Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gratitude: Birthday Greetings

Today, I am grateful for:

All those birthday greetings on Facebook, which took the first 45 minutes of the day to respond to. It's a nice, warm feeling to get all that attention.

Thank all of you.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Photo of the Day: The True Avocation

This is my buddy Sonya Chaappelear proving once and for all that she is a yardman at heart. Here, she's mowing her yard. Later, we'll show her trimming bushes.

Caldwell Butler: The Passing of a Man and a Party

Caldwell Butler on the Watergate Committee.
Caldwell Butler was a good man, the type of man we used to send to Congress.

He was an energetic partisan when the time was right for party doctrine, but he put partisanship aside when his country was in trouble, as he did with the vote to impeach Republican Richard Nixon. Butler, who died yesterday at 89, was a Republican.

Butler was a man of great humor, of considerable sensitivity to the oppressed and he was a congressman who wanted a balanced budget. He was conservative, quite conservative by all measures of the time. In today's Republican Party, he would be a "sellout liberal" and he would not likely hold a seat in our nation's governing body.

I grieve for Butler's death, though he lived a long and valuable life. Moreso, I grieve for the party he left behind, one in disarray, a party that has lost its purpose save to disrput. This is a shadow of the Republican Party of Caldwell Butler whose kind, unfortunately, is dying. They are being replaced by people who simply want to block, impede and destroy what it has taken nearly 250 years to build.

Butler's passing and the passing of his party are equally sad.


Back to the Hiking Trail with Madeline

My grandgirl Madeline and I headed back to one of our old haunts this morning, Murray Run Greenway, where she was able to climb rocks, walk along rickity logs, collect acorns and rocks and sticks, build a magic healing wand and pose for photos.

Here's some of what we accomplished in the hour and a half we walked and played.


Photo of the Day: Oz On Becoming a Journalist

This is my grandboy Oz, who will be 3 early in September, which is plenty of time for him to be considering career choices.

It appears (above) that journalism has the lead at the moment, but zookeeper (left) is running a close second. Not only does he ID the little animal as a bear, but he specifically tells me it is a brown bear.

Ah, so many choices, so much time.

Photo of the Day: Together Again!

That's Maddie and me off to hike this morning. She wore her flip-flops because she couldn't find her hiking boots in the suitcases. Probably a good thing. She fell in the stream at least twice, giggling each time and citing the benefits of flip-flops.

Much more later. Off to lunch with Mads' mom and dad.

Gratitude: Maddie's Home for a Spell

Today I am grateful for:

My grandgirl Maddie's (and her family) home for two weeks from Spain!

What could be better? Not much.

We have PLANS! Meeting her today and maybe a ball game tonight. Tomorrow's my b'day, so we'll take care of that. Friday, we go see "The Wizard of Oz" at Mill Mountain Theatre and Saturday we're running over to Lynchburg to see Leah.

Fun, fun, fun!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gratitude: A Good Physician's Report

Today, I'm grateful for:

A good report from the vascular specialist who says I'm fine and dandy and that my tiny strokette was more a warning than a significant health event.

He told me that even though I've been without cigarettes for more than 20 years, the cumulative effective of the 25 years of smoking tends to catch up with us all at some point and this was, at least partly, due to the smoking. I wondered all along when it would catch up and I'm not surprised. The body is tough and durable, but we can abuse it too much.

These days, I'm trying to take good care of what I have left and I'll continue to do so. I have a lot of stroke/heart attack in my genes and, frankly, there is not a lot I can do about some of what might happen, but I know what I can do and I am willing to do it. Life is too good to waste.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Gratitude: A Language That Speaks Volumes

Today, I am grateful for:

Our language. English seems to survive constant assaults from the uneducated, the lazy, the misinformed and those who would simply subvert it (Republicans come to mind).

It is a language that lives, breathes, assaults and soothes. Mark Twain once said the difference between the right word and the "almost right word" is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug, so it can be precise.

Politicians, sociologists and lawyers love that it is often vague and imprecise while novelists struggle for the exact construction to convey the passage. It is a language that is often frustratingly maleable. Some teachers teach the use of verbs as nouns and that slays me, but always English has life.

Exasperating, delightful and full. That's my language.

Quote of the Day: The Republican War in Va

Virginia's Republican voters are “not interested in governance. They want somebody to express their anger.”

--Former Virginia Republican Congressman Thomas Davis on the disarray of the Republican Party in Virginia. This NYTimes piece puts Virginia in the same category as "What's Wrong With Kansas?" as a national symbol of political intolerance.

(Drawing: Roger Griswold.)

