Get a Map

Virginia’s 57,867-mile state-maintained roads system is divided into these categories: Interstate – 1,118 miles of four-to-ten lane highways that connect states and major cities. Primary – 8,111 miles of two-to-six-lane roads that connect cities and towns with each other and with interstates. Secondary – 48,305 miles of local connector or county roads. Frontage – 333 miles of frontage roads. (VDOT)

And Google maps (Apple maps) has most of them readily accessible on your car’s navigation system or smart phone. 

But there are just times when only an old fashioned printed map will suffice. Or save you from wandering endless backroads thru hills and hollows without internet reception. 

A weekend drive to a recommended winery gave us an afternoon of exploring some of the most pastoral landscape I’ve yet seen here in Virginia. Climbing hills, green pastures outlined with white-painted fences, cattle at rest in the shade of oak trees or standing belly deep in a pond, a tiny church across from a well-tended cemetery—the type of scenery you might only come across in a Charles Wysocki 1,000 piece puzzle. 

But on the way back, looking for another winery we knew to be located nearby, the road we had previously traveled seemed a little unfamiliar. Had we turned left at that intersection? Have we already gone past the farm with the two llamas out front? Did we go across this narrow bridge, I don’t remember following a stream (ooh that looks great for fly fishing!).

All the while the late afternoon sun is hidden behind a grey overcast sky and the road has continued to narrow. When the pavement turned to hard packed gravel, I knew it was time to turn around. “We’re not lost,” I thought, “just exploring the backroads of Virginia!”

I grew up with a map in my lap, calling out turns, intersections, bridges and land features as my Dad or Mom drove the family car on our family vacations. Long before an interest in aerial photography and the layed-out landscape would lead me to Army cartographic school, I was fascinated with the relationship between the constructed landscape and the natural. The patchwork of farmlands we drove thru as a youngster resolved into magnificent tapestries of colors and shapes bounded by roads or water features when I finally saw them for the first time from an airplane window. Those patterns and colors eventually found their way into my pencil drawings and water colors years later in college art courses.

Learning to drive, or rather, to navigate with the digital map on my iphone has been challenging. In the Boy Scouts and later in the Army, we were taught to orient the map to Magnetic North, then find your location and proceed. I find it confusing then to be following the moving locator on the screen’s map, it heading towards the bottom of the screen, when I am driving forward (up on the screen?). When my wife calls out a turn to the left or right, I’m tempted to ask if the map (digital screen) is oriented properly. My left? Your left? The iPhone’s left? I’m confused!

With a full tank of gas I’m not as concerned as I used to be with directions-eventually we’ll get there. Though in the case of the winery, well, we are saving that for another day. But I am concerned about my friends who drive EVs.

I talked on the phone to my brother the other day about his Tesla. Don’t you get Range Anxiety, I asked him? After a long discussion about batteries, the dual motor capabilities, the growing number of charging stations, and the rundown on their last bi-state road trip, he replied: No. His vehicle gets about 326 miles when charged up (nearly the same mileage as my Nissan Frontier, truthfully). Surely that’s sufficient to glide along any of the backroads of Virginia without worrying about a fill up, I thought. But still, aren’t you concerned about your onboard map/guidance system? What if the satellite coverage drops out? What if line-of-sight is obscured by mountain driving? What if, what if? From their website, I take some reassurance: As updated maps become available, they are automatically sent to Model S over Wi-Fi. To ensure you receive them, periodically connect Model S to a Wi-Fi network. OK.

Thinking about our transitioning to the new, all digital age: does anyone remember getting letters in the mail? Finding a collection of old letters carefully ribboned together and saved in shoeboxes, perhaps for generations? They were our maps and guide to the past, connecting us to people and places a text or an email never can. I’m looking at you, Major Sullivan Ballou (https://www.nps.gov/articles/-my-very-dear-wife-the-last-letter-of-major-sullivan-ballou.htm)

I wonder what we will leave behind in the way of ephemera, love letters, birthday cards, train stubs and such. Or will our future be one of the now, driving along our digital highways and not looking back. Never lost, always here.


If you are a map or data junky, Virginia Roads website has an amazing set of tools designed to create apps, or maps which incorporate their data. Again from their website: Build exciting new apps with no code. Story Maps are a great way to share your message interactively. Quickly combine your maps, analysis and data int a purposeful app – with no code!

That’s pretty exciting for me to see, the cartographic world was just beginning the transition to digital environment when I left the Army in 1986.

Upcycled

Upcycled, recycled, DIY makeover, finished, refinished, trash-to-treasure— call it what you will, the “don’t throw that away” movement is definitely here to stay. With the cost of new furniture, and shipping problems continuing to be an issue, it only makes sense to repurpose what you have rather than buying more. But what if what you have isn’t quite right or isn’t working for you anymore?

