Creeping Out, Creeping Back In

I first drafted this post talking about how lucky we were in our remote part of the country. Until very recently, our reported cases of Covid-19 had been very moderate. Even with the rate of people wearing masks standing at about 50-50, with the wide-open spaces in Franklin County we felt like we might miss the worst of it.

Then Memorial Day came and evidently everyone went to Myrtle Beach, including that virus. Myrtle Beach is a spot on the South Carolina shore, just about five hours south of our area. There’s a boardwalk, and golf courses, and an amusement park, and evidently lots of pent-up need for people to get out to the sand, because they opened up their businesses in June and the virus exploded.

Look, it’s the Coronavirus Highway!

People in Roanoke love Myrtle Beach! And they brought that virus back with them. The worst souvenir ever.

So now our local cases are creeping up. Mask wearing is a little better, but I’m cautious and more mindful of staying home. But for awhile there…

Jim and I went out to eat at our favorite restaurant, instead of doing take-out.

Napoli Cowboy has a nice outdoor area now! And you have to make a reservation.

I made a trip to Rocky Mount for a mammogram, which is no fun but you gotta do it. Hats off to the clinic for being extremely impressive at monitoring patients’ health and getting us in and out quickly.

I started going into Roanoke on Saturday mornings to peruse the tremendous Kolsch selection at Barrel Chest, where they remember you and what you like, with always something new and good to recommend.

I would also include a stop at Roasters Next Door so I could support a local coffee shop that happens to have delicious lavender-pancake flavored lattes.

But now it looks like all of those good things might be on hold and it’s 100% worth it if we can avoid this mess spreading any more than it is.

Meeting the People

We have been pretty good about staying away from folks with all of the Covid quarantining, but with restrictions loosening up around Virginia and a set of balding tires on my car, it was time to head in to the city to get them fixed.

Slowed down by the tractor man

The car dealer where I was getting the work done is a 45-minute drive from home, so I planned to camp out there. I brought along my trusty computer, hoping to get some work done. It was not to be.

People in Southwest Virginia are loquacious, and everyone has a tale to tell. I enjoyed some stories from a nice lady, a retired nurse who worked at the huge Veterans Administration hospital in Salem, and I admired pictures of Buddy the car salesman’s geodesic dome house (and learned the story of how he was able to buy it for cash) (hint: it had been a “hippie house”). I had a great talk with Theresa, who has a son the same age as that Reynolds boy who is now back in Kentucky (neither of us know what to do about those darned video games that keep the kids up all night). We all talked about wearing masks, and how we didn’t like them covering our noses. We talked about current events, with Buddy observing that we all bleed red.

Some of these folks were white. Some were Black. Chatting with all of them was much more enriching than burying my face in my computer (even if not, well, literally). And anyway, I got my chance because evidently the mechanic liked my car so much that he found more things wrong with it and I got to stay longer than any of my new friends.

My home for much of today. I was soon joined by some kids who turned on the Disney Channel very loudly on that TV. Bless their hearts. And also bless their dad’s heart: he wanted to talk about his political opinions. This finally did prompt me to find a quieter place to work.

I have not yet met a southwestern Virginian introvert.

Next Year, We’re Getting Costumes

We have been doing a whole lot of traveling, but have managed to lately enjoy a quiet couple of weekends in town.

Which allowed for a visit from my dear friend Gina passing through on the way to visit Harrisonburg. If you don’t bring your visitors up to the Roanoke Star, were they really here?

And last weekend, we did something completely new to us: visited the Big Lick Comic-Con.

HISTORY BREAK: You probably know that Big Lick is Roanoke’s original name, dating back to when the area was first settled by Europeans and named after the salt marshes in the area. When the railroads came in in the 1880s, the town changed its name to Roanoke, which some sources say is derived from the Algonquian word for “money.”

At any rate, these days you can enjoy the Big Lick Brewing Company and Big Lick Entertainment, which puts on the Comic-Con.

And it was really fun! We had never been to one; Jim used to try to get our son to go to Awesome Con (the Comic-Con in DC), but our boy never signed on. So now that the kids are out of the house, we two empty nesters went to check it out.

Look out, Jim!

I didn’t know what to expect. People in costumes, certainly. And the costumes were really marvelous, detailed, and lovingly put together. They are also a barometer of what’s big in the world of fantasy these days (lots and lots of Star Wars, and I only saw one Hermione).

There was all kinds of merchandise.

The Sasquatch was particularly appealing

And there were some guests, too. We saw Jason David Frank up on the stage — he’d been a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger, and at one point I heard a audience member telling him how inspirational he had been to him as he was growing up.

