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!

Better Selection

Loudoun County has grown, A LOT, over the past twenty-five years. That is hardly a surprise to anyone who has lived in the area for any length of time. But for me, coming back to the area after we sold our home in Fairfax County, it has been a bit of a shock.

In 1995, the population was 116,140; in 2021 the estimated population is 429,570. The 2020 census data won’t be released for sometime but I’m sure it won’t shock county residents that we continue to grow. While Loudoun County is neither the fastest growing county in the US, it is the fastest in Virginia. According to Loudoun County Business Development, “Nationally, over that span (since 2010) Loudoun ranks 20th in growth of 3,142 counties and seventh among counties with a population of 100,000 or more. With Washington-Dulles International Airport providing access to more than 50 world capitals, nearly one in four Loudouners were born outside the U.S.” See their article for more here.

What I find interesting in all of this talk about growth is the growth in our culinary selections. Restaurant reviews and magazine or newspaper “best of” and “top ten” lists are published periodically. I have found many to be helpful guides in my ongoing search of culinary adventure. Over on The Burn website for instance, they have written over 35 stories on restaurants which have either opened since January of this year, or have plans to open soon.

Many of the new selections fall into recognizable categories: eight new restaurants featuring chicken, for instance. Five new Asian restaurants (Korean BBQ, Chinese-style hot pot, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants; four coffee shops and a couple of cookie or milk shake dessert places; even a new winery which looks like it will be fun (Old Farm Winery at Hartland).

Saigon Outcast is a recently-opened fast casual style restaurant that we tried Saturday night with friends. A band was playing indoors to an enthusiastic crowd; we sat outdoors on the patio. Gas heaters provided plenty of warmth during the cool spring evening and allowed us to enjoy the conversation without needing to wear a mask. Saigon Outcast is an Vietnamese twist on the popular “world of beers” eatery. Rather than traditional pub food (pretzels, hamburgers, smothered tater tots), their menu has features such as lemongrass beef, green papaya salad with shrimp, and wok-charred shishito peppers. Indoors, the wall of customer-poured beers was an experience I look forward to trying again. I needed a little help with the whole process (chilled glasses on the left side of the cooler, tip your glass a little more to get under the spigot) but what an adventure! With over 30 beers, wines and ciders to choose from, fun decor and the Vietnamese inspired menu, this is a place I hope to return to soon.

A few selections from the menu at Saigon Outcast

La Prensa Tacos and Tapas opened last December in Sterling and has been growing in popularity since. Deb and I stopped in after church one Sunday hoping to avoid the afternoon and evening crowd I had seen on a recent drive by pick up at Nothing Bundt Cakes next door. What a treat! We tried several of the tapas and a birria quesadilla, all delicious. They offer two types of sangria so we ordered a glass of each to go with our tasting meal. The grilled octopus with Salsa Basquaise was amazing and had me thinking about our visit to Barcelona. The menu is Mexican influenced according to chef Santosh Tiptur, owner of The Conche in Leesburg, with half of the menu featuring tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, the other half featuring small-plated tapas. There are three items on the dessert menu (save room!) and the churros drizzled in chocolate served with ice cream was my favorite. The flan was nice, but really no competition with the churros. I’m giving them two thumbs up. Try them soon for an upbeat modern version of a Spanish tapas bar.

Pulpo con Salsa Basquaise

La Prensa

21305 Windmill Parc Drive, Suite 140
Sterling VA 20166
703-462-3325

Saigon Outcast

44921 George Washington Blvd, Suite 155
Ashburn, VA 20147
703-258-6562

Catching Up

One of the most exciting aspects of reconnecting with friends has been to discover what they are doing now. While Facebook has been a great resource to find and reestablish friendships from years ago, I’ve discovered it’s not the only way to do that.

Recently I found an old college roommate (old as in the sense, from years ago!) while searching online for someone else. Google returned a vast array of individuals with the same name as my search; when I cross-referenced a few of them through LinkedIn I was surprised at who I had found. I wrote about reconnecting and catching up with John last week (here). Since then we’ve done a deeper dive and spoken on the phone, he refreshing my fading memory and sketching in more details of his life now.

Another friend from my time in the service, US Army 83-86, moved back to the Pacific Northwest upon retiring from the Army. I follow him on Instagram and was encouraged to see that he and his wife have started a podcast primarily focused on travel and the adventures of a blended family. More power to them! Just as the internet has allowed for a wider audience for writers, it has also opened up the broadcast medium to more voices speaking from their own experiences. Take a listen here https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/lifetrek/id1553717951

Last year I had plans to join my fellow high school graduates to celebrate our 50th Reunion. While those plans were cancelled due to Covid-19, I was able to reconnect with a number of friends thru the Facebook Group one of them had set up for a previous reunion. Catching up online, looking at pictures of children ( and grandchildren!) was itself a small consolation for missing out. And truthfully, we didn’t get fingerprints all over the photo albums that inevitably get passed around. 

