For What It’s Worth

“We’ve been patient but our patience is wearing thin”. Thus spoke Joseph Biden on September 9, 2021 in declaring his war on Covid. Or was it on the American People?

(Click) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp5JCrSXkJY

Never could it be thought to hear those words uttered by a sitting President of the United States toward his fellow countrymen and citizens – especially a president that claims to honor the sanctity and privacy of a person’s body.

The Corona virus is real and in many cases serious and deadly. That has been established as has been the fact that certain segments of the population are more susceptible than others. So, please, do not suppose that I am denying or minimizing the Corona virus disease. But, there are differences with this disease that separate it from most others.

First, it has, from the start, been politicized. Rather than attempt to isolate the epicenter of the outbreak, Some politicians chose instead to “virtue signal”, encouraging people to attend large gatherings within certain ethnic groups to show solidarity and non-prejudice. Other attempts by the then sitting President to limit influxes of illegal and unscreened immigrants were also met with resistance. So much for even trying to stem the flow of disease into our country. Today, it is much the same. Our Southern border check points are only a band-aid on a hemorrhaging limb. Yet, we have a tight-as -a drum control on our Canadian border.

Secondly, there is great mistrust of the “vaccines” and the people behind them. There is also mistrust and suspicion of the folks put in charge of our “pandemic” response. After all, it was Dr. Anthony Fauci that secured funding with American tax dollars of the research conducted in the Chinese labs that created and enhanced the corona virus to make it more deadly. Yep, research banned in the USA was, thanks to Dr. Fauci, paid for by American tax dollars. What would be the motive for doing such a thing is a question legitimately asked by informed and caring citizens of not only the USA, but the world. Very informed and knowledgeable medical people have grave concerns about the efficacy and safety of the “vaccines”. Despite recent press releases and government statements, what is being administered is not, by and large FDA approved and is still be administered with full immunity to the drug companies and providers. Many people ask, again legitimately, why?

Third, there is the response by the government to this disease vastly different from that to just about any other that comes to mind.

During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the world, it seemed, was being overcome by HIV and AIDS. Panic was rampant. So was fear, suspicion and unkindness. Initially, medical and governmental agencies sometimes gave erroneous or contradictory information. Being a “First Responder” (how I dislike that term) was no fun in those days, I can assure you. But, science marched on until finally the causes and cures were found for this very deadly disease.

There were only limited and relatively short-lived acts of aggression or discrimination against that segment of the population largely responsible for the disease. Laws were enacted, as should be, for that population’s safety and privacy. Perhaps the seminal turning point in efforts to find a cure and in showing compassion for the afflicted was with the release of the film, Philadelphia, starring Tom Hanks and the movie’s very moving Bruce Springsteen title song turned anthem, Philadelphia https://youtu.be/4z2DtNW79sQ (click link to play). Today, despite WHO AIDS /HIV statistics (click link to view) showing the disease to still be a world-wide health concern and one fairly limited to life-style choices – yes, there are exceptions, including transmissions to embryos, there is no ostracizing of those carrying the disease. Indeed, the very opposite may be true, especially within certain political circles.

There are no mandates or medical passports required, apparently, for those afflicted with particular diseases, even for those that contract a disease because of, in many cases, the exercise of their free will.

So, why has Mr. Biden, his Administration and Party turned their wrath on their fellow countrymen who may have grave and legitimate concerns about injecting foreign, unproven substances into their bodies? Shouldn’t his and their wrath instead be directed toward those that concocted this disease and spread it throughout the world? Despite his many years feeding at the Public Trough, Mr. Biden just doesn’t understand America. Seriously. He doesn’t understand that we, Americans – both those born here and those recently arrived – hate tyrants.

He, too, promised to build back better
Promised great Socialism for all
Promised prosperity and transparency

And finally, as a late update to this blog, please see the following link of the farewell lecture of a Canadian college professor of Ethics. She makes much more sense than I:

https://rumble.com/vm8ie1-ethics-professor-gives-heartbreaking-final-lesson-on-refusing-vaccine-befor.html

What then will be the anthem for these times? What song could possibly express our need for deliverance from this stalking Evil?

Perhaps, only this. Song for our Time (click)

Do not be afraid. Pray.

Dragon’s Blood and Baez

A voice. An image. A face. A song from long ago. There is no telling what will turn a distant recollection into a torrent of memories. For me it was a smell. Rather, the smell – of New York City’s Greenwich Village in the Spring of 1968.

