If you have never before seen or spent much time in the mountains, it is hard not to be awestruck every time you do see them. Having spent my entire life, except for visits back to the family place in Ireland, at sea level, they are a constant source of wonderment. Like the sea, the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge mountains change constantly – if you look.
Shadows, colors, textures – all play their part in turning the panoramas of rolling hills and climbing mountains into kaleidoscopes of nature. Change one element – a passing cloud, mists rising through trees, rain falling at one elevation and not another, smoke drifting upwards from fields being cleared – and the entire scene becomes new.
Recently, we have taken two trips that have left us in awe of God’s Handiwork. The first was to the town of Cass, in West Virginia. We went with our friends Brian and Jeannette, partly to take advantage of riding the famous Cass Railroad with its century old steam engine and partly to have a unique setting for celebrating a birthday. It was quite a celebration. The views were spectacular, as was the “Hobo Lunch” served on board. Definitely gourmet, if one considers a turkey sandwich (or was it baloney) and sliced peaches gourmet. And I do! In addition to the spectacular mountain scenery, at the end of the rail line there is a view of a gigantic radio telescope sitting in the valley below in the tiny town of Green Bank, West Virginia. Erected by the Government, this telescope searches throughout space for radio signals. Local residents are, supposedly, not allowed to use cell phones, radios, etc. in order to maintain an electronic pollution free zone. There is a documentary on Prime that explains the scientific work that goes on and the people that choose to live there. But, only a few miles away, up the mountain, is the train – taking you back a century or more.
Our next and most recent trip was to Natural Bridge, VA. where, you guessed it, is the Natural Bridge rock formation and state park.
Once Indian land and then owned by Thomas Jefferson when he purchased it from the British king (before the revolution, of course), it is now a park owned by the State of Virginia and a draw for visitors internationally. George Washington, in his youthful land surveying days, carved his initials into one of the rock walls. His and several others from over the centuries are visible to alert visitors.
This wonder of nature is only about 45 minutes from where our new home in Staunton will be.
There is not a day that goes by that we thank God for letting us live in this place. We would love to share it with you.
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To plant anew, the earth must first be plowed. So, too, with
building a house.
Our new home site here in Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia has seen quite a bit of activity this past week or so. The last few trees that might have threatened the house were removed from the site. Better now than later, for sure. Nothing quite ruins your day like a tree crashing into your living room! Trees falling into our house, whether from Connecticut snows or Florida hurricanes have made us just a tad wary, you might say. So, a clean slate of the lot was made, with a promise to Nature that we would later replant our lot with trees and shrubs in a safe location.
Nothing of the removed trees was wasted. What could become
lumber was separated from wood suitable only for firewood. The leftover limbs
were stacked and burned. The ash will be scattered throughout the lot, adding
valuable nutrients to the heavy clay soil.
Following this, machinery was brought in to dig the area of what will be the basement and also to do a rough grading of the land. A steep incline was tapered a bit where the driveway will eventually run from the street to the side garage. For those of you that have built a house or had one built for them, this may seem pretty mundane stuff. But, when this work is being done on what will become your home, well, it takes on a whole different aspect. The Redhead and I will live here. Friends and family will visit and walk and sit in our backyard. Our front porch will have views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. This will be our HOME! Our builders, Amy and Eric Argenbright, understand this and smile when they see us parked in front of the lot – our lot – at all hours. They know how much this means to us.
For our exterior colors we have chosen earth tones, browns accented by honey colored shingle trim. The Redhead is planning for – you guessed it – a red front door. We’re not sure yet of the interior colors, but there will be natural hardwood floors.
Did you know that you can Talk to your refrigerator and / or stove? Seriously. Since we’ve had to research which appliances will be chosen, the craziest things have been learned. Like, refrigerators that have Wi-Fi and cameras and play movies via the internet. And, stoves that are voice activated. This is all a little too much, I think. What happens if you’re passing by the stove and mutter, “I’m dying for a cup of tea”. Does it start boiling or shootin’? Finding appliances that are somewhat simple and reliable continues to be quite a project. But, I don’t see an ice box with a camera in our future!
This coming week or so, we’re hoping that the foundation will be started. In the meantime, The Redhead and I will continue to park in front of “our yard” and plan and dream.And thank God for our Blessings!
Thanks for reading and being a part of our adventure. Comments always appreciated. Click “Follow” for auto-updates and “Like” if you do.
This evening we received the word from our builder: Work on our house will begin this coming Monday! That’s when the basement will begin to be excavated. Also, all permits for construction to begin are now reported to be o.k.’d. Finally!!!
It was earlier this afternoon that I took my nearly daily ride up to our building lot to see if anything was going on. As I pulled off the “Beltway”, RT 262, that rings Staunton, the view was especially stunning. After the past few rainy days, the sky today was a nearly cloudless, deep sapphire blue – providing the perfect background for the Allegheny mountains to the West. That this gift from God is in our “backyard” is incredible.
So, here are a few photos that I took today. Also, I’ve included an approximate rendering of what our house will look like. Amy & Eric Argenbright, our builders, will be making some modifications to this Craftsman style house to make this truly “our home”.
Looking forward to sharing with you our home building adventures! As always, Comments and “Likes” welcomed and appreciated. Bill
These past several weeks have been filled with lots of activity, some with just adventuring throughout our area of the Shenandoah and quite a bit spent with house-building matters. For the sake of writing somewhat coherent posts, I’ve decided to write future posts separated into one of three categories: Exploring our corner of the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny andBlue Ridge mountains and its surrounding areas; our house building adventures and finally random thoughts that pop into focus. Last night’s post was an example of that.
There were two festivals in the area which we recently attended. The first was the Dayton Days Autumn Festival held the first Saturday of October. Dayton is a small town situated a few miles Southwest of Harrisonburg, VA. About 2,000 people live in Dayton. It is mostly agricultural but also has a lovely downtown and a scattering of family owned shops and business throughout the town. Many of the residents are Mennonites. On that beautiful, sunny Saturday the town was filled with almost 40,000 visitors. The downtown streets were closed to vehicles and were filled with craftspeople, artists and food vendors. Most of the vendors were fairly local but a number of them had traveled from West Virginia and other parts of Virginia. The Redhead and I spotted two interesting pieces by quilters Cathie and Bettie Pharr of West Virginia that we will be adding to our new home. As we walked along the narrow streets of Dayton we came upon Gottfried, an Immigrant Pioneer Re-enactor, playing a scheitholt, an early German version of what would become the mountain dulcimer. We also noted the many historical buildings throughout town. It’s an interesting anecdote of the Civil War that Dayton was spared being burned to the ground after Union soldiers pleaded with General Sheridan to spare the town because its inhabitants were mostly Mennonites and known to be pacifists. The beautiful peacefulness of Dayton continues to this day.
Our next festival adventure was held right here in Waynesboro on October 12. Downtown was filled with booths and tents of artisans, craftspeople and fine artists. In addition, Blue Grass music was performed during the day by several groups. It was in one of the booths that we met icon artists Maria Cezintseva and her mother. Using traditional Russian bead work, Maria and her mom created beautiful religious icons. Two of Maria’s works (her first for sale), an icon of Christ and another of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus, will be proudly displayed in our new home. They are two special ladies that we look forward to meeting again.
There are more festivals coming to the area and The Redhead
and I look forward to sharing them with you all. We are truly blessed to live
in such a beautiful part of this country.
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
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
Next week space will be cleared for the foundation of our new house. We are… home. Prayers answered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peace be with you.Thank you for reading. Happy New Year to all!