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.

Sharing Covid-19 Experiences

I’ve been writing about how the pandemic is affecting my immediate environs, and social media is a rich resource for learning about how everyone is trying to stay healthy and mentally checked-in while quarantined. But there are two groups of folks who would love to hear what YOU are going through!

I’ve mentioned that I do some work with George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. A couple of teams I know are working on projects that study how people are getting along in these challenging times. They would love your input.

Personal Coping Strategies

The Anxiety, Stress, and Relationships Lab (part of the clinical psychology program) has an online survey about Covid-19’s effect on interpersonal relationships. Do you have extra people living in your house right now? Are the stresses of the news and changing circumstances impacting how you might be getting along with them? These folks want to know how you are coping. The survey is completely confidential so you can be totally honest about how you might have been eating more cheese, bourbon, or ice cream over the past month. They will not judge you. The survey form also offers resource information to help you out if you need it, and the information they learn will help other people find positive ways to be resilient in the future.

Faith Communities’ Response

Another group at Mason, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is conducting a survey of how religious communities are adapting in the face of the pandemic. The religious studies department is teaming up with the digital history folks to gather input from churches, synagogues, mosques (tell your own community!), as well as from individuals to learn how they are making due when they can’t get to services. If you go to the Pandemic Religion: A Digital Archive site, you can also read about the experiences of a variety of religious communities. And then add your own experience. It’s not only interesting as heck but is also a solid reminder that we are all in this mess together.

And if that doesn’t make for a community, I don’t know what does.

Easter at Home

A friend of mine posted on Facebook Saturday, “Just realized that this is the first time in 66 years that I have not been in church building on Easter. What a stark reminder of our times and the need for prayer.”

For me, that kind of summed up the mourning that we’re all doing right now, missing everything (small and not so small) that has made our lives our lives. It was also a reminder of the old saying, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” (That’s a quote from Ian Maclaren, not Plato, in case you were wondering.) I don’t have to tell you that this covid/quarantine stuff stinks for everyone — it actually blows my mind to think about the commonality of our world-wide bad experience right now.

I give credit to the folks who had their very nuclear Seder dinners last week, and who Zoomed Easter meet-ups with friends and family. We were lucky over the weekend: some friends stopped by in a socially-distanced way by resting on their boat while Jim and I sat on the dock. I had a beautiful walk on Sunday morning where I picked up this ugly-looking nail by a construction site, which I was going to throw away but instead decided was a good Easter memento.

When I was in high school, those of us who’d done a Youth Encounter retreat wore big Crosses made of nails. This nail is uglier.

Jim and I helped our college guy out with a coronavirus haircut. We talked with family members far away (one with a successful Zoom meet-up, one with a less-successful FaceTime experience). We picked up take-out from a local place for Easter dinner, then got sufficiently stressed out that we didn’t eat it and ended up going to bed early.

I appreciate seeing friends doing the best they can with these unusal times, and appreciate the kindnesses that I get to see, too, as we plunk through this season one day at a time. One writer I saw referred to Easter/Passover (and I’m going to fold in Ramadan, too, because it starts next week) as a “season of renewal and liberation.” Despite all of the bad news, I get a little hope in the signs of beauty that are still out there.

Charlotte, with a Twist

We were very proud and relieved that our girl had managed to find a great job for after graduation. In late January, she was set to go to work with a large company’s office in Charlotte, North Carolina, so we spent a long weekend getting her moved in.

She flew from Roanoke to Auburn to collect her things, as I’ve mentioned.

The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn and picked up this streamlined vehicle…

And made our way through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and into Alabama. A long drive.

This is Fancy Gap, deep in SW VA. A very impressive view and sometimes, very impressive winds
Rolling into Gaffney, SC, of House of Cards fame
…where the skies are so blue.

The next morning, Cora and I drove her car and Jim drove the loaded-up van back up I-85 for five hours to Charlotte.

We were glad to have the next day free to visit Costco and Target, as well as other sites of interest around the city.

The train to Uptown is a quick walk from her new apartment
This is a converted factory that now houses yummy food stalls (very popular with Charlottians for Sunday brunch enjoyment)
A cool, literary-themed park in the middle of the city
The park was evidently an ideal spot for photo ops among the cheer teams in town for a competition
It’s me. All broken up

We left on Monday, MLK Day. I was feeling a little blue that our “baby” was now out on her own in the world, but overall glad that she was launching herself in a nice town.

And then the next day she called to tell us that her company was transferring her to New York City. She is moving in less than two weeks.

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.

Northern Exposure

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.

On the way, you can see the coffee pot house in Burns Vista, VA

Easton, PA, is a good halfway point. It’s a cute town right on the Delaware River.

Photo credit to a Reynolds child.

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.

Frozen waterfalls on the rocks in New Jersey
The Bourne Bridge over the Cape Cod Canal is a welcome sight
A relaxing scene at the end of the trip.

I hope that if you have travels this season they are safe and happy!

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.