Living Between the Rocks

The Summer of COVID has brought uncountable change to our lives. Weddings, graduations, reunions, church services, movie theater closings, bars and restaurants pivoting to curbside pickup: our daily routines have been upended in ways too numerous to catalog. While news reports continue to make note of the ever increasing numbers of “test positives”, the shear number of lives lost these past six months has gone past shocking. We become less sensitive, perhaps, to the backbeat of daily reminders of the fragility, and temporal nature of our lives.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

phrase [PHRASE after verb] If you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you are in a difficult situation where you have to choose between two equally unpleasant courses of action.

I’ve challenged myself to get out and walk the neighborhood these last few months of summer. The road back from my knee surgery has been a slow one, and I’m reconciled to the thought that I will likely never run a 10 kilometer race again. But I hope to gradually build up to walking six miles a day.

The last visit with my surgeon, I proudly reported that I was up to walking 3-4 miles during the week, in one half to three quarter mile increments. Chest puffed out, I was pretty proud of my accomplishment. I had set a goal of eventually walking a mile, and finally I achieved it. 

But that larger goal still lies before me. Like some great rock in the distance, the challenge of moving towards it motivates me to continue.  If I could walk one mile, would it be possible to increase that to maybe, one and a half? Perhaps even…two miles? 

I’ve been living between these two rocks: behind me, the misplaced fear of slow deterioration, ahead the unachievable goal of remembered youthful accomplishment. However, I’m finding exploring our new neighborhood at my admittedly slower pace, has given me a greater appreciation for the world around me and my place in it.

Along the walking paths in our neighborhood we continue to find painted rocks, small stones of encouragement left for walkers to discover. My granddaughter and I have left a few of our own creations as well. 

There seemed to be more rocks discovered during the first few weeks of our quarantine. Lately, not so many, perhaps a jewel-toned design or a smiley face left in the notch of a tree, but now usually nothing on my daily walk. 

This past week I found three, likely by the same artist, rock-solid encouragement as we walk the path before us. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Those are trustworthy rocks. 

Looking Back At 50

Wooster High School Home of the Colts

June 4, 1970—It was a Thursday and the celebration that evening would be at the Centennial Coliseum, built in 1965 and the go-to venue for Reno’s large gatherings. Concerts, square dancing conventions, and high school graduations all made use of the Coliseum’s cavernous spaces.

But just a month before, on May 4 at Kent State in Ohio, the National Guard was called out to control student demonstrations. By the end of the day, four students were dead and nine others were wounded, marking the first time that students in the US had been killed during an anti-war rally. It was a shocking introduction to adulthood for us graduates.

Reno calls itself “The Biggest Little City in the World.” We might have been small, but by no means were we unaffected by events that were occurring at the end of the 60s. Looking back 50 years, I’m still surprised at what all we had seen, or participated in, during our years at Wooster High School. It’s as if our time in high school had been marked with confrontation and upheaval that we were too young to even recognize, though with lasting effects.

Summer of Love, dancing in the park. Image from Goldenstate.is

Express Yourself

Most of my graduating class entered school in the fall of 1967 not realizing the depth of change our country would soon embark upon. 1967 has been remembered as the “Summer of Love.” San Francisco, especially the Haight-Ashbury District, became the center of a special moment in time. Hippies and the 60’s provide plenty of material for retro parities today, and many of us look back on those embroidered bell bottoms, beaded necklaces and tie-dyed tshirts with a certain nostalgia now, I suppose. The love didn’t last long.

Our Junior Year—August 1968 the evening television was filled with video of protests in Chicago surrounding the Democratic Convention. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets in what was to become a common occurrence. The next year, on October 15, 1969 the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam saw students from local high schools as well as the University of Nevada join thousands of others in cities across the US, many of us protesting for the first time.

Walking on the Moon

Our time in school was not just marked by protest or social upheaval. There were other events that drew us together, celebrating triumph and accomplishment. On July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon, fulfilling a promise President Kennedy had made in 1961 to safely land an American on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. To this day, I can’t think of that moment without hearing Sting and the Police singing, “Walking on the moon.”

Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Mission Commander, works at the Lunar Module (LM). Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16685088

Draft Day

Perhaps the single greatest event of our high school years, at least for the men, occurred in December 1969. A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1 at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dates and numbers were called out and posted on a large board. You can watch the CBS video on YouTube here. “Mayberry RFD” was preempted to show the lottery and I’m sure many of us would rather have been watching it. A Wooster graduate whose birthday fell on September 14, number 001, was the first draftee from Reno. (https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/vietnam-lotteries/). Not compelling reality TV by today’s standards, but it certainly had our attention.

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

Though there was plenty to divide us, many of us were brought together when we participated in the first Earth Day. On April 22 protests, rallies, and activities across America helped to bring awareness to and spearhead change in environmental practices. The Earth day website notes that “By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.”

Having the voting age lowered to 18 by President Nixon in 1970 had huge repercussions. “To close his statement on the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) Amendments, RN turned back to the issue of the 18-year-old vote. Anticipating that the court test would rule the provision in question unconstitutional, President Nixon called for an immediate constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18. In July 1971, Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which set the minimum voting age for all Federal, State, and local elections at eighteen years of age.” Nixon Foundation

I’m not sure if there is one singular event or act that could summarize our three years in school. Certainly the deaths of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy shocked all of us and brought an awareness to politics and the civil rights movement that had not existed in our young lives before then. Weekends spent attending, or playing in football games, high school dances, first cars and rock concerts are seemingly shared by every graduating class, each generation. But missing out on your prom and graduation ceremony this year? Well I think that’s one that will go down in the books.

From Farmwell to Ashburn Farm

A year ago we sold our home and moved out to Loudoun County. As we have begun to learn more about our new community, I was surprised to learn that I had a connection to the area that stretched back more than a century.

Nevada, my home state, was admitted to the Union in 1864. Our first Senator from Nevada, William Morris Stewart, served for nearly thirty years and, nearing the end of his time in Congress and heeding the advice of his physician to take some time in the country, bought a dairy farm in Farmwell, Virginia. So where is this Farmwell today? For the answer to that, we need to go back nearly 124 years.

By the 1980s, dairy farms in Ashburn were being replaced by subdivisions.

When we moved out to Ashburn Farm last year, I was overwhelmed at how much the area had been developed. Ashburn, Ashburn Village, Ashburn Farm, Broadlands, Belmont: the development had vastly overtaken the dairy and turf farms I remembered from the 1990s when, for a time, I had lived in Sterling.

Senator Stewart Buys a Virginia Farm

Nevada Senator William Morris Stewart (from his biography)

Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada has bought a fine farm in Virginia, not far from Washington. The senator is largely interested in breeding fine horses, and in order to more fully carry out his plans he has purchased a fine old property near Farmville, VA. The farm consists of 586 acres of splendld land in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is said to be fully equal to the Kentucky Blue Grass Region for stock raising.” November 25, 1895 The Evening Times

A Local Name Change

In the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, in an announcement from a page of the paper dated May 5, 1896 we read: “at the request of Senator Stewart, who has bought a farm near Farmwell, Loudoun County, Virginia, the name of the post office at that place has been changed to Ashburn. It is said that mail for Farmwell was frequently delivered to Farmville.”

Much was written about the dairy farm over the several years he owned it. Glowing reviews of the state-of-the-art machinery for milking, separating, sterilizing and cooling, along with the cleanliness of the barns, were featured in local newspapers. The descriptive language verged on paid endorsement, if that were possible.

Again from The Evening Star, December 28, 1901, the following article trumpets:

PURE MILK FOR WASHINGTON

A Thousand Families to be Supplied With Ashburn Milk
2,000 Acre Milk Farm in Virginia

“Clean milk from clean cows, fed on clean food, drinking clean water, milked by clean men in clean barns, sent to Washington in clean cans and delivered to families in sealed bottles.”

