2020 Graduations

It’s thick into college graduation season, and because of the work I do, it’s a busy time. With all of us trying to do our work remotely, there is a little bit of extra tension this week.

But the tension we’re going through is, of course, no big deal compared to what the students are dealing with. And their moms and dads, too. You want to assure them that their kids’ experience over the past four years was the real cause for celebration, not just one day.

On the other hand, I am mindful that I was lucky enough to enjoy (in person) our daughter’s graduation back in December and I’m truly sad that the class of 2020 is missing out on a very special time.

The creativity that I’ve seen this spring, with families’ celebrations of their kids’ graduations and the hard work I’ve seen my colleagues put in, has been so incredible; I know that they must feel very much the same way that I do.

I’ll leave you with this: these are some of the faculty members at the college where I work (we’re the liberal arts college within a large university). When our director of student outreach asked them to send in video congratulations messages, he got more than 60 responses! That makes me like these folks even more.

I know you don’t know them, but once you watch this video, I’ll bet you’ll like them, too.

Just a List (Part 2)

The other day I contemplated a list of some of the things I’ve done to eat up the day while all of this Covid swirls around. It may also be a preview of some things I want to write about but here are some of the things that have kept me busy:

  • make up some stories
  • find a change of venue (around the house)
  • try not to snack (too much)
  • consider ordering new pants because all the snacking make the old ones obsolete
  • get on a video call or 7
  • enjoy having your college kid at home
  • go to the dump
  • there’s always laundry
  • make elaborate dinners
  • eat hummus for dinner
  • get take-out for dinner
  • wage war on squirrels at the bird feeder
  • read some good books (because every book is a good book)
  • Yoga with Adriene — aspire to be stretchy!
  • eat all the Reese’s
  • stay on social media way too long, even though you know better.

What are you doing with your Covid days?

(Not so far a-) Field Trip

This is one of those, “Golly, things are different here!” posts.

In Covid-time in Wirtz, it’s pretty easy to socially distance yourself. Fewer people = easier to spread out. But once in a while, you need to get out of the house to get groceries or, like today, get an oil change. (That light has been on in my car for a more time than I’d like to admit.)

Our local oil change place is not a Jiffy Lube franchise like you might see in Northern Virginia, but is called Liquid Lube.

Not gonna lie, when we first moved here I thought it was a restaurant and I got excited.

Come on, tell me this doesn’t look like a restaurant.

But it’s where you get your oil changed. This morning as I wrote this, I was little prickly because I had made the effort to get there before they opened and at 8:40 my car was still sitting there waiting.

Poor Jeep.

And despite the nice reading area outside, I am in a busy time at work and was feeling my Northern VA roots kick in and getting a little impatient.

When it’s not a socially- distanced time, you can hang out in the waiting area during an oil change and have amazing chats with the folks in there. I have met a retired coal miner who loves his pontoon boat because he enjoys taking his in-laws out for boat rides. I’ve met a woman who occupies herself on long drives by holding a hardback book up on the steering wheel. I’ve met the athletic director for the local Christian school (he told me to have a blessed day, of course).

But today we are all spread out.

I wanted to pet that dog but the owner wasn’t having it. I did learn, while queuing up before this place opened, that she is from Rhode Island and she works in a gym to get out of the house.

It’s kind of funny to think of your oil change place as a place you miss hanging out. Just like everywhere else, I guess.

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.

Covid’s Creep to the Country

I think I’ve mentioned that where we live is fairly rural.

As with some rural communities, there may be some sense of insulation from the effects of Covid-19 as it sweeps around the world. In fact, someone I know was teased a few weeks ago at a local gardening store when he told the cashier that he would load his own mulch in order to maintain some social distance. “A CUSTOMER IS COMING TO THE LOADING AREA,” she announced over the store’s loudspeaker. “BUT HE DOESN’T NEED HELP BECAUSE HE WANTS TO SOCIAL DISTANCE!” There was chuckling. This person now buys his mulch from the Lowe’s in Rocky Mount.

(About ten days after this interaction this same establishment went to curbside-only service. No more loitering in the garden store, y’all!)

And indeed, today’s Roanoke Times reports only 16 cases of Covid-19 in Franklin County, with 19 in Bedford County just across the lake.

However, a large population of our neighbors are retired and are very respectful of the threat that the coronavirus presents. You see some folks wearing masks in the stores, and appreciate businesses’ attempts to distance their customers.

The Burnt Chimney Post Office is not playing around.

We are supporting our small businesses with take-out orders and only venturing out when we need to. But if we went to our windows to bang pots at 7 pm in support of health care workers, I don’t think anyone would hear us.

When I talk to friends in the DC area or our daughter in New York, it is clear that they are living in a world that seems very different, even if I suspect strongly that it is not.

Why I am Walking

I started a series of posts yesterday about what we’re doing with our quarantine time out here in the country. And I mentioned how I’ve been enjoying walking.

Well, that exercise is important, because I’ve also been baking beer bread.

I got the recipe from a friend, Deb, and it is absolutely delicious. Side note: this is the same friend who introduced me to the Facebook group of mostly Australians who are dressing up to take their trash cans to the curb, so I really have to commend her social media savvy. (The group is called Bin Isolation Outing and the posts really are amazing,)

The recipe is very easy and calls for no exotic ingredients (if you can get your hands on flour LOL):

Make this right now!

I’ve been using our son’s Pabst Blue Ribbon for this delicacy, along with a couple of shakes of dried Italian herbs. I go a little scant on the sugar. It’s great right out of the oven and even marvelous the next day, either toasted or simply scarfed down during a group phone call.

It even makes your house smell amazing. I hope you get a chance to whip some of this up!

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.

It’s Still Spring

So…. whatcha been up to?

Here in Wirtz, we’re probably doing much what you’re doing these days: staying put.

But I’m feeling extremely lucky being able to do it.

For one thing, since moving to this area year ago, I have been very fortunate to work as a freelance writer, with my main client being the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University. In case you don’t know, Mason is the largest public research university in the commonwealth (!) (that’s right, Virginia Tech!), serving students from its campuses in Fairfax, Manassas, and Arlington, Virginia. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences is one of the largest colleges within the university, boasting over 20 distinct departments and programs. It has some amazing faculty members, students, and alumni, and I help to write about them.

Like most institutions of higher learning (and even not-so-higher learning), Mason has been hustling to meet the needs of its students in the face of this nasty covid-19 mess. What this means for me is that now all of my colleagues are working remotely, just like me. And the messaging has been flying fast and furious, so I have been fortunate to help keep those messages going.

Let me tell you, being able to work during this time is a huge (I’ll say it) blessing. It helps draw my focus from social media, which is so crazy right now, and the news — none of which seems to be all that good. And it’s springtime here, so I can work from an office view like this one.

Most of this blog has been all about the neat things to see around this area, and obviously we haven’t been out doing a lot of that. But in the coming days I’ll tell you what it’s like socially distancing in the country, because it sure seems different than what my friends are experiencing in bustling northern Virginia.

I hope you are well and healthy and have something good to keep you busy, too.

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.

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.)