Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happily staying home this New Year's Eve

 A quiet New Year's Eve in front of the Christmas tree with the candles burning.

It's the last day of 2013 and I'm sitting in my pajamas in front of the television with the laptop on my lap as I switch back and forth between football games and a sappy Hallmark Channel Christmas movie I've seen fifty times. The Christmas tree lights are on as are the electric candles in the windows, and I'm surrounded by Christmas decor. The wax candles are flickering on the coffee table, and outdoor lights illuminate the dark December night.

We're staying home this New Year's Eve and I couldn't be happier.

Yes, we received invitations to go out and ring in the new year in style and decked out in Staunton, or a casual evening with friends in the county. However, we decided to spend this New Year's Eve together at home in the quiet glow of Christmas lights.

Why? In short ... we're ready for some down time.

It's been a busy year at our house with yard work and tree pruning and leaves to rake and grass to cut and fence repairs and firewood to split and stack.

The past two months we've concentrated on the interior of our dated 20-year-old house, spiffing up our empty nest, if you will. With the kids now gone, it's back to SWAC Husband and me but it's taken a year to actually get used to the fact that it's once again just the two of us. SWAC Daughter married in 2012 and moved first to Charlotte, and then to Nashville. SWAC Son, who had moved out six years ago after graduating college and getting a job, bought his own house in 2013. Yep, we're definitely on our own.

Years of entertaining friends, children, teenagers, and a cat that ruled the roost had taken its toll on carpet, paint, and general wear-and-tear. We were living in the Velveteen House which looked much like the poor, worn Velveteen Rabbit of the children's storybook fame -- almost loved to death. Our minor touch-ups were no longer sufficient ... it was time for a face lift.

And so we spent November and December working on Stage One of our project -- replacing worn carpet, and painting walls and trim. It never ceases to amaze me how much a coat of paint can transform a house. With the choices of Homestead Resort colors through Lowe's Valspar line, we're surrounded with the ambiance -- at least on the walls -- of that stately resort in Hot Springs.

In typical DIY style, we told the carpet store we would remove the old carpet and dispose of it, having no idea how much work we had committed to. We quickly found out. Boy, did we find out.

First everything had to be moved from the rooms being carpeted, and I do mean everything. SWAC Husband hauled most of it to the downstairs level -- books out of book shelves, beds, dressers, desks, office equipment, and everything else. That was followed by him doing most of the carpet removal work while I was painting (to avoid having to paint after the new carpet had been installed). Old padding had originally been put down by a slap-happy installer who literally punched hundreds of staples into the sub-flooring, and each one had to be removed which was extremely time-consuming. SWAC Husband cut the carpet into four-foot-wide swaths to prevent having too heavy a load to carry, rolled it up, and taped it with duct tape. Our neighbor offered to drive it to the dump in his pickup truck so he and SWAC Husband made that trip which saved us hundreds of dollars. We save a bundle by removing the old carpet, too.

Meanwhile, I was enjoying my adventure in painting augmented by SWAC Husband helping at ceiling level. While painting trim is a pain in the behind, I can get into a kind of zen zone while slowly working my way along the miles of wood. Miles, did I say miles? Well, it seemed like it at the time but it was an opportunity to let my mind think about things. While my hand slowly painted, my brain was going a mile a minute.

After the carpet was removed, we took the vacuum to all the dirt, dust, and trash that was found beneath the original carpet. Would you believe there were cigarette butts, cellophane wrappers, nails, plops of plaster (we assumed it had fallen from the ceiling during the building process), and other trash? By the time the installers came with the new carpet, the floor was as clean as new wood. They were able to complete their work in a day, and then we began moving furniture back up the stairs.

Oy vey.

We finished painting what couldn't get done before the new carpet arrived and then pictures had to go back on the walls as well as furniture arranged in new ways to maximize space. It doesn't sound like much as I type about it but furniture placement and hanging pictures takes some thought which takes time. Should it go here, or would it look better there?

To complete the cleaning process, we washed all the curtains, comforters, blankets, pillows, bedspreads, and sofa cushions. Anything that was upholstered was cleaned.

And while all this was going on, we went on three road trips: four days to Richmond for Thanksgiving, three days to the Homestead Resort for the Republican Advance, and four days to Nashville to visit our daughter and son-in-law at their new residence.

On top of all that, we needed to decorate inside for Christmas plus put up the outdoor lights. Plus put up and decorate the tree. And get out the winter dishes, plan menus, grocery shop, and let's not forget Christmas shopping!

And wrapping gifts.

This all took place while keeping it a secret from everyone except our son who came by to help move the heaviest pieces of furniture. Everyone else would see the results when they arrived for Christmas.

So the past two months have been busy. Tonight we're vegging. And I'm not even the least bit inclined to regret not going out to celebrate the new year. I've already celebrated with my family being here for Christmas in our almost-new-feeling house. My laptop and I have had a day-long date after a week apart, my brain has been spilling out all the thoughts and ideas that were stored up the past week, and I'm enjoying the fruit of our labors.

