Where We Live, 1

Blue Ridge through the trees

If you have never before seen or spent much time in the mountains, it is hard not to be awestruck every time you do see them. Having spent my entire life, except for visits back to the family place in Ireland, at sea level, they are a constant source of wonderment.  Like the sea, the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge mountains change constantly – if you look.

Allegheny Mountains, October 2019

Shadows, colors, textures – all play their part in turning the panoramas of rolling hills and climbing mountains into kaleidoscopes of nature.  Change one element – a passing cloud, mists rising through trees, rain falling at one elevation and not another, smoke drifting upwards from fields being cleared – and the entire scene becomes new.

Jeannette, Brian and The Redhead. Cass Railroad stop

Recently, we have taken two trips that have left us in awe of God’s Handiwork. The first was to the town of Cass, in West Virginia. We went with our friends Brian and Jeannette, partly to take advantage of riding the famous Cass Railroad with its century old steam engine and partly to have a unique setting for celebrating a birthday. It was quite a celebration. The views were spectacular, as was the “Hobo Lunch” served on board. Definitely gourmet, if one considers a turkey sandwich (or was it baloney) and sliced peaches gourmet. And I do!  In addition to the spectacular mountain scenery, at the end of the rail line there is a view of a gigantic radio telescope sitting in the valley below in the tiny town of Green Bank, West Virginia. Erected by the Government, this telescope searches throughout space for radio signals. Local residents are, supposedly, not allowed to use cell phones, radios, etc. in order to maintain an electronic pollution free zone. There is a documentary on Prime that explains the scientific work that goes on and the people that choose to live there. But, only a few miles away, up the mountain, is the train – taking you back a century or more.

Shay locomotive, Cass, West Virginia

Our next and most recent trip was to Natural Bridge, VA. where, you guessed it, is the Natural Bridge rock formation and state park.

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Once Indian land and then owned by Thomas Jefferson when he purchased it from the British king (before the revolution, of course), it is now a park owned by the State of Virginia and a draw for visitors internationally. George Washington, in his youthful land surveying days, carved his initials into one of the rock walls. His and several others from over the centuries are visible to alert visitors.

George Washington’s initials, Natural Bridge (carved about 1/3 from top, outlined in white chalk)
graffiti, 1855, Natural Bridge wall

This wonder of nature is only about 45 minutes from where our new home in Staunton will be.

There is not a day that goes by that we thank God for letting us live in this place. We would love to share it with you.

Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome. Just click the buttons!

Bill

Building a Home (3)

To plant anew, the earth must first be plowed. So, too, with building a house.

Our new home site here in Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia has seen quite a bit of activity this past week or so. The last few trees that might have threatened the house were removed from the site. Better now than later, for sure. Nothing quite ruins your day like a tree crashing into your living room! Trees falling into our house, whether from Connecticut snows or Florida hurricanes have made us just a tad wary, you might say. So, a clean slate of the lot was made, with a promise to Nature that we would later replant our lot with trees and shrubs in a safe location.

Nothing of the removed trees was wasted. What could become lumber was separated from wood suitable only for firewood. The leftover limbs were stacked and burned. The ash will be scattered throughout the lot, adding valuable nutrients to the heavy clay soil.

Following this, machinery was brought in to dig the area of what will be the basement and also to do a rough grading of the land. A steep incline was tapered a bit where the driveway will eventually run from the street to the side garage. For those of you that have built a house or had one built for them, this may seem pretty mundane stuff. But, when this work is being done on what will become your home, well, it takes on a whole different aspect. The Redhead and I will live here. Friends and family will visit and walk and sit in our backyard. Our front porch will have views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. This will be our HOME! Our builders, Amy and Eric Argenbright, understand this and smile when they see us parked in front of the lot – our lot – at all hours. They know how much this means to us.

For our exterior colors we have chosen earth tones, browns accented by honey colored shingle trim. The Redhead is planning for – you guessed it – a red front door. We’re not sure yet of the interior colors, but there will be natural hardwood floors.

