Our New Home

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Hiking up Turk Mountain in Shenandoah National Park in early November

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Hiking up Sharp Top Mountain, one of the Peaks of Otter, in mid-November with Bob A., who found a recliner along the way!

click here for more pictures of climbing Sharp Top Mountain

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Monika’s family graciously invited Holly and me to come to Germany to visit the family and to travel around a bit.  We spent two full weeks there in October.  I visited Monika’s 95 year-old mother several times, and we spent many happy hours with Monika’s two sisters and family members.  One of Monika’s nephews generously gave up his apartment in Munich for us for several days.  We toured several local towns in Lower Bavaria, spent four days in the Austrian Alps, stopping off at the formidable fortress of Hohenwerfen on the way back,  and took a castle tour in Upper Bavaria, including Oberammergau and the famous fantasy castles of King Ludwig II, Linderhof and Neuschwanstein (which prohibit taking pictures inside).  Click on the subject titles below for collections of pictures by both Holly and me.

Austrian Alps/Hohenwerfen Fortress     Linderhof, Oberammergau and Neuschwanstein

Munich     Lower Bavarian Towns (Landshut, Burghausen, Straubing, Dingolfing)



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This past summer Holly took me up to the Delaware eastern shore to meet her longtime friends Barb and Robert.  We had a delightful time and in early October they visited us.  In addition to an antique show in the Shenandoah Valley, we took them to The Plunge hike at Wintergreen and enjoyed a picnic lunch and a walk around Sherando Lake on a beautiful fall day.  Later: Dinner with two of Holly’s sisters.

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Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in late May

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Flaming Azalea and Rhododendron along AT on The Priest

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at church dinner
Lunch on the deck and cooking for Thankful Thursday dinner at Grace

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Picking Strawberries at Seaman’s orchards with an incredible view

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Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in late April

Much of our retirement life here in Nelson County has worked out pretty much the way we planned and expected.  We live simply and relatively cheaply.  We grow or raise much of our own food.  We are surrounded by gorgeous mountain views and countless smaller scale opportunities to observe nature.  We have reveled in our quiet and low-stress life.

Life in the Slow Lane

What we neither expected nor predicted was how quickly we would become deeply enmeshed in a variety of overlapping social networks that have connected us to a much larger and more diverse circle of friends and acquaintances then we ever had in our previous life in Cherry Hill.  In the process, our lives have taken new directions we never would have anticipated.  And in the aftermath of Monika’s cancer diagnosis this past January, we discovered we had in place just about the most wonderful support network one could hope for.  If one of us had to be ill, this was the place to be.

The process started with our neighbors, who welcomed us, helped take care of our chickens when we were away, provided nursing expertise at some scary moments, lent a tractor that saved the day in a well reconstruction project, taught us new card games,  and even introduced us to Superbowl parties (where we, who didn’t even know who was playing until we looked it up, had the blind luck to walk off with the bulk of the betting pool winnings).

Two neighbors down the main road a bit, Nancy and Phil Welker, connected us to two local institutions that otherwise would not have been on our horizon.  Phil took me early along to the Massies Mill Ruritan Club, a volunteer service organization that provides various local services (Saturday night dances, an annual and much-anticipated Carnival, food service at various county events, use of its building for weddings and other events, etc.) to raise money, much of which is then given back to the community in the form of college scholarships, and donations to local organizations and programs.

I confess my first encounters with the Club involved more than a little culture shock, but gradually our shared community concerns trumped most everything else.  So I joined and soon was maintaining the Club’s website and holding various offices in the organization.  One Ruritan friend helped us build our chicken coop, and numerous others have proved to be great resources and friends in all sorts of other ways.

Phil and Nancy Welker also introduced us to Grace Episcopal Church in nearby Massies Mill.  The church is small and strikingly beautiful inside, with an interior wooden “carpenter gothic” style.  The large alter window depicts the parable of the Good Samaritan, which in my view gets as close as anything to the positive core of Christianity.  Not being literal believers, we at first found aspects of Episcopalian liturgy to be rather uncomfortable.  But we also came to discern almost as many beliefs as there were members in this friendly and stimulating community.  And when a wonderfully dynamic new rector, Marion Kanour, took over in April 2013, the church blossomed even further into a haven for innovation, open-mindedness and social activism.

