A little goes a long way!

Last year our monthly dinner group decided to make a Christmas donation to Heifer International rather than exchange small gifts among ourselves. Everyone has really gotten into this and we have a lot of fun deciding what items to buy with our donation. This year's list:

  • Bees $30.00
  • A Trio of Rabbits $60.00
  • A Pig $120.00
  • Goats (2) $240.00
  • Educate a girl $275.00
  • Chickens (3 flocks) $60.00
  • Hope Basket (chickens & rabbits) $50.00

The really striking concept to me is how a little donation on our part goes a long way in making a real difference in the life of a family in a distant land. It doesn't take much.....$275.00 to educate a girl.....really!


Thanksgiving 2013

Off to NC for a four day stay with Katie and David for the holiday. Katie was off Wednesday so we arrived early afternoon on a very cold chilly day. So cold in fact, Katie was moved to go and purchase a Christmas Tree. Decorating the tree was delayed until after Audrey went to bed. Audrey has really changed since we last saw her. She knows what she wants, and she is in constant motion. A bit verbal as well! The acorn does not fall far from the tree!

We're innocent!

Thanksgiving dinner was at the Alexander's, a tradition Jim and Linda started many years ago. Thanks for hosting each year, we look forward to spending the holiday with you guys. As always the fare was plentiful and delicious and we enjoyed the after dinner stroll!

Katie had to work on Friday so we watched the kids giving David a break. We took them to visit Mom at work, and to Trader Joes to pick up a few things before dropping Audrey and Grandma off at home. Henry and I went to McDonalds for lunch, hit the playground and then went to REI to get Maggie a Scoot for Christmas. The day ended with dinner and a movie (with popcorn...a must for Henry).

Henry really likes building things with his Legos!

While trimming the tree, we discovered a 2007 brass ornament with the picture of some "advertisement family" still in the frame. So I took this picture to put in the frame.

I'll let Katie and David explain to tree viewers how exactly Audrey got into a 2007 photo. I'm guessing the gift of time travel!

As you can see from all of the photos accompanying this blog, Virginia Tech is big in the Alexander family. And...watching the VA Tech/Virginia game has become our holiday tradition. "Hope springs eternal" comes to mind for Cavalier fans as it has been an eternity since we have beaten Tech. And this year was no different as we lost the tenth straight game. At least one member of the Alexander family identifies with my plight as shown in the following photo. Thank you Audrey!

Oh no!

Great Thanksgiving! Thanks to all.



South Carolina 11/2013

Smiles, giggles, cries, yells, babbling, exploring, running...a granddaughter is a precious gift. Maggie is no longer a baby. She is a tall, strong willed toddler, always in motion and a joy to be around. I find myself looking at her while drifting backward 30+ years and seeing Kelley running in the same tip-toed way across the lawn or smiling with the same wide grin.

I remember the pre-school years when we could not go by a playground on a trip without yells from the backseat pleading for a stop.....SEE that playground over there DAD?

We had a fun weekend with the Hills. Got to check out Seth's Mr. Sparky truck and see him in his work duds. Congratulations on your new job Seth. I'm glad you like it a lot! Most of the time we just checked out the local sites between stops at the playground. I think I'll just let the photos below relate our activities.

Strolling on the Garden City Pier.
Lunch at Bisquit.
Watching the Carolina Panthers!
Reading a book on the iPAD.
Testing a Pawleys Island rope hammock.

Thanks for the hospitality. Love you guys!



Segue into Old Age

Mercy, how does one make the transition into being an official senior citizen? Hard to believe I turned 65 on Tuesday! How about taking a Segway tour? Emily told us about a tour she and David took on his birthday and the Living Social deal available from River City Segs in Richmond. So Grectchen got the deal and to Richmond we are bound; after voting of course.

River City Segs is located in Shockoe Bottom in an old firehouse. They have a neat indoor course to train you how to ride a Segway. If you can do the course, you'll have no trouble out on the streets. We did the history tour because our historical knowledge is scant! Jeff, our guide, did a super job. We learned a lot and went to many places we had never been before. They have ghost tours and art tours too. After hours of touring, we definitely had Segway legs! I'll let you discover what that condition is on your own. But suffice it to say, we highly recommend taking a Segway for a spin. It is a very cool adventure!

