Detectoring

It will be a year next month that the Redhead gave me the key to discovering where I’m now at. Until this past week, I have not had the courage to see what it would unlock.

Perhaps, it is age more than mere curiosity that makes me now wonder how I came to be here in this particular place at this particular time. I am a city boy through and through, feeling more at ease surrounded by concrete, asphalt and steel than deep woods. Red says I’m a baby by refusing to take a hike in a forest. No, I say, I’ve just been “Deliverenced”. Darn Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, that movie would have dissuaded even Thoreau from spending the briefest of afternoons at Walden! Squeal, Baby!

Deliverance (1972)
The movie that kept me in the city

So, City Boy I was born and stayed…until now. Don’t get me wrong, Staunton, Virginia is not the Wilderness – at least not for the past 300 years or so. But, to put it into perspective, it is about 1/5 the size of our former hometown in Connecticut or about the population of ½ square mile of Manhattan! Yet, The Redhead and I still chose to live outside the City limits into the County and thus we have far more livestock than people as neighbors. True to my nature, however, I still crave civilization, now, especially, that of the past. Tumbled barns, remnants of stone foundations, depressions in a field’s landscape now surrounded by trees and occasionally overgrown, wild ornamental plantings give evidence that somebody was here before us. Why they came and what made them leave or disappear may answer my question: Why am I here? Is there something more than the natural beauty – so reminiscent of my family’s home place in Ireland’s West – and the gentleness of the people that drew us, after a few false starts, like a magnet to this land of both Peace and Rebellion?

Read all you want about a place, nothing gives more clues about its true nature than the artifacts, the tangibles of those that came before. Study Pompeii ‘til blue in the face and nothing will give you a clearer sense of that place or those people than actually seeing the chariot ruts and street-side “cafes” or the menus inscribed onto the walls of the “guest houses”. View the bleak stone slopes of western Ireland and one can instantly comprehend Cromwell’s curse of those refusing to submit. Thus it is with every place, past or present: it must be touched to be known.

And so, this past Thursday, I finally made my journey into the past that now surrounds me, using the key that The Redhead gifted me last Christmas. I unpacked and charged up my long-desired but intimidating metal detector. A few Readers of this blog are actually quite astute in the use of these machines and have experienced both the joys and frustrations of combing through fields, parks, beaches and, well, just about anywhere they can get permission to search for the past. Some seek “treasure” in the form of jewelry or coinage – both ancient and not so much so. Others, while never turning their nose up at things of value, mostly enjoy “the hunt” for the past. I’ve read their blogs, watched their YouTube videos and enjoyed and even became hooked on the wonderful British television series, Detectorists. I was ready. Or so I thought!

Mackenzie Crook, Gerard Horan, Toby Jones, Pearce Quigley, Divian Ladwa, etc.
The Detectorists

My machine, (just saying it makes me feel, “part of the club”, lol) a Nokta Makro Simplex+ is designed to be just that: Simple, yet “advanced”. Perhaps it is. Cradling it under my arm and carrying a canvas ditty bag containing gloves, “pointer”, sharp-edged mini-trowel and a zip-lock enclosed instruction manual (just in case) I walked down to the property of our neighbor whom had given me the all-important permission to “hunt”.

Nokta Makro Simplex Metal Detector 3
The Simplex Machine

He said to wear old clothes since his land was a bit rough. Unlike the fields and pasture lands of the videos I had watched over and over, Old Kevin’s land was a mire of brambles, saplings, old growth trees, ruts, abandoned “privies” and cesspools, a tumbled down shack and enough blackberry bushes to feed several bears for a season and enough thorns to keep everything else away. Except for Moi, the newbie “detector”. And all of it was, it seemed, located on a 30 degree slope!

By the time we reached the back of the property, the site I would begin searching in, I looked, thanks to the blackberry thorns, to be auditioning for the lead role in a Passion Play. Oi! Selecting a relatively clear area, I turned on the machine and began the search.

What the…? Not using headphones (why bother) the air was filled with static, crackles, pops, screeches and toots of every sort. Selecting a spot that emitted a steady screech I knelt down and began digging with the trowel. Rocks. More rocks. This can’t be, I thought. I held the machine up to a few and yep, the signal was louder than ever. There was a ton of iron in those rocks. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I had read of there being so many pre- Civil War small iron smelters in the area . Well, I thought, let me move to another likely spot, with a different tune playing, so to speak. Ah, for the love of Pete. I can’t get up. My knees have locked! Trying to look just inquisitive rather than flummoxed, I root around a bit more until I spy a nearby sturdy looking branch and knee-waddle over to it to hoist myself upright. Jaysus!! The fookin’ thorns pierce my leather palmed gloves. Bugger me! This is rough work, I’m thinkin’. But, I’m up.

