The Skivvy

What’s it like to relocate to another part of the country or to build a new home?

Finally getting our yard regraded!

That’s a question we’re being asked more and more lately. Being here in the Shenandoah Valley for almost two years now makes us certainly not “old hands”, but we do have more insight now than before this adventure began. Here’s the skivvy.

Sometimes we wonder if we should have moved earlier, when we were a bit younger. But, change one thing and everything changes. So, it seems that now was the “just right” time for us to move…even if it took us two tries.

Before moving from Connecticut for our first relocation, I had never lived more than 6 miles from the house where I was born. Talk about being a homeboy! But circumstances were what they were and I stayed put.  Enter The Redhead and another chapter was started.

First, we decided to move to Florida. We had good friends that lived there and we even spent part of one summer there to test out the weather. The gods must have been laughing because that rather tolerable summer was an anomaly. But, we made connections that will last a lifetime. And, we successfully oversaw the complete renovation of a house. But, four years and four hurricanes were enough though!

So, we explored other areas and set certain criteria for making a move. We had to be near an airport that would fly us directly to NY (the closest to our hometown where family still lived), it also had to be reasonably drivable (under 8 hours), just in case. Weather played a big part, too. No more sweltering heat for most of the year. Yet, we were both attracted to Southern states. Georgia? No. South Carolina? Hmm, no. North Carolina? Hmmm, maybe, but, No. How about Tennessee? Well, it did have a big draw for us and I ain’t talkin’ about Dolly!

Those Tennessee mountains weren’t enough of a draw!

But, No.  Where to then?  

After miles and miles of driving and weeks in hotels and B&B’s, it was Back to the Drawing Board. So, rethinking everything, we refocused our priorities.: Small town, Southern state, close to an airport and a reasonable drive back to family. We also needed good medical facilities, culture, natural beauty and Church. And, it had to be peaceful and safe.

After lots of online research we decided to explore Virginia and that’s how we found Staunton.

We had contacted a Realtor prior to driving up to Staunton the first time. She was wonderful and generous with her time in showing us around the area. Yes, Staunton was the area we wanted to call home. We returned home, thought about it some more and decided to sell our “forever” home and move. We sold our home in 6 hours! Back to Staunton we went to secure a rental so that we could transition more easily and sensibly. This was a bit tricky and we wound up finding a nice apartment on our own.

For some reason, working with Realtors did not work out too well for us. The first Realtor that showed us around when we were exploring needed to take care of some matters so she wasn’t as available as we had hoped. Too bad, because she is a wonderful person that we would have loved to do business with.

We were open to building or remodeling an existing home. It was in finding the right location that proved to be elusive. While we initially thought city living was just right for us – being able to walk to amenities had been a goal – downtown Staunton would be a challenge. We didn’t want to undertake another complete renovation nor were we alpine hikers, something that might come in handy in navigating the hills of Staunton. Realtors showed us homes that needed everything from complete gutting / renovation to mold remediation to needing a herd of goats to keep the acreage under weed and brush control. One memorable agent might have taken us a bit too literally when we said we wanted a quiet, safe neighborhood. His picks were a building lot that was somehow located within an old cemetery and a new home that had an electric fence surrounding it – to keep out the neighbor’s cattle.

A Shocking Experience!

Fast forward a bit to where we finally located a building lot in the perfect location for us: just outside of the city limits of Staunton in Augusta County. And this is where our experience may be most helpful to those thinking of doing something similar to us: relocating and building/remodeling in a new area.

First, learn everything you can about the location: tax rates, are public utilities available, zoning (what type of homes are allowed in your area – single family only or mixed use (multiple family), future Planned Development by the town/county/ developer.  Don’t forget to explore the area. Is that nice building behind the trees an office building or a prison?  Thankfully, we didn’t have that experience.

Research the potential Builder / Re-modeler – Diligently! Ask the County / Town/ Neighbors about any Failed Inspections they may have had with previous jobs. Talk with Homeowners that have worked with them…in private. Don’t have the Realtor or Builder present during the conversation. It’s understandable that some people may be less than candid if there were any problems during / after their home building process if a third party is present. Talk with suppliers, including those in the Big Box stores if the builder uses them. An “eye roll” may be worth a thousand words. Talk to competitors. Most good / ethical builders will be honest in speaking of another builder. They may do things a little differently or prices may be a little more or less than the other guy, but a prolonged, “Welllll”, speaks volumes! Talk with everyone and don’t forget the folks at the local zoning / building departments and the local police / sheriff. Our experience was that they were very helpful and gave us great insight.