Gee, it's almost 5 p.m. and we are just across the James River bridge from Legends Brewery. Guess we'll have to go there for dinner....and we did. Tasting note: Gretchen and I could not tell the difference between their regular porter and their seasonal chocolate porter. I guess we lack the buds! And yes David, their collard greens are superb.

Thanks Gretchen for a great birthday adventure! Love you!!


Vermont Biking Inn to Inn

Gretchen is retired, free to travel in October and we're headed to Vermont to see the fall colors! Our bikes got a power wash the last two hours of our trip as we drove through a pouring rain storm. But..the rain stopped and we are at the Churchill Inn. Seth gave us the trip sheets and maps and the weather forcast is for sunny days with highs in the sixties for the rest of the week. Ideal for biking. Tonight we had a fine dinner at Cafe Provence, a French restaurant in Brandon.

Lunch at general store in Orwell.


A leisurely breakfast, packing done, all moving parts on the bikes oiled, sunshine, and it's 10:00 a.m....I'd say it's a " civilized" hour to begin our first day of riding.

Today's ride took us west through rolling hills and lush farmland. First stop was in Orwell for lunch at the general store which has a good deli counter. We came within a mile of the ferry across Lake Champlain near Fort Ticonderoga. We passed the spot where Ethan Allen gathered the Green Mountain Boys to cross the Lake and garner the first victory of the Revolution by taking Fort Ticonderoga from the British at dawn without a shot being fired! Our ride of 48.3 miles with plenty of hills brought us to the Cornwell Orchards B&B, a lovely place just 3 miles from downtown Middlebury. The owners suggested eating at Bristro 51, a cafe owned by Middlebury College. Turns out it was Tuesday Burger Night: all burgers $6.00 (local grass fed beef) and $3.00 microbrews! Can't beat that!

Lake Champlain


Today's ride (44 miles) was a circular route with a long segment along Lake Champlain near West Addison. Beautiful farms in rolling countryside dotted with fall colors made for a wonderful ride. We stopped for lunch at a cafe in Vergennes. On our way to Middlebury, we rode on Morgan Horse Farm Road! Our destination today was the Swift House Inn; a wonderful place with a suberb restaurant!

Gretchen at the Morgan Horse Farm


Gretchen thought the ride today was much easier than yesterday. We even had energy left to walk around Middlebury checking out the College and the falls on Otter Creek!

BTW, you might be wondering why the B&W and weird colored photos on a fall foliage trip? Well, the new iOS 7 has a "filter" button on the menu of the camera app that I turned on somehow. Thought the camera in my phone was going bad, but discovered it before panic set in! ;-)

Middlebury College


Well fueled by a great dinner and breakfast at the Inn, we headed North to Bristol and Monkton, then to Vergennes (from the opposite direction from yesterday) before coming back to the Inn tonight. Yea! The ride today was supposed to be 42.7 miles but we ended up backtracking due to a bridge closure which added four miles to the the ride. Village life is certainly alive and well in Vermont. Every day we are riding though rural landscapes dotted with little villages; all with small stores, caf├ęs and residential blocks. Very nice!

More scenic country and the quaint town of Bristol where we got blueberry pancakes for lunch made for a great day on a bike. We are most impressed with the motorists in this area; they all go out of their way to give cyclists a lot of room on the road! So, where we came back into Middlebury, it was only a quarter mile side trip to the Otter Creek Brewing Company.....not even a hesitation....we turned. It is a pretty large establishment for a microbrewery and their beer was outstanding.

Dinner and breakfast at the Inn were again great! We're so glad logistics required us to stay two nights here. We highly recommend the Swift House Inn to anyone traveling to Middlebury.

'Twas a beautiful day to complete our trip in Vermont by riding a 32 mile route around Lake Dunmore on the way back to Brandon. Lunch today consisted of snacks since the two suggested stops near the Lake were closed for the season. Our lodging tonight is the Inn on Park Street. The proprietress usually cooks dinner at the Inn but due to recent surgery, she arranged for us to return to Cafe Provence. Sure, we can do problem!

Bridge on W. Salisbury Road.