In the process we’ve come to understand that especially in rural areas, churches are more than anything communities and centers of social life, not rigid bastions of doctrinal beliefs.  We’ve found ourselves drawn to Grace for its embrace of tolerance and diversity, its love of shared good food and drink (including its weekly Thankful Thursday dinners and its Graceful Brewers Guild), its beautifully-melancholic Celtic evening service, and its nice mix of Nelson County old-timers and “transplants” like us.  We’ve rediscovered the pleasures of collective singing and quiet contemplation. Grace has become a comfortable new home for both of us, and a source of much appreciated support.


When we bought our Blue Rock property in 2009, we were fortunate that it came beautifully landscaped with flowering trees and bushes.  Some areas were in general disarray, however, and we’ve gradually transformed the pond area, added a shade garden, helped vegetation get a foothold on the steep slope above the kennel, and introduced a variety of bulbs and perennials along three sides of the house.  This year it’s all come together very beautifully, and we spend many hours soaking in the sublime peacefulness of the riot of color.

Monika’s sweet williams and roses provide a colorful backdrop
to the pond area with its water iris, to which we’ve added several
dwarf  junipers as well as a bridalveil spirea and tiger lilies

Click here for more flower pictures


I think our chickens enjoy my sister Eleanor’s visits as much as we do.  Incredible TLC from NYC, including twice-daily poop removal service–our Chicken Hilton really lives up to its name when Eleanor is here!  It’s been really fun watching them together on this recent visit.  We mostly stayed close to home, but did take some local walks, including a visit to the Appalachian Trail suspension bridge over the Tye River.





With our flowering weeping cherry, crab apple, forsythia and dogwood, the advent of spring probably offers the most spectacular display of color of the year on our property.

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Above: Our view to the north; Coop, kennel and house


Full moon setting over snowy mountains

The March snows and cold weather are hopefully gone now.  Spring is in the air, and in the last two days our early-march plantings in the vegetable garden have finally started to sprout: snap peas, cilantro, swiss chard, collards, lettuce, and turnips are all belatedly coming up.


August 7th Postscript: I (and many around here) have subsequently learned that what hit us so hard on the night of June 29th is called a derecho.  The link is to Wikipedia’s entry, which explains that a derecho, in contrast to a tornado, is a straight-line windstorm generally accompanied by severe thunderstorms.  The pictures below of John and family also help in conveying the scale of the fallen tree rootballs:


Well, we moved here in 2009 just in time for the biggest pre-Christmas snowstorm since 1936; then in 2011 we had the biggest earthquake in Virginia since 1897, then a month ago we had a freak hailstorm that did a bunch of damage, and then this past week we experienced what locals describe as the worst storm since Hurricane Camille in 1969 and the worst wind storm in living memory.  I was helping out at the annual Ruritan Carnival, where the sudden and unexpected hurricane-force winds led to some scary moments as the Carnival operators struggled to get people down from the high rides and where well over a hundred people poured into the Ruritan clubhouse for safety.  With reports of impassable roads most everywhere, many people stayed until 1:00 am, when most left, leaving behind several who slept there that night.  At home Monika saved our umbrella on the back deck and then headed down to the basement, where we slept the next few nights.  Electric power, water, phone, and internet remained out until the middle of the following week.

The next morning we surveyed the damage.  Our house was completely spared, but large limbs were down in the backyard, from the Norway Maples on the side, and the oak tree in front.  Worst hit was our several-acre forest, particularly the section that abuts the pastures on the north side: about twenty large trees were blown down, either completely uprooted or broken off from their trunks.  My woodland trail system was pretty much obliterated, but our vegetable and flower gardens took only a minor hit.  Our chickens were safe.  Dan’s treehouse was completely destroyed.  The pictures above and linked below fail to give a full sense of the devastation, which is hard to capture on camera.

As typical of our rural area, neighbors were out helping neighbors from the start.  Our neighbors next door helped us survey the damage, and we helped another neighbor repair his cattle fences.  He and his mother in turn offered to let us bring food from our freezer to theirs, which they had running on a generator.  Later, when that generator failed, we got a friend to bring a temporary generator over to pump water for their thirsty cattle; he also fixed their generator which in turn fixed our frozen food problem.   And so on….

I broke down and invested in a chainsaw, but we’ll be relying on other friends to do the heavy tree felling and pruning.  It’s strange to walk in our woods and look up at the sky instead of the tree canopy, but it will be interesting to watch the forest regenerate itself.  Cleanup is slowed down by daytime temperatures of 100+ degrees, but life goes on…

click here for more pictures

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