What turned the Mind Spigot on was – soap. Recently I’ve been trying various hand-made natural soaps from soap maker, Emily Seaver. It was one of these soaps, Dragon’s Blood, with its incense scent, that sent me back decades into a world that fascinated, but would only be observed.

New York was just a bit over an hour away by train, but what had started out as a shopping trip became the catalyst for a life-long love of folk music and an admiration for one of the eras most honest artists and voices.

Washington Square

Walking along Bleeker, Thompson and MacDougal Streets and through Washington Square Park ones senses were constantly bombarded with the sounds of bongos, saxophones, guitars, flutes and voices both sweet and ferocious singing of protest or love. The smell of subway steam rising through street vents mingled with the scents of every food imaginable. The sweet, earthy smell of roasting coffee permeated the street in front of Porto Rico Coffee and from the countless coffee cafes that lined the streets of The Village. And, through it all rose the stench of unwashed bodies, garbage and omnipresent drugs. New York in the 60’s. Nothing quite like it and never to be forgotten.

Venturing into a small, colorful shop along Thompson Street I soon realized that I had entered another world altogether. What would later be learned was a Head Shop, this little store was jam-packed with pipes, bongs, clips, etc., etc. Not only were these things of no interest, I really had no idea what they were for. Such an innocent! But, what did interest me was the dizzying (truly) display of incense. Now, this was something I was familiar with. Incense sticks and cubes of various fruits and scents filled shelves from top to bottom. What really caught my eye were small bags of loose incense – including jasmine, patchouli and every Catholic schoolboy’s favorite, frankincense. A whiff of that and for sure you would feel on your way to heaven! After buying a small packet, it was time to further explore the neighborhood.

Ritchie Havens

Cafe Wha?, The Bitter End, Bottom Line, Cafe Au Go Go, The Gaslight Cafe, The Village Vanguard. Handbills plastered on the sides of buildings and construction fencing advertised both coming and just past appearances of The Stone Poneys, Ritchie Havens, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell -live nyc Little Green, Jimi Hendrix, Odetta, Peter, Paul and Mary, Tom Paxton, Judy Collins (click on hyperlinks) and – Joan Baez. What were these places and who were these people? Coming from a very parochial background (in every sense of the word) I was not in my element. But, the Genie of Curiosity was out of the bottle and while, somewhat sadly, I never got to go to any of the above music venues I did embark on a journey to discover who those musicians were and what they were saying. One in particular has kept my admiration all these years – Joan Baez.

Joni Mitchell
Joan Baez

Now, Ms Baez probably has a few views that are, shall we say, not simpatico with mine. But, her steadfast aversion to war, her respect and empathy for the common man and the downtrodden far outweigh those possible differences and have allowed me to appreciate her artistry without the distraction of politics. Her voice and songs remain both beautiful and meaningful. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvDyq66_lWY , Diamonds and Rust, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptxxq5PUHEk and There But for Fortune, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKq-nVdiQ8U are just a few of Baez’ songs that endure.

There’s no going back of course. But, I wonder, what happened … to the promise and optimism of those days and that generation? I just wonder.

Abridged too Far

A leader unafraid

The latest Erik Larson book, The Splendid and the Vile, chronicles the WWII Blitz of England and how Churchill and the British dealt with it.

It is continually interesting to read how the people of England dealt with privation, fear and death and how their leaders, particularly Churchill, guided both military and civilian responses to the havoc of Hitler and the Nazis.

Fascinating, too, are the details of how the Nazi government – run by madmen – controlled their own people through a sense of false patriotism, bullying and fear. If a German citizen did not adhere to the party line, or even questioned it, they would face repercussions including physical threats, imprisonment and even death.

Burning banned books…sound familiar?
Travel documents, please

One of the most remarkable things going on in England at the time of the Blitz and continuing during the course of the war was the effort to maintain as much of normalcy as possible. Children went to school, businesses were open, factories were working non-stop, pubs remained the neighborhood gathering spot, church services were conducted – sometimes in churches that had been bombed and…tea was still served.

Mass celebrated in bombed church. Trusting in God

Yes, politics, in every sense, were a consideration of the British cabinet, but the overarching goal was clear: defeat Hitler. Churchill made every effort to instill hope not despair, bravery not fear, selflessness not self-centeredness in his fellow Brits. When he would inspect the air raid shelters or tour neighborhoods just flattened by German bombs the people did not blame him for the destruction. No, they saw him as one of their own and cheered his unwillingness to be cowed by the scourge of Hitler.

Churchill visiting bombed Plymouth on 2 May 1941. Copyright: © IWM.

