Living with Crazy

Hemingway at work on, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ernest Hemingway, in a 1929 interview with columnist Dorothy Parker in which they were speaking of courage, stated that “guts” was having “grace under pressure”.  Lately, I have seen more than a few examples of grace under pressure.

We hear stories of cops and firemen and medics (personally, I dislike the term, First Responders) who risk their safety to come to the aid of others. Whether by training, habit or vocation, most of them do this day in and day out throughout their careers. And much of the time without recognition or fanfare.

But, it is of the everyday acts of generosity, thoughtfulness, courtesy and, even, humor that I have recently witnessed that I am now referring to.

The all-pervasive virus news has featured stories of people loading up multiple shopping carts at the Costcos and Walmarts with toilet paper and paper towels. Maybe they have a hygiene issue or maybe they’re just plain “panic hoarders”.  But, the image that comes to mind more frequently is that of a lady at our local Food Lion walking ahead of us in the “paper goods” aisle. Only two packages were left in the entire otherwise empty aisle.  She looked at them and said, “Take one and leave one”. Thoughtful.  A similar situation at another nearby grocery store took another twist. The paper goods aisle had only a few packages left and people were looking anxious (kind of like seeing a highway sign saying, “next rest stop 25 miles”. Suddenly, you gotta’ go!). A nicely dressed woman eyed the situation and blurted out, “I don’t give a darn about the toilet paper, but they better not be out of coffee”! Grim faces suddenly turned into grins. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

Our little Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton is coming together, one neighbor to another. Small food businesses are helping area residents and one another by setting up an on-line ordering system for food staples from nearby organic farmers and food suppliers. These suppliers and farmers will bring the orders to a central location and the residents can pick them up without even getting out of their cars. Restaurants are offering curbside take-out service. It’s a win-win in difficult times.

Churches, including our beloved St. Francis of Assisi parish, are increasing their aid to the needy and to those that may be more vulnerable to catching something. Our pastor, with the aid of parish staff, managed to livestream this Sunday’s Mass. To partake spiritually in the Mass along with our fellow parishioners, even from a physical distance, was a great comfort to us .http://stfrancisparish.org/homily-lent4.html

Just the beginning of new floors

In the meantime, despite setbacks and these very trying times, the construction on our new home is continuing. The siding seems to be nearing completion. Installation of the hardwood floors started this past Saturday. Our newest target date is from the end of April to mid-May. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Chris fitting section of Hickory floor board.

So, let us all remember to be calm and kind and patient with others and ourselves.  And, to have Faith. We will be alright. God is watching over you and us, especially in these crazy times!

And, for goodness sake…Don’t Run Out Of Coffee!!

As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome.

Bill

Don’t Squeeze the Charmin!

Are you crazy, yet?

If you are, you have lots of company. Not since Y2K or was it the Bird Flue epidemic or maybe it was the AIDS epidemic has there been such widespread panic and fear among us.

Today, The Redhead and I went to the grocery store to stock up a bit since we had heard there was a run on basic staples such as food, medicines and “personal items”. There were plenty of groceries and produce at our local Martin’s Grocery. Some milk items were a bit sparse as was the bread aisle. But, no, nada, zilch of “le papier toilettes”, as the French would say. It was the same story at Walgreens, Food Lion and, believe it or not, Costco. Forget about investing in gold in case of the stock market going haywire. Put your money into Charmin!

No doubt there will be lessons learned from this viral epidemic. But, until we learn the cause and the non-hyper facts, let’s try to keep a level head, protect ourselves and our families and have Faith. Everything will be alright.

In the meantime, a little dose of reality and pleasantness for you all.

Pastoral scene from our backyard. Note cow grazing, one of several of a neighbor’s small herd.
Siding and front stonework

Our house here in Staunton is coming along nicely. Since my last writing, the siding is being installed, the interior has been sheet rocked, the electricity has been turned on, the lines for the propane gas have been run and the ducts for heating and cooling have been installed. Preliminary grading of the landscaping has also begun this week.

Living room
Almeria tan for common areas
Oyster Bay for bedrooms

Interior painting will start this coming Monday. The Redhead and I had fun picking our paint colors. We’re keeping it simple – one color for the common areas of living, dining laundry and sun rooms and another color for the bedrooms and baths. The extra-tall front door will benefit from Red’s long-standing wish of having a front door painted red.

stacks of solid hickory flooring

Our flooring was delivered today and is “acclimating” in the garage. It is hickory wood of four and five inch widths and various lengths. The floor will be stained and finished “on site” by one of the last skilled craftsmen, working here in the Shenandoah Valley, who can provide a custom finish. Pre-finished flooring is now the “go to” product for most home builders.