The whole event centered around a culture that I know very little about. It was inclusive, welcoming, and really celebratory. And full of kindness: I saw a woman approach a sinister-looking Star Wars guy to ask if he would take his picture with her kids, and the response through that mask was a sincere, enthusiastic, “Sure!” That was the vibe all through the event, and I’m glad to see it’s coming back in August.

Who knows, maybe you’ll see an extra Gandalf and Galadriel walking around?

Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.

(There’s some LOTR geekdom for ya.)

What Do You Need in a New Home Town?

Photo by Randy Fath on Unsplash

While getting our eldest settled is still very much a work in progress, it occurred to me yesterday that I have two of the things in place that have made our own new spot much more homey.

When we lived in Fairfax, I was very fortunate to have a dentist, hairdresser, and a couple of doctors that I could confidently recommend to anyone. When we moved down here, it’s took a while to assemble that team. The dentist was pretty easy: Dr. Sean Eschenbach was recommended by my trusted dental health protector in Northern Virginia (though it did take several — well worth it! — months to wait for that first appointment).

Finding a hairdresser took some more trial and error. One promising prospect confessed that she was planning on moving to Fairfax the week after my appointment, having lived in Roanoke for six months and deciding she didn’t like it (this was a low point in my transition to this town). Another hair professional, on learning that I did not want to color my hair, helpfully pointed out exactly how much gray hair I had and suggested that I should probably consider a perm. My last perm was in 1988 and I’d like to keep it that way.

My one visit to a hairdresser out here at the lake didn’t go well. I’ll leave it at that. (And yes, I am vain enough about my hair that this whole thing mattered to me quite a bit!)

I finally approached a woman in a coffee shop with a sharp coif to see if she would give up her secrets. That’s how I met Betsy at Oliver’s Twist Salon. She is one of the kindest, most pleasant, patient individuals I have ever met. And she makes my hair behave. A great hairdresser and a nice dentist? That is an excellent start!

Who do you need on your team to make your location feel like home?

Good Food from Everywhere

Last week I stumbled upon an advertisement for a Taste of Virginia food expo to be held at the Hotel Roanoke.

It was offered as part of the meeting of the 21st Annual Virginia Biological Farming Conference, and since Cora and I were going to be downtown anyway, we knew we wouldn’t want to miss it.

It surpassed our expectations!

We sampled breads, herbs, coffee, and cheeses, all made fresh and locally, served up by friendly vendors. There was plenty of wine, beer, and even moonshine (two different distillers!) but we had a long afternoon planned and didn’t want to slow ourselves down.

If I’d indulged in a wine sample, it would have been with H.T. at the Brooks Mill Winery

Plus, because the emphasis of the conference was organic and biological farming, most of the crowd there were actually farmers or people associated with the food community. You would think that, living down here, one would have more opportunity to hang out with farmers but on the other hand, those folks have pretty long hours.

We went home with some delicious Persian kolompeh cookies and some chutney from Kelly’s Persian Foods, located in Charleston West Virginia, some chimichurri spice and pimiento cheese from Piemonte Kitchen & Garden, whose Facebook page has some cool photos of the event, and a jar of lavender jelly and great-smelling soap from Green Roof Soaps, right up the road in Bedford (and on Etsy!). The diversity of offerings was incredible and the crowd was large enough to feel festive without being too crowded. In fact, I felt a little like I was in on a secret.

But now you know, too.

This is an event that I want to make sure is on my calendar for next year!

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.

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!

A Warm Farewell, Warm Welcomes

A trip out of town to a far-away place gives me more reason to appreciate the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. It is the chillest airport you may ever visit.

Jim dropped me off on his way to his office; the airport is about a five minute drive from downtown so I don’t even feel bad for hitting him up for a lift.

There was no line to check my bag, and plenty of time to have a conversation with the lady at the counter about her beautifully-manicured fingernails. They had a tiny gold Louis Vuitton motif; she explained that she has a funeral in her near future where she will be wearing a Louis Vuitton ensemble and her manicurist crafted a coordinating nail look. I wished her well and told her I would offer a prayer for her loved one, which she appreciated. All this before my second cup of coffee.

I got that second cup in the tiny coffee shop/bar in the departure part of the airport. I think that we have eight gates. The lady serving coffee told me that I’d missed the big rush, which is usually around seven a.m. They had just made fresh coffee, luckily for me.

Breakfast with a view

Our plane was a bit late coming in, and I got to hear the Delta agents at the desk enthusiastically welcoming everyone who stepped off the flight. Some of them seemed a little surprised at such a warm welcome but if they’re in the area for more than a couple of minutes, they’ll pick up that this is just the way this place is.

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!

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!