Category Archives: Shenandoah Valley

Back in the Homeschool Classroom: Where It All Began … Blazing New Trails

school books“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote this morning, my mind drifted back to the sixteen years we educated our children at home. Talk about going where there is no path and leaving a trail!

A tip of my hat to those homeschool pioneers who were there years before I joined up in 1990. I read books about their battles with school and state officials in various locations across the country, and was grateful for the tenaciousness and willingness of those faithful parents to basically lay it all on the line, plowing that path for those of us who followed. In Virginia, Delegate Rob Bell’s parents were pioneers in that movement, and local homeschool friends whose kids are now grown had been involved in the South Carolina movement.

By 1990, when we took the plunge, laws had been written and there were enough families involved that they had begun forming local groups and state organizations. We were fortunate to find a homeschool support group when we decided to jump from public school into homeschooling.

Before making a decision, I researched. There was a homeschool section of our local library with a number of books that had been donated by the local homeschool group which was how we found them. I wrote to publishers for information — that was before the internet opened the world on a desk top — and read books about other families and their struggles, and called the president of the local group. I researched curricula and laws and everything I could think of that would help if we were to make this life-altering decision.

In the end, we pulled our son out two months into second grade. The Calvert curriculum I had chosen used the same reading and math books that he had in class.

First of all, thank you to all the hard-working teachers out there who pour their souls into education. They have a love of children and teaching that makes them special and loved in the eyes of not only their students but the parents. The energy, hours, and financial sacrifices they expend often go unnoticed.

Let me back up a bit before going on. When our son entered kindergarten, I became a room mother who helped with field trips, holiday parties, and reading. A small table and two chairs were set up in the hallway outside the classroom, and I would listen and help students who were having difficulty with their reading. We’re talking books with one word on a page and, though the kids had been instructed to take their books home and read them ten times to their parents, it was easy to tell who had not done so.

For my son, kindergarten was a great experience and so we moved on.

In first grade, I was again the room mom who traveled with the kids on field trips (by this time they were fondly calling me “mom”) and sitting in the hall listening as students read. I found scrap wallpaper materials and cut out six-inch round circles of various textures and colors, and the teacher and I began a caterpillar that crawled around the wall of the classroom with all the children’s names as they completed a story or book.

One of the main issues I observed in public school was discipline, and that was especially true in first grade. One or two kids can disrupt an entire class of 25 or 30, and it can be very time-consuming for teachers. Sadly, recess was sometimes taken away from the entire class because of the actions of one or two or three … recess, where little wiggly legs could run off energy after sitting at desks for long periods of time.

Another issue in first grade was busy work. Bundles of work pages, or “staple sheets” as they were called, were given to each child who was expected to work the exercises but also outline each illustration (apple for “a” or whatever) and color it in. To quick learners, it proved frustrating and tedious.

By second grade, a very discipline-minded teacher set forth a rule of no talking in the lunch room until kids were finished with their meals. Since I was again spending time with the students as room mom, part of the fun was joining them for lunch. They were delighted to sit with me, and I loved to interact with them in a way that was not necessarily in a structured manner.

What I observed during that time was lots of wasted food. Lots. Kids were not allowed to talk during their free lunch time until all their food was gone, or they would have their names written on the board and be punished. So what else were they to do? They threw away most of their food. Problem solved! Now they could talk. It was wasteful. Elementary kids who sat in a classroom for hours during the day needed some time to release all that pent-up energy, and social time with their friends.

I went to the principal, a fair-minded man I knew well, to discuss my concerns. He was hesitant to interfere with a teacher, something I totally understood, but that didn’t help the situation. It was disheartening to see kids basically punished for being kids at what should have been a less-structured portion of their school day.

That was when light bulb #1 went on.

In second grade, more homework began being assigned. Since I was a stay-at-home mom, we were fortunate to have afternoons to complete homework and not lose our family time in the evenings except for those days when we had sports and other after-school activities. On those nights, we often had homework-dominated evenings.

It seemed to me that second grade children who spent all day in a classroom doing school work should not then have to spend more additional hours at home doing school work. When were they supposed to play? When were they supposed to read? When could they explore the subjects they were interested in pursuing? When were they allowed to just be kids?

That was light bulb #2.

The county we lived in took up a new reading program that year. In the past, students were placed in traditional reading groups according to ability and those who were faster learners moved into new books while the slower learners persevered until they could move forward. Makes sense, right? Apparently not to some pencil-pushing desk jockey who came up with the new program. And this is how it worked.

On Monday, all students were given a story to read. The teacher read it in class, and students were then to read it themselves, and carry it home at night to read aloud to their parents as they learned new words.

On Tuesday, the same story was read in class. The typically fast-learning students had picked up on it quickly while some of the slower learners struggled with unfamiliar words. Tuesday night, the story was to again be read aloud to parents to continue re-enforcing reading skills and word familiarity.

