Monday, April 20, 2015

Flood Reduction Is Reducing the Flood

Wasena Park's new low-water bridge is covered in water and debris after heavy rain for two days.
Debris is creating a dam at the bridge.
A walk along the Roanoke River Greenway this morning left me with the impression that our government has done something distinctly right:

The Roanoke River Flood Reduction Project of several years ago. What could be a park-drenching flood in Wasena and Smith Parks is simply high water in the Roanoke River. Sure, it sinks the low-water bridges, but they are "low-water bridges." The deep cuts along the river's edge have provided additional places for the water to go and it is not threatening houses along the way.

Good job, council.

Flood watching remains a popular recreation.
The river is to the left of the green strip, overflow to the right.

Gratitude: Not Sure How To Do This

There it sits: The gray infiltration.
Today, I am grateful for:

The ability to make chicken soup from chicken poop.

Of late, I have taken note--quietly, confidentially--of a gray hair or two that has infiltrated my head of naturally brownish-red-highlighted hair, always something of a source of pride. It has been good hair, thick and rich, soft and easy to control.

Today, that all ended. I tilted my head forward and found not a gray hair, but a field of dandelions in a grove of roses. The gray has multiplied, nearly covering the areas I can't see--the top. And I'm not sure if my chicken soup powers will completely work here.

They're telling me that gray hair is the new ... oh, hell, something or other. Which it is not. It remains a sign of age and, of course, I have age in abundance, but I thought that since my mom and dad had not a gray hair between them, and since none of my brothers/sisters (I hate the word "siblings"; sounds like a skin disease) has gray hair--not one among the entire battalion--I thought I might escape. 'Course, Dad died at 50 and Mom had that lush auburn hair, and my brothers/sisters could well get their color from a bottle. Who knows?

Anyhow, the fact is staring me in the face and I have to find gratitude. That may be the hardest thing I do today. It's like asking, "God grant me patience, but give it to me now."

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Good Day for a Frozen Yogurt

I had a good day today and my reward for enjoying it (and the gild to the lilly) was a frozen yogurt from Mickey D's, which--to my everlasting shame--I dearly love. I told the young clerk to give me a large iced tea and "the biggest ice cream in the building." 

The yogurt cones at MacDonald's are anything but uniform. They depend heavily on the skill of the person drawing the yogurt from the machine. This young woman was at least a state champion. Cones run to this size (about eight inches) down to about 2 inches above the cone. I scored today.

Oh, and yeh, I had a bad hair day. Bad hair, good hair: it was a good ice cream day.

Kara and Leah: The Girls Have a Birthday

Leah Weiss cuts her gorgeous birthday cake (son Paul watches).
Pregnant Kara, Maddie 4 years ago.
It was a shared birthday Sunday for my daughter-in-law Kara (left) and my friend Leah Weiss (above), an ocean apart, but celebrated just the same.

I had to settle for FaceTiming Kara this morning from here to Spain to wish her happy birthday, but I drove over to Lynchburg and had brunch with Leah, her son Paul Clements and her singular daughter-in-law Bea at their 18th Century log cabin in Bedford County.

The photo of Kara and my favorite person on earth, Madeline, was taken four years ago while grandson Oz was still a lump. He's a smidge over three now and Maddie is 10.

The brunch was, as it always is at Paul's and Bea's homestead, quite special. We had fruit, eggs, wondrous bacon, a salad fresh from their garden (with edible violets; I didn't know you could eat violets), tea, French press coffee and some sweet crushed peppers I showed up with.

I bought the peppers this morning at Happy's from a Mexican vendor I like a lot. He told me to lightly sprinkle the chili peppers on fruit to spice it up. The peppers are not hot, but they give a special kick to the fruit. I liked it a lot.

Paul's and Bea's 18th Century cabin, shot with my new panorama camera.

Anne Adams Makes Another Journalism Statement

Anne Adams at the Hall of Fame: Making a point.
My friend Anne Adams, publisher of the Recorder, a 5,000-circulation weekly newspaper in Monterey (Highland County), has won her eighth top award in the Virginia Press Association's annual sweepstakes.

