Speeding to the Speedway on a Lucky Day

One evening in the first week in March, I got a surprise email from the Southern Virginia Regional Health Care System. Anne, it said, come on down to the Martinsville Speedway next week and we’ll give you a Covid shot. After Jim and decided that it was real – we had never heard of Sovah Health – I registered and got myself an appointment.

It seems my eligibility had come up, and because we live in a relatively-uncrowded part of Virginia, shots were available. Sovah Health was planning a mass vaccination event, drive-up style, at the race track in Martinsville.

Martinsville is a real part of the NASCAR circuit (they’ve got some races April 8-10 if that’s your thing) so it was a unique experience going down there.

Not going to lie, this is likely the closest I will get to a NASCAR race.

And it’s true, you don’t even get out of your car. You roll up, fill out a card, drive to a pop-up tent where they take your card and introduce you to an RN with a syringe. Put your car in park, open the door, and bam. Then you’re off, with an index card printed with the time you’re permitted to leave (15 minutes after the vaccination). You take a spot in another line where the staff helps you make your appointment online for the second shot. By the time you leave the racetrack, you’re set for your three-week return appointment.

I was good to go at 8:32 yesterday, half an hour after I got to the track.

That second shot, for me, was yesterday morning. I jumped in the car at 7:00 for the hour-long trip to Martinsville and the operation was as smooth as the first time around. This time I did not even need to open the door – the RN reached right in and took care of business. I told them they’re so efficient they should run the government.

A smooth operation, staffed by extremely nice medical folks, sheriff’s department personnel, and kind volunteers.

On the way home I drove by redbuds (they’re popping down south in Martinsville but I think we’ll have to wait a bit longer for ours) and beat the rain that was forecast for the day. And even though I am feeling some of those side effects you might have heard about, today I am beyond grateful for the whole thing.

Close to Home

Here in the countryside where we live, it sometimes feels like everybody knows everybody, though of course when we moved here, I felt for a long time like I knew nobody (dude, that’s what this whole blog is about).

One person we did know right off the bat, fortunately, is our realtor, Colleen (who definitely knows everybody), and she anticipated this conundrum because during our home inspection, while the inspection guy was doing his thing, she announced, Anne, we’re going to go meet your neighbors.

There are many trees around our house, and only our next door neighbors’ house is visible through them. Colleen knows (of course) the adult son of the couple who lives there, so when she knocked on the door with me in tow and we were greeted by a bearded gentleman wearing sweatpants, she announced that she was a friend of Kevin’s and she wanted to introduce their new neighbor.

He was politely taken aback, I think, protesting that he was just doing a little writing that afternoon.

We won’t stay long, promised Colleen.

And we didn’t stay long, just long enough to ascertain that our neighbors, Richard and Kathleen, were nice folks. In fact, as I learned over the past two years, they are tremendously kind and brilliant people, generous with their knowledge about the surrounding area and a glass of rosé as well.

We lost Richard last week to Covid.

He had been in not-great health for the past year, a reminder of the infuriating way that time steals people away little by little. Both Richard and Kathleen picked up the virus over the holidays. She is still working through the lingering bits of it, he is not.

As I write this, I know that I am actually extraordinarily fortunate in this modern-day world we are walking through. Our family, so far, is healthy and safe. Most of our friends are, too. When you hear about more than 500,000 Americans losing their lives related to this disease, it’s a shocking number, but it’s really those people who are the ones in a half-million who bring the loss home.

If you want to learn about our amazing neighbor, the university where he taught for more than forty years made a beautiful tribute video. My heart is with his family.

A Morning Mess

I work from home all the time, and have done so even before the pandemic, but every once in awhile now Jim works from home too. He is doing so today since we have an ice storm going on.

He was all set up very busy this morning as I was making spare coffee to store in the fridge in case our power went out (it went out last week for a day and I sure missed my afternoon cup), and since I wanted to be busy, too, I was reading a book while making the coffee. I’m taking a social media break for Lent this year, to free up time to read more books and do things like my job.

All of a sudden, our cat who throws up all the time started doing his thing, right there in the kitchen, and I turned around too fast to see how much mess he was making, and managed to catch the rim of the cup I was using for that soon-to-be-stored coffee and splashed the whole thing all over me and my book.

Jim: You got coffee on my book!

Me: And all over myself, wah.

Cat: (Says nothing and patiently waits for the other cat to clean up the throw up by eating it.)

