The right place, the very wrong time

Jim and I took a road trip last weekend to visit our boy in Lexington, Kentucky.

We love Lexington but don’t love the journey there from our home in SW Virginia. It’s a long haul up I-77 in West Virginia. Don’t get me wrong, the highway is a smooth conduit that connects Rt. 460 in Giles County, VA, to Charleston, WV, where we catch I-64 west out to the Lex. The problem is, all the trucks love it, too. So this time we thought we’d mix it up.

Google Maps option #2 took us deeper into the western tip of Virginia to the (beautiful) town of Abingdon, at which point we turned hard right and headed straight into southeastern Kentucky, with no venture into West Virginia at all. We were looking for mountain vistas, smaller roads, and fewer 18-wheelers.

Southeastern Kentucky is famous for its coal mines; I read that coal has been mined there since 1790. But on Thursday, July 28, the day of our trip, it became famous for flooding. Days of unprecedented, powerful rainfall brought devastating floods that wiped out houses, roads, bridges, and at the time of this writing, has killed 28 people. We didn’t see that news early Thursday morning as we set out. We hauled down I-81, stopped for coffee in Abingdon, turned right, and headed up over the mountains.

The views over Clinch Mountain were stunning. As we crossed into Kentucky, we could see waterfalls on the towering stone walls that border northbound route 23. But as we turned west onto 119, we started noticing the water in the creek next to the highway was very, very active. Churning and brown. Then we went through a town and saw folks in camo who were clearly National Guard, and not hunters.

Not long after that, the traffic stopped. The bridge on 119 had washed out. Like our fellow drivers, we turned around.

I was navigating, and at this point, I didn’t want to completely retrace our steps, but instead tried to find an alternate route north, along those picturesque mountain roads. This was the wrong choice.

We muddled north; every road seemed to follow an overflowing creek and we started seeing houses and bridges in ruins. Mud and water filled yards. At one house a car was wedged up against the front porch like it had been thrown there by a huge, angry toddler. We drove through the town of Fleming-Neon, whose Main Street was under water; we followed a side street with a stream of pick-up trucks and ATVs (y’all, so many ATVs) to get to the road on the other end of town. That road was blocked by a mudslide.

For two hours we drove back and forth like a rat in a maze, trying multiple routes that turned out to be blocked, before we finally worked our way back to a clean highway. We drove through the branches of trees that had fallen across roads, and skirted blacktop that was cracking because the dirt underneath it was washing away. We drove through water that was deep enough that we could see that other cars had been swept out of their path (by the time we got there, it had receded: “If that Subaru can do it, we can, too”).

It was a disaster. We had no business being there.

We should have backtracked immediately at the first closed road. We easily could have been stuck in Pike County. And you know what? We would have been stupid tourists draining the resources of an area that already has plenty of stress of its own. We found ourselves in a natural disaster and I thought I could be clever and find a work-around on mountain roads that I do not know. Jim’s driving got us out of that mess. And I hope I’ve learned my lesson that I need to respect bad situations a lot better.

Now I sit here safe and dry at home, fully knowing that our experience is nothing compared to what these folks will be dealing with for the next few years, at least. If you are able to donate to help, Kentucky’s Governor Beshear’s office has set up a site where you can do so. It only takes a minute. I’ve never seen any situation like what we saw on Thursday and hope you never do, either.

The beginning of big things

We had the excellent experience last weekend of going to our nephew’s high school graduation. It is more fun going to a beloved nephew’s event because as an aunt and uncle, Jim and I can enjoy being supporting characters. Also, we didn’t have to put together the post-graduation brunch.

Our nephew went to a very large high school up in Northern Virginia. Like many local high schools, his commencement exercises were held in the arena located at the university where I work, so it felt a little bit like deja vu from a couple of weeks ago.