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Playwright's Festival: Nine Down, One To Go

Megan Gogerty (left) and Michael Gilboe in "Feckless."
My buddy Sonya Chappelear offers critique.
Saw another of the Playwright's Festival 2014 offerings this afternoon at Mill Mountain Theatre and this one's got a lot of promise as a comedy, but not as a drama. In this early draft of "Feckless," the play tries to be both and the critique session at the end should be quite valuable to playwright Byron Harris (a guy with a superb resume). Comments flowed quickly and easily.

This one is centered on a mass murder on a bus by a wacko who thinks he's Waldo ("Where's Waldo?") and for a good part of the play, it is quite funny. The final third gets serious, long and needs work. But the frame is there for a superb play. I will mention that it is set in my hometown of Asheville, N.C., which held special interest for me and nobody else in the audience.

The final play in the series is tonight at 8 p.m. It is a musical ghost story, written by Kevin Ferguson.

Playwright Byron Harris (left) with Todd Ristau and director Jeri Weiss.

Photo of the Day: Window Dressing

This pretty little girl was dressing the window at Walkabout Outfitter on Roanoke City Market yesterday during the lunch hour. She got morr looks and smiles than the Patagonia backpack in the window next to her. And she damn well should have. Cute kid.

Playwrights Fest: A Challenge to the Audience

Scene from "Hoist" by Erin Lane.
Hollins' Playwrights Festival 2014 finishes its 10-play (all FREE) today at Mill Mountain Theatre's Waldron stage with plays (from this moment) at 2, 4 and 8 p.m. Over the past day and a half, excellent crowds have attended the new plays that are actually in development.

This is an exercise that helps writers, directors and actors in the development of these new works, some of which show a great deal of promise.

One of the aspects I like about live theater is that it challenges even when it offends. Yesterday's "Hoist" was a good case in point for me. This is a work with a good bit of potential by a young woman (Erin Lane) of considerable talent. Still, I disliked the play with an intensity that left me cold and empty, even though it was presented with fine acting and direction. This was the story of a woman's experience following a horrible rape and how she was/wasn't facing the future.

It was one of the angriest works I've seen in a long time and it left nothing to redemption. Even the play's only moderately likeable character, a teen-aged barkeep, was sucked into the general hopelessness and dispair by the last few lines. I think the liberal use of vulgarity (especially "fuck") distracted because I wanted a playwright who would employ the richness of the language to tell her story, not fall back on cheap shock language.

Still, that's one person's take. The remainder of those in attendence seemed to appreciate the work and commented briskly about its impact. I like that. We can see the same work and see it differently and each of us can appreciate it or dislike it on our levels, using our own values.

So go to one or more of the final three performances. I think you will be rewarded.


Gratitude: On Parents Day, a Remembrance

Mom and my late brother Buck, the oldest,
Today, I am grateful for:

Parents who are as good as they can be. Sometimes that's not great, but usually there are extenuating circumstances. I was not a good parent when my kids were young and I won't make any excuses. I was a drunk and drunks aren't good parents. They can't be. They're (we're) selfish, self-centered liars who can put nothing ahead of their addiction.

I think I'm a good grandfather and after I put the booze down, I tried to be a good father. I think I have succeeded to a degree. The kids seem to think so.

My son has become a poster for good fatherhood, I think. He didn't learn it from me, but he learned it.

My parents faced serious obstacles to being good parents. First, there were eight of us. Eight kids is too many for a lot of reasons. The class size simply is not manageable for all but the very, very few and because there were so many, money became a huge issue. House size meant we had no privacy. There was rarely one-on-one time.

Dad worked 364 days a year and when he was home, he was so tired, we didn't get much time with him. I recall him hitting me a baseball once. That's once in the 13 years I had before he died. Dad's absence, of course, frustrated Mom, who really wanted to be a good mother and probably would have been world class had she stopped at, say, four children. Dad was gone during almost all of the World War II years, heading an Army munitions depot in Oregon. He was home rarely and when he was, Mom got pregnant. You might understand why she wasn't enthusiastic about seeing him then.

Eight children was simply too many. So Mom gave three of them away, the three oldest, when I was just a boy. They were sent to live with stable, loving families Mom knew, so it wasn't a case of abandonment, but it wore on Mom. When I was a senior in high school, after Dad had died, I went to live in a children's home in the far northern corner of North Carolina, a remote, tiny community where I was truly happy. But mom felt guilty and she felt she needed to keep that part of her life private lest people judge her. They would have.