Once you decide on a builder, “do a Reagan”: Trust but Verify! Be specific in what you want and what you’ll get. Everything must be in writing, including materials that will be used.  Weather affects almost every building process. But, what happens if the builder delays completion for 2, 3, 4 months or even more? It’s going to cost you money to extend a lease or sale of an existing home. Will a deliberate delay cost them anything? Some builders start, stop and move onto another project before finishing the first. Find out, too, who will be doing the actual construction. Does the builder have his own “core crew” for framing and finishing, etc. or is everything sub-contracted out? If a “core crew” is used, how long have they worked for the builder?  Be cautious of a builder that has an exceedingly high turnover rate or that constantly flips sub-contractors. There is a reason. Make sure there is an actual blueprint for the job and not an “online rendering” and that you are given a complete copy. Go over everything in the plans with the builder and an attorney / architect before contracts are signed (expect to pay for these beforehand, they do cost money). Changes made after contracts are signed will almost certainly cost you money and time, especially if made during construction. A wall color change probably won’t, unless the builder has already bought the paint. When picking appliances verify when the choices must be made and when they will be bought. Sometimes a buyer can buy the appliances directly and have them held by the store until needed. This can spare you the aggravation of hearing later from the builder that the prices went up or the item is out of stock so you must pick some other model or make. Experience is speaking here!

Finally, find out how a particular builder handles mistakes or problems. Only a previous home buyer can tell you this. Things happen, but how those unforeseen snags are taken care of is important to your sanity and enjoyment of your home.

Building can be a challenge. But, being diligent (and a bit lucky), patient and choosing wisely can turn that empty lot into your Home, Sweet Home!

Home, Sweet Home

If you are ever considering moving to Staunton give us a shout!

What Wood You Do!

Preparing to work on Morris Chair

“One of the things that I enjoyed about your shop was that it wasn’t Antique Roadshow. You were preserving antique and vintage furniture with the idea that they would again be used and be affordable. That was cool”. Nothing could have summed up Redeux Vintage Furniture better than those words said to me this afternoon by master woodworker, Gary R. Wood.

Inspired by necessity (mine) and begun in a garage, Redeux was a dream realized. Starting in late 2007, I set out to furnish my home by finding older, American- made furniture and restoring it to the point that it would become attractive and usable furniture. There were just two problems: I had very limited funds and no real training! But, No Brains, No Headaches. Why worry?

Scrounging junk shops throughout Connecticut and beyond and accepting furniture that was no longer wanted by friends, the adventure began. An older brother of mine was a master mechanic of sorts and he could fix any machine on land or water. If he couldn’t find the correct part for something he would make it. Yet, he never had any formal training in this. He could just “see” how something worked. To a far lesser extent, I could “see” how furniture had been made and also how it had been used through the years. Unlike my brother, however, I could not and cannot still, make anything. I can only preserve or restore furniture made during a time when things were mostly made by hand. I also very often get a sense, from tell-tale signs of use, of the past owners.

My first piece was a Federal reproduction of a chest of drawers made sometime during the 1920-30’s. I still have this piece and have become attached to it…my first-born, so to speak. Next, was a bedroom suite from the 1960’s. The difference in style and quality from the piece made 30 or so years earlier was striking. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but beggars were not going to be too choosy. So, this furniture was restored and, as luck would have it, someone loved it and, at the time, was more in need of furniture than I. So, it was my pleasure to send it off to a new home. 

Fast forward a few years. I studied everything I could find on vintage and antique furniture styles, manufacturers, woods and finishes. I started a blog, chronicling the furniture I had found and was working on. Each piece had a name: American Princess (a dainty chest found in an old shop in Maine), The Three Legged Dog, yep, a “distressed” dresser also missing a leg. After some innovative restoration and a complete makeover, The Dog was in a new home the afternoon he appeared on my blog site. The Jigsaw Puzzle presented a real challenge. Found in a used furniture outlet in an abandoned factory, this was nothing but a pile of oak boards and a marble slab when I first saw it. But, again, no brains, no headaches. It laid in the back of my garage workshop for nearly a year before I decided to take a closer look at it. No nails, no screws, no pegs. How the heck was this put together, I wondered? Back to researching furniture made around 1870 I went and soon found similar looking pieces. They had all been put together using special horsehide glue. Well, using an array of clamps, braces and straps and an ample supply of this old-fashioned glue, this dresser was eventually properly put together. Whoever originally made this had to have been a genius.

There were mistakes. Oh, yes. I sanded some things only to deeply regret it later (you can’t restore 100- 200 years of patina). I experimented with some stains, mixing my own “custom” colors. A sideboard/server stained purple was a sight to behold, I can tell you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that it looked like purpleheart wood. Luckily, a young couple just loved, loved, loved it. It matched the color of their newly painted dining room! That was a one-off color, believe me.