Fast forward to today.

The American people are being deterred from maintaining any sense of normalcy. Why?

Our government and media are fostering fear of everyone and anger at everything. Why?

The breaking point for many came this past week when President Biden stated:

…There’s a good chance – that you’re clueless

By July the Fourth there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout or a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day. That doesn’t mean large events with lots of people together, but it does mean small groups will be able to get together”.

A good chance we can get together with our families and friends in our own yards? Really, Mr. President?

The Fourth of July commemorates the American people throwing off the yoke of tyranny. Have you forgotten this, Mr. Biden? For it seems, with this statement, you have abridged our rights too far.

Stand up for Something

I

No more. Pray. Be brave, for God and Country.

The Magdalene

Several years ago, on another site, I wrote a story about one memorable afternoon’s encounter with a remarkable young woman. At the time, I had a little furniture business that specialized in bringing old, American made furniture back to life. That particular winter afternoon, I was on the hunt for something really special and was exploring “junk shops” in an old mill town. Perhaps, it’s because looking out my window and seeing overcast skies and a construction dirtied street that I am now reminded in some way of that town and that day. But, what I found that afternoon has stayed with me all these years.

Would you tie this for me?

She held up a silver medallion hanging from a short, thick cord. It seemed an act of someone both innocent and yet filled with a nothing else to lose resignation. Annie has been around. 

Sure, why not.

She stepped from behind the display counter, turned her back to me and lifted her long brown hair.

Why was I nervous? Maybe, because I feared for her vulnerability. I was, after all, almost a complete stranger. After a bit of fumbling, a decent knot was tied and Annie admired her new bit of flash. I could see, too, that she really had a thing for rings. Every finger of both hands had at least one.  If hands could talk Annie’s would cry, See me, please. She had become invisible to everyone but herself.

With no one else in the shop it was easy to talk. She told how she displayed the furniture and bric-a brac and the care she would take in polishing the old wood.  She loved having something to do. She loved making things that had seen better days look worthwhile again. If only she could get a few more hours or a bit more money.

It’s hard getting thirty dollars for an eight hour day, she said. And, only three days a week at that. No one else will give me a job. Heck, hardly anybody around here will talk to me. My sisters won’t. My brother, either. He lives only a few blocks away and he won’t talk to me. My boyfriend mostly yells at me and calls me stupid. Hits me sometimes. But, he better watch out.  Someday…

Are you tired, Annie? I guessed what her tiredness was. I had seen it before.                                        

No, she said, it’s my medication. Actually methadone. I take the train to Bridgeport to get it. It really makes me tired. But, it’s better than… You know.

Yeah, I do. How long have you been off the stuff, Annie?

Oh, for years.

Where is this conversation coming from, I’m thinking?

I started when I was nine.

What! Nine?

Yeah. My parents were users and they gave it to me – my sisters and brother, too.  We lived in Bridgeport, then. She told me the street.

I knew the place well, it wasn’t really a street. Annie had grown up in an alley and I had driven past it several times every day for three years. I didn’t recall seeing Annie, though.  At least not this Annie.

So, my father molested me. And, then, so did his brother. I really hate him. He still tries to see me. I’d like to kill him. My sisters tell me to just let it go, it happened to all of us and, it’s in the past. But, I can’t let it go. Annie gets quiet and stares at nothing…but at something.

Well, at least I got off the stuff. No more heroin. Or coke. No pills. Just the meth. It makes me tired, though. I know I messed up my life.

But, Annie, you’re trying. You never really got a break.

She polishes a table top for what seems a long time, trying to hide the scratches and scars. 

You know, no matter how much they beat me down, I’ll never completely break, she says.

No, Annie, never give up. Never.

Then, a customer walks in and I turn to leave the shop.

Wait, she says, and walks me to the door.

Thanks.

For what?  

For talking to me. I won’t forget it. Really.

Neither will I, Annie. I hope you have a happy Christmas.

Well, at least I got one present, even if it is from myself. She lifted her new medallion and smiled.

She could not possibly know that she had also just given a gift to me.

Merry Christmas and may God protect you, Annie.

Paint Bank

Definitely not on the menu!

There’s nothing quite like a dose of history to help keep things in perspective.

This past Sunday The Redhead and I, having hit another endurance limit of Cootie Lock-down, decided to do a bit of exploring in an area of Virginia we haven’t visited much: South West Virginia. So, with a tank-full of gas and a thermos of our Mayorga coffee, we headed out from Staunton down Route 81 to our destination: Paint Bank, VA.