We all grew up, though, and we've had, I think, interesting lives. That tells me that Mom and Dad did something right. I don't think there's a boring member of the six of us who remain. I like all my brothers and sisters. They're smart, they laugh easily and they have good priorities. And I remember my parents fondly. I learned a lot from their struggles and from their humor. I'm grateful to both of them.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Gratitude: Loving the Bad Stuff

Today, I am grateful for:

Bad plays (music, books, movies, ball games, TV shows, etc.) which help me appreciate the good ones.

There's a lot of bad out there, so when the good comes along, it is special.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Playwright Festival: A Critical Beginning

The second play of 10 in the Playwrights Festival 2014 on the Waldron Stage at Mill Mountain Theatre gets underway in just a few minutes, so you'll want to hurry to get there.

These plays are from Hollins students--usually master's students--and they are in the development stage. Some are not even presented in total because they are longer than the 90 minute limit. But they are quite interesting and the audience gets an opportunity to help shape them as they develop. The first play tonight, "An Enemy That Warns: Fugitive," told the story of a man on the run from Homeland Security.

It will eventually be a tight drama, but the audience found a lot of holes in it. I admire playwright Michael Gilboe (left above with director MB DuMonde and Playwright Lab director Todd Ristau) who sat stoically and absorbed every word of criticism, taking copious notes as he went. It was an exercise in courage and commitment, I think. And maybe professionalism.

If you can't make the 8 p.m. start tonight, it gets going again tomorrow and Sunday at 11 a.m. with additional plays at 2, 5 and 8 p.m. I think you'll enjoy it, especially if you have a bit of the critic in you.

Photos: Slumming on the Cove With the Bechers

Thomas Becher and his son Andrew take a break on an island at Carvins Cove.
The Bechers paddling hard.
Met my pal Thomas Becher, a Roanoke PR executive, at Carvins Cove today to do a little end-of-the-week paddling. Thomas brought his seven-year-old son Andrew and we took a little trip toward the dam.

It was a lovely day, as you can see from these photos.
This little lady greeted me on the way into the Cove.
The cove at its very best.

Gratitude: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Gimme a head with hair.
Today, I am grateful for:

Early hair.
My hair. OK, that sounds pretty niggling, but when you're my age (68 next week) having all of anything that came with the package is reason to celebrate. My hair has always been good hair.

Originally it came in blond, then red and now a brownish-redish-blond and the beard is salt and paprika. I wear a baseball cap a lot, but it's not to hide my hair; it's to keep the sun out of my fading eyes.

I think I'll celebrate this morning with a nice shampoo.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Playwright Festival This Weekend and It's FREE

If you're looking to get your theater fill this weekend, the Playwrights Festival 2014 at Mill Mountain Theatre's Waldron Stage should take care of it pretty easily.

On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Hollins University and MMT will present 10 new plays for your enjoyment and it's all free. I'm one of the judges for the festival (no, I can't 'splain it, Lucy, except that I was asked) and even I, who really love the theater, will be in danger of an overdose by Sunday evening when the final play runs at 8 p.m.

This all starts with two plays Friday night beginning at 6 and continues Saturday and Sunday with a play every three hours beginning at 11 a.m. The writers for these plays are coming from all over the country to see how their work stacks up against other works.

Could be a lot of fun.

Grateful: A Little Night Music

Chet Baker's one of my faves.
Today, I am grateful for:

The sound of music, even though most would call me a musical nit-wit. I guess it's a matter of liking what we like, in the same way people used to explain why they voted for George W. Bush ("Uh ... I just like him ...").

Like most old white guys, there are some forms of music that don't play well on my ear (rap, urban contemporary, opera, white gospel, head-banging in its various forms old and new, etc.). I like soft jazz, which seems to enrage the hard-core jazz afficianados ("You like Kenny G!" they roar. "Well, no," I say, "but I like Rene Marie, Chet Baker, Nora Jones, Edith Piaf. You know, stuff that serves for mood." I get a sneer.)

Music sets a tone--so to speak--for my day or supplements an endorfin rush. Booze used to do that, but I dropped the booze. Music is a good substitute. I'll play Merle Haggard or Waylon Jennings or David Alan Coe when I'm kicking back into my North Carolina mountain accent and put on Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette (how does she hit those notes and how many octaves does that voice run?) when love is all around. Bob Seeger, Mark Knopfler, Gerry Rafferty and Don Henley scratch my rock itch while Mozart and Chopin soothe the savage breast upon occasion. Bill Monroe ("My Last Days on Earth") pulls out the meloncholy with a triple-mandolin lead and Claire Lynch has just about the best voice in bluegrass (when Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton aren't singing it.)

