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.

The Impeachment Antidote!

I can’t take it anymore!

Turn on the t.v and it’s there. Click on the car radio…it’s there. Glance at a newspaper when picking up a cup of coffee…gotcha! Is there no relief from everything Ukraining on my parade?

The “leaders” of our country seem bent on arguing, posturing, riling everyone up, fabricating and just being nasty. Many, if not most, of them have never done an honest day’s work in their life. Yet, they create one “crisis” after another and try to pit one American against another. Their world is not the real world.

To find a world where civility, integrity, hard and honest work and common sense are, well, common, all I have to do is take the short ride up to our home building site here in Staunton, VA.

Construction may be the great equalizer. You can either do it or you can’t. It makes no difference if you are young or older, big or small, male or female. Where you are from or what you look like is of no importance. If you can do the work or learn, that’s all that matters.

If you’re like me and can’t take the daily bombardment of crazy anymore, come along for a peak into the real world…the building of our home.

Eric Argenbright, Owner of E&A Home Builders, supervising and banging nails!

Buck, the lead man, showing new guy, David, the details of setting roof trusses.
This ain’t DC, lots of teamwork here! Kyle, David and Buck getting it done.
Teamwork making progress
Windows going in…and look what’s on the roof!
The roofing crew in action…men and women!
All that hammering upstairs doesn’t slow down Buck, Kyle and David from working on the living room ceiling!

Now, don’t you feel better? I do! Turn off the t.v. and radio. Watch some real work getting done, meet and talk to your neighbors and see how nice this world really is!

The wonder of it all

Blue Ridge Mountains, late afternoon

January, so far, has been one of those periods of time when it seems life runs its own course and we just have to sit back and wonder at it all.

Such was the case when, earlier this month, The Redhead’s father passed after a lengthy illness. No matter when it comes, the passing of a parent stirs emotions that cannot be expressed but is understood by everyone that has gone through it. During it all, our family and friends in Connecticut, Florida, here in Staunton and elsewhere, brought us much comfort, support and love.

Death, for those that believe in its finality, can be devastating. Yet, if death is understood more as a passing or moving from one reality to another, it can bring comfort and even joy. To experience contrition, forgiveness and love at any time is wonderful, but at the end it is beautiful. Truly, God’s Hand in all matters is a wondrous thing.

Before her dad passed, The Redhead had us facetime. We spoke about several things, one of them being the building of our house here in Staunton, VA and his happiness that his daughter would be living in such a beautiful home and area. He reminded me of our walks and talks along his beloved Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine and I told him that I would also remember his tips about planting a flower garden – “always add a pop of white, it brings out the other colors”! I’ll do my best, but Augusta County clay soil is a far cry from the soil found in coastal Maine. Thanks for the tips, Norman. And, thank you for The Redhead.

So, now things are starting to really come together at the house. The framing is nearly complete and the rooms, while still only 2×4’s, are now clearly defined. A few tweaks here and there remain: a repositioning of the vanity in the Master Bath, the addition of an entry hall closet and a little tweak in the dining room to accommodate a hutch – little things that will mean a lot to us now and later. Our Builders, Eric and Amy Argenbright, have been very understanding of what we are trying to accomplish: a beautiful home that will suit us now and for a long time to come. We appreciate their ideas and especially their attention to quality and craftsmanship.

Following are a few photos of the work that has taken place in just these past few weeks:

Building the front porch
Setting the Trusses
Eric Argenbright selecting the correct roof truss for the crane
Risky Business
Man and Machine
Getting There
Back view, it looks bigger than it is! The sun room is in center.
Our soon-to-be new home in Staunton, VA

Thanks for reading and a special thanks to our very special friends that are our family.

Everything is going to be o.k.

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.

I’ve got this figured out now!

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?

Oy, Vey, what will happen??

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!

Are ya’ scared yet?

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.

No more working in “The Dungeon”! No wonder I lost my hair!

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!

Entertainin’, Gibby style!

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!

Front of house, library will be second window from left!
Some views!

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.  Everything will be o.k.

Bill

Building a Home 7 and Back to the Future!

Looking East from what will be our kitchen

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.

Floor deck with wall frames
Basement walls

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.

Our Friend Mary Ellen picking out her new suite!
The Redhead on site

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!

To see some of my old work and some pictures of the old Redeux Vintage Furniture shop just click here: http://redeuxfurniture.blogspot.com/2010/05/uncovered-beauty.html

The Redhead and I wish all of you a very happy Christmas season and a wonderful New Year!