I’ve seen and read a crush of articles recently extolling the virtues of shopping the second hand market for furniture, or salvaging a piece from someone else’s trash before it becomes landfill; but most of those projects end up all looking alike. The paint-it-grey urban farmhouse style has a firm grip on today’s design world. Much like the all-beige world of the early 90s, trends can really take ahold of our consciousness.

I am aware that no one wants OUR stuff, especially the kids! And that includes our collectibles, knickknacks, souvenirs, and other space wasters and shelf hogs. However, we all want YOUR stuff if it is vintage, antique, or can be painted and made to look like new.

Many online sources have chronicled our obsession with old=new again. 

In an article from early in the pandemic (Oct 2020) Vox noted how people’s choices to buy used furniture created new opportunities for some, yet at the same time previewed hard times ahead for some retailers. It could be an early indicator of a market shift, or just a temporary reaction to supply shortages and high prices at a time when folks were reticent about going out. Time will tell. 

Online articles will tell you how to clean second hand furniture, how to detects pests (bedbugs in the sofa?), what not to buy second hand (mattresses, again…bedbugs), where to score great mid-century modern furniture (estate sales and auctions, especially in MCM neighborhoods such as Mantua in Fairfax), and of course there is Pinterest for how-to ideas once you have your new/old piece. 

Lately I have become a bit obsessed with online estate sales. Well, auctions, rather than sales, and that is an important point to remember. While you might rejoice over the initial low bids on a particular piece of furniture, the bidding can quickly ratchet up past your limit in the final hours of a sale. No one wants to get caught paying more for a piece than it’s worth!

On the other hand, I’ve bought a beautiful Victorian walnut washstand for $23; a mahogany sidetable for $10 (I kept the legs and threw away the damaged top); and a nifty dresser shaving mirror in mahogany for $40 which I will be refinishing soon. The mirror, along with a couple of very old picture frames, came out of the Hill mansion in Culpeper. Just getting the opportunity to walk through the mansion to pickup my treasures was worth the trip!

I’m having a lot of fun trying out a few new techniques. The two Victorian-era picture frames that I bought are in need of some repair. One of them is missing the cast plaster molding in a corner. I’ve cast a new corner piece from a mold I made out of DAS modeling clay. Fingers crossed that the finished project turns out!

The kids may not want our stuff, that’s true. But I’m still looking for projects to refinish!

A Wonderful Life

The holidays bring no end of opportunities for musical and dramatic presentations. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol seems to never run out of venues, whether performed at community theaters or touring companies. So it is also with The Nutcracker, or holiday sing-alongs to Hansel’s Messiah

If, like many families, you have your collection of DVDs, then by now you may have already watched White Christmas or A Christmas Story. Or you may be more partial to new favorites such as Elf; How the Grinch Stole Christmas; or Home Alone. The Hallmark Channel serves up an endless supply of 25 Days of Christmas movies to get us all into the spirit!

It’s a Wonderful Life premiered in December 1946. It was not a commercial success by today’s standards (initial box office release places it near $3.5 million) and doesn’t fall anywhere near the top 50 highest-grossing Christmas films. (Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018), at $512 Million takes first place, followed by 1990’s Home Alone $496 million. https://screenrant.com/christmas-movies-highest-grossing-box-office-mojo/

Yet it has taken its place on many Christmas movie lists as one of the most-loved holiday movies. Due to an oversight by the copyright holder Republic Pictures, It’s A Wonderful Life came into the public domain in 1974 and was shown repeatedly on television for many years. For many of us “boomers” White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life are the definitive holiday movies.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play (full-length version)
It’s a Wonderful Life is based on the story, The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern and was adapted by Joe Landry in 1996. This past week we saw a wonderful performance of this charming holiday favorite by the Four County Players in Barboursville VA. The building is a beautiful historic school building from the 1930s filled with character. The stage of the auditorium of the Barboursville Community Center (formerly Barboursville High School) was transformed into the Manhattan radio station WBFR and side wings served as a “green room” during the play’s intermission.

The Players have been putting on a wide range of shows for over 40 years now. Looking through their website, musicals, comedy, and dramas abound and titles such as God of Carnage, The Laramie Project, and Chicago emphasize the wide variety and challenging pieces they have taken on.

It’s A Wonderful Life performed as a live radio play adds an extra depth to a story that has become very familiar over the years. The idea of watching actors, who are themselves portraying actors, who are telling a story set in the postwar 1940s makes this show both familiar and fresh. It’s as if we were being treated to a contemporary podcast, yet here the actions and expressions of the people on stage carry even more emotional weight than would a sound-only podcast.

Frank Kapra directed the movie, based on the 1943 short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, at the end of WWII. James Stewart had just gotten out of the Army Air Corps and the themes of faith and family, along with deep emotional trauma, surely resonated in his performance. It is a strange coincidence that this play takes the stage again 75 years after the movie’s premier, also at a time when the US has returned home from war.

