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

A Topsy-Turvy Life

Sometimes, no, make it most of the time, what I thought would happen, didn’t. In matters of family, work, marriage, relocating – just about every aspect of my life has gone not how I thought it would or should. Thank God!

For those that read this blog that know me there is no sense in reciting all the instances of this pattern of being turned topsy- turvey. You know most of them. For other readers, who cares, right? So, let me just tell you about the here and now and a bit of how it all happened.

Five years ago we – my beautiful Redhead and I – moved from Connecticut to Jacksonville, Florida. We had checked it out before making the move and thought this would be the beginning of a new life. It was; but, not as we had planned.

Heat is heat but Florida must be God’s preview of Hell.  Only joking.  A bit. But, an endless summer is not what we planned for the long term. Storms are storms but Florida hurricanes are something else.  Snakes? Oh yeah! After four years (quick learners we are) we figured this might not have been our forever place.  We explored both North and South Carolina. Nope. We explored and researched Tennessee. Hmmm, but no.  And then, Virginia.

We researched and visited the Staunton, Virginia area in July of 2018 and moved here in November, 2018. We have been renting an apartment in nearby Waynesboro while we explored the areas and sought just the right place to have our home. Let’s just say it’s been an adventure.

Downtown Staunton, VA

There were some days we thought something was wrong with us. We just couldn’t decide where we wanted to live or what type of home would be right for us. And, when we did come to a decision, it just didn’t work.

So, we prayed. Really prayed. Just asking God to let us know what He wanted us to do. It’s funny how the Lord answers our prayers and puts everything into place.

The Redhead was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. It had been missed in Connecticut and in Jacksonville and initially here in Virginia. But, then it was discovered and our world changed. Nothing mattered except my Redhead. And then things began to happen. The Redhead was put under the care of some of the best surgeons and medical people in the country. It has been a rough few months, but the Redhead is going to be o.k. That was Part One of answered prayers. The Second Part of our answer as to what we were supposed to do and where we should be was through the love, concern, help and genuine friendship shown to us by our friends here. They came from nearby and from miles away to bring food, flowers and love to The Redhead. Never have we experienced anything like this. And then, Part Three.

In the early morning darkness of August 20th, I awoke, more restless than troubled, I had been dreaming of what we should do about finding a home. Continue renting? Maybe. I had no idea of what was about to happen.

I prayed. To Jesus and His Mother, Mary. To St. Joseph. And to St. Padre Pio for his continued special intercession. I felt the urge to check, once again, the real estate listings -but only for land.  Immediately, several parcels of land popped up. They had been on the market for a while but we had never seen them, nor had any of the 5 real estate agents we had been in contact with this past year plus ever mentioned them.

Later that morning, a bit past dawn, I told The Redhead that there was some land we should take a look at. It was in the County, just outside Staunton city limits, no more than 15 minutes to the steps of our church, St. Francis of Assisi. We drove past mist-shrouded views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing rolling farmland and up a sloping gravel drive, past several signs showing several lots for sale. And, there it was. At the corner of two, short, cul-de-sacs, nestled among trees on higher ground…home. We knew it immediately. We called the name on the sign and the following day we met the agent/builder for this small cluster of homes. She explained the details and we told her our plans.

Our little slice of Heaven

Next week space will be cleared for the foundation of our new house. We are… home. Prayers answered.

Never Again

I’ve taken part in two demonstrations in my life. One was political; the other was, more or less, a labor rights issue. Both ended – not well.

The first took place around 1970 at a university in Connecticut. While not a student there, I did know many friends that were and the issue was close to home: the Viet Nam war. The evening rally started out boisterous, but peaceful. Many in the crowd were there only because of its party-like atmosphere. Many others were there to show support for the anti-war sentiment rising throughout the country. The demonstrations were not against our troops, mind you, but against our government’s involvement in a war few understood and fewer, at least of draft age, supported. As the evening progressed, the mood of the speakers became more hostile and their speeches more filled with vitriol. Representatives of the Yippies, SDS and the Black Panthers all took their turns at the podium. Ah, the good old days! Yeah, right. The night became darker and so did the calls for something to be done to “make a point”. Several carloads of “students” were dispatched to a nearby interstate road to block all traffic and hold up their signs. What a waste of time, I thought. What’s the point? What really got my attention, however, was the announcement that the following evening a larger rally would be held and one that would garner regional, if not national, attention. Fires would be set, windows broken, buildings would be occupied. And, when the police and fire departments responded, they would be met by a barrage of rocks and paving stones that were being stockpiled on the roofs of the university buildings. It would be a set-up to facilitate a full-scale riot.

