Building our Home, 6. The Boys are Back in Town!

A view we’ll never grow tired of…the Blue Ridge Mountains!

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.

Buck workin’ the Digger

Mike, the Mason, never took a break this past week or so and as a result our block foundation is mostly complete.

Concrete is loaded into a hopper and then pumped into the foundation
Mr. Mike, right, directing the proper flow of concrete into the block walls.

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.

Tony showing how it’s done!

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.

Bill

Building a Home 5… From the ground up

Michael (back to camera) and Tony, completing a block corner

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.

painting by Ivan

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.

Filling a joint.
Getting the block wall line straight
Michael applying “skim coat” to outside wall. A coat of tar will be applied later.

As always, click the buttons to add Comments, Likes and Follows. Thanks for reading

Bill

A Topsy-Turvy Life

Sometimes, no, make it most of the time, what I thought would happen, didn’t. In matters of family, work, marriage, relocating – just about every aspect of my life has gone not how I thought it would or should. Thank God!

For those that read this blog that know me there is no sense in reciting all the instances of this pattern of being turned topsy- turvey. You know most of them. For other readers, who cares, right? So, let me just tell you about the here and now and a bit of how it all happened.

Five years ago we – my beautiful Redhead and I – moved from Connecticut to Jacksonville, Florida. We had checked it out before making the move and thought this would be the beginning of a new life. It was; but, not as we had planned.

Heat is heat but Florida must be God’s preview of Hell.  Only joking.  A bit. But, an endless summer is not what we planned for the long term. Storms are storms but Florida hurricanes are something else.  Snakes? Oh yeah! After four years (quick learners we are) we figured this might not have been our forever place.  We explored both North and South Carolina. Nope. We explored and researched Tennessee. Hmmm, but no.  And then, Virginia.

We researched and visited the Staunton, Virginia area in July of 2018 and moved here in November, 2018. We have been renting an apartment in nearby Waynesboro while we explored the areas and sought just the right place to have our home. Let’s just say it’s been an adventure.

Downtown Staunton, VA

There were some days we thought something was wrong with us. We just couldn’t decide where we wanted to live or what type of home would be right for us. And, when we did come to a decision, it just didn’t work.

So, we prayed. Really prayed. Just asking God to let us know what He wanted us to do. It’s funny how the Lord answers our prayers and puts everything into place.

The Redhead was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. It had been missed in Connecticut and in Jacksonville and initially here in Virginia. But, then it was discovered and our world changed. Nothing mattered except my Redhead. And then things began to happen. The Redhead was put under the care of some of the best surgeons and medical people in the country. It has been a rough few months, but the Redhead is going to be o.k. That was Part One of answered prayers. The Second Part of our answer as to what we were supposed to do and where we should be was through the love, concern, help and genuine friendship shown to us by our friends here. They came from nearby and from miles away to bring food, flowers and love to The Redhead. Never have we experienced anything like this. And then, Part Three.

In the early morning darkness of August 20th, I awoke, more restless than troubled, I had been dreaming of what we should do about finding a home. Continue renting? Maybe. I had no idea of what was about to happen.

I prayed. To Jesus and His Mother, Mary. To St. Joseph. And to St. Padre Pio for his continued special intercession. I felt the urge to check, once again, the real estate listings -but only for land.  Immediately, several parcels of land popped up. They had been on the market for a while but we had never seen them, nor had any of the 5 real estate agents we had been in contact with this past year plus ever mentioned them.

Later that morning, a bit past dawn, I told The Redhead that there was some land we should take a look at. It was in the County, just outside Staunton city limits, no more than 15 minutes to the steps of our church, St. Francis of Assisi. We drove past mist-shrouded views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing rolling farmland and up a sloping gravel drive, past several signs showing several lots for sale. And, there it was. At the corner of two, short, cul-de-sacs, nestled among trees on higher ground…home. We knew it immediately. We called the name on the sign and the following day we met the agent/builder for this small cluster of homes. She explained the details and we told her our plans.

Our little slice of Heaven

Next week space will be cleared for the foundation of our new house. We are… home. Prayers answered.

Never Again

I’ve taken part in two demonstrations in my life. One was political; the other was, more or less, a labor rights issue. Both ended – not well.