The award is for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service and Anne, who was inducted into the Virignia Communications Hall of Fame a little over a week ago, has something of a lock on it. She first won the award in 1998-99. Her series of stories on a proposed pipeline blew away the judges.

In the same contest, The Roanoke Times was held to first place wins only in photography in a contest that gives dozens of awards. Erica Yoon (Best in Show) and Stephanie Kline-Davis were winners. The terrible irony here is that The Times has been de-emphasizing in-house photography and its staff has shrunk to about four (including one in the New River Valley). The department is not even headed by a photographer. It often depends on freelance photographers or "citizen journalists" for its pictures.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My New Camera in Action

This was taken today by Janeson Keeley at Carvins Cove with my new Sony Cyber-Shot DSC WX50 with the Zeiss lens, which is considerably--like, considerably--different from the Sony Cyber-Shot it replaced last week.

This beauty has a panorama shot lens that allows the photographer to move the camera and get a shot like this, which is probably the equivalent of a fish-eye without the bulges. That's called a "flat focal plane."

I've seen this camera for $230, but I paid a little less than $80 and, frankly, I'm astonished at the quality of a less-than-$100 point and shoot. I swear to god this baby is quickly becoming a favorite, although I most often use Nikon and Canon SLRs. Go figure.

And, hey, look at those shoulders. You can credit/blame my exercise coaches, Anne and (name withheld by request).

Symphony's Broadway Scores with Big Crowd

Broadway stars Jennifer Hope Wills and Rob Gallagher belt out a tune.
Christine, Daisy and me.
It was quite the treat Friday night to see four Broadway A-listers signing with the Roanoke Symphony and bringing the large crowd to its feet over and over.

These Picnic with the Pops concerts at the Salem Civic Center, a staple for the symphony for years, have always been enormously popular and have featured performances as widely diverse as Willie Nelson, Ray Charles and the music of Pink Floyd. Broadway, featuring the music of Rodgers & Hammerstein, was a welcome addition.

The performers were Jennifer Hope Wills ("Phantom of the Opera," "Wonderful Town"), Rob Gallagher ("Les Miserables," "South Pacific"), Mandy Gonzalez ("Wicked," "The Heights," "AIDA") and Jeremiah James ("Carousel," "Oklahoma"). Their voices were big, strong and fluid throughout.

The music was from Broadway staples: "Carousel," "The Sound of Music," "State Fair," "The King and I," "Oklahoma" and "South Pacific." It was all familiar and it was what this mostly older crowd had come to appreciate.

The program did not credit the sound engineer, but should have. Sound was clear and the voices were emphasized, as they should have been, unlike many country and rock concerts I've seen at the two civic centers in recent years where bands often drowned voices.

My pal Christine Ward, who is relatively reserved in her expression of appreciation for performances, was beside herself on some numbers and I, who am not reserved, was brought to tears at least twice with impressive versions of "Climb Every Mountain," and "You'll Never Walk Alone," tunes designed with hanky use in mind.

It was a lovely evening and the symphony, once again, impressed with its musical ability and its understanding of the people it serves.

"Picnic with the Pops" meant Perrier and pizza.
Christine listens intensely.
I, of course, fell in love with flame-haired Jennifer Hope Wills.
My buddy and me stylin'.
Here's what it looked like from Table 45. Singers are Mandy Gonzalez and Rob Gallagher.
On the way in, I made a feathered friend.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Gratitude: Kill Fees

Today, I am grateful for "kill fees."

Sometimes writers get stuck in the middle of company or client decisions that leave them in the position of not getting paid for work they have finished, turned in and had accepted. The work is ordered and the writer does what is asked, but then the client decides the entire project is something it doesn't want to go through with, so it says to the publication organizing the work (and ultimately paying the writer), "We changed our mind."