Route 81, while a busy highway, offers some very beautiful scenery. But, as we approached Lexington and diverted onto Route 64 W, the scenery became even more spectacular. We crossed through the Allegheny Mountains, over the Maury River and parts of the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson forests.  I cannot imagine anyone seeing this and not feeling the Hand of God.

When we reached the tiny city of Covington we exited the highway and continued along Route 18, toward Paint Bank. Talk about twisting roads! Past farmlands and forests and rivers and creeks , the scenery just rolled by. The route was dotted with a number of abandoned houses – some modest shacks, others quite substantial, holding the secrets of families that had lived there a century or more ago.

Finally, we arrived in Paint Bank, an area or hamlet more than a town. Its “Main” street consists mostly of the Paint Bank General Store, which also houses the Swinging Bridge Restaurant. Tingler’s Mill and several other buildings, including The Lemon Hotel and Depot Lodge are close by.

Paint Bank, Virginia
The “working” side of Tingler’s Mill, Paint Bank, VA

 Across the street from The General Store is Mountain Crafters, a small yet interesting craft shop featuring the works of area crafts people and artists. The owner, Barbara Willard, was in the shop knitting when we visited. Barbara also spins wool and her loom is behind her 19th century work desk. As we browsed, Ms. Willard gave us a brief history of the area, including the origins of the town’s name. Paint Bank got its name from the ochre and red clay lining the banks of the nearby stream now known as Potts Creek. Cherokee Indians used this clay as body paint as their war parties followed the rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. They also used this clay to make and decorate their distinctive pottery. Years later, the clay was used by the settlers to produce commercial paints and also bricks for their buildings.

Mountain Crafters shop, Paint Bank, VA

By now, The Redhead was famished so, after a few purchases, we said our goodbyes to Barbara and walked across the street to the Paint Bank General Store and the Swinging Bridge Restaurant.

Paint Bank General store and the Swinging Bridge Restaurant

Just inside the store is an assortment of everything from coolers containing beverages and food items, including local bison and beef. Shelves are loaded with an array of candy, camping foods, homemade fudges, snacks and some gift items. Toward the back is The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, so named because of the swinging bridge connecting both halves of the upper floor of the building where there is a Christmas oriented gift area. But, for us the main attraction was the restaurant. If you enjoy quality, homemade country food this place is for you, especially if you like something a little different: Bison! Yep, Bison, raised locally at Hollow Hill Farm, is served a number of ways, including burgers and steaks. Never having tasted bison before, we opted for a safe bet and chose the grilled, chopped bison. It is similar to a Salisbury steak but much leaner and with a more “wild”, savory taste that reminded me a bit of grilled liver. Very delicious! Also on the menu is chicken, locally raised Angus beef and other dishes.

Upstairs gallery of Swinging Bridge Restaurant

Painted Bank General Store, Mountain Crafters and all of Paint Bank will surely be on our list of future “tours” for family and friends.

Now, I had not intended to make this blog a restaurant and shop review. Rather, it was intended as a reminder for all of us to get out of our lock-down frames of mind and discover the beauty all around us, especially in small towns. But, in reading and researching a bit more about the area we had visited, I was also struck by one thing in particular: the resiliency of people. The area we had just visited was, less than 300 years ago, The Wilderness of our yet-to-be new nation. Families looking for a new life and a chance to prosper were often attacked and killed by raiding parties of Indians of various tribes that roamed the valleys and rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. If a raid was successful, survivors would often be carried off into slavery, many never to be heard from again.

Times were very hard. Brutality was a fact of life and not one-sided by any means. But, the people survived. Two things were key factors in their survival and ability to cope with very difficult times: their willingness to support one another and their Faith. https://richpatch-humphries.com/the_humphries___persinger_connection

Can we learn from our ancestors something to help us through these hard times? I hope so.

Get out and enjoy all that we have been given. Support one another. Discover Good. Have faith.

Beauty almost everywhere you look

As part of an experiment in writing, this blog was originally posted using a different title. Except for that and one other minor change it remains the same.

Cancelling Kristina

She was skinny and blonde and kind of pretty.  For this 12 year old to even think so must have meant that she was actually, beautiful.

She lived with her parents on the first floor of a six-family house at the end of an alley across from the playground. Her backyard was the parking lot of the A&P where, in the summer, we’d ride our bikes on weekends and in the winter become Kings of the Mountain atop piles of plowed snow.  She never joined in our games, but would sometimes watch through the chain link fence that separated her from us.