Yet just as moving was the poigancy that Ken Wayne brought to his portrayal of the drama’s character Jake Laurents, voicing the play’s character of George Bailey. John Holdren’s portrayal of the radio show host was very impressive, switching from host to numerous characters seemingly at ease. Using only their stage scripts as props, or perhaps fussing with the fit of a garment, the cast brought multiple characters to life on stage. Very impressed by Sara Conklin and Katie Hutchins! A great delight was the onstage presence of two Foley artists producing an array of sound effects–from the sound of shoes crossing the floor; broken glass; wind effects; doors being slammed; to the swoooooshing sound of deep waters rushing under the bridge our main character finds himself standing upon.

I had expected the drama to be a bit more “staged,” the actors perhaps just sitting around their microphones in a sound booth. Director and scenic designer Kerry Moran has laid out a beautiful set with the actors front and center. The actors were on their feet at the microphones most of the time, true, but the camaraderie and playful banter exhibited by their onstage characters brought a great deal of additional life to the drama. The action moves along at a quite lively pace. Our director knows there is an audience watching these performances: subtle yet at times dramatic lighting effects coupled with musical backgrounds fill in what could have been a staid production. And those costumes! Welcome to the 1940s.

This was our first time attending a Four County Players’ performance; what a great introduction to theater in Central Virginia and a start to the holiday season.

George Bailey returns a changed man. “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings. Love, Clarence.”

Book illustration by Scott McKowen from The Greatest Gift, published 1996 by Viking Penguin

Changed My Mind

First, an apology to all of my woodworking friends, craftsmen, and fabricators and finishers who create extraordinary pieces of furniture from walnut, mahogany, cherry and other woods. The rich gleam and subtle play of light accenting texture and grain  in your pieces are unmistakable.  The deep colors of walnut or an ebonized finish are striking. 

But I’m afraid, most older pieces of furniture (vintage, antique?) leave me wanting to grab my paint brushes and get started. Painting. Covering up those wood grains with a bright coat of gloss white enamel or lacquer, or maybe even a distressed crackle finish with a rubbed-in patina. 

Lately I’ve been partial to painting furniture with a whimsical collage of colors and patterns —think of Mackenzie-Childs, though with a more muted color palette than their hot pinks and spring greens or black and gold patterns.

Estate sale side table.

When I found an antique table available on a recent estate sale, I knew it would look great as a table base for one of my hand painted faux finish table tops.

A few years ago, Deb and I drove over to The Greebrier in WVA for lunch and to have a look around at their world-renowned interiors. The main rooms were especially colorful over the Christmas holiday and I remember how striking the decor seemed. Originally designed by Dorothy Draper and now maintained and refreshed by Carlton Varney, the bold use of color and over-sized patterned wallpaper really caught my eye. Not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I loved those huge black and white checks, striped wallpaper, and painted tables. 

A settee in bold pattern, flanked by gloss black side tables.
Grey, blue, or citrine yellow for the table base?

It was in the spirit of the over-the-top Greenbrier decor that I expected to paint the legs for my blue marble table. Not black. The legs already looked black from aged varnish. Maybe bright white or a pewter gray to complement the greys and blues of the painted top. Or perhaps a vivid citrine yellow. But definitely color. 

While sanding through that almost-black finish, I discovered that the table base was red mahogany. Surprisingly I’m rather partial to mahogany. I’m not a big fan of the lighter finishes of woods such as ash or maple; definitely not a fan of the current gray-washed everything. But I love walnut and mahogany, especially with a satin finish or a hand rubbed look. 

So, my apologies to my woodworking friends for all the shade I’ve thrown your way over the years. This past week I bought a can of tung oil with my sandpaper. 

You can see the results below.

What Its Worth

We have found one of our favorite past-times during traveling is to stop in at antique and vintage shops and browse around. We seldom buy anything, and very often I’ll hear others comment, “Who would buy that?” Or more likely, “who would pay THAT MUCH?!” for a certain item. My wife will always give me a look, or a shush! but I’m sure it’s a common observation over what often seems to be random pricing in the second-hand retail market.

This fall we finally stopped in at a shop we have literally driven past for years. Finders Keepers is located on Main Street in Orange, Virginia and we see it nearly every time we head down to one of our favorite vineyards in Barboursville. Their website indicates they have been in business for over twenty-five years so I am surprised to see how long it took us to stop in. Needless to say, it was worth the visit.

Finders Keepers building in Orange Virginia

While we browsed their extensive assortment of items, everything from furniture to lamps, prints and paintings, and home decor, I struck up a conversation with owner Bradley Toombs. We talked about how Covid has rapidly changed the face of retail, especially small businesses. During our conversation he mentioned that they also run an estate sale business and gave us his card to check it out later. Acorn Estate Liquidators offers online and in-person estate sales providing their clients with options to liquidate their personal possessions. It turns out, as many people are contemplating downsizing or moving away from the area, one of their greatest concerns is what to do with all of our stuff.

