Days of Wine and (Freedom) Noses

After a wonderful May and June when it felt like we were bounding into a wide-open summer, here came that obnoxious Delta variant to move the goalposts on getting back to “normal.” At Smith Mountain Lake, we saw that play out last week over the SML Wine Festival.

The wine festival has been going on for over 30 years, a very popular event held annually on the last weekend of September. In 2019, it took place at Crazy Horse Marina and Jim and I got to enjoy the event with our friends the Marstons, chauffeured by boat by their son, Luke (thanks, Luke!). There were loads of wineries represented, a variety of food options, live music, some interesting artwork for sale, and a crowd of happy wine-sippers.

Also, excellent souvenir glassware

Last September, of course, it was cancelled for Covid.

This July, the local chamber of commerce made big waves by changing it up. No longer would it be at the Crazy Horse, but at a new venue, Mariners Landing, a golf community perched at the end of one of the lake’s creeks. But what really rocked the boat were the prices: individual tickets were now going to start at $65 per person (more than double the previous price), with VIP options and boat slips raised accordingly. The chamber explained that “the timing was right to elevate the experience,” and stressed that some popular musical acts would be playing in the new, “more intimate” setting.

This change did not go over well with my neighbors.

The residents’ Facebook page got so heated that the admin turned off the comments. An alternative event was set up for the same day, called the Knot-A-Festival, where individual tickets are $15 and everyone brings their own wine.

In the end, though, the festival announced last week that they would postpone for a year because of the Delta variant. Some in the residents’ page are surmising that it’s because they couldn’t sell those pricey tickets, but the Mariners Landing community is also very mindful of masking and distancing in the face of the new Covid threat.

While I wouldn’t think such measures would be controversial, a trip to the local Kroger (or any other lake-local business) proves that we mask wearers are very much in the minority. Sigh, here we go again (and without our Virginia wine).

This Semi-Covid Summer

This summer is better than last summer, can we agree?

We had houseguests last weekend – two sets! This is not an unusual state of affairs for most of our neighbors; if you’re lucky enough to live on the shore of a lake, you’re lucky enough to have some folks want to visit.

But what a change from last summer.

When we moved to southwest Virginia, we shrugged off our former suburban existence and bought a home on Smith Mountain Lake. Every morning when I wake up and see that water, I can’t believe we’re here.

Map is compliments of Laker Media.

The folks who sold us the house also sold us their tiny boat (we call it the Tempest because it’s about the size of a teapot). It’s a perfect boat for us, since neither Jim nor I knew anything about boats or boating. We do not fish. We do not ride on wakeboards. As soon as we moved down here, though, I took an online boating safety course and then we ignored the Tempest for, well, almost two years, while we did other things.

But then Covid hit and we were faced with a locked down 2020 summer. So I called up Bittinger Marine Center, recommended by our neighbors, and Jahleel and Luke came out to look at our boat, which by now wouldn’t start. They towed it to their shop and brought it back spiffy a week or so later. “When you bring it back,” I asked, “could you all hang out for a minute and give me some pointers?”

“Ma’am, that’s just what we had in mind.”

Jahleel’s previous experience had been teaching boating basics to tourists at the boat rental spot, so he knew how to talk to a nautical newbie. Within a few minutes, I could work that throttle and putter semi-comfortably. We were in business.

This big boi is not us. We avoid guys like him.

So with few guests last summer, that boat opened up a whole new world for us. Jim and I ventured out early on weekend mornings to avoid the bigger, faster boats, with Google Maps to help us navigate the many coves and creeks that make up the lake. We learned to steer around wakes and partiers (there are some jolly pirates out here for sure), and the whole experience will make the summer of 2020, even with the election craziness and the Covid consternation, a very good memory.

Favorite captain with his WFH beard.

A First for Roanoke

I got to be a (small) part of a big deal this weekend, as Roanoke hosted the Carilion Ironman 70.3 Blue Ridge triathlon, the very first Ironman event in our area.