Imagine telling that to a plumber who has just finished cleaning out your sewer pipes. If you didn't get sued or worse, you'd be lucky.

The writer, at best, can expect the kill fee from an honest and conscientious publication. Most publications do that because they are ethical and because they'd like to hire the writer again for another project, perhaps one that pays. The kill fee is rarely more than a fraction of the initial, agreed-upon payment, but it generally covers expenses and some of the time invested. We'd never make a living on kill fees, though.

I have experience with publications that don't pay kill fees. I do not write for them any longer.

A friend suggested to me that "things people would not do as individuals become easier to do under the shield/cover/group-action of a board." Yes. Indeed. Ethical behavior is a lonely pursuit, not given to group action.


E-Cigs Up, Smoking Down Among Teens?

Is this the new sexy? (Hint: Not in my world.)
Quote of the day (from the NYTimes):

Use of the devices among middle- and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, according to federal data released on Thursday, bringing the share of high school students who use them to 13 percent — more than smoke traditional cigarettes.
About a quarter of all high school students and 8 percent of middle school students — 4.6 million young people altogether — used tobacco in some form last year. The sharp rise of e-cigarettes, together with a substantial increase in the use of hookah pipes, led to 400,000 additional young people using a tobacco product in 2014, the first increase in years, though researchers pointed out the percentage of the rise fell within the report’s margin of error.

But the report also told another story. From 2011 to 2014, the share of high school students who smoked traditional cigarettes declined substantially, to 9 percent from 16 percent, and use of cigars and pipes ebbed too. The shift suggested that some teenage smokers may be using e-cigarettes to quit.

Fox News Lies Are 'Pants on Fire'

In a new examination by Punditfact, an arm of Politifact, Fox News turns out to be just exactly what liberals say it is: a lying piece of ... well, let's not be vulgar. We will say the findings that Fox tells the truth 18 percent of the time is not surprising to some of us. It would, of course, be quite the shock to those who believe the network to be fair and balanced, as it says it is, but they won't believe a report like this, regardless of the source, in our lifetime. (Story on the survey from a liberal website here.)

Punditfact looked at 83 different issues on which CNN, MSNBC and Fox reported and found them all to be lacking, but only Fox was at Fox-like levels of truthiness. Even Fox's meager 18 percent is diminished with a closer look. Ten of that 18 percent is "mostly true" and only eight percent is fully true. Sixty percent of its assertions ranked "mostly false," "false" or "pants on fire," and another 22 percent was "half true."

CNN was fully honest 60 percent of the time (18 percent false, compared to Fox's 18 percent true) and was dishonest 48 percent and honest 31 percent.

Seems to me that we might want to be avoiding cable TV news (and, frankly, "mainstream" TV news, too, since it is mostly concerned with reporting what advertisers tell it to report: see "medical reports" to support the medicine ads.

