Building a Dream

It’s been one month since we signed contracts for the purchase of our property and the building of our new home here in Staunton, VA.  After nearly a year of searching for the right place to settle, we now find ourselves chomping at the bit for construction to begin on our house.

The first step was to choose the style and design of the home.  Luckily, there are so many designs to be found online that there are probably several home plans to suit just about anybody. The home plan we chose is a single level “craftsman” style having three bedrooms and three full baths. A few modifications were made to the original plan: the floor plan was reversed to accommodate the lot configuration; the living room in the front of the house will become a library; the family room width is expanded by a few feet and the rear facing screen porch will be made into a windowed sunporch. One of my favorite changes is the expanding of the covered front porch from the standard 6 foot width to 8 feet wide and running along most of the front of the house. Our builders are Eric and Amy Argenbright of EA Homes Construction here in Augusta County.

A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon with Amy choosing just some of the details of our home: the exterior finishes, types of windows, flooring and some interior alterations to the original plan. Since we had fairly recently gone through a huge remodeling project in our former home in Florida, making some of the decisions was not as difficult as it may have been. We knew what we really liked in our past homes and what we would like to be different in this, our “from the ground up” home. It’s been interesting in coming to decisions that satisfy both The Redhead and me. We both wanted a fireplace. Red wanted a gas fired unit, but I wanted “old school” wood burning. We decided on the gas style since it is cleaner and much easier for Red to have a fire anytime she wishes. In almost every other detail we both had the same ideas.

One feature of the house that I’m particularly looking forward to (besides the front porch) is the basement. Yes, the basement! For it is there that I plan to revive my vintage/antique restoration activity. It’s been over 5 years since my Redeux Vintage Furniture http://redeuxfurniture.blogspot.com/2012/ closed when we moved from Connecticut. For several reasons it never revived while we lived in Florida. But now…yes, indeedy!!  I plan to get going finding and reviving vintage American-made furniture as quickly possible.

The Redhead and I drive to our lot several times a week to look at where our house will sit. We listen to the wind, the just- turning- color leaves of “our trees” rustling in what seems to be a constant, steady breeze coming from the nearby Alleghany Mountains and a variety of birds. We’ve already met two of our soon-to-be neighbors and they just smile when we park at the side of our little road and just sit. They feel the same way about this little slice of heaven.

Eric from AE Homes clearing the way for our new home
Eric and Nick happy to start our home

This past week work was begun on clearing some ground for the house to be built. Just as many trees as necessary will be removed, the rest will stay. Some large pieces of rock will be utilized as part of our natural landscaping plan. Later this week the footprint of the house will be staked out and then construction will, hopefully, begin to progress at a steady pace. I hope you’ll follow along!

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.

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

Plain Living

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Old Order Mennonite buggy, Dayton VA

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

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

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Route 42 looking north toward Harrisonburg

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

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

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

Bill

Churchville VA farm Alleghany Mountains in rear

Dayton VA Farm looking East
Route 42 looking east from Dayton

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Former Western State Lunatic Asylum, Staunton

Taking Inventory

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The tree has been taken down, the decorations put away and another Christmas has come – but is not quite gone.

This year was different for many reasons. We are living in a new state, literally and figuratively. Virginia has been good to and for us. People just met are becoming acquaintances and acquaintances are now becoming friends. Our church has been especially welcoming; its members seem to embrace the command to “love one another”. Even folks we just meet are gracious and helpful in ways we don’t expect.

This past week The Redhead and I were driving throughout the north-west section of Staunton, exploring, once again, the very attractive neighborhoods of Baldwin Acres and Blue Ridge.  This time, we carried with us letters we had printed and planned to leave at especially appealing homes, asking if the owners might be considering selling their homes within the next six months or so.  Well, as luck or Providence would have it, as we drove past a particular house, a woman was spotted standing in her front garden. We stopped and Red approached her and told her what we were doing. After a few minutes of conversation the woman invited both of us to sit with her in the garden. Two hours later, we left knowing we would hear from her again. That evening, she called and said she actually had a few leads for us and would fill us in when we would meet for lunch later in the week (tomorrow).

And, so, this is pretty much how it has been for us since arriving in Staunton. Things are happening easily, naturally. There is a general peacefulness that reinforces our sense that coming here was the right decision.

Over the past two months we have thought and re-thought what type of house and neighborhood we wanted and would best suit us. We love the country with the rolling hills and nearby mountains. Red wants to pet every cow she sees – and there is no shortage of them here in the valley.  But, the charm and convenience of in-town living has its draw, too, and may be more practical.

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Gypsy Hill Park, Staunton, VA

After much thought, prayer and late night conversations we realize that the best location for us is just outside of town center, the neighborhoods mentioned earlier, Baldwin Acres and Blue Ridge. Both offer views (some better than others), are within a few minutes of shopping and amenities, our friends at Paradise Donuts (to paraphrase Robert Duval, “I love the smell of donuts in the morning”) and our church. Also, living in an established neighborhood offers us the best chance to make friends and become part of the community.

It is this taking inventory of what your real priorities are that I think is very important for people moving and choosing to settle into a new area, especially when there is no built-in safety net of family or work.

Below are some photos of our adventures. Some were taken during our recent afternoon in Gypsy Hill Park that is close to both town center and the neighborhoods we’re exploring and some were taken in the town of Dayton which is about a leisurely 30 minute drive from downtown Staunton. Dayton is a largely agricultural community and has many Mennonite farms and shops. It will be one of our must-see areas for our friends.

Thanks for reading! As always, I’d love to get your Comments, Likes or questions.

Bill

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Co-op Bakery Dayton, VA

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Quilts, Dayton, VA co-op shops

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

Da’ Fade

Sometimes, it’s the little, everyday things that just make you shake your head and say, “what the heck”!