I found a large person to sit behind

The ceremony itself was well organized. There was an interesting speech from a member of the school’s security team (“I didn’t know he ever said anything other than ‘Why aren’t you in class?'” remarked Nephew later), and some sincere reminiscences from one of the graduates. As all 680 graduates made their way across the stage, I had time to think about the work that goes into an event like this, as the school tries to balance the students’ (and parents’) desire to get that diploma and get out of there with the need for some solemnity to make the event meaningful. By the time they’d gotten to the second bank of students, some in the stands were leaving their seats and coming back with popcorn.

Afterwards, my sister and brother-in-law hosted the family at their house, and visiting with those folks was obviously the best part of the day.

Nephew is a bit younger than our two kids and the day felt like we were saying goodbye to the kid part of our lives. But despite being (typically) Anne-nostalgic for some of those memories, it really does feel like a commencement. That guy will soon be off to a large university with large adventures ahead. I can’t wait to see where it takes him.

We’re doing our best

I’ve written here before about running out of words for the past year or so. Not knowing what to write, and even wondering how much the world needs my voice, given all of the people who need to be heard, seen, understood.

The view this morning from my favorite construction site.

That’s a thought that has been poking me as we start 2022’s Pride Month. At my day job, I had the opportunity to write about my university’s Lavender and Women and Gender Studies Graduation, which is an opportunity for the university’s LGBTQ+ community, allies, and the Women and Gender Studies program (which supports LGBTQ+ resources at our school) to celebrate as the the university prepares for commencement exercises. A chance for a group of people to rejoice in the loving community that they themselves fostered during their college years, a haven for when they might have felt marginalized or ignored by the larger university environment.

The article was a chance for me to talk with a number of the really incredible people who support the community at our university. They are people full of kindness, honor, and respect, and they helped me — I hope — to impart that same kindness, honor, and respect in the folks I wrote about.

And that right there is why I’m writing this today, nudged further along by the poke I got from the blog post of a terrific writer I admire, Melissa Ostrum, who wrote today about why she writes. What resonated with me was the discovery of “surprises, epiphanies, and keenly felt feelings” that came up when she put words to paper (or computer screen).

We’re living in interesting times, for sure, with bad news all around us, people in dire straits all around the world, and friends saying things in social media that oh, I didn’t like to know about them. What can one middle-age lady living in the country say that has a bearing on any of that?

I’m not sure, but I am over here doing the best I can, and I bet you are, too.

Not Wordle

When I start to type “Wordle” into my browser, the predictive text sends me to “WordPress” instead, and many times, I’ve thought, whoa, I should write a blog post! But then I override the suggestion and go to Wordle instead.

And the funny thing is, I really don’t like Wordle. Despite the fact that I know a handful of five letter words, I find this game really frustrating and immediately get that panicky feeling that I am wasting time I should be spending with work. Or on anything else. I know I’m likely in the minority here, but there you go.

So if I am saving all this Wordle time, how have I been spending it? Good question.

Today’s Daily Stoic email asked very much the same question, but in terms of the two years we’ve been living with the pandemic. Do you have any W’s? or big L’s? Some definite food for thought, but I’m going to count this blog post as a W.

Spicing up a quiet week

The week between Christmas and New Year is probably my favorite sneaky week of the year. It’s sneaky because I forget how much I like it until it rolls around again, all quiet and peaceful after the frenzy of trying to get ready for the holiday and the big day itself. I’m doubly fortunate because my employer, a university, closes its administrative offices for two weeks surrounding Christmas, so I can loaf almost guilt-free.

This year is quiet, too, because our New Yorker daughter, who spent a nice long break with us last year, realized that New Year’s Eve in the city was going to be more fun than New Year’s Eve in Franklin County. (Can’t blame her for that.) Her younger brother, our Kentuckian son, is going to mosey back to Lexington early next week.

It’s so quiet that I almost welcomed the tooth I broke last week that occasioned a trip to the dentist this morning.