I should probably get Jim a new book, as this one now has pages that are cold-coffee-crispy. But I still feel lucky since our bad weather today pales compared to what most of the country is going through. Even if we lose power, we’ll have coffee. Even with coffee-scented pages, it’s nice to have a good book to read. And if I hadn’t been on a social media break, it would have been my phone that was doused with coffee and don’t even get me started on how that would have presaged a very bad day.

Time Travel: Special Edition!

I wrote yesterday about how I’d compiled a list of history-related reading generously shared from some Facebook friends. Well, that original Facebook post prompted Jim’s uncle, who is an actual history professor, y’all, to suggest a few of his favorites. I thought I’d put his list in its own category:

  • Out of this Furnace (Thomas Bell)
  • The Paranoid Style in American Politics (Richard Hofstadter)
  • Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (Tony Horowitz)
  • The Strange Career of William Ellis, The Texas Slave Who Became a Mexican Millionaire (Karl Jacoby)
  • Natural Allies: Women’s Associations in American History (Anne Firor Scott)
  • Who Stole the American Dream? (Hedrick Smith)
  • Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self Made Man (Garry Wills)
  • The Radicalism of the American Revolution (Gordon Wood)

We are all going to come out of this pandemic smarter, my friends. Thank you, Uncle Jack!

Time Travel

Because we’re not really traveling right now, except to the couch to open up a book or catch some Netflix, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to travel in time, at least literarily. So I put the question out on Facebook: do you have a favorite history, memoir, or historical fiction. And wow, did people come through!

I tried to catch all of the responses (a few tangential threads developed and some nuggets might have gotten lost in there) and compiled them, below. The books with the asterisks were recommended by multiple people.

Histories and Memoirs

  • All but my Life (Gerda Weisserman Klein)
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)
  • The Boys in the Boat (Daniel James Brown)*
  • Climbing the Mango Trees (Madhur Jaffrey)
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (Caroline Alexander)
  • The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue (Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman)
  • Educated (Tara Westover)
  • Founding Mothers (Cokie Roberts)
  • Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson)
  • Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (John Heilemann, Mark Halperin)
  • Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (Colin Dickey)
  • Grant (Chernow) *
  • Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law (Haben Girma)
  • Hamilton (Ron Chernow) *
  • Hell and Other Destinations: A 21st Century Memoir (Madeleine Albright)
  • How the South Won the Civil War (Heather Cox Richardson)
  • In the Garden of Beasts (Erik Larson)
  • The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science (Andrea Wulf)
  • Kent State (Deborah Wiles)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (David Grann)
  • Lab Girl (Hope Jahren)
  • Madame Secretary (Madeleine Albright)
  • Majestie: The King Behind the King James Bible (David Teems)
  • Man’s Search for Meaning (Viktor Frankl)
  • The Master Plan: my journey from life in prison to a life of purpose (Chris Wilson)
  • Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit (John Douglas)
  • Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis (Tim Townsend)
  • No Ordinary Time (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • One Summer: America, 1927 (Bill Bryson) *
  • In Looking (Alexandra Horowitz)
  • Radium Girls (Kate Moore) *
  • The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Men Who Brought Them Down (Colin Woodard)
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (Candace Millard)
  • Say Nothing (Patrick Radden Keefe)
  • Shadow Divers (Robert Kurson)
  • Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle (Kristen Green)
  • The Splendid and the Vile (Erik Larson) *
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (Anne Fadiman)
  • The Spy and the Traitor (Ben Macintyre)
  • Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibrahim X. Kendi)
  • Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer (Lynne Cox)
  • Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Goodwin) *
  • Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates (David Cordingly)
  • Up from Slavery (Booker T. Washington) *
  • The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation (Donald Morris)
  • Zealot (Reza Aslan – also others of his) *
  • Zeitoun (Dave Eggers)
  • First in His Class (David Maraniss)
  • Hillbilly Elegy (JD Vance)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot) *
  • Isaac’s Storm (Erik Larson)
  • Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (John Douglas, Mark Olshaker)
  • My Beloved World (Sonia Sotomayor)
  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII (Simon Prebble)