More out of curiosity than a need for anything, I checked out one of their online auctions.

WHAT A SURPRISE!

Here’s a brief list of some of the things that were available to bid on:

  • Antique furniture and lighting
  • Clocks, collectibles, paintings and prints
  • China and crystal, silver, pottery 
  • Linens, quilts, and rugs

There were hundreds of items to bid on, most of which listed had an initial bid of $2. In some cases they increased by as little as $1 per bid. I’m struck by how little some of these items eventually sold for. There was a vintage Leica camera complete with additional lenses and a gorgeous leather camera bag that topped the bidding at $3,500. But that seemed to be the exception. Most of the lots closed at prices under $50.

So I jumped right in and started bidding! I lost the auction on most of listings I bid on, in some cases by as little as that $2 increment. But a couple of things that I bid on, I won.

While I’m quite pleased with having won the bidding on this sofa for $10, I think I might have gotten carried away bidding on this vintage children’s wagon. It looks great in the garden, I plan on filling it with potted plants in the spring, but the $27 that I paid for it was probably a little high. I am surprised at how many winning bids came in under $10. I suppose with an opening bid of only $2, it can take some time to reach a respectable bid offer. Yet there are always a few items that fetch commanding prices such as estate jewelry, fine art, or some of the antique furniture. Right now I have my eye on a beautiful wingback chair in great condition ($10) and an antique Victorian walnut marble-top washstand (my bid so far: $5).

But much of what’s offered looks like will bring in far less to the family than perhaps what they were anticipating. And that’s what really has me intrigued. When I look around our own living room, for instance, and contemplate what we paid for things like sofas, side tables and lamps, and all the decorative pieces that fill our rooms, and start adding up what I think they will get at auction, I begin to get a sense of real value versus cost.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-20

Old School

Sometime back I became interested in learning a little more about our family’s heritage. Not quite a deep-dive into research genealogy but something more akin to a survey of the places we had lived, the homes and schools we attended. Along the way, the faded photographs my Mother had saved of her childhood prompted me to try and find her homes and schools.

Mom was born in Colorado and before moving to Southern California (where my own family’s story begins) she and her growing family lived in Colorado Springs, Colorado. When they moved, my Grandfather’s Aunt Belle wrote in her journal at the time “Quite an undertaking with the car, trailer, six children, goat with two kids, canary bird, and cat and dog.”  

The photo of children sitting with my Grandfather Orlo Willis in front of a small home launched my search for the house and school they had attended in the 1930s. Were those buildings still standing? Or had they been demolished only to be replaced by larger and more modern structures?

My Grandfather Orlo Willis with Mom and siblings, 1930

Not to my surprise, Mom remembered the street address of their home and the elementary school they had walked to. The 1930 census, available online, confirmed their street address. A quick search on Google maps revealed that the home is still standing, while further searching on Zillow showed pictures of a “charming Victorian home” built in 1892.

An online search for photos of the original school building came up empty but I did come across a fascinating website, http://coloradopreservation.org

Writing about their mission, the organization began as “43 citizens interested in preserving (their) state’s built heritage started this organization to encourage preservation efforts statewide.” An email requesting information on the elementary school was answered cordially but proved fruitless. However that lead me to finding a small publication, surprisingly available through Amazon, entitled “A History of the Colorado Springs School District 11”, by Harriet Seibel, published in 1975, with quite a bit of information regarding the school I was hunting.

The two story brick building was originally constructed in 1898 with additions coming in later years. It was torn down and replaced with a single-story building 74 years later in 1972. No doubt infrastructure problems (heating and cooling, electrical wiring) contributed to the decision to replace rather than renovate. However, knowing that the school had been rebuilt, Google supplied the address and contact information of the school’s Principal, who forwarded my request for information on to the school’s Library Technology Director. He was kind enough to send me several photos of the old Columbia School as well as photos as it exists today.

But what has happened with those schools built in the early years of Reno where I grew up? This summer on a visit home with family, I drove by all four of the schools I had attended. And surprisingly they are all still in use! All of them were built around the same time, from Greenbrae Elementary in 1955 to Wooster High School in 1962. They all share similar characteristics of mid century modern design: single-story concrete block construction, small windows, flat roofs with protective overhang. Most are devoid of any ornamentation and look like they were designed to last for generations.

Washoe County School District published “A History of Schools from Past to Present,” with detailed information and a photograph of nearly all the schools built in the area, from 1955 until 2012. Several schools have since been opened, but the comprehensive list builds on an earlier list compiled by Rose Bullis of schools built from 1857-1912.