A very fortunate bit of luck during that time period was to learn of and attend refinishing classes being taught at a nearby wood-workers club. The instructor was Gary R. Wood, of New Hampshire. Master refinisher, restorer, preservationist and antique-reproduction maker, Gary Wood is an ideal teacher. Less is better, was his often-used motto. Preserve the past. Experiment. This was music to my ears. His frequent question to students, “What would you do?”, always got us to thinking and, sometimes, laughing about what to do about a particular piece or technique. So, after a number of classes I had a bit more of an understanding of how to better approach the art of preserving and refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture -even if, at first glance, the beauty was hidden.

This afternoon, after not having been in contact for several years, I called Gary at his shop in New Hampshire. What a pleasant surprise it was that he remembered me and my old shop, Redeux. We spoke of what we were both now doing. He is still creating and preserving beautiful furniture, of course, but he has also started a new adventure. Gary is teaching Middle School children about woodworking. Who knows, maybe one or two of these kids will find the joy in the wood as did Gary and countless generations before. I told him of our move here to Staunton, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of quality “older” furniture available here that was just waiting to be brought back to life was exciting news for Gary. Ever gracious, Gary gave me some tips and sources for some neat products to use in my restoring efforts.

Below are some photos of pieces I have recently worked on or have just begun the restoration process. Also, I have just acquired, through auction, two interesting pieces that will be kept for our own use. I’m not sure where this will all go, but it is great to be again working on pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time.

Morris Chair, circa 1890 -1910.
Getting rid of a century of dust!
Repairing leg on rocker, circa 1850
A gift from Gary – his special wood finish

Living in The Real

Farms, Augusta County, VA

One of the pluses of living in the country is that one is required to live in The Real.

I had especially noticed this sense of living in The Real during my many visits “Back Home” to Ireland. Being of the first generation of my family born here in The States, Back Home meant the family place. For us it was the West of Ireland – County Mayo and in particular the then small town of Charlestown.

My first visit was a real eye opener. Despite stories of having descended from Irish Royalty (weren’t we all?) the reality was the family was materially poor.  My father and generations of family before him was born and raised in a single room cottage that was, upon my first visit, still occupied by my uncle and his family. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing. That was home.

Politically, it seemed the family was all over the place. Uncle Batty, when I showed up unannounced at his workplace, thought I was an IRA hitman that had “come for him”. I never asked why he thought that. But, the joy he showed that it was the son of his never-met older brother standing at his doorstep erased all need to explore the matter further. His wife, Evelyn, was a nurse, educated and trained in England.  Her political views, expressed only once, was that, Yes, things had been bad in the past. But, she said, “Without the English we’d all now be a lot worse off”. She was living in The Real. The world as it was right then, not what it had been, good or bad.

I’ve thought many times of Evelyn’s words and contrasted them with those of my father. Yes, he had seen a bit more of the brutality of an occupying army.  Not allowing even English Toffee into the house, however, seemed a bit much, even to a little urchin. But, the day that my eldest sister had a would-be “suitor” call at the house was a real humdinger.  Dressed in a tweed suit, he carried a gold pocket watch that he allowed me to hold.  Yet, the real treasure was a strange coin with some type of antelope stamped upon it.

South African Springbok coin

“Dad, look at this”, I blurted out. Examining the coin, my father seemed to enjoy the novelty of it as much as I. Until he turned it over. There it was. The image of Queen Elizabeth II in all her youthful beauty.

The “Sum of all Fears”…Elizabeth II

 First, his jaw went slack, and then his eyes started blinking out some type of Morse code. We had seen those telegraphing eyes before. Whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.

“You’re a *&^)#%@*^# Limey”, shouted my father. “I say”, said my sister’s Caller. Well, he didn’t get to say much else, I can tell you that. The last we or my sister saw of him was the back of the tweed bending over to pick poor Elizabeth up from the sidewalk in front of our house.

It would be several years later before my sister would agree (with permission, naturally) to marry a very nice man. Of Irish descent, of course. All went well until the day before the wedding.  It was then that dad found out that while the young man about to marry my sister was indeed Irish, he wasn’t the “Right Irish”. His great-grandfather had come from…get ready…Belfast, Northern Ireland. My sister was marrying a “Collaborator”.  Neither I nor anyone else in the family knew what the heck my father was talking about. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story, living in The Real.

When I say that we live in the country it’s that we are surrounded mostly by farms. Dairy, goat, poultry, horse and agriculture farms abound here. Some are small, some quite extensive. Our immediate neighbors in this neighborhood come from different backgrounds and professions: teachers, technical engineers, business owners, medical professionals, skilled labor, etc. Many come from small towns or farms. And, of course, this city boy. Each of us have been drawn to this area for reasons, while specific to us, have similarities, too: the need for “elbow room” in order to have privacy or to have a garden, the need to escape the costs, congestion and craziness of large cities.  Yet, there is the tacit understanding that we would help one another. And will be kind to each other.  Perhaps it is by being so close to nature, to God’s abundant blessings, that we have become so aware of how beautiful life is.