It made no sense. If someone was against a war, why would they start one in their own backyard, or mine, to be more accurate? The speakers had, however, made a tactical mistake in announcing their plans. They didn’t know their audience. While this university was made up of mostly out-of-staters, the audience contained many locals. For this “local,” their plans were not going to happen. You see, as first generation Irish, most of the boys in our family took to one of two callings: the priesthood or the cops. My older brother, my cousin and my brother- in-law, all cops, would all be sent to the university in the event of any riot. A call was made. The following night, as the crowd started to fill in the university square, the speeches became more heated. But, as a group of “demonstrators” made their way up to the roof tops they were met by a welcoming committee. No rocks were thrown and the “leaders” at the podium vanished into the night. Later that evening we learned that someone having a heart attack the night before couldn’t make it to the hospital because of the blocked roadway. They died sitting in traffic. I told myself that I would never attend another “rally” again.

That promise lasted several years. This second time I was part of a group that had followed one of the callings that seemed predestined to our extended family: I had become a policeman.  It was the late 1970’s and our city had been wracked by riots (non-political, but the tactics were similar to what I had witnessed in the 1960’s). A policeman that we all knew to be fair and compassionate had been unjustly accused of brutality (after years in various courts, numerous lawsuits and a marriage that fell victim to the strain, he was eventually cleared in Federal Court). The Chief, bowing to what could have only been political pressure, suspended the cop from duty. We organized a demonstration in front of the police department. Every uniformed officer took part – except the traffic division. To get into Traffic one had to be hand-picked by…the Chief. So, we weren’t too surprised when that group didn’t walk the picket line with the rest of us. No problem. We walked and hooted and a few carried signs.  However, we did not have the right to strike and wouldn’t have done so anyway. Our beef was with the city and department administration, not the people of the city. The Chief was backed by everyone that mattered. We made our point and then it was done. Or, so we thought. Two weeks later every uniformed officer was ordered to report to a remote location for “special training”. We were marched in groups of fifty into a Quonset hut to have “gas training”.  Yep, since we had taken part in a “demonstration” we would learn first- hand how to deal with demonstrations: Gas em’. The doors were locked and the Traffic Division pumped tear gas into the hut. 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a full minute. The gas stopped and the doors eventually swung open. We stumbled out, gasping and puking. The gas vapors rose like steam from our clothes. Everyone had “sunburn” from the chemicals. It was truly a unique experience.

Never, again, I swore, would I ever partake in any demonstration. Not even the gross unfairness of being the only one in our home to take out the garbage would tempt me to march or carry a sign of protest.  Nope, never, never.

Until tomorrow.

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Early tomorrow morning, The Redhead and I will join others from our parish, St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton, Virginia to travel to the Virginia state capitol in Richmond to not only protest the recent attempts by our state government to legalize the killing of children, but to champion and support the Right to Life of EVERY HUMAN: Not-yet-born, just born, handicapped, elderly…Everyone. We are all Children of God. No longer can we stand by to see murder committed before our eyes and do nothing. We will not stand idly by like the Europeans of the 30’s and 40’s as the trains rolled by. We cannot remain silent as the world did when China and Cambodia purged themselves of “unwanted”. We must not remain silent as did so many when the “unwanted” and “inconvenient” underwent the horrors of medical “procedures “in the 1920’s and 30’s – even here in Staunton (ah, the 30’s and 40’s here and in Europe seem to have something in common with the “enlightened” period we are in today).

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Former Western State Lunatic Asylum where “medical” experiments were performed on children in the 1920’s and 30’s

For those that may be tempted to say that a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body supersedes that of an unborn or even a just-born child, let me ask this: would you just stand by while a woman tried to commit suicide? Or argue that it was her “right” to do so? As someone who has risked life and limb several times to prevent such a decision, I could not. You wouldn’t either, I think. Life, after all, is precious.

I’ll report on tomorrow’s efforts soon.

 Pray. For the babies. For the women struggling with these agonizing decisions.  For those that stand up and March for Life.

The Good, the Bad and the ‘Lectrifyin’

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Lake Sherando, Augusta County,VA

So, this past month or so The Redhead and I have been going full steam ahead with scouting the area for where we’ll call our new home. How did it happen that we’re doing this on our own? Well, you asked…

First, we’ve been jilted. Yep, jilted by our realtor.

Having met her in July and been treated wonderfully- three days of area tours, explanations of where to shop, dine, etc. we were in love. With Staunton and her. Our return trip in September reinforced that we had made the right decision – to move here and to work with her. But, our radar should have gone up when it took a full month of living here to see her again. Lots of apologies: I’ve been really busy, my dog’s been sick, etc.( I kid you not). Oh, well. But, we didn’t exactly pine away waiting for her to show up, either. Nope, we drove around these mountains and the surrounding towns discovering more and more natural beauty and many very nice people. Actually, everyone we’ve met has been very nice, helpful and kind.  Except LBF.  And, more of that in a bit.