We have also picked out our gas fireplace and logs. The logs will be a new hybrid mixture of special concrete and ceramic. The surround of the fireplace will be made by our builder, Eric Argenbright, who will also build our kitchen cabinets. The Redhead will truly be in her glory “starting” a fire with the push of a button.

All for now. As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome!

Be safe, pray and don’t worry.

Bill

Peaceful

Have you ever been absolutely sure that you were in the right place at the right time? Well, that is how The Redhead and I are feeling right now.

Allegheny Mountain views from what will be my library, only 5 minutes to downtown Staunton

We arrived here in the Shenandoah Valley nearly a year and a half ago. During the first few months we spent the majority of our time exploring Staunton and most of Augusta County, Virginia and acclimating to life here. Every day seemed to bring a new adventure – mostly found by driving around discovering which areas might suit us best for making our new home. Along the way we met a lot of folks, mostly because we really enjoy meeting and talking with folks. Without exception, everyone here was welcoming and helpful. If there was anything that may have been a source of frustration it was that we couldn’t easily find the house/neighborhood that would be perfect for us. We were, based upon the number we tried to work with, tough customers for realtors. It’s one thing to listen and hear and another to hear and understand.  We may have flip-flopped on a few things, such as septic systems and neighborhoods (city vs county), but the basics remained the same. We will be close to the center of Staunton and our church, St. Francis of Assisi. We held fast on not having a well – we will have County water in our new home. And, the style of house – single level – remained an absolute “must-have”.

But, there is something more that assures us that we are in the right place. It’s the peace; the kind of peace that comes only in silence. The peace that comes with being close to, well, to say, “nature” sounds like a cliché. But, seeing mountains and endless fields and forests and cows – lots of cows – is peaceful. There is also a simplicity to all this that is very refreshing, especially to someone who has lived, until moving here, a city life – filled with the congestion, noise, values and violence of urban living. Some folks may thrive in that type of setting and never wish to leave, but, not us.

There is also the peace that comes from forming bonds and becoming friends with other “kindred spirits”: our friends, first met at St. Francis, who have become such important parts of our life, our neighbors at the new house and a few others that have been so welcoming and in some cases patient with us. Building a house can make even “Mr. Easygoing” a bit crazy!

So, yes, we are sure and very thankful that we are in the right place at the right time. It could not have been any other way. We look forward to when we can share this peace with family and friends.

Following are several updated pics of our home building progress. Thanks to Betty for reminding me to “get with it” and post a new blog!

Work on the house is going very quickly now. The wiring and plumbing were done this week and the heating system is coming along. We decided to also add insulation to the interior walls. This will cut down on inside and outside noise and help with saving heating and cooling energy.

This coming week the interior walls will have sheet rock installed and soon the exterior siding will also begin.

Mike preparing front wall for stonework
Finished! More stone detail work will be installed on house side and front porch. Stone is Tennessee ledgestone.
Stone on side wall. Landscape grading not yet finished.
Guest bedroom suite viewed from living room.
Guest bedroom with interior insulation added
Kitchen framed with electricians busy wiring
Kitchen with interior insulation added…cozy and quiet!
Living room and dining room with added interior insulation.
Part of MBR showing The Redhead’s “reading nook”.
View of sun porch before insulating.
Installing the last of the front windows. Large windows throughout will allow plenty of natural light into house.
Front entry. Siding coming soon!
Front porch view of Blue Ridge!

Thanks for reading. Comments and or questions always welcome.

The Impeachment Antidote!

I can’t take it anymore!

Turn on the t.v and it’s there. Click on the car radio…it’s there. Glance at a newspaper when picking up a cup of coffee…gotcha! Is there no relief from everything Ukraining on my parade?

The “leaders” of our country seem bent on arguing, posturing, riling everyone up, fabricating and just being nasty. Many, if not most, of them have never done an honest day’s work in their life. Yet, they create one “crisis” after another and try to pit one American against another. Their world is not the real world.

To find a world where civility, integrity, hard and honest work and common sense are, well, common, all I have to do is take the short ride up to our home building site here in Staunton, VA.

Construction may be the great equalizer. You can either do it or you can’t. It makes no difference if you are young or older, big or small, male or female. Where you are from or what you look like is of no importance. If you can do the work or learn, that’s all that matters.

