House & Home

the place I come from… 

“I think what you notice most when you haven’t been home in a while is how much the trees have grown around your memories.” — Mitch Albom

It’s been quiet here at alpha // whiskey // foxtrot for the last few days, and that’s because I’ve spent those days in the company of my people, in the place I call home.

I’ve been thinking and dreaming, scuffing around the lawn with my camera, staring up at the trees. I met my new nephew for the very first time, and watched my sweet niece tear around under the canopy, screeching and laughing the way happy children do. I walked out in the dark to the deafening chorus of the peeper-frogs in the swamp — astounded, as always, at the noisy, unashamed way they sing themselves into Spring.

And meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about what’s Next — because Home is good for that. 

I’ll write more on that subject later, but for now, I thought I’d share a few brief snaps from my time here…

Take a breath this Monday morning, and enjoy:


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Flashback: the Post That Started It All …


Exactly one year ago today, I began a little blog that I hoped might help me love my town better.  I never expected — ever — that I’d still be blogging 365 days later.

Can I be honest?  It’s been a messy year.  I’ve made good decisions and bad ones.  Trusted people I shouldn’t have.  Had the good ones join hands to catch me like a safety net.  I’ve laughed, cried, and opened my hurt so wide it hurt.

But the one thing that surprises me most?  I no longer feel like a misfit in this town — not even close.

And I have more to say on that subject, but for now, I thought I’d just leave you with the Post That Started It All.  If it resonates with you — if you, too, feel a little lonely in your city — then please know:

It’s easy to feel like the desert goes on forever … but sometimes the oasis is right over the next dune.  

And sometimes it’s been there all along.

Trust me on this.  ❤


When home doesn’t feel like Home…

Honest words?  Sometimes this mountain town I’m living in feels like like a pair of shoes two sizes too small.

I’ve been here for two years.  The people are kind, the cost-of-living is low, and in autumn the place is shamelessly pretty, its red-and-gold slopes wreathed in fog.  Still:  some days I lean my head against the back window, watch the sun settle down behind the blue hills across the valley, and I think:  This place is not my home. 

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last night my husband and I drove home from a day in Charlottesville — a city that feels more “us,” in every way I can think of.  As we merged onto I-581, that wide ribbon of highway that curves fast through my little city, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness wash over me.  A sense that I don’t belong and never will.

And then something remarkable happened, in the simplest and least remarkable way possible. I leaned my head against the passenger window and looked out.  As I watched the outskirts of my city begin to flash past, the sky just lit up from within: a kind of luminous red glow that filled up the horizon, stabbed through by vapor trails.  A cloud of small black birds wheeled and dipped and seized upward in a single, frenzied animal shape.

It was beautiful — I mean, really, truly beautiful.

I reached for my iPhone, turned on the camera and started snapping. I took pictures of sky, of electrical wires and radio towers as they dipped and disappeared.  I pressed the phone to the glass, shot overpasses as they streaked above, and then the flash of the railroad, the red-black hulk of low-income housing where it huddles close to the highway.

The road curved up toward Mill Mountain, and I sat up straight in my seat.  “Get in the right lane,” I said to Thomas.  “I want to take pictures of downtown.” And there it was, flying by:  the coppery wink of the rooftop of the tallest building.  The shadows settling down purple over the wild angles of the art museum.  The velvety stretch of dark streaming down every street.  I took picture after picture, not worrying about leading lines or light, not trying to make something beautiful but to *see* something beautiful.  A beauty that was waiting for me to discover it. I felt something open in my chest, like a flower just starting to bloom.  And I thought:  I could love this place.  I really could.  If I tried. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Over the next forty days, I’m challenging myself to soak in this city with everything I’ve got.  To really *see* it — not just its beautiful blue hills and its sleepy tree-lined streets, but also its beautiful people.  I want to get out there and try to know them. And then I want to come home and write it all down here.  

You’re invited to watch.

Here’s looking at you, Star City.  I’m giving you a second chance to steal my heart…   I hope you do.


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Flashback: Gold Leaves, Ginkgo Trees & a Stranger’s Blessing

This post was first published on October 30, 2014 — almost exactly a year ago … It still makes me smile. ❤


Sometimes, the best moments are unplanned.

Yesterday, in a sudden burst of spontaneity between running errands, I deviated from my plan for the day.  Driving down 581, I swung the car onto the exit ramp toward downtown, floated over the bridge, past the art museum, and down the main drag, Campbell Avenue. I parked the car, a funny little expectant smile on my face.

The destination I had in mind was Century Square — a miniature park tucked between two tall buildings.  There’s an alleyway of tall ginkgo trees shivering their spare arms above the brick pavers.  There are leafy arbors that let the light through in pointillist stabs of green.  There are park benches, two burbling fountains, and skaters zooming from one side of the square to the other. 


There’s also a series of carved columnar sculptures — each dedicated to one of Roanoke’s sister cities:  Florianopolis, Brazil; St. Lo, France; Opole, Poland; Kisumu, Kenya; Lijiang, China; Pskov, Russia; and Wonju, Korea. It was a good reminder that, though I sometimes feel a little lonely in this small city, the whole world is just a breath away.


And so I breathed.  I wandered from one end of the park to the other, tilting my iPhone up to photograph the branches of the ginkgos where the vivid yellow light caught and held.  Contrary to my usual tendencies, I took some of the photos in color — which felt like a stretching out toward something good. After awhile, I got on my knees and photographed the fallen, fan-shaped leaves, trying to get close enough to see their tiny pleats. 