After our ride today, we decided to drive up into the Green Mountain National Forest to check out the tree colors at higher elevations. It was a nice ride and on the return down to the valley, we came across this huge resort complex.....the Middlebury College Writing Campus! I knew the College was famous for its writing program but I imagined people coming to the summer workshops, living in log cabins in the woods, etc. Not so, the participants are writing in comfort! I didn't know that Robert Frost was the director of the program for thirty years. Guests in the Inn told us the NF has a trail built to honor him with stops along the way noting what inspired a specific poem. At each stop, the words of the poem are etched in a stone marker. Wish we had known it was there! Our last stop was at the Drop Inn Brewing Company, Middlebury's other microbrewery. It was interesting because you could only taste their beer and buy it in growlers to go! So we had to buy a growler of their 90 Shilling Scottish Ale. The 90 Shilling comes from the way a barrel of beer was taxed long ago in Scotland. More alcohol in the beer...higher shilling tax. And the growler? Well, Phil is finally in compliance with the natural law...."All boys need a growler!"

Schuylkill River Trail


We have had a super week of biking in Vermont. Gretchen got to check "Seeing the fall colors in New England" off of her bucket list. She also learned she can ride 40-50 miles a day on a bike with no problem! We got to know one couple from Winnipeg and four from California at our Iodgings, all of whom take biking trips all over the world on their vacations. Gretchen and I just don't get that. We loved our week here but in reality we only traveled within a 15 mile radius of Middlebury. Biking vacations really limit the scope of what you see and experience in the area you're visiting.

One great thing about this trip I've not mentioned is that we got to spend time with Peg and the Olmes family going to and from Vermont! It's always great to see you guys. Thanks Pris and Phil for accommodating the two of us. We appreciate your hospitality. Peg, we both thought you were doing amazingly well just a few weeks after your surgery. If I live to ninety, I just hope I can be as spry and lucid as you are!




September 30, 2013, dawns and it is Gretchen's last day of work as the Director of the Health Center at Randolph College. Her career spanned 25 years at the College and 20 previous years of nursing in hospitals. And now it is time for retirement.

Matha and Gretchen

The Dean of Student's Office held a wonderful retirement party for Gretchen. It was readily apparent that her colleagues really like Gretchen and hold her in high esteem. Matha, the Dean of Students and Gretchen's boss, kicked off the program that included comments by Betty and Mindy along with a retirement needs assessment by Anne!

LuAnn, Gretchen, Anne, Betty, Cheryl and Sarah

Gifts were presented, tears shed, good food and wine consumed, games played and a good time was had by all. Knowing Gretchen the longest, I could tell from her interactions with her colleagues that she has loved working with them, is totally at ease with them and will surely miss them.

Current Health Center Staff Betty, Gretchen and Cheryl

It was so nice that Mindy, the Health Center Director who hired Gretchen and subsequent good friend, came from Richmond to attend the party. Also, great that our close friends Gary and Laurie were invited as well! The new president of the college, Brad Bateman, dropped by the party to wish Gretchen well; it is nice to see he is really setting a new leadership tone for the college!

Gary, Cheryl, Mindy, Laurie and Gretchen

Gretchen, you have had a wonderful nursing career and have had a very positive influence on many, many students. What a great legacy that is! Now, it's time to refocus, refresh and enjoy a long, healthy and exciting retirement...and from this point forward...begin your days at a "civilized" hour!



Henry's School Vacation

Henry started kindergarten this summer in a year round school and already, it is his first fall break! So he is visiting Grandma and Grandpa in Lynchburg for the first week of his vacation. Since Grandma is still working, Grandpa lined up a surprise for each day of the week.

Monday - Surprise #1

We went to the Putt Putt Fun center. We rode the go-cart around the race course and played a round of golf.

Henry hitting a tee shot.

Tuesday - Surprise #2

Henry and Grandpa went to the Virginia Safari Park in Natural Bridge. We saw lots of animals: deer, camels, giraffes, rhinos, tigers, gazelles, blackbucks, monkeys, snakes, birds...all kinds of animals. Below, a type of llama stuck his head in the car trying to get a snack. Another llama sneezed and snot shot all over Henry's window! We both lost our feed buckets when animals pulled them out of our hands.

The Park now has a walking section in addition to the road through the grounds. In one exhibit Henry got really close to a little blue bird called a budgie. He could not scare the bird away. The Park is really well done and a great place for kids of all ages to visit.

Nose to nose.

Wednesday - Surprise #3

In the morning we spent some time at Amazement Square, a visit that Henry requested. He really likes the James River exhibit with the canal boats. This visit he mastered how to suspend a ping pong ball in the air with a hair dryer. Really cool, dude!

