I came upon this incredible building on a recent foray into the Virginia countryside exploring with my wife and another couple. I had seen it on Google Earth. It wasn’t until I stood in front of this historic hotel that I could fully appreciate its beauty and grandeur.
The hotel was built around natural mineral springs that were first frequented by Native Americans. The resort is owned and operated by the Episcopal Dioceses of Virginia. The church uses it for retreats, but it is also open to the public.
Given its setting and beautiful architecture, the Virginia House would be a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature.
My wife didn’t hesitate when our daughter asked if she wanted to go pick strawberries. Like most folks, we love just-picked berries. If we still lived in Ohio, the berries likely would need several more days before they would ripen.
Having the opportunity to pick and enjoy red, ripe strawberries this early in the season was a reality check for us. We really were in Virginia! And for the record, the berries were delicious.
Moving is said to be one of life’s most stressful events. It hasn’t turned out to be that way for my wife and me. Taking a year and a half to make the transition from Ohio to Virginia likely took some of the pressure off of us. We are so glad we took our time.
We love everything about our new home, our new setting, and our situation so far. Please don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t easy leaving home, community, church, relatives, and friends that we were so attached to for all of our adult lives. Tears were shed to be sure.
For now, Neva and I have been busy arranging our new household inside and out. It’s been both a chore and a joy. Others who had experience moving advised us to take our time.
Sort one box at a time they said. And for the most part, that’s about the pace we have gone. Our expert movers helped make that happen by carrying and setting up all of the weighty and cumbersome furniture.
Our daughter’s family visited us a lot, helping us to unpack and put things away. Our IT son-in-law got us up and running with the internet, email, and the new smart TV he so kindly purchased for us with our money of course. I’m sure he’ll be over often to ensure that it’s working.
Most of our close neighbors introduced themselves, too. They all are as friendly as can be. One even brought homemade rolls and the best strawberry jam I ever tasted. That alone almost made the move worthwhile.
Of course, we moved to be near our grandchildren. Besides visiting us several times already, we’ve jumped right into their activities, too, sometimes simultaneously. Like when we attended our granddaughter’s violin recital. Her big brother was playing baseball two hours away. We covertly watched the action in animation on a smartphone.
We arrived in time to help our daughter celebrate another birthday. That’s something we haven’t had a chance to do in a long, long time.
We kept the unpacked boxes in the garage so as not to clutter the house. And did I mention that we love our downsized, one-story retirement home? We do, very much.
In fact, neither Neva nor I can stop smiling we are so pleased with how everything seems to be fitting into place. We rightly purged our belongings before we left. We are also glad we made the physical changes to our place that we did. It’s still a work in progress, especially the landscaping.
Most importantly, our new house feels like home. I didn’t think I would say that this soon after the move. But I did, and it does.
The day after we moved in we took a break to attend a May Day event at the elementary school where the two younger grandkids are students. It was a fun time even if it was a bit chilly.
Our creative daughter helped arrange a design for our new landscaping. We had the old, overgrown shrubs pulled for more palatable, harmonious plants. Spring rains made them easier to plant in the thick, sticky Virginia clay they call topsoil.
After the house was nearly put together, I set up my bird feeders. It didn’t take long for the usual suspects to find the free food. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Northern Cardinals, House Finches, Mourning Doves, and the ubiquitous House Sparrows are some of the species so far.
Our feathered friends appear to be settling in much the way we are. It’s good to be at home this far away from home.
The Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak usually gets all of the attention for its stunning coloration. I think the female is attractive in her own right. The blended browns and creamy whites form an incredible pattern to help her hide from predators.
I captured this photo of a Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak as she appeared to contemplate when and how to approach the black oil sunflower feeder in the backyard of our new home in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I was pleasantly surprised to have this species arrive at the feeder not long after I had hung it in the Mountain Maple tree.
I’m no magician, but I feel like it at times. While my energetic and talented wife has camped herself in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for the fall, I’ve had one foot in Ohio and the other in Virginia.
Because I still have work duties and responsibilities here at home, I’ve shuttled between Holmes Co. and Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family live. I get to enjoy the amenities of both places. There’s a lot to absorb here, there, and in between.
With the changing leaves, it’s a win-win proposition for me. I have the luxury of observing the colorful transitioning and beauty of each locale. On the drive to and fro, the vividness splashed across the forested mountain slopes is exceptionally enchanting.
