit, we will be really glad when you do.

The Postal Service Could Learn Something

I was a nice mom today and sent off some care packages to college kids.

But I was the real winner because I got to visit the Post Office in Burnt Chimney.

When we first moved here, I looked up the nearest Post Office and found that it was eight miles away. What?

Certainly enough, it’s a little hike. But very scenic, of course, and when you get there, the postmaster is so pleasant that you kind of feel like you’re in Mayberry. And not for nothing, Homestead Creamery is right next door for your dairy needs.

I don’t want to brag, but I kind of think I now frequent the best Post Office in the whole system.