Did you know that you can Talk to your refrigerator and / or stove? Seriously. Since we’ve had to research which appliances will be chosen, the craziest things have been learned. Like, refrigerators that have Wi-Fi and cameras and play movies via the internet. And, stoves that are voice activated. This is all a little too much, I think. What happens if you’re passing by the stove and mutter, “I’m dying for a cup of tea”. Does it start boiling or shootin’?  Finding appliances that are somewhat simple and reliable continues to be quite a project. But, I don’t see an ice box with a camera in our future!

This coming week or so, we’re hoping that the foundation will be started. In the meantime, The Redhead and I will continue to park in front of “our yard” and plan and dream. And thank God for our Blessings!

Thanks for reading and being a part of our adventure. Comments always appreciated. Click “Follow” for auto-updates and “Like” if you do.

Bill

Building a Home (2)

Looking North, RT 262 Staunton, VA

This evening we received the word from our builder: Work on our house will begin this coming Monday! That’s when the basement will begin to be excavated. Also, all permits for construction to begin are now reported to be o.k.’d. Finally!!!

It was earlier this afternoon that I took my nearly daily ride up to our building lot to see if anything was going on. As I pulled off the “Beltway”, RT 262, that rings Staunton, the view was especially stunning. After the past few rainy days, the sky today was a nearly cloudless, deep sapphire blue – providing the perfect background for the Allegheny mountains to the West. That this gift from God is in our “backyard” is incredible.

So, here are a few photos that I took today. Also, I’ve included an approximate rendering of what our house will look like. Amy & Eric Argenbright, our builders, will be making some modifications to this Craftsman style house to make this truly “our home”.

Side view of lot with granite boulder that will become a focal point in our yard.
View of cleared lot, ready to begin becoming “home”!
The view from Parkersburg Pike, Augusta County, VA heading to our new house from RT 262.
Drawing of house before modifications.

Looking forward to sharing with you our home building adventures! As always, Comments and “Likes” welcomed and appreciated. Bill

Shenandoah Festivals

Dayton, VA Autumn Celebration 2019

These past several weeks have been filled with lots of activity, some with just adventuring throughout our area of the Shenandoah and quite a bit spent with house-building matters. For the sake of writing somewhat coherent posts, I’ve decided to write future posts separated into one of three categories: Exploring our corner of the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge mountains and its surrounding areas; our house building adventures and finally random thoughts that pop into focus. Last night’s post was an example of that.

Gottfried playing German scheitholt , an early dulcimer

There were two festivals in the area which we recently attended. The first was the Dayton Days Autumn Festival held the first Saturday of October. Dayton is a small town situated a few miles Southwest of Harrisonburg, VA. About 2,000 people live in Dayton. It is mostly agricultural but also has a lovely downtown and a scattering of family owned shops and business throughout the town. Many of the residents are Mennonites. On that beautiful, sunny Saturday the town was filled with almost 40,000 visitors. The downtown streets were closed to vehicles and were filled with craftspeople, artists and food vendors. Most of the vendors were fairly local but a number of them had traveled from West Virginia and other parts of Virginia. The Redhead and I spotted two interesting pieces by quilters Cathie and Bettie Pharr of West Virginia that we will be adding to our new home. As we walked along the narrow streets of Dayton we came upon Gottfried, an Immigrant Pioneer Re-enactor, playing a scheitholt, an early German version of what would become the mountain dulcimer.  We also noted the many historical buildings throughout town. It’s an interesting anecdote of the Civil War that Dayton was spared being burned to the ground after Union soldiers pleaded with General Sheridan to spare the town because its inhabitants were mostly Mennonites and known to be pacifists. The beautiful peacefulness of Dayton continues to this day.