And then I got up. As I moved toward the other end of the park, a voice caught me: “I just love watching you do that.”

I glanced sideways.  A woman with a sweet smile was sitting on one of the park benches, eating a lunchbag meal.  She wore a nametag from her place of work — “Denise,” it read — and the sun flickered around her where she sat.

“Are you a photographer?” Denise asked.

“No — no, I just like to take pictures.”

And we talked.

We talked about how we love ginkgos.  About how they drop almost all their leaves at once, overnight, leaving the foliage in little golden pools around their feet. We talked about my blog.  About my desire to love this place.  About *her* love for this place.  And even about our shared love for our dogs — both shih-tzus.

She finished her meal.  Packed up. Before she left to go back to work, she gave me a blessing.  She used the word “God.”  And while I know people mean different things when they say such things — and sometimes they mean nothing at all — I really did feel blessed.  Divinely so.

I walked back to my car carrying the blessing with me. I carried it like a secret gift all the rest of the day. ❤


House & Home

A {Nook} of One’s Own

“Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind … And she will write a better book one of these days.”
–Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own



I learned a long time ago that I’m a nester by nature:  I fluff and fuss in the physical spaces of my day-to-day life.

There are people who need the hum and bustle of the city to get worthwhile things done.  There are others who need a Vulcan range and a wide chopping block.  Me?  I need soft, down-filled surfaces.  Green, growing things.

The gleam of sunlight on polished metal and glass.


And I used to be ashamed of those tendencies — fearful that I was shallow to spend so much time feathering my nest.  I’d tape fifty paint chips to the wall and puzzle over them for weeks.  I’d scour the city for just the right rattan armchair, just the right slubby linen.  Meanwhile, I’d wonder if I was crazy.

But slowly, I began to understand that this — all of this — is part of my creative work.  I beautify the space around me, and gradually I understand how to fill wider spaces with beauty.  The ripples move outward in the pond.

And there’s no shame in this.


Today, I thought I’d share with you a physical space that’s important to me.  It’s the place I go to read, think and dream.

There’s a little white linen chair here — just right for my small frame.  There’s a task light for writing at night, my favorite seagrass end table where a cup of coffee can rest.  Best of all, there’s a great big canvas I painted myself, back when I needed to be reminded that big things needn’t scare me.  That sloppiness and lack of skill needn’t scare me.  That my work was simply to say the thing that was inside me — with paper and ink, with paint and canvas — even if I said it imperfectly.

And lately, I’m realizing that I have some important things to say — even if I have to do it imperfectly.

In the coming months, I plan to be in my writing nook a lot.  I’m going to sit in this chair and watch the sunlight pour into the room like champagne into a tall glass.  I’m going to make peace with certain parts of myself that need to be forgiven.  I’m going to look hard at certain parts of myself that need to be cut out.

And then I’m going to write.


Today, I’m wishing you a safe, peaceful place to do the hard work of beautifying your soul… ❤

Small Adventures

A little summer happiness on the mountain: wood-fired pizza and a handpicked bouquet

It’s been a long time since I gave my city some love here.

Those who’ve followed alpha // whiskey // foxtrot since its inception know that I first began this blog in an attempt to love my mountain town better.  And I do love it here — most of the time — but every once in awhile, a sense of dissatisfaction overtakes me that makes it hard to be grateful for my surroundings.


Yesterday, T and I decided to do a little exploring.  We wanted to get off our usual beaten path to the same six restaurants, and we also wanted to just be us for a bit…


(You have to admit, we’re kinda cute together, even if I *am* the human version of a Welsh Corgi — clearly too short for this handsome guy).

We drove out of the city and up into the hills — steered the Volvo through tight switchbacks until the mountains opened up to sky.  Eventually, the road leveled off in a high plateau full of cornfields shivering in a cool breeze, sun winking off the tin roofs of sleepy white farmhouses.

We turned a corner and found our destination:  Bent Mountain Bistro, a little oasis of good food in the exact middle of nowhere.  And I have to say:  if you’re one of my small band of local readers, I really, really hope you’ll make the trek up the mountain to try this place.

It’s an unassuming little roadside cafe with serious farm-to-table flare … without the usual farm-to-table elitism.  You don’t have to show up wearing Birkenstocks here.  You can teeter in wearing towering heels, like me, or you can scuff through the door wearing flip-flops made in China.  Nobody cares.

Meanwhile, you can look out the big plate-glass windows and see this:


You can order a pizza from the wood-fired-oven menu, or make like me and slurp down a big bowl of homemade chanterelle soup.  Beware, though … You might end up looking something like this:


(Actually, T wears a face like this for almost any pizza, but this particular pizza — mounded high with bacon and homemade barbecue — was just a little more joy-inducing than usual.)

When we were finished with dinner, we wandered outside into the warm summer light and ambled up an unlined road through the fields:


I picked an armful of Queen Ann’s Lace and clover from the ditch at the roadside — they might be weeds, but they’re some of the prettiest weeds I know — and when I had an embarrassingly large bouquet, we stuffed it and ourselves into the Volvo and drove back down into the valley.

This morning, I woke up and I saw this:


And that sense of gratitude I’d been looking for was right where I’d left it all along. ❤