My wife, Neva, is having the same experience in a much different role. From August into November, she has dedicated herself 24/7 to assisting our daughter, son-in-law, and the trio of grandkids. Our daughter’s volleyball coaching job is a time demanding, intense position.
Neva has the role of assistant coach, assigned to domestic mentoring duties, and whatever else is in the fine print of her contract. From my perspective, she’s doing an ace of a job.
Meanwhile, I know the inspiring circuitous route between the two burgs, Millersburg and Harrisonburg, over hill and dale and mountains all too well. No GPS is needed. Out of necessity, it’s a back and forth life for me.
In a way, this approach is softening the shock of moving. By Neva living for three months in Virginia, and with my multiple round trips, we are phasing ourselves into our new community, and out of the one where we raised our children and honed our vocations. Cut and run was never our modus operandi.
Our goal was to gradually transition from being Buckeyes to Virginians. Neva and I have spent our entire adult lives in the public eye. We were both career educators for the local school districts. We each served in various capacities in several community organizations, plus the necessary involvement in our church.
We recognize that we are replaceable. That’s not the point. We wanted to say goodbye slowly, and help all, including ourselves, let go here and grasp our new surroundings there.
That is just what is happening. You should see Neva. She is in her glory organizing meals for both our daughter’s family and her volleyball team. She picks up the grandkids at school and runs them to doctor appointments. She cleans, mows, does laundry, walks the dog. On and on it goes.
My official work responsibilities are harder to terminate than Neva’s. There are assignments to complete, and leadership still needed on the boards of trustees on which I serve, and the businesses I consult. The timing had to be just right before I could call it quits.
Since folks have learned of our departing, we have been overwhelmed with well wishes and blessings on our new adventure. Those gestures only cemented our love for the life we have lived here.
We are heartened by the affirming support so graciously expressed to us. Just as joyously, we are reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones in Harrisonburg.
Having feet planted in two different states has been fun. But eventually, we’ll have to sink new roots into the lovely Shenandoah Valley.
I learned long ago if you want to celebrate you have to relate and communicate.
The designated time to do all three in the Unites States is upon us. Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect on moments and people for which you are thankful, and to affectionately share that gratitude.
When a situation goes awry, or a snafu in a bond develops, it’s important that we communicate our feelings to maintain positive relationships. It just might help untangle the problem and any hurt feelings.
This Thanksgiving season I thought it appropriate to share some personal experiences I had this year that required communication to keep relationships strong. I call them vignettes of thankfulness.
“I’ll see you in six months,” the doctor told my friend Leroy. A few months earlier, Leroy had been diagnosed with a type of incurable cancer.
Leroy had decided to accept his fate, and forgo any treatments, which would only extend his life a couple of months. Instead, he relied on doctor approved vitamin supplements and his faith to carry him forward.
I could hear Leroy’s voice quiver when he called me with a medical update. He was ever so grateful for this good news of extended life. I teared up too. I was honored to have received Leroy’s good news call.
The call about a cement wall of all things had a similar ending. While I was away, a township resident had had a concrete wall poured for his new house. The problem was it was on the township right of way. As a township trustee, I was charged with getting the problem corrected.
I hated to tell Bert, a man I knew well, to move the wall. But move it he did, both efficiently and creatively.
My friend Bert used his foresight and imagination to recycle the wall. A craftsman sawed it into two pieces. A giant crane hoisted them into a new location, where they became a retaining wall. Bert seemed even more pleased than me.
“We don’t often get second chances in life,” he said. I heartily agreed. I expressed my thankfulness for Bert’s willingness to correct the mistake and giving the wall a new life. The error did not become a wall that would interfere with our good relationship.
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our extended time in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley helping out our daughter as she coached her university’s women’s volleyball team. To those who know my wife, it was no surprise Neva worked night and day completing every day, necessary chores in our daughter’s household.
While I was available, I helped our kindergartener granddaughter with her homework by listening to her pronounce letters and count numbers in both English and Spanish. For me, those were precious moments.
With our travels, Neva and I made a hard decision. We needed to sell the cute cottage my folks had built 40 years ago on a fishing lake in southeast Ohio. We asked around, but no one in the family indicated an interest in taking over the cottage.