The first took place around 1970 at a university in Connecticut. While not a student there, I did know many friends that were and the issue was close to home: the Viet Nam war. The evening rally started out boisterous, but peaceful. Many in the crowd were there only because of its party-like atmosphere. Many others were there to show support for the anti-war sentiment rising throughout the country. The demonstrations were not against our troops, mind you, but against our government’s involvement in a war few understood and fewer, at least of draft age, supported. As the evening progressed, the mood of the speakers became more hostile and their speeches more filled with vitriol. Representatives of the Yippies, SDS and the Black Panthers all took their turns at the podium. Ah, the good old days! Yeah, right. The night became darker and so did the calls for something to be done to “make a point”. Several carloads of “students” were dispatched to a nearby interstate road to block all traffic and hold up their signs. What a waste of time, I thought. What’s the point? What really got my attention, however, was the announcement that the following evening a larger rally would be held and one that would garner regional, if not national, attention. Fires would be set, windows broken, buildings would be occupied. And, when the police and fire departments responded, they would be met by a barrage of rocks and paving stones that were being stockpiled on the roofs of the university buildings. It would be a set-up to facilitate a full-scale riot.

It made no sense. If someone was against a war, why would they start one in their own backyard, or mine, to be more accurate? The speakers had, however, made a tactical mistake in announcing their plans. They didn’t know their audience. While this university was made up of mostly out-of-staters, the audience contained many locals. For this “local,” their plans were not going to happen. You see, as first generation Irish, most of the boys in our family took to one of two callings: the priesthood or the cops. My older brother, my cousin and my brother- in-law, all cops, would all be sent to the university in the event of any riot. A call was made. The following night, as the crowd started to fill in the university square, the speeches became more heated. But, as a group of “demonstrators” made their way up to the roof tops they were met by a welcoming committee. No rocks were thrown and the “leaders” at the podium vanished into the night. Later that evening we learned that someone having a heart attack the night before couldn’t make it to the hospital because of the blocked roadway. They died sitting in traffic. I told myself that I would never attend another “rally” again.

That promise lasted several years. This second time I was part of a group that had followed one of the callings that seemed predestined to our extended family: I had become a policeman.  It was the late 1970’s and our city had been wracked by riots (non-political, but the tactics were similar to what I had witnessed in the 1960’s). A policeman that we all knew to be fair and compassionate had been unjustly accused of brutality (after years in various courts, numerous lawsuits and a marriage that fell victim to the strain, he was eventually cleared in Federal Court). The Chief, bowing to what could have only been political pressure, suspended the cop from duty. We organized a demonstration in front of the police department. Every uniformed officer took part – except the traffic division. To get into Traffic one had to be hand-picked by…the Chief. So, we weren’t too surprised when that group didn’t walk the picket line with the rest of us. No problem. We walked and hooted and a few carried signs.  However, we did not have the right to strike and wouldn’t have done so anyway. Our beef was with the city and department administration, not the people of the city. The Chief was backed by everyone that mattered. We made our point and then it was done. Or, so we thought. Two weeks later every uniformed officer was ordered to report to a remote location for “special training”. We were marched in groups of fifty into a Quonset hut to have “gas training”.  Yep, since we had taken part in a “demonstration” we would learn first- hand how to deal with demonstrations: Gas em’. The doors were locked and the Traffic Division pumped tear gas into the hut. 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a full minute. The gas stopped and the doors eventually swung open. We stumbled out, gasping and puking. The gas vapors rose like steam from our clothes. Everyone had “sunburn” from the chemicals. It was truly a unique experience.

Never, again, I swore, would I ever partake in any demonstration. Not even the gross unfairness of being the only one in our home to take out the garbage would tempt me to march or carry a sign of protest.  Nope, never, never.

Until tomorrow.