So as we end this New Year's Eve, I've got to say 2013 was a pretty awesome year and I'm looking forward to 2014 being even better. I hope your New Year's Eve is just as enjoyable, whatever you're doing, and wish you a fabulous and prosperous 2014 as we all continue our life's journeys.

Happy New Year from my corner of Augusta County!

A Shenandoah Valley Christmas 2013 in photos

Our Shenandoah Valley Christmas 2013 was extra special with family, friends, and traditions all rolled into one.  It was magical, spiritual, and homey, a celebration to never forget. Through it all, I had camera in hand to take photos of people and places and experiences and, while most photos of family members aren't posted on my blog, here's a window into our world during 10 magical days.

We were grateful to have our parents with us for Christmas. Mom had a health scare a couple of years ago so each year is special.

Everyone baked cookies and made candy and other goodies that were stored in colorful tins.

Mom has collected Santas for years. These are two that she gave me to brighten my kitchen.

Candles give a peaceful feeling to the season and, in the tradition of Colonial Virginia and the Richmond area where I was raised, I display white ones.

Snowflakes hang over the kitchen sink.

He came into our lives after our father passed away many years ago and has been like a father to my sisters and me ever since.

Our wintry coffee/hot chocolate cups.

Many displays are from friends. The goose pitcher is from Mom; the snowman in the wreath is from dear nearby friends; the "Celebrate" platters are from my Richmond sister. The fresh arrangement was sent to my mother from my cousin Marie in Richmond. The Santa picture on the wall was a gift from SWAC Husband, bought in Gatlinburg, TN, a number of years ago when our children were young. The Santa on the dry sink was one of Mom's that she passed along to me.

Christmas Eve morning it was 10.2 degrees in our corner of Augusta County, and we saw a few snow flurries that day to make it seasonal.

SWAC Daughter's Christmas gift from SWAC Son ... my two Carolina Panthers fans. They are happy campers now that the Panthers are the NFC South Champions.

Christmas morning breakfast.

The cardinal was the 2013 George W. Bush Presidential Library ornament painted by the former president.

My special ornament from patient Stacy from Richmond Children's Hospital years ago. The background story of this ornament is here.

SWAC Daughter, cat lover, and her Christmas tee shirt.

Fresh greenery decorated the house ... Frasier fir, magnolia leaves, nandina berries, evergreen.

She loves the movie "How to Train Your Dragon" so there she sat, SWAC Niece and the dragon from Aunt Lynn sitting on her keyboard....

Busch Gardens' Christmas Town in Williamsburg is quickly becoming a family tradition with millions of multi-colored and white twinkly lights, decor, Christmas trees, sights, sounds, and smells of the season. We went down the Friday after Christmas....

Christmas Town ... the night passed too quickly but we had fun in the cold December air.

Christmas Eve and "It's a Wonderful Life."

Christmas wouldn't be complete without visiting friends and their new babies.

The Appalachian Mountains on Christmas Eve weren't covered in snow but it was cold and felt seasonal, and that was enough.

Homeschool friends, now grown and with children of their own, visiting during the holidays. We are a family, a community, that stays close and in touch as our children marry and begin their own families ... a special connection that will not fade with time.

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
December 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Stacy ... wherever you are

Christmas ornament hand-painted by 10-year-old Stacy in 1975.

As I was growing up, a tradition in our family was for my parents to give us ornaments each year from places they had traveled. My husband and I continued the tradition with our children ... so we have a number of "special" ornaments that are placed on the tree year after year.

This year was no different. As I carefully unwrapped the tissue paper from around one particular ornament, memories flooded back as I saw the hand-painted ceramic decoration for the tree.

It was a jack-in-the-box painted in 1975 by a 10-year-old boy named Stacy. I held the ornament in my hand and remembered back to the days when, as a young 20-year-old, I worked at Children's Hospital in Richmond.

Stacy touched my heart more than any other child I came in contact with because of his devilish sincerity. I loved that child. He was from southwest Virginia, one of many children from a large, poor Appalachian family. As best I can remember, the accident that changed his life occurred when he was playing cowboys-and-Indians with his siblings and they tied him to a tree, piled leaves at the base of the tree, and set the leaves on fire.

Stacy was horribly burned, so much so that much of both legs and part of one arm had to be amputated. He came to Children's Hospital for months of rehabilitation.

The patients at the hospital lived in dorms and received daily treatment as well as schooling. Far away from home, Stacy was with us for a long time as therapists, doctors, and nurses worked with him to heal his stumps so he could receive prosthetic devices to help him lead a normal life.

For someone who had been through such a horrible experience, he had a devilish sense of humor. He was funny, playful, and almost always in a good mood. Perhaps it was the love he received from all of us as he went through physical therapy, recreational therapy (which was where he painted the Christmas ornament), and the one-on-one education he received from the in-house teachers.

I still remember the day he presented the painted ceramic decoration to me. I kneeled beside his wheelchair so to be at eye level with him as he flamboyantly presented it to me ... then I took it home to my Christmas tree and, after the holidays, packed it away. Every year since that time it has been placed on my tree.

Stacy would now be in his 40s. I don't know what happened to him ... I lost track after leaving Children's Hospital. I have often wondered where he was, how his life turned out, and if he was able to handle the emotional scar of such a life-changing incident so young in his life.