After showing the property to some prospective buyers, our son called to say he had changed his mind. He wanted to purchase the cabin.
Neva and I were thrilled. It was the first item on our downsizing list, and our son would be the new owner. I’m pretty certain I saw my folks smiling down from heaven the day the property transferred.
Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate, communicate and relate the moments and emotions for which we are grateful. These are a few of mine. What are yours?
I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.
The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.
My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.
I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.
Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.
My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.
I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.
Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.
The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.
As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.
Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.
The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.
Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.
Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.
The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.
Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.
I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.
My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.
I drove away from the city to get a country view of a Shenandoah sunset. I came away with so much more than picturesque photos.
I had taken several sunset shots near our daughter’s home in the Virginia valley that is the result of ancient geologic folding. I wanted a different backdrop. I decided to head for a friend’s childhood home.
After I had dropped off my oldest grandson at baseball practice, I drove a few miles south and west of the city that is rapidly sprawling far beyond it’s historic downtown. My friend, Ava, had moved to Ohio last year. She said she remembered people stopping to take pictures of the views opposite her home.
Ava had given me perfect directions to her old place. I found it well before sundown, which gave me time to check out the area, and take a few photos first.
Ava was right. The panorama alone was stunning. This high spot on a gently rolling ridge opened up nicely to the west. The sun glowed above the Alleghenies miles away.
I sent her a text with a photo of the evening’s western landscape. Ava’s reply caught me by surprise.
Despite all the years she had lived there, Ava didn’t have a sunset photo from that perspective. Her family’s religion forbade owning a camera. I didn’t know that, however.
In her words, Ava said it was a precious vista that hemmed the western range of her formative years. It was the scene she saw as she walked to the school bus, gather the mail and drove the buggy to church. The foothills, valleys, and mountains served as a geographic security blanket for her.
Ava profusely thanked me for the photos that brought back so many poignant memories. Capturing and sharing that setting generated a heartwarming story that dearly warmed me far more than the fiery sunset.
Tractors whizzed in and out the long lane of the family farm. Wagonload after wagonload of chicken manure got spread on the sloping fields while the sun blazed away behind the distant foothills and aged mountains.
My senses were conflicted. What I saw thrilled me. What I smelled I just endured until dark.
As I was about to leave, a young man on one of the tractors stopped on his return trip to the barn. A young boy and younger girl flanked the ruddy driver. The farmer wanted to know if I was taking the photos for my own use.
I nodded in the affirmative. He seemed startled when I asked him if this was the old Shank place. He confirmed what I already knew.
We chatted some more, and I told him that I knew Ava. Likely cautious of a stranger, he just smiled broadly and nodded in return without saying that Ava was his aunt. She told me that later. Ava was as thrilled that I had met one of her kin as she was with the photos I had sent.
I had gone in search of a friend’s homestead and a different view of the sunset. I succeeded on both counts. But that’s not what made the evening extraordinary.
Every sunset is different of course. By making these unexpected, long distant connections between an aunt and her nephew, this sundown dazzled me with more than shimmering red and orange rays.
This serendipitous interaction brought me a personal, soothing satisfaction. It was a moving encounter no camera could ever capture.
Life has a way of connecting dots in unexpected ways.
Nearly three weeks ago, our two-year-old granddaughter became ill. Her mother, our daughter, took her to the doctor on back-to-back days.
Unsure of the problem, the doctor thought it best if Maren were hospitalized for observation and tests. It was to be an overnight stay. When her fever didn’t subside, and the tests proved inconclusive, another night in the hospital was needed. Of course, we stayed in close contact with our daughter, albeit long distance via emails, text messages and occasional phone calls.
When Nana heard the news that Maren was to spend a second night in the hospital, her helper mode ratcheted into high gear. Nana hastily threw together her traveling items and headed to Harrisonburg, Virginia, where our daughter and her family reside.
I stayed behind. I had long-scheduled doctor appointments, meetings that convened only monthly, and other community commitments. Besides, I believe that too many adults in the same household at the same time can be, well, sometimes touchy, especially with youngsters.
The situation with Maren grew worse. She was transferred to a noted children’s hospital for further examination. Nana took care of our two grandsons while our daughter and her husband watched over sweet Maren.