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Early tomorrow morning, The Redhead and I will join others from our parish, St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton, Virginia to travel to the Virginia state capitol in Richmond to not only protest the recent attempts by our state government to legalize the killing of children, but to champion and support the Right to Life of EVERY HUMAN: Not-yet-born, just born, handicapped, elderly…Everyone. We are all Children of God. No longer can we stand by to see murder committed before our eyes and do nothing. We will not stand idly by like the Europeans of the 30’s and 40’s as the trains rolled by. We cannot remain silent as the world did when China and Cambodia purged themselves of “unwanted”. We must not remain silent as did so many when the “unwanted” and “inconvenient” underwent the horrors of medical “procedures “in the 1920’s and 30’s – even here in Staunton (ah, the 30’s and 40’s here and in Europe seem to have something in common with the “enlightened” period we are in today).

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Former Western State Lunatic Asylum where “medical” experiments were performed on children in the 1920’s and 30’s

For those that may be tempted to say that a woman’s right to choose what to do with her body supersedes that of an unborn or even a just-born child, let me ask this: would you just stand by while a woman tried to commit suicide? Or argue that it was her “right” to do so? As someone who has risked life and limb several times to prevent such a decision, I could not. You wouldn’t either, I think. Life, after all, is precious.

I’ll report on tomorrow’s efforts soon.

 Pray. For the babies. For the women struggling with these agonizing decisions.  For those that stand up and March for Life.

Pax Vobiscum

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Schola of St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton,VA

Christmas. It is both the beginning and the end. The Alpha and Omega. The fulfillment and the promise.  It is what we let it be.

We are blessed, The Redhead and I. We have our health, our family of heart and blood, a new beginning and hopeful expectation. We have one another. And we have our Faith. None of it has come easily and for that we are all the more grateful for having what we do.

For us, this Christmas is a new beginning in many ways. Our move from Florida to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia has opened up possibilities and opportunities. We have no idea of where we will call home or what we will be doing in the future but we are filled with a sense of peace. We are, we are sure, where we are supposed to be at this time. There is an expression that I have used over the past number of years, “Before you can know what you have, you first have to lose everything”. We know what we now have.

Our parish church here in Staunton, St. Francis of Assisi, has been a source of comfort, strength and inspiration to us. We decided to attend Mass at the Christmas vigil this year. Before Mass there was a “concert” presented by the Schola of classical musicians and singers. It was a mix of both traditional and religious songs and hymns. No, “Santa Baby”, was not one of them! One of the traditional songs was a Charles Floyd/Yo-Y o Ma arrangement of “The Wexford Carol”. Here it is performed together by Alison Krause and Yo-Yo Ma (click here.)  The rendition sung in church was very close to what was sung by Krause, thanks to soprano, Nancy Hanna. The video’s bagpipe drone section of the music was substituted by the church organ. It was very stirring and served as an excellent example of how contemporary music can be sacred. This Vigil Mass was one of the most reverent we have attended in many years and Father Wamala’s Christmas message was simple: Love God, love one another and find your way to serve.

 

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Christmas Vigil altar St. Francis of Assisi, Staunton

Christmas Day was something different for us: a little baby will do that! Baby Jonah kept his parents hopping, yet Grammy (The Redhead) found a way to lull him to peaceful sleep.

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Sleepy Baby

Some Christmas music was played during the morning.  The organic farm just up the road provided us with a fresh turkey for a special Christmas dinner (I’ll write more about that farm at some later point).  It was truly a peace-filled day.

And now, New Year is upon us. No silly resolutions…at least for me. Yes, I’d like to take advantage of the more temperate (for me) weather and get outdoors more. But, dreams of six-pack abs have been diminished by the reality of a half-keg belly! Our goals are more straightforward: 1) Find a new home (are ya’ listenin’, Becky!), 2) Find a place to resume my furniture restoration interests, 3) Learn how to use my new Nikon 5300 camera that was a gift from the Redhead and 4) Develop a social circle of friends in our new hometown while keeping our family of the heart ever close to us. Doable? Yes, I believe it is.

In closing, here are some more pics from our continuing explorations of the Shenandoah Valley.

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old hamlet of Brownsburg, north of Lexington,VA

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Valley farm, near Lexington,VA

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Blue Ridge Mountain farm, Edinburg, VA

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Edinburg Mill. Detail showing charred timbers resulting from Union General Sheridan’s raid and burning of the mill and town, 1864

 Peace be with you. Thank you for reading. Happy New Year to all! 

Bill