Why Woodstock?

“Why Virginia?”

Everyone asks this.

Actually, they ask, “Why Woodstock?”

All I can say is that ever since visiting the Shenandoah Valley fifteen years ago to run a trail race, it’s had a hold of me. I came home from that first trip having run the mountains, discovered wineries, stomped divets at a polo game, meandered through tiny downtowns, and soaked up the quiet and peace, I told Nick, “You have to come to Virginia with me.”

He wasn’t hard to convince, and we’ve traveled back multiple times every year since to hike and explore and visit wineries and discover the tiny towns and mostly savor the vistas and the quiet.

I can’t say why Woodstock, other than six months ago when we walked along it’s adorable Main Street after looking at a house for sale (that sold before we got in the door), I thought, “This feels like home.”

Thanks to the pandemic, a crazy housing market, a leap of faith, the help of family and friends, plus the kindness of strangers (some of whom are now neighbors), and a bit of luck (or destiny, take your pick), here we are.

Woodstock was founded in 1852 (by a Pennsylvanian!). Rumor has it that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington signed the town charter. I plan to verify that fact if the town museum ever reopens. It’s just a block from our house. I walk by it daily and watch as the vines creep further along the porch and windows and wonder why it sits closed. I’m so curious to know more about this tiny town that could easily be the set of a Hallmark movie.

The house we bought is a 1920’s Sears Roebuck house. It sits next to an identical one—rumor also has it that they were built by two sisters. $1400 a piece – $1500 if you wanted indoor plumbing. Apparently the sister who built our house didn’t want to spring for the indoor plumbing. It was added later, which is why we have a full bath just off our dining room.

If only the walls could talk, I’ve thought often. I wonder about the history here. The house has a good energy, and it’s easy to imagine the previous families who call this beautiful space home. I wonder about the people who sat on the front porch on a sultry summer afternoon or raced down the stairs at Christmas or mopped the soft, scarred wood floors.

This week I painted the parlor. I’ve never had a parlor before. It’s an open area just inside the front door; it might be called a foyer in a modern house. To one side there are pocket doors that separate it from the living room. Straight ahead is a staircase that folds back on itself leading to the second floor. There is just enough room to put the chair that Fanny and I share its matching ottoman, and two green wing chairs around the ottoman. It’s the perfect place to read a book or visit with a friend, or for now, write.

I wonder about the guests who were likely received here over the years – suitors, prom dates, army officials, brush salesmen, or maybe a Mormon missionary from the tabernacle near the interstate. I chose a very soft peach color because it brings out the warmth of the chestnut woodwork. I could see flecks of at least four other colors on the edges of the woodwork as I taped them off. I like how it is turning out and will probably take the color right up the stairs too.

There are consequences for not paying attention to your 10-month-old puppy while painting a room. The price of this particular paint job? Two carpenter pencils, three of my favorite pens, one roll of drafting tape, one sneaker, and one permanent marker (plus the rug he enjoyed it on).

Ian is living (and working) in what will eventually be my office, but I haven’t minded using this space for an office and the ottoman for a desk because I haven’t been able to do a lot of writing.

My mind and heart still feel unsettled. I’m distracted by a million details of moving but also by a tiny fear—did we do the right thing? Or more specifically, did I do the right thing? I doubt Nick would have moved here if I hadn’t insisted. He seems happy though. But he’s pretty easy to please.

The house is crowded with boxes and paintings and furniture. There isn’t enough room and we need to make more decisions. We are plowing through the big ones – new doctors, new insurance, new bank, new vets, but the little ones like which spatula to keep (we have three) or which kitchen towels to convert to cleaning rags, cause me to pause in flight and dither, wasting entire hours moving piles from one place to another.

There isn’t enough room in our makeshift kitchen. The house had previously been used as a bakery and then a florist, so the kitchen area has to be reclaimed – rewired, a wall removed, the hand-washing sink uninstalled, and the floor (three layers of linoleum) torn out. The cabinets we ordered won’t be here until Thanksgiving. There is precious little storage space in the kitchen (or anywhere). At least for now. 18 weeks is a long time to live like this and I know my husband will get creative with his carpentry tools before long.

I hope by the time the house is unjumbled, my mind will be too. So for now, I walk miles with the dogs soaking up the history of this town, wondering at its inhabitants.

