Monday, September 29, 2014

Back in the Kitchen: Tomato Soup for a Fall Day

I have just finished cooking the best tomato soup I've ever tasted. The tomatoes were picked from my patch this morning and I added rosemary, red basil and mint from the herb section of the garden. A little large-grain sea salt, some Spanish olive oil (that my son brought from his home there) and an onion completed the concoction.

I simmered the whole tomatoes and spices in just enough water to cover them for about four hours, put them into the Cuisineart and pureed them, then pureed a red onion and added it to the red-hot mixture. It blended perfectly.

I'm telling you honest and true: This stuff is golden. Can't wait until din-din.

2015 Writers Conference Open for Registration

The 2015 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference is live and online now. You can register, see who's presenting and read their bios at

This year, we have scheduled as a keynote best-selling writers Keith Ferrell and Roland Lazenby talking about the future of the book. These guys are informed, insightful, blunt and thoroughly entertaining.

The lineup this year for the 24 classes on Saturday is simply outstanding and the offerings cover a huge range of topics.

Go to the website and read all about it, then register. For $75  you get a shot at any six of 24 classes, a wine reception, coffee on Saturday and lunch in the Hollins dining room (which I strongly recommend). A woman once asked me if hotel rooms were included in the cost and I said, "Depends on what you expect for a 'room.' We can give you a spot on the quad to throw your tent."

It's the best deal on a writers conference you are likely to run into and you simply will not find a bigger or more impressive group of professional writers and writing teachers
to teach you.

Gratutude: My Friend Christine

Today, I am grateful for:

My dear friend Christine Ward, who's going to house-sit for me while I'm in Europe in October. I was getting anxious about the house, especially since it was broken into about a year ago and I lost a couple of TVs and some cameras.

This takes a big load off my mind and will likely allow me to relax and enjoy this wondrous trip. Thank you, Christine. You know I adore you.

Christine and I used to share a house and people consistently thought we were married. We, of course, were never involved in that way or anything approaching it, though I sometimes think it would not have been a bad idea. Then I think again and realize I'd never do that to her.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Photos: First Hike of the Fall-The Cascades

The Cascades Falls from above.
The standard postcard shot of the falls.
Today was First Hike of the Fall day and my pals Debbie Stevens, Jerry Cohen and Betty Remington took a run down to Giles County to walk the two miles up to the Cascades Falls. This is one of the prettiest hikes in the region, reminding me a lot of my home area around Asheville.

It is simply gorgeous on the way up with the creek running hard and wide all the way. The entire journey is dotted with small waterfalls, large boulders, brudges and heavy woodlands.

Warning: If you're looking for privacy, go somewhere else. Today we must have been up there with--this is not an exaggeration--500 people. We had one whole Virginia Tech co-ed fraternity (they swear that's no longer an oxymoron) pass us on the way and there were many dozens of families. It was busy.

But it's worth the effort, the crowds and the steep hike.
The falls, side view.
Kids seem to fall naturally into group poses.
It was too cold to swim, but kids didn't notice.
Helping out a frat mate.
Some of the crowd at the falls.
Kids find a little peace.
My pals Jerry, Debbie and Betty high up at the falls.
Debbie, Jerry and Betty have a lunch break.
Pampa is reflective.
Our group does the "falls pose," which is standard and all but required.
Students stand at the bottom of the falls. They jumped in.
The rock in front of the falls got crowded.
Debbie reaches to photo a mushroom.
Debbie, Betty and moi.
Betty on the log bridge.
This is the beautiful approach to the falls.
Debbie relaxes on a bridge.
Betty slips under a log.
The trip is just this pretty.

Photos: The Faces of Hollins Horizon

Debbie Lee (left), Caren Diefenderfer (right) and a friend dance to the jazz.
Former director Celia McCormick
The faces at the Horizon 40th anniversary celebration at Hollins President Nancy Gray's house overlooking the campus last night were happy, intense, curious and inviting. My camera accepted the invitation and tried to capture the spirit of this wonderful program.

Here is some of what we saw.

Celia McCormick, Director Mary Ellen Apgar and her mom embrace.
Brook Dickson and John Maxson chat.
Brook Dickson, President Nancy Gray and a friend engage in intense discussion.
Musician William Penn, theater maven Ernie Zulia.
Horizon student Ericka Kelly
Prospective Horizon student Whitney Conley.
Johanna Schroeder of Horizon shows off some lovely hair.
Mary Ellen Apgar and her dad, John, belt out a tune.
Sonya Chappelear captures the color.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Photos: Hollins Horizon at 40

Horizon's last three directors: Evelyn Bradshaw, Mary Ellen Apgar, Celia McCormick.
Here's how Hollins sees me.
Hollins University celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Horizon Program today and it was a joyful reunion for a number of women who have taken advantage of one of the most unusual programs around.

President Nancy Gray welcomes.
Horizon began as the Continuing Education Program and was that until Evelyn Bradshaw took it over about 20 years ago. The name was changed to Horizon, but the goal remained the same: educate women who are non-traditional students, generally older, often single mothers. These are women who are generally going back to school because their education was interrupted. Hollins gives them a chance to be students in any curriculum the university offers, to take their time, to save a lot of money.

I have been close to the program--without attending it--for a good while and even the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, which I founded seven years ago, has adopted it as the recipient of our annual scholarship. It is a wonderful program and it has produced valuable people. I'm a fan and Hollins knows it.
The gathering on the quad.
Graduate Laura Hawley and me. She's an old friend.
Mary Ellen Apgar is a graduate of Horizon and its director.
Graduate and activist Mara Eve Robbins with her signs.
Celia McCormick has as much grace as anybody I've ever known.
Mary Ellen addresses the crowd.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Stinson Helps With Gilligan's Island 50th Anniversary Book

Steve Stinson
Steve Stinson, the former art director and illustrator for The Roanoke Times, has teamed with former "Gilligan's Island" star Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) to produce the book Mary Ann's Good Girls Guide to Life (Rowman & Littlefield, Taylor Trade). The book is scheduled out this month and is part advice, part biography.