Eeee, eeeee, Eeeet. Now, That’s a signal, I’m sure. Down I go, much faster than I had just gotten up, I assure you. Scratch, dig. Retry the signal. Eeee, Eeee, EEEEEE. Ah, you’re onto something now, boy. Dig a few more inches. Aha! I can feel something. Coins? Old musket balls? Oh… Well, a pile of old nails is something, at least. Not wanting to grab another palm full of pain, I decide to use the trowel for a bit of leverage to get up. It sinks into the only soft dirt for probably several yards around. I look at the detector and hope it will not bend or break if I use it as a bit of a crutch. It holds and I’m up again, even if a bit slower than before.

Navigating more ruts and brambles, we come to a bit of a clearing and then it happens…a new signal, different than those of before. Oink, oinnk, ahoink. This has got to be gold. Or silver. Or an old Civil War relic. Kevin is nearby rooting around with a stick and unearths a skull. Animal, for sure. But, what else could be lurking nearby? We are, after all, only a few hundred yards from a compound of “Odd Ones”, as the locals call them, who find it rather amusing to hang deer butts from posts in their front yards. Nothing like a little “local color”, I suppose. But, the oinkking doesn’t quit and neither will I. The trowel hits something a few inches below the surface. An iron fence-wire guide emerges. I keep digging . Good thing, too. Something big is struck. What the heck! An old hinge of some sort is pried out. Maybe part of a buggy. Maybe an old piece of some machinery. Beats me. But, wait, there’s more, as the old TV commercial used to taunt. Is it wood? No. It’s a bit soft. Ah, an old leather satchel lost in the heat of battle? Hmm. No, not that either.

Heavy work, Detectoring!

As I said at the beginning of this piece, to know a place or a people or a particular thing you must touch it to know it for what it is.

After only one afternoon of being a “relic hunter” (as painful as it was) I found something – quite by chance – that generations of historians, archaeologists and scientists have devoted their careers to either proving or disproving. I held in my hands proof that the believers were right. I did it.

Unearthed in this Valley of the Shenandoah, on the outskirts of Staunton, was irrefutable proof that not only does The Mighty Sasquatch, The Yiddi, The Bigfoot exist, but that he, too, like us, has a life cycle. And a not yet considered intelligence.

For the first time in known history here is the proof:

Sole of Bigfoot shoe, probably adolescent. Note wear hole and rudimentary stitching!

Believe! And keep hunting.

Here are just a few of the blogs on metal detecting that I follow and you may find interesting as well:

The North Essex Detectorist (UK)

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/108296728

Detecting Diva

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/8473461

American Digger

https://americandigger.com/

Day Tripper

Well, how the heck are you doing? It’s been a tough few weeks, right? Same here. That upper respiratory virus that’s going around sure put a whooping on me…no energy for anything. But, when it passed, The Redhead and I decided to hit the road and do a little day-tripping in this beautiful part of Virginia.

Bushong Farm, New Market, Virginia

First, we decided to take a little trip up to the town of New Market, where the VMI Civil War Museum is located. Still feeling a little weak we didn’t do much walking but did enjoy the views of the town and the Battlefield. How one’s thoughts can meander when looking at the scene of the battlefield set in the middle of the Bushong family farm, just on the outskirts of town. The Battle of New Market is mostly famous because of the efforts and contributions of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, located in Lexington. The cadets marched the 85 miles in order to stop the approaching Union Army and as a result several of these young boys lost their lives. The stories of the townspeople helping the wounded from both armies is very touching and one can only imagine the terror the Bushong family felt as they huddled in their basement as the two armies clashed at their doorstep. Today, the scene is idyllic yet it doesn’t take much to imagine what happened all around you and pray it never happens again. (https://vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/virginia-museum-of-the-civil-war/)

Downtown New Market is filled with small, family run restaurants, shops and a great coffee shop, Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Cafe.

Our next trip was to the town of Buchanan and included a stop at New Freedom Farm, a wonderful horse farm providing PTSD and other therapies to veterans. There are a number of wild mustangs on the farm and part of the therapy is for Vet and horse to bond and help one another. It is a beautiful farm and the work they do is incredible. (https://www.newfreedomfarm.org/)

Mustang, New Freedom Farm, Buchanan, VA

Downtown Buchanan is deceiving. Drive over the speed limit, 25mph, and you could go through it within 30 seconds. But, stop, pull over and you’ll discover wonderful architecture, Ransone’s, a great little grill/soda fountain, several small antique shops, the town library and an old fashioned movie house.