On Wednesday, the same story was again read in class. By this time, the fast readers were becoming bored while the slow readers continued to struggle. Wednesday night was a repeat of Monday and Tuesday nights.

The same for Thursday and, according to the thinking of before-mentioned pencil pushers, by Friday all the students would fly through the story with the greatest of ease and that would be that. Monday they would start a new story and the cycle would begin all over.

The problems were immediately evident. Fast readers quickly became bored with no challenge to keep them interested, and slow readers panicked when they realized they were holding up the entire class. No more intimate reading groups so by Friday everyone’s eyes and ears were glued to the poor child who was still struggling with words.

It was disappointing. I talked with the teacher who said it was the new program and she had no control over it. I talked with the principal who said it was the new program and he had no control over it.

And then other parents began calling.

That was light bulb #3.

Because I had been a room mom and involved with the students, they thought perhaps I could do something or head up something or form a protest. At about that time, a study came out grading school systems nationwide and, in that study, North Carolina was just about at the bottom of the list.

That was the catalyst that caused me to seriously consider educating my son at home, maybe for just a couple of years, I thought. He was bright, he was a fast reader, he loved learning … but I saw him wilting from the tedious busy work, and from being slowed in one of his favorite subjects, reading.

My research convinced me that we should take the plunge although I was scared. I had no college degree much less training as a teacher. I did have, however, a love of learning that I had shared with my kids from the time they were born, and a willingness to do whatever it took to make sure we were successful. And I definitely wanted to raise my own children, not leave them in the care of others, so had no immediate plans to go back to work.

What would my parents think? What would my friends think? Would I mess up my kids’ education? Would something important and necessary fall through the cracks? I would become one of those parents that others whispered about at school events. I would lose the backing of all that knowledge and all those resources of the public school system. I had received an excellent education in Chesterfield County, Virginia, schools. How could I deny that same foundation to my children?

As I dug more into the subject, our son was brought into the conversation to see what he thought about it. He was fine with staying home to learn; in fact, he seemed downright excited. I assured him he would not lose touch with his public school friends, a promise I kept even after we moved back home to Virginia when he was 12. I looked forward to “homework” being “work done at home,” something that could be completed during the day while Dad was at work so our evenings would once again become family time.

I had decided to try the Calvert curriculum and so ordered it, and applied to the state of North Carolina for permission to educate my children at home. We had to give our school a name so we combined our love of the nearby mountains with the meadows on our farm and became Mountain Meadow School. When the curricula arrived and armed with my state-permission postcard, I made an appointment with the school principal to share my decision to withdraw my child from public school.

I carried the curricula with me so the principal could see that I was serious about my son’s education and that it was not a flighty decision. He smiled as I pulled out book after book, explaining that reading and math would seamlessly continue from the point where they were in his class, and shared with him the work books and manipulatives to help in the hands-on part of education that I felt was extremely important to young learners. And then he said something that meant a great deal to me.

“I am not surprised that you researched it so well,” he said. “From my time working with you, I would expect nothing less. But I’m sad that your son will be leaving us because we seem to be losing our brightest students.”

We chatted a bit more, and then I stood up and extended my hand across his desk as we shook hands and said goodbye. Picking up my L.L. Bean bag full of school books and hoisting my purse on my shoulder, we said goodbye to office staff whom I had worked with for the two-and-a-half years while my son had been a student and I had been a volunteer and room mom. Then we walked out the front door into that October morning and climbed into our minivan never to return to public lower education again. Of course, I didn’t realize that at the time … I was still thinking we were on the two-year plan.

Along with my seven-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, we drove to a nearby restaurant and celebrated our cutting the umbilical cord to public education with breakfast and a discussion of the adventures we would have. Then we drove home to begin this new journey that would end up lasting sixteen years as we traveled where there were few paths, and blazed new trails. Though there would be bumps along the way, it turned out to be a journey I never regretted.

—–
Lynn Mitchell educated her children at home for 16 years and was part of leadership in North Carolina’s Iredell County Home Educators (ICHE) and Virginia’s Parent Educators of Augusta County Homes (PEACH). Her son graduated from Harrisonburg’s James Madison University (JMU) in 2007 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Creative Writing. Her daughter graduated from Staunton’s Mary Baldwin College in 2012 with a BS in Sustainable Business and Marketing. Lynn and her husband live in Augusta County located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Originally posted in 2013

Cross-posted from Bearing Drift

Other titles in the “Back in the homeschool classroom” series by Lynn R. Mitchell:

Reading out loud to our children (July 2015)
Did Terry McAuliffe understand the ‘Tebow Bill’ he vetoed? (April 2015)
The Virginian-Pilot is wrong about homeschool sports ‘entitlement’ (February 2015)
’50 reasons homeschooled kids love being homeschooled’ (November 2014)
Grown son’s first home (April 2014)
Support group vs Co-op (February 2014)
Where it all began … blazing new trails (January 2013)
Grown son’s first home (July 2013)
Staying in touch with homeschool friends (July 2013)
New Year’s Eve (December 2012)
More sleep = homeschoolers happier, healthier than public school students? (April 2013)
Using Shenandoah National Park as your classroom (March 2013)
Rainy days (May 2013)
A chance encounter (June 2013)
Autumn (October 2012)
The rain rain rain came down down down (April 2012)
Why we teach our own (April 2012)
Casey (April 2012)
The wedding … letting go (September 2012)
The pain of grief (August 2012)
When faced with a challenge … no whining (April 2012)
The simple wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (August 2012)
First day of school (September 2012)
The rise of homeschooling (February 2012)
Hot summer days (July 2011)
Constitutional lessons and the Judicial branch of government (March 2012)
Mary Baldwin commencement 2012 … SWAC Daughter graduates with honors (May 2012)

Very Little Labor on This Labor Day

September 1

My to-do list was fairly long and I had good intentions of making excellent use of today with errands, continued cleaning, and washing down the porch.  We are, after all, preparing for fall, my favorite season of the year.

But here I am at mid-day, still at home with not much to show for my morning. Sure, I picked up a bit, wrote four thank you notes, and am making chicken salad (the chicken is cooling before mixing it with the other ingredients).

But there was a cool breeze blowing this morning so I stopped working and went outside to rock on the porch for a while, enjoying the fresh air and quiet. Finally feeling guilty for wasting time, I came inside and got ready to go into Staunton. Then I wandered into the living room and sat down at the piano to play for a while.

That’s when I decided a caffeine kick was needed to get me motivated so found a long-lost tiny bottle of Diet Coke in the fridge, filled a glass with crushed ice, poured in the beverage that I hardly drink anymore, and now I’m sitting here enjoying that while mindlessly “watching” the Hallmark channel in the background and writing this post.

So there’s not much labor coming out of me on this Labor Day 2019 … but the day has been perfect. Isn’t that what a holiday is all about?

And for those who wonder what I’m doing home on the kick-off day for the fall campaign season, I decided long ago that this holiday was for family, not politics. When still educating my kids at home, this last day of summer was for us because the next day was the first day of our school year.

There’s still plenty of time, right? I can meander into Staunton later this afternoon and do my odds-and-ends errands. Meanwhile, I believe the caffeine is doing its job and I’m getting a second wind. There may be some labor in me yet….

Meanwhile, welcome September! Enjoy your day.

A Cool Late Summer Evening

Deer 2

Two does graze as dusk settles over my corner of the world west of Staunton.

I’m sitting outside on the deck with my laptop watching deer where the yard goes into the woods. Our teeny tiny fawns have grown the past two months so it’s enjoyable watching them especially on a cool evening like tonight.

We had rain last night and, in the overcast and cool, breezy day there was a mist in the air as we worked in the yard on chores that were past due. It’s been so busy the past months that trimming, weeding, and raking were needed in a bad way. That task is well underway.

I hear a cicada in a nearby tree and crickets all around chirping their late-summer song. Interestingly, as I pause to listen, no birds can be heard. They are usually the loudest of all but tonight they must be entertaining someone else.

It’s cool out here just as it’s been the past four days — this evening it’s in the upper 60s with a hint of moisture in the air. I almost need a sweater over my long-sleeve shirt. One of the automatic outdoor dusk-to-dawn lights just popped on … overcast skies are pushing darkness in earlier than the 7:52 sunset time just half an hour from now.

Ahh … a bird just showed up in the mock orange bush just off the deck. His calling let me know he was there. And the deer came out from behind the trees … I snapped a photo through the deck railing of two of them as they grazed. I only see two at the moment but suspect the others are hidden in the dark shadows of the trees and the edge of the woods.

So I’ll sit here and enjoy the quiet and wait for darkness. I do love where I live … the mountains, the climate, the quiet. Fall in the mountains is usually a spectacular sight. Winter is peaceful when the fire is roaring and snow is falling outside the windows. Spring is a riot of colorful flowers blooming in the yard, and summer is hot and humid … but not as hot and humid, or as extended, as in my hometown, Richmond.

The mountains are minutes away for day trips or last-minute picnics, or to drive up at this time of the day and watch as the forest animals venture out for the evening. Every day I can see the gorgeous vistas from my house that tourists come to visit. We are fortunate.

It’s late summer in the Shenandoah Valley….

A Preview of Fall Weather

Yard 5

Oh, wow … we’ve had fantastic weather in the Shenandoah Valley the past four days after a cold front sent the hot, humid temperatures packing and ushered in cooler days and lower humidity.