And so, this past week, we celebrated our good fortune in two ways. First, we had a “block party”. Every family in our little hilltop neighborhood came to “the crossroads” to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and sharing food, laughter and the feeling that, at least within our little community, all is well.

Caption on sign: A Farmer Learns More From A Bad Harvest Than a Good One.
Cattle grazing on hillside, Spring Hill, VA

Secondly, The Redhead and I ventured out for a drive yesterday that took us out beyond Route 42 into deep farm country and finally heading westward along Route 250 through the Allegheny Mountains into the small town of Monterey. Monterey is the home of the Maple Festival, drawing craftspeople and maple syrup product connoisseurs from great distances. Unfortunately, like most other festivals, this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic.  Nonetheless, Monterey is a nice little town (really small) but it has several nice country- style restaurants, inns and spectacular scenery. I will say, that prior to yesterday, driving over the mountain was something beyond my comfort level. Do it slowly, carefully and in good weather and you could have a nice outing. Hint: Monday may not be the best day to make the trip – some things are closed. 

The Curly Maple Restaurant, Monterey, VA

Along this section of Route 250 you will also find the Confederate Breastworks and the battle field of McDowell, dating from 1862. Both locations, near one another, while relatively limited in scope, were where Confederate and Union troops clashed for control of this mountain pass. Standing at the Breastworks and looking down the valley where so many men had struggled, fought and died two thoughts came to mind: What a terrible tragedy that Civil War was, pitting neighbor and family against one another. And, later last night, after mistakenly watching a few minutes of the “news”, I thought back to the beauty, bounty and friendship we had seen all around us this past weekend and wondered, why this country is being torn apart.

Confederate Breastworks, Route 250, looking toward McDowell VA

Will we ever let the transgressions, real or imagined, of Queen Elizabeth, Stonewall Jackson, Columbus, Kit Carson, Junipero Serra and on and on stay in the past? Will we ever again live in The Real?

Home

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We are home.

We have been in our new home since mid-June and, for the most part, we are unpacked and settled. What a feeling of relief!

To say that we are grateful and realize how blessed and lucky we are to be here in Staunton – at any time, but especially during these days of crazy, would be an understatement. It certainly is a time for reflection and prayer.

For this, my first blog in three months, I’ll divide it into basically three parts and in reverse order of the Clint Eastwood movie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Ugly: Building a home is not for the feint-hearted, easily discouraged or those expecting everything to be as planned – or promised. Sometimes it can get real ugly. There, I’ve said it and now to move on.

The Bad: Between the Covid virus and the continuing riots in many parts of this country I feel as if we’re living in The Twilight Zone. Nothing makes sense. Yesterday, I read yet another report, this time from the Director of the CDC, that many – up to 17% by CDC’s estimate, of reported deaths from the Covid virus are fraudulent. Why? Because apparently hospitals and doctors are making money when they diagnose and treat someone for having been “exposed” to Covid.  And, of course, politicians are driving this system. Why has our national health care been hijacked by fraud and politics? Bad stuff.

But, what has struck a personal note with me is the abandonment and demonizing of our police by politicians and large and vociferous swaths of the public. It is a rare day when a cop, of any rank, can hope for and much less expect to be backed by a politician. Still, there was, until recently, a feeling that many, if not most, of the public still supported police in general. Corrupt, brutal, ignorant or untrained officers are a different topic. But, the vast, overwhelming majority of cops are decent, honest, compassionate and willing to work in environments most people have nightmares about. And now, many of our political elites attack and want to jail or fire them. Groups of agitators, paid, sadly misguided or mentally impaired riot nightly, violently attacking police and burning and smashing the dreams and work of ordinary people. This is will not end until every decent person says, “Enough”. This is very bad stuff, indeed.

And now, The Good!!

We are Home.

 

DSC_0823 (732x1024)Many of the design aspects we planned for our house have come to fruition. Our front porch has become one of our focal points and a great place for friends and neighbors to stop by and sit a (long) while. Morning coffee seems to taste better and ending the day looking at sunsets and talking things over while sitting in the rockers is a slice of heaven.

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Our fireplace with “instant” (gas) flames has already provided several somewhat chilly nights a cozy feeling. And, The Redhead can’t wait to decorate for Christmas. The Sunporch is a bright, sunny room. It faces East and offers a view of the sun rising over the mountains and treetops. In some ways it reminds me of both our Connecticut and Florida homes and gatherings of friends in the book clubs we hosted there. Maybe again?