Whew! Pretty hyperbolic language for a dairy farm!

It seems the existing farmhouse was also quite modern, boasting “an abundance of room, surrounded by spacious verandas which look out on green lawns, beyond which on all sides are rolling fields and woodland.” The Evening Star, June 4, 1900.

In a related article, the home was described as having “more bathrooms in it than most city mansions.” As the senator had a mansion in Dupont Circle (Stewart’s Castle, no longer standing), this was again high praise for the area.

Start the New Year with clean milk
Clean milk for 8 cents a quart

Speaking of milk production, the author goes on about the cleanliness of the operation, how the fresh milk was transported to the dairy via a small railroad system, where it was then separated, pasteurized, and bottled. “Every detail is expensive,” writes the author, “and the wonder is that the company should offer its milk at 8 cents a quart, the same as any other milk.”

It would seem that even with all the qualities of superior milk, the Ashburn Dairy Company couldn’t make a profit. In July 1903 Stewart sold his dairy on 14th Street in Washington, DC. For sometime the farm was used to raise stock. The following year, the dairy farm in Ashburn was sold to Judge James Yeomans. At the age of 77, the senator sold the farm at a loss, having purchased and invested over $140,00, selling for $30,000. 

Senator Stewart sells his Ashburn property, The Evening Star, June 4, 1904.

In a twist that would have sent today’s style magazines into a headspin, in 1903 the then 76-year-old widowed senator married a second time. After having seen a photograph of Mrs. May Agnes Cone, 44, Stewart invited her to be a guest at his country place, Ashburn Farm. Three months later, wedding bells. (The first Mrs. Stewart had died in an automobile accident in September 1902).

In looking back over his long and varied career, Senator Stewart writes in his 1908 memoirs, The Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada,” of the many legal cases he took part in, fights won, laws passed. Nowhere does he mention his Ashburn dairy farm or the time spent in the Virginia countryside recovering his health. 

But one item he notes in passing, devoting barely eight pages to the subject, was his authorship of the Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Rewriting a resolution offered to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Senator Henderson of Missouri ( No state shall deny or abridge the right of its citizens to vote or hold office, on account of race, color, or previous condition), Stewart offered his own reading:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote or hold office, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The final adopted language left out “or hold office.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that continued to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Credit: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act

It’s a strange thing to be remembered for trying to bring clean milk to the citizens of Washington, DC and yet be forgotten for his efforts to ensure all citizens were represented thru their vote.

Farmwell? The name is memorialized as a one mile strip of road here in Ashburn, from Smith Switch Road to Ashburn Road. The three names for 625 to 640 (Waxpool Road, Farmwell Road, and Ashburn Farm Road) are certainly confusing!

Map of N. Eastern Virginia and Vacinity of Washington, 1862 Library of Congress
Image from “Map of N. Eastern Virginia and Vicinity of Washington, 1862” showing Farmwell. Library of Congress

Note: the Library of Congress website, Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov has a wealth of newspapers from across the US, dated 1789 to 1963 and fully searchable. Quotes and images are taken from their website.

Summer Projects

As any parent knows, the summer vacation time between the end of school and the Labor Day weekend can be a challenge. For students who are experiencing a breath of freedom (no more teachers, no more books!) the summer weeks stretch out ahead in full, unscheduled promise. For parents however, each day brings the challenge of organizing activities, educational or entertaining, and making the most of each opportunity. But this year, summer camps and weekend outings, trips to the zoo or King’s Dominion, have all been changed. 

As grandparents of a tween (twelve going on twenty) this summer has brought even greater challenges than usual. Our vacation plans for Florida were canceled early in the aftermath of Covid-19 shutdowns. Still, we have been blessed with great weather and outdoor venues are beginning to return to a degree of normalcy, even if that means 50% occupancy and social distancing. 

Yet each day stands before us demanding answers, hours to be filled, adventures to be planned whether large or small.