Historical Fiction

  • The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
  • The All Girls Filling Station’s Last Reunion (Fannie Flagg)
  • All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
  • Alice (Stacy Cordery)
  • The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky (Mark Sullivan)*
  • The Book of Lost Friends (Lisa Wingate)
  • The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)*
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek (Kim Michele Richardson)
  • Cloudsplitter (Russell Banks)
  • Code Name Helene (Ariel Lawhon)
  • The Dutch House (Ann Patchett)
  • The Girl with No Name (Diney Costeloe)
  • The Giver of Stars (Jojo Moyes) *
  • The Good Lord Bird (James McBride) *
  • Hamnet (Maggie O’Farrell)
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (V.E. Schwab) *
  • Lovely War (Julie Berry)
  • The Maggie Hope Series (Susan Elia MacNeal)
  • The Mirror and the Light (Hilary Mantel)
  • Mrs. Everything (Jennifer Weiner)
  • My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell)
  • My Dear Hamilton (Laura Kaye and Stephanie Dray)
  • Nightingale (Kristin Hannah)*
  • One Thousand White Women (Jim Fergus)
  • Outlander Series (Diana Gabaldon)
  • Pachinko (Min Jin Lee)
  • People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)
  • Refugee (Alan Gratz)
  • Sarah’s Key (Tatiana de Rosnay)
  • The Secrets of Mary Bowser (Lois Leveen)
  • The Seeds of America Trilogy (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Shanghai Girls (Lisa See) *
  • Sixties Trilogy (Deborah Wiles)
  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)*
  • The Sound of Things Falling (Juan Gabriel Vásquez)
  • The Stationery Shop (Marjan Kamali)
  • The Weight of Ink (Rachel Kadish)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing (Delia Owens)*
  • Year of Wonder (Geraldine Brooks) *

This project was rewarding in a few huge ways. I now have a list of books hearty enough to fill up several vacations, once we get to take them again. And because Jim is a big reader, we actually have some of these already in our possession.

I probably could have given myself a big shortcut on this exercise by just asking him for some book ideas. (He does not disagree with this sentiment.)

But the best gift was getting to peek inside the reading minds of some excellent people and not only be awed by the breadth of their interests but get to see friends from different corners of my life interacting over favorite books. That was a trip in itself!

A Little Warmth on a Cold Day

We got a bit of snow on Thursday morning, just enough to whet the appetite for the BIG, EPIC STORM that we’re supposed to get tonight.

This made for a gorgeous walk. I set out as the sun was coming up, motivated to get some pictures.

Mission accomplished.

That’s the moon setting!

I usually walk with a neighbor on Tuesdays and Thursdays but she declined out of concern for icy roads. I quickly came to appreciate her wisdom because it was a little dicey out there. And really cold. But still seriously pretty, so I kept at it.

Not far from our house, they’re putting up some new houses and as I was gingerly slipping my way down the road, one of the contractors drove by. A big guy in a big pickup. I don’t want to generalize too much, but he looked like a lot of the big guys in big pickups we have around here. We shared a wave and when I got to the cul-de-sac at the bottom of the hill where they’re building those houses, he was out of the truck and getting ready to start his day’s affairs.

“How you doing?” he called out.

“I’m rethinking my choices,” I said.

“Naw,” he replied, “you’re out here doing it. That’s what’s important.”

“Hey, can you do me a favor?” I asked. “If you see me wipe out and fall on my butt in this ice…” I intended to complete the phrase with a request for him to not laugh too loud because it might hurt my feelings. I was entertaining myself with my own joke when he cut me off mid-sentence.

“I’m gonna come help you up,” he said.

“No, no! I was just going to ask you not to laugh too hard!”

“I won’t,” he said. “But I’m going to help you, too.”

That was so unexpected and darned nice that it puts a smile on my face even after a couple of days. It is great to learn that someone you don’t even know is out there ready to help you up if you need it.

But enough pondering. I’m off to locate a new snow shovel so both Jim and I will be well equipped for that BIG, EPIC SNOW.

2020 took my voice (but maybe just for a while)

Back in the early spring, I started writing here and there about the things that I’ve been doing to keep myself busy and my mind off of the pandemic. I had big plans (and even an outline!) for topics centered on how COVID-19 was rolling out in the Virginia countryside.

But then, in the light of every thing that went on in 2020 (and dammit, keeps happening into 2021), I started feeling like there were so many voices out there, with so many big things to say, that I didn’t want to add mine to the pile. I drew away from social media (with one of those “Farewell Facebook!” posts) and I did even write about that here but I went on back because the truth is, you still need to keep up with stuff.

This writing blackout has continued even more intensely on my “creative” side. I took a course on writing short fiction in September and could barely bring myself to punch out a couple of stories. I started a novel for National Novel Writing Month in November but instead watched the election play out on Twitter. For hours.

And as you may have noticed, my writing here has been paltry.