(Cartoon from:
Punditfact, a branch of Politifact, has put together profiles for CNN, MSNBC and Fox News detailing just how honest each of these networks are. And while it’s obviously not a completely comprehensive profile (it would be nearly impossible to fact check every single thing said on each network) it’s a decent measure of the honesty of each. And what do you know, Pundifact found Fox News to have only told the truth 18 percent (15 of 83) of the time for the statements they checked. And even of that 18 percent, only 8 percent of what they said was completely “True.” The other 10 percent was rated as “Mostly True.” A staggering 60 percent (50 of 83) comments were found to be either “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.” The other 22 percent were rated “Half True.” Essentially well over half of what Punditfact has fact-checked on Fox News has been a lie and only 18 percent has been deemed factual. To compare, CNN was found to have been honest about 60 percent of the time, while only having 18 percent of their comments found to be false. As for MSNBC, they were found to have been honest about 31 percent of the time, while 48 percent of the comments they had fact-checked were deemed untrue. So while MSNBC’s numbers aren’t exactly worth bragging about, they’re still far better than the “fair and balanced” Fox News. Though I’m sure any conservative who might run across this article, or the Punditfact profiles, would simply dismiss the results as “liberally biased lies.” You know, because anything that’s not approved by Fox News or some other right-wing media source is clearly “liberally biased propaganda.” Which is really a fantastic piece of rhetoric, isn’t it? Fox News, and other right-wing media sources, can lie as much as they want. Then if any other source debunks the nonsense they’re spewing, the conservative media simply dismisses it as “lies perpetuated by the liberal media.” It’s how conspiracy theorists manipulate their sheep. They perpetuate some kind of asinine conspiracy, then when it’s completely debunked, they claim the information debunking it is “all a part of the conspiracy.” And that’s exactly what the right-wing media does. Which is why tens of millions of conservatives believe that Fox News is a “fair and balanced” beacon of truth, despite the fact that Punditfact found only 18 percent of their comments to be factual among a fairly large sampling of 83 relatively important statements made on the network. The following two tabs change content below. Bio Latest Posts My Twitter profileMy Facebook profile Allen Clifton Allen Clifton is from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has a degree in Political Science. He is a co-founder of Forward Progressives, and author of the popular Right Off A Cliff column. He is also the founder of the Right Off A Cliff facebook page, on which he routinely voices his opinions and stirs the pot for the Progressive movement. Follow Allen on Twitter as well, @Allen_Clifton. Related Fact-Checking Site Ranks Fox News as Least Trustworthy Cable News Source Fact-Checking Site Ranks Fox News as Least Trustworthy Cable News Source In "Fact-checks" The Only Way to Fix Our Government is if Conservatives Stop Watching Fox News The Only Way to Fix Our Government is if Conservatives Stop Watching Fox News In "Right Off A Cliff" Fox News is the Fear-Mongering Propaganda Machine That's Dividing This Nation Fox News is the Fear-Mongering Propaganda Machine That's Dividing This Nation In "Right Off A Cliff" Comments 294 Facebook comments Filed Under: News Tagged With: conservative stupidity, fox news, fox news lies, fox news stupidity Subscribe to our free daily newsletter! RSS

Read more at:
to have only told the truth 18 percent (15 of 83) of the time for the statements they checked. And even of that 18 percent, only 8 percent of what they said was completely “True.” The other 10 percent was rated as “Mostly True.” A staggering 60 percent (50 of 83) comments were found to be either “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire.”

Read more at:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hey, Pampa, What's for Supper? Veggie Medley

Here's the preparation.

Finished product.
(UPDATE: Quite tasty. I am pleased.)

This dish didn't exist--to my knowledge--in the annals of western culinary creation until now and I'm praying it's good because it's serving several.

This is a healthy fresh veggie medley with cheese, brown rice and custard (whipped eggs and milk), topped with artichoke hearts. The veggies (red and green peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions and artichoke hearts) are cooked for about 10 minutes on medium high, in a small puddle of olive oil before going into the bowls, which have a layer of rice on the bottom.

The eggs/milk is poured over the top of the veggies and the cheese added before baking at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.

The dish is liberally spiced (the secret ingredient is curry and, of course, there's plenty of garlic and olive oil) and the cheese is three-fold: cheddar, mozzarella and parm.

I have no idea what it will taste like, but I'm holding my breath, crossing my fingers and toes and lighting a candle to the Mother Smith's World Famous Kitchen gods.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Worst Jobs: Ain't That Encouragin'?

There was a time when this meant something.
Since I was 18 years old, I have been a working journalist of one kind or another. Most of those years were spent working for newspapers and magazines: daily, weekly and monthly. Today, I read (here), from the inimitable Jim Romanesko, formerly of the Poynter Institute, that newspaper reporter is the last-ranked job of 200 selected for review. Dead-ass last. Last year it was 199th, tied with lumberjack.

I am not surprised. Nor am I surprised that two other jobs I've loved of late--that of photographer and author (a guy who writes books)--come in at 195 and 153. I've dabbled in a smidge of broadcasting in the past (196) and have worked in a bit of social media (where managers are 101).

