Country Roads

Soon after our trip to Roanoke’s Big Lick ComicCon, Jim and I went (much) further afield to visit Costa Rica with our friends Gary and Tammy.

I won’t write much about it (because this is not a travel blog), but I will note that where we were, close to the west coast, featured rolling fields full of crops and cattle, with mountains in the distance.

Not too unlike our views at home!
We even took a ride behind a GINORMOUS tractor,
which looks a little like our local snow plow in a wholly different vibe.
Of course, you’re not going to see this guy in Franklin County (photo by Gary Reinhardt).

Let me tell you, though, the roads are better here.

I had a chance to appreciate good old Virginia infrastructure yesterday when I took some of those roads to the town of Blairs in Pittsylvania County, to visit Southside Elementary School and read a book with some second graders.

I love a captive audience.

This was part of a project that brought American Association of University Women members to read about inclusiveness to kids around Franklin, Bedford, and Pittsylvania Counties. I volunteered for a farther-flung school near Danville, Va., because I hadn’t had a chance to explore in that direction.

And explore I did! Blairs is about an hour from our home, and along the way I drove through Penhook, almost all the way to Gretna.

You’re not in a hurry when you’re behind the big truck.

Then headed south on Route 29 past Chatham…

(not Chatham, Massachusetts. Or Boston, Massachusetts, for that matter)

This is a Boston Globe picture of a sticker sold by enterprising Cape Codders.
Chatham, Virginia, does not have sharks to worry about.

…through the town of Tightsqueeze, almost all the way to North Carolina. Just short of Danville, I reached my destination.

Flowers blooming in Blairs!

The teachers and administration at the school were marvelous, and the kids were, of course, charming. It was a wonderful opportunity and a lot of fun to read with them.

On the way home, I took a meandering mountain road through Witt, Mount Hermon, and Henry Fork.

Soon after I took this picture I had to, ahem, put the phone down and focus on the driving,
because the roads got a little curvy and hilly.

Eventually, I reached the familiar four lanes of Route 220, cut through Rocky Mount, and made my way back home more than a little proud of myself that after all that exploring, I found my way back. We are through with our “major” traveling for the time being, and it’s nice that a trip so far away can be echoed by the beauty at home.

Snow Birds and White Birds

After the holidays, the environs around Smith Mountain Lake thin out considerably. We have a large population of folks who mostly enjoy the water during the warmer months, and many of them seem to slip off to even warmer climates after the ornaments and lights get put away for another year.

But I want to tell you about the birds that don’t fly away.

I don’t know if I’ve written here about how the colors of the countryside also get quieter this time of year, a muted, mellow palette of pale blue, gray, taupe, sage green, and wheat. Many mornings, as the sun comes up, a gentle pink joins the party.

Often, if you get up at just the right time, all of these colors form a backdrop for some graceful winter visitors. The first rays of sun bounce off the wings of swirling white birds that fish in the lake in the cooler months.

Some mornings, we only see one or two outside our window. Other times, a veritable flock appears.

They all like to perch at Bridgewater Plaza later in the day.

In an effort to learn more about the birds (for instance, what they are), I queried the SML Residents Facebook page and got three possible answers: gannets, kittiwakes, and migratory ringed bill gulls visiting from Lake Erie. (I also learned that the term “sea gull” is a bit of a misnomer, because they can show up around any body of water, but “parking lot gull” sounds a lot less poetic.) I’m leaning towards the ring bill gulls.

This is not one of our birds; it’s a photo by Sunchie Yang from the Audobon Photography Awards. https://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/ring-billed-gull#photo9

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter too much because no matter what they are, I just love to see them each morning. And it’s nice to celebrate the quiet while we have it, of course, because it looks like Punxatawney Phil missed his shadow this morning and SML will be able to welcome its snow birds’ return six weeks early.

Country-fied

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.

Road Trip Ahead

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.

When your kids are in their 20s, a favorite activity is thrift shopping.

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:

This beautiful sighthttps://www.traderjoes.com/ is from the Trader Joe’s website

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.

Top Five Holiday Takeaways this Year

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.

We also strolled by a neighborhood horse.
And caught up with Pierre, the neighbor cat.

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.

Here’s one more beach Christmas picture for ya.

This is Dowses’ Beach, where we used to take the kids to enjoy its mellower waves.

Afternoon with Will-Hay

Rumor has it that there are some notable residents of Smith Mountain Lake, but one that has recently become a certifiable national celebrity is “Will-hay Nelson.”

Will-hay is a sculpture made from hay bales, a creation of local farmer Beth Bays, who makes a fresh artwork every year.

You can read more about her work here.

Our family was supposed to be on the road to visit far-away folks today, but an under-the-weather husband gave the kids and me an opportunity to go visit Will-hay for ourselves.

He’s out in a beautiful setting.

And is undeniably impressive!

And the SML Coffeehouse is on the way, so we were well fortified with coffee and apple cider donuts.

My People

I am extremely lucky when it comes to my line of work. I can do most of it from our dining room table, tapping away at my laptop. It’s an introvert’s dream, even if it can feel a little isolating from time to time on the occasion when one isn’t feeling quite so quiet.

So today, before I got started with work projects, I went to mail a care package to our boy – a college student who has exams next week – and decided to shop local on the way.