As always, comments, questions and “Likes” always appreciated and 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

Where We Live, 1

Blue Ridge through the trees

If you have never before seen or spent much time in the mountains, it is hard not to be awestruck every time you do see them. Having spent my entire life, except for visits back to the family place in Ireland, at sea level, they are a constant source of wonderment.  Like the sea, the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge mountains change constantly – if you look.

Allegheny Mountains, October 2019

Shadows, colors, textures – all play their part in turning the panoramas of rolling hills and climbing mountains into kaleidoscopes of nature.  Change one element – a passing cloud, mists rising through trees, rain falling at one elevation and not another, smoke drifting upwards from fields being cleared – and the entire scene becomes new.

Jeannette, Brian and The Redhead. Cass Railroad stop

Recently, we have taken two trips that have left us in awe of God’s Handiwork. The first was to the town of Cass, in West Virginia. We went with our friends Brian and Jeannette, partly to take advantage of riding the famous Cass Railroad with its century old steam engine and partly to have a unique setting for celebrating a birthday. It was quite a celebration. The views were spectacular, as was the “Hobo Lunch” served on board. Definitely gourmet, if one considers a turkey sandwich (or was it baloney) and sliced peaches gourmet. And I do!  In addition to the spectacular mountain scenery, at the end of the rail line there is a view of a gigantic radio telescope sitting in the valley below in the tiny town of Green Bank, West Virginia. Erected by the Government, this telescope searches throughout space for radio signals. Local residents are, supposedly, not allowed to use cell phones, radios, etc. in order to maintain an electronic pollution free zone. There is a documentary on Prime that explains the scientific work that goes on and the people that choose to live there. But, only a few miles away, up the mountain, is the train – taking you back a century or more.

Shay locomotive, Cass, West Virginia

Our next and most recent trip was to Natural Bridge, VA. where, you guessed it, is the Natural Bridge rock formation and state park.

Natural Bridge, Virginia

Once Indian land and then owned by Thomas Jefferson when he purchased it from the British king (before the revolution, of course), it is now a park owned by the State of Virginia and a draw for visitors internationally. George Washington, in his youthful land surveying days, carved his initials into one of the rock walls. His and several others from over the centuries are visible to alert visitors.

George Washington’s initials, Natural Bridge (carved about 1/3 from top, outlined in white chalk)
graffiti, 1855, Natural Bridge wall

This wonder of nature is only about 45 minutes from where our new home in Staunton will be.

There is not a day that goes by that we thank God for letting us live in this place. We would love to share it with you.

Comments, Likes and Follows always welcome. Just click the buttons!

Bill

Building a home (4), the Signature Board

View of Blue Ridge Mountains from what will be our front porch!

Late yesterday afternoon, to our great surprise, The Digger showed up at our Augusta County building site. And, that means one thing; the footers of the foundation of the house were being dug. It sounds unexciting, but without the footers, no foundation. No foundation…you guessed it, no house.

The Digger and Mr. Mike checking the footer depth

So, late into the night and throughout most of today the excavation crew dug and pushed and measured the earth around what will be our home until they got it just right: the proper length, width and depth. Transom levels ensured the accuracy, skill and pride ensured the job would get done right.

As I watched the work from the sidelines, one of the crew, Mike, approached me, figuring I was the soon to be owner. He said that he had heard that I had wanted each and every worker building our home “to sign a board”. I explained that we’d like for every worker constructing our house to sign a wood board that we planned to hang in our home. Each tradesman, craftsman and laborer would be a part of this house and we wanted their efforts to be remembered and recognized. Mike said he had never heard of something like this, no one had asked for this before. He liked the idea and signed it and then passed it to the other members of the crew. Was the board really going to be displayed, he asked. “Yep, probably in the front hallway”, I answered. “What if you run out of room on the board”? I’ll get another board! “You know”, said Mike, “I don’t often get to see the finished house. I just dig the foundations”. Well, a house without a good foundation wouldn’t be much of a house, would it, Mike. “No, sir, it wouldn’t”, he said.

Getting it right. Note the red clay soil

 We look forward to Mike and crew coming by to see the finished house – and their “board”.

The Augusta County, Virginia Inspector will check the footing trenches, hopefully tomorrow. Once approved, gravel will be put into the trench, followed by poured concrete. Then the block foundation can begin to be laid by another crew of skilled tradesmen.  Maybe, we will need an extra Signature Board”!

Comments, questions always appreciated. Click “Like” if you do and “Follow” if you’d like.

Bill

Building a Home (3)

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.

Bill