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Once again I have a library. But, surprisingly, to me anyway, is that it has a somewhat cluttered look. Too many books? Never! But, looking at a jumble of wires draped over and around my desk is not pleasing. It’s unfortunate that whoever built my desk in 1790 could not have better planned for computer and speaker wires to be tucked away! But, there are nice cubbies for fountain pens and ink bottles…and that’s something.

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The kitchen has turned out quite well and cooking once again with a gas flame is wonderful.

Our house has become our home. We are blessed with wonderful friends, some neighbors, others close by. We have family – of the heart and blood. Some have already visited. The Redhead was in heaven this past week when, after 7 long months, she was again able to hold Grand baby Jonah.

Boppie and Jonah

And, finally, my plans to once again find, research and restore American vintage and antique furniture has begun to come about. Shelving has been set up in the basement, plans for work benches and stands are being drawn up and area auction houses (my hunting grounds) are once again opening up. There are several items on hand that require the Redeux Furniture treatment but then it’s on to newer, yet old, pieces of America’s past.

Thanks for reading and bearing with me. The pictures that are posted were taken sort of impromptu so ignore any out of place sofa pillows or coffee cups, etc. The Redhead has not edited any of these photos, so who knows!

 

Please feel free to comment or ask any questions. Click “Like” if you enjoy reading and/or “Follow” to get auto updates.

Please pray for our Country and our Cops.

Bill

Building a Home – 8

It’s been a while since I’ve posted updates of our home building project here in Augusta County, Staunton, Virginia. Because of the current virus distancing protocols, we haven’t been able to visit the site as often as we had previously. But, this afternoon, The Redhead and I met with our builder and went over a few remaining details and got an up close look at all the progress that has been made these past few weeks. What a change!

Most of the heavy work has been completed. The rear deck is awaiting stairs and the stairs to basement and attic will be finished shortly. Plumbing fixtures will be installed soon as will be the granite counter tops and kitchen cabinet doors. The Hickory wood floors have all been installed and are in the process of getting a final sanding before the finish is added. But, it really has come together.

Two features that we think will be very beneficial are ceiling fans in almost every room and the addition of interior insulation. Both features will help in maintaining comfortable temperatures year-round and the insulation of the interior walls will also help to  reduce noise between rooms. I’ll update on this after we have settled in for a while.

Now, come along and take a peek at what will soon be our new home.

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View of Living Room from front entrance. Fireplace is awaiting custom cabinetry. Sun porch is through doorways.

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Sun Porch with view of deck. Facing East, we’ll get views of sunrise above the mountains and sometimes our neighbor’s cows! Walls are getting paint touch-ups.

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Wall of cabinets awaiting granite counters. Marble subway-style tiles will be used as back splash and wall around stove vent and duct. Walk-in pantry is to right.

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Another wall of hand-made cabinets.Top section of upper cabinets will have glass fronts. Dining room is through doorway.

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One of the guest bedrooms, view of front yard.

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2nd guest bedroom, view of sunrises and cows!

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View of front entryway and dining room. Notice the extra tall front door.

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Painter David doing touch-up painting in Laundry Room. Ya’ gotta love that “Corona Doo” hairstyle! David started out on our house as a framing apprentice but turned out to be an excellent painter.

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The Redhead (wearing hat) visiting with our across the street friends and neighbors, Ann and James.

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Front of our new Staunton , Virginia home. Front porch columns, when finished, will be tapered in a Craftsman style.

So, there you are. Work on the house is now going full-steam ahead. Closing may be very late this month or possibly the beginning of June. The lock-downs have caused a bit of a slow down with personnel and the material supply chain. But, all seems well now.

The Redhead and I are going to have our work cut out for us in landscaping the yards, planting shrubs, etc. Any volunteers??

Personally, I can’t wait to set up my workshop in the spacious basement and get back to reviving American vintage furniture. It’s been several years since I’ve mixed my varnishes and stains and used my glues, clamps and brushes. Let’s hope I’ve retained some of my Redeux Vintage Furniture skills!

A special thanks to all of our friends and “family of the heart” that have kept us in their prayers. Without your support and prayers, tonight’s blog may have been a different story. And, thanks to St. Padre Pio, your intercession has never failed.

Bill

 

 

Gettin’ the stink off!

My mother had an expression she would use if she found us hanging around the house too much: “Get out and blow the stink off.”

If hanging around the house can make you stink, many of us are now close to down- right putrid.

There isn’t much more to say about this virus lock-down. We’re all talked out about it, I think. Some areas are starting to see rebellions of one sort or another, but, so far, these are, for the most part, peaceful and sensible. People want to work and be with their families and see their friends and pray together. No one wants to get or give the cooties.

This past week, The Redhead and I did try to get some of the stink off. We drove and walked around Staunton and yesterday, Saturday, we joined several of our friends for what was a real treat. It seems that even this virus can bring unexpected blessings.

So, here are a few pics of our lock-down life here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Come on along.