Yard 3

Today’s mostly cloudy skies and high temps around 70 were perfect for trimming the wisteria vine that frames the front porch. It was a joy to be outdoors, and that vine needed to be reined in. Mission accomplished.

Yard 6

Warmer temps are moving back in mid-week but overnight lows are expected to be in the 50s, and the weekend temps will again be in the 70s. Fall is tapping at summer’s door, and I’m ready for it. Colorful autumn leaves, pumpkins, hay fields, apples, cider, cheerful chrysanthemums, fall festivals … bring it.

Yard 4

A Cool, Rainy Shenandoah Valley Late Summer Day

Can you believe it? I just checked the temperature at 1:30 in the afternoon and it’s 64 degrees in the central Shenandoah Valley.  I’m out on the deck with a sweater on listening to the sound of raindrops on the awning … wind rustling … a little rain spray blowing under the tarp. It feels like camping.

Rain moved in a couple of hours ago and is in the forecast for the rest of the afternoon. It’s one of those comfortable, snuggly days when it’s great to curl up with a book or sit bundled up on the deck, under the awning, listening to the rain falling, whiffing the earth smells, with only the sound of rain and rustling leaves.

Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved rainy days. I used to bundle up and take my umbrella and sit outdoors back in those days. Camping in the rain is an adventure — a challenge to stay dry while listening to the rain and entertaining myself by either playing games with someone, or writing, or reading.

Fall is right around the corner and days like this are a reminder of that. This rain is part of a cold front coming through that will drop temps over the next few days into daytime highs of 70s and overnight lows in 50s along with lower humidity.

So today I’m home, couched in with the rainy weather, and basically taking the day off.

Meanwhile, the rain picked up, thunder rolled in, and I scooted back into the house before my laptop and I got soaked.

It’s late summer in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia….

Icy Shenandoah Valley


It was the first wintry precipitation this year in the Shenandoah Valley as snow, freezing rain, and sleet moved in overnight and continued throughout Thursday.


Temperatures have hovered between 30 and 32 all day so nothing is melting … yet.


The forecast says temps will begin rising overnight and continue to the mid-40s on Friday so everything will melt. Not that I like ice but there really isn’t anything we can do about it so we’re enjoying the wintry scene out the windows while we can. Our Shenandoah autumn continues…

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
November 15, 2018

Cross-posted at BearingDrift.com

Saying Goodbye to Augusta County’s Bob Dickerman

“Did you know someone named Bob Dickerman?” my husband called up the steps this morning. His question came out of the blue and made me stop what I was doing.

“Why?” I asked. “Did he die?”

Indeed, Mr. Mitchell had seen the obituary in the Staunton News Leader. I quickly pulled it up on my laptop to be sure it was the Bob Dickerman I knew from politics in Augusta County.

Sure enough, it was him. As I read of his amazingly versatile and far-reaching life, it again struck me how we don’t really know most people until they die. That is when their life’s achievements and accomplishments come to light in a brief end-of-life wrap-up known as an obituary.

How sad.

And how enlightening.

When I was very active in Augusta County Republican Committee leadership in the George W. Bush years, Bob and I crossed paths a number of times — he with the Augusta County Democrats, I with the local GOP. He was a bit crusty, and I am certain he made more of an impression on me than I on him. Too bad I was such an activist in those days and didn’t take the time to get to know him a little better.

He had a mountainside farm in Buffalo Gap on the Old Parkersburg Turnpike, a gravel road that traverses the national forest through the Appalachian Mountains to Deerfield Valley in western Augusta. Born in Staunton, after his many years of foreign service, he came home and spent his final years here.

Bottom line: this is why I have grown to dislike extreme partisanship and the fact that we often see people only through a one-dimensional political lens. Everyone is so much more than that, and reading about Bob’s life showed all of him that I did not know. And didn’t take time to know. It’s my loss.

Charles Robert (“Bob”) Dickerman

Staunton – Charles Robert (“Bob”) Dickerman, a Staunton native who served the United States for 30 years as a Foreign Service Officer, died on November 8th, 2018 on his farm in Buffalo Gap. He was 81 years old and had suffered from a rare neurological disorder: Multiple Systems Atrophy with Parkinson’s.

Bob was born in Staunton on November 29, 1936, the son of the late Staunton physician, Dr. Charles Pingrey Dickerman and his first wife, Stella Irene Mallory. Bob received his BA from Antioch College, and a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University‘s Kennedy School of Government.

During this time, he was also a faculty level research fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs. In addition, he graduated from the State Department’s prestigious year-long Senior Seminar on US Foreign and Domestic Policies.

Prior to joining the United States Information Service in 1962, Bob was a journalist on three Midwestern newspapers, including THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE. As a career diplomat in the Foreign Service he specialized in cultural affairs and media relations.