We have a good dentist, but he’s a solid 45 minutes away, on the other side of Roanoke. I saw him at the beginning of December for my regular check-up, which was uneventful except for Tammy the hygienist loudly announcing, “She’s doing MUCH BETTER on her flossing this time, Dr. ______,” when Dr. ________ came in to poke around my teeth. That’s judgy, Tammy. There is nothing wrong with my flossing, nor was there anything (all that) wrong back in June.

This visit was uneventful, too, with just a little bit of filing on the chipped corner of the rebellious tooth. I was out of the office with plenty of time to stop in to Target, Barrel Chest, and Starbuck’s (which are also 45 minutes from our house) and home before the Lexingtonian woke up.

And all off the clock.

Back to slowly dismantling Christmas. See you next year, Hohoho mugs!

Days of Wine and (Freedom) Noses

After a wonderful May and June when it felt like we were bounding into a wide-open summer, here came that obnoxious Delta variant to move the goalposts on getting back to “normal.” At Smith Mountain Lake, we saw that play out last week over the SML Wine Festival.

The wine festival has been going on for over 30 years, a very popular event held annually on the last weekend of September. In 2019, it took place at Crazy Horse Marina and Jim and I got to enjoy the event with our friends the Marstons, chauffeured by boat by their son, Luke (thanks, Luke!). There were loads of wineries represented, a variety of food options, live music, some interesting artwork for sale, and a crowd of happy wine-sippers.

Also, excellent souvenir glassware

Last September, of course, it was cancelled for Covid.

This July, the local chamber of commerce made big waves by changing it up. No longer would it be at the Crazy Horse, but at a new venue, Mariners Landing, a golf community perched at the end of one of the lake’s creeks. But what really rocked the boat were the prices: individual tickets were now going to start at $65 per person (more than double the previous price), with VIP options and boat slips raised accordingly. The chamber explained that “the timing was right to elevate the experience,” and stressed that some popular musical acts would be playing in the new, “more intimate” setting.

This change did not go over well with my neighbors.

The residents’ Facebook page got so heated that the admin turned off the comments. An alternative event was set up for the same day, called the Knot-A-Festival, where individual tickets are $15 and everyone brings their own wine.

In the end, though, the festival announced last week that they would postpone for a year because of the Delta variant. Some in the residents’ page are surmising that it’s because they couldn’t sell those pricey tickets, but the Mariners Landing community is also very mindful of masking and distancing in the face of the new Covid threat.

While I wouldn’t think such measures would be controversial, a trip to the local Kroger (or any other lake-local business) proves that we mask wearers are very much in the minority. Sigh, here we go again (and without our Virginia wine).

This Semi-Covid Summer

This summer is better than last summer, can we agree?

We had houseguests last weekend – two sets! This is not an unusual state of affairs for most of our neighbors; if you’re lucky enough to live on the shore of a lake, you’re lucky enough to have some folks want to visit.

But what a change from last summer.

When we moved to southwest Virginia, we shrugged off our former suburban existence and bought a home on Smith Mountain Lake. Every morning when I wake up and see that water, I can’t believe we’re here.

Map is compliments of Laker Media.

The folks who sold us the house also sold us their tiny boat (we call it the Tempest because it’s about the size of a teapot). It’s a perfect boat for us, since neither Jim nor I knew anything about boats or boating. We do not fish. We do not ride on wakeboards. As soon as we moved down here, though, I took an online boating safety course and then we ignored the Tempest for, well, almost two years, while we did other things.

But then Covid hit and we were faced with a locked down 2020 summer. So I called up Bittinger Marine Center, recommended by our neighbors, and Jahleel and Luke came out to look at our boat, which by now wouldn’t start. They towed it to their shop and brought it back spiffy a week or so later. “When you bring it back,” I asked, “could you all hang out for a minute and give me some pointers?”

“Ma’am, that’s just what we had in mind.”

Jahleel’s previous experience had been teaching boating basics to tourists at the boat rental spot, so he knew how to talk to a nautical newbie. Within a few minutes, I could work that throttle and putter semi-comfortably. We were in business.