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Sacred Heart window, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Staunton
Stained Glass window of Mary, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Staunton, VA
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Train awaiting repair at Staunton train yard.
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Staunton, VA train yard
Crucible Coffee
Crucible Coffee Shop and Roaster, Staunton, VA
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Even a face mask won’t block the aroma of freshly roasted and brewed coffee at Crucible Coffee, Staunton
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Walking with friends along the Blue Ridge Parkway…no cars allowed!
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An “intoxicating view”- the vineyards of the Shenandoah!
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View of Humpback Mountain in distance (notch at top).
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Street Art, river walk park, downtown Waynesboro, VA
It’s an interesting perspective that one gains when traveling by foot and being surrounded by silence. The stained glass windows of our church, St. Francis of Assisi in Staunton were especially beautiful during our visit Friday morning. The window of the Sacred Heart brought back a flood of memories. It was in Sacred Heart Church in Connecticut that, as a child, I found protection from something much scarier than the Corona Cooties.

This very unusual period of time has given us opportunities we may have overlooked or not been able to take advantage of: Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway, exploring the nooks and crannies of Staunton and Waynesboro, and rediscovering the Beauty of Silence.

Get out, walk, discover the beauty all around you.
Be happy, pray and don’t worry.
Bill

 

 

 

Just the Facts

We are now past the one month mark since the United States began declaring a state of emergency regarding what is known as Covid-19 or the Wuhan Flue.

Government officials and health “experts” have given varied and sometimes conflicting information to the public. For those that are eager to have a better understanding of the Covid-19 virus pandemic, one that is free of political or monetary motivation and based on science, it can be difficult to find knowledgeable, unbiased sources. It is also especially difficult to find someone that is knowledgeable about which practical and sound measures can be taken to cope with this pandemic, both as individuals and as a nation. Obviously, I am referring here to the response of the United States, but the same or similar measures might be used by a number of countries, depending on several variables. Fortunately, there are two sources that are now gaining more attention based upon their real expertise and experience.

Both of these sources were recently interviewed on television. Yes, these interviews were on Mark Levin’s, Life, Liberty and Levin program, but I sincerely ask that those of you that may dismiss anything coming from Fox, please give this your attention. Mark Levin has shown himself to be a knowledgeable, able and respectful interviewer.

The first interview is with Dr. David Katz, a Board Certified specialist in preventive medicine and public health. The interview can be accessed by clicking: https://www.marklevinshow.com/2020/04/20/dr-david-katz-on-whether-the-fight-against-coronavirus-is-worse-than-the-disease/

The second interview is with Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford University. The clip is here: https://www.marklevinshow.com/2020/04/20/dr-john-ioannidis-on-the-race-for-real-data-on-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

If we are to emerge from this pandemic bruised, but not broken, we must have a better grasp of the facts: what should be done to protect ourselves from the sickness and what must be done to protect our nation from a catastrophe we can not even begin to imagine. While there may be some that wouldn’t mind pushing us a little further to the edge, I believe – and pray – that the overwhelming majority of us want the best for our families, our neighbors and our country.

There is a saying, “Knowledge is Power“. But really, “Knowledgeable Action is Power“. We need to get the knowledge and then proceed.

Pray, Don’t Worry, Be Kind.

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli

One of the many lessons I learned years ago as a young policeman in training was to “watch the eyes”. The eyes will tell you everything, kid, the veterans would say. Watch someone’s eyes and you can tell when they’re lying, when they’re afraid, sad and when they’re broken. They’ll tell you when someone’s hiding something. They’ll tell you when someone’s crazy and when you’re going to have big trouble. Watch the eyes, kid.

We’re in trouble. Big trouble.

Since moving here a year and a half ago, one of the things we noticed and one of the deciding factors of choosing to relocate here was the friendliness. Not just a quick, “How are ya”, from folks we’d meet, but a genuine smile and, more often than not, a conversation. The government’s decision to incarcerate us all within the confines of, if not our homes, certainly within our personal space of six feet (or is it 23 feet this week) has taken a toll on all of us. Our walk yesterday through Staunton’s beautiful Gypsy Hill Park proved that.

Normally, people walking by would smile and at least say, “Good morning”. If you’d meet near the duck pond, some type of conversation would arise: the new geese, the number and size of fish in the pond or how beautiful it was to be at the park just then – even if it happened to be raining. The world is filled with Stauntons (or at least somewhat close to it), but something has changed.

No eye contact. Even folks fully encased in face masks, gloves and eye wear literally moved to the other side of the road, heads down, when either approaching or passing us. And, it wasn’t just us. Except for folks walking in pairs, everyone avoided everyone else. If we said, Hi, or, Good Morning, to someone, almost always…silence. People have moved beyond being sensibly cautious to being afraid. We’re in trouble. Big trouble.