Reno has several school buildings of great historical and architectural interest that are still standing. One of the oldest schools built, Mary Lee Nichols Elementary School in Sparks, was built in 1917 and is still in use today as a commercial building. Robert Mitchell Elementary School in Sparks NV was rebuilt in 1937 as a single story brick building. The art modern building, still in use today, is a far cry from the original two story structure that had been built in 1906. The original multi-story building bears a striking resemblance to my mother’s elementary school: both share the same style of imposing brick edifice that was later replaced by one story buildings. (photos from 4th Street Prater Way Project)

Writing about the superiority of the smaller building style, “State Superintendent of Public Instruction reported to the Nevada Legislature in 1915 that mission architecture was chosen as it “is especially adapted to one-story buildings,” and he added “there is nothing better for school purposes than one-story buildings. The one-story plan eliminates the stair climbing so destructive to the nervous strength of pupils and teachers, and also renders danger from fire impossible.” (from Renohistorical.org) Reno built four of the Spanish Mission-style schools between 1910-12, two of which remain standing, one used as a school today (Mount Rose School)

Have you had any success in tracking down your family’s schools? I would guess that few remain from the early part of the 20th century unless they had a committed group of individuals determined to keep the buildings open, either as schools or repurposed as office space or commercial sites. In the case of the Nichols School, the fact that it was designed by Nevada’s premier architect Frederic DeLongchamps went a long way in securing its future. A 2002 Registration Form was filed with the Unites States Depart of the Interior, National Park Service, to place the Mary Lee Nichols School in Sparks on the National Register of Historic Places reads in part “Mary Lee Nichols School is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under criterion A for its role in the educational history of Sparks, Nevada, and criterion C as an excellent example of a modest educational building designed by Nevada’s pre-eminent architect Frederic DeLongchamps in the Mission architectural style.”

Any number of the schools recently opened look like they will stand the test of time, but as we all know…only time will tell.

Mary Lee Nichols Elementary School was built in 1917 and though smaller, it shared the more modest mission-style of Reno’s Four Sisters. (photo credit)

True Colors

It’s been reported that the human eye can detect anywhere between 1 million and 10 million colors. Today’s LCD computer monitors can render 16 million colors. On the rainbow spectrum (ROYGBIV), green sits in the center of that array. 

Many studies, scientific or casual observation, pretty much confirm what many of us know, or at least suspect. Among men, their favorite color is blue, followed by green. And among women, their reported favorite color is blue followed by purple. https://www.livescience.com/34105-favorite-colors.html

Color Chart with men and women’s preferences

Color wheel credit: A sample of 1,974 men and women were asked whether they preferred purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, or pink. (Image credit: Phillip Cohen Family Inequality)

All of this interest arises from a tour we had taken this summer at Henry F. duPont’s magnificent home and now museum, Winterthur, in Delaware. Apart from the extravagantly decorated rooms, it wasn’t hard to notice that duPont had a fascination for color and the color green specifically. According to the current exhibit “Outside In, Nature-Inspired Design at Winterthur;” duPont identified 48 shades of green in the garden. As to how many translated to inside the museum nobody knows, but as in his gardens, the many shades of green used indoors were intended as backdrops for color, whether from the flowers displayed in each room, or the assembled decorative pieces: furniture, carpets, paintings, ceramics and porcelain, a profusion of small and large knickknacks. The overall effect is quite overwhelming to the modern eye, yet harmonious and often inspirational. 

Outside In: Nature-inspired Design at Winterthur

So it strikes me as a bit of a disconnect when we consider how we modernists have such a timid relationship with color. Gray: the most popular indoor paint color today is gray. “Agreeable Gray, by Sherwin Williams, is our most popular gray paint color because it’s the perfect hue for any living space, whether it be a family room or bedroom,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. (Jun 30, 2020)

What happened to blue? Or green? A quick web search revealed nearly 497 million entries for the terms “psychology of color”. While we often think of the color red, for instance, as being associated with passion; the color blue with tranquility, peace, and often sadness; the colors yellow and orange with confidence, optimism, and happiness, I wasn’t surprised to see that green is often thought of as the color of growth (of course!) renewal and awakening. But Gray? Well, gray is described as secure and reliable or conversely, as sad, depressing, or unsettling. (Thealignedlife.com). I want color! More color! I want True Colors.

But I see your true colors
Shining through

I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow

Cyndi Lauper, True Colors 1986

We have strong feelings about certain colors so it isn’t surprising to find many songs named after colors, or with a color in their title. Below is my effort at a color-coded playlist in order on the spectrum. Do you have a favorite color or perhaps a song associated with a color? Comment below!