Last year I spent some time searching online for information about a Nevada artist, one of whose paintings my parents used to own. When I came across a photo of his painting on a website devoted to Western artists, I was intrigued. It had been used to illustrate an article, a review of a new book comparing the lives of two prominent Nevada artists, one an author, the other a painter. I found the book on Amazon and ordered it; read it; loved it. The book’s author had moved to Reno, my hometown, so I tracked him down and shot off a letter to him. I was agreeably surprised to receive a reply. Anthony noted that he has a new book to be published this spring on another Western artist from the same time period and that he would alert me as to the date. A nice touchstone with an important part of my distant past.

Filing box with old cards
Paper filing card system.

Last year we had a mobile shredding service come out and destroy dozens of boxes of old business records, files and notes on people, some of whom I know have passed on. But what of the rest? What has become of some of these names in files from decades ago? What of their families, their children? Where are they all now? And what about us, have you gotten in touch with someone from your past? No guarantees but it is nice to see how some stories have turned out years later, when perhaps we had only seen the first chapter.

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.

Zoom Hacks

By now, I think we all know what is working for us on Zoom. Or at least we know what hasn’t worked for us. I opened a Zoom account March 18 to lead our Wednesday night small group Bible study as an online discussion group. What I thought would last for a few weeks, at the most a month or two, has continued on thru October with no plans for stopping any time in the immediate future.

At first we used our iPad propped up on a few books on a table as our only device to log in and connect with friends. That worked fine until I knocked it over a few times reaching for my coffee. So that has lead us to a continual improvement mode and our own list of Zoom Hacks.

  1. Tripod: We bought a Joby iPad holder to attach the iPad to my camera tripod. Now we were always in the frame without looking for a stack of books to prop up the iPad.
  2. Lighting: The lighting in our living room is nice, but not what you would consider studio quality. Quite often we were silhouettes against the lighter background, or you couldn’t see us at all. I found an inexpensive LED studio umbrella light on Amazon that has worked great. It’s lightweight and is easily stored when not in use.
  3. Webcam and Microphone: the iPad worked great for a time but when we hosted a meeting for friends IRL and online, we needed a better solution than the iPad’s built in camera and microphone. A recommendation from a friend out in Oregon (who also demonstrated his for me) lead to purchasing a webcam with two microphones suitable for picking up the voices from people spread out in a classroom.
  4. External Speaker: the tinny sound from our Mac book wasn’t adequate for the folks in our classroom to hear the comments from our online participants. So we bought a portable Bluetooth speaker. Great sound, small investment.
  5. Lazy Susan Turntable: With a large group sitting six feet apart, it was impossible for the camera to pick up everyone. So we placed the web cam on a small tripod and set it on a turntable in the middle of the table. Now we just spin it around towards whoever is speaking. Problem solved.


If this keeps up for much longer, I’m sure we will come up with a few more improvements to our portable home Zoom Kit. The biggest improvement has been the best hack of all. 

It only took one Zoom meting for us to realize that I am terrible at multitasking. I would forget to admit people who were in the meeting room, or forget to read the comments in the chat room while we were meeting. So from that first meeting, my wife has graciously served as our online host while I lead the discussion. She monitors the online participants, replies to messages in the chat room, and operates our swivel camera/microphone setup ensuring that the online participants can at least see who is speaking and not getting a view of the ceiling or the back wall of the classroom. AND participates in the discussion, proving to be a great multitasker!

We have accepted the idea that some routines just won’t be going back to the old normal. And that’s OK. In the past, if you couldn’t be physically present for a meeting, a study or group discussion, Too Bad. Your Loss. Now we are seeing even greater participation, often from members who are on travel, logging in to take part and offer their voice to the discussion. Modern technology has offered more, affordable ways to stay in touch than ever before. Whether a cellphone or a laptop, and iPad or a desktop computer, it’s easy to stay connected and not miss out. Not quite like being in the room, but close.


Here is a list of the products we found helpful; you can find them all on Amazon.

  • DOSS SoundBox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speakers
  • Victure Webcam with Dual Microphones, 1080P Full HD Streaming Webcam for PC, MAC, Desktop & Laptop
  • JOBY GripTight PRO Mount for Tablets
  • ESDDI Softbox Lighting Kit Photo Studio Light

Holidays on Zoom

Really? Are we actually thinking of doing our upcoming holidays on Zoom? 

For years, like many families I’m sure, we have spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with extended family. Whether potluck buffet-style or sit down dinner for a few, we have enjoyed Thanksgiving in a group setting, too many people around a small table. 

Small or large, Thanksgiving means turkey, except when it doesn’t.
What do you serve for the holiday?