Think of the differing and often conflicting messages we have been given by our so-called experts and elected “leaders”:

Wash hands often. O.k., sensible and good.

Avoid unnecessary contact with people that are sick or appear to be sick. O.K., Mama told us that.

You can’t tell if someone is sick, even they may not know it, so avoid everybody. Huh?

You can’t get a haircut, it’s unessential. Whaat?

Abortions are essential, so they’re o.k. No Comment.

Wear a mask. Weren’t people arrested ( Richmond, VA) just a few weeks ago for wearing a mask in public?

Wear gloves. Now we’re being told that wearing gloves might not be such a great idea. Just wash your hands.

This “Lockdown” is for your own good. Really?

You can get a hamburger or coffee only at the drive-thru. Oh, well, I wasn’t planning to wear this shirt for more than 4 days, anyway! (LOL)

You can’t attend a drive-thru church service. Hmmm, we’ll see about that.

Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot,  etc. are essential so they can stay open. I have no problem with that.

Small Retailers are not essential so they Must close. Really, who decides?

And, here’s my latest favorite advice from none other than the esteemed expert in viruses and contagious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci: Avoid going outside your home, BUT, it’s o.k. to “Hook-UP” with a Tinder or Grindr “date” if you think it’s worth it!! This would be a joke if this “expert” wasn’t so influential in directing the madness affecting all of us. (https://nypost.com/2020/04/15/fauci-endorses-tinder-hookups-with-a-caveat/)

The list of these conflicting and mostly unwarranted regulations and advice could go on and on. But, here’s the real problem: People are getting sick, really sick, from THE LOCKDOWN! Reports are beginning to surface that Suicide Crises Centers and Substance Abuse Hotlines are seeing dramatic increases in calls for help from people that can’t take this anymore. And that number most likely reflects those among us that are already or have been in some type of emotional or substance crises. Can you imagine the stress on a young family when the family income has been turned off? Or on a small business owner that has worked day and night to start a business to have it suddenly deemed, “Non-Essential” and shut down? This is not only nonsensical and unnecessary, but, I would say, probably sinful. Bureaucrats and self-styled experts have wrecked the lives of an entire nation and also taken away two things that are so important in times of crises: The ability to pray with and be with one another. Our country has gone through many wars, both on our soil and abroad. But, I am not aware of when churches were closed. Or of when we looked at everyone else with this fear and suspicion. Something is wrong. You can see it in the eyes, kid.

We can fight this virus. After all, we have had epidemic and pandemic viruses many times before. But, we are social and spiritual beings. Take that away and we’ll do to ourselves what no virus can.

See what happens when you keep me locked up!

There is the famous line in the movie, The Godfather:Leave the gun, take the cannoli. Even a hitman, after taking care of business, knew that being social was an important part of being a family. Can’t we, too, take care of business and still remain a family?

Pray, Be kind, Stay safe, Think.

Take a Break

Most of us are starting to go a little Crazy by now. Some may have had a head start…no names mentioned!

So, let’s take a little stroll into nature and forget about the news, the ever changing predictions and our fears – for just a few moments.

This past Saturday, The Redhead and I took a ride out to Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail, part of the George Washington National Forest. It’s only about a 30 minute drive West from our “new house” and is along Route 42, Little Calf Pasture Highway, in Augusta County, VA.

There are several trails but, being that this was our first time, we chose the one that was more park-like with mostly level walking, yet offering ever-changing views. This Lower Loop is about .75 of a mile in length and has a numbers of viewing spots with benches. At one time there was a water bottling operation on the site, but that is long gone. All that remains are some stone ruins.

Ready to stroll? Let’s go, my friend.

One of a few ponds
Benches and information signs, describing the wildlife, birds and plants are along the way.
Spring colors are peeping through!
Boardwalk through the meadows. Animal trails can be seen if you look closely.
Water is low but the tadpoles were enjoying it.
Some Canadian Geese were nesting nearby.
Like most of us, it’s still standing after more than a few knocks!
Some of the bottling works ruins.

Now, that was a nice little stroll! Next time let’s bring some tea, sandwiches, a little treat and we’ll just set awhile. Hope to see you soon.

Pray, don’t worry, be kind.

Bill

Holy Week

Madrid Balconies

From unspeakable sorrow can come beauty.

In April, 2006, I flew to Madrid, Spain to be with my son and daughter-in-law following the still–born death of their daughter, my first grandchild. It was Holy Week.

There are some sorrows that only can be described as profound; ones that leave you speechless and empty.  Or, sometimes, in rage. This death, this loss of a purely innocent life, was such a sorrow. In the midst of this ancient city, I asked God to be with me, to help me understand and to save me from bitterness.

As Good Friday night fell, I walked through the narrow, darkened streets from my son’s apartment back to my hotel. Through the Plaza Mejor and down the winding Calle de Atocha, I suddenly found myself within a mass of people. Everyone was emptying the narrow street and moving onto the sidewalk. I had no choice but to move with them until I was able to find a small spot just across the street from Parroquia de Santa Cruz, the Church of the Holy Cross. The street outside of the church was filled with a formation of white robed, black-hooded figures carrying lit torches. I had never seen anything like this, but being American it conjured up unsettling images; I truly did not know what to expect.

Holy Week Procession, Church of Santa Cruz, Madrid

Suddenly, the church doors opened. Another robed, hooded figure, carrying a large staff, appeared in the church doorway. He banged his staff on the steps and the robed column in the street came to attention. Another tap of his staff and he and the procession behind him started to move from the church toward the street below. This group was similarly robed and hooded and was carrying a platform supported by long poles. Atop this platform was a statue, but, because of the darkness, I could not determine of whom. The procession came to a halt in the street and the platform was lowered. After a few minutes and some prayers (spoken in Spanish, of course) the leader tapped the staff once. The figures lifted the platform to waist height. Another tap and the platform went to shoulder height. No other sound could be heard along the entire street. Two taps more and the procession started toward Plaza Mejor. Of the statue, all I could determine was that it was clad in black.

Most of the crowd waited in front of the church, Santa Cruz. With nothing waiting for me except a silent hotel room, I, too, stayed, unsure of what for. The tap of the processional leader’s staff could be heard echoing through those dark and still silent streets, first sounding more and more distant and then becoming closer. Whatever was coming, it was coming soon. Gradually, flickering torch light could be seen at the far end of Atocha, approaching our position in front of the church. I took out my camera and moved into a position to better see what was being carried by these silent, dark-robed, anonymous marchers. Perhaps it was the expectation, but through the absolute silence that filled the street I could feel something welling up inside of me. Fear, sadness, grief?  I was not sure.

And, then it, rather she, was there. Atop this heavy wooden platform was a life-sized figure of the Blessed Virgin, depicted as the Mother of Seven Sorrows, adorned in black velvet with silver threading. Into the church she was carried. I moved on, but knowing something had happened that I could not express, even within myself.

The following day, returning back to my son’s apartment, I again entered Calle Atocha knowing I would go into the church and see the statue up close. On the steps of the church, against the wooden doors, sat two beggars, gypsies, actually. I had been cautioned about gypsies, but their presence did not concern me. Inside, I found an alcove, enclosed by an iron gate, in which was the statue I saw the night before.

I have been a Catholic my entire life and have seen thousands of statues and religious icons of every sort. But this, this was no ordinary statue. Beyond the absolutely stunningly beautiful garments was the face. The face of Mary. A face of unspeakable sorrow, a face of grief so profound and complete that it could only be brought about by the death of a purely innocent child.  She took my grief onto herself. But, something else would happen that will stay with me – forever.

Call it imagination. Or transference. But, on the way out of the church I took closer notice of the two beggar/gypsy women. One was older than the other and I would later learn that they were mother and daughter. I gave each a small coin and went to my family. Later that afternoon, returning to the hotel, I again came to the church. The women were still there, sitting against the doors, bundled against the chilly spring wind. A quick visit inside and on the way out, as I passed them, I noticed their faces. The mother was perhaps 40. The daughter – I had to turn around and go back to view the Blessed Mother. Outside, again, it was true what I had thought. The faces were the same. Several days of visits further confirmed this. After about a week, my daughter-in-law asked to go for a walk. Of course, we went to the church that was only about a 10 minute stroll from her home. The women, as expected, were again on the church steps, their “spot”.  I mentioned to my daughter-in-law my observation about the younger girl.

A week or so later, before returning back home, I asked that my daughter-in-law accompany me to the church to say a prayer – for healing, both emotional and physical. After our prayers I asked that she, since she was a native Spanish speaker, interpret something for me to the women. I explained how I was struck by the similarities in the faces and how interesting it was that it was this particular church, with that particular statue, that they chose to be close to. They agreed to have their pictures taken (something that is very unusual for them). The girl was, Magdalena.

Magdalena, Church of Santa Cruz, Madrid

Two years later, when my daughter-in-law had to return to Madrid for business, she paid a visit to Santa Cruz. There was Magdalena. She asked if I was there, too. When told no, I was back in the U.S., she got up and went into the church. When she came back out she handed my daughter-in-law a picture and said, “I will never forget your father”. The picture was a photo of the statue and the faces are still identical.

That Easter of 2006 was, indeed, a Holy Week. And I will always remember to look closely at what is in front of me. It just may be a face from heaven.

For those that are suffering or grieving this Easter, please know that you are remembered and not alone.