RED, Taylor Swift

(link)

ORANGE CRUSH, REM

(link)

YELLOW, Coldplay

(link)

THE COLOR GREEN, Rich Mullins

(link)

BLUE, LeAnn Rimes

(link)

MOOD INDIGO, Duke Ellington

(link)

PURPLE RAIN, Prince

(link)

Sorting Through Things

A few years ago, on a visit to see my mother out in Oregon, we spent some time with her going through boxes of photos. I wasn’t quite sure what we would find, or even what to expect amidst that pile of envelopes, sleeves of brittle negatives, and assorted black and white memories. She’d had them stored away for years, pictures taken during her and my Dad’s honeymoon; photos from our brief time spent on the ranch in Smith Valley, Nevada; our first house in Sparks, Nevada, three boys playing in the yard. There were photos of a parade my brother and I marched in; for some reason we are wearing Hawaiian outfits, paper leis over our tshirts and cut-off jeans. I like to think of this one as the Sparks, Nevada answer to the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade! *update 08/31/2021 Jack’s Carnival History page for more info on this event.

Children marching in parade 1961
Ron marching in children’s parade, 1961 Sparks NV

There were a number of photos even older than these. Pictures of a blended family taken during the early 1930s, my Mother posing with three of her siblings in front of their home in Colorado before their move to Southern California. The girls are wearing light-colored dresses, bunched-up socks over black leather shoes, my Uncle Robert sits quietly with his hands folded in his lap. Mom wears a large, quite large, bow in her hair as she appears to study her nails. My Grandmother doesn’t appear in any of these. I have to imagine she was the photographer in the family as my Mom would later be in ours. 

Four of seven children sitting on rock wall
Three boys sitting on a piano bench, black white
Three boys at the piano, 1958

My brothers and I were not immune to posing for family photos. This might have been Easter, I can’t think of any other reason three youngsters would be dressed in their finest jackets sporting bow ties. Though the photo is dated August 1958, my Dad was known for taking his time dropping off film to be developed and printed. Quite a few of the photos have handwritten details on the back of them, dates or locations written to help identify them years later I suspect. It’s a habit I never acquired and wished I had. Today I rely on filing digital images in online folders with the date taken, trusting that the meta data stored with each photo will still be available years from now. 

I had hoped to piece together more of our family’s history as we browsed through Mom’s collection. Not surprisingly, Mom remembered many details. The photos of my Dad and her posing with their 1936 Dodge Coupe at the Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California I found particularly interesting. The tree is still standing and many years back, my wife and son and I drove through it, stopping in the middle of the tree to take the same shot. Had I known of these photos at the time, I would surely have tried to recreate the look, Dad leaning casually back against the trunk of the tree, one leg resting on the car’s fender.

It seems we have inadvertently taken many of the same photos as did my folks back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. California and Nevada have many natural and man-made sites that lend themselves to photo memorialization and there are several my family has visited. Hoover Dam (known to many when I was growing up in Nevada as Boulder Dam) is surely the most famous of the Nevada landmarks, and one that my folks had visited in 1949. It was many years later that friends and I visited the same place, taking nearly the same photo. Even our recent trip to San Francisco calls back to a snapshot my Mom made thru the windshield of their car while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

I had seen a trend on Facebook for a time that really caught my attention. Individuals would hold up an old photo—perhaps a faded Polaroid or a black and white print—of a location from some time in the past, superimposed over the same location now in the present. The passage of time caught between the two realities, separated by decades in some cases, has fascinated me. The photos seemingly bookend moments in a person’s life and invite comparisons and contrasts that we don’t normally expect to see.

One thing has become abundantly clear dash I have been browsing through these past moments captured on film. What to do with or how to organize what we have? And where are the “missing” photos? We have boxes of photos, some in black and white, most in color. We have several binders of Kodachrome slides in plastic sleeves (no dates or other identification); we have a number of photo CDs but they seem to be clustered around just a few years time; and increasingly, we have digital images scattered everywhere.

Photo CD
Kodak photo CD 2003

Shutterfly sends me an update periodically. This week it was: “Remember these memories from 13 years ago? Hi Ron, we thought you’d like to press rewind and relive these times.” And it seems my Apple photo account likes to do the same thing with the images I have stored on (in ?) the cloud.

I’ve got images stored on my computer (currently a Mac Mini) that have been transferred from the last four computers I’ve owned. I’ve got images stored on a number of external hard drives, some of which no longer work. And I have a lot of images on “read/write” CDs that I burned off back in the early 2000s when I switched over to a digital camera. Some of those CDs are no longer readable for whatever reason. Who knows what they contain. My plan to scan and digitize our remaining “hard copy” photos has been dealt a minor setback by the very medium itself. Once the photos are digitized, do I throw away the originals? Or pack them away somewhere, safe and secure for my kids to find one day?

Have we really found it easier to switch formats, saving our family photos on CDs, hard drives, or parked somewhere online? Do we view them any more often, or are they tucked away and forgotten like the boxes of photo albums I have downstairs?

