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.)

Country-fied

No, that’s not “country fried” (but I guess you could say that).

Franklin County, our home for the past year and a half, is nothing like the harried and fast-paced Northern Virginia we came from. One of our kids (the one who just finished college and will be moving to a city next week) is not amused. The other one is much more enchanted with our new-ish home.

Maybe he had a hard semester, but he talked a lot over winter break about how peaceful it is out here. Like his mother, he appreciates the cows and tractors. He grew a beard, which startled his grandfather enough to make that gentleman exclaim that he looks just like a native of our neighboring state, known for its country roads and coal industry.

And then, when his car was pretty much flattened in October by a hit-and-run (thankfully, without him in it), he put his sights on a vehicle that would be harder to crunch, and he headed back to college last week in a brand new (to him) truck. He said that he likes driving it around here because when he drives it, “more people wave.” He is definitely fitting in.

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.

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!

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.

My People

I am extremely lucky when it comes to my line of work. I can do most of it from our dining room table, tapping away at my laptop. It’s an introvert’s dream, even if it can feel a little isolating from time to time on the occasion when one isn’t feeling quite so quiet.

So today, before I got started with work projects, I went to mail a care package to our boy – a college student who has exams next week – and decided to shop local on the way.

It’s always coffee time

While in CJ’s, the gentleman in line behind me struck up a conversation about his recent travels in Italy, where his grown-up kids joined him for a decidedly non-traditional Thanksgiving. Me: I see your Italian vacation and raise you a daughter graduating from college in three days, ha HA! One of his buds came in and asked if Tom (the Italian vacation guy) was bothering me. No, I assured him, to which he replied, “Just give him time!”

It’s a jokey crowd around the lake.

I moved on out to the parking lot with a smile on my face. Parked next to me was a vehicle belonging to the marine service company that had fixed our neighbors’ boat this fall. I mentioned to driver how pleased my neighbors were and he introduced himself (Josh) and gave me his card. Now I know whom to call to look at our non-working little boat in the spring.

At the UPS store, the lady behind the counter and I talked about the holiday rush, the stress of college exams, and of course, how I have a daughter graduating from college in three days BECAUSE WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH ME? And then we talked about how quickly kids grow up we both cried a little.

Things move slower in this part of Virginia. I’ve happened into CJ’s when it’s unusually busy and the proprietor has straight-up told me, nah, you’re not getting your coffee for awhile. And when we had trees removed from our back yard this fall, once the tree company guy ascertained that they weren’t immediately imperiling our roof, he told me he’d see us in oh, three weeks.

But even though I still feel like a bit of a newbie here, mornings like this make me feel right at home.

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!