To make a long, well four-month long, story, shorter let’s just say in four months we’ve seen “our realtor” twice. And one of those times was to have her here for lunch. Still, we like her. Really. We just wish we knew what caused her to drop out of sight. Personal issues? Maybe, and if that is the case we hope she is o.k. But, we can’t and won’t chase someone that doesn’t seem to have the time we need to find our new home. Besides, LBF is pushing us hard.

Yes, LBF- Little Big Foot lives above us. He romps and stomps and jumps and bangs 10 to 13 hours a day, every day. He’s a forty pound four year old that might be described as, “an active child”. When our walls start shaking at 7:00 a.m. he earns other names, but, LBF will do for now.  Live below him and you’re ready to buy ANYTHING!! Maybe he’s a realtor’s secret weapon.  Every realtor except ours, it appears.

Recently, we tried the help of another agent. It seemed everything we were shown was in the area we specifically said we were not interested in. Our second and last day together was a real doozy. Among the highlights: New construction community nestled right up to the regional insane asylum (hmmm).  Another newly built home with lovely views of a pasture. The problem was that in order to keep meandering cattle out of the homes’ yard an electric fence surrounded the property. Grandbaby would love playing there!! Talk about a shocking development! Lastly, the Piece de resistance, so to speak, was a building lot not near but IN a cemetery!! When I blurted out, “What the hell, you’re bringing me to a boneyard?”, my helpful home advisor realized the tour was over. Ya’ think!

So, while not exactly as we had planned, our home search continues but on our own for now.  The search has taken us into the town of Staunton and out into the county where we’d probably have more scenic views. We’re still considering building, but finding an existing home that is just right is becoming more likely. We just don’t know.  Both scenarios have their pluses. In-town means very easy access to shopping, dining and some new friends and our church. Out in the county, we have limited our search radius to no more than 11 miles, about 17-20 minutes, from our church in Staunton, St. Francis of Assisi. Back in November that trip might have taken us 2 hours or more. Think Columbus searching for a route to India: Don’t turn right when a left turn is needed. Knowing our way around a “bit more” opens up several options for finding a home. Hint: don’t rely on only your GPS to explore a new area. Use a good fold-out map and then use the GPS to get where you want. The Redhead is getting quite a kick out hearing me exclaim, Well, I’ll be a Monkey’s Uncle, when I discover a way to go somewhere that actually makes sense.

In addition to driving and exploring we’ve written up a short letter to leave with folks we meet while in neighborhoods we are especially drawn to. It explains that we are looking to buy a house and are drawn to their home and/or neighborhood. So far, we’ve gotten several responses but the houses turned out not to be “just right”.  One, in particular, had extraordinary views of the mountains and came with 13 acres of land. But, with 5 bedrooms and 4 baths it was “just a tad” more than required – unless we open up “Boys Town East”! Keeping our trust in God and our noses to the grindstone, the right home will be made known to us.

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“Main street” Spring Hill, VA The surrounding area is idyllic farm land!

In the meantime, especially with The Redhead off “gallivantin’”this past week, our meandering has turned up some beautiful and interesting sights.  The hamlet of Spring Hill and the towns of Bridgewater and Dayton were explored this past weekend by yours truly. Organic farms, building lots nestled up close to grazing cattle, abandoned, yet starkly beautiful old buildings, country churches, 19th century architecture and a country deli turned an ordinary day into a real adventure. Hope you enjoy these photos of our little slice of heaven; you were already along for the trip.

As always, comments or questions welcome.

Bill

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Green metal roof, Spring Hill, VA

 

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Detail of church stained glass windows, Spring Hill, VA

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Spring Hill, VA church detail

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Organic Farm, Spring Hill,VA

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Bridgewater, VA Beauty

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Bridgewater,VA roof with ice stops.

Note surrounding pasture and grazing lands!
Sunrise Deli, Dayton, VA Surrounded by farms and pastures .

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Heading for home after shopping at Sunrise Deli Dayton,VA

Pax Vobiscum

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Schola of St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton,VA

Christmas. It is both the beginning and the end. The Alpha and Omega. The fulfillment and the promise.  It is what we let it be.

We are blessed, The Redhead and I. We have our health, our family of heart and blood, a new beginning and hopeful expectation. We have one another. And we have our Faith. None of it has come easily and for that we are all the more grateful for having what we do.

For us, this Christmas is a new beginning in many ways. Our move from Florida to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has opened up possibilities and opportunities. We have no idea of where we will call home or what we will be doing in the future but we are filled with a sense of peace. We are, we are sure, where we are supposed to be at this time. There is an expression that I have used over the past number of years, “Before you can know what you have, you first have to lose everything”. We know what we now have.