A description says she "offers her insights into a world that is so much changed since the seven castaways landed on the island 50 years ago." Here's a pretty good PR piece about her and the book (which you can buy here).

Stinson is listed as the co-author. He has owned Stinson Art Studio in Roanoke for the past 15 years. It specializes in cartoons, illustrations, web design and an array of other services.

Miss Wells is celebrating 50 years since the debut of "Gilligan's Island" with the book. She has made a lucrative career out of that show's run, re-run and re-re-run.

My pal Eric Brady alerted me to this excursion into the literary by Stinson.

Gratitude: Good, Healthy, Fresh, Local Food

Greenbrier nursery has one of several farmers markets locally.
Today, I am grateful for:

The availability of good, fresh, clean food in the Roanoke Valley. Many of us are deeply concerned about the chemicals that are routinely put into our food, chemicals that are often toxic, that make us fat, that negatively affect our mental and physical health.

But we have a choice. There are farmers markets downtown, in Salem, Raleigh Court, Vinton, Cave Spring, Catawba and elsewhere within a 45-minute drive of downtown. In addition, there are several farmers cooperatives, the Roanoke Valley Food Co-Op, Fresh Market, a number of roadside stands, pick-your-own farms for a variety of products (apples, strawberries, pumpkins, etc.) and other options, if you're willing to ask around and find them.

We can shop at farmers markets and some of the specialty grocery stores and do better than we might otherwise. We can grow some of our own food in this moderate climate. Most of these local markets are open almost every month (save January and February) with fresh seasonal offerings. These foods require that we spend time preparing them and for many that is a difficult time investment, but I can assure you that the resulting health is worth every minute spent in the kitchen in both healthy living and taste.

I do not mention the big grocery stores in the area because I have deep suspicions about them, even though I often shop at Kroger (which is less than a mile from my house). I bought peaches twice recently at Kroger and was told at the checkout counter that they had been recalled and that I had a choice of buying them or not. I was mortified that they were still on the shelf, still for sale. That brought up the question: What else are you selling that might not be safe for me to eat?

Breakthrough on Big Data? Maybe You'll Use It Soon

These are the young geniuses working in visual analytics at Virginia Tech.
I'm not sure this will have the impace of the internet going global in its use--filtering down to people like me from the government, academic and professional users who had it exclusively for a while--but Big Data is Big News these days.

This is a Virginia Tech press release outlining how a significant effort is geing made to bring Big Data to the great unwashed. I have no idea how this will play out, but not many of us imagined how much the internet would change the way we live our daily lives in the late 1970s, early 1980s, either. And you know it was huge.

Here's the release (remember: academics talk funny):

Big Data: Everyone wants to use it; but few can. A team of researchers at Virginia Tech is trying to change that.
In an effort to make Big Data analytics usable and accessible to nonspecialist, professional, and student users, the team is fusing human-computer interaction research with complex statistical methods to create something that is both scalable and interactive.
“Gaining big insight from big data requires big analytics, which poses big usability problems,” said Chris North, a professor of computer science and associate director of the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science’s Discovery Analytics Center (
With a $1 million from the National Science Foundation, North and his team are working to make vast amounts of data usable by changing the way people see it.
Yong Cao, an assistant professor with the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering (, along with Leanna House, an assistant professor, and Scotland Leman, an associate professor, both with the Department of Statistics of the College of Science (, are working with North to bring large data clouds down to manageable working sets.
“The platform, known as Andromeda, relies on a spatial metaphor that places similar objects (text documents, multidimensional data vectors, etc.) in closer proximity,” Leman said. 
When people reorganize some objects in the space, the system is able to learn which data features express relevant patterns of similarity.
For instance, in order to remember your wallet, you might set it down next to your keys. Andromeda would be able to recognize this pattern and put your phone next to these items on the table so you won’t forget it, either.
“What makes this system unique is that users do not need to have a preformed hypothesis in order to interact with the data. In this model, the tasks of organization and discovery can occur simultaneously,” North said.
The user gains insights by observing the updated structure of the visualization, as well as learning which features are most responsible for their injected feedback.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday: The Skinny Editr Goes Shooting

This is the skinny editr in about 1985, checking out his Canon camera for a photo shoot in Eagle Rock at the old railroad bridge. The shorts are short and the shirt is one I got for graduating from the Annapolis Sailing School in 1979. Got a diploma, too, but it didn't last as long as the shirt, which I still have. It doesn't fit as well as it did in 1985, when I wore a medium. I'm now an XL.

This was shot by a young woman named Bonnie, whom I was dating at the time. She had one of the 10 best shaped bottoms god ever put on a person of female persuasion, so I called her "Bonniebuns." She was a decent photographer, too.

Gratitude: Freedom of Speech

Me 'n' Ralphie Boy have something in common: Check the mouth.
Today, I am grateful for:

Freedom of speech and expression to the degree that we have it in our country. Our freedom is extensive, if not complete (say, "There's a bomb in my suitcase" and then laugh at an airport and see how complete it is) and it gives us the opportunity to promote or protest equally.

I tend toward the big mouth, so this freedom is especially precious to me. Thank you, founding fathers and mothers, and thank you American people for not letting this one slip under the sofa during difficult times.