The Traveling Steve's

Merry Christmas from Roanoke!

It’s December 26th as I write this, and am finally relaxing for a bit after the busy December festivities, culminating in Christmas Day yesterday.  Steve (DOS) and myself have been here for the last couple weeks, and have been busy every day since we’ve been here.

 This year things were a bit more complicated as my parents are transitioning to an assisted-living facility, and currently both of my parents are temporarily in different facilities.  DOS and I are are staying in Mom and Dad’s home, while my brother Andy and his partner Art live five houses up the street here in Roanoke.

Anyway, a quick review of the last couple weeks, and some of our festivities along the way, mixed in with care-taking for my parents. On our first night back in Roanoke, we went to see the play “The Christmas Story”, based on the movie of the same name.  Andy and Art had bought us all tickets for this play hosted at the Mill Mountain Theater, in downtown Roanoke.  Prior to the play we went to Frankie Rowland’s, our favorite steakhouse in Roanoke.  As the play was at 7:30pm, we just went to Frankie’s for early drinks and appetizers, before walking to the nearby theater for the play. We would later eat at Frankie’s for dinner a couple days before Christmas, but as we only had an hour and a half after arriving into Roanoke in the afternoon, we didn’t have time for a full dinner; typically the 3 hour kind we have when we go to Frankie’s!  The appetizers and drinks were just perfect, and not too filling for the evening play.

This was our first visit to the Mill Mountain Theater, and we were quite impressed!  Named after the mountain where it formerly played atop, the theater is now located in downtown Roanoke at The Center in The Square.  Mill Mountain is the locally famous mountain where the landmark ‘star’ sits atop the mountain, overlooking the Roanoke Valley.  It’s a must-see local attraction when visiting Roanoke, and Mill Mountain still houses the Mill Mountain Zoo.  I made a canvas collage for Mom and Dad for Christmas of our visit there this summer, and gave that to them on Christmas as a wall hanging for their new apartment.

Meanwhile, back to the play; The Christmas Story was wonderfully acted out by the cast – very professionally done.  Unlike the movie, however, (where it is narrated by the unseen voice of adult Ralphie), in the play it was narrated by an on-stage and grown-up Ralphie, who did an outstanding job in recapping Ralphie’s exploits.  The play stayed true to the story though- will Ralphie get a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas?  It was truly a wonderful play with a two level house, and street and school yard among the may props. Unfortunately no photos were allowed, so I only have a pic of the stage curtain.  We had great seats near the front, and the theater has stadium seating, so all of the seats have great views.

After the play we walked around downtown for a bit, where a Dicken’s Christmas was winding up for the night, before heading back to our home for the next couple weeks; i.e. Mom and Dad’s house.

The next day we went to see my parents, both of whom were still at Pheasant Ridge Rehab and Nursing Center in Roanoke. They are both doing remarkably well, although Mom still has a few weeks of therapy left to do.  Dad was released to the Elk’s assisted living facility the following week, but a bit more of that in a moment.

For the first busy week of our Roanoke trip, we visited my parents by day, and had a Christmas-related function to attend each night, most one’s Andy and Art had previously arranged for themselves, and invited us along.  

We did in turn take them to dinner at Billy’s Restaurant and Frankie Rowland’s Steakhouse, in downtown Roanoke a couple times, rounding out the busy pre-Christmas festivities.  

Our first visit to Billy’s was just the four of us, while the second weekend was the four of us plus two of Andy and Art’s friends.  Billy’s Restaurant has the best Prime Rib on weekends, and paired with some good vino, Billy’s is always a nice choice!

On the second visit to Billy’s (with Andy and Art’s friends) we walked around town after dinner, going into beautiful and historic Hotel Roanoke for a nightcap before Ubering home. If seeing all of those beautiful and grand Christmas trees and displays doesn’t get you in the Christmas mood, then nothing will!  Each tree was individually themed and decorated, ranging from traditional to International. They even had a Wizard of Oz themed tree and a Star Wars themed tree too, among the many others!

On Monday night, Andy and Art hosted their home owners association at their home for a short meeting, following by heavy hors d’ourves, wine and drinks.  We knew several of their neighbors as we’ve been coming to Roanoke fairly regularly over the last few months, and had a nice evening of catching up over the food and vino. Andy and Art always have a nice spread of hors d’ourves, and nicely decorated home for the holidays.