If you’re like me and can’t take the daily bombardment of crazy anymore, come along for a peak into the real world…the building of our home.

Eric Argenbright, Owner of E&A Home Builders, supervising and banging nails!

Buck, the lead man, showing new guy, David, the details of setting roof trusses.
This ain’t DC, lots of teamwork here! Kyle, David and Buck getting it done.
Teamwork making progress
Windows going in…and look what’s on the roof!
The roofing crew in action…men and women!
All that hammering upstairs doesn’t slow down Buck, Kyle and David from working on the living room ceiling!

Now, don’t you feel better? I do! Turn off the t.v. and radio. Watch some real work getting done, meet and talk to your neighbors and see how nice this world really is!

The wonder of it all

Blue Ridge Mountains, late afternoon

January, so far, has been one of those periods of time when it seems life runs its own course and we just have to sit back and wonder at it all.

Such was the case when, earlier this month, The Redhead’s father passed after a lengthy illness. No matter when it comes, the passing of a parent stirs emotions that cannot be expressed but is understood by everyone that has gone through it. During it all, our family and friends in Connecticut, Florida, here in Staunton and elsewhere, brought us much comfort, support and love.

Death, for those that believe in its finality, can be devastating. Yet, if death is understood more as a passing or moving from one reality to another, it can bring comfort and even joy. To experience contrition, forgiveness and love at any time is wonderful, but at the end it is beautiful. Truly, God’s Hand in all matters is a wondrous thing.

Before her dad passed, The Redhead had us facetime. We spoke about several things, one of them being the building of our house here in Staunton, VA and his happiness that his daughter would be living in such a beautiful home and area. He reminded me of our walks and talks along his beloved Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine and I told him that I would also remember his tips about planting a flower garden – “always add a pop of white, it brings out the other colors”! I’ll do my best, but Augusta County clay soil is a far cry from the soil found in coastal Maine. Thanks for the tips, Norman. And, thank you for The Redhead.

So, now things are starting to really come together at the house. The framing is nearly complete and the rooms, while still only 2×4’s, are now clearly defined. A few tweaks here and there remain: a repositioning of the vanity in the Master Bath, the addition of an entry hall closet and a little tweak in the dining room to accommodate a hutch – little things that will mean a lot to us now and later. Our Builders, Eric and Amy Argenbright, have been very understanding of what we are trying to accomplish: a beautiful home that will suit us now and for a long time to come. We appreciate their ideas and especially their attention to quality and craftsmanship.

Following are a few photos of the work that has taken place in just these past few weeks:

Building the front porch
Setting the Trusses
Eric Argenbright selecting the correct roof truss for the crane
Risky Business
Man and Machine
Getting There
Back view, it looks bigger than it is! The sun room is in center.
Our soon-to-be new home in Staunton, VA

Thanks for reading and a special thanks to our very special friends that are our family.

Everything is going to be o.k.

Every year ends the same: We are bombarded with lists of “Best Of” and “Worst Of” the previous year, reviews of what actually occurred from last year’s list of predictions and, of course, new lists of what will happen this coming year.

I’ve got this figured out now!

Sages and pundits will have a prediction for everything: what  the “hottest” colors and fashion trends will be, what will happen to the stock / housing market, what will happen with foreign friends and foes, etc., etc. I’ll bet there will even be a few soothsayers that will predict who the next president will be! Ya’ think?

Oy, Vey, what will happen??

I’m thinking, though, that like this past year, when events do unfold most of us will simply scratch our heads and think, “Well, ain’t that something”. Is this the result of apathy or disinterest? No, not at all. It’s more a belief in that everything is going to be o.k. and some of us have been “around the block” a few times. There are, believe it or not (to coin a phrase), people that actually make a living trying to scare the bejeepers out of us. Oh, yeah!

Are ya’ scared yet?

So, because everything is going to be o.k., here is what we plan to do this coming year:

Plan our “Housewarming Party” for this coming Spring.

Plan which trees and shrubs we’ll plant on our property because, despite an abundance of clay soil, it’s going to be o.k. – something will grow.

Plan on a layout for my new basement workshop because, yes, I’m getting back to work.

No more working in “The Dungeon”! No wonder I lost my hair!

Plan to find some porch rockers because, despite being new-comers here in Staunton, VA it will be o.k. Friends and new neighbors will come by and set awhile on our front porch. And, vice-versa!

Entertainin’, Gibby style!

But, mostly, I plan to be happy and thankful. Because everything is going to be o.k. Believe it!