People are friendly but I know that finding friends in a new place as an adult isn’t always easy. I met up with a rescue connection this week. Paige gave me a tour of the area. We talked nonstop about rescue and dogs and moving to Woodstock (she moved here five years ago). We plan to introduce our husbands and maybe meet to go to the local music festival next month. I came home feeling a little better about my prospects for a social life beyond walking dogs and hiking trails.

I’ve wanted to write but staying focused is hard. I’ve started this piece three times and keep wandering all over trying to find my point.

I’m all too aware that I am living in the midst of a hard reboot of my life. It is exciting and scary and stomach-churningly huge, even as I lament the cramped quarters and deluge of dog hair (there’s a reason Gracie spent most of the last thirteen years outside beyond that’s where she wanted to be).

I’m pretty sure my new office paint-job is ‘textured’ by the swirling hair of too many dogs in a small space.

There were so many transitions in my life that happened without me being aware of it at the time. I rushed through young adulthood, never appreciating the freedom or the large swaths of boredom. We were only married three months before I became pregnant with my first child. So many ‘last’ moments skittered by in the rush or raising them—the last diaper, the last time a child held my hand or kissed me goodnight or called me Mommy—they all went unheralded and left me with teens and then young adults whose secrets I’m not privy to and who keep me at arm’s length emotionally.

At some point my parents became ‘old’ but I don’t know exactly when, and worrying about them is a new stress that probably fills up the space left from how little I have to worry about my kids anymore.

The unexpected death of my beloved dog Frankie sent me spiraling into a dark, vast foreign place, a hurricane of emotion that swallowed me whole and made the world seem fragile and treacherous, a marker in my life of before and after.

With this life altering moment, I’m conscious of the gap I’m standing in – between a life that spun by full of caring for children and animals and farm and husband and community and friends, and this new open space –a clean expanse full of options and new adventures to fill my heart and my time. In this place so rich with history, I have none. So I will begin to craft one.

Writing is the only constant. I wrote my way through what came before and I will write my way through this moment too.

I have no idea what this life will look like in a six months or a year. And I’m okay with that. I’m putting down my planning hat, leaving it out in the storage unit with all the other things I don’t know what to do with. I know I can always go get it, if I need it, but for now, for this time, I’m going to let my heart lead instead of my head.

Hey, thanks for reading. I know you’ve got lots of options, so thanks for sharing a few of your minutes with me.



My latest novel, Blind Turn is a mother-daughter story of forgiveness in the aftermath of a fatal texting and driving accident. Learn more about it and find out how to get your copy here.

If you’re curious about what else I’m up to, check out my website, CaraWrites.com.

If you’d like to subscribe to my (sometimes) monthly e-newsletter, click here.

And If you’re a dog lover, check out my other blog, Another Good Dog. And if you want to know what is really happening in the animal shelters in this country, visit, Who Will Let the Dogs Out.

I’d love to connect with you on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram, and I’m thrilled to get email from readers (and writers), you can reach me at carasueachterberg@gmail.com.

100 Dogs & Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey Into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues was released July 2020 from Pegasus books and is available anywhere books are sold, but if you’d like some help finding it (or want to read some lovely reviews), click here.

Author: Cara Sue Achterberg

I am a writer, blogger, and dog rescuer. I live in the darling town of Woodstock, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley with my husband and three rescue dogs (who rescue me on a daily basis). Find more information about my books, my dogs, and all my writing adventures at CaraWrites.com.

2 thoughts on “Why Woodstock?”

  1. Savor it. The first five months I lived in my small town I had to adjust to not teaching (after 35+ years?) the end of my longest continuous adult relationship with the university in which I’d taught and that I loved, knowing I was in a place where no one moved into and where most “natives” were very suspicious of outsiders — especially from California (though I’m a CO native). 8 years later (come next month) it’s just the place where I live, not a miracle any more. It was cool when it was a miracle; it’s less cool as just the place where I live (though I’m still grateful and can’t believe my luck). I guess we can’t be all “Wow! Wow!” all the time. 😀


  2. This one tugged at my heartstrings a little on so many levels… I’m sad I didn’t officially get to say good-bye. Thanks for writing this; I still feel connected to you when I read your writing. Hugs my friend, you’ll find your feet soon, I know all too well. ❤️🤗


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