Madeleine Peyroux is a miracle and k.d. Lang puts us in another age. The Modern Jazz Quartet is the very essence of 1954 Grenwich Village. There are a lot more, but that small does will give you an idea of the range. I don't listen a lot, but I love what I care about. As with so many things.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gratitude: Finally, a Bestseller

Keith Ferrell, writer.
Today, I am grateful for:

My friend Keith Ferrell's recent success in the book world. His History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (with Brad Meltzer) was a NYTimes Top 10 bestseller last Christmas season and my guess is that his next work will head that way, as well.

(Keith will sign History Decoded at 7 tonight at the main Roanoke County library branch near Penn Forest Elementary School. He'll also read some of it for you.)

Keith has written about 20 books and thousands of magazine articles over the years and he's always been what good writers should be: literate, thoughtful, exhaustive and creative. It has not made him rich, but among writers his national reputation is sterling. As important in my world is that Keith, like a growing number of others I know, truly cares about the craft of writing and the people who practice it. Little puts me off quicker than one writer criticizing another out of jealousy. There's a good bit of that because it's a creative profession and creatives can be petty and small. Keith is neither.

He is a man who strongly believes in the New Yorker-style long form of writing. While I'm out there putzing around with 400-700-word pieces so that gaphics directors can run big pictures, Keith is writing for some of the few publications that don't care about art direcors. He's crafting beautiful, long, deep pieces that people respond to emotionally.

That's a writer.

(Keith and Roland Lazenby, another real writer whose Michael Jordan: The Life is on the way toward bestseller status, will combine to be our keynote speakers at the next Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins Jan 30-31, 2015.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gratitude: My Hard-Working Kids

This is Evan (pride) and Jennie (joy)
Today, I am grateful that:

Both my kids have solid, secure, well-paid jobs in the manufacturing sector. These are the jobs our country and our citizens need in order to make the economy and individual families healthy.

Jennie works for an automotive aftermarket company in north Georgia and Evan is with the Spanish division of a huge international manufacturer of transformers. Jennie's newish job came on the heels of her standing up for herself against a harrassing boss on the previous one and the new company benefits with her work ethic and her experience. Evan has been with ABB for some years.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whoop It Up: Virginia Tech Stadium Second Loudest

For those of you wondering just how loud Virginia Tech's smallesh football stadium is compared to some of the nation's 100,000-seat monsters, take heart. It is second in the nation in vocal volume to Penn State's huge Beaver Stadium (106,000 capacity) and one spot ahead of the University of Tennessee's legendary 104,000-seat Neyland Stadium.

(Note that the University of Alabama, 101,821, and Texas, 100,119, are not in the top 15. Here are the capacities of the nation's biggest college football stadiums.)

Tech's Lane Stadium is the third smallest stadium in the Top 15 and far smaller than many schools' facilities that did not make the list. Only Oregon's and Colorado's relatively tiny stadiums are smaller among the Top 15 and they are half the size of some.

The rankings are from TheBuckeyeNut

 Here is the Top 15:

1. Penn State (Beaver Stadium), 106,000 capacity
2. Virginia Tech (Lane Stadium), 66,233
 3. Tennessee (Neyland Stadium), 102,455
 4. Wisconsin (Camp Randall Stadium), 80,321
 5. Georgia (Sanford Stadium, 92,746
6. Florida State (Doak Campbell Stadium), 82,300
7. Oregon (Autzen Stadium), 54,000
8. Texas A&M (Kyle Field), 109,000
9. Colorado (Folsom Field), 53,750
10. Michigan (Michigan Stadium), 109,901
11. Michigan State (Spartan Stadium), 75,005
12. Auburn (Jordan-Hare Stadium), 87,451
13. LSU (Tiger Stadium), 102,321
14. Florida (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium), 88,548
15. Ohio State (Ohio Stadium), 102,329

Gratitude: A Positive Nugget

Today, I am grateful for:

I'm thinkin', OK?

Gratitude is made more difficult when my neck has been having spasms since late in my hike on North Mountain yesterday afternoon. Slept minimally last night and woke up this a.m. missing an appointment for a story because I wrote down the address incorrectly (finally got over there and wrote the story). Bitch, bitch, bitch.

The day is going to turn around. I guess I can be grateful for that. The attitude, not so much the fact.

So there it is. I am grateful to find a positive nuggett in the midst of a bunch of shit. Sometimes it's the best I can do.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Photos of the Day: A Brief Respite at Cloudy North Mountain

This butterfly was having a dandy time in a field of fresh flowers.
Looking out from the rocks.
Whether it's cloudy or bright, North Mountain in the heart of lovely Rockbridge County provides some of the best scenery and nature of any of the hikes around.

