Encourage One Another

Everyone is under encouraged. Everyone. 

I’m quoting from a former pastor who in truth probably quoted his favorite teacher. But it’s a truth whose veracity we don’t need to go far to ascertain. Whether from personal history or from our studies, we know how much a word of encouragement can mean to people. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament says, “Encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” He may have had a more significant day in view, but tomorrow approaches, well, every day. 

But why the admonishment? What is it about our lives that would make a biblical command necessary? And if we are asked, directed or commanded as it were to encourage others, then how are we to go about it? 

Earlier in the book (Hebrews 3:13) the author gives us a little more insight. “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

In today’s vernacular we might put it like this, “encourage one another because life is hard and it just gets harder.” 


Before our move to our townhome, we had lived in the same house for 22 years. In that time I learned the first name of only ten neighbors. Only ten from a neighborhood of over 200 homes. I resolved to do better in our new location. 

At first I would wave to our new neighbors whenever I passed them on my walk to get the mail. Nothing. While the weather was still warm I would sit out on our porch and drink my morning coffee; again I would wave to the neighbors as they left for a walk or their commute to work. We might exchange a quick hello, other than that, nothing.

And then for Thanksgiving my wife had a great idea. Remembering the small Whitman’s sampler chocolates we used to get in our Christmas stockings, we decided to get a few and put them in small bags to hang on the doors of our neighbors. Nothing extravagant, just a note letting them know we were thankful for them this year.

The response was a bit overwhelming. From handmade thank you cards to gifts in kind (who doesn’t like to receive chocolate?), our neighbors began to stop by and leave small gift bags on our doorstep, always signed with their house number. Earlier in the year I had let our own small group Bible study know that one of my goals for 2020 had been to learn the names of my neighbors, and how poorly that was going. Now the names seemed to be pouring in!

From small gift giving, to conversations on the sidewalk, we have been getting to know our neighbors. We haven’t had to wait for another Snowmageddon to bring the community together in a massive one-time shoveling event. Even now we are considering how we might continue to encourage one another. I’m hoping for something along the lines of a 4th of July children’s parade and hotdogs, only perhaps a little sooner than July.

With our erratic weather we could still be in for a big snow storm in the new year. But at least when it arrives, I can call my neighbors by name. And that might just be the encouragement we need during these difficult times.

White Christmas

This year maybe, just maybe, we will have a white Christmas. Weather dot gov has our current forecast for Christmas Eve as rain showers likely before 1am, then rain and snow showers likely between 1am and 3am, then snow showers likely after 3am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 28. Breezy. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Christmas Day should be partly sunny with a high near 33 degrees.

Listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas,” more than once this holiday season had me thinking about all those Christmases past we enjoyed the snow. Growing up in Reno, I’m sure we saw lots of snow, snow upon snow, heaps and piles of snow.

But strangely enough, my memory seems to be playing tricks on me again. According to Shane Snyder, Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Reno. “It has snowed 7 times on Christmas Day, with a dozen times there’s been snow on the ground on Christmas Day out of 120 years.” That means about 10% of Christmases in Reno are white. In 1910, one inch of snow fell. In 1921, five inches of snow fell. In 1965 it was 2.7 inches. Christmas Day 1968, we saw almost three inches of the white stuff. In 1972, 14.9 inches of snow fell.  (Read more here)

Here in Northern Virginia I wouldn’t expect to see snow on Christmas, though one can always hope. According to the National Weather Service, from 1884 to 2016,  there were only nine times where measurable snow fell on Christmas Day. From 1888 to 2016, there have been 19 times where measurable snow has been on the ground on Christmas Day. (From White Christmases and us: The history of white Christmases in the D.C. area)

December 25, 2009

It has been 11 years since the last time we had a White Christmas (December 25, 2009). The odds of a white Christmas in D.C. are usually not in our favor. For a true white Christmas, there must be at least 1 inch of snow on the ground. It does not have to snow Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  On average, only about 10% of Christmases in D.C. have 1 inch or more of snow on the ground. The last year with snow on the ground in D.C. was 11 years ago in 2009 with leftover snow we received from our blizzard on the 19th – 20th. Even more rare in recent years, it hasn’t snowed on Christmas Day in D.C. since 2002, 18 years ago. (WUSA9.com)

Several years ago we celebrated our anniversary at a cabin in the woods. Our anniversary falls in the first week of January and you honestly never know what the weather is going to be like when you book a reservation several months in advance. So it was with utter amazement and delight that we woke up on the second day of our trip with snow on the ground. Lots of snow. Northwestern Maryland will often get snow in the mountains when Northern Virginia only gets rain. But a surprise snowfall and I feel like a ten-year-old boy again.

The way 2020 has gone, I would welcome a little snow. Maybe just enough to shovel but certainly more than the dusting we have grown accustomed to. I’m not talking another Snowmageddon-2010 situation, maybe just a little Currier & Ives snow that brings out the best in the cardinals we see in our trees out back. But with all the talk of snow recently, I’ve actually got my eye on another Christmas destination, hopefully not too far off in the future. One that includes a sunny beach, maybe palm trees, and definitely a tropical beverage. Let’s go!

Caribbean poster from Ebay

It’s Been a Year

43 posts, more than 2,000 views, scads of comments. When I started my blog last year I honestly didn’t think I would be still writing after a month, let alone a year. What I had thought might be a fun repository of recipes, pictures of the garden, and travel memories has turned into my own little online magazine. It’s the Story of Me and You, written every few weeks or so. 

My Top Ten

Writing about everything from my knee replacement surgery (my most-viewed post) to my latest article on the data centers out here in our new neighborhood has given me a greater respect for writers and the process of writing. Words are easy; getting them to say something is a lot harder. 

In high school I was an assistant editor on our school newspaper. It was my first taste of journalism and writing for an audience beyond a teacher’s assignments. I didn’t pursue writing as a career, my college degree was in Fine Arts, but I’ve tried to keep my hand in the word making business. From an Army topographic engineer in the edit squad, on to my years as Director of Communications at a local church, I’ve enjoyed the process of stringing words together. 

In this journey I’m hoping that we both arrive at the end together, perhaps a bit more informed if not entertained. And there will always be a recipe or photo of the irises in my garden to enjoy, that is if the deer haven’t already devoured them. I don’t have a cute puppy to write about (still holding out hope!) but we have wineries to visit, stories of family left to explore, and I finally got a truck so I think we are in good shape.

I’m looking forward to more of this. I took a bruising on Facebook recently for a political post, but that’s just the give and take we can all expect when we open up the discussion. Thanks for participating— more to come in the new year, as soon as we can finish off 2020. 


If you are just joining us, below is My Top Ten List

“Vintage Typewriter” by pietroizzo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Go Big

Driving out to the Ashburn Home Depot along Loudoun County Parkway, I was struck recently by the sheer size of all the data centers going in. I did some online searching and was surprised to learn that our area now is home to 70 data centers with more planned for the future. When I lived here during the 1990s the area was still very rural. AOL was expanding their footprint but for the most part, turf farms seemed to be the major development. All that has changed now and there are homes and retail establishments from Ashburn to Brambleton, from Route 28 on up to Belmont Ridge Road. 

With more than 70% of the world’s internet traffic passing through our area, it isn’t a surprise to expect even more development in the coming years. Trying to find a careful balance between residential growth and commercial development has been a difficult challenge. The data centers have brought much needed employment opportunities to our local economy, and added to county revenues.

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller reports that the ongoing rush to build more data centers has resulted in the county receiving “fast-track applications” for seven new data center projects that will result in 3 million square feet of new data center space in the region. In addition, last month Data Center Dynamics reported that Amazon is planning construction of a new 1.75 million square foot data center facility in the area as well.

My concern isn’t so much in the number of data centers that we host as it is in the visual effect they have on our community. Our wide roads are beautifully landscaped and well maintained. Yet, the enormous size of the newer developments seems to be softened only with the addition of low berms, landscaping and small trees. Perhaps in 20 years all that landscaping will have grown into effective visual barriers. Right now, not so much.

In an article from the December 26, 2019 Loudountimes.com newspaper, Nathaniel Cline wrote that “In the coming year, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development will conduct a branding review of the data center cluster in Loudoun and explore potential branding and signage campaigns as directed by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17.”

He also added that “Included in the Board of Supervisors’ direction is for county staff to consider a roadside sign or monument to support the branding efforts. Areas for signage could include major thoroughfares such as Route 28, Route 7, Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway.” 

So my question is more in the range of a suggestion and an example.

My home town of Reno, Nevada has continued a years-long effort to “rebrand” the city from that of a gambling and tourism-only focus to one that has greater appeal  to residents and visitors alike. One of the steps they have taken is to make the city more “art friendly,” specifically public art friendly, by encouraging (and in some cases helping finance) public sculptures and large scale murals. Reno is a city that had one mural when I was growing up there (“Harolds Club or Bust!”) and now boasts more than 100 murals, with tours available! https://travelnevada.com/arts-culture/through-the-lens-midtown-mural-tour/

When I reached out to Reno City Government recently, Megan Berner the Acting Manager of Arts, Culture, and Events, City of Reno emailed me back. She said that much of the growth and interest in public art came after the establishment of a Public Arts Commission in 1990.