So I don’t know what has brought me to toss these words up here on WordPress today. I guess I hope someone might read them and think, yeah, Anne, I feel the same way. Like the last year has wrung and twisted you to the point where you just want to curl up and regroup. Even if you know that your concerns pale in comparison to what many, many people are facing. You sure aren’t alone.

Home for the Holidays

We have two kids: one attending a large university and one living in New York City. We are blessed to have them both home with us right now.

The college guy was sent home (along with many contemporaries) right before Thanksgiving, with the understanding that all of those classmates would stay put through the holiday break and into January. With our New Yorker, it’s a little more complicated.

She travels with a cat and she doesn’t care to fly (for which I don’t blame her, because there is one (1) crowded flight per day from NYC to Roanoke). Amtrak won’t let you ride the rails with a pet for more than a seven hour trip, so our system is to have her take the train to DC, where we meet her and drive her back. It’s a long day of driving but half of it is with our girl and her kitten, so it goes quickly and happily.

The New Yorker will be with us into mid-January, too, so now that we’re all here we are solidly hunkering down.

We generally spend Christmas in Massachusetts, visiting with Jim’s family. This year, like so many other people, we decided that it was safer to keep everyone here and I’ll be honest, after the long year it’s been, I appreciate foregoing the two-day drive and the coordination necessary in a family visit. Jim’s sister and her partner are up there, visiting from Texas (after negative covid tests!) with their ancient cat and a dog whose medical complications require a diaper. Our youngest is allergic to dogs. It would not have been a harmonious time.

My in-laws got me a mug with all of the places I like to visit in their town when there isn’t a pandemic!

So the point of all of that is to say that we are gratefully having a quiet holiday and this year, I’ll take it! A friend wrote on a holiday card that they hope we can find some magic this year for the holidays, but I’ll set the bar down a little lower and send you a wish that there is simply a reason for you to smile and hope.

Turkey Trot

Our old suburban neighborhood used to have a turkey trot every year on Thanksgiving morning. We’d all meet at the Haydens’ house and take a route around a little man-made lake, then come back and share some excellent pumpkin bread. Sometimes we would run, other times we would walk. Kids would come out, and older folks, and people in turkey hats, and it was a wonderful way to catch up with neighbors you might not have had a chance to see during a busy fall.

This year, they’re doing it again, responsibly distanced of course. A couple of friends were texting about going and it occurred to me that while I will miss the neighborhood turkey trot (quite a bit), out here in Franklin County I can go for a walk and have a chance to see a real turkey trotting.

Turkeys are pretty majestic and out here they just hang out in people’s yards, like deer. One day I had my own deer-reminiscent experience of seeing a turkey from the corner of my eye as I was driving. He was headed on a collision course with my car, but just as I was thinking, oh, no, I’m about to flatten a turkey, that guy launched into the air and sailed across the road, inches from my windshield.

It was a spectacular sight. I could even see his little eye looking at my thunderstruck face as he flew by. It was a striking (not literally, ha ha) reminder that you never know when you’re going to see something amazing, but also that sometimes, we’re capable of much more than anyone thinks.

Want some fun Thanksgiving facts about turkeys? Here’s an article from National Geographic that will make you the star of dinner table conversation today! I hope you have much to be thankful for, today and every day.

Day Job

I have a college friend who is an author. If you have kids of a certain age you have almost certainly heard of her work; Disney turned one of her characters into an animated series and it thrills me to see merch and Halloween costumes based on my own friend’s creation!

Anyway, I follow this good lady on Facebook. There, she mentioned that she had retweeted (on her Twitter page, of course) some political revelry about Saturday’s announcement that the US elections have been called in favor of President-elect Biden. One of her Twitter followers unfollowed her over the retweet and told her to stick to her day job.

Okay, now, people need to stop it.

I live in a very “red” part of Virginia, and was it my imagination that at our little Kroger yesterday, people were extra inconsiderate? We always have our share of loud and proud mask-refusers, but hey, you fella who rammed someone else’s cart so you could get closer to the oranges, was that necessary?

Anger serves a purpose. If it spurs you to make change, it serves a really valuable purpose. But temper? Snideness? Calling people names and telling them what to do with their own platforms? Come on, y’all, wouldn’t it make sense to take that energy and work to make things better in your little corner of the world?

My friend Anne Marie had the best response to her un-follower: “I told her my day job was being human and writing was just a part of me, and I wished her well.”

THAT’s a professional! Doing her day job! And now, hopefully I can pry myself away from the news long enough to be a little more productive at my own day job this week.