It's a relatively easy series of three or four hikes--none really testing, none long--on a ridge that gives you views of both sides of the mountain.

Here is some of what my photo buddy Anne Sampson and I discovered on today's jaunt in the woods.
This purple lichen was on one of the rocks, looking like a cave painting.
Pine cones at the crest of the ridge.
An early sign of fall.
Anne climbs a steep rock ...
... to see what's on the other side. This.
Queen Anne's lace, I think.
Anne discovered these guys. I would have stepped on them.
This is what we came for.

One Final Post: Reunion, Cont.

This is the old school yesterday, still holding on 40-plus years after closing.
Lunch was great, not so healthy.
The reunion went smoothly yesterday at Cranberry High in Avery County, N.C., and I left with a bit of new information. The real 50th reunion will be in September.

Seems Cranberry High was so small that over the years July has been the time for all-class reunions. That guaranteed a bit of a crowd, but yesterday there were probably fewer than 10 from my class. I'm assured that in September, there will be far more. I'm skeptical, but hey, what do I know?

At 17, I had a crush on Joyce Watson. A big one.
Our day together was one of talking about health conditions, old friends who have died, adventures from half a century ago, who was in love with whom, some of the same stuff we talked about as teenagers. The men seemed to want to talk about their involvement--exaggerated--in sports, the women their grandchildren.

The high school is a relic that is being restored to its former ... well, not so much glory as stability. 

My pal Jerry Turbyfill telling tales.
My grandpa helped build the school in 1923 and he built stuff to last. When the school went up, this little burg had nearly 3,000 people and a flourishing iron mine (Tweetsie Railroad was the freight hauler from the mine to Elizabethton, Tenn.). It had contained a huge cranberry bog at one time, hence the name. But the mine closed and by the time I arrived in 1963, there were 62 families, four churches, two general stores and a high school in Cranberry. The closest traffic light was in Newland, the only red and green one in the county. Banner Elk--a trendy, touristy, upscale resort now--had a yellow blinking light then.

As I looked around yesterday, mostly what I saw was retired
people with small lives, enjoying each other and the memories of happier times. One of those putting together the annual reunions and restoring the school said, "I wish the more successful people would come to these things, but their lives are too busy. It gives a false impresson of who we are."
Ex-beauty queen Regenia Street Clark.

Go Wildcats!
Indeed. There were a few people I went looking for yesterday and they weren't around. Maybe they'll be there in September. We'll see.

The old barn of a basketball arena is where the introductions were held. Lots of old people, including moi.

Gratitude: The Gift of Vision

Here are some of my spectacles, various prescriptions.
Today, I am grateful for:

Sight. That's an easy one to take for granted until the day when we start seeing it fade. It's a sense I've thought about a lot over the years.

When I started in the newspaper business in 1964, I had 20/15 vision. That's just about perfect and it's one of the reasons I was a pretty good passer in football. I could see the field. All of it. Six months after reading raw copy eight hours or more a day, my vision was 20/40 and I had to get glasses. Doc called it "paper blindness."

At first, the glasses were a blessing. Those who'd always thought me a simple-minded jock began to look at me differently. The black horn-rimmed glasses gave me more of an intellectual look, if not actually increasing my IQ. Friends and colleagues treated me differently and I liked that.

The eyes degraded some over the years and eventually, I required bi-focals, then tri-focals, which I had to break up among glasses. I simply could not see through three prescriptions at a time. Then I had to keep up with the glasses: one for distance, one for reading, one for the computer and various combinations of two prescriptions on one pair of glasses. It got expensive. It became confusing.

These days, I'm still confused, it's still expensive and I still can't always see. I have no idea why, but medical science doesn't seem to be able to manufacture a pair of glasses that allow me to see both far and near at the same time. But at least (and I hate to start a sentence that way because it means something minimal is coming) my vision is stabalized. Dr. Gorgeous, my optometrist, once told me that happens as we age. It's one of the few good advantages of age, I've discovered.

I am an occasional photographer, as you might know, and photographers look at things with a different perspective than non-photographers. We see detail, angle and line, prospects for great photos and not just what's in the viewshed. Good vision is essential.

Through it all, I have my eyesight, though it's not perfect. I can still fully appreciate a blooming daisy, a red tomato, a beautiful face or a worn and expressive one, great architecture, a mountain range, a round bottom, a tiny detail in a painting ... all the things that make sight a joy. And something we should never take for granