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.

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.

Greetings!

I try to keep this blog about the local environs here in Franklin County and elsewhere in southwest Virginia, but as you know we’ve been lured here and there with other exciting events lately.

And since we’ve been home, I have been toiling over holiday cards.

I’ve made a big deal over holiday greetings in the past. For years I made them myself, and during other years I worked pretty hard to get the perfect picture of Reynolds kids.

After a certain age, they got tired of this routine and photo cards became too much of a fight.

This year I shopped local and got some cute cards at the Gifts Ahoy! store (where you can also get a sample of fudge, hello!).

But I didn’t buy enough and had to supplement with a trip to CVS.

Then my sister’s card came and it was so great, that I just had to take a break from my cards and stand in awe.

That is their cat on the right and you know what? She doesn’t like you. She only likes my sister. And that blotch represents the name of their own family member who has decided to no longer participate in card production.

These guys have holiday cards that people look forward to every year. They are that clever. Every year! And she has pointed out that the beauty of photo cards is that you don’t have to write things on them.

I like writing things. But I’m at the point in my card process where I’m not writing much more than our family’s names on the cards anyway (sorry S’s, T’s, W’s, and my one Z friend; I run out of steam), and I hereby vow to concoct a photo card next year. It will not measure up to my sister’s, but hey, I have 11 months to get creative.

Santa is Watching Everywhere. And I Mean Everywhere.

I mentioned yesterday that we joined a new gym this summer. We have been very pleased.

Not only did I run into an old friend from Fairfax (at the lake, visiting her parents!) during my first visit, but they are connected with the local health care systems, so there is a helicopter out in the parking lot, in case a workout goes very, very badly.

And they even have an elf on a shelf (or water fountain, as the case may be) to keep you in line during the holiday season.

EOAS: Not just for the Santa crowd

I got on a piece of equipment this morning and almost got popped by that elf.

I mean, yikes, right?

This gym is so nice that some people seem to spend their whole mornings there. This is not how I roll, because I like to be at my computer by 8:30 or so, but it’s nice to know that’s an option. At least until the elf kicks you out.

Hey, We’re Home!

Jim and I have done quite a bit of road-tripping lately.

We went to Kentucky, to drop the lad off at school.

This is a garden store with a secret restaurant in the back!
We wouldn’t have found it if our friends the Susankes hadn’t clued us in
Go Cats!

From there, we drove to Block Island. (You got me; you can’t drive to an island! We drove to New London, CT and took the ferry.)

After a few busy weeks at home, we went to Indianapolis, where Jim had a conference.

And then we went back to Kentucky for Family Weekend at the lad’s school.

SEC Nation. Tim Tebow and many superfans
Yes, we stopped off at the library
A cool spot for donuts on Limestone

This was all terrific travel. We spent time with incredible people, ate good food, and saw wonderful sights. But along the way, that thought flew through my head at some point, “It sure will be nice to get home.”

And it was.

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.

Summer’s Last Hurrah (Part 1)

Labor Day Weekend is a big deal down here at Smith Mountain Lake.

The boat traffic is extreme! Even the automobile traffic is pretty intense, though I saw this notification about the traffic up in our old hometown and felt a little better.

Jim and I took the weekend to lay low. We went to a new spot for a beer on Saturday– a very well-regarded place out here that didn’t impress us much. It was jam packed with a lot of people who gave the impression of having been sipping on their boats all day. Even the ladies behind the bar were a little salty. So we left and moved on to Jake’s Place for dinner on the water.

If you zoom in to the treetops you can peep Mr. Heron.

On Sunday, we did yard work which isn’t exactly Fun-with-a-capital-F but pretty satisfying, nevertheless.

And this evening we popped into our favorite neighborhood spot, Napoli Cowboy, to have a beer with old bar friends Stu and Caroline, new bar friends Alan and Linda, and our favorite bartenders, Sharon and Ashley (they are the nicest people around, and even consistently laugh at Jim’s jokes).

Things are going to slow down here significantly in the coming weeks, and we feel like we appropriately sent off the official summer season.

This is my kind of salty.