And that is what brought us to painting rocks for the neighborhood. The past several weeks we have spotted painted rocks hidden among the tree trunks and leaves along our walking path. Well, we have smooth river rocks in the garden; a wide assortment of acrylic paints in my studio; plenty of time to add our own creations to the neighborhood collection. Let’s do this.

The best outcome of all? The project took a couple of days to complete. We had to first paint our rocks with white, then a background color. Then decide on patterns and designs. Our project culminated in a walk thru the woods to distribute our creations. It’s a small act of charity, the opportunity to serve others in a creative way; I’m hoping that these little seeds will slowly take root and flourish. 

Our summer vacation plans may have been changed in unexpected ways. But the endless possibilities still remain.

More Coffee, Please

I’m not really sure when I first starting drinking coffee as a beverage choice and not milk, or soda, or even water. “I’ll have coffee, please, cream and sugar if you have it.”  It probably coincided with late night trips to Denny’s or some other local stop that served breakfast at all hours, after a night of partying with the boys. It could have been when I would pour a cup from Dad’s percolator after it had just finished, before it had a chance to turn dark and bitter from sitting on the counter on a Saturday morning. 

I do know I was an avid coffee drinker in high school and would sit up evenings with my sister-in-law’s Mom and friends, talking about life and what it was like to work in Reno’s casinos before Reno became—bigger. There were small cafe’s and coffee shops in town back then but this was long before Starbucks invented four dollar lattes and drizzled caramel on everything. Coffee came in a cup—one size only, though occasionally you could get it in a mug. 

One of my life goals has always been to work as a barrista. I don’t know why: I have a terrible memory and couldn’t possibly manage more than one order at a time. So it was with a pride verging on envy that I learned one of our family friends had started a coffee shop out in the Portland, Oregon area. Deb and I had an opportunity to visit soon after they opened and it was everything I could imagine a neighborhood coffee shop might offer. Comfortable seating, warm sunlight pouring in, an eclectic mix of furnishings and really nice staff, people who talked to you with more than a “got it” when you placed your order.

Insomnia Coffee Company, July 2007

Thirteen years later and Tyler, Evan and the crew now have five shops in the Hillsboro—Beaverton area. I’ve been to all of them, I make it a point to stop by at least one when we travel to Oregon, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. I’m partial to their shop in Cannon Beach but it could just be that the view makes the coffee taste even better. The times we are in now have been hard on everyone, especially small business owners. But knowing these guys and their commitment to the community, and coffee, I think they are going to come out of this even stronger. When they do, I’m ordering a coffee, make that a latte. A large one. 

I think Tyler was surprised to see us!

If you are in the Hillsboro area, stop by and support this local business. And you can always order their coffee online. http://insomniacoffee.co

We’ve Been Through This Before

For the past three weeks I have been house-bound, self quarantined would be today’s expression, not from any result of Corona virus but as I recover from knee surgery.

During that time, I have tried to follow online the progress of the US response to increasing numbers of afflicted individuals and communities across America. School closures, limiting the size of groups, church worship services going to online streaming rather than meeting in person, work schedules allowing for telework, and job loss: all of these have affected our family as well as countless families in our communities.

But what has struck me personally have been the food shortages at our local grocery. While the President has urged Americans to use restraint, not to hoard, that there is plenty of material in the supply line, it still seems as if many of the items we put on our shopping list are not available. Who would have thought that, along with toilet paper, there wouldn’t be any ground beef or milk, let alone bread, in the grocery aisles?

WWII rationing from The Ames History Museum. https://ameshistory.org/content/world-war-ii-rationing-us-homefront

Which in turn got me thinking of rationing and the days during World War 2 and America’s response during that time period. The Greatest Generation stepped up with a resilience I’m not sure we are seeing yet in our people. While President Trump has said that we are in a war with an invisible enemy.


“I do, I actually do, I’m looking at it that way,” Trump told reporters during a press briefing at the White House when asked whether he considered the U.S. to be on a wartime footing. “I look at it, I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.