Ransone’s Grill, Buchanan, VA
Downtown Buchanan, VA church

Buchanan also has a canoe, kayak river tour company, Twin River Outfitters. You can rent either craft and they’ll take you several miles up the beautiful James River and drop you off so you can paddle leisurely back to town. (https://canoevirginia.net/). Buchanan also has a Blue Grass Festival in early October. While exploring the river and the swinging bridge stop by the old River Craft Rail House. It has just been bought and is undergoing extensive repairs and updates by the new owner, Tammie, who is turning it into a family style restaurant, Tammie’s Place. During our visit we were amazed at the number of townspeople helping to restore this old building and helping Tammie achieve her dream. There is nothing quite like small town America!

Tammie, owner of the soon to open, Tammie’s Place, Buchanan, VA

Our friend, Mary Ellen, from CT visited us last week and we decided to show her around a little bit. Natural Bridge and Lexington are always fun to explore. Natural Bridge, surveyed by George Washington and once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is now part of Virginia’s State Park system. The main attraction, as the name would imply, is the natural bridge carved by Cedar Creek running through the limestone hills over many thousands of years.

Natural Bridge, VA
Initials of George Washington, GW, located within square, Natural Bridge, VA

Also in the park is a recreated Monacan Indian Village, depicting how the early Native Americans lived in the area. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit the village and a section of the park was closed due to a very damaging flash flood. Workers are hard at work opening up the trails and village.

After a nice visit to Natural Bridge, we drove the short distance to Lexington, VA for lunch and a walk around the town. In addition to seeing all the historical homes and architecture we discovered an old bookshop, The Bookery, on West Nelson St. Quaint, quirky and crammed with books – mostly old and some new, The Bookery is a book lovers heaven.

Barren Ridge Winery

Sometimes there are adventures just around the corner and that is what we found when we decided to explore our own area, Staunton, VA . An afternoon at the Barren Ridge Winery was just what The Redhead and Mary Ellen needed…so they claimed. As their designated driver, I, too, enjoyed a nice selection of cheeses and crackers and the magnificent views of the Shenandoah Valley. (https://www.barrenridgevineyards.com/). The girls were very pleased with the wines, made more enjoyable by the beautiful setting.

Evening in Downtown Staunton, VA

Downtown Staunton is really a gem of a small town. Beside being very historical it also has one of the largest collections of Victorian Era buildings and homes in the country. There are numerous shops and restaurants of various types along the main street, East / West Beverly Street as well as the side streets. Latitudes, a Fair Trade shop, offers a wide variety of quality clothing, art and decorative items. (https://latitudesfairtrade.com/pages/staunton) The Foundry, is a new concept store front giving space to a number of local artists and craftspeople. We found several nice hand-made items here and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the artists that made them. From ice cream, award-winning pizza, art galleries, a movie theater and various music venues, Staunton is the little town that has something for everyone.

Our own church, St. Francis of Assisi is located right downtown and was designed by the famous architect, T.J. Collins. There are numerous buildings throughout the area that were his creations. http://(https://stfrancisparish.org/homepage.html)

St. Francis of Assisi church, Staunton, VA

No trip to Staunton (or to the Shenandoah Valley) would be complete without a visit to the Frontier Culture Museum.

German Farm, Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, VA
English Home and Farm, Frontier Culture Museum, Staunton, VA. Note chimney date, 1692. The house was actually built in 1630

FCM is a sprawling outdoor exhibit that tells the story of our early settlers and from where they came. As first generation Irish, I particularly enjoy visiting the Irish Farm. It is nearly a mirror copy of my fathers home in the “Old Country” – dirt floor and all.

Sally at the Irish Farm, Frontier Culture Museum.

For these early settlers, America was their dream, their lifeline and their hope. How fortunate we are. (https://www.frontiermuseum.org/index.php/about/)

Well, that’s our little day tripping. Hope you enjoyed it. It beats listening to the news, doesn’t it! If you have any questions about any of these places or have visited them, please let me know.

Don’t worry. Pray. God Bless America!

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!

What Wood You Do!