During his more than 30-year career, he served in Finland, Somalia, South Vietnam, Norway, Iceland, West Germany, the Eastern Caribbean, and Denmark. He worked in several languages including Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, German, Vietnamese, and Italian.

After his retirement from federal service in 1992, Bob continued to be engaged in politics and his interest never ceased in how our country is viewed by many people overseas. He followed the news in many countries, and maintained many friendships with former colleagues and friends.

In his conversations and writings, he discussed and addressed some of our most significant problems: racism and other forms of intolerance and prejudice, our lack of universal health care, and social inequalities. He was intensely concerned about the decline in American prestige and respect and was active in the Democratic parties of Arlington, Staunton, and Augusta County.

Bob Dickerman is survived by his daughters Julia Torres and Anneke Braisted of Cary, NC, their husbands Nehemiah and Timothy, his grandchildren Liam and Kaia, and his former wife (and best friend) Gerhild Sachs Dickerman of Durham, NC. In addition, he is survived by his brother, Dr. William Dickerman, his half-sister, Anne Reid, and his half-brother, Dr. Will Dickerman. A Celebration of Life will be held with family and friends at his beloved farm. Contributions in his memory may be made to Planned Parenthood.

My condolences to Bob’s family and friends.

Cross-posted at BearingDrift.com

Photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
Shenandoah Valley looking west to North Mountain Range
Appalachian Mountains | Augusta County, Virginia

Trick or Treat! Happy Halloween 2018

Halloween 13

It’s a mild evening in the Shenandoah Valley as darkness falls with temps in the low 60s and a slight breeze, the jack-o-lanterns are glowing, and we’re waiting for neighborhood goblins to visit. Not to worry … we have lots of treats to ward off the tricks.

For years I’ve blogged about our Halloween visitors so tonight is no different. With “Hocus Pocus” on TV and a fall supper, we’re in our annual routine.

5:30: Our first trick-or-treaters showed up, came in the house, and hugs all around. It was our son and his wife who stopped by to visit for a while so they were here when the first little ones arrived.  There were sweets for them when they went home because, no matter how old our kids are, they’re never too old for Halloween treats.

Halloween 12

6:15: Down-the-street neighbors came around just before dark with their two young sons. Mom and Dad were in costume as they are each year, and the boys were already energized from sugary treats as they raced around the yard while the grown-ups yakked. One scary Dracula and one Marvel character. Treats for all!

6:50: Three neighbor kids — two sisters and a best friend — were a delight. One was a scarecrow with her two companions. Treats for all!

Halloween 11

7:55: Yay — more kids! A four-year-old unicorn and a six-year-old royal lady-in-waiting with their parents — our new neighbors who just moved in up the street and wanted to meet up with some of the neighbors. It’s so dark that they came down on their four-wheel drive Gator — headlights helped in the inkiness. Friendly newcomers and great to have another family with little ones. Treats for all, even Mom and Dad!

8:15: We’re still waiting to see if anyone else shows up. There’s way too much candy left over so we need to send it out the door. Need more trick-or-treaters!

Meanwhile, I’m on Facebook “talking” with friends far and near. It’s fun to hear from one of the former young Virginia bloggers who now is married, has a little boy, and lives in Texas, and was saying by 7:00 their time they hadn’t had any trick-or-treaters because it was raining there.

A twenty-something Facebook friend in Memphis, one I met during the Mitt Romney campaign, noted the same — storms were keeping her little goblins away on a night when she usually saw about 250 but only 40 so far tonight. Wow … can you imagine 250?

8:40: We’re closing up shop. Without any little ones for the past 40 minutes, I think that’s it for this year. Seven is about our average. As Mr. Mitchell came in from extinguishing the jack-o-lanterns, he laughed because the first trick-or-treaters, brothers, who were already on a sugar rush at 6:15 could be heard up the street chasing each other around their yard, peals of laughter coming through the darkness. It made me think of all the teachers tomorrow at school.

Happy Halloween!

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell

Shenandoah Acres

“In the Draft,” the Facebook page dedicated to Stuarts Draft in the southern part of Augusta County, had such interesting historical information this week that I decided to post it here as a reference for future years.

Shenandoah Acres has been a popular tourist destination in the central Shenandoah Valley as well as well known and loved by local residents. Here is what “In the Draft” wrote about this local treasure:

Good morning Stuarts Draft! It’s time for a new ITD Person Of The Week. Actually, this week we have “Persons” of the week. This is long overdue – these 2 guys (brothers) should have been the 1st people I featured on this page. I have no excuse, except that even though I’ve known who they were basically all of my life, I had never been introduced to them. They didn’t know me and I just kept thinking I would run into them someday and take advantage of that opportunity. I was seriously intimidated about calling them. I mean, in my opinion, this family is responsible for putting Stuarts Draft on the map and making our community what it is today.