Our parish church here in Staunton, St. Francis of Assisi, has been a source of comfort, strength and inspiration to us. We decided to attend Mass at the Christmas vigil this year. Before Mass there was a “concert” presented by the Schola of classical musicians and singers. It was a mix of both traditional and religious songs and hymns. No, “Santa Baby”, was not one of them! One of the traditional songs was a Charles Floyd/Yo-Y o Ma arrangement of “The Wexford Carol”. Here it is performed together by Alison Krause and Yo-Yo Ma (click here.)  The rendition sung in church was very close to what was sung by Krause, thanks to soprano, Nancy Hanna. The video’s bagpipe drone section of the music was substituted by the church organ. It was very stirring and served as an excellent example of how contemporary music can be sacred. This Vigil Mass was one of the most reverent we have attended in many years and Father Wamala’s Christmas message was simple: Love God, love one another and find your way to serve.

 

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Christmas Vigil altar St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton

Christmas Day was something different for us: a little baby will do that! Baby Jonah kept his parents hopping, yet Grammy (The Redhead) found a way to lull him to peaceful sleep.

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Sleepy Baby

Some Christmas music was played during the morning.  The organic farm just up the road provided us with a fresh turkey for a special Christmas dinner (I’ll write more about that farm at some later point).  It was truly a peace-filled day.

And now, New Year is upon us. No silly resolutions…at least for me. Yes, I’d like to take advantage of the more temperate (for me) weather and get outdoors more. But, dreams of six-pack abs have been diminished by the reality of a half-keg belly! Our goals are more straightforward: 1) Find a new home (are ya’ listenin’, Becky!), 2) Find a place to resume my furniture restoration interests, 3) Learn how to use my new Nikon 5300 camera that was a gift from the Redhead and 4) Develop a social circle of friends in our new hometown while keeping our family of the heart ever close to us. Doable? Yes, I believe it is.

In closing, here are some more pics from our continuing explorations of the Shenandoah Valley.

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old hamlet of Brownsburg, north of Lexington,VA

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Valley farm, near Lexington,VA

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Blue Ridge Mountain farm, Edinburg, VA

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Edinburg Mill. Detail showing charred timbers resulting from Union General Sheridan’s raid and burning of the mill and town, 1864

 Peace be with you. Thank you for reading. Happy New Year to all! 

Bill

Staunton

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West Beverly St. Downtown Staunton

It’s been nearly a week since we made the trek from Jacksonville to Staunton, Virginia to prepare for our relocating there in about six weeks. Skirting the effects of hurricane Florence turned a nine hour trip into 15 driving hours through Georgia, up into Tennessee and finally slipping over the mountains into Virginia from the West.

Along the way we spoke of what lay ahead of us and what we were leaving. Four years earlier we had had a similar conversation of what we were leaving behind in Connecticut as we drove along I-95 toward The Bold New City of the South. We said we would make a home that would be our “forever home”.  As singer-songwriter John Gorka wrote, “the old future’s gone”.  Apparently, this bold new city requires a sensibility different than ours.

Here, friends were made, acquaintances, too. Some were lost, some just recently made. Some know, too, that this is not their “forever home”.  Our reasons are mostly the same: too much heat, traffic and violence. There is also the feeling that something better is possible, if only a chance is taken.

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Our cross mountain conversation centered on what was most important to us. Not just now, but what has always been so: Family, of blood and heart, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to and in a place and a shared Faith.

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St. Francis of Assisi Church

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How odd, then, that by moving we hope to better have these things. The Redhead and I will be closer to “the kids” and our Connecticut friends. Staunton is also closer to northern Tennessee than is Jacksonville, making it easier to still be close with some of our family of the heart who will be leaving here, too.

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The Shenandoah Valley in many ways reminds me of the western Ireland of my heritage: rolling hills dotted with cattle and the abandoned homes of those that once worked the land, all in the shadow of the nearby mountains that, like those in Eire, also witnessed a bloody, never forgotten, conflict.  Yet, there is a gentleness to the land that has been smoothed by time.

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Abandoned cabin, Churchville,VA

The main purpose for our trip was to find a rental property to settle into as we explored and learned the area. It turned out that finding something we liked was not as easy as we had imagined. But, after a few days a very nice condo-type apartment in the town of Waynesville, about 20 minutes from Staunton, was found and secured for our arrival in early November. After taking care of a few more business matters we spent the rest of our week exploring the area and enjoying an afternoon at the Blackfriars PlayhouseStaunton certainly has no shortage of interesting things to see and do.

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Staunton Arts Center

Each day, now, we pack a little more. Boxing what we’ll need immediately and sorting it from those treasures we cannot part with but may not see again for a year. It is a strange experience.  We know that we both are resilient and optimistic and our prayer for guidance is simple: “Lord, let us know what You want us to do and give us the courage to do it”. Who knows what’s in store for us? It’s all part of a plan.

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All according to plan, Swoope, VA