Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Special Day for Pearl Fu

The cover of Pearl's commemorative book.
Today will go down as one of my favorite days of all time because--with my friend Susan and my grandgirl--I got to honor Pearl Fu for what she means to us and to the entire Roanoke Valley.

Pearl and Maddie: Two beauties.
Susan and I put together a book commemorating Pearl's 25 years of Local Colors, the Roanoke festival that celebrates diversity. It is a festival that has helped teach Roanoke the value of diversity, acceptance and embracing that which is new and foreign to us all.

Madeline, my grandgirl, is especially interested in that acceptance because she is an immigrant ... to Spain, where she and her family live. We talked about that a good bit this evening and it was delightful to hear a 10-year-old's experience and to watch as Pearl delighted in the little girl.

Gayla adds raspberries.
Pearl and Madeline go back a ways. Maddie rode with her for about three years in the Parade of Nations at Local Colors in Pearl's rickshaw. Maddie was one of the Vikings of the Roanoke Valley and Jeff Rigdon, the greatest Viking of them all, was her friend.

Susan and I have become friends, partly because she's my coach and she has had an important impact on how I treat myself physically these days (very well). She's responsible for my new flexibility, balance and those new guns that were arms before.

She also coaches Pearl in yoga classes designed for people with specific challenges related to age. Susan is as good a coach as I've ever known and she and Pearl have formed a special bond, so it was delightful to see them together.

Gayla's creation.
One of the highlights of the evening--after we all signed our books like a high school yearbook gathering--was sharing Pearl's almond curd and oatmeal cookies and a delicious chocolate/raspberry tourte made specially for Pearl by Gayla D'Gaia, who owns Sacred Beauty Chocolate in Roanoke. This little beauty was, indeed, sacred (it had a drop of rose oil in it). Yum.

Susan, Pearl and me.
Susan autographs the book; Pearl and I enjoy photos.
Pearl shows a photo to Susan and Maddie.
Pearl opens a Chinese gift from Susan.
Two of my very favorite gals and me.
(Photos by Susan, Madeline and me.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A Brief Excursion with My Best Bud

This is my pal Christine Ward coming into the dock.
Pretty as a July daisy.
My friend Christine Ward and I took a little break from work today and shot out to Carvins Cove for a little R&R. She's tired of sick people (nurse) and I was wearing myself down finishing a book. The break was lovely.

Christine has been paddling a kayak longer than I have and she has this easy, flowing stroke that moves the boat with such grace that I just sit and watch her sometimes.

It was a beautiful day, one made for tight paddling and a lot of chat. Love catching up with one of my favorite people on earth.

Mountain girl in the shadow of Tinker Mountain.
A dusting of color in this black and white photo.
My buddy and me take a break.
Christine Ward: Noble paddler.
This is how I keep cool on the water.
Reststop on an island.
Fascinating little flower on an island.
This is a wide shot of a large water compound.
Heading back home for the day.

Where Not To Work in the Roanoke Valley

Roanoke AECOM was once well-regarded architectural/engineering firm HSMM
It looks like the Roanoke Valley is packed tight with 8 of the 12 of the worst companies to work for in the United States, according to 247Wall Street (story here).

The companies on the short list with presence in the Roanoke Valley include CVS, Ross, Dollar General, Dish Network, AECOM, Sears, Xerox, and Kmart. Express Scripts, a drugstore chain with no Roanoke outlet, is No. 1 of the 12.

The stores are all national in scope, but AECOM purchased Roanoke's biggest home-grown architecture/engineering firm, Hayes, Seay, Mattern and Mattern a few years ago. HSMM was a well-regarded company. Sears has fallen upon hard times in recent years because of the near legendary mismanagement of Edward “Fast Eddie” Lampert, a financier who also had a hand in Kmart's sudden decline as a retailer (read about Fast Eddie here in a 2013 story).

According to the story accompanying the list, good companies feature "employees who receive a clearly communicated vision from the company’s leaders, who have opportunities for advancement, and whose work has an impact on the company’s bottom line, are far more likely to rate their employer favorably."

Most of the companies on the list of a dozen have employees involved in customer service, where job  "dissatisfaction will impact both productivity and customer satisfaction."

You might find it surprising (I don't) that "does not have a very large impact on satisfaction. An employee’s experience with a company’s culture and values are far more important."

I would add The Roanoke Times to this list, judging from the evaluations of the people I know who work there (and those who have for the past 25 or so years). I worked at The Times for 10 years and for its parent (Landmark at the time) for another 10 with the Blue Ridge Business Journal. Raises are against company policy these days; morale is at an all-time low; staff cuts are a constant threat; benefits have been slowly shrinking (while the employee pays a larger portion) for years; management has not even been adequate since Walter Rugaber was publisher. The Times stays in business, I think, because the editorial employees, who generally are quite good, believe in what they are doing and take the shit to perform important public service.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

An Inexpensive Alternative to an Auto Repair

(Update: My buddy Mark Dearing, a mechanic at Salem Imports, tells me the ordeal ain't over. Mark advised me to give the car about 150-200 miles and the light will come back on. He says the code p0330 is very specific and he will take a look at it when the light is on and he'll fix it. Not fixed yet. As I told Mark, maybe I should reconsider writing about things about which I have no knowledge.)

