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.

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.

Roanoke’s Christmas Market

We had a chance to visit the Hyde Park Christmas Market in London a couple of years ago, and we found out last night that Roanoke’s “Dickens of a Christmas” has a very similar vibe.

Dickens of a Christmas happens during the Friday evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas. On one Friday, the city hosts a parade. Last night the big event was a dog costume contest.

The city was filled with very cute dogs.

There were singing kids…

And lovely shop windows …

And all of the restaurants seemed to have a crowd, including this Roanoke institution:

Cora and I wandered around and left with a lot of holiday spirit (and a cool needlework kit from the Crafteria (a former cafeteria restaurant converted into booths of crafty stuff).

During the week, you can even get coffee in the Crafteria! This is where I’m taking out of town friends next time we have visitors!

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.

I made you something

For years, Jim’s mom would make amazing toffee bark during the holidays.

It has four ingredients. Two more if you want to get fancy. But the basics are:

  • two sticks of butter
  • about a sleeve of Saltine crackers
  • a cup of sugar
  • a bag of chocolate chips

For the butter and the sugar, you just use the plain stuff you have in your kitchen already. For the crackers, even basic, off-brand Saltine-type crackers work great (Kroger had a box for 99 cents. Yes, please!). For the chocolate, you might splurge a little and get posh chips (I’ll explain in a minute).

If you melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sugar and boil it for five minutes (stirring constantly), pour that mess on crackers spread evenly on a baking sheet, bake it for five minutes at 400, turn off the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips on the confection, return it to the oven for two minutes, spread the now-melted chips, and pop it all into the refrigerator to firm up, you will have achieved culinary alchemy.

If you want to get fancy you can add chopped pecans before it goes into the refrigerator and/or powdered sugar after it comes out and you break it into shards. I added pecans because I like them and also to hide the fact that my regular old Toll House morsels didn’t melt in a nice way (and I’ve since learned that it may be a moisture issue in my oven, check this out, but also, I looked online and there is some controversy out there about those chips). The bark still tastes good but is not as aesthetically pleasing as Jim’s mom’s bark was.

Sadly, my mother-in-law no longer eats things that contain gluten and has not made the bark for years. Neither had I, and now I remember why. I cannot stop eating it.

I’m sharing some with the Shine Runners to keep me from eating all of it

Football Culture in a Southern Town

One of my favorite things to do while visiting Auburn, Alabama, is to walk with our girl through the neighborhoods surrounding the university. They have winding streets and bungalow houses that were mainly built in the 1930s and are, for the most part, beautifully restored.

Or you can find some tiny student-housing communities that are nicer than anything I ever lived in while in college

They seem to be populated with former Auburn students who stuck around after graduation, judging from the number of university insignias or Aubie tigers in the front yards.

Poor Aubie. Poor Santa. A rough night downtown, evidently
On the other hand, here is a backyard with its own goalpost and Auburn end zone

We have been here to visit mainly during various football seasons, and it is an astonishing experience with the crowds and the tailgate parties. It’s kind of cool being here in the off season now and getting a glimpse of a quieter time.

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.

Music in the Valley: The Roanoke Symphony Rocks the Holidays

Last night was the Holiday Pops concert for the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra, and I have now gotten there two-for-two years in a row.

This is a wonderful show, the largest holiday show in the Commonwealth of Virginia, according to the symphony’s executive director, David Crane. Who doesn’t want to be part of that?

The crowd in the Salem Civic Center loves it, particularly the sing-along portion. And yeah, we all did the wave at one part (the chorus started it).

I enjoyed the evening with our friends, the Marstons, and their family. They introduced Jim and me to the symphony; they know of all the good things to do in town, I’m pretty sure.

Terrific folks who treated us to bbq delicacies from Wildwood Smokehouse before the show. BBQ+friends+symphony = fantastic.

The line-up included the Roanoke Symphony Chorus, the Roanoke Valley Children’s Choir, the Hollins University Choir, and choirs from three local high schools. The show also featured a guitar playing elf…

And the Radford University Highlanders Pipes & Drums.

Also the knockout musical talents of Adrienne Danrich, an accomplished soprano whose stage presence and powerful voice were stunning.

The music director and conductor, David Stewart Wiley, has me convinced that no one loves their job more than he does. He is wholly a part of every joyful moment. And his silver jacket is to die for, am I right?

Spending the evening immersed in music has got me thoroughly in the holiday spirit, enough to get working (finally) on decorating the house for Christmas. That’s powerful!