Not much of a record, especially a financial record, except that I truly enjoyed every one of those jobs/professions. I have felt especially blessed to be able to write and to find jobs doing that, even the jobs that were at the bottom of the professional rung. I still got to write, to create and examine my own space, to meet fascinating people and talk to them in depth, to take photographs that people remember.

The sad truth is that newspaper reporters are disappearing (minus 13 percent projected growth rate over the next year) and most of the ones who remain are not at the level the profession once enjoyed. I remember a time when most of the people I worked with were heroes to me and they were people who would not have even considered another profession. They saw the value in what they thought of as public service.

Now, reporters are leaping from a sinking ship--I think with a lot of regret and an edge of bitterness at the way they have been treated. Those at our local paper, for example, have not had a pay raise in at least seven years and new owner Berkshire-Hathaway recently told them that BH doesn't do raises, even when its profits are at record levels. That means the incentive to do a good job will have to come from somewhere besides a paycheck, which has never been the big lure, but a reporter has to eat.


Here is Romanesko's list (he also lists best jobs, but I never had one of those):

Worst Jobs of 2015 vs. How They Fared in 2014

200. Newspaper Reporter (-1) $36,267
199. Lumberjack (+1) $34,110
198. Enlisted Military Personnel (no change) $28,840
197. Cook (-2) $42,208
196. Broadcaster (no change) $55,380
195. Photojournalist (-9) $29,267
194. Corrections Officer (-3) $39,163
193. Taxi Driver (+4) $23,118
192. Firefighter (no change) $45,264
191. Mail Carrier (-7) $41,068

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tech Architecture Students Build a Stadium for Clifton Forge

Sharon Field House in Clifton Forge. It's a beauty.
The Town of Clifton Forge, about 60 miles north of Roanoke and a small, poor community, has a new Little League baseball stadium that would be the envy of, oh, say Fairfaix on the rich end. And it 't cost Clifton Forge almost nothing.

Architecture students at Virginia Tech designed and built Sharon Fieldhouse at Col. Tom Dotson Park and Prof. Marie Zawistowski, who founded the 15-member class with her teaching husband, Keith, says the design/buildLAB projects are entirely funded through an aggregate of grants from private foundations, in-kind service donations from philanthropic minded local businesses and in-kind material donations from research minded corporations.

"In-kind support is also provided by the local government entity where the project takes place (city, town, county). Though the University does not directly contribute funds to the projects, the value of Virginia Tech volunteer services (design+labor) is significant."

The fieldhouse is finished and the team of students is working with the community to build two baseball fields, dugouts and a press box at the same site. Clifton Forge gets a stadium that is the marvel of the region and the Tech students get experience and a lovely resume line.

Students worked with several construction organizations--like Branch Highways for grading, for example--to carry the project along. The design/buildLAB selects projects to work on based on the potential benefit to a community. The projects must also be of a scope and scale that the students can complete  within an academic year.

“These are projects that would not happen if the students didn’t volunteer," says Marie Zawistowski. "It’s a lot of hard work and commitment, but at the end of the day there is a community facility that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”

CEO Puts Money Where Mouth Is

Dan Price drives a 12-year-old Audi with 140,000 miles on it.
Seattle-based Gravity Payments' CEO Dan Price has cut his salary from $1 million a year to $70,000 annually so the people who work from him can earn at least $70,000 a year. Gravity Payments processes credit cards.

Price came up with that salary as one that is comfortable for everybody involved and he made certain 70 of the 120 people who work for Gravity had salary increases to that level. The rest were already at or above $70,000. Thirty workers saw their salaries double. (Story here.)

Most of the salary increases for employees will be taken care of with Price's pay cut, but the rest will come out of the company's anticipated $2.2 million profit. Price drives a 12-year-old Audi with 140,000 miles on it and generally lives modestly, so a radical lifestyle change is not in the plans. He says he expects his salary will increase again if the company continues to make sizeable profits. My guess is the employees will benefit, too, unlike the employees at, say, Walmart.

Photos: Flowers in the Rain

I planted this Mandarin azalea this week. It loves the rain.
 A newly-planted pineapple sage.
The two young women cleaning my house this morning ran me out of my office and never one to rest idly, I took my Canon with the 300mm lens.

I was intent on capturing some of the beauty of the fresh spring flowers in my yard, several of which were planted just this week.

The color in the flowers combined with the rain produced what you see here: fresh, fresh, fresh. Here are some of the photos.

The crabapple tree is a year old now.
The pink dogwood just turned a spectacular two years old.
The weeping cherry in the front yard is my oldest tree.
This guy is running a little late this year.
The strawberry crop is pretty, but small.

Gratitude: Maddie's Coming for the Summer!

Today I am grateful for (oh, hell, "grateful" isn't word enough; how about "ecstatic about"?):

My grandgirl Madeline is coming for the summer June 25 and, oh, the plans we will make! Her mom, dad and little brother, Oz, will be here for two weeks, as well, and it will be rich to see them. I am beside myself (which is why you see two of moi).

Hold on for photos.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Gratitude: Busy, Busy, Busy ...

Today, I am grateful for:

Being busy. This morning has included baking artisan bread, tilling the garden (for the second time this spring in advance of planting) and working on a book project that I just signed.

I need breaks from writing and editing and the cooking/gardening are perfect. This afternoon, I'll take the kayak out for a while if the weather holds, breaking again from the book.

Breaks from that kind of work tend to refresh this aging writer and make the product much better at the end.

Is This How We Want To Treat Our Children?

Virginia's public schools have just topped a list of U.S. systems that call the cops on kids. Virginia is No. 1 in the nation among states with 16 law enforcement referrals per 1,000 students, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Some of the referred criminals are as young as 4.

Over the weekend, RawStory (here) told the story of an 11-year-old autistic child at Linknorn Elementary School in Lynchburg who was handcuffed and taken to the police station from his school because he kicked a trash can. He was arrested by the police officer assigned to the school.

The school installed a special rule for him: he was to be the last to leave class. When he broke that rule recently, a police officer was called to handle the case again. The boy "fought back" at being arrested and was charged with a felony, assaulting an officer. RawStory quoted the child as saying, "He grabbed me and tried me to take me to the office. I started pushing him away. He slammed me down and he handcuffed me."

The child was recently found guilty--in juvenile court--of all those charges. Rumor is he will be put in Lynchburg's stocks. 'Course, I can't confirm that.

In these cases, of course, the children who are "different" appear to be singled out for prosecution, according to RawStory: "Special-needs students and students of color are overly represented in these referred cases. In Chesterfield County, Virginia, for instance, 3,538 criminal complaints against students were filed over the past three academic years. Over half of these students were African Americans, although they only represent 26 percent of the enrollment."

I don't think I even need to say anything else here, except this is not the way things are supposed to work.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Photos: Hiking with My Best Bud

This is my very best pardner, Christine Ward, and me trudging the greenway today in the glorious April sunshine. We'd planned to paddle the kayaks, but it didn't reach 70 degrees until about 4 p.m. (my cutoff for kayaking without a wetsuit), so we walked instead. That gave us a good chance to catch up on the important things.

Christine is a jewel.

Oz Takes Over the Hammock

That's Oz's head you see poking out.
My grandboy, Oz, took advantage of his father's work this afternoon, jumping into the newly installed hammock before his mom could relax. The boy's learning how to be a man.

Caught you, buddy!

'Little Women': Another Masterpiece at Hollins

Freshman music major Kendra Davis plays Jo in Little Women.
With the spectacular production of Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women," Hollins University Theatre continues to maintain its position as the standard for live theater in Western Virginia. And with this play, two bright young performers who appear to have Broadway in their futures have emerged.