We spoke only once. A bunch of us kids had ventured down the alley where she was sitting on the porch. I remember the house being painted green – jail-house green I would think as, years later, I patrolled past the old neighborhood and that house – that was the reminder of my shame.   

My parents work and I can’t leave the house”, she told us. “Both parents?” I asked.  “Yes, both”.  I had never heard of both parents working before. My dad worked two jobs, but my mother was always home.  The same with almost all of the other kids, too. This was odd, I thought. But, not as odd as the way she spoke. There was something different in the way she said her words. She certainly wasn’t Irish, or French or Italian or Hungarian or Puerto Rican.  I knew those accents.  “Where are you from”, I asked. “Russia”, she answered.

If she had suddenly struck me with a baseball bat her answer could not have shocked or frightened me more.  Russians were bad, I knew. We had drills in school preparing for the Russians to attack us with bombs. The government said they were bad.  They killed people and starved them and didn’t believe in God. They were spies. And my eldest brother was at that very moment stationed in Germany protecting us from…The Russians.  And they thought differently than we did.  And, and…

Surely there must be a better way

“You’re a Commie”, I blurted. “No”, she said, “We got out”. It didn’t matter. She was a Russian. A spy. I just knew it. We all ran. And left that little girl sitting alone on those green steps of her new home, in the land of The Free.  In today’s parlance, she was Cancelled.

Her name was, I think, Christine. Or, perhaps, Kristina. She was, after all, A Russian. If I could only do it all over. But, I can’t. And, the thing is, despite my fear, my sheer ignorance – I knew better. And that is the cause of the shame that still, to this day, haunts me. I knew better.

If thoughts could fly through the air, mine would somehow reach Kristina and she would know that I was and still am, sorry.

And, if thoughts could fly through the air, I would send them out to anyone thinking of acting as foolishly and hurtfully as did I those many years ago. Be Kind.  The memory of our actions and of those we Cancel or Dox today may haunt us for a long time to come.   

Sometimes in Winter

This morning we woke to our first winter in five years. Snow was covering everything, at least everything up to two inches! But, snow it is and what a welcome sight.

Before clearing our driveway and sidewalk I grabbed my camera – just to record the scene before me: snow covered fields, pine trees with snow draped branches and snow fog – the sort of fog arising when warmer air mixes with cold snow below. It may seem funny, but to this former New Englander, the sight of this snowy morning meant one thing – I am home. Yes, in this Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I am home.

We are Home

Memories can creep up on you from almost anything and at the most unexpected times. This past week or so, I have been plagued by my annual December Creepies that always seem to wait until nightfall to make their appearance. It’s been a bit of a battle keeping them at bay. But, this morning, shovel in hand, other, very welcome memories popped up: Music and Coffee.

Sometimes in Winter. It has been many years since I’ve heard or thought of that Blood, Sweat and Tears song. Part Jazz, part Rock, part Poem, it is the type of song that can stay with you forever. And, there it was, playing in my head as I stood in front of our home early this morning. Click: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D0HVYiMyq8 Yes, sometimes in Winter, everything seems right.

Another melody that popped up, altogether unrelated tonally to the first, was Tchaikovsky’s, Winter Dreams. Perhaps, it was the sight of the snow and frost covered trees that reminded me of an old DG album cover of this recording: Click:   https://youtu.be/tFAvb-Kga30  This symphony, or at least as much as I could recall, would, long ago, accompany me as I drove for hours through wintry, city streets. Yet, here it was again, in full daylight.

Now, some may think that coffee is coffee. But, no, there are differences, just as there are with any food or beverage. There is what is called Commodity coffee. That’s pretty much what you get in most restaurants, diners and even many “coffee shops”. Some of it is downright awful, some, not so bad. One of the most well-known coffee sellers charges a small fortune for a cup of coffee by adding flavorings and fancy names to otherwise unremarkable brew. There are now a lot of local or regional coffee shops / kiosks offering really good coffee. But, it comes at a price, which I understand: quality costs.

The real issue for us, The Redhead and I, is how to have a really good cup of coffee at home. This is especially true with all of the lockdowns and restrictions we are enduring. So, I began my quest for really good coffee that I could brew at home. I first tried some old favorite brands found in the grocery stores. Eh. Then, some experimentation with generic, “organic” coffees found at the local alternative grocery store. One wasn’t too bad at all. The other tasted like, well, old dirt. Since we don’t add sugar to our coffee, there was no way to fix this bad boy! Some mail order coffees cost a fortune and quality wasn’t a sure thing if the on-line reviews can be believed. Then, a light bulb went on in my noggin’.