Preparing to work on Morris Chair

“One of the things that I enjoyed about your shop was that it wasn’t Antique Roadshow. You were preserving antique and vintage furniture with the idea that they would again be used and be affordable. That was cool”. Nothing could have summed up Redeux Vintage Furniture better than those words said to me this afternoon by master woodworker, Gary R. Wood.

Inspired by necessity (mine) and begun in a garage, Redeux was a dream realized. Starting in late 2007, I set out to furnish my home by finding older, American- made furniture and restoring it to the point that it would become attractive and usable furniture. There were just two problems: I had very limited funds and no real training! But, No Brains, No Headaches. Why worry?

Scrounging junk shops throughout Connecticut and beyond and accepting furniture that was no longer wanted by friends, the adventure began. An older brother of mine was a master mechanic of sorts and he could fix any machine on land or water. If he couldn’t find the correct part for something he would make it. Yet, he never had any formal training in this. He could just “see” how something worked. To a far lesser extent, I could “see” how furniture had been made and also how it had been used through the years. Unlike my brother, however, I could not and cannot still, make anything. I can only preserve or restore furniture made during a time when things were mostly made by hand. I also very often get a sense, from tell-tale signs of use, of the past owners.

My first piece was a Federal reproduction of a chest of drawers made sometime during the 1920-30’s. I still have this piece and have become attached to it…my first-born, so to speak. Next, was a bedroom suite from the 1960’s. The difference in style and quality from the piece made 30 or so years earlier was striking. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but beggars were not going to be too choosy. So, this furniture was restored and, as luck would have it, someone loved it and, at the time, was more in need of furniture than I. So, it was my pleasure to send it off to a new home. 

Fast forward a few years. I studied everything I could find on vintage and antique furniture styles, manufacturers, woods and finishes. I started a blog, chronicling the furniture I had found and was working on. Each piece had a name: American Princess (a dainty chest found in an old shop in Maine), The Three Legged Dog, yep, a “distressed” dresser also missing a leg. After some innovative restoration and a complete makeover, The Dog was in a new home the afternoon he appeared on my blog site. The Jigsaw Puzzle presented a real challenge. Found in a used furniture outlet in an abandoned factory, this was nothing but a pile of oak boards and a marble slab when I first saw it. But, again, no brains, no headaches. It laid in the back of my garage workshop for nearly a year before I decided to take a closer look at it. No nails, no screws, no pegs. How the heck was this put together, I wondered? Back to researching furniture made around 1870 I went and soon found similar looking pieces. They had all been put together using special horsehide glue. Well, using an array of clamps, braces and straps and an ample supply of this old-fashioned glue, this dresser was eventually properly put together. Whoever originally made this had to have been a genius.

There were mistakes. Oh, yes. I sanded some things only to deeply regret it later (you can’t restore 100- 200 years of patina). I experimented with some stains, mixing my own “custom” colors. A sideboard/server stained purple was a sight to behold, I can tell you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that it looked like purpleheart wood. Luckily, a young couple just loved, loved, loved it. It matched the color of their newly painted dining room! That was a one-off color, believe me.

A very fortunate bit of luck during that time period was to learn of and attend refinishing classes being taught at a nearby wood-workers club. The instructor was Gary R. Wood, of New Hampshire. Master refinisher, restorer, preservationist and antique-reproduction maker, Gary Wood is an ideal teacher. Less is better, was his often-used motto. Preserve the past. Experiment. This was music to my ears. His frequent question to students, “What would you do?”, always got us to thinking and, sometimes, laughing about what to do about a particular piece or technique. So, after a number of classes I had a bit more of an understanding of how to better approach the art of preserving and refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture -even if, at first glance, the beauty was hidden.

This afternoon, after not having been in contact for several years, I called Gary at his shop in New Hampshire. What a pleasant surprise it was that he remembered me and my old shop, Redeux. We spoke of what we were both now doing. He is still creating and preserving beautiful furniture, of course, but he has also started a new adventure. Gary is teaching Middle School children about woodworking. Who knows, maybe one or two of these kids will find the joy in the wood as did Gary and countless generations before. I told him of our move here to Staunton, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of quality “older” furniture available here that was just waiting to be brought back to life was exciting news for Gary. Ever gracious, Gary gave me some tips and sources for some neat products to use in my restoring efforts.

Below are some photos of pieces I have recently worked on or have just begun the restoration process. Also, I have just acquired, through auction, two interesting pieces that will be kept for our own use. I’m not sure where this will all go, but it is great to be again working on pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time.

Morris Chair, circa 1890 -1910.
Getting rid of a century of dust!
Repairing leg on rocker, circa 1850
A gift from Gary – his special wood finish

Gettin’ the stink off!

My mother had an expression she would use if she found us hanging around the house too much: “Get out and blow the stink off.”

If hanging around the house can make you stink, many of us are now close to down- right putrid.

There isn’t much more to say about this virus lock-down. We’re all talked out about it, I think. Some areas are starting to see rebellions of one sort or another, but, so far, these are, for the most part, peaceful and sensible. People want to work and be with their families and see their friends and pray together. No one wants to get or give the cooties.

This past week, The Redhead and I did try to get some of the stink off. We drove and walked around Staunton and yesterday, Saturday, we joined several of our friends for what was a real treat. It seems that even this virus can bring unexpected blessings.

So, here are a few pics of our lock-down life here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Come on along.

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Sacred Heart window, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Staunton
Stained Glass window of Mary, St. Francis of Assisi Church, Staunton, VA
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Train awaiting repair at Staunton train yard.
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Staunton, VA train yard
Crucible Coffee
Crucible Coffee Shop and Roaster, Staunton, VA
Crucible Cofee 2
Even a face mask won’t block the aroma of freshly roasted and brewed coffee at Crucible Coffee, Staunton
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Walking with friends along the Blue Ridge Parkway…no cars allowed!
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An “intoxicating view”- the vineyards of the Shenandoah!
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View of Humpback Mountain in distance (notch at top).
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Street Art, river walk park, downtown Waynesboro, VA
It’s an interesting perspective that one gains when traveling by foot and being surrounded by silence. The stained glass windows of our church, St. Francis of Assisi in Staunton were especially beautiful during our visit Friday morning. The window of the Sacred Heart brought back a flood of memories. It was in Sacred Heart Church in Connecticut that, as a child, I found protection from something much scarier than the Corona Cooties.

This very unusual period of time has given us opportunities we may have overlooked or not been able to take advantage of: Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway, exploring the nooks and crannies of Staunton and Waynesboro, and rediscovering the Beauty of Silence.

Get out, walk, discover the beauty all around you.
Be happy, pray and don’t worry.
Bill

 

 

 

Take a Break

Most of us are starting to go a little Crazy by now. Some may have had a head start…no names mentioned!

So, let’s take a little stroll into nature and forget about the news, the ever changing predictions and our fears – for just a few moments.

This past Saturday, The Redhead and I took a ride out to Augusta Springs Wetlands Trail, part of the George Washington National Forest. It’s only about a 30 minute drive West from our “new house” and is along Route 42, Little Calf Pasture Highway, in Augusta County, VA.

There are several trails but, being that this was our first time, we chose the one that was more park-like with mostly level walking, yet offering ever-changing views. This Lower Loop is about .75 of a mile in length and has a numbers of viewing spots with benches. At one time there was a water bottling operation on the site, but that is long gone. All that remains are some stone ruins.

Ready to stroll? Let’s go, my friend.

One of a few ponds
Benches and information signs, describing the wildlife, birds and plants are along the way.
Spring colors are peeping through!
Boardwalk through the meadows. Animal trails can be seen if you look closely.
Water is low but the tadpoles were enjoying it.
Some Canadian Geese were nesting nearby.
Like most of us, it’s still standing after more than a few knocks!
Some of the bottling works ruins.

Now, that was a nice little stroll! Next time let’s bring some tea, sandwiches, a little treat and we’ll just set awhile. Hope to see you soon.

Pray, don’t worry, be kind.

Bill

Ahead of the Corona Curve

While most of the Corona panic- buying here in the Shenandoah Valley has seemingly subsided for the moment, one item continues to be a semi-precious commodity: yep, toilet paper.

This continued depletion of supply has inspired some folks to come up with some, shall we say, novel solutions and some ideas not so odd. One of these is the slow introduction to the general American public of an appliance that has seemingly been in use in Europe for a long time: The bidet (that’s pronounced, Bee-day for folks raised in Duval County!). The other night a fellow blogger wrote a piece on just this topic and it brought back memories of my first encounter with this European marvel.

In March of 1973 I decided to take a trip to the place of my father’s birth, Ireland. This would be my first time on an airplane and my first time traveling to a foreign land – except for an accidental trip to New Jersey, which is another story!

