Every year ends the same: We are bombarded with lists of “Best Of” and “Worst Of” the previous year, reviews of what actually occurred from last year’s list of predictions and, of course, new lists of what will happen this coming year.
Sages and pundits will have a prediction for everything: what the “hottest” colors and fashion trends will be, what will happen to the stock / housing market, what will happen with foreign friends and foes, etc., etc. I’ll bet there will even be a few soothsayers that will predict who the next president will be! Ya’ think?
I’m thinking, though, that like this past year, when events do unfold most of us will simply scratch our heads and think, “Well, ain’t that something”. Is this the result of apathy or disinterest? No, not at all. It’s more a belief in that everything is going to be o.k. and some of us have been “around the block” a few times. There are, believe it or not (to coin a phrase), people that actually make a living trying to scare the bejeepers out of us. Oh, yeah!
So, because everything is going to be o.k., here is what we plan to do this coming year:
Plan our “Housewarming Party” for this coming Spring.
Plan which trees and shrubs we’ll plant on our property because, despite an abundance of clay soil, it’s going to be o.k. – something will grow.
Plan on a layout for my new basement workshop because, yes, I’m getting back to work.
Plan to find some porch rockers because, despite being new-comers here in Staunton, VA it will be o.k. Friends and new neighbors will come by and set awhile on our front porch. And, vice-versa!
But, mostly, I plan to be happy and thankful. Because everything is going to be o.k. Believe it!
Thanks to all of our friends, old and new, that have become or have remained such an important part of our lives. And, I am truly thankful to God, His Holy Mother and St. Joseph and St. Padre Pio for the gift of healing my beautiful Redhead this past year.
Below are some pics of an unexpected Christmas / New Year gift from our builders: our framing has started!
Wishing you all a very Happy New Year. Everything will be o.k.
Winter has come upon us here in the Shenandoah Valley, although the Spring-like temperatures of the past several days has everyone and everything simultaneously confused and grateful.
Work on our Staunton, VA home has progressed a bit since the last posting. But, a week or so of rain and the arrival of Christmas has slowed things down a bit. The foundation walls are finished, the sanitary system has been plumbed and inspected and much of the floor deck and joists have been installed. Some of the exterior walls have been assembled, but not yet erected or put into place. More materials have been delivered to the lot: roofing trusses, some lumber and the exterior decorative stone that will go onto the foundation walls and porch columns. Most likely, just after the first of the New Year, work will resume at full pace and the exterior walls will be built and the crane will arrive to lift the huge roof trusses into place.
Building a home is an interesting adventure. On one hand, because this will be your home, you want the house finished quickly. On the other, you want things done “just so”. What may look great on paper may require a bit of tweaking on-site. And, what seems incomprehensible to a layman begins to make sense once the builders go about their work. Patience, skill, diligence and trust are all required. For us, this is just not another house being built, this will be our home.
One feature of our new home that is a bit surprising is the size of the basement. Yes, it is not quite finished and the heating and other systems have not yet been installed, but, this is going to be one big basement!
Over the past five years or so I have truly missed being able to work restoring and “preserving” antique and vintage American furniture. What was born of a need became an engrossing hobby that became a passion. From beginning in a garage to actually having a store and workshop, finding, researching and working on vintage and antique furniture became one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. Not being able to work on furniture during our “sojourn” in Florida was a disappointment. But, I fully expect to be able to again get back to my brushes, waxes, glues, etc. in my new basement work-space. Once I have the space up and running, you’ll be able to follow along on my “discovery” trips, finding interesting pieces to restore and the process of doing so. I, for one, can’t wait!
Thanksgiving is over and what seems to be the most popular season here in the Shenandoah Valley has at least taken a pause – yes, I’m talking about Hunting Season. And, with this pause, the Sons of Mother Nature have returned to their Day Jobs! Not being a hunter, it was, at first, a bit perplexing learning that Huntin’ Season is somewhat like a National Holiday here. Then I figured, Well, it’s just like St. Patrick’s Day back in Connecticut…but on steroids. Now, the boys are back in town and work on our house here in Staunton, Virginia has resumed at full pace.
Mike, the Mason, never took a break this past week or so and as a result our block foundation is mostly complete.
This afternoon concrete was delivered and pumped into the foundation’s walls. Only the basement floor now remains to be filled with concrete and then framing can begin shortly afterwards. Our Builders, Eric and Amy Argenbright have scheduled the lumber and other materials to start being delivered later this week.
It’s been interesting watching the construction taking place. Each step has a purpose and a particular sequence. Grading done just so and then trenching footers for the concrete blocks to have a solid base. Row after row of block has been set, checked and rechecked before moving to the next. Then the outside wall of the foundation is stuccoed and layered with tar so as to be watertight. Soon, the day will come that I have my wood refinishing area in the basement. It’s been awhile and for sure, being “retired” does not suit me. So, when I’m again back staining and shellacking American Vintage treasures, all of the work that went into this home – and the workers – will be remembered.
There is one more thing that needs to be done after the foundation is finished, but before the carpentry begins: The Blessing. Hopefully, this coming week, Father Joseph Wamala, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will give the completed foundation a blessing, asking God to protect and bless all and everyone that will be supported by the foundation. Once the house is complete, he will then bless our completed home.
Thanks for reading and following our adventure. Comments always welcome.
As a real-world antidote to the Alice in Wonderland, mind numbing nonsense, passing as news, I decided to spend a bit more time watching the workmen build our new home here in Staunton, Virginia. A worksite is definitely a “No Spin Zone”; everything is real… and verifiable.
This week, the foundation is being constructed. Despite this week’s often cold, damp days, tons of concrete blocks were being meticulously set, one upon another, by hand. The only machines on site are a motor driven mixer for the sand and cement being turned into mortar and a forklift to move pallets laden with concrete blocks to the scaffolding once the walls have reached an above-head height. The rest is all hand labor, just as it has been done for centuries. It takes heart, strength and determination to keep going for hours on end. A skilled brick tradesman can spend years learning his craft: how to properly use and read a level, to wield a trowel so that the right amount of mortar is applied to each block and to know the right formula for the mortar, based upon a number of factors, including weather and specific strength needed. In a bow to modernity, Michael, the bricklayer, also utilizes a laser tool to precisely determine the correct height needed for each section of wall.
Michael had an interesting story as to why and how he chose to become a bricklayer / mason. His father is a farmer, so it would have been natural for Michael to continue working the family farm. “But”, says Michael, “there was a slight problem. I’m allergic to hay”! So, after watching a bricklayer do some work on the family farm, Michael became this man’s apprentice and later went out on his own, starting his own business. Michael said farming and bricklaying are both hard work. “But, at least I’m not sneezing”!
What fascinated me the most, I think, was the hand – motor skills needed to apply the correct amount of mortar to the bottoms, sides and joints of each block. Having done some very small plaster repair jobs in previous homes, I can attest that using a trowel efficiently is no small feat. My efforts more resembled the art work of “Ivan the Gorilla” than anything that Michael and his assistant would tolerate on any of their jobs.
We’re thinking and hoping the block work will be completed within the next week or so. At that time, Father Joseph Wamala, of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will bless the foundation and building site, asking for God’s protection for all those that will build, live and enter our home. A further blessing will take place when the house is completed and we move in.
The following pictures will show some of the activity taking place this week at our home site.
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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.
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.