This big boi is not us. We avoid guys like him.

So with few guests last summer, that boat opened up a whole new world for us. Jim and I ventured out early on weekend mornings to avoid the bigger, faster boats, with Google Maps to help us navigate the many coves and creeks that make up the lake. We learned to steer around wakes and partiers (there are some jolly pirates out here for sure), and the whole experience will make the summer of 2020, even with the election craziness and the Covid consternation, a very good memory.

Favorite captain with his WFH beard.

Walking Around with Famous People

I intended to write, write, write through the pandemic about how we “country folk” made our way through the Covid mess. Now that things are opening back up, I’m not that surprised, I suppose, that I just didn’t find the energy for to do it.

But I’ve got notes, y’all, so I’m going to spend a couple of days talking about some of the things that kept us busy when we were supposed to stay away from other people.

I’ve mentioned that one thing I like to do each morning is take a walk. It really is pretty here and getting a little air sets me up nicely for the day. I walk with my neighbor, Jane, a couple of days a week (on many weeks we made sure to walk six feet apart!), but other days, I’m on my own.

When we lived in a suburban neighborhood in busy Northern Virginia, I’d get on the road walking or jogging by 5 am so I could get home in time to bother our kids before they went off to school. The problem with that schedule here is that when it’s dark, it’s dark. We don’t have streetlights.

That’s the moon setting, you know

Our daughter prodded me out the dark door. Now a New Yorker, when she came to visit she appreciated getting out early and seeing the stars. You’re missing out, she told me, so I dusted off my old headlamp and started braving the pre-dawn roads.

Sunrises are pretty good here.

The other problem, though, is critters. We have friendly creatures, like opossum, foxes, and rabbits (squee!). We have some other denizens, though, like coyotes and yes, black bears, whom I did not want to meet. The answer came from my sister and brother-in-law: podcasts.

I started with Smartless, a podcast featuring Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Will Arnett, and a mystery guest each week. I chose this one because I walk without my earbuds in (on dark, twisty, roads, I want to be able to hear what’s coming) and I figured that the sound of men’s voices would discourage anything creeping around from coming too close. They talk to some amazing people and what I love is that they’re all really, really kind to each other.

Then Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground came along and I loved that, too. And Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us is good, though her guests tend to be doing their book tours, and I have hit up Amazon a few too many times when I get home. I am now way behind on my reading.

Lately I’m loving Adam Grant’s WorkLife – he is an organizational psychologist and talks about how we get along with each other, mostly at work but also just in general. He has great energy, is really thoughtful, and was sassy enough match wits with Malcom Gladwell when he was a guest on the show. I just saw that WorkLife is one of Apple’s most highly-rated podcasts, so here I was thinking I was discovering something but ahem, I’m just a little late to the party.

Most of all, I highly recommend Every Little Thing, where each episode answers a burning question, like how old is Winnie the Pooh (the character. Old bear? Young bear?), or whether people actually only breathe through one nostril at a time, or how the game Scrabble became so popular. The episode on Pooh had me laughing like a fool and actually crying at the end, and I dare you to listen to the episode on dog shows (are they anti-dachshund?) without cheering for the weenie dogs.

These little drops of wisdom each morning have made the walks a lot of fun, and I’ll tell you what: I haven’t seen a bear yet.

A Bad Day for a Road Trip

Earlier this week, I had some business to attend to up in Fairfax, so I drove up Monday, met with some of my colleagues (face to face for the first time in more than a year!) and – the best part – hung out with my sister and brother-in-law for the first time since December 2019.

Zoom is amazing but not like this.

Work wrapped up by Tuesday at 2 pm, and since it’s a four-hour drive back to the countryside, I was motivated to get on the road before the famous northern Virginia traffic (even with so many people working from home, it’s bad, y’all). Off I went.

