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!

Greetings!

I try to keep this blog about the local environs here in Franklin County and elsewhere in southwest Virginia, but as you know we’ve been lured here and there with other exciting events lately.

And since we’ve been home, I have been toiling over holiday cards.

I’ve made a big deal over holiday greetings in the past. For years I made them myself, and during other years I worked pretty hard to get the perfect picture of Reynolds kids.

After a certain age, they got tired of this routine and photo cards became too much of a fight.

This year I shopped local and got some cute cards at the Gifts Ahoy! store (where you can also get a sample of fudge, hello!).

But I didn’t buy enough and had to supplement with a trip to CVS.

Then my sister’s card came and it was so great, that I just had to take a break from my cards and stand in awe.

That is their cat on the right and you know what? She doesn’t like you. She only likes my sister. And that blotch represents the name of their own family member who has decided to no longer participate in card production.

These guys have holiday cards that people look forward to every year. They are that clever. Every year! And she has pointed out that the beauty of photo cards is that you don’t have to write things on them.

I like writing things. But I’m at the point in my card process where I’m not writing much more than our family’s names on the cards anyway (sorry S’s, T’s, W’s, and my one Z friend; I run out of steam), and I hereby vow to concoct a photo card next year. It will not measure up to my sister’s, but hey, I have 11 months to get creative.

I made you something

For years, Jim’s mom would make amazing toffee bark during the holidays.

It has four ingredients. Two more if you want to get fancy. But the basics are:

  • two sticks of butter
  • about a sleeve of Saltine crackers
  • a cup of sugar
  • a bag of chocolate chips

For the butter and the sugar, you just use the plain stuff you have in your kitchen already. For the crackers, even basic, off-brand Saltine-type crackers work great (Kroger had a box for 99 cents. Yes, please!). For the chocolate, you might splurge a little and get posh chips (I’ll explain in a minute).

If you melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sugar and boil it for five minutes (stirring constantly), pour that mess on crackers spread evenly on a baking sheet, bake it for five minutes at 400, turn off the oven, sprinkle the chocolate chips on the confection, return it to the oven for two minutes, spread the now-melted chips, and pop it all into the refrigerator to firm up, you will have achieved culinary alchemy.

If you want to get fancy you can add chopped pecans before it goes into the refrigerator and/or powdered sugar after it comes out and you break it into shards. I added pecans because I like them and also to hide the fact that my regular old Toll House morsels didn’t melt in a nice way (and I’ve since learned that it may be a moisture issue in my oven, check this out, but also, I looked online and there is some controversy out there about those chips). The bark still tastes good but is not as aesthetically pleasing as Jim’s mom’s bark was.

Sadly, my mother-in-law no longer eats things that contain gluten and has not made the bark for years. Neither had I, and now I remember why. I cannot stop eating it.

I’m sharing some with the Shine Runners to keep me from eating all of it

A Long Trip Home

It’s funny how a dreadful event can refocus your perspective very quickly.

Our travel home from Alabama went a little bit sideways, leaving me grateful for everything that didn’t go wrong.

As background, the easiest way to get to Auburn, Alabama, is through Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. (It’s such a big airport that even Roanoke’s little airfield offers direct flights!) From there, you rent a car and drive straight down I-85 for an hour and a half. Once you cross the Chattahoochee River you know you’re almost there.

Jim, Cora, and I had managed to book our flights home separately but all ended up on the same flight home to Roanoke, an afternoon flight that allowed us to get out of town in a leisurely fashion. The rest of the family had earlier flights, so they scooted out of town with dispatch. As we finished up our breakfast, I got a call from an Atlanta number.

Was I ever surprised to hear one of my favorite voices on the other end: my sister, Sarah. She started the conversation with, “Anne? Everything is okay, but…”

And with those four words, your heart skips because you know that everything is not okay. And it wasn’t. She had stopped off of I-85 in Union City, just south of Atlanta, to refill her gas tank. While doing so, another car drove up to the pump next to hers (as they do). When she turned around to attend to the gas pump, someone got out of that car and into hers and sped off. With all of her possessions.

With a presence of mind that I can only aspire to, she ran into the gas station, called 9-1-1, borrowed a phone, and got in touch with her family, including me. Suddenly grateful to be packed up a little early, we jumped in the car and made our way to Union City. By the time we got there, Sarah had spoken with the police and made a report.

And we had formulated a plan. We picked her up and drove with her to Hartsfield-Jackson. Jim and Cora flew home, but Sarah and I stepped up to the National Rent-a-Car counter and drove ourselves to the airport in Roanoke (me: “Sarah, Sarah, look! It’s Fancy Gap!”). We were met there by her husband, who had spent the afternoon cancelling credit cards, acquiring a new phone for my sis (at the Apple store in mid-December), and driving the four hours from northern Virginia.

She wrote about the experience on social media, making the cautionary point that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE YOUR KEYS WITH YOU WHEN YOU FILL UP YOUR CAR, but also expressing her great relief that things worked out much better than they could have.

That’s some relief that I share.

Star of the Show

Today is a travel day so instead of writing much I’ll share the grand finale of Auburn’s graduation yesterday.

After the platform party processed out, the new grads stayed in their seats. The band launched into the fight song. Aubie, the finest mascot in SEC, bounded onto the stage and motioned for all of the graduates to toss their hats. It was the perfect end to the celebration.

Brush with Fame

This is Michael O’Neill (a pic I snagged from IMDB) — he’s an actor who’s been in lots of things, and he is also an Auburn alum. Notably, he will be the speaker at today’s graduation ceremony.

I didn’t realize any of this as he was just sitting at the table next to me in the lobby coffee shop of the Auburn University Hotel. Another coffee lover did recognize him, which gave me the intel to write this post.

Coffee Tastes the Same (Good) in Alabama

The town next to Auburn is called Opelika (it’s fun to say, give it a try!).

It is much easier to get a hotel in Opelika than in Auburn on busy weekends (fun fact: this is also true for the SEC football refs, as we learned during a stay at the Opelika Hampton Inn a couple of years ago). The Opelika hotels surround a shopping center known as TigerTown, which may indicate its proximity to the Auburn campus.

A certain soon-to-be college graduate, I have found, doesn’t want to meet up with her mom until 9 a.m. Since I get up early, I have learned that the TigerTown Target opens at 7 (perfect for picking up waterproof mascara).

I love you, Target. I love you, TigerTown.

And on this early morning, I’m enjoying the warmth of the TigerTown Starbucks as I listen to the salty-sweet accents of the older gents at the next table, sorting out the worlds problems…

… and happily getting a text from Jim to let me know that he succeeded in navigating a Roanoke ice storm to get to the airport for his flight down here this morning.

The family starts arriving this afternoon. But first the grad-to-be and I will get one last walk around campus. A well fortified walk.

Football Culture in a Southern Town

One of my favorite things to do while visiting Auburn, Alabama, is to walk with our girl through the neighborhoods surrounding the university. They have winding streets and bungalow houses that were mainly built in the 1930s and are, for the most part, beautifully restored.

Or you can find some tiny student-housing communities that are nicer than anything I ever lived in while in college

They seem to be populated with former Auburn students who stuck around after graduation, judging from the number of university insignias or Aubie tigers in the front yards.

Poor Aubie. Poor Santa. A rough night downtown, evidently
On the other hand, here is a backyard with its own goalpost and Auburn end zone

We have been here to visit mainly during various football seasons, and it is an astonishing experience with the crowds and the tailgate parties. It’s kind of cool being here in the off season now and getting a glimpse of a quieter time.

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.