This morning started out with promise. Early rising, good cup of coffee and plans to zip on over to downtown Staunton to enjoy a second cup and one of the special donuts at Paradise Donuts before exploring the outlying neighborhoods.

Before long the Redhead says that she’d really like me to order a new camera for Christmas using my long accumulated credit card points. Hmmm. That might be nice, especially since it won’t “cost” me anything and I’ve actually had my eye on a particular model. But, true to form, I feel the need to do more research on the camera I’ve read reviews about many times.

So, off I go into “Billy Land”, as the Redhead calls my moments of pondering, and I’m caught up in on-line comparison shopping for an hour. And, it wasn’t a waste of time either. It turns out a somewhat better camera went on sale. Nice! So, into the cart it went. Whoa! Wait a minute. No points available??? An hour later everything is back on track, the camera is ordered and I’m chomping on the bit to chomp on a donut!

But, noooo. The Redhead comes over with a letter from our former DMV stating that my license and registration will be cancelled… forthwith! What happened to the 30 day rule? Bye, bye, donuts, I’m figuring. Into the car we go, stuffed with all our documents (we thought) and over to the Virginia DMV to take care of business. An hour later I have a paper copy of a new Virginia drivers license. It will take a second trip to register the car, but, progress is made. So, what next?

A haircut! Gabby Hayes has nothing on me lately. The lovely Miss Nancy of Vintage Barber Shop in Jacksonville would faint if she saw my noggin’ now. As we drive around Staunton looking for a barber shop, a plain barber shop, it dawns on me. We’ve moved. The Redhead yanks out her smartphone. “Oh, here’s one…’The Man Cave'”. No, I don’t think so. “Oh, oh, how about, “The Golden Comb”. She is now howling laughing. No. And ditto to , Family Salon, Nuthin’ Fancy and Uni-sex Cut an’ Curl. I just want a plain barber. “How about, ‘Bob the Barber”? “O.k. sounds good”, I say. Several blocks later we discover Bob has sold out to a Vape shop. “The girls at the beauty school would welcome the chance to work on your hair”, Red suggests. Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m an open minded kind of guy. But, sitting in the store front window of the Staunton School of Beauty is , well, not my thing. Sorry girls, no purple hair streaks for Gibby!

Let’s go home, I wimper. No, donuts, no haircut. As we drive along Route 250 Red spots, “Who’s Next Barbershop.” Hmmm. Let’s give it a try. We pull into the parking lot facing a non-descript shop with a few cars parked outside. Red heads toward a vintage resale shop and I open the door to the shop. It’s crowded. But, one of the two barbers says, “Don’t worry, there’s only one person ahead of you”. Okey, dokey, I think. A young mother is waiting for her son to be finished and then one more kid is ahead of me. How long can this take? At least something is going right today. Mom’s kid is finally finished 30 minutes later. The next kid hops into the chair while barber # 2 is still working on another youngster. Hmmm. Barber # 1 looks my way and says, “I have to leave by 5, so Uncle Billy will have to do you, if you don’t mind waiting”. It’s 4:10. I’m thinking, How long do haircuts take here? Hmm. I reply, “Where’s Uncle Billy”? “Right there”, he says, pointing to barber #2.  “We specialize in High and Tights, Fades and Etching”. Before I can mutter, Whaa? barber # 2 says, “That’s right, we’re real artists”! What the heck! I’m thinking. Well, I wait another 20 minutes or so. Both #1 and #2 are seemingly working on the same section of each customers head for over 25 minutes now. I guess real artists they are.

I gracefully glance at my watch and say, “Hey, I have to go, catch you in the morning”.  “No problem, sir. Come back, we’ll make you look real good”, says #1. “You bet”, I respond.

So, what do you think would look good on this noggin’? High and Tight? Maybe some fancy Etching?

dafade

Well, probably just a hat. Better luck tomorrow!

The Beauty of Now

Like snow falling on a quiet Sunday afternoon, our life here in the Shenandoah Valley is building slowly, softly and surely.

Deserted Farmhouse – Verona, VA

Areas are being explored and re-explored. Acquaintances are being made. We recognize and are recognized by some folks at the grocery stores and the owners of at least two downtown Staunton shops.

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Kathy, of Kathy’s Restaurant, is also getting used to seeing us. Travis and Shauna, husband and wife owners of Paradise Donuts (https://www.facebook.com/StauntonParadiseDonuts/) welcomed us as we tried them for the first time this past week. As somewhat of a donut aficionado, I can attest that the shop is aptly named: Paradise! As newcomers to the area, we were treated to a sampling of their cinnamon twists.The Redhead kept saying, “I can’t believe I ate two donuts in one sitting”. I was thinking, “I can’t believe I stopped at two”! It turns out that Shauna and Travis are fellow parishioners at St. Francis of Assisi Church –just across the street. How convenient!

As this is being written, snow continues to steadily fall outside our windows and today’s sermon at church keeps coming to mind: See God in everything before us. In the gifts, the challenges, the beauty and opportunities that are presented to us every day. Live in the Now, it will never come again.

Farmers, Armstrong’s , Verona,VA (Note: no one watches the tv!)

Turn off the noise and seeing beauty and goodness is much easier. We haven’t had tv since arriving here. We do have internet and can play movies, but the lack of broadcast noise and news – fake or otherwise – has allowed more information to come to us. Conversations with neighbors and people met on the street or in going about everyday routines are so much easier without labels. Red, Blue, Con, Lib, Anti, Pro…I don’t know what the labels mean anymore, nor does it matter. All of us are struggling with something. To quote George Elliot, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other”? To paraphrase Msgr. Cassin, “See God and Love in the Now”.

Snow continues to fall and with it comes the silence.