Thanks to all of our friends, old and new, that have become or have remained such an important part of our lives. And, I am truly thankful to God, His Holy Mother and St. Joseph and St. Padre Pio for the gift of healing my beautiful Redhead this past year.

Below are some pics of an unexpected Christmas / New Year gift from our builders: our framing has started!

Front of house, library will be second window from left!
Some views!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.  Everything will be o.k.

Bill

Building a Home 7 and Back to the Future!

Looking East from what will be our kitchen

Winter has come upon us here in the Shenandoah Valley, although the Spring-like temperatures of the past several days has everyone and everything simultaneously confused and grateful.

Floor deck with wall frames
Basement walls

Work on our Staunton, VA home has progressed a bit since the last posting. But, a week or so of rain and the arrival of Christmas has slowed things down a bit. The foundation walls are finished, the sanitary system has been plumbed and inspected and much of the floor deck and joists have been installed. Some of the exterior walls have been assembled, but not yet erected or put into place. More materials have been delivered to the lot: roofing trusses, some lumber and the exterior decorative stone that will go onto the foundation walls and porch columns. Most likely, just after the first of the New Year, work will resume at full pace and the exterior walls will be built and the crane will arrive to lift the huge roof trusses into place.

Our Friend Mary Ellen picking out her new suite!
The Redhead on site

Building a home is an interesting adventure. On one hand, because this will be your home, you want the house finished quickly. On the other, you want things done “just so”. What may look great on paper may require a bit of tweaking on-site. And, what seems incomprehensible to a layman begins to make sense once the builders go about their work. Patience, skill, diligence and trust are all required. For us, this is just not another house being built, this will be our home.

One feature of our new home that is a bit surprising is the size of the basement. Yes, it is not quite finished and the heating and other systems have not yet been installed, but, this is going to be one big basement!

Over the past five years or so I have truly missed being able to work restoring and “preserving” antique and vintage American furniture. What was born of a need became an engrossing hobby that became a passion. From beginning in a garage to actually having a store and workshop, finding, researching and working on vintage and antique furniture became one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. Not being able to work on furniture during our “sojourn” in Florida was a disappointment. But, I fully expect to be able to again get back to my brushes, waxes, glues, etc. in my new basement work-space. Once I have the space up and running, you’ll be able to follow along on my “discovery” trips, finding interesting pieces to restore and the process of doing so.  I, for one, can’t wait!

To see some of my old work and some pictures of the old Redeux Vintage Furniture shop just click here: http://redeuxfurniture.blogspot.com/2010/05/uncovered-beauty.html

The Redhead and I wish all of you a very happy Christmas season and a wonderful New Year!

As always, comments, questions and “Likes” always appreciated and welcome.

Bill

Building our Home, 6. The Boys are Back in Town!

A view we’ll never grow tired of…the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Thanksgiving is over and what seems to be the most popular season here in the Shenandoah Valley has at least taken a pause – yes, I’m talking about Hunting Season.  And, with this pause, the Sons of Mother Nature have returned to their Day Jobs! Not being a hunter, it was, at first, a bit perplexing learning that Huntin’ Season is somewhat like a National Holiday here. Then I figured, Well, it’s just like St. Patrick’s Day back in Connecticut…but on steroids.  Now, the boys are back in town and work on our house here in Staunton, Virginia has resumed at full pace.

Buck workin’ the Digger

Mike, the Mason, never took a break this past week or so and as a result our block foundation is mostly complete.

Concrete is loaded into a hopper and then pumped into the foundation
Mr. Mike, right, directing the proper flow of concrete into the block walls.

This afternoon concrete was delivered and pumped into the foundation’s walls. Only the basement floor now remains to be filled with concrete and then framing can begin shortly afterwards. Our Builders, Eric and Amy Argenbright have scheduled the lumber and other materials to start being delivered later this week.

Tony showing how it’s done!

It’s been interesting watching the construction taking place. Each step has a purpose and a particular sequence. Grading done just so and then trenching footers for the concrete blocks to have a solid base. Row after row of block has been set, checked and rechecked before moving to the next. Then the outside wall of the foundation is stuccoed and layered with tar so as to be watertight. Soon, the day will come that I have my wood refinishing area in the basement. It’s been awhile and for sure, being “retired” does not suit me. So, when I’m again back staining and shellacking American Vintage treasures, all of the work that went into this home – and the workers – will be remembered.

There is one more thing that needs to be done after the foundation is finished, but before the carpentry begins: The Blessing. Hopefully, this coming week, Father Joseph Wamala, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will give the completed foundation a blessing, asking God to protect and bless all and everyone that will be supported by the foundation. Once the house is complete, he will then bless our completed home.