I was well prepared for this adventure. Just before leaving I consulted with a cousin who had traveled frequently to The Old Country. He gave me a wealth of information: The Irish currency was called a Punt and was worth about $2.50 at the time. Cars drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheels are on the right and all cars have manual transmissions. I was told that upon leaving the Shannon Airport I was to drive kind of northward and sort of along the coast, but not too close! He also said when I arrived in the hometown to just ask for “Batty”, that was my uncle’s nickname, and for good reason, said my cousin. Loaded with this information (who would need more?), I set off.

I arrived in Limerick, rented a car and started out the parking lot. It must have been my unique driving style that caused the Garda (Irish police) to run to the exit gate, raise it and jump behind a row of concrete pillars. As I bucked passed them, one made the Sign of the Cross and the other uttered a phrase I would hear often during my “Journey Home”: Jaysus, Mary and Joseph! Off I went.

Like a homing pigeon, I did make my way to Charlestown, County Mayo and quickly found Uncle Batty, a gentleman through and through, but with an odd sense of humor, I was told. After visiting for a couple of days, seeing my family living in the same single room cottage as did their great- grandparents, I set off for Dublin, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I felt like a regular world-class traveler by now. Little did I know that I was about to have an experience not ever to be forgotten!

No reservations, no problem. God surely protects fools, I’ve learned. So, down Dublin’s main thoroughfare I drove (getting better by the minute, I was) and decided to turn onto a quaint side street. Now, Dublin at this time was not much different than during the time of Joyce and Yeats. Cobbled streets, the scent of peat from stoves and fireplaces, painted doors and stately stone buildings everywhere. It was a movie set, I thought. Pulling up to a stone-fronted hotel, a crisply uniformed young man greeted me and helped carry my duffle bag to the check-in desk and then up to the room. Now, I had also been advised to bring with me an ample supply of Kennedy silver half-dollars to use as tips. Apparently this was good advice because the bell boy was actually excited to get one: American money and an Irish-American president. Nothing better in Ireland during that Spring of 1973! Now, my long-remembered experience was about to begin.

 The room was huge, with a sitting area that overlooked the cobbled, narrow street below. The bathroom was expansive. Everything was marble – floors, walls, double sinks – the whole thing. After looking around and seeing everything to be in order, I decided to refresh a bit after the long drive. Wait, what is that? A toilet for a midget? These Irish think of everything, they do. So, I decide to give the “midget seat” a try. Before “doing” anything, I decided to give a side lever a tug – just to see what’s what, so to speak. A gush of cold water blasted my back and head. What the heck!! This can’t be right. So, I stood up and gave another yank to the handle. Old Faithful then gushes out all over the floor, turning the bath into nearly a pool. Something’s wrong here, for sure. Hmmm, I’d better get some help.

So, I go out to the hall and there stands a young girl in a heavily starched black and white uniform, wearing a lace cap, carrying an armful of clean towels. The Sherlock Holmes in me figures she must work here. So, “Can I ask you something” I say. “Yes, sir”, she replies. “Come in, please”. She follows and I walk into the bathroom with her, somewhat reluctantly, following behind. Pointing to the midget seat I ask, “Do you know what that is”? She stiffens and says, “I do”. We’re onto something now. “Do you know how it works”? A bit more stiffening and a hint of wariness is now in her voice when she again replies, “I do”. “Well, could you show me how it works?”  “I WILL NOT!”, and like a bolt she runs from the room. By the time I can get to the door she has run to the end of the hallway and met with another uniformed girl. I can hear that other one saying, “He didn’t!!”  “He did”, says the first girl. They both turn to give me the Short Eye and then hustle down the stairs. Odd girls, I say to myself.

So, after foregoing trying to give the geyser another try, I go out and have a wonderful evening exploring Old Dublin. When I return, I decide to have a drink in the hotel’s small, wood-paneled pub. Three or four older men sitting at the bar and the bartender, dressed in the customary white shirt, black tie and pants were the only other people in the pub. I sat at a small table. The bartender looked at me and said, “What will it be”? “A Guinness, please”. He pours it and puts it on the bar; I get up, take it and say, “Thanks”. “Ah, you must be the Yank staying on the second floor”, says the barman. “I am”, I say. The barman smiles and bends to whisper something to the men sitting at the rail. A burst of laughter. “He didn’t!” says one, “was it Mary?” “No, the new girl, Bridie”, says the barman. “Ah, Jaysus”, says another of the men. “Mary would be bad enough, but Bridie! Is she still runnin’”? Now, another burst of laughter. Odd bunch, these Dubliners, I’m thinking. On the way out, the barman says, “Yank, did ye’ figure out that thing in your room”? “No”, and I continued out and up to my room, but not before I heard more laughter and, “Jaysus, ye’d think they would have them in America, as well”. They’re a very odd bunch in this place, I thought. But, still nice.

