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!

Escape!

Over the next week or so, I thought I’d write about what things are like here in the Virginia countryside with all of this quarantining, and what I’ve been doing during the lockdown.

One of the things I try to do is get out and walk. Where we live, it’s very easy to take a walk and remain socially distanced.

Even when you walk with someone else.

I walk on Tuesdays and Thursdays with a neighbor, Jane, and her dog, Max.

He is not convinced that he wants to walk with me

We usually get on the road around 7, which is now just as the sun is coming up. Our loop is just about two miles. We see all kinds of critters.

That’s a deer I saw this morning, peeking at
me from over the hill

On the other days, I mix it up with different routes or maybe a little jog. But I try to get out there every day because — a true confession — I want my pants to keep fitting.

Here’s a guy who’s been walking for a cause and he’s awesome.

Here’s a news article that was in yesterday’s Roanoke Times about how regular walking might even help you survive a bout with the ‘rona! Yes, please!

I hope that whatever your situation, you’re able to exercise, even in (or especially in) a low-key way. I’m reading a book, Keep Going, by artist Austin Kelon, who sees walking as an antidote to the barrage of information flying at us every day: “you get outside and you start walking and you come to your senses … people smiling, birds chirping, clouds flying overhead … all that stuff. There’s possibility. Walking is a way to find possibility in your life when there doesn’t seem to be any left.”

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.

Socially Distanced Donuts

It is a tough tug-of-war between wanting to stay secluded and wanting to support local businesses. Jim and I have been helping the local economic cause, at least a little, by stopping for take-out from our favorite spot up the street, Napoli Cowboy.

And then some businesses have made it even easier to support them while staying a safe six feet away.

Mama Crockett’s cider donuts were famous well before we moved here. You can’t just get them anywhere. They have a store in downtown Lynchburg, about an hour from us, and they also sell the donuts ALL OVER THE PLACE from a couple of cool minty campers.

For example, Charlottesville is in luck tomorrow

Sadly, they never seemed to sell them anywhere near me. Until today.

Mama Crockett’s Facebook page lists where their truck is going to be, and I was overjoyed to see that it was coming to Rocky Mount today — just 25 minutes up the road!

Jim said that there was a line for these guys when they came to the city, but a snowy morning in Rocky Mount is pretty desolate

You can order and pay online, set up a time for your pick-up, and then you just show up and they zoom your donuts down the 6-foot chute to your hungry hands. Then the hardest thing is not eating them in the car on the way home.

One of the benefits to living down here right now is that we are pretty naturally spread out. Spread out enough to feel okay about getting a solid breakfast.

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.)

A New Look at New York

It may be no surprise that I’ve had New York on my mind lately.

And ironically enough, the week after we moved our girl from Alabama to North Carolina, we jumped on the train for a long-planned trip to the Big City itself.

The real drivers for the trip were our friends Colleen and Brett, who had taken the Amtrak from Roanoke to New York previously and were enthusiastic to do so again. And for someone who says he would never relish living there, Brett did an amazing job planning the trip, for which we are grateful.

Those guys started the day out early; the Amtrak leaves Roanoke at about 6:30 am. Jim and I joined them an hour up the road, in Lynchburg, and we picked up more friends, Michelle and Steve, just south of DC. A bloody Mary or two, and the attention of a fellow passenger — a bored and sassy nine-year-old traveling with her parents to go see Aladdin — made the hours zoom by.

Brett, Steve, and Jim in the sunshine on the Highline

In fact, the weekend zoomed by as we roamed around the island of Manhattan. We walked on the Highline and had lunch in Chelsea Market.

Hello, yummy

We saw a couple of shows!

We climbed all over the Vessel in Hudson Yards.

We checked out Little Italy, Chinatown (we were there during the Lunar New Year and it was fun seeing folks hustle around to get their supplies for the festivities), and the Housingworks Bookstore Café.

And, oh yes, Times Square, Top of the Rock, and even the M&Ms store.

It was a dizzying couple of days, made more fun by chatting with the many international visitors in our hotel and with the warm, funny, kind New Yorkers all around us. With the thought of our girl’s impending move (she found an apartment over the weekend!) looming in the back of my mind, the trip made me anticipate it — in a good way — even more intently.

Cora’s worst nightmare: tourist parents
who don’t leave

I ♡ New York? Indeed, I think I do.

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?