“To this day, nobody has ever seen like it, what they were able to do during World War II,” he continued. “Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy, the invisible enemy.”

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/03/18/trump-administration-self-swab-coronavirus-tests-135590


I asked my Mom, who was 12 at the start of WWII, what she remembered about the time, especially how food rationing would have affected her family. Her responses really had more to say about the change in America over the past 70 some odd years than any individual shortage of TP.

“We were not allowed to read newspapers nor listen to the radio. What money I made baby sitting and house cleaning for other people, Mother kept. She did send me to the store once  to buy Snowflake Soda Crackers for 31 cents.  I know leather was rationed, but we only got one pair of shoes a year, so that was no problem.  Meat was rationed , but we could not afford it anyway, sothat didn’t affect us. We had cows, so lots of milk;  we had chickens so we did have chicken on Sunday; usually with a soldier or two, or sailors.

The Arrowhead Springs Hotel in the foothills beneath the big bare arrow head on the mountain had been turned into a naval hospital.  Mother would call the USO and have them send a couple of guys out for Sunday dinner.   And we had plenty of eggs.  Mother did not tell us what anything cost, nor whether it was difficult to get anything.  We didn’t go shopping; Mother made most of our clothes…at least  the girl’s.

Mom (third from right) with her siblings.

I don’t think we were affected all that much by the rationing.  We got hamburger and made spaghetti…big pots of it.  We grew vegetables, had a small orchard of fruit trees, orange and lemon and a few others. (They were living in Southern California at the time.)

From the time I was about eight, we had dancing and music lessons; we sang in the children’s choir at church, played in the children’s orchestra on Wednesday at the high school, and on Saturday at the high school during the summer.  We belonged to the Y, and had library cards. We were really very busy.” Lora Lea Willis Chamberlin

For an interesting perspective on rationing during that time, take a look here: https://ameshistory.org/content/world-war-ii-rationing-us-homefront

We Met a Neighbor

We met one of our neighbors over the weekend. Which, on the face of it, shouldn’t be that unusual. But we’ve been in our townhome nine months now and so far we’ve only met the couple who lives next door to us. And that was only after I knocked on their door to offer our parking place (they appeared to be planning for a party, which turned out to be a baby shower).

When we moved into the culdesac of townhomes, I was certain we would soon get to know all the neighbors. After all, being retired I’m home most of the day, I walk up to get the mail at the community mailbox, I take the trash out twice a week. Surely we would be getting to know our neighbors soon, even if this is a community in which everyone seems to work during the day.

Our previous home was a single family split level in a small community. For a time I had served on the Home Owners Association. Whenever there was a major snow storm or other weather-related event, the neighbors would all be out either shoveling driveways and sidewalks, or walking thru the neighborhood looking for storm damage. And as an association member, I met a lot of people at our community festivals. It seemed natural to me then that we would soon know everyone in our new community. Not so.

Deb and I were napping in the living room when I heard a knock at the door. We have a doorbell so I just ignored the sound. But a few minutes later, they nocked again, a little louder, a bit more insistent. Since I’m not very mobile while recovering from surgery, Deb had to get up and check the door. She was met with a woman standing there holding several plastic bags, her purse, and something covered in a dish towel. 

Allison, our neighbor three doors down, explained that she had been wanting to meet the “new neighbors” for sometime now but hadn’t found a convenient time. She explained that she hadn’t seen us for several days and thought perhaps something was up? 

Dish towel

But this really floored me: she handed us a fresh-baked loaf of sourdough bread, carefully wrapped in a towel, as a “welcome to the neighborhood” gift. Who does that anymore? I asked if she was from the Midwest but she said no, from the Seattle, Washington area. That explained the sourdough bread, which she explained was her “go-to” bakery gift item. My favorite, I exclaimed!

She stayed for twenty minutes or so, we learned about their family, shared about what drew us to the area and why we were downsizing, and expressed how we hoped to be better neighbors. 

We got a chance to really meet a neighbor, and as life would have it, they are getting ready to move. 

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31