We have two kids: one attending a large university and one living in New York City. We are blessed to have them both home with us right now.
The college guy was sent home (along with many contemporaries) right before Thanksgiving, with the understanding that all of those classmates would stay put through the holiday break and into January. With our New Yorker, it’s a little more complicated.
She travels with a cat and she doesn’t care to fly (for which I don’t blame her, because there is one (1) crowded flight per day from NYC to Roanoke). Amtrak won’t let you ride the rails with a pet for more than a seven hour trip, so our system is to have her take the train to DC, where we meet her and drive her back. It’s a long day of driving but half of it is with our girl and her kitten, so it goes quickly and happily.
The New Yorker will be with us into mid-January, too, so now that we’re all here we are solidly hunkering down.
We generally spend Christmas in Massachusetts, visiting with Jim’s family. This year, like so many other people, we decided that it was safer to keep everyone here and I’ll be honest, after the long year it’s been, I appreciate foregoing the two-day drive and the coordination necessary in a family visit. Jim’s sister and her partner are up there, visiting from Texas (after negative covid tests!) with their ancient cat and a dog whose medical complications require a diaper. Our youngest is allergic to dogs. It would not have been a harmonious time.
So the point of all of that is to say that we are gratefully having a quiet holiday and this year, I’ll take it! A friend wrote on a holiday card that they hope we can find some magic this year for the holidays, but I’ll set the bar down a little lower and send you a wish that there is simply a reason for you to smile and hope.
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.
Easton, PA, is a good halfway point. It’s a cute town right on the Delaware River.
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.
I hope that if you have travels this season they are safe and happy!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I got on a piece of equipment this morning and almost got popped by that elf.
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.
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.
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!