Smith River Fest Approaches

I have never made it to the Smith River Festival since I’ve been here.  There is just so much going on this particular weekend.  It looks like so much fun.  There is a 5K mud run, a rubber ducky race,  a boat race, tube rentals, a beer garden, and, this year, an angling pond.

Our big conflict is the mid-atlantic beer festival held in Roanoke on the same weekend, MicroFestivus.  For $40 (if you buy your tickets early), you get admission to the event, an event pint glass, and forty tastings.





Martinsville’s Lake Lanier

Nestled in between the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Druid Hills in Martinsville is a small but beautiful private lake called Lake Lanier.  It’s not the Lake Lanier.  That’s in Georgia.  But it is Martinsville’s Lake Lanier.

Each year around Halloween, Henry County Parks and Recreation holds the annual Goblin Gallop 5K around the lake, ending up at the old Druid Hills school house where volunteers provide congratulations, smiles, and fresh pumpkin pie.

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It’s a beautiful run and I took these photos when I ran it in 2015.  The leaves had changed colors and were falling but the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. When a breeze would come up, a flurry of golden leaves would fall and swirl around the runners’ feet as they went by.

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Big, stately homes peek up all around Lake Lanier.  It’s one of those neighborhoods that is just so pretty that I don’t think that we’ve had an out-of-town guest that we haven’t taken on a drive through the Forest Park neighborhood just to look at the houses and it’s always fun to get them to guess what the ones for sale are going for.  If they are from one of the larger metropolitan areas (most of our guests are from the Dallas area), they are simply flabbergasted at the prices. In Dallas, these would easily be million dollar homes.  Heck, in McKinney , a Dallas suburb, they’d be million dollar homes.  In Dallas proper, they would be astronomical.

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Here’s a map from that shows a sampling of things for sale in the Forest Park neighborhood.  It’s important to know that Zillow is not tied directly to the multiple listing service for this area, so it may not reflect the most current status of a listing or even the current active agents.  If you want real-time information on the local real estate market, you should look at the  local listing board, the Martinsville, Henry & Patrick Counties Association of Realtors site.  What Zillow does well though is let you see where they are in relation to, say, Lake Lanier (the bit of blue there by Root Trail).

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I am not an active real estate agent though I did get a license and try when I first got here.  I don’t have a license any more though and I don’t have anything to do with the real estate market (though I do have some friends who happen to be absolutely excellent Realtors).

Point being, I don’t have any vested interest in it.  I just love to see people’s expressions when they say “that is only that much?”  So, if you’ve got some time to burn and love to look at houses, pop over to the Martinsville, Henry & Patrick Counties Association of Realtors site and do a search on Forest Park (location/subdivision).  You will more than likely be amazed.


Gardening in MHC

I would call myself an avid gardener but then someone  is going to ask me the name of a plant and I’m going to blink like a deer in headlights.  Let’s just say that I really, really like to play in the dirt. I make an effort to remember the names of the plants but I don’t think that they really care.

The soil here is red and I’ve been told that that means that it is rich in iron.  Plants that love acidic soils, like azaleas, love it. In fact, the azaleas need absolutely no care here to thrive.  It does help to keep the wisteria out of them and they don’t seem to like  a blanket of leaves around their base.  Other than that, they are the gift that just keeps giving.

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Rhododendron also thrive here.

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And peonies.

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The biggest problem for gardeners here is not the soil or the weather. It’s all the critters who see the flowers as salad. The deer come all the way up to the house and eat the prettiest blossoms.  Actually, I’ve been lucky with them only eating the blossoms.  My neighbors have had some of their plants eaten all the way to the ground.

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If you are trying to tame an area that’s been long neglected, there is one other pest to be aware of.  Wisteria.  I’d always heard about the invasive kudzu in the south so, when we got here and saw this:

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I thought that we were looking at kudzu. Our neighbor would squint at me whenever I talked about our battles to eradicate the vines that travel along the ground and climb anything and everything in its path.   Now that we’ve cut away all of the vines from all of the trees and shrubs and have been preventing them from taking a hold anywhere new, I understand that it really is wisteria.  Left alone,  it will climb to the top of the trees and then bloom the distinctive purple blossoms in early spring.

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It can kill a tree or shrub either by girdling its trunk or blocking its canopy from getting sufficient sunlight.  When Mother moved here, she couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to help her bring a wisteria that she was growing in her back yard in Texas.  Since she got here in April, she never saw this cedar tree in bloom:


I’ve got several new beds of flowers started and hope to be able to post some photos as the beds mature.  So far, obedient plants and coneflowers are real winners. Daylilies just need to be shown the dirt to do well but they seem to particularly attract deer.

Exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway

One of the perks to living in the Martinsville-Henry County area is that we are less than an hour away from the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We take Highway 58 from Martinsville west through the communities of Patrick Springs, Stuart, and Meadows of Dan to get to the Parkway.   It doesn’t take long before the Blue Ridge looms up on the horizon and it is always a beautiful trip just getting to the Parkway itself.  So far, we have only explored the section of the Parkway that runs north to Roanoke, passing by the community Floyd, which was voted one of the South’s best small towns by Southern Living in 2016.

We always make a stop in Meadows of Dan first.  Meadows of Dan is a small but extremely beautiful town whose business district sits right at the on ramp to the Parkway.  There are several restaurants here and a few little shops.  Nancy’s Candy Company can reunite even the most cynical adult with their inner child.  They have lots of freshly made fudge and truffles and just about anything that can be dipped in chocolate has been.  Poor Farmers’ Market is a must-stop and there is nothing that you could need on the road that they don’t have.  There is a sandwich shop and ice cream counter in the back.  There are three large rooms filled with jellies and jams and cast iron cookware.  Books by local authors, t-shirts, hats, and hoodies are piled up on display cases.  Even the gliders and settees out on the porch are for sale. There is fresh produce out front and the small room as you enter is a traditional convenience store with fried pies and soda pops.

We recently discovered a restaurant just east of Meadows of Dan called The Crooked Road Cafe.  This stretch of 58 is also part of what is known as “The Crooked Road”, a stretch along which you’ll consistently find authentic bluegrass music. The cafe is known for its pizza and gyros but also features live music, shares the site with a historic grist mill that you can tour for free, and has an adorable back patio that sits alongside the headwaters of the Dan River.  It’s hard to believe that the river here, which looks like little more than a creek, will become a large river by the time it gets to Danville.  The cabin in the background is a vacation rental called “A Blue Ridge Haven”.


There are two main stops along the Parkway between Meadows of Dan and Roanoke.  The first is Mabry Mill, a national park featuring a historic grist mill still in operation, a historic Appalachian cabin, a restaurant, a gift shop, wooded trails, and live music on Sunday afternoons.  According to the NPS website, Mabry Mill is one of the most photographed sites on the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The  mill, as well as all of the Parkway here, is dotted with rhododendron, which bloom large purple flowers around April or May.

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The speed limit along the Parkway is 45 miles an hour and drops down to 25 when you get close to event venues like Mabry Mill or Floyd Fest, an annual music concert held in July that last several days and draws some big names.  The Parkway is well-patrolled and the speed limit is strictly enforced.

All along the Parkway, there are turn offs for viewing the valleys that run alongside the Mountains.  The first after Mabry Mill is the Rocky Knob Recreational area, which is more than just your average outlook, having hiking trails and campgrounds.

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Most of the outlooks are little more than a parking lot with a tremendous view and a placard explaining what you are seeing.  Even in winter, though, these stops can be worthwhile because you can see so much more without all of the foliage and contemplate what life must have been like here before the American Revolution. The Parkway often closes for inclement weather during the winter though.

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After Mabry Mill and Rocky Knob, you’ll run into the town of Floyd.  We’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t just stop in at random stores.  You should allow yourself several hours and try to get into each one.  What happened to us is we would check out a different store each time and were sorry to have not known about it before.  For instance, you absolutely must visit the Floyd Country Store.  We didn’t go in there until our second trip up.  The Floyd Country Store is like the centerpiece of Floyd and has food and live music as well as the sundries you’d expect.  If you haven’t been there, you haven’t been to Floyd. It was a couple more trips before we figured out that The Republic of Floyd is a craft beer store.  We are now enormous fans.

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The Hotel Floyd is a boutique hotel just off of the downtown scene, separated by an old cemetery that’s worth a look as well.  Each room is decorated themed on a different business in the area so each room is entirely unique.  The ones we stayed in were gorgeous.  It doesn’t look like there’s a bad room in the inn.

Word to the wise, there are at least two businesses that you have to look for because they are slightly off the beaten track.  One is a bakery called The Grateful Bread that is easy to miss  because it’s down the hill behind Dogtown Roadhouse (a popular restaurant on the main drag). It’s not big but the baked goods are fresh and tasty and the proprietor, when we went, was super friendly. The other business is an antiques store called Finders Keepers. When you get to the intersection in the middle of town (by the hardware store), turn east.  It’s just a little bit down the road.

Honestly, you can spend a whole day in Floyd.  And that’s not even mentioning Chateau Morrisette Winery.  Floyd is often our only destination on the Parkway.  We go up there for a few hours and we are home by dark.


Moving to Martinsville-Henry County

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there. Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.

We moved to Henry County in the spring of 2014 from McKinney, Texas.  Now, I loved McKinney and I still love McKinney but it had just become too popular.  It was voted the best place in the country to live in 2014 by Money Magazine. I could walk from my home in the Historic District and pass by the McKinney Equine Patrol out on patrol or Happy Trails Carriage Rides out with a load of tourists on my way to the downtown square where there were shops and restaurants and wine bars surrounding the old courthouse that had become a performing arts center.  What’s not to love?

People here all seemed mystified as to why would leave Texas to move to Henry County.  They didn’t even know how wonderful McKinney was (is).  There is just a pervading sense of “anywhere’s a better place to be” here.  While McKinney was wonderful, Henry County (and the independent city of Martinsville that sits in the middle of it) has a great deal to offer.  Somehow, a lot of the locals just don’t see it.

In fact, we are both amazed that this whole area seems to have been entirely overlooked despite some extremely obvious advantages:

  • All Four Seasons, including a leaf change – Texas is just incredibly hot.  We got out before the weather truly became what I call “biblical” -floods washing away trains, cattle, and roads followed by droughts that make the black clay crack and shift.  The climate here is perfect for anyone who wants all four seasons and the winters are not significantly different from Texas except that, where Texas gets ice, Virginia gets snow (at least, most of the time).  Summers are hot by Virginian standards but it seems rare that it breaks 100 degrees while that is fairly common in Texas during the latter half of the summer (from August into October).
  • Economy – this may seem counterintuitive to the locals but the same economy that’s been devastated by NAFTA means that everything is cheaper … much cheaper.  Real estate, groceries, restaurants …  In our experience (with certain exceptions), the cost of living in Martinsville-Henry County seems to be about half of what it was in Dallas.  Granted, there aren’t any jobs to speak of but if you are on a fixed income or a telecommuter, this is great.
  • Proximity to “Big City” Life – There really has been no sacrifice in terms of stores and culture.  Martinsville has a good museum that is connected in some way to the Smithsonian.  The Piedmont Arts Center has constant art exhibitions.  The Patrick Henry Community College has an active performing troupe that offers several musicals throughout the year and there is live music everywhere. The Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount (Franklin County), about thirty minutes north brings in big name entertainers to an intimate setting (Amos Lee, Keb Mo, Colin Hay, just to name the ones that I’ve been interested in).  Roanoke, sometimes called “Festival City” because they have something going on every single weekend, is only about an hour north.  Greensboro, NC, is only about 30 minutes to the south.  Danville, our immediate neighbor to the east has a lot of the chain stores for shopping and going out, plus an active river walk restoration project.
  • Jobs are not that far away – If you have a degree and the wherewithal to commute, the lack of local jobs is not a problem.  Greensboro and Roanoke are both large(ish) cities and there are plenty of jobs available.  Of course, as more and more people are being able to telecommute, work can be as close as rolling out of bed; making for the perfect combination … life in a sleepy hamlet of friendly people and outstanding beauty while not having to worry about how to make the car payment. If your entire life goal is to amass as much money as possible, this may not be the place for you.  If you are looking for a good quality of life, this just may be ideal
  • Healthcare – Since we’ve moved my mother to Henry County in 2016, I’ve had to acknowledge the whole healthcare concern.  So far, we have had a little trouble finding a GP but I haven’t truly made a concerted effort.  We may need to drive down to Greensboro which would be annoying but it would also give us an excuse to get some shopping and sightseeing in occasionally. However, the big picture stuff is covered.  Martinsville has a hospital and I’ve heard good things about it.  More importantly, there are two fantastic hospitals not far away, just in case the worst happens.  Wake Forest Baptist, about an hour away, and Duke University Medical Center, about two hours away, are both highly ranked on the list of best hospitals in the US (for cancer).  Wake Forest is ranked #17 in 2016  and Duke ranks #27.  UNC, at #32, isn’t far either. This is actually a trade-up for Mother as the local leading hospital in Dallas, UT Southwestern, ranks at #50.

Hopefully, this post answers the question of “why?” and “why here?”

It is my hope to share some glimpses of our area here and there.  Primarily, this blog is a creative release for me but it would also be nice for someone to sing some praises for this area. It deserves it.