Slow Down

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. There are many reasons for this, one of which would be a desire to lose these COVID pounds that I’ve put on over the past several months. Another one is certainly a goal of better health. I don’t have a bicycle and I don’t particularly like to swim, both of which have been suggested to me by my doctor. So walking it is.

As I continue to recover from knee surgery, I’m finding that my steps are shorter than before. I’m hoping to get back to my old gait and I would eventually like to measure my distance in miles, not steps. 10,000 steps a day is a goal still beyond my grasp but we are getting there. 

In truth, there are far more steps behind me now than those ahead. It’s something I wrestle with but haven’t lost sleep over. “The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16.

One thing I’ve found while walking is that I still have a bad habit of constantly looking down. (Yes, I have run into a sign post and more than once.) I can end up focusing on what’s right in front of me and miss the bigger picture. I found this to be a problem when mowing the lawn, for instance. Focusing on long term goals but only looking at short term gains can quickly run you into the weeds. 

A group of us recently went through a study in the New Testament book of James. A key verse which stood out to me then is now just making itself more profitable. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Don’t we so often have this turned around? We are too quick to become angry, we find it hard to listen, and we are always ready to speak. Slowing down before we speak, or in my case before I post on social media, could just save us from unintended consequences. Not always, but it’s a beginning. 

A dear friend recently lifted my spirits by reaffirming something our pastor had just spoken about regarding what it is we are to be doing while we are walking through this life. Memes found on the internet are hardly the place to go for advice. I post it here for your consideration. Much can be made of the phrase “act justly,” or the one that follows “love mercy.” But what caught my attention was the concluding phrase, “walk humbly with your God.” 

It’s the invitation, not just how we are to walk (in humility) but with whom we are to walk that catches my breath here. When our granddaughter was small she and I would walk hand in hand, her small steps leading the way, often pulling me along the path. At times she would run ahead but always waiting for me to catch up; I guess I was slow even then. 

Her trust in the one she was walking with was evident. I’m hoping that as I slow down, giving greater attention to listening, I will develop a heart and attitude of humility. I know we are called to do justly, that is, to be people who love and uphold justice. And we are to love mercy or be merciful—but what are these qualities if they aren’t found in combination with humility? Aren’t they just another opportunity for us to showcase our pride? I’m hoping, expecting even, that by slowing down I will grow in humility, mercy, and a love of justice because of the One with whom I am walking. Baby steps, in one continuous direction.

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.

What I Want You to Know

This year, well actually tomorrow, our first granddaughter turns thirteen. I have taken so many pictures of her over the years, many on my iPad or sitting in frames around the house, that I’m having a hard time seeing her as the young woman she is becoming. I see her, but really I see That Little Two-year-old in the ladybug costume at Halloween. Or the child in the pink hoodie and purple straw hat, holding a flower she had just picked from the yard. Sometimes I see the young girl in shorts and a helmet sitting on a pony, unsure if she wants down or to keep on riding. 

Living in such close proximity we’ve had the extraordinary blessing of being able to see her and her sister regularly. Growing up, my grandparents lived in another state. We saw them only occasionally for holidays, or perhaps when they passed thru town pulling their travel trailer behind the big Oldsmobile on their way to my aunt and uncle’s home in Oregon for the summer. Our visits were always brief, the years passed quickly seemingly marked by the exchange of school pictures we sent them annually. 

My wife and son got to meet my grandmother only once. We arrived at my aunt and uncle’s home in time to join in a birthday celebration for Grandma. She was 98 that year and though her eyesight was failing, still her health and spirits were good. The excitement of opening gifts, cake and ice cream, meeting my family and talking more than she was used to must have been taxing on her. She soon retired to her small room to rest. It was the last time we would see her. She died two years later, just days shy of turning 100.

Oh, I love my new hat!

All that to say, what time we had spent with grandparents over the years wasn’t spent in reminiscing or talking about the past. Other than what could be gleaned from a few black and white photos, I know very little about the lives of my grandparents. 

So I was encouraged when my wife Deb picked up a special gift for our granddaughter. It’s in the form of a journal, really a collection of letters that you write, to be opened at a later date. It’s called “Letters to My Grandchild,” with the clever subtitle “A Paper Time Capsule.”

There are twelve prepackaged envelopes in booklet form. Nicely packaged, beautiful graphics and stickers remind one of those special airmail envelopes from generations ago. Clever titles like “The best advice anyone ever gave me,” or “It may surprise you to learn that…” are great topics for discussion starters. There are envelopes that focus on the past (“One positive change I have seen in the world”) and there are ones that allow a glimpse into the future (“My wishes for you are”).

Over a recent weekend getaway, Deb and I sat down to fill them out, each of us writing a short couple of paragraphs to seal up for the future. For one title, “Here is a special story about our family,” we’ve included the story about our drive through Florida during Hurricane Frances-2004. Not one of my better decisions, but the story of a rescue by strangers will hopefully be encouraging to her. 

The teen years can be challenging for everyone—the teen, her parents and siblings, and even grandparents who have a rough time seeing the person of today and not the small child of our memories. It’s important to recognize and see the person standing before us and not the imagined child from the photo albums if we are to be allies and mentors. Watching them grow up, we have been blessed to live in close proximity to our young extended family— Lord knows I can’t see myself pulling a 22 ft. trailer cross country to visit grandchildren!

The Long Reach of Memory

I was on Facebook the other day, scrolling past political arguments, pictures of cute dogs, homes being made ready for the holidays. It’s funny how you can be brought up short, suddenly frozen in the moment by an image from your past.

It was a photo of a barn in Washoe Valley not far from where I had grown up in Reno. The barn was red, not an uncommon color, the steeply pitched roofline common for the area’s barns which were designed to hold bales of hay thru the winter. It’s nestled up against the mountains and set off by striking gold leafed trees, made even more pronounced by the early dusting of snow. A small fence can be seen in the foreground. (Photo by Sharon Voss, from Facebook group “Only in Nevada”)

I had seen similar barns on a recent vacation in central Virginia. Similar, but not the same. A beautiful horse barn on the Montpelier mansion property had caught my attention and we stopped to get a few pictures of it and the unusual green color of the siding. The barn shape reminded me of buildings I had seen out West, not at all like the many dairy barns we have here in Loudoun County. 

Later that day we found our way to the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, our home base for the weekend as we explored the area and vineyards near Charlottesville VA. As we settled in, the afternoon sun was spectacular on the trees and really set off the red siding of the farm equipment structure across the lawn from us. Trees with brilliant tones of gold and orange contrasted with dark limbs. A white fence lead the eye through the idyllic composition. Again, the scene was oddly familiar. 


My stepmother Dorathy and my Dad both passed away within weeks of one another in 2007. He was 81 and had slowly succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer’s. She had predeceased him by a mere three weeks, a victim of respiratory failure. She would have been 97 this year on the 18th of November. We flew out for their memorial service, and later gathered with my brothers and their wives to go through what remained of my folks’ belongings at the home they had lived in for 38 years. I brought back a painting of the Sierra Nevada mountains that I had grown up enjoying. As a young artist it had been a goal of mine to be able to paint as well. There were other paintings of their’s but those must must have gone into storage. 

When I saw the photo on Facebook of the Washoe Valley barn, it all fell into place. The barns we had seen on our recent vacation, and then the photo of the Nevada barn, all reminded me of a painting which had hung in my parents’ home for years. A red barn. Set against the mountains. Trees in autumn, a rail fence. Though strangely enough, a lake curiously close to the barn reflecting the scene. 

And as I remembered it all, the painting had been done by Maxine Peters, my stepmother’s sister, of a red barn in Washoe Valley back in the 1960s. She loved the site but had painted it with Washoe Lake (or perhaps a pond) coming right up to the barn in order to maximize the color in the scene. An artist’s vision had altered the landscape to create something that only existed in her mind, but which had lived on for years in our home. She had some repute as a genre painter, exhibiting at local galleries and art shows, and we were quite proud to have one of her paintings hanging in the living room. 

Dad and Dorathy at the Lake cabin

They are a tricky thing, memories. There are times when I feel I have completely forgotten everything that happened before last week. When I talk with my 92-year-old mother, I am always surprised at how much she can still recall of her childhood. I’ve relied on photos of people and events to jog my memory, and that only recently. I’ve become the family photographer and archivist in part to ward off the eventual dimming of memory. We often say in jest, “if I didn’t take a picture, it didn’t happen.” Some truth to that, though as I found out this week, it can be surprising how long the reach of memory can be.

Seasons Change

I was in the 8th Grade when I heard the song “Turn, Turn, Turn,” by the Byrds. I didn’t know that it had been written and recorded years earlier by folk musician Pete Seeger. I only knew it from that jangly guitar version from 1965. And it was literally years later that I learned the lyrics were from the Book of Ecclesiastes. The wisest man in the known world certainly had a way with catchy lyrics.