On Tuesday afternoon, DOS and I bought a tree and nativity set to take to Mom at the rehab center.  We also stayed for the 2pm party for the residents, hosted by the corporate staff at Pheasant Ridge.  It was quite a nice party, with singing, refreshments, and a nice gift bag for each resident.

The next night Art had invited the six other members of his Bible study group.  It’s a college-level course, and this semester it was all women except for Art.  While he served hor d’ourves and vino, the ladies were mostly water drinkers, but made the evening merry with their singing and piano playing.

On Wednesday night, it was Andy’s turn to host, and he invited the members of his Church choir for a rehearsal, and also followed by hors d’ourves and vino.  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Andy and Art love to entertain, and while their home now is not nearly as large as their former home (with some 23 Christmas trees!), they still have it beautifully furnished with several themed trees.

The choir sang beautifully in the relaxed environment of Andy and Art’s living room, while Andy provided the piano accompaniment on the baby grand piano.  In the small confines of the house with hardwood floors and high ceilings, the must sounded beautiful! They even waited until DOS and I got there (after spending the day in Bedford, see next paragraph), and sang one of my favorite Christmas hymns, “A Stable Lamp is Lighted”; a soft melancholic-like, yet beautiful song about the birth of Jesus in the stable.  Here is a partial clip of the song; sorry I didn’t start recording until half-way thru the song:

Going back in time now to earlier in the day; my brother Andy, Art, DOS, and my sister Jenni (in town from Maryland) all went over to English Meadows Retirement Community in Bedford, VA to set up the new apartment for Mom and Dad.  English Meadows is an assisted-living facility, and is still known as the Elk’s Home in Bedford, and I (and others) use those names interchangeably.  

We were all hoping my parents (both 85 years old) would be coming back to live in their home in Roanoke after their individual occupational therapies, however per the therapists, nurses, and doctors, that’s not realistic unless they have full-time live-in care, due to risk of falling among other things.  And even with full-time care, they would lack the social interaction with others, and still have to have someone cook meals, do housekeeping, laundry etc.  While it was a tough decision to make, I think both my parents are now receptive about not having to make so many day-to-day decisions.  DOS and I had looked at several facilities in the area, and although the Elk’s Home is about 45 minutes away, it feels more like a Christian retreat  than the other assisted-living facilities; many of which felt like a nursing home. Here are a couple photos of a model of the facility, including a panoramic shot I took.

The sprawling campus at English Meadows is decorated throughout the property for the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays, and in a retro 1950’s/60’s  style that feels like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.  Here are some outside yard photos by day.

Of course at night, it looks totally different as it’s all lit up with thousands of lights.  The Elk’s home has decorated like this for years, and is a yearly tradition for locals to drive by and see it lit up during the Christmas season.

Inside the buildings, there are Christmas trees, nativity scenes, Santa’s, and other decorations galore, all individually placed and decorated.  The Christmas spirit is everywhere at English Meadows, as it has been for years.

We went down on the Wednesday before Christmas to set things up for Dad, as he would be moving in the next day, on Thursday.  Andy had arranged for movers to bring their bed and a couple living room chairs from their house in Roanoke, but we purchased new dressers for both Mom and Dad due to space constraints, and locally would purchase a new Keurig coffee maker, 50 inch Samsung LED TV, towels, toiletry items etc, to get him all set up when he moved the next day.

So on the next day, Thursday, DOS and I picked up Dad at the Pheasant Ridge Nursing and Rehab Center and drove him to his new apartment at English Meadows in Bedford.  Dad had been at the Rehab center nearly 3 months due to a bad fall he had at the old house, where he had broken 8 ribs and a collarbone.  He is now able to walk on his own, with help of a walker, though he frequently ‘forgets’ to use it.  Dad said by to the nurses and other staff, including Judy,  the wonderful receptionist up front, who is always so cheery and friendly when we visit them.

With DOS in the backseat, and Dad in the front seat, I drove us all down to English Meadows. We were both a bit anxious, if not a bit nervous to see what Dad thought of it English Meadows  as he had not been there before, other than in previous years driving by it with Mom to see the outdoor Christmas lights.  Surprisingly, Dad really loved the new one bedroom apartment!  While compact in size, there are many public rooms, the meals are included, and best of all it’s in a quiet 2nd (top) floor location with 8 windows in his room, private bath and bedroom, kitchenette, and living room.  There are only 4 apartments on his hall, and it has a very secluded feel to it. Jenni had asked that we take a photo of Dad walking in the new apartment, so here it is!


