As a real-world antidote to the Alice in Wonderland, mind numbing nonsense, passing as news, I decided to spend a bit more time watching the workmen build our new home here in Staunton, Virginia. A worksite is definitely a “No Spin Zone”; everything is real… and verifiable.
This week, the foundation is being constructed. Despite this week’s often cold, damp days, tons of concrete blocks were being meticulously set, one upon another, by hand. The only machines on site are a motor driven mixer for the sand and cement being turned into mortar and a forklift to move pallets laden with concrete blocks to the scaffolding once the walls have reached an above-head height. The rest is all hand labor, just as it has been done for centuries. It takes heart, strength and determination to keep going for hours on end. A skilled brick tradesman can spend years learning his craft: how to properly use and read a level, to wield a trowel so that the right amount of mortar is applied to each block and to know the right formula for the mortar, based upon a number of factors, including weather and specific strength needed. In a bow to modernity, Michael, the bricklayer, also utilizes a laser tool to precisely determine the correct height needed for each section of wall.
Michael had an interesting story as to why and how he chose to become a bricklayer / mason. His father is a farmer, so it would have been natural for Michael to continue working the family farm. “But”, says Michael, “there was a slight problem. I’m allergic to hay”! So, after watching a bricklayer do some work on the family farm, Michael became this man’s apprentice and later went out on his own, starting his own business. Michael said farming and bricklaying are both hard work. “But, at least I’m not sneezing”!
What fascinated me the most, I think, was the hand – motor skills needed to apply the correct amount of mortar to the bottoms, sides and joints of each block. Having done some very small plaster repair jobs in previous homes, I can attest that using a trowel efficiently is no small feat. My efforts more resembled the art work of “Ivan the Gorilla” than anything that Michael and his assistant would tolerate on any of their jobs.
We’re thinking and hoping the block work will be completed within the next week or so. At that time, Father Joseph Wamala, of St. Francis of Assisi church in Staunton, will bless the foundation and building site, asking for God’s protection for all those that will build, live and enter our home. A further blessing will take place when the house is completed and we move in.
The following pictures will show some of the activity taking place this week at our home site.
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If you have never before seen or spent much time in the mountains, it is hard not to be awestruck every time you do see them. Having spent my entire life, except for visits back to the family place in Ireland, at sea level, they are a constant source of wonderment. Like the sea, the Alleghenies and Blue Ridge mountains change constantly – if you look.
Shadows, colors, textures – all play their part in turning the panoramas of rolling hills and climbing mountains into kaleidoscopes of nature. Change one element – a passing cloud, mists rising through trees, rain falling at one elevation and not another, smoke drifting upwards from fields being cleared – and the entire scene becomes new.
Recently, we have taken two trips that have left us in awe of God’s Handiwork. The first was to the town of Cass, in West Virginia. We went with our friends Brian and Jeannette, partly to take advantage of riding the famous Cass Railroad with its century old steam engine and partly to have a unique setting for celebrating a birthday. It was quite a celebration. The views were spectacular, as was the “Hobo Lunch” served on board. Definitely gourmet, if one considers a turkey sandwich (or was it baloney) and sliced peaches gourmet. And I do! In addition to the spectacular mountain scenery, at the end of the rail line there is a view of a gigantic radio telescope sitting in the valley below in the tiny town of Green Bank, West Virginia. Erected by the Government, this telescope searches throughout space for radio signals. Local residents are, supposedly, not allowed to use cell phones, radios, etc. in order to maintain an electronic pollution free zone. There is a documentary on Prime that explains the scientific work that goes on and the people that choose to live there. But, only a few miles away, up the mountain, is the train – taking you back a century or more.
Our next and most recent trip was to Natural Bridge, VA. where, you guessed it, is the Natural Bridge rock formation and state park.
Once Indian land and then owned by Thomas Jefferson when he purchased it from the British king (before the revolution, of course), it is now a park owned by the State of Virginia and a draw for visitors internationally. George Washington, in his youthful land surveying days, carved his initials into one of the rock walls. His and several others from over the centuries are visible to alert visitors.
This wonder of nature is only about 45 minutes from where our new home in Staunton will be.
There is not a day that goes by that we thank God for letting us live in this place. We would love to share it with you.
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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.
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
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.
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”!
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To plant anew, the earth must first be plowed. So, too, with
building a house.