A week or so later, up in Sligo, I told my uncle Frank all about the midget seat/ foot washer (cleverly, I figured this out on my own!), the cleaning girl running out of the room and the people in the bar laughing. Uncle Frank, not a drinker, nearly choked on his tea. “Well, Billy”, he said, “I’d say you should not plan on going back there again”. He then started to laugh just as hard as the folks in Dublin as he explained just what that little seat was for.

So, if these Bidet things ever catch on here in the U.S., I’m way ahead of the curve! And it’s a good thing that we’ve installed waterproof flooring in the bathrooms!

As always, pray, don’t worry, be careful.

Bill

Living with Crazy

Hemingway at work on, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Ernest Hemingway, in a 1929 interview with columnist Dorothy Parker in which they were speaking of courage, stated that “guts” was having “grace under pressure”.  Lately, I have seen more than a few examples of grace under pressure.

We hear stories of cops and firemen and medics (personally, I dislike the term, First Responders) who risk their safety to come to the aid of others. Whether by training, habit or vocation, most of them do this day in and day out throughout their careers. And much of the time without recognition or fanfare.

But, it is of the everyday acts of generosity, thoughtfulness, courtesy and, even, humor that I have recently witnessed that I am now referring to.

The all-pervasive virus news has featured stories of people loading up multiple shopping carts at the Costcos and Walmarts with toilet paper and paper towels. Maybe they have a hygiene issue or maybe they’re just plain “panic hoarders”.  But, the image that comes to mind more frequently is that of a lady at our local Food Lion walking ahead of us in the “paper goods” aisle. Only two packages were left in the entire otherwise empty aisle.  She looked at them and said, “Take one and leave one”. Thoughtful.  A similar situation at another nearby grocery store took another twist. The paper goods aisle had only a few packages left and people were looking anxious (kind of like seeing a highway sign saying, “next rest stop 25 miles”. Suddenly, you gotta’ go!). A nicely dressed woman eyed the situation and blurted out, “I don’t give a darn about the toilet paper, but they better not be out of coffee”! Grim faces suddenly turned into grins. Laughter is truly the best medicine.

Our little Shenandoah Valley town of Staunton is coming together, one neighbor to another. Small food businesses are helping area residents and one another by setting up an on-line ordering system for food staples from nearby organic farmers and food suppliers. These suppliers and farmers will bring the orders to a central location and the residents can pick them up without even getting out of their cars. Restaurants are offering curbside take-out service. It’s a win-win in difficult times.

Churches, including our beloved St. Francis of Assisi parish, are increasing their aid to the needy and to those that may be more vulnerable to catching something. Our pastor, with the aid of parish staff, managed to livestream this Sunday’s Mass. To partake spiritually in the Mass along with our fellow parishioners, even from a physical distance, was a great comfort to us .http://stfrancisparish.org/homily-lent4.html

Just the beginning of new floors

In the meantime, despite setbacks and these very trying times, the construction on our new home is continuing. The siding seems to be nearing completion. Installation of the hardwood floors started this past Saturday. Our newest target date is from the end of April to mid-May. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Chris fitting section of Hickory floor board.

So, let us all remember to be calm and kind and patient with others and ourselves.  And, to have Faith. We will be alright. God is watching over you and us, especially in these crazy times!

And, for goodness sake…Don’t Run Out Of Coffee!!

As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome.

Bill

Don’t Squeeze the Charmin!

Are you crazy, yet?

If you are, you have lots of company. Not since Y2K or was it the Bird Flue epidemic or maybe it was the AIDS epidemic has there been such widespread panic and fear among us.

Today, The Redhead and I went to the grocery store to stock up a bit since we had heard there was a run on basic staples such as food, medicines and “personal items”. There were plenty of groceries and produce at our local Martin’s Grocery. Some milk items were a bit sparse as was the bread aisle. But, no, nada, zilch of “le papier toilettes”, as the French would say. It was the same story at Walgreens, Food Lion and, believe it or not, Costco. Forget about investing in gold in case of the stock market going haywire. Put your money into Charmin!

No doubt there will be lessons learned from this viral epidemic. But, until we learn the cause and the non-hyper facts, let’s try to keep a level head, protect ourselves and our families and have Faith. Everything will be alright.

In the meantime, a little dose of reality and pleasantness for you all.