The Ironman folks map things out like champs

It’s a big race, with 1,500 competitors who jumped into Carvins Cove and swam for a mile, then rode their bikes about 56 miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway, then changed shoes and ran 13.1 miles on the Roanoke Greenway.

A sea of bikes parked while the athletes were out running

It’s a big deal for our region, too. When the race first announced it would be coming to Roanoke, people were very excited, not just for the athletes and their families who would be hanging out in our coffee shops, but for a chance to show off how nice and outdoorsy this place is.

An unprecedented crowd at BreadCraft

So I knew I wanted to volunteer.

I also didn’t want to start my volunteer gig at 3:00 am, so I found a nice job that started at the very reasonable hour of 1:00 pm. With the environmental team. What does that mean? With a crew of about six other folks and one golf cart, I emptied and re-lined trash cans for about five hours.

These folks are taking care of the gear that the athletes left behind after they swam and got on their bikes 56 miles away

I got a green technical shirt to show for my day’s work, along with the knowledge that if you are dressed like the trash person and are carrying trash bags, you can go anywhere unquestioned.

I got to see my friend John cross the finish line!

Way to go, John!

And I was extremely impressed with one young man who’d finished all that racing and still offered to help me carry a load of discarded boxes. “He’s amazingly nice,” said his young female companion. “He’s so nice he makes up for me.”

I’d say they were both charming and if this is the sort of folks who Ironman attracts, they can come back anytime.

Walking Around with Famous People

I intended to write, write, write through the pandemic about how we “country folk” made our way through the Covid mess. Now that things are opening back up, I’m not that surprised, I suppose, that I just didn’t find the energy for to do it.

But I’ve got notes, y’all, so I’m going to spend a couple of days talking about some of the things that kept us busy when we were supposed to stay away from other people.

I’ve mentioned that one thing I like to do each morning is take a walk. It really is pretty here and getting a little air sets me up nicely for the day. I walk with my neighbor, Jane, a couple of days a week (on many weeks we made sure to walk six feet apart!), but other days, I’m on my own.

When we lived in a suburban neighborhood in busy Northern Virginia, I’d get on the road walking or jogging by 5 am so I could get home in time to bother our kids before they went off to school. The problem with that schedule here is that when it’s dark, it’s dark. We don’t have streetlights.

That’s the moon setting, you know

Our daughter prodded me out the dark door. Now a New Yorker, when she came to visit she appreciated getting out early and seeing the stars. You’re missing out, she told me, so I dusted off my old headlamp and started braving the pre-dawn roads.

Sunrises are pretty good here.

The other problem, though, is critters. We have friendly creatures, like opossum, foxes, and rabbits (squee!). We have some other denizens, though, like coyotes and yes, black bears, whom I did not want to meet. The answer came from my sister and brother-in-law: podcasts.

I started with Smartless, a podcast featuring Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, and a mystery guest each week. I chose this one because I walk without my earbuds in (on dark, twisty, roads, I want to be able to hear what’s coming) and I figured that the sound of men’s voices would discourage anything creeping around from coming too close. They talk to some amazing people and what I love is that they’re all really, really kind to each other.

Then Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground came along and I loved that, too. And Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us is good, though her guests tend to be doing their book tours, and I have hit up Amazon a few too many times when I get home. I am now way behind on my reading.

Lately I’m loving Adam Grant’s WorkLife – he is an organizational psychologist and talks about how we get along with each other, mostly at work but also just in general. He has great energy, is really thoughtful, and was sassy enough match wits with Malcom Gladwell when he was a guest on the show. I just saw that WorkLife is one of Apple’s most highly-rated podcasts, so here I was thinking I was discovering something but ahem, I’m just a little late to the party.