Our new home site here in Staunton, Augusta County, Virginia has seen quite a bit of activity this past week or so. The last few trees that might have threatened the house were removed from the site. Better now than later, for sure. Nothing quite ruins your day like a tree crashing into your living room! Trees falling into our house, whether from Connecticut snows or Florida hurricanes have made us just a tad wary, you might say. So, a clean slate of the lot was made, with a promise to Nature that we would later replant our lot with trees and shrubs in a safe location.
Nothing of the removed trees was wasted. What could become
lumber was separated from wood suitable only for firewood. The leftover limbs
were stacked and burned. The ash will be scattered throughout the lot, adding
valuable nutrients to the heavy clay soil.
Following this, machinery was brought in to dig the area of what will be the basement and also to do a rough grading of the land. A steep incline was tapered a bit where the driveway will eventually run from the street to the side garage. For those of you that have built a house or had one built for them, this may seem pretty mundane stuff. But, when this work is being done on what will become your home, well, it takes on a whole different aspect. The Redhead and I will live here. Friends and family will visit and walk and sit in our backyard. Our front porch will have views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains. This will be our HOME! Our builders, Amy and Eric Argenbright, understand this and smile when they see us parked in front of the lot – our lot – at all hours. They know how much this means to us.
For our exterior colors we have chosen earth tones, browns accented by honey colored shingle trim. The Redhead is planning for – you guessed it – a red front door. We’re not sure yet of the interior colors, but there will be natural hardwood floors.
Did you know that you can Talk to your refrigerator and / or stove? Seriously. Since we’ve had to research which appliances will be chosen, the craziest things have been learned. Like, refrigerators that have Wi-Fi and cameras and play movies via the internet. And, stoves that are voice activated. This is all a little too much, I think. What happens if you’re passing by the stove and mutter, “I’m dying for a cup of tea”. Does it start boiling or shootin’? Finding appliances that are somewhat simple and reliable continues to be quite a project. But, I don’t see an ice box with a camera in our future!
This coming week or so, we’re hoping that the foundation will be started. In the meantime, The Redhead and I will continue to park in front of “our yard” and plan and dream.And thank God for our Blessings!
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This evening we received the word from our builder: Work on our house will begin this coming Monday! That’s when the basement will begin to be excavated. Also, all permits for construction to begin are now reported to be o.k.’d. Finally!!!
It was earlier this afternoon that I took my nearly daily ride up to our building lot to see if anything was going on. As I pulled off the “Beltway”, RT 262, that rings Staunton, the view was especially stunning. After the past few rainy days, the sky today was a nearly cloudless, deep sapphire blue – providing the perfect background for the Allegheny mountains to the West. That this gift from God is in our “backyard” is incredible.
So, here are a few photos that I took today. Also, I’ve included an approximate rendering of what our house will look like. Amy & Eric Argenbright, our builders, will be making some modifications to this Craftsman style house to make this truly “our home”.
Looking forward to sharing with you our home building adventures! As always, Comments and “Likes” welcomed and appreciated. Bill
These past several weeks have been filled with lots of activity, some with just adventuring throughout our area of the Shenandoah and quite a bit spent with house-building matters. For the sake of writing somewhat coherent posts, I’ve decided to write future posts separated into one of three categories: Exploring our corner of the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny andBlue Ridge mountains and its surrounding areas; our house building adventures and finally random thoughts that pop into focus. Last night’s post was an example of that.
There were two festivals in the area which we recently attended. The first was the Dayton Days Autumn Festival held the first Saturday of October. Dayton is a small town situated a few miles Southwest of Harrisonburg, VA. About 2,000 people live in Dayton. It is mostly agricultural but also has a lovely downtown and a scattering of family owned shops and business throughout the town. Many of the residents are Mennonites. On that beautiful, sunny Saturday the town was filled with almost 40,000 visitors. The downtown streets were closed to vehicles and were filled with craftspeople, artists and food vendors. Most of the vendors were fairly local but a number of them had traveled from West Virginia and other parts of Virginia. The Redhead and I spotted two interesting pieces by quilters Cathie and Bettie Pharr of West Virginia that we will be adding to our new home. As we walked along the narrow streets of Dayton we came upon Gottfried, an Immigrant Pioneer Re-enactor, playing a scheitholt, an early German version of what would become the mountain dulcimer. We also noted the many historical buildings throughout town. It’s an interesting anecdote of the Civil War that Dayton was spared being burned to the ground after Union soldiers pleaded with General Sheridan to spare the town because its inhabitants were mostly Mennonites and known to be pacifists. The beautiful peacefulness of Dayton continues to this day.