Mom holding black white photo
Mom sorting through a pile of black and white photos

I haven’t found an easy answer for any of this, though early on I did decide to save all the images I transferred from my digital cameras with a unique ID based on the transfer date, for instance 20210825-001. But oh my, the images do start to accumulate! As I start to digitize many of our old photos, the process has begun to restore a sense of order to the beast, though most are still in photo boxes tucked away in plastic storage bins.

More recently I’ve begun to have photo books printed (Shutterfly.com) of our vacations and special memories. Our recent vacation to Nevada became a book as did my Mom’s 90th birthday celebration. Hopefully they will serve as a convenient way to browse old memories and a place to collect, store, and maybe one day pass on the photos we are taking now. They are certainly more attractive than a stack of hard drives sitting in the bookshelves!

High Grade Kodak finishing, available through Hilbig’s Pharmacy in San Bernardino, CA 1948

A Google search for “how to organize home photos” yielded about 369,000,000 results. Below are a few you might find useful in taking on your own projects. Good luck with that closet full of boxes!

Photography Life ideas for organizing your photos

New York Times article on organizing your photos

From the Library of Congress, a guide to preserving and caring for your photography originals: https://www.loc.gov/preservation/care/photo.html

The Sound of Birds

Many years ago, while I was living and enjoying the beach life in San Diego, I was encouraged to get certified in SCUBA. La Jolla Cove was the site of our open water classes and our instructor couldn’t have picked a more beautiful (underwater!) location. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park spans 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands and four distinct habitats make it a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers (Wikipedia).

And it was beautiful, from what I could see. The problem was, with my nearsightedness, there was very little that I could actually see, or see clearly that is. We would glide along the bottom and my diving buddy Dale would excitedly point out the brightly colored Garibaldi swimming past us, an octopus before it swooshed away, and even the occasional baby shark. I would nod approvingly and continue on, somewhat oblivious to the marine world around me. It was fun but, really? If you can’t see anything, why bother.

Dale takes a break from boat-bottom cleaning

That summer I learned that one could get a diving mask ground with your optical prescription. What a game changer! Suddenly everything I had been missing became much more clear. A world had opened up that I thought I had known before, but really as if only from a distance, and a hazy one at that.

When I decided to get hearing aids for the first time this summer, it was with the same mix of interest and reluctance that I had ordered my first prescription diving mask: is this really going to be worth the expense? Am I really missing out on something or will this simply be one more cost, one more item I’m going to have to maintain or keep updated? Do I give in and admit that I’m “getting old” or do I continue to hear with difficulty in those crowded classroom situations, nodding, smiling, and relying on some vague lipreading skills to navigate the conversations around me?

I went with a midrange set of aids from Costco (after having to renew my membership) and was immediately struck by the difference they made in my perception of the world around me. Yes, apparently I have been missing out on quite a range of sounds (see my recent blog post here)

It wasn’t just that everything sounded a little louder, brighter. I was actually HEARING things I hadn’t really noticed before. Like the sound of birds. Our home has a wooded buffer zone separating the townhomes from the single family homes nearby. It is an area rich with wildlife (deer, rabbits, foxes, hawks and owls, and all manor of smaller birds). I’ve heard them all before to some degree. But that first time sitting outside with my new ears on? Wow, the volume and variety of sounds was a bit overwhelming! And this was during the height of the Brood X cicada invasion so there was that to deal with as well.

I’m beginning to get used to this new world and it’s sounds now. My younger brother also has hearing aids–he was actually the one who suggested that I get my hearing tested. He mentioned that this heightened sense of reality, like the smell of a new car, would eventually wear off and sounds would return to a more normal range. I’m hoping so. Right now it is a little disturbing to be hearing the sounds of my shoelaces rubbing the eyelets of my sneakers as I am lacing them up. Or snack wrappers being crinkled. Or that clicking sound from the lighter on our gas stove when I turn on a burner. All sounds I never really heard before.

I like the sound of birds though. I love sitting out on the deck in the evening and hearing them chatter to one another as it grows dark. I do wish they weren’t quite so loud, though I guess I could always turn down the volume on these devices. There’s a thought! Hopefully I haven’t been missing anything else that can easily be corrected. Technology!

Going Back, Moving Forward

This summer we traveled West for a vacation with our granddaughter, visiting family in the town where I grew up. I knew much had changed in the area over the forty-some years since I moved out of state and I was curious to see what still remained and what I could remember of certain places. Our visit took us to Virginia City, Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and even a day trip over to San Francisco. Indeed much had changed but the overall contours and places had stayed remarkably similar to what I remembered.

In 1970 Reno was a bustling, medium-sized town of 101,000. The growth rate seems to have peeked at 5.1 percent in 1973, perhaps a boom ushered in by Californians fleeing their state. Not at all strange, those fleeing Californians are blamed for many of Reno’s ills (traffic? rising housing costs? You bet!). That rapid growth implied a steady influx of people pursuing jobs and new homes, bringing changes to the quiet urban landscape I remembered. 