In the afternoon, it was Surprise #3, a trip to the movies to see Planes. It seems Henry talked Grandpa into buying him a candy bar. How did he do that?

A candy bar as big as Henry is wide. And he ate the whole thing!

Thursday Surprise #4

Henry and Grandpa went to Smith Mountain Lake. We took a picnic lunch to eat at the Sail Club. Then we took a ride in Droplet. Henry even learned to row the dinghy a little bit.

Henry in Droplet.

Next, we hooked up the car to Grampa's sailboat and put it in the water. We had to run the motor to keep it in good working condition, so we motored around the lake. We went around the three islands Henry's mom and aunt sailed around with their Laser when they were in sail camp. It's only a few years until Henry will be old enough for sail camp!

Henry riding in SunShower.

Finally, we tied SunShower to her mooring, rowed Droplet to shore and headed for home. It was a fun, busy day at the lake and Henry fell fast asleep on the way home!

Friday Surprise #4

Grampa and Henry headed out for a walk on Blackwater Creek in the morning. But Henry realized he could run faster than a lot of the runners so he ran more tha a mile leaving Grandpa in the dust! Then we headed to the Spray Park, Surprise #5. But alas, Henry decided it was too cool to get wet...and he was right. None of the other kids in the park were getting sprayed either! Oh well, Henry checked out the other stuff in Riverside Park, then we headed to McDonalds for lunch.

Nuggets, sweet & sour sauce, fries, apples and chocolate milk!

By the time we got back to the house, it was time to pack Henry's bags and get the car ready to take him home to North Carolina. Grampa and Grandma loved having Henry visit for the week. We had a lot of fun and can't wait until Henry comes again for a vacation in Lynchburg! Love you Henry!!



He did it again!

Twenty-four miles into the ride, I was jarred from my pedaling reverie by the crackle and crunch of pebble's spraying from beneath my ROAD tires. Mr. Helms did it again, he planned a ride traversing a dirt segment!

He should not have done it, but alas, contemplate his dilemma; a half mile ride on the High Bridge Rail Trail or a slightly longer ride on the four-lane Route 460? His choice was understandable. Given the fact that the remainder of the 39.6 mile ride was filled with long stretches when cyclists could roll at 18-20 mph and all the hills were benign, it"s difficult to render harsh criticism. Therefore, I shall close this writing with no further ado!



Chamber Music Road Trip

Visiting Kneisel Hall in Maine this summer jogged my memory into realizing Gretchen and I wanted to attend a concert at the Garth Newell Music Center in Warm Springs, VA. So Labor Day weekend, we headed to Warm Springs to attend a Sunday afternoon concert and picnic.

Enso Quartet

Garth Newell is Welsh for "new home", the name given to the estate William and Christine Kendall began building in 1924 when they moved to Warn Springs. In1973, Mrs. Kendall established the Music Center and its resident faculty have been teaching gifted young musicians each summer for the last forty years! On summer weekends, chamber music wafts over the surrounding countryside from concerts put on by the resident faculty and guest performers. The Center has a connection to Kneisel Hall. Christine grew up in a wealthy family in New York and the Kneisel Quartet played at her family home when she was a child! One unique feature of the Center is they have established a tradition of pairing concerts with gourmet dinners and picnics. The Sunday afternoon concert and picnic events are a bargain!

At the Garth Newell Music Center, the music is great, the food is outstanding and the setting is beautiful. It's a great road trip from Lynchburg; one will do again and again.



First Time

Ever attend a Geek Mob? Well Jenny, Jeff, Gretchen and I have...last weekend in Roanoke at the O. Winston Link Museum. It was a rainy day and we were searching for inside activities.

May the force....

Bands, free tee shirts, funky crafts, a costume contest, comics, and a unique temporary photo exhibit at the Museum made for a fun time. We were pleasantly surprised!

Coupled with a visit to the Wasena Tap Room with Sarah and Jack plus dinner at the Wild Flour Cafe made for a very enjoyable indoor rainy day!


A Goode View Alpaca Farm

Audrey and Henry loved A Goode View Alpaca Farm. They could get up close to the animals and pet them. The timing of our visit was lucky because they had several baby alpacas; more kid sized and more curious than the adults.

Visiting the farm is free but they do herd you to their Farm Store stocked with all kinds of nice alpaca fur items for all ages. It's a small price to pay for a neat visit with grand kids!

Nose to Nose!