Quoting Megan “The mural movement itself in Reno was very organic and mostly driven by individual artists (like Erik Burke) and private business owners–most of our murals are on private property. The murals on private property are privately funded for the most part. The City helped fund the large mural behind the red flower in the image you attached–it is on a public building owned by the County. 

We also have fairly relaxed rules about painting murals on private property. The only real guidelines/rules we have is that murals cannot be signs/advertisements for the business. They need to be art or comply with our signs laws.”

I contacted Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner with the question: what can we do to encourage the owners of these big box, concrete buildings to consider enriching their buildings and our community with outdoor art? His gracious response was welcoming.

The concept Reno developed of turning that vast wall space into art is fantastic. It sounds like Buddy Rizer, the Director of Economic Development, is already looking at that as a possible improvement. Clearly that whole section of Ashburn has been aesthetically impacted by these massive buildings, and I should warn you that, as horizontal real estate has begun to reach its practical limit, the data centers are starting to talk about vertical development. They own the land, so there’s not much we can do about that.

Supervisor Turner concluded, “The challenge we face is that Ashburn, VA is now exactly like the oil boom towns of the late 19thcentury, except Ashburn is a global boom town. “Data Center Alley” in Ashburn is literally the iconic center of the data world. They are extraordinarily good community partners supporting many local nonprofits and educational programs, and they represent an enormous slice of county tax revenue. That plays a major role in enabling us to keep property taxes in line. I’m also working with them to move them onto sustainable energy sources for the great amounts of power they use. I promise you we are aware of the issue and are looking at any way to mitigate the visual impact they are having.

We have a challenge in front of us; I don’t expect that suddenly we will see sculptures and murals and other forms of public art appearing around every corner. I do hope, however, that as we continue to build out our environment with massive concrete boxes, we might give more than a nod to how the region is going to look in five or ten years. Will we continue to be Data Center Alley, or can we hope for something along the lines of a High Tech Gateway enriched by artwork of a scale to capture our imaginations and the explosive power of the internet? Let’s hope so.


Photos from two of Reno artist Erik Burke’s murals in Reno, NV. View more of his largescale work on his website https://eriktburke.com/

Holiday Traditions

My earliest memory of an actual Christmas tradition in our family was that of the annual Christmas Tree Hunt. There may have been years where we purchased a tree from one of the many vendors around town—we would likely have bought ours from the guys set up on the church parking lot— but buying a tree was rare for us.

The hillsides and mountains around Reno where I grew up were covered with any number of trees. The Sierra Nevada mountains had pine trees, though little in the way of the traditional conical-shaped Douglas fir or noble fir. Those showed up in the parking lots around town, shipped down from Oregon. The ponderosa pines and sugar pines in the Sierra were a scraggly lot in their smaller sizes, though beautiful and stately once they were grown. But a five to six foot ponderosa pine had few branches from which to hang ornaments. 

Our Christmas tree hunt generally focused on the smaller hills to the south of town, an easy hour-long trip to the hills outside Virginia City. There we could find the tree my Dad favored: Nevada’s pinion pine. The pinion pine is a squat, rather bushy style of tree. Very aromatic, quite a bit of pitch which would often be hard to clean off your hands, and lots of pine cones. 

But because most of the trees we found ran towards the beachball shape, it would take a lot of trekking the hills until we found one that was suitable. Never mind if there were bare spots, those could be filled in later with strategically placed branches, cut and reattached with a bit of wire. 

When I married, one of the holiday traditions I wanted to continue with my family was that of the Christmas Tree Hunt. My wife was onboard, and my son enjoyed the trips out to Ticonderoga Farm in Chantilly, especially the year it snowed. Most years the weather was warm and the hunt for a beautiful scotch pine didn’t take long. Acres of trees grown in well-tended rows took some of the “adventure of the hunt” out of the experience, but sipping hot chocolate around the fire pit while we waited for the tree to be bagged with netting more than made up for lost adventure.

Years later I finally broke down and we purchased a prelit artificial tree. We spray it with some winter scent (this year it is “Snowy Night”) hoping to enjoy some of that fresh-cut smell. Not the same, but it’s nice. I saw cars and trucks on the road coming back from Middleburg over the weekend, each one with a nice plump tree strapped to their roof. We just bought a new, prelit tree last year when we downsized to a townhouse. So we won’t be taking part in the Annual Tree Hunt any time soon. And truthfully, I think my days of wandering around the hills looking for that perfect tree are over.

I did plant a small spruce in the yard last year. Who knows but in a few years, it might be large enough to string a few outdoor lights on. But I’m not giving up my Balsam Hill tree. After all, it’s prelit.