 Over the weekend, I ran into a car problem that could have cost upwards of $100 to solve, but wound up costing just a little over $5.

The "check engine" light glowed in my Punchbuggy beginning Saturday evening and I knew better than to keep driving, so I parked it and went looking for a garage that might help check the computer for come clue what was wrong. I found Firestone was open Sunday and took Daisy there first thing Sunday morning.

The clerk said the store could do the check--for $100 minimum--but the mechanic who did that would not be in until Monday. My friend Janeson suggested we try Advance Auto or Auto Zone, neither of which is far from my house.

We drove down to Auto Zone and the clerk came out with a little device, plugged it into my car and came up with a code (Po33) that told him basically that I was using the wrong grade of gasoline in the car. I bought a $5 can of gas treatment, poured it in and 10 minutes later the light was off.

The clerk explained that the service at Firestone would have been considerably more extensive, but the fact is that he solved the problem and I was not out $100--and probably a bit more for fixing the problem.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Supremes Emptying Out Prison Cells

State governments try to keep prisons full to capacity or face lawsuits.
"The lawmakers in many states are contractually required to fill up the beds in private prisons; so it’s not too hard to figure out why the ACCA is such a popular sentence enhancer. Private prisons have even been known to sue state governments if they aren’t filed to capacity- making taxpayers foot the bill for low crime rates. 

"It’s an absolute travesty and a key piece in the conservative war against minorities and the poor, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and destroying communities around the country. Today’s ruling means Congress will have to clarify the law and you can bet that private prison lobbyists are about to throw even more money at lawmakers, but hopefully it sounds a death knell for mass incarceration in our nation."

--Occupy Democrats (here)

This is a reference to the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday that "three strikes" laws that give long prison sentences for three-time losers is unconstitutional. The private prison industry has made its bread and butter by being able to count on inmates for long periods of time--without parole.


What's an Evangelical Christian To Do?

Evangelizing: Should we listen to these people?
"The dramatic shift in public opinion, and now in the nation’s laws, has left evangelical Protestants, who make up about a quarter of the American population, in an uncomfortable position. Out of step with the broader society, and often derided as discriminatory or hateful, many are feeling under siege as they try to live out their understanding of biblical teachings, and worry that a changing legal landscape on gay rights will inevitably lead to constraints on religious freedom."

NYTimes this a.m. (story here)

Evangelical Christianity puts a lot of stock in the Biblical entreaty (Mark 16, 15-16, King James), "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."

That is evangelizing and it is, I think, one of the most destructive instructions in the Bible because it assumes that everybody but Evangelical Christians lack the ability to make decisions for themselves. It insults, by implication most often, decisions people have made about who they are and how they want to celebrate--or ignore--higher powers. They tell us that they know how to do this and we don't, that their way is the only way, and those who don't get with the program will ... well, you know. 

It has always seemed odd to me that in the same Biblical book, in an earlier chapter (Mark 6, 5-6), we are instructed thusly: "And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. ... When you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret ..."

I prefer the last part where god and I get to have this one-on-one thingy and we're not twisting anybody's arm to join us. Seems to work better for me.

'I Was Standing on the Corner in ...'

This is a true story; swear to god.

Some years ago, on one of my frequent "have you completely lost your mind?" excursions--this one across the whole USofA--I came upon an Interstate 40 sign that read, "Winslow Next Exit." This was in Arizona and I put two and two and two together and came up with the Eagles. I went looking for a properly-placed phone booth.

That was an easy enough find. I called my 13-or-so-year-old daughter, Jenniffer, and when her mom reluctantly got her to the phone, Jennie said, "What do you want?" I perked up. She was speaking to me.

"Well," said I, "I'm standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see ..."

"What's that got to do with me? I'm doing my hair. Bye."

Hmmmmm. Not so clever, I thought.

Confederate Flags: A Brief History

This is the controversial battle flag.
When the boys waving the Confederate battle flag (right) at you proclaim "heritage, not hate," you might want to walk over and chat with them about exactly where the flag came from and how it became prominent. It's not what they think.

No. 1: The Stars and Bars.
The battle flag is not, nor was it ever, the flag of the Confederacy. There were three of those, beginning with the Stars and Bars, which looked so much like the original American flag (and closely resembled the flags the Union Army was flying) that "Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard wanted something that looked distinctly different. So, politician William Porcher Miles came up with the design we know today -- the battle flag: a blue St. Andrew's Cross with white stars on a red field." The quote is from a good story on CNN, here.

No. 2: Briefly, easily confused with "surrender."
That was to differentiate armies at the first Battle of Manassas. The uniforms and flags were close. Beauregard didn't want his troops shooting each other.