Thanks for reading and following our adventure.  Comments always welcome.

Bill

Building a Home 5… From the ground up

Michael (back to camera) and Tony, completing a block corner

As a real-world antidote to the Alice in Wonderland, mind numbing nonsense, passing as news, I decided to spend a bit more time watching the workmen build our new home here in Staunton, Virginia.  A worksite is definitely a “No Spin Zone”; everything is real… and verifiable.

This week, the foundation is being constructed. Despite this week’s often cold, damp days, tons of concrete blocks were being meticulously set, one upon another, by hand.  The only machines on site are a motor driven mixer for the sand and cement being turned into mortar and a forklift to move pallets laden with concrete blocks to the scaffolding once the walls have reached an above-head height. The rest is all hand labor, just as it has been done for centuries. It takes heart, strength and determination to keep going for hours on end. A skilled brick tradesman can spend years learning his craft: how to properly use and read a level, to wield a trowel so that the right amount of mortar is applied to each block and to know the right formula for the mortar, based upon a number of factors, including weather and specific strength needed. In a bow to modernity, Michael, the bricklayer, also utilizes a laser tool to precisely determine the correct height needed for each section of wall.

Michael had an interesting story as to why and how he chose to become a bricklayer / mason. His father is a farmer, so it would have been natural for Michael to continue working the family farm. “But”, says Michael, “there was a slight problem. I’m allergic to hay”! So, after watching a bricklayer do some work on the family farm, Michael became this man’s apprentice and later went out on his own, starting his own business. Michael said farming and bricklaying are both hard work. “But, at least I’m not sneezing”!

What fascinated me the most, I think, was the hand – motor skills needed to apply the correct amount of mortar to the bottoms, sides and joints of each block. Having done some very small plaster repair jobs in previous homes, I can attest that using a trowel efficiently is no small feat. My efforts more resembled the art work of “Ivan the Gorilla” than anything that Michael and his assistant would tolerate on any of their jobs.

painting by Ivan

We’re thinking and hoping the block work will be completed within the next week or so. At that time, Father Joseph Wamala, of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will bless the foundation and building site, asking for God’s protection for all those that will build, live and enter our home. A further blessing will take place when the house is completed and we move in.

The following pictures will show some of the activity taking place this week at our home site.

Filling a joint.
Getting the block wall line straight
Michael applying “skim coat” to outside wall. A coat of tar will be applied later.

As always, click the buttons to add Comments, Likes and Follows. Thanks for reading

Bill

Building a home (4), the Signature Board

View of Blue Ridge Mountains from what will be our front porch!

Late yesterday afternoon, to our great surprise, The Digger showed up at our Augusta County building site. And, that means one thing; the footers of the foundation of the house were being dug. It sounds unexciting, but without the footers, no foundation. No foundation…you guessed it, no house.

The Digger and Mr. Mike checking the footer depth

So, late into the night and throughout most of today the excavation crew dug and pushed and measured the earth around what will be our home until they got it just right: the proper length, width and depth. Transom levels ensured the accuracy, skill and pride ensured the job would get done right.

As I watched the work from the sidelines, one of the crew, Mike, approached me, figuring I was the soon to be owner. He said that he had heard that I had wanted each and every worker building our home “to sign a board”. I explained that we’d like for every worker constructing our house to sign a wood board that we planned to hang in our home. Each tradesman, craftsman and laborer would be a part of this house and we wanted their efforts to be remembered and recognized. Mike said he had never heard of something like this, no one had asked for this before. He liked the idea and signed it and then passed it to the other members of the crew. Was the board really going to be displayed, he asked. “Yep, probably in the front hallway”, I answered. “What if you run out of room on the board”? I’ll get another board! “You know”, said Mike, “I don’t often get to see the finished house. I just dig the foundations”. Well, a house without a good foundation wouldn’t be much of a house, would it, Mike. “No, sir, it wouldn’t”, he said.

Getting it right. Note the red clay soil

 We look forward to Mike and crew coming by to see the finished house – and their “board”.

The Augusta County, Virginia Inspector will check the footing trenches, hopefully tomorrow. Once approved, gravel will be put into the trench, followed by poured concrete. Then the block foundation can begin to be laid by another crew of skilled tradesmen.  Maybe, we will need an extra Signature Board”!

Comments, questions always appreciated. Click “Like” if you do and “Follow” if you’d like.

Bill