Pastoral scene from our backyard. Note cow grazing, one of several of a neighbor’s small herd.
Siding and front stonework

Our house here in Staunton is coming along nicely. Since my last writing, the siding is being installed, the interior has been sheet rocked, the electricity has been turned on, the lines for the propane gas have been run and the ducts for heating and cooling have been installed. Preliminary grading of the landscaping has also begun this week.

Living room
Almeria tan for common areas
Oyster Bay for bedrooms

Interior painting will start this coming Monday. The Redhead and I had fun picking our paint colors. We’re keeping it simple – one color for the common areas of living, dining laundry and sun rooms and another color for the bedrooms and baths. The extra-tall front door will benefit from Red’s long-standing wish of having a front door painted red.

stacks of solid hickory flooring

Our flooring was delivered today and is “acclimating” in the garage. It is hickory wood of four and five inch widths and various lengths. The floor will be stained and finished “on site” by one of the last skilled craftsmen, working here in the Shenandoah Valley, who can provide a custom finish. Pre-finished flooring is now the “go to” product for most home builders.

We have also picked out our gas fireplace and logs. The logs will be a new hybrid mixture of special concrete and ceramic. The surround of the fireplace will be made by our builder, Eric Argenbright, who will also build our kitchen cabinets. The Redhead will truly be in her glory “starting” a fire with the push of a button.

All for now. As always, Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome!

Be safe, pray and don’t worry.

Bill

Peaceful

Have you ever been absolutely sure that you were in the right place at the right time? Well, that is how The Redhead and I are feeling right now.

Allegheny Mountain views from what will be my library, only 5 minutes to downtown Staunton

We arrived here in the Shenandoah Valley nearly a year and a half ago. During the first few months we spent the majority of our time exploring Staunton and most of Augusta County, Virginia and acclimating to life here. Every day seemed to bring a new adventure – mostly found by driving around discovering which areas might suit us best for making our new home. Along the way we met a lot of folks, mostly because we really enjoy meeting and talking with folks. Without exception, everyone here was welcoming and helpful. If there was anything that may have been a source of frustration it was that we couldn’t easily find the house/neighborhood that would be perfect for us. We were, based upon the number we tried to work with, tough customers for realtors. It’s one thing to listen and hear and another to hear and understand.  We may have flip-flopped on a few things, such as septic systems and neighborhoods (city vs county), but the basics remained the same. We will be close to the center of Staunton and our church, St. Francis of Assisi. We held fast on not having a well – we will have County water in our new home. And, the style of house – single level – remained an absolute “must-have”.

But, there is something more that assures us that we are in the right place. It’s the peace; the kind of peace that comes only in silence. The peace that comes with being close to, well, to say, “nature” sounds like a cliché. But, seeing mountains and endless fields and forests and cows – lots of cows – is peaceful. There is also a simplicity to all this that is very refreshing, especially to someone who has lived, until moving here, a city life – filled with the congestion, noise, values and violence of urban living. Some folks may thrive in that type of setting and never wish to leave, but, not us.

There is also the peace that comes from forming bonds and becoming friends with other “kindred spirits”: our friends, first met at St. Francis, who have become such important parts of our life, our neighbors at the new house and a few others that have been so welcoming and in some cases patient with us. Building a house can make even “Mr. Easygoing” a bit crazy!

So, yes, we are sure and very thankful that we are in the right place at the right time. It could not have been any other way. We look forward to when we can share this peace with family and friends.

Following are several updated pics of our home building progress. Thanks to Betty for reminding me to “get with it” and post a new blog!

Work on the house is going very quickly now. The wiring and plumbing were done this week and the heating system is coming along. We decided to also add insulation to the interior walls. This will cut down on inside and outside noise and help with saving heating and cooling energy.

This coming week the interior walls will have sheet rock installed and soon the exterior siding will also begin.

Mike preparing front wall for stonework
Finished! More stone detail work will be installed on house side and front porch. Stone is Tennessee ledgestone.
Stone on side wall. Landscape grading not yet finished.
Guest bedroom suite viewed from living room.
Guest bedroom with interior insulation added
Kitchen framed with electricians busy wiring
Kitchen with interior insulation added…cozy and quiet!
Living room and dining room with added interior insulation.
Part of MBR showing The Redhead’s “reading nook”.
View of sun porch before insulating.
Installing the last of the front windows. Large windows throughout will allow plenty of natural light into house.
Front entry. Siding coming soon!
Front porch view of Blue Ridge!

Thanks for reading. Comments and or questions always welcome.