It’s always coffee time

While in CJ’s, the gentleman in line behind me struck up a conversation about his recent travels in Italy, where his grown-up kids joined him for a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving. Me: I see your Italian vacation and raise you a daughter graduating from college in three days, ha HA! One of his buds came in and asked if Tom (the Italian vacation guy) was bothering me. No, I assured him, to which he replied, “Just give him time!”

It’s a jokey crowd around the lake.

I moved on out to the parking lot with a smile on my face. Parked next to me was a vehicle belonging to the marine service company that had fixed our neighbors’ boat this fall. I mentioned to driver how pleased my neighbors were and he introduced himself (Josh) and gave me his card. Now I know whom to call to look at our non-working little boat in the spring.

At the UPS store, the lady behind the counter and I talked about the holiday rush, the stress of college exams, and of course, how I have a daughter graduating from college in three days BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME? And then we talked about how quickly kids grow up we both cried a little.

Things move slower in this part of Virginia. I’ve happened into CJ’s when it’s unusually busy and the proprietor has straight-up told me, nah, you’re not getting your coffee for awhile. And when we had trees removed from our back yard this fall, once the tree company guy ascertained that they weren’t immediately imperiling our roof, he told me he’d see us in oh, three weeks.

But even though I still feel like a bit of a newbie here, mornings like this make me feel right at home.

Holiday Surprises and Red Worms

Here’s the winter sunrise that just sneaked up on me while I was addressing graduation announcements. As I write this, the whole sky is turning lavender. One of the beautiful things about winter here is that you’re able to see the sky a little better with the leaves gone and oh, boy, the sight doesn’t disappoint!

I was also surprised last week when the UPS delivery man offered to take my old Thanksgiving pumpkin off my porch for me. It seems that he is devoted to composting with red worms and likes to get some pumpkins in his mix. Imagine this UPS man, out making deliveries and collecting a truck full of pumpkins (with permission of course!). And teaching me something because I didn’t even know that red worms are a thing.

They Brought the Party

Oh, what a weekend it was!

This past weekend, Jim and I were deep into a road trip to the Midwest, and that’s not what I’m talking about.

The weekend before that, we received a marvelous gift, named Lorenda, Meg, and Aviva. These are three friends of ours from our former neighborhood AND THEY DROVE THE FOUR HOURS FROM NORTHERN VIRGINIA TO COME VISIT!

It is not an easy trip. They did it on a Friday afternoon, which is a doubly difficult maneuver. But they arrived with White Claws, and wine, some AMAZING applesauce cake and a ton of laughter.

The neighborhood we moved from was one of those neighborhoods that circles around the local school system. Thus, everyone’s kids are about the same age, doing similar things, and you all pretty know the main structural information about your neighbors’ lives. Then, of course, those kids go off to college and some people move to Smith Mountain Lake where the new neighbors might not even know where Robinson Secondary School is located.

Lorenda’s husband is a Virginia Tech alum, and now her youngest fella is a student there. She popped in back in April after hiking with her lad, so she knows a little about Franklin County. Meg and Aviva were real newcomers.

And they were wonderful, enthusiastic, energetic guests. We got up relatively early on Saturday (not as early as Aviva, who took in the lakeside sunrise) and drove into Roanoke for the Farmer’s Market and some exploration of the establishments on Market Square.

We saw the Star getting polished up
We pondered purchases as La-De-Dah
We made it over to Black Dog Salvage
And we had a great time in Floyd
The Floyd Country Store has fantastic food and Saturday afternoon entertainment
We even got up early on Sunday morning for water sports! Look at that paddle board skill! True KICK ASS ROCK STAR BABES!

They were tolerant of the ride over Windy Gap and a little disappointed that the Booker T. Washington National Monument was closed. Homestead Creamery Ice Cream was enjoyed by all. And we are so looking forward to them coming back!

Put Your Hand(s) Up!

A couple of months ago, I wrote about how the folks out here at Smith Mountain Lake spend a lot of time working out.

Well, you know what else they do? They volunteer like crazy.

You wouldn’t believe the volunteer options that abound here. You can work at the Booker T. Washington National Monument, you can help the community through a number of non-profit organizations, or you can get involved with your church. Almost everyone you talk to has a volunteer gig.

And I’ve even gotten in on it: for the past ten months or so, I have been working as the PR/Media person for the Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.

The Home Tour is in October each year (it’s been going on for 29 years, y’all!). It’s a big deal, I don’t mind telling you.

These folks work all year to find eight lovely homes situated all around the lake and get their owners to invite hordes of people to come and visit. Of course, those visitors are well organized by plenty of (you guessed it) active volunteers who learn the layout of the homes and make sure that everyone has a great experience.

Here’s the best part: each home is paired with a regional charity, and all of the money made by the Tour, whether through ticket sales or business sponsorships, is divided up between those charities. It’s a big undertaking!

It’s also a huge part of the local community, and I have been so pleased to have been a part of it this year. On top of feeling like you are working for a great cause, it’s given me a way to meet some terrific people, get to know a lot of the businesses around here, and has allowed me to zip around to houses all over the lake so I can take pictures of them for our various communications. It is wonderful to see the creativity of our neighbors.

If this has whet your appetite for peeking at some beautiful homes, I’ll tell you what: take a look at the website for the Tour and if you’re local, go get yourself a ticket! Or you can check out the Tour’s Facebook (@smlcharityhometour) page because I do that, too (hint: I’m going to put something really cool up there tomorrow if I can figure out how to load a video).

I’m not going to suggest that I have any favorite houses on the Tour because they’re all nice. Really, you should go see them.