I know most of you already know these guys, but if not, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Jack & Harold Blacka. I have some pictures of Jack that I got from his daughter Cindi. Harold told me the 1st time I spoke to him that I couldn’t take his picture, he might’ve been joking, because he has a great sense of humor, but I certainly didn’t ask a 2nd time – I was so excited to actually sit down and talk to them that I would have agreed to anything!

So, you know who they are, right? The Blacka family owned and operated Shenandoah Acres for 70 years. I say that they “put us on the map” because you can travel anywhere and when someone asks where you’re from and you say things like “The Shenandoah Valley Of Virginia”, “about 30 miles west of Charlottesville, VA”, “3 hours south of DC”, etc – it is not uncommon for the person you’re talking to to ask “Is that near Shenandoah Acres?”

It was not at all unusual for Shenandoah Acres to have visitors from every state (and some other countries as well) in any given summer. They once received a postcard from overseas that was simply addressed “Shenandoah Acres, Virginia, USA”.

Let me give you a little history. Rupert A. Blacka was a traveling salesman from Scottdale, PA. He sold a line of pots & pans that were designed to retain the vitamins in cooking. He had studied medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and dreamed of one day having a health resort.

In his travels, he came across Dodge Pond on a farm that had been owned by Dr William Dodge. Dr Dodge had charged folks 10 cents to swim and picnic on the property.

In 1935 Rupert Blacka returned to Pennsylvania and mortgaged everything he owned to buy the 312 acre apple farm from the Dodge estate. He brought his family – his wife Helen and, I think there were 2 children at that time, to Stuarts Draft, Va. Five more kids would be born in the next few years.

Jack showed me a picture of the small cabin where they lived in those 1st few years. He said the kids slept in sleeping bags on the floor. It was right where the state road ended at that time and Jack says they had to keep the ditches cleaned out, or when it rained it would flood into the cabin and get the sleeping bags wet.

Mr Blacka immediately went to work transforming the muddy spring-fed lake into a clean, clear swimming area and water park. (Rupert Blacka was obviously way far ahead of his time!). Jack & Harold told me that in the winter their dad would return to traveling sales as the lake was a very seasonal business.

The Blacka family continued to develop the property, soon offering an awesome beach house, horseback riding, miniature golf, tennis courts, shuffle board, bike rentals, volleyball & a softball field. I believe they told me that it was in the late 40’s when the diving tower and zip-line type cable was added (again, way ahead of their time). Jack said that the power company actually came over and set the poles for the platform.

According to Harold, the camping started in the 40’s when folks would stay all day and ask Rupert if they could just pitch a tent across the road in the picnic area. Shenandoah Acres had cabins available to rent, but in the early 60’s started developing campsites back in the woods behind the lake. Jack & Harold say that camping really took off in the mid 60’s and at that time they doubled the size of the bath house.

The brothers grew up on the lake – they say that they could swim before they walked. Harold says he learned to dive when Jack dropped him off of the platform into the lake.

Everything was so clean and well maintained – the lake was drained & cleaned every Spring. If you lost a ring or something while swimming, they would take your number and usually found it for you the following Spring. When folks asked Mr Blacka how he kept everything in such pristine shape, he would tell them that his kids did it – most people probably thought 2 or 3 – not realizing there were 7 Blacka children.

So, Jack & Harold Blacka grew up at Shenandoah Acres and graduated from Wilson Memorial High School. (Jack was in the first graduating class of kids who attended Wilson for 4 years. It had previously been an Army hospital.) After high school both of these wonderful guys enlisted in the Marines. Jack was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA for basic training and later was stationed in Okinawa. Harold went first to Parris Island and was later stationed in Yuma, AZ. (There were other stations, but talking to these two gentlemen is so interesting, that I occasionally forgot to take notes – y’all know how flighty I am.)

Of the 7 siblings, Jack and Harold were the 2 that returned to Stuarts Draft. They followed in Rupert’s footsteps – devoting their lives to their families and the Stuarts Draft community – working the lake during the summer, providing a super fun experience for all of us, and picking up other work in the off season.

They stayed busy. Both were involved in and served as Presidents of every travel/tourist association that existed. All of this in addition to raising their children, with their lovely wives, of course. Harold & Elise’s daughter Aaron was quite the athlete and Harold coached her & many other local young ladies in softball for years. Jack & Kay had Brian, Cindi & Kevin.

If you are a younger member of our community, you may not remember Kay. Sadly she passed away in 1981. If you’re my age, you most likely think of Elisa “Lisa” Kenney Blacka when you think of Jack’s wife – she was always working around the Acres. They were married for almost 27 years before she passed away unexpectedly in May of 2017 of a suspected pulmonary embolism.