Of course I was anxious to join them. We had previously planned on leaving for a weeklong visit with the grandkids anyhow. Maren’s illness just bumped up the trip’s urgency. But I didn’t necessarily want to have two vehicles 350 miles from home if we could help it.
Being the workhorse that she is, Nana kept busy with household chores in Virginia. When the recycling piled up, she decided to take it to the recycling center. One other person was there, a middle-aged man who noticed Nana’s Ohio license plates.
The man said that he used to live in Ohio, Kidron to be exact, 12 miles from our house. The assertive person that she is, Nana asked this nice person if he happened to know of anyone coming down to Harrisonburg from Ohio on Sunday afternoon.
To her astonishment, and mine once she told me the story, the man replied that indeed he and his wife were visiting in Kidron, Ohio that very weekend and would be returning on Sunday afternoon, the exact time I had wanted to leave. He said he would be glad to have me ride along if I could find a way to Kidron.
As it turned out, my ride and I discovered we had mutual friends who lived near Kidron and who just happen to attend church with us. Our friends shuttled me to the rendezvous with this charitable couple. Like clockwork, we met up and transferred all my belongings I needed for the extended stay in Virginia from my friends’ car to my new friends’ car.
Given all the mental stress I was under, I was relieved to have someone else do the driving down the winding path to the Shenandoah Valley. He proved an excellent driver, and delivered me right to my daughter’s door. It couldn’t have worked out better. The next day, Maren returned home, having been diagnosed with a perforated appendix, a difficult and unusual illness for a toddler.
Thanks to a common household errand and the interchange of two gregarious strangers, I got to welcome Maren and my daughter home. I am exceedingly glad those two divergent dots got connected.
It didn’t take long for our year and a half old granddaughter to warm up to me when my wife and I visited with her and her family recently in Virginia. Since we live in Ohio, we don’t get to interact with them as much as we would like.
Once Maren felt comfortable in my presence, she was fascinated with my bald head. When I bent down to her toddler level, the beautiful little girl boldly reached out and patted my baldness.
Now and then, after patting and rubbing my head, she would move her hand down, and jab her dimpled index finger into my beard. That little gesture generated an ornery laugh from the precocious Maren.
It was as if she were saying, “If Poppy can grow hair on his face, why can’t he grow it on top of his head?” I’d like to know the answer to that question, too.
Maren was connecting with me inquisitively, creatively. Her affectionate patting and prodding warmed my heart. I truly felt connected.
Near the end of our extended stay in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, I attended a two-day conference entitled “Conversations on Attachment.” It was about how we humans interconnect with one another, and why it’s so important, even for bald guys.
The words of the various articulate speakers evoked mental examples of meaningful interactions with others. I felt blessed.
Here were renowned psychologists, doctors, therapists, professors and theologians providing well-researched and published theories and studies confirming what I already believed. Humans are social beings designed to be interdependent. We are intended to live in community and in close relationships. One speaker described the collective process of positively relating with others as “a shared humanity.”
Before my wife and I left for our Virginia visit, our son and his wife graciously hosted us for dinner. Knowing how well they cook, I was more than glad to accept their kind invitation in honor of our 40th anniversary.
In addition to the magnificent food, we were pleasantly surprised with the inclusion of the best man at our wedding and his wife. The couple has been lifetime best friends with us. It was an engaging evening of delightful conversation and cuisine.
Before leaving Virginia, our daughter and son-in-law repeated the surprise performance at our last supper there. Using his best transplanted Texan barbecue skills, we dined on smoked pork ribs and incredible grilled burgers.
Again, we didn’t feast alone. Our daughter clandestinely invited four couples we had known over the years and with whom we had oft interacted. Now they all lived near her. She also invited our niece, a fellow Virginian. Just like before, we had no idea they were coming.
They each brought their own delicious dishes to complement the meaty main course. When the scrumptious meal wound down, our daughter had the guests disclose how they knew us. As the sharing evolved, something truly amazing unfolded. Though some around the table had never met, as they listened they realized they knew some of the same people mentioned in the various stories.
Their connecting with one another generated joyous revelation. The combination of the great food, inspiring conversation and spontaneous connectivity made it a truly fulfilling gathering. We had held our own attachment conference.
The great food, lively conversing and personal discoveries around the table equated with patting me on the head and poking my beard. I couldn’t get more attached than that.
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