Most of all, I highly recommend Every Little Thing, where each episode answers a burning question, like how old is Winnie the Pooh (the character. Old bear? Young bear?), or whether people actually only breathe through one nostril at a time, or how the game Scrabble became so popular. The episode on Pooh had me laughing like a fool and actually crying at the end, and I dare you to listen to the episode on dog shows (are they anti-dachshund?) without cheering for the weenie dogs.

These little drops of wisdom each morning have made the walks a lot of fun, and I’ll tell you what: I haven’t seen a bear yet.

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.

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!

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.

Grrrrrrr-ate(ful), part 2

Yesterday I started my November compilation of things for which I am grateful, in lieu of sticking with an old practice of dribbling the list out day by day on Facebook.

Last year, I switched things up by eschewing Facebook and sending handwritten notes to the people for whom I am grateful. But (a) that was kind of a lot of work, albeit quite rewarding, and (b) I don’t want to do that two years in a row because what if you forget someone? I don’t need that kind of stress.

ESPECIALLY ON ELECTION NIGHT!

So, with no further ado, here are ten more things I am grateful for:

  1. People who work to help the rest of us vote. I’m related to one of those! They get up early and hang out all day, making sure that we the ability to have our voices heard.
  2. November 11 reminds me to be grateful for the veterans who keep us safe, sacrificing so that our communities can be secure.
  3. Military families, too. Military spouses are incredible human beings.
  4. We live in a place where I can see cows on a regular basis, along with wild turkeys, lots of deer, rolling hills, and all kinds of amazing scenery.
  5. Everyone who reads this lil blog (and basically anything I write) makes my heart sing.
  6. I am grateful when someone spells my name right. There’s an “e” at the end, y’all. And when someone asks to check the spelling? Wow, you’re the real heroes.
  7. Hobbies. Needlework is my go-to right now, but I’ve done the scrapbooks, the card making, the quilting, the knitting. Craftiness is goodness.
  8. Zoom. Yeah, I said it. It lets me see some beloved faces and I appreciate them now more than ever.
  9. On this chilly evening, I appreciate that our heater is working a-okay and I can enjoy the blustery weather outside by peeping at it from a cozy house.
  10. All the people and organizations that are out there trying to make the world a better place for folks who can use a hand.

I’ll finish up the last 10 items on list tomorrow. Have you voted yet? I am sending fervent wishes for a good voting experience for everyone, and that all of us get to have our voices heard. Happy Election Day, US!

Grrrrrrrr-ate(ful), part 1

It’s November, a month in which I have often run through a list of things in my life for which I’m grateful, posting one each day up there on Facebook.

But this year, wow, things are so weird, aren’t they? I’m not of a mind to give Facebook a lot of content these days – I even took a break from that site and still resent its psychologically-tuned addictive delights (but darn it, it’s an unparalleled place to find out about weddings, funerals, and births).

So I’m going to get it all out of the way and share a list of things I’m grateful for right here:

  1. Leftover Halloween candy.
  2. NaNoWriMo.
  3. That we have the privilege of electing our leaders. Even when things seem to be a little screwy in our country, as they do as I write this on November 2, 2020, I believe in our system and I believe in America. Can we strive to be better? Yep. But I believe that we are worth it.
  4. People who remember my birthday.
  5. My sweet husband, who doesn’t make fun of me for making a big deal out of my own birthday like I’m 5.
  6. Our couple of kids, who are now both in their 20s but still full of surprises. Mostly good ones.
  7. Family members who make me smile and have my back. They know who they are. I love them hugely.
  8. A group of really incredible people whom I’m lucky to call friends, people from all the way back in elementary school on up to the folks I’ve met in the last couple of years. I learn from and am inspired by each of them.
  9. Our two very affectionate and amusing cats.
  10. A job that lets me talk to and learn about interesting people.

Okay, that’s enough of that for now.

As I started writing the above it occurred to me that it’s asking a lot to ask people to comb through a list of 30 things. But it is a great thing in these unsettled days to catalogue the good things you’ve got going on, and I hope you can think of a few, yourself.