The Blacka family sold Shenandoah Acres in 2005, after 70 years of serving our community. After a couple of ownership changes, in 2014, the husband & wife team of Garland Eutsler and Carolynn Rubino purchased and reopened the resort.

They have done wonderful things over there and brought back a place that is so special to our community. Garland has said that they are “building on the Blacka legacy”.

Last Spring they opened the “Blacka Pond” on the property in honor of the Blacka family. (The guys told me that their father had always wanted a fishing pond).

Jack and Harold still live on Lake road, both homes are within walking distance of Shenandoah Acres. They still stay super busy. Jack has season tickets to UVA men’s basketball, women’s basketball, football & baseball and he NEVER misses a home game.

Both guys are super close to their families. Harold & Elise’s daughter and her family are down in the Blacksburg area and they are often down there. Jack’s kids and grandkids are here and they keep him busy too – as you can see from these pictures.

I so appreciate Jack and Harold’s graciousness, for welcoming me into Jack’s home and taking time to talk to me. I heard some REALLY good stories and enjoyed my time with them so much. When you see Harold or Jack around the Draft, stop to introduce yourself and thank them all they have done for our community throughout the years. If you’re lucky, you might get to hear a good story too.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Visit the website for more information about Shenandoah Acres.

Staunton’s Bob Campbell Joins Heaven’s Chorus

 

Bob Campbell is pictured singing in this video still shot.

I woke up this morning to sad news. Staunton’s Bob Campbell, who sang for years with the Coachmen, a regional gospel-country quartet, passed away last night. His nephew Chris announced it on Facebook.

It brought back some memories. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a group of local residents worked with “From Our Hearts,” organized by Dianne and Benny Rankin who owned T-Bone Tooter restaurant in Churchville, to fill care packages for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Often we would meet at the restaurant before it opened to form an assembly line to pack boxes, print mailing labels, and get another stack ready to mail halfway around the world. Occasionally we would hang around on the porch for dinner.

Sometimes Bob entertained diners. I can still see him on the front porch singing in his laid-back way, with a smile on his face because he was doing something he loved.

For some reason, the song that sticks in my mind is that old Keith Whitley tune, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” Bob nailed it.

A lot has happened since those days. Benny passed away in March 2018 after battling heart disease. The restaurant has been passed on to others and now operates under another name. But this morning Dianne added her thoughts on Bob’s passing, posting on my Facebook page:

Heaven has gained 2 new angels these last couple months. I know Benny Rankin was at heavens gate with open arms to greet his friend along with many others. Both of these great people will be missed greatly by the community. Thank you so much Lynn Randall Mitchell for sharing the memory of such a great friend and the good times of our restaurant, T Bone Tooter. Prayers to Tracy Campbell, Wanda Campbell and all his family during this time for healing.

Prayers for all Bob’s family and friends … he will be fondly remembered.


Bob Campbell sings “Sweet Virginia” beginning at 2:25.

A love song to Staunton where the Coachmen are from, written and performed by Chris Campbell. For those who were raised in Staunton, have left Staunton, have moved to Staunton and love the place … whether you’re from-heres or come-heres, you will recognize many of the landmarks in this video. If you’ve moved away, get ready to be homesick.

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The Beauty of a Cool June Evening

Sunset 1 (2)

Last week I was reminded of growing up in Richmond with the hot, muggy summer weather that absolutely drains every ounce of energy out of me. On Friday it was 93 degrees with humidity about 150 percent that felt like a wet washcloth smacking you across the face when you walked outside. When I stepped out the door my hair went into its frizzy “yeah, it’s humid” unkempt look that used to drive me nuts when younger but at my age I now just go with it.

I thought of that tonight while sitting on my deck in the cool — let me emphasize, cool — evening air. It’s 68 degrees at 8:30 and my bare feet are on the edge of being chilly. Mr. Mitchell mowed the back yard — perhaps baled would better describe it after all the rain we’ve had — so it looks like a park down under the trees at the edge of the woods. The clean smell of freshly mowed grass and other earthy smells are in the air.

I’m watching a solitary deer quietly grazing under the apple trees that, by the way, should be full of fruit this fall because they were loaded with blooms this spring. For once, thankfully, a hard freeze didn’t get them this year. It’s dark in the woods although we still have about 20-30 minutes of light left in the areas out in the open. I can imagine all the creatures in the woods looking back at me as I peer into the inkiness of the underbrush and trees.

We’ve seen a lot of wild turkeys — one big male and a bunch of hens. Our yard became their refuge from something, I suspect. They angled through one day from the woods across the back yard and beside the house making their way up the hill to the road. Just before getting there, they caught the attention of a black lab that began excitedly barking at this group of winged creatures heading her way, and that male and those hens took to the air and flew over the trees back down to the woods.

I’ve seen turkeys kind of fly but this was full-out flight up and over and all the way down to the back. Amazing. Nature never disappoints in learning something new.

Today a huge crow caught my attention as it swooped across the front yard and by the window so I opened the door to see if it had been a hawk, and it was the crow on the ground eating something. And then a mockingbird swooped in — back and forth, and back and forth — attacking at the crow that was about three times the size of the mockingbird. It continued to eat what I presumed to be a baby mockingbird that it had raided from the nest. Nature can also be cruel.

The lack of humidity makes it particular refreshing sitting out here, something we haven’t been able to do recently with all the rain. I’m looking forward to back porch sitting and entertaining and visiting. The trees are fully leafed out and deep green, bushes have gone wild with all the rain, and we will need to tame the jungle this week by pruning limbs and shrubs and vines.

Ahh … and I just saw a lightning bug, first of the season. A cricket is chirping and a far-off bird — I can’t tell what it is — is twittering. Other than that, the quiet is mesmerizing.

Wait — there it is … the deep guttural croaking of a bullfrog in our neighbor’s pond. I was wondering why I wasn’t hearing them. Missing are the tree frogs … only quiet from the edge of the woods.

It’s after 9:00 … the temperature has now dropped to 64 degrees and it’s completely dark out here … time to take my chilly naked toes inside. Get ready because summer is only a couple of weeks away in the Shenandoah Valley….

Cover photo by Lynn R. Mitchell
Sunset over the Appalachian Mountains

14 Inches of Snow Fall on Central Shenandoah Valley


The calendar said it was the second day of spring but Old Man Winter was reluctant to let go as the fourth nor’easter in three weeks hit the East Coast. This time my corner of the central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia got hit with over a foot of snow — 14 inches, to be exact, in my back yard. My camera and I took a walkabout in the winter wonderland of the yard to get pictures of flocked trees and deep snow on the ground as the snow continued to fall.


There’s a picnic table under there, somewhere…..

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
March 21, 2018

Shenandoah Valley March Snow


The first real winter storm of the season dropped 6.5 inches of snow in my corner of the world on Monday. Outside was a winter wonderland as I walked around the yard while the snow continued to fall, and there was lots of activity at the bird feeders. The winter of 2017-18 is drawing to a close as spring slowly pushes in….

Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell
March 12, 2018

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Mr. McGregor’s Garden, Peter Rabbit, and Mr. Mitchell’s Garden

Originally published July 2008….

I grew up on Beatrix Potter tales and especially loved Peter Rabbit. As a small child, I sat wide-eyed listening to my mother read about all the characters that Miss Potter brought to life in the miniature children’s books full of colorful illustrations. My imagination worked overtime as I heard the opening lines of the Peter Rabbit story:

ONCE upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

I would get lost in all things Beatrix Potter. While Peter’s sisters were good and went hunting blackberries, Peter went straight to Mr. McGregor’s garden where he had been warned to stay away from, and got into all kinds of mischief. The illustration that stands out to me the most of Miss Potter’s drawings is the one of Peter slipping under the fence.

Yesterday, the story of Peter Rabbit’s trials and tribulations in Mr. McGregor’s garden came back to me.

Mr. Mitchell had put up a wire fence around the garden, as he does each year, to prevent as many critters as possible from partaking of the goodies growing there. It is impossible to keep everything out but it helps to limit some of the wildlife we have here in western Augusta County.

When he went out to look over the garden yesterday, a baby rabbit was sitting squarely in the middle of the squash plants. Well … he used to be a baby and had been able to easily slip in and out of the wire fence … but he is now about half grown. When Mr. Mitchell gave chase, the bunny took off for the fence and got stuck, squirming to make his hindquarters squeeze through before making his escape.

And that was where the tale of Peter Rabbit popped into my brain. I laughed and called my husband “Mr. McGregor” all afternoon because he had chased Peter out of the garden and, if that bunny had been wearing a blue jacket, as Peter did in the fairy tale, its buttons would have been caught on the wire fence and the jacket surely would have been left behind.

Perhaps that is why I so enjoyed the charming movie, “Miss Potter,” the story of Beatrix Potter’s life that intertwined the creatures around her as animated figments of her imagination. Miss Potter’s world was brought to life in the biographical film.

Peter, that naughty rabbit, in my garden helping himself to the squash … I smile even as I think of it….

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Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening

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Originally posted Winter 2015….

Snow! Like a kid, I watched all day as rain turned to sleet and then to snow that was so heavy at times it was almost white-out conditions. When it let up this afternoon, the snowy woods called and I answered with camera in hand and plans to wander through 8-10 inches of fluffy snow in 23-degree temps.

Layered and pulling on boots, I grabbed some knit gloves because I cannot work the camera in heavy ski gloves. It proved to be a mistake because my fingers almost froze before I returned. With a plastic bag to protect my camera from the snow that was still lightly falling, I headed into the wintry landscape.

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