The Confederate battle flag was flown occasionally by several Southern armies (all of which had their own flags), but after the Civil War ended, it was pretty much put away until South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 on a ticket that celebrated segregation. The flag came out of the attic and since that time, it has been used by right-wing groups to represent a wide variety of causes, many of them racial, most of them bad.

No. 3: "Dipped in Blood" flag.
Navy jack: The one you see on pickup trucks.

A Little Gardening for Maddie-Girl

Maddie searches for banana peppers.
I'm probably going overboard with all this family crap, but I do enjoy what's happening with my son's tribe being in Roanoke for a long summer visit. Here are a couple of shots of my favorite kid, Madeline, rooting out some banana peppers for her dad from my garden.

Ah, success.

Texas AG Counsels Gay Rights Massive Resistance

Gays need not apply in Texas.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Virginia instituted "massive resistance" in order to circumvent the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision integrating the nation's schools. Today, it looks like Texas, among others, is considering the same tactic in light of the court's ruling that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states.

(Read about Texas here.)

Texas' Republican (could it be any other party?) attorney general is telling court clerks they can refuse to issue marriage licenses if their religion differs with the right of those wanting to get married. One supposes that if a black man and a white woman want to marry, the clerks--under this pick and choose the laws you will obey manner of governing--can refuse. If a Baptist wants to marry a Catholic? If a journalist wants to marry a school teacher? If a train conductor wants to marry a cab driver? If a musician wants to marry an artist? If a redhead wants to marry a blonde? We can go on forever with this.

Massive resistance was wrong in 1960 and it is wrong in 2015. Regardless of how you feel about the court's ruling, it is the law of the land, a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all citizens.

Attorney General Ken Paxton's smug, self-righteous proclamation reads: "Friday, the United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist. In so doing, the court weakened itself and weakened the rule of law, but did nothing to weaken our resolve to protect religious liberty and return to democratic self-government in the face of judicial activists attempting to tell us how to live." Welcome to la-la land, Texas.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Oh! Those Summer Days!

My son, Evan, and me at the Salem ball park.
It was one of those pristine cool-to-hot, bright as blue neon summer days when being outside meant moving around fast--or at least watching somebody else move around quickly.

It was a day that began with a hike, soaked up a kayak paddle through the lunch hour and wound up at a late afternoon baseball game in Salem--and it was all family all the time.

And I enjoyed--treasured--every minute of it.

I got to take Madeline out in the kayak for the first time since last year and we have a routine now. I tie her boat to mine and do most of the paddling. Maddie is 10, so she doesn't have the strength to navigate her kayak in the choppy water we experienced today, with winds up to about 20-25 mph. And she loved the ride, paddling as well as she could nearly the entire way.

The baseball games are always good family time since my son, Evan, Madeline and I don't care all that much for the game, but love the time together in one of the prettiest stadiums in the country. Here's some of what the day looked like.

Maddie and I on an island at the cove.
Maddie and kayaking buddies Buffy Lyon and Janeson Keeley.
Maddie in her seat at the ball game.
Sipping root beer between paddle strokes.
Madeline on her tether behind me.
Evan the waiter.
My son's in-laws: Garren and Judy Dickerson and his wife, Kara
Oz found a place in it all.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

An Evening at the Ballpark (Kinda)

That's moi in my mullet best.
Last night was Redneck Confederate Battle Flag Celebration Night on Williamson Road in Roanoke and tonight at the Salem baseball park, it was Mullet Night, honoring a subculture of the same group.

The Salem Red Sox--a branch of a team based in Boston--handed out mullets and mustaches (which I didn't need) to honor something or other, or to raise money. I didn't quite get what the deal was. But I took the mullet and got one for my grandgirl.

These lovelies kept their mullets dry.
It was also free used book night at the ball park--sponsored by the Craig County Library--and I picked up three books, one of them Jim Bouton's Ball Four, which was signed. I was right happy about that.

The invited guest that didn't show up at the ball park--at least while my pal and I were there--was a game. Rain delayed it to the point that we finally decided to go to a movie and saw "Spy" at the Salem Valley 8. We laughed our butts off for two hours. Funny movie. Don't take the kids.

This was like suspenders and a belt: overkill.
Fans stay dry, waiting for the game to begin.
The Salem Fair is setting up in the parking lot.

Fashion Frenzy at GWLtd.

Maddie and Janeson: Fashion-plus.
Maddie and her full shopping cart.
One of the favorite pastimes for my grandgirl, Maddie, is trucking over to Goodwill (GWLtd.) and trying on fancy dresses and high heels. That was the deal today, as we recovered from bee stings each of us got on a hike at Roaring Run. Nothing restores Maddie's spirits like fancy clothes.

We had my hiking pal Janeson Keely along and Janeson is nothing if not fashion conscious. They were a perfect pair, heading into the dressing room with a grocery cart full of dresses and shoes. And they tried on the same dresses. They fit both of them ... to a degree.

Maddie found a Halloween costume (top, as Cat Woman) if nothing else.

Here's what they looked like.

Janeson version.
1960s party.

Same outfit...

... for both

Maddie posing for pampa.