This week during my walks thru the neighborhood, I was astounded by the rich color and utter confusion of fallen leaves along the path. Deep reds, bright chartreuse yellows, golden orange tones made walking slow trying to soak in all of the colors. 

The wooded area near our home is bisected by an intermittent stream providing fresh water for the many animals (deer in the area?) found here, though primarily birds and squirrels are all I ever see. But this week we had several rains and strong wind storms. The stream rose up and washed clean a lot of the debris along its shore. The winds and rain had ground down the leaves or blown clear the walking path. Today the few remaining leaves are faded to grays and tans; the exuberant color display is over signaling a change in the season.

It strikes me as not coincidental that our national election comes at the end of the year.  November has much to be thankful for, chief of which is that it is the last month before the slog thru winter. December, followed by January and then February. All cold months, colors faded to dark and light. But November seems to offer a brief moment of rest before the seasons change. An election offers the hope of future change just when we are beginning to think about the seasonal change to winter. “Winter is coming” somber voice, GOT; but first, let’s vote. 

Wikipedia is a useful source for information regarding the National Election Day. 

“By 1792, federal law permitted each state to choose Presidential electors any time within a 34-day period before the first Wednesday in December. A November election was convenient because the harvest would have been completed but the most severe winter weather, impeding transportation, would not yet have arrived,

Development of the Morse electric telegraph funded by Congress in 1843 and successfully tested in 1844, was a technological change that clearly augured an imminent future of instant communication nationwide. To prevent information from one state from influencing Presidential electoral outcomes in another, Congress responded in 1845 by mandating a uniform national date for choosing Presidential electors. Congress chose the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November to harmonize current electoral practice with the existing 34-day window in federal law, as the span between Election Day and the first Wednesday in December is always 29 days. The effect is to constrain Election Day to the week between November 2 and 8 inclusive.”

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,  and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
A time to keep, and a time to throw away;
A time to tear, and a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,  and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate;
A time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Let’s all be encouraged that whether you think this is a time of weeping, scattering, casting away stones, or a time of hate: that God has a time of peace ahead for us. 

Making New Old

When I closed my small business a couple of years ago, I thought that it was likely the end of my decorative-painting career. I had started Turtle Hill Originals as an opportunity to market and sell the small, home decor items I had been painting, and up until then, selling thru local craft shows. A business brought with it business cards, brochures, a website, an Etsy storefront, Facebook page, and access to wholesale pricing on materials. But after three years and minimal sales, we decided that enough was enough.

I was about twelve years old, as I recall, when I first became interested in refinishing furniture. I had found a small footstool set out for trash pickup one day and decided to bring it home. The cushion would need to be replaced, the wooden legs and frame sanded smooth, stained and varnished. But I was confident that I could make something old look new again.

The next project I tackled was a rocking chair and after that it was a stream of small pieces that found a new life, refreshed and useful again. The smell of sawdust, walnut stain, and varnish at that time competed with my desire to be a fine artist. And looking back now, both shared similar skills but with differing goals.

I don’t know when, but sometime over the intervening years I lost interest in bringing old pieces back to life. It could have been the many years I spent in the museum and trade show industry helping to create graphics for many of our Smithsonian museums. The casework we created was gorgeous, beautifully finished pieces I would love to have had in my home. Their pristine surfaces were lacquered and glowed in the soft museum lighting. But I was being drawn towards the textured, roughly painted surfaces of scenic reproductions.

Starting with new materials, the scenic and props department turned New into Old. Whether it was a rusted time-worn metal finish, or desert-bleached wood, the trompe l’oeil effects of the paintbrush were magical and I loved it. Learning to use brushes, sponges, and spatter techniques served me well when I was called on to help create props and stage sets for our local church’s dramatic Easter productions.

Once I retired, I found I had the time to continue my decorative painting. I haven’t felt the self-imposed pressure to create pieces for sale that I had been under when I was struggling to promote a business. Contrary to popular belief, I had found that there isn’t always a market for what you love to do.

But after we downsized and moved to a smaller home, small projects keep popping up. Another side table for my recliner, a whimsical plant stand painted in a harlequin pattern, even a refresh of the painted pumpkins I had made several years ago are all projects I’ve enjoyed doing recently. Below are some of the pieces that I’ve worked on this past month. I might not be making old new again, but I am enjoying aging along with the process of making new things appear old. “Gracefully aged,” I should say!