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!

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.

White Christmas

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

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

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

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

December 25, 2009

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

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

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

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.

Celebrating 100 Years of Rodeo

Last summer we flew out to Las Vegas and drove out to visit the Grand Canyon. On February 26, 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park celebrated 100 years since it’s designation as a national park with events and activities scheduled all year long. When I discovered this year that 2019 was also the centennial of the Reno Rodeo, I nearly had a heart attack. We could have celebrated two centennials in one year! It wasn’t until this year, long after we had canceled plans to visit Reno, that I found an online article outlining last year’s events for the centennial of the Reno Rodeo.

It was over the July 4th weekend, July 3-5, 1919 that local promoters had scheduled the first Reno Round-up. The community celebration was led by the Commercial Club at the time, which merged with the Reno Business League in 1919 to form the Reno Chamber of Commerce. 

Nevada Round-up, from The Yerington Times, Yerington NV 1919

In 1937 the Reno Rodeo and Livestock Association was formed to manage the event. In 1987, they celebrated their 50th anniversary and reorganized as the Reno Rodeo Association. Reno Rodeo Association has led this signature event which has grown into a 10-day romp entertaining 140,000 fans each year. https://renorodeo.com/about/history/

But going back to the beginning of it all, The Silver State newspaper of Winnemucca, NV published an article in July of 1919 in which they mentioned that the Round-up would “mark the first representative gathering of Wild West riders, buckaroos and range experts since the beginning of the war nearly five years ago.” 

The first rodeo advertised $5000 in prize money. During last year’s rodeo, June 21 thru June 29, contestants were expecting to  compete for their chance at nearly $500,000 in prize money. Wow. That’s some growth!

The annual rodeo was a major event when I grew up in Reno. My pals and I attended as much for the adjacent carnival as we did to watch the bull riding and calf roping events. But it’s been decades since I’ve seen a rodeo in person. 

When I learned that last year was the centennial, I decided to create my own commemorative poster. That, and the hand painted frame to showcase my Nevada roots, became my most recent project.

A vintage frame, a silver dollar and two bucks in mercury dimes from my Dad’s estate, turquoise cabochons I cut back in my college years, red coral cabochons I found on Etsy along with cowhide from an outlet in Texas to serve as a backdrop for my state: all found there way into my mini memorial. An Ode to Cowboys!

I was given a vintage picture frame several years ago and have waited to find just the right project to use it on. I decided to go with a whimsical western-style frame decked out in red coral cabochons, silver to commemorate Nevada’s position as the Silver State, and several of the turquoise gemstones I’ve had stashed away in a box for the past 40-some-odd years.

One of the outstanding features of Nevada, at least to those in the Northern part of the state, are the beautiful high-mountain waters of Lake Tahoe. Using another piece of turquoise to represent the lake, it is set on a cowhide background featuring the silhouette of Nevada.

The completed project will find it’s home in our guest bedroom along with a number of other graphics, books on the area, and memorabilia I’ve collected thru the years. I might have missed out on last year’s celebration, but I’ve at least got my own souvenir of the celebration, and it’s definitely one of a kind!

Home Means Nevada!

Backroads

Several weeks ago we took a long weekend to get out of Northern Virginia and see some of the beautiful countryside that surrounds us. We ended up in Western Maryland, but rather than take the Interstate (US 15 to I 70, head west) we decided to take the more scenic route. Passing thru Strasbourg, we drove along US 48 thru farm land and on thru the rising foothills of West Virginia. 

A side trip along Capon Springs Road dropped us off at Capon Springs and Farms, a family resort begun in the 19th century. The bandstand out in a landscaped park looked like it might have been the site of many evening concerts in the past, entertaining guests at this charming old-style resort. Definitely a place to check out in the future. The Main House, which was originally called the Annex, was constructed in 1887 under the proprietorship of a Captain William Sale. The Pavilion once housed thirty-two soaking baths during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, being transformed into guest rooms during the 1930s.

Driving on, we came to Carpers Pike and cruised along in the pick up until we stopped at the Visitors Center in Wardensville, rejoining US Route 48. 

The Visitors Center appeared to have originally been a school building and the older couple, who evidently were the caretakers, confirmed our guess. Perhaps we were the only visitors they had seen that day, or maybe that generation just likes to talk. Whatever, they were happy to share about their efforts to have the school building preserved as a Visitor Center. At 84 years young, he was a talkative docent, giving us the local history while she argued with someone on the phone about the poor internet connection, or the reasons why the WiFi was down last week. Sounds just like at home.