Our next festival adventure was held right here in Waynesboro on October 12. Downtown was filled with booths and tents of artisans, craftspeople and fine artists. In addition, Blue Grass music was performed during the day by several groups. It was in one of the booths that we met icon artists Maria Cezintseva and her mother. Using traditional Russian bead work, Maria and her mom created beautiful religious icons. Two of Maria’s works (her first for sale), an icon of Christ and another of the Blessed Mother and the Infant Jesus, will be proudly displayed in our new home. They are two special ladies that we look forward to meeting again.
There are more festivals coming to the area and The Redhead
and I look forward to sharing them with you all. We are truly blessed to live
in such a beautiful part of this country.
My mother loved him. My aunts loved him, too. It seemed just about every “older woman” I knew (and that was every female over the age of about 14) thought he was great.
Nearly 20 years to the day after my mother’s death, the news was filled with reports of his death. The world had certainly changed in those years. He wasn’t remembered so much for his musical ability (which actually was very good) or his philanthropy. Nor, was he credited for inspiring other entertainers such as Elton John, David Bowie and even Elvis. And, certainly he was not remembered during that news cycle because he was good to his mother. No, the news of Liberace’s death that cold winter day in 1987 was filled with sordid tidbits meant to scandalize his memory.
As a 12 year old boy, I figured him to be just weird and really corny. He certainly was different. He was no Davy Crockett or Jim Bowie, two of my favorite t.v. heroes.
I enjoyed watching the Ed Sullivan Show with the family, I mean, who didn’t like Topo Gigio or a troupe of harmonica players featuring a dwarf? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pnv42IRmNY But, when he came on the t.v., I would just look at my mother and say, “How can you like this guy, he’s awful”? I’m not sure if it was his smile or his wild outfits or his music. But, I couldn’t think of anything good to say about this guy. Nothing. So, mom gave me the best answer she could give a 12 year old lunk-head: “Well, he’s very talented and he’s good to his mother”. End of story.
So, it remains. Our “news” continues almost incessantly to be filled with “gotcha” moments of celebrities, politicians and even private folks caught, or pushed, into moments in which their better natures are not on display. Some folks, it seems, have these moments more frequently than others. But, might it just be possible, that before cheering for “our side” when someone of an opposing viewpoint or group is maligned that we maybe consider that they were “good to their mother”?
Thank you, Mr. Liberace, for being the impetus of a lesson
It’s been one month since we signed contracts for the purchase of our property and the building of our new home here in Staunton, VA. After nearly a year of searching for the right place to settle, we now find ourselves chomping at the bit for construction to begin on our house.
The first step was to choose the style and design of the home. Luckily, there are so many designs to be found online that there are probably several home plans to suit just about anybody. The home plan we chose is a single level “craftsman” style having three bedrooms and three full baths. A few modifications were made to the original plan: the floor plan was reversed to accommodate the lot configuration; the living room in the front of the house will become a library; the family room width is expanded by a few feet and the rear facing screen porch will be made into a windowed sunporch. One of my favorite changes is the expanding of the covered front porch from the standard 6 foot width to 8 feet wide and running along most of the front of the house. Our builders are Eric and Amy Argenbright of EA Homes Construction here in Augusta County.
A couple of weeks ago we spent an afternoon with Amy
choosing just some of the details of our home: the exterior finishes, types of
windows, flooring and some interior alterations to the original plan. Since we
had fairly recently gone through a huge remodeling project in our former home
in Florida, making some of the decisions was not as difficult as it may have
been. We knew what we really liked in our past homes and what we would like to
be different in this, our “from the ground up” home. It’s been interesting in
coming to decisions that satisfy both The Redhead and me. We both wanted a
fireplace. Red wanted a gas fired unit, but I wanted “old school” wood burning.