As I turned south onto Route 29, the road that would take me most of the way home, it occurred to me that I should stop to fill up my half-tank of gas. But oddly enough, the gas stations all seemed to have lines. I didn’t want to wait in a line; I wanted to get home. So I kept on.

Eventually I saw a little gas station without any lines, so I pulled in, only to find hand written signs that read, “No gas.”

Uh-oh.

I traveled on south, passing gas station lines so long that they pushed out into the roadway. In Charlottesville, the large-ish, busy town at the midpoint of the trip, its many gas stations featured astonishing lines. I hesitated to join any of them for fear that the station would run out of gas before my turn came, leaving me in worse shape.

My gas gauge had also crept to just below a quarter of a tank.

Once south of Charlottesville, Rt. 29 becomes really rural, really fast. I was aiming for a familiar gas and snack stop in North Garden, Virginia, just about 15 miles out of town, but when I got there, the Exxon was also out of gas. I started trying to devise a Plan B and not was coming up with any good prospects.

But three miles later, around a bend, up popped Caul’s Grocery.

Here’s how it looks on the Google Maps page

Caul’s is small. It had a line. But that line was short enough that I could join it and only be one or two cars from being able to get off of Rt. 29 and into the parking lot. I turned on my hazard lights to warn the folks flying down the road that we were parked right out there in traffic, and in short order, a line formed right up behind me. Even better, I was able to pull into the parking lot and safety.

A beautiful sight

As I waited with my window rolled down, I congratulated one fellow for being able to fill his tank, and he assured me that Caul’s Grocery’s proprietor (Mr. Caul?) had reported that he’d received a large shipment of gas just the day before. Whew. Within forty minutes or so, I myself was gassed up and ready to roll home.

My fellow travelers. That lumber truck hung out with us for awhile but then tried his luck down the road. I don’t know how he could have fit into the parking lot, frankly.

All of this adventure was the result of a ransomeware attack that had shut down the Colonial Pipeline, which delivers gas to much of the East Coast. And of course, people panicked and gobbled up gasoline. In a clear illustration of not putting two and two together, I had heard about the hack but had not considered how it might affect me. I guess I’m out of practice at traveling.

But I will always make a point of stopping at Caul’s on my way to and from points north.

Mother’s Day in the Mountains

Mother’s Day used to stress me out. When my mom was still around, there was a fancy restaurant that served brunch twice a year, Mother’s Day and Easter, and we hit them both so Mom could stroll around the buffet and urge us to try the aspic. We even did it after Jim and I started our own family, hauling our toddlers to the fancy brunch place.

I don’t need to tell you that became a day I did not eagerly anticipate.

My mom passed away in March 2004 and I really dreaded Mother’s Day that year. But Jim made some changes. He corralled our then seven-year-old and five-year-old to make breakfast in bed (!) and they filled out one of those questionnaires where kids write cute things about what they like about their mom. Over the years we went into DC to walk around, we made it to our own fair share of brunches (even a fancy one, once or twice), and have generally spent that weekend in May doing whatever I felt like doing.

Now those kids live in New York and in Lexington, Kentucky. Yesterday, Jim and I took advantage of a beautiful spring day and headed into Roanoke (there’s not a lot of action in town on Sundays, even on Mother’s Day, y’all). We had scones and coffee at Bread Craft and watched a stream of people picking up boxes of baked goods for their Mother’s Day events. We checked out the farmer’s market and bought a very cool table from a man who makes them himself in Rocky Mount. We went to Barrel Chest to pick up some lagers, and found a “beer can garden” at the Starr Hill Brewpub.

We exchanged thumbs up with the older gentleman driving this classic while clad in a USN flight suit and a Top Gun-looking baseball cap
We ogled an alpaca pack on the drive home

Today we’ll talk with Jim’s mom, who spends Mother’s Day in Texas with his sister, with those far-flung kids of ours, and with my own sister (who is a fabulous mom herself). I have two friends who each lost their moms in April and I’m thinking of them in particular. And the good thing is, there is no aspic in sight.