Over the intervening years, Reno’s growth rate would slowly drop, peaking once more, at 3.9% in 1993. Since then the rate has steadily fallen. Population stands at 514,000 today, roughly 3 1/2 times what it was when I graduated high school, now with a yearly growth rate just under 2 percent a year. 

Reno Historical Growth from Macrotrends.net retrieved 2021/08/02

For contrast, Loudoun County where I live, has an estimated population of 429,570 with a growth rate of 1.90% in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Yet we are ranked (and folks complain!) as one of the fastest growing counties in America. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Loudoun County ranks 20th out of 3,142 US counties in growth according to the website https://siteselection.com/issues/2018/may/loudoun-county-10-ways-loudoun-county-virginia-is-no-1.cfm

My family had moved five times during the years I lived in the Washoe Valley region. This summer’s journey began with a drive past our first home in Sparks where we had moved in 1953. Our home, like so many others at the time, was part of a tract subdivision and we were the first ones to occupy it. All the homes looked alike, street after street of small, one story buildings. My parents built the one-car garage and to this day, few of the remaining homes have a garage. But the passage of time and the region’s droughts have been unkind. The house still stands almost 70 years after it was built but appears old and unpainted, the grassy front yard and many of its neighbors’ having been replaced by dirt patches, weeds, and brush. 

We quickly drove on to visit my first elementary school, the painted  cinderblock walls of which still stand out in my memory. The school appeared much as I had remembered it and I was encouraged to see children playing on the playground equipment. The church I had attended growing up, First United Methodist Church, still stands and looks to have expanded over the past half century. That was encouraging too.

We drove past the elementary school and also the first house we lived in after we moved from Sparks to Reno. Roger Corbett Elementary School is located across the street from my high school and it was great to see how well kept they both appeared. The house where we had lived, not so much. 

Perhaps due to the high cost of land and the scarcity of available property “close in” (short commute), many of the older communities and subdivisions here in Northern Virginia are experiencing a second life. Smaller homes are being remodeled and enlarged, or in some cases replaced all together. The area’s mature landscaping contributes to the livability of older neighborhoods and we quite often find people wanting to move in, rather than out, of these neighborhoods. 

In Reno the opposite seems to have taken place. While the shortage of water has had a great effect on landscaping in general, the introduction of xeriscaping has altered much of what I remembered homes and yards looked like. And all the new, much larger homes have been built farther and farther away from the areas I grew up in leaving the older communities appearing…smaller. It’s as if all the two-story homes are located up in the hills surrounding Reno while the bungalows and craftsman homes, the mid century modern and Spanish-revival homes were left behind in the valley. 

Yet there has been an incredible revival in the closer-in areas just beyond the Downtown core. The new area of Midtown is now a bustling community of galleries, restaurants, vintage shops and breweries and cafes, many decorated “to the nines” in a vibrant landscape of murals. 

Quite a few of the stores and even regional shopping malls that I grew up with have closed or are now being replaced with mixed use development. I was surprised to see so many of the large hotel casinos (not—too big to fail) have closed and many of them still stand empty. But some of them have been repurposed bringing new life to struggling areas. One such where we stopped for lunch, the former Riverside Hotel on the Truckee River, is now a building housing artists’ apartments and studios. The six story brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, originally built in 1927. Unfortunately many of the other historic buildings in Reno’s downtown have been destroyed, replaced by larger hotel casinos or apartment buildings. 

Our visit began with a side trip to see my kindergarten school and we ended our tour of education facilities with a walk thru the campus of my alma mater, University of Nevada Reno (1974). It was here that the size and scope of change really made an impact on me. The University was founded as a land grant college in 1874; Morril Hall was the first campus building occupied in 1886 and still stands. There were 8,023 students when I graduated in 1974. More than 21,000 students attend now and the university occupies 180 buildings over 290 acres. New buildings sit where before I remembered were only parking lots. Courtyards, walkways, and new intersections abound, as well as multi-level parking garages. A general plan seeks to better integrate the University with the downtown area of Reno just a few blocks to the south of the main campus entrance. Having outlived it’s reputation as the Divorce Capital of the World, the new emphasis on corporate/educational partnerships should help to redefine Reno as more than just a gambling town!

My hometown has changed physically more than I had expected over the past 40+ years; but much of that change has been good for it. I belong to a Facebook Group called “You lived in Reno in the 60s and 70s if you remember …” and there are always posts from people lamenting how much the City has changed. Nostalgia has a way of softening the edges when viewed through those rose-colored granny glasses, I think. I don’t see as well as I used to, and I would agree that you can’t go back to the way things were (thankfully!) But sometimes its nice to turn a corner and see exactly what you had expected would be there, even if its the 7-11 around the corner from where we lived. The indoor shopping mall where I worked while attending college is gone, but the mini mart around the corner from my Dad’s house is still there. Hopefully we will get back out west for another visit before things change too much!