We decided on the gas style since it is cleaner and much easier for Red to have
a fire anytime she wishes. In almost every other detail we both had the same
One feature of the house that I’m particularly looking forward to (besides the front porch) is the basement. Yes, the basement! For it is there that I plan to revive my vintage/antique restoration activity. It’s been over 5 years since my Redeux Vintage Furniture http://redeuxfurniture.blogspot.com/2012/ closed when we moved from Connecticut. For several reasons it never revived while we lived in Florida. But now…yes, indeedy!! I plan to get going finding and reviving vintage American-made furniture as quickly possible.
The Redhead and I drive to our lot several times a week to look at where our house will sit. We listen to the wind, the just- turning- color leaves of “our trees” rustling in what seems to be a constant, steady breeze coming from the nearby Alleghany Mountains and a variety of birds. We’ve already met two of our soon-to-be neighbors and they just smile when we park at the side of our little road and just sit. They feel the same way about this little slice of heaven.
This past week work was begun on clearing some ground for the house to be built. Just as many trees as necessary will be removed, the rest will stay. Some large pieces of rock will be utilized as part of our natural landscaping plan. Later this week the footprint of the house will be staked out and then construction will, hopefully, begin to progress at a steady pace. I hope you’ll follow along!
no, make it most of the time, what I thought would happen, didn’t. In matters
of family, work, marriage, relocating – just about every aspect of my life has gone
not how I thought it would or should. Thank God!
those that read this blog that know me there is no sense in reciting all the
instances of this pattern of being turned topsy- turvey. You know most of them.
For other readers, who cares, right? So, let me just tell you about the here
and now and a bit of how it all happened.
years ago we – my beautiful Redhead and I – moved from Connecticut to
Jacksonville, Florida. We had checked it out before making the move and thought
this would be the beginning of a new life. It was; but, not as we had planned.
Heat is heat but Florida must be God’s preview of Hell. Only joking. A bit. But, an endless summer is not what we planned for the long term. Storms are storms but Florida hurricanes are something else. Snakes? Oh yeah! After four years (quick learners we are) we figured this might not have been our forever place. We explored both North and South Carolina. Nope. We explored and researched Tennessee. Hmmm, but no. And then, Virginia.
researched and visited the Staunton, Virginia area in July of 2018 and moved
here in November, 2018. We have been renting an apartment in nearby Waynesboro
while we explored the areas and sought just the right place to have our home. Let’s
just say it’s been an adventure.
were some days we thought something was wrong with us. We just couldn’t decide
where we wanted to live or what type of home would be right for us. And, when
we did come to a decision, it just didn’t work.
we prayed. Really prayed. Just asking God to let us know what He wanted us to
do. It’s funny how the Lord answers our prayers and puts everything into place.
Redhead was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. It had been missed in
Connecticut and in Jacksonville and initially here in Virginia. But, then it
was discovered and our world changed. Nothing mattered except my Redhead. And
then things began to happen. The Redhead was put under the care of some of the
best surgeons and medical people in the country. It has been a rough few months,
but the Redhead is going to be o.k. That was Part One of answered prayers. The Second
Part of our answer as to what we were supposed to do and where we should be was
through the love, concern, help and genuine friendship shown to us by our
friends here. They came from nearby and from miles away to bring food, flowers
and love to The Redhead. Never have we experienced anything like this. And then,
the early morning darkness of August 20th, I awoke, more restless
than troubled, I had been dreaming of what we should do about finding a home. Continue
renting? Maybe. I had no idea of what was about to happen.
prayed. To Jesus and His Mother, Mary. To St. Joseph. And to St. Padre Pio for
his continued special intercession. I felt the urge to check, once again, the
real estate listings -but only for land. Immediately, several parcels of land popped
up. They had been on the market for a while but we had never seen them, nor had
any of the 5 real estate agents we had been in contact with this past year plus
ever mentioned them.
Later that morning, a bit past dawn, I told The Redhead that there was some land we should take a look at. It was in the County, just outside Staunton city limits, no more than 15 minutes to the steps of our church, St. Francis of Assisi. We drove past mist-shrouded views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing rolling farmland and up a sloping gravel drive, past several signs showing several lots for sale. And, there it was. At the corner of two, short, cul-de-sacs, nestled among trees on higher ground…home. We knew it immediately. We called the name on the sign and the following day we met the agent/builder for this small cluster of homes. She explained the details and we told her our plans.
Next week space will be cleared for the foundation of our new house. We are… home. Prayers answered.
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.
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).
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.