When I asked if there were a place in town we could get a cup of coffee, he suggested the place across the street, “If you want to pay four dollahs for a cup a’ coffee.”

So we tried it out, The Lost River Trading Post, which seemed to be a mash up of a Starbucks, artisans outlet, and a retail store. We had a couple of lattes (large vanilla latte, $4.75) and commemorated the visit with the purchase of a boots-wearing-cow magnet. The shop did seem out of place for a very small town in West Virginia, though with its mix of handmade soaps, vintage kitchen ware, and framed artwork it must feel right at home for visitors from Northern Virginia.

One final stop before we reached our destination, a quick pullover to snap pictures of the ridgetop wind turbines we had seen for miles as we drove thru the mountains. The Fourmile Ridge Wind Farm has 16 turbines and has been operational since 2015. They are quite a sight to see, and whether or not they will eventually begin to replace fossil fuels power plants on an economically feasible basis remains to be seen. They are visually striking, but after seeing them at a distance for miles, and then up close, I fully sympathize with the “Not In My Backyard” sentiment.

The Interstate Highway System has been a mixed blessing, I’m sure. Wikipedia reports that “After Dwight D. Eisenhower became president in 1953, his administration developed a proposal for an interstate highway system, eventually resulting in the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956. Construction of the Interstate Highway System was proclaimed complete in 1992. The cost of construction of the Interstate Highway System was approximately $114 billion (equivalent to $530 billion in 2019).

But the highway system has left behind many smaller towns and communities, completely bypassed as we motor along those smooth roadways. As I’ve gotten older, I really do try and make the effort, remembering that The Journey can often be more rewarding than The Destination. 

Yurt Life, Part Two

From luxury accommodations to real-world portable homes, the yurt (or ger as it is known in Mongolia) has provided shelter and a sustainable way of life for thousands of years. While the construction materials may differ from those used here in the United States, the shape and suitability of these portable structures are very similar to the one in which we recently stayed.

Several years ago, Julie Stoll and her daughter Jean had the opportunity of a lifetime, traveling and experiencing a bit of the nomadic life on a visit to Mongolia. While there, they visited with camel herders and sheep shearers, seeing a way of life that included solar panels and satellite dish antennas as a means to stay connected with the rest of the world. Modern technology accompanies these families as they travel across the vast landscapes of their homeland, carrying their homes with them. 

I spoke with Julie via Zoom this week as we both shared our “glamping tent experience”, her’s at the Gorkhi-Terkel National Park in Mongolia, mine at the Savage River Lodge in western Maryland. Separated by thousands of miles and different cultures, these structures are essentially the same: a cylindrical tent featuring a conical roof, either with a central tent pole in large structures, or without one in the smaller tents. But interior furnishings, decoration, and even the presence (or absence in their case) of windows puts them worlds apart.

The Gers are round enclosures made from wood and wool felt, usually hand made by the family. A central hole in the roof allows both light in and smoke from the cooking stove to vent. Whether lavishly decorated, with embroidered fabrics and bed quilts, or the more rustic homes with small wood burning stoves for heat, these structures all have a single door and no windows. The wood latticework supporting the walls help to make the entire construction easily collapsible for transport. Rugs cover the interior floor and allow seating anywhere. 

Traveling for a couple of weeks in this remote country, there were many cultural events to experience. Julie had hoped to attend the Naadam Festival in Mongolia. The popular festival showcases traditional sports including wrestling, horseracing, and archery. Julie and Jean were able to attend a local event during their stay and saw much of the athletic ability for which the Mongolian people are known. A performance of throat singing made a great impression on these two.

Julie Stoll recorded this performance of Mongolian throat singing during her 2016 visit to that country.

The Smithsonian website has an informative write up on this mysterious vocal technique. Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music. For those who think the human voice can produce only one note at a time, the resonant harmonies of throat-singing are surprising. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics.

Our yurt was made with vinyl covered canvas, had hardwood floors and radiant heat, a tiled bathroom, two doors, windows and air conditioning. The gers Julie experienced were designed for portability, one door, few furnishings, a small wooden stove for heating and cooking. Yet it’s a remarkable aspect of adaptability that the same structure, with only slight modifications, has become a popular and trendy vacation option here in the States. There is a lot to be said for that type of design simplicity.


All photos courtesy Julie Stoll. Julie reports that they traveled with Dream Mongolia (dreammongolia.com). Private tours…they organized great guides and accommodations. Julie and I first met when we taught ESL at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA a number of years ago.

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?

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