Though one year’s Thanksgiving main course ended up with an oven fire, and an overzealous use of the fire  extinguisher (sheepishly raises hand), we all have memories of holiday meals that didn’t go quite as planned. Our Hallmark-movie-Martha-Stewart-Instagram-perfect table setting might not have made the cover of Southern Living Magazine. Our signature dessert might have suffered irreparable harm on its way to the table or an excitable dog might have crashed the side table. Every family has a holiday memory that, years later has grown with the telling.

My brother shocked me one year with the confession that his wife had cooked two turkeys. And a ham. Along with the usual panoply of side dishes. And rice and kimchi. As a Korean-American, cooking an American-style Thanksgiving dinner had been a new experience for her. But like everything else she sets her hand to, she excelled at it. Why so much food? Dave said that he never knows how many have been invited, or who all eventually shows up. But it’s always a crowd.

Which brings us back to this year’s holiday preparations. We just finished celebrating my Mother’s 92nd birthday over Zoom with the family last month. We’ve attended church online for months now and attended countless Zoom meetings, studies, and social events. We’ve even become somewhat proficient at hosting live Bible study with members participating in person and online.

But I’m not sure if I’m ready to wave a turkey leg at family members sitting across from us at a table, toasting with a glass of wine, sharing that second slice of pie…on Zoom. I know the CDC has offered guidelines for attending and hosting holiday events (see here). But I do know, like those early Americans celebrating their first holiday of Thanksgiving, that we will be thankful for our many blessings, regardless of who shows up. And for the record, I have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Just for emergencies. You do want to be prepared.

It’s a Yurt

Shortly after we were married, we tried camping in a tent. Sleeping bags on an air mattress. Cook stove. Bathroom and showers a short walk thru the woods. Needless to say, we didn’t do it again. Sometime later, my son and I slept out in the tent one night on our deck; years later, I can’t remember if we stayed the entire night. I think we gave the tent away.

Through the years we’ve tried a number of different destinations to celebrate our anniversary. Whether a cruise or a resort, the brief two or three days in January we’ve spent have been a great opportunity to get away during one of the less-traveled seasons, and an opportunity to try new adventures.

The first time we stayed at the Savage River Lodge in the mountains of western Maryland, it was at the recommendation of friends. The log cabins were advertised as luxury accommodations and a welcome “unplugged” getaway (no TVs). King-size beds, luxe linens, breakfast muffins and juice delivered in a basket to our door in the morning, all wonderful. It seemed we had the best of both worlds, a camping experience without the sleeping bag. Or having to erect a tent on uneven rocky ground. And the snow that fell that January evening before we left was gorgeous, ensuring that we would return to this hidden gem.

It was several years later, and a different season, that we were finally able to try the Lodge again. Only this time we reserved a yurt. 

A yurt. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted to try it. A vague recollection of a long forgotten movie, horsemen riding across the steppes, round…tents? 

Our yurt awaits.

But a yurt at Savage River Lodge, well that held the promise of comfortable bedding, an indoor bathroom with hot showers, and would certainly not be like our earlier tent experience.

Our yurt was made by Pacific Yurts of Oregon. And SRL has taken the experience up quite a notch: hard wood flooring with radiant heat, a tiled floor bathroom featuring on demand hot water shower, a gas log fire place along with a portable air conditioner for climate control, and luxury micro-fiber bed linens which were incredibly soft. We walked in and were simply amazed. 

At 30 foot diameter, these open floor plan “tents” are seemingly immense. A high ceiling without a center tent pole helps to create a more spacious and open feel than the two story cabins on the property. French doors open onto a private deck with seating and a view of the forest. Our enclave consisted of four yurts (eight in total) set in an open glade of ferns, across from another four yurts set further back from the road.

A short walk up to the Lodge revealed several seating areas on the patio and deck surrounded by flowers and views of deer in the meadow below. We found a seat at the fire pit in the evening and met several of the other guests. All of us were impressed with our hosts’ commitment to striving for an eco-friendly resort: 65% of the electricity used is supplied by 325 solar panels on the property.

When I spoke with owner Mike Dreisbach, one of the things that stood out to me was his commitment to repurposing and using local sources. He mentioned that the timber frames and lumber for their Cornucopia Cafe in Grantsville MD used materials from a 130-year-old barn. The huge boulders that were being placed in the current landscaping project are sourced from a quarry nearby.

If you are interested in any of their other green initiatives, or considering where you might “go green” in your own home, they have a list on their website here.

The tent experience was certainly unlike any other I have ever had. Hardly a tent, our “glamping weekend” has me thinking of similar ideas for weekend getaways. We’ve stayed at a lighthouse in Puerto Rico, a seaside cottage and a mountain lodge; perhaps a treehouse might be our next experience. We are looking forward to trying something else in the New Year. What about you? trying something different this coming year?

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.