We spent the better part of the afternoon helping Dad unpack, and later DOS and I went out to get the TV, some batteries, cordless phones, and some poinsettias for him.

 I had made a large photo banner I hung on the wall, welcoming Mom and Dad to the Elk’s Home, with various photos of them and us over the last few months at home, the Star on Mill Mountain, and therapy pictures from Pheasant Ridge.

Here are some photos of the apartment later in the day as we got things set up for Dad.

Meanwhile, Mom is still in the Pheasant Ridge Ridge Rehab facility for another 3 weeks or so, so we had to juggle time between both parents during our Roanoke visit.  We stayed with Dad all day, and had dinner with him in the evening.  The person in charge of meals asked me if it would be ok to put my Dad with two nice ladies, as my Mom would be joining soon and thought they would all fit in.  It was an excellent choice, and we quickly made friends with Dot and Ederlie while dining with Dad.

 Dinner at the Elk’s home is at 5:30pm, and the 100 + year old dining room is quite grand; reminiscent of an old ocean liner or grand train station.

  It was dark by the time we finished dinner, so we got to enjoy the Christmas light display in front of the ‘Home’.  The maintenance and other workers, spend some 3 months setting up for Christmas, and it really is something you must see if you are ever near Bedford, Virginia during December.

We got back to Roanoke around 7:15pm, and stopped by some friends from Andy and Art’s Church for a Gingerbread decorating contest!  We had phoned them earlier, we would be there in time to decorate our gingerbread house, which started at 5:30pm, but they still wanted us to stop by for the rest of the party.  There were quite a few people there, and probably a dozen different gingerbread houses that had already been decorated by couples or teams.  The hostess supplied the gingerbread houses, and everyone attending supplied edible items for decorating, which were shared by everyone.  We got there just in time for the judging, and it was so much fun to watch!  

People were so creative with their designs, I’m kind of glad we missed the decorating part as ours might have brought a few laughs!  LOL!  It was all in good fun though, and everyone had a good time.

We still had a couple days left before Christmas, so that meant some last minute shopping in the Mall and a couple other places, even though we had done quite a bit of shopping on-line this season.  It’s always fun people-watching in the malls, looking at the decorations, and even hear the singing bear jubilee.

On  Christmas Eve-Eve, we had a wonderful dinner at our favorite steakhouse in Roanoke, Frankie Rowland’s, which is always enjoyable.  We had our favorite waiter Jeff, and the rest of the wait staff and Jason all served us up well, making for an outstanding pre-Christmas meal.

After Frankie’s we Ubered home well fed and happy, as the next day would be Christmas Eve.

While I thought DOS and I were busy during the pre-Christmas rush, Andy was especially busy with the Christmas Eve and Christmas Church services, as he led the choir, selected the music,  and played the organ for the multiple services.  We went to his Church on Christmas Eve for the 7:30pm service.  It was extra special seeing the choir sing the songs they had rehearsed only a few days earlier at Andy’s house, and the message for the season of hope, peace, and Jesus’s birth left us with a feeling of calm and a positive outlook for the New Year. While I don’t have pictures of the Christmas Eve service, here’s a couple pics of us in front of the Church on the previous Sunday.

On Christmas Day (Sunday) we picked up Mom at Pheasant Ridge Nursing/Rehab Center, and took her to see Dad for the day at English Meadows (Elk’s Home).  Mom had not been out of the center in a couple months, and while we didn’t have a white Christmas in Virginia, it had turned very cold on Christmas day, so we brought her an extra coat, and this light up Christmas sweater to wear and be festive.

We had a nice and easy 45 minute drive to the Elk’s home, bringing with us presents to give to Mom and Dad.  Andy and Art met us after Church, and my sister Jenni, her husband Lawrence, and daughter Nikki all met us there as well.  English Meadows was very accommodating with our group of nine, and seated us in a private section of the dining room which was very nice.  