I once again placed his ornament on the tree this year and again wished Stacy a Merry Christmas, wherever he is....

I run this column annually, originally published in 2006, as a tribute to a special little boy and our friendship from many years ago....

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell

Waynesboro's Zeus Digital Theater to next build a restaurant

Brett Hayes' rendition of the new restaurant from the Zeus Digital Theater Facebook page.

Walking into Waynesboro's Zeus Theater is like walking into a high-end movie theater in a big city, thanks to an entrepreneur who had a dream that has benefited the entire area.

Brett Hayes' dream was of a better movie theater, something he wrote about on his blog in 2009. He didn't want to be another of the chains. He wanted to follow through on his own ideas of using the latest available technology to show movies so he invested $8 million to make it come true.

His Zeus Theater opened in October of 2010 on Lew DeWitt Boulevard in Waynesboro, Virginia, a state-of-the-art digital stadium-seating theater that has not only drawn hoards of locals to its eight screens but has shut down the aging chain theater in neighboring Staunton. Hayes offered cafe seating in the lobby complete with tall tables and chair for theater snacks as well as a meeting/party room.

Hayes is a self-described MBA, former US Marine, Gulf War Veteran, serial small business owner, commercial land developer, project manager, closet economist, and Rotarian. His Zeus Theater has been a huge success.

At the time of its opening, Hayes told NBC-29, "I would like to see a restaurant in front of my theater within three months of opening. If this works as well as I expect it to then I'll probably be adding onto it." However, three years later that part of the plan had not come together.

Until today. On New Year's Eve, Brett Hayes posted to his Facebook page with plans for a restaurant:
In the coming year, I am going to build a restaurant in front of Zeus. I have been trying to develop the corner lots for years and frankly I have lost patience with the national chains.

I am not prepared to discuss the details of the menu yet, but it will be family friendly serving lunch, dinner and deserts.

We will be breaking ground in the late Spring and plan to be open by November 2014.

The sketch [above] is version 2.0 or so. I still have some refining to do to get it where I want it. I am talking about this now, because I am excited about it and people are asking about it.
With his track record for Zeus Theater and its success, I have no doubt Hayes' restaurant will enjoy the same success.

New Year's Eve ... a day of writing

 The Appalachian Mountains on New Year's Eve 2013.

It's New Year's Eve and I've been reading and writing much of the day.

On Christmas Eve I posted on my blog and then it happily went dark for the next week. Why? Let me count the ways.

Christmas, family, visitors, celebration, board games, cooking, baking, touring, gift wrapping, Christmas movies, holiday events, parents, children, babies, friends, neighbors, Christmas Town, Williamsburg, in-laws, joy.

We were excited to have my family celebrate a Shenandoah Valley Christmas this year at our house in Augusta County. For ten days we did all the above which left no desire to blog. My parents, son, daughter, son-in-law, sister, brother-in-law, niece, SWAC Husband, and friends were our joy during that time. I wasn't entirely silent during the past week, however, posting on Facebook on a regular basis throughout the holidays.

Today -- New Year's Eve -- everyone has returned to their homes. It's New Year's Eve afternoon in the Shenandoah Valley....

Photo by Lynn Mitchell
December 2013

Keep your powder dry, Bill Bolling

 Lieutenant Governor Bill and Jean Ann Bolling in Staunton -- August 2013.

He's been lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth for the past eight years, and served in the State Senate for ten years before that. Bill Bolling has been a dedicated servant to the people of Virginia and, in another ten days, he will step out of the spotlight. For a little while. As the old saying goes, keep your powder dry, Lieutenant Governor.

Reporter Jim Nolen with the Richmond Times-Dispatch did a nice profile article about the LG, catching up with him on the banks of the Rose River where he was enjoying one of his favorite pastimes -- fly fishing. Taking in the solace that many of us find in the Old Dominion, his joy of the outdoors was reflected in what Nolen wrote:
Within five minutes, and without any fanfare, Bolling reels in two impressive rainbow trout. He admires each of them for a moment, before gently unhooking them and returning them to the cold water.

“It’s become my getaway spot — a place that I can go and get away from everything,” Bolling said of the Rose River, in Madison County below Old Rag Mountain. “The time I spend there is therapeutic. It helps me clear my head, and the trout never talk back or disagree with me!”
After the past two years of turmoil in state politics that saw Bolling squeezed out by a Republican Party that left him, not the other way around, this LG has earned some time off. Hopefully, it won't be for long since his conservative leadership is needed now more than ever after every statewide office has flipped to the Democrats, as noted by reporter Shawn Day at the Virginian Pilot.

Through the mud-slinging, accusations, and betrayals, Bolling's humor has stayed intact even if at times it has frayed a bit. The down-to-earth LG whose values match those of most conservatives believes in governing in a more pragmatic, reach-across-the-aisle manner than that of the flame throwers. The November elections proved one thing: people didn't necessarily want a flame thrower in the Top Spot. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Bolling continues to hold the respect of business leaders and grassroots supporters throughout the Commonwealth which again leads to these four words of advice: Keep your powder dry.

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
August 2013