Freshman Kendra Davis, a Massachusetts native (the play is set in Cambridge), simply shines in her first college production. She is a music major who is considering bringing in theater to her curriculum. That would be wise because she is a natural. She plays Jo, the strong, creative March sister on whom the plot turns and her singing is nothing short of head-turning. She sings a lot and the songs are not easy, but she carries it like a veteran.

Emma Sala, a sophomore with quite a bit of stage experience, continues to impress with her acting strength (as Amy March) and her versatility (she sings beautifully and dances competently in this production). She has been in a number of productions in the Roanoke Valley at Mill Mountain Theatre and Hollins in the past year alone and has all but stolen nearly all of them.

Director Ernie Zulia
The play is directed by the inimitable Ernie Zulia, a man who likely could have been at the highest levels of theater long ago, but has chosen to direct this small university's program--much to Hollins' and our benefit.

"Little Women" was difficult, at best, to stage but Zulia attacked the project with his usual creative zest. He has used a number of visual devices, John Salier's inventive sets, create-beg-borrow-steal costuming and set detail that has the look of a huge amount of money spent, spot-on lighting, a solid orchestra and professional sound to create this marvel.

His young cast features Erin Bragg and Stephanie Wollman (of Blacksburg), both freshmen, as Meg and Beth March. Freshman Lauren Minton plays Marmee March and senior Lucretia Bell is the sinister Aunt March. Zulia has brought in some solid outside support from Kendall Payne, Patrick Kennerly, Mike Dorsey and Robb Zahm to play the men in "Little Women" and they shine, as they usually do. All are veteran actors and, of course, Hollins is a women's college which occasionally needs to borrow a few good men.

I remain amazed as to how Hollins can mount this kind of very expensive-looking production consistently. The playbill credited 22 actors, six musicians, 37 production staff and a director. Special thanks went to nine institutions, including Mill Mountain Theatre and Showtimers. Collaboration among the Valley's theaters has become a hallmark of the region's theater excellence.

As good as the individuals are--and that's everybody from set builders to headliners--the star remains on Ernie Zulia's door. He is creating and maintaining an excellence in theater that is bringing national recognition to this small, outlying Western Virginia neighborhood and we all owe him a great debt of gratitude.

See the play. If you can get tickets. Last night's production was full--as they often are at Hollins--and I suspect that will continue to be the case. Get your tickets at 540-362-6519 or here.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What's Spring Without a Happy's Food Trip?

Here is my less-than-$5 haul with shallots, peppers, beets, onions and cilantro. Wanna join me for din-din?
Hispanic eating is easy at Happy's.
This morning was something of an occasion: my first-of-the-season food excursion to Happy's Flea Market in Roanoke, where I love the Asian and Central American foods, some of which I can't even identify (or spell). The sellers usually furnish me with a recipe, name and spelling.

I loaded up on some fresh veggies for less than $5, including a pound package of shallots--which I can't seem to find in traditional Roanoke grocers--for $1.50. My shallot mayonnaise is in the que.

I ran into several foods I couldn't identify (hell, more
Spiky fruit: Eat it how?
than several), including a spiky fruit that the vendor tells me to boil when it's small, or simply cut open and scoop out when it's big and ripe. Either way, "It very good," she assured.

It wasn't just food on the radar, either. I ran into a 35-year-old Mamiya ZE 35mm SLR film camera for $5, and it goes nicely with my collection of cameras people--as opposed to pros--used in the old days. The guy who sold it to me is Ernie Banks and he swears that's his name. When I told him I once interviewed Mr. Cub, he nearly drooled and wanted to know all about it. Not much to tell, I said. I was a sportswriter and I was working.

It was nice to get back to Roanoke's best international food market today and to see people shopping and smiling. I especially like the enthusiasm for the outdoor Mexican restaurant, where smells are simply lovely. International, indeed.

That's the shopper and his spiky fruit.
This guy was thinking "dinner."
My new pal Katie.
Ernie Banks: Swear to god.
Wanna eat legit Mexican? Eat at Happy's.
My mushroom mustache.
(Photos of me by Janeson Keeley; others by me)