A while back we had gotten some really good coffee beans (we grind our own…it’s a nice way to start the morning) from Costco. But, with all the restrictions, we haven’t been to Costco in about a year. So, I looked up the company and yes, they sell directly to customers. Mayorga Organics https://www.mayorgaorganics.com/. Their prices are very fair, the coffee is great and their customer service is outstanding. They roast the coffee at two locations: Florida and Maryland. A quick phone call later and I was speaking with one of their Team members, Natasha. We spoke of the different coffees and, since I am partial to Mocha Java, Natasha also recommended the Mayorga Mayan blend. I’ll report back to you on this blend very soon! The Mocha Java is very good, though.

No, Enjoyment is not necessarily an addiction!

Now, here’s the really nice thing about Mayorga. They deal directly with the coffee farmers in Latin America, thus ensuring top quality coffee and a truly decent way to deal with the people that actually grow the beans. All farmers should be so lucky! If you are interested in trying one of the Mayorga coffees, just give them a call or go on-line. It’s very easy. If you order before the end of December, ALL on-line sales will be donated to relief efforts in Latin America due to hurricanes Iota and Eta. What a nice Christmas present for those folks!

Oh, BTW, I am not affiliated in any way with Mayorga. I just really like their coffee and the way they do business. Period.

So, how do Winter and Music and Coffee tie together? Well, we are now entering winter, both literally and figuratively. We need to stay healthy and happy and connected to one another. We cannot let fear separate us. If you can, invite someone – a family member, a friend, a neighbor over to enjoy some good coffee and good music. Not sure if it’s the “right time”? Well, maybe, it’s Sometimes in Winter.

Baby Jesus is coming. Don’t be afraid. Pray. Be nice.

Finding Baby Jesus

In 1971, the rock band, The Who, released a recording of the song, “We Won’t Get Fooled again” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODKZGBrAtxY.  Written by Pete Townsend, it was a cynical look at both power and revolution.  Many of my generation misunderstood the song’s meaning.  They thought that by adopting  catchy slogans such as, “Question Authority” or aligning with “radical” political groups, they would bring about a better, more “just” world and not get fooled again. The sad thing is that nearly all of the problems that were besetting the world back then in ‘71, still are.  And, more so.  Townsend knew, I believe, that looking toward Power and Revolution as answers to what is wrong in the world is…futile and that by doing so we would get fooled again and again. Boy, was he right.

Here we are, half a century later (I shake my head as a write this!) and we are continually disappointed.  Politicians of every stripe have shown themselves less as true leaders than opportunists. Too many to count “religious leaders” have fallen from grace, leaving many of us shaken and bewildered. Neighbors have grown fearful, suspicious and angry with one another. Why?

Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” Isaiah 35:4

2020 started out with so much promise and optimism. And then, in the blink of an eye, it started to unravel. Maybe our current unrest is all – or mostly – contrived. Maybe there are powers or forces that want to cause disruption and fear. Maybe there is a plan to have us turn against one another. Maybe.

“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.'” Revelation 1:17

I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what can be done about what’s going on out there.  Organize a protest? I don’t think so. Join a protest? Ah, NO!  Write to some “Elected Official” and tell them just what I think?  Just the mere thought makes me laugh.  After probably burning out more than a few brain cells (and having none to spare, believe me) I figured it out: There Is Nothing I Can Do About What’s Going On Out There. But, there is something I can do about what’s going on in here – within me.

“Immediately He spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'” Mark 6:50

It is Advent. We await. We anticipate:  Not with Fear, but Hope. With Joy.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2 Timothy 1:7

This Christmas, the first in our new home here in Staunton, Virginia, we have set up several outside decorations. One of them is something that I have wanted for a long time, but never had the space to do it: a manger scene. One that I have admired and been touched by for its simplicity is a silhouette of The Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and The Infant Jesus lying in His crib.

Ours is set up in the front yard. It is constructed of heavy white plastic.  Although it is front and center, during the daytime, with a bright sun and a still dirt-filled front yard, it can be less noticed.

Manger

But, at night, when everything is darkest, a simple solar light shines on the crib. And there He is: The Baby Jesus. He is there during the day, of course, right in front of me. But, as I said, sometimes He’s hard to see. Do I just naturally see Baby Jesus during the darkest hours? Or, should I just look harder during the day?  Maybe.

B

“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.” John 14:27

How will you find the Baby Jesus this Christmas?

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!

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?