Quilt by Bettie Pharr, West Virginia

Our next festival adventure was held right here in Waynesboro on October 12. Downtown was filled with booths and tents of artisans, craftspeople and fine artists. In addition, Blue Grass music was performed during the day by several groups. It was in one of the booths that we met icon artists Maria Cezintseva and her mother. Using traditional Russian bead work, Maria and her mom created beautiful religious icons. Two of Maria’s works (her first for sale), an icon of Christ and another of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus, will be proudly displayed in our new home. They are two special ladies that we look forward to meeting again.

Icon Artists, Maria Cezintseva and mom

There are more festivals coming to the area and The Redhead and I look forward to sharing them with you all. We are truly blessed to live in such a beautiful part of this country.

As always, comments are welcome!

Bill

Plain Living

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Old Order Mennonite buggy, Dayton VA

So, here we are at home on a really lazy Sunday, partly because the weather forecasts warned of an impending ice storm. So far, nothing but sunshine and a moderate breeze, albeit a bit nippy!

Last night, expecting this morning to be like an ice age, we drove into Staunton to attend Mass at our high-on-a-hill church, St. Francis of Assisi.  Despite the rain and fog, the church was more than usually filled. It happened that three busloads of young adults and their chaperones, enroute back home to Alabama after attending the March for Life in DC, stopped at St. Francis to attend the evening vigil Mass. No banners, No shouted slogans. Just a quiet reverence and knowledge that what they were doing was…right.  Every generation, it seems, has a contingent, sometimes small, of those that stir our conscience.

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Route 42 looking north toward Harrisonburg

Since moving to the Shenandoah Valley, we are often struck by the peacefulness and beauty of the land and people. Here, it is different. Perhaps, it is because so many of the people are, in some way, tied to the land. Perhaps, it is because Staunton and many of its neighboring towns are small towns. The Mennonites, of which there are many here in the Valley, refer to themselves as, Plain People. ( for an excellent article on the Shenandoah Mennonite communities read this article by Guy Schum click here . And that may be it in a nutshell: it is, in the very best sense, plain here. If you are sick of the antics in D.C. or NYC or any other cosmopolitan, trend-setting megalopolis, come here for a spell.  It may be just what the doctor ordered.

This past week we rode out, once again, to Dayton. It is a lovely ride. Along the way I tried using my new camera, a Christmas gift from The Redhead.  I’ve included a few more photos below, as well as a “quick pic” of the former Western State Lunatic Asylum, now partly a hotel / apartment complex. Much of the former hospital had been designed by Thomas Jefferson’s apprentice, Thomas Blackburn, who was among those early pioneers of compassionate care for the mentally ill. Locals claim that the buildings are haunted, mostly as a result of the “care” that was provided starting in the early 1900’s. Nonetheless, the architecture is beautiful.

As always, comments, Likes and questions are most welcome.

Bill

Churchville VA farm Alleghany Mountains in rear

Dayton VA Farm looking East
Route 42 looking east from Dayton

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Former Western State Lunatic Asylum, Staunton

Pictures Worth a Thousand Words…I hope

So, this Sunday night finds me wordless, or at least nearly so.  This afternoon after church we took a ride through Staunton along route 250 up into the Allegheny mountains just a few miles outside of town. 

It’s truly hard to imagine the awe-inspiring beauty – it must be seen first hand. For someone that has lived his entire life at sea level, near the ocean, the sight from nearly 3,000 feet up is…something else.

We stopped our journey at the site of the remnants of the civil war Fort Johnson. It was really a “breast-work” line of defense rather than an actual fort. Reading a few of the informational plaques at the site, two stood out. One had a photo copy of a letter from a Confederate soldier to his wife, along with a photo portrait of the two taken just before the war. How young they were. The husband was wounded and subsequently died of disease, leaving his young, beautiful bride. The second plaque contained a brief excerpt of a letter from a Confederate Lieutenant to his wife back in Georgia. He, too, was awe-struck by the majesty of the mountain view we were seeing this very day 156 years later. More about this later. But, for now, here is a meager attempt to share our experience this afternoon.

Route 250 Augusta County,VA Confederate Breastworks Fort Johnson
View of mountain pass where Union Army approached en route to Staunton
Lt. Pryor