The Christmas Day lunch was excellent, with salad and shrimp appetizer, roast beef, macaroni, mashed potatoes, green beans, home-made bread, pecan pie, and carrot cake!  We lingered a bit after lunch, before heading upstairs to open gifts.

While we had put a couple trees in Mom and Dad’s new apartment, we all gathered in the living-room down the hall from their apartment, which was large and no-one else was using.  It was nicely decorated with a Christmas tree and other decorations, and we spent a couple hours opening gifts, talking, and taking pictures.

Many of the residents at English Meadow’s were out for the day visiting their families, but we did meet a few of the resident’s, notably Dad’s next door neighbor, a delightful lady that Mom recognized from Church!  Mom is now really excited to be moving to English Meadows, but still has another two to three weeks therapy before she can move.

It was really a wonderful Christmas Day we all shared at English Meadow’s, and the best present was just having everyone there together.  I drove Mom back to Pheasant Ridge around 4pm, arriving just in time for dinner, after saying bye to Dad.  We all promised we would FaceTime him on our iPads to stay in touch, although they do have phones as well.

Sunday night after dropping Mom off at Pheasant Ridge, the rest of us went to the 419 restaurant, which was the only place open except for Waffle House.  We had reservations at 7:15pm, and the dinner meal was memorable only because it was so bad. But hey it’s Christmas so loosen up we said, and we still had a nice time together. We had been to 419 several times previously and have had great service and food, but tonight as I told the manager, the service was not up to normal standards, which we gave some slack to due to Christmas.  (The one manager was also working as a cook due to limited staff.)  We still gave a nice tip; but they really should not have opened with such limited staff. Food sat on the counter for 15 or 20 minutes waiting for a waiter to deliver the food (we watched the open air kitchen directly so we knew), and the wine was delayed being served until after our appetizers were done. The long delay was due to the waiter having to get the manager to get the only key to the wine cabinet, and the manager was too busy cooking food that night.  And when the white wine was finally served (already opened when delivered table-side) it was not room temperature warm, as in just having removed it from a box case, and not even a little bit chilled.  Christmas or not, some things are pretty basic, and when the bottle of red came, also opened already, it ws not even close to what I had ordered,  I didn’t order the cheap Long Island New York red wine, but a fine bottle of California Seqoia Grove instead.  While he gave us the inexpensive bottle of horrible Long Island Red, we didn’t drink it as it tasted like cough syrup, but said thanks anyway.

Anyway, it was a wonderful Christmas, and we didn’t let a little bit of bad service dampen our good moods!  After the long dinner (due to snail-like service) we went back to Andy and Art’s to open gifts with our siblings and in-laws. 

It was truly a blessed Christmas for all, and in spite of the circumstances (Mom and Dad in separate facilities, and in the process of moving to assisted-living), it could not have been any better.

Jenni, Lawrence and Nikki went back to Maryland the day after Christmas, while DOS and we  flew home today (Wednesday, two days after Christmas).  We are planning to come back to Roanoke mid to late January, when hopefully Mom will be released to move to English Meadows.  I left some of my clothes and toiletries at their house for when I come back to visit, so I can come on short notice if I’m traveling somewhere for work.

While we normally fly American Airlines, we took no-thrills carrier Allegiant Airlines back to Orlando (Sanford) Airport as it was nonstop, and fairly inexpensive, even though they charge for everything such as seats, luggage, and overhead space.  The nonstop convenience though is quite nice, and they fly into nearby Sanford Airport, which is smaller and much less busy than Orlando (MCO) International.  We usually pay for an emergency exit row seat which offers more legroom, but as the flight was full, we were crunched up in row 5 – definitely not First Class LOL!


Honestly it was fine for a nonstop hour and a half flight.

We took a cab home from the airport, and the taxi dispatcher actually commented “I’ve never seen anyone with this much baggage before!”  Well, we were gone for a couple weeks!

Now we’re safely back home, and unpacking and repacking for this New Year’s weekend, where we will be staying at the Hyatt Grand Cypress by Disney Springs at Walt Disney World, with our friends Ben and Tom joining us.

Anyway, sorry for the long post!  I hope you and your families had a wonderful Christmas season (or Hanukah, Kwanza, or Festivus) and we wish you much happiness and joy in the New Year which is soon to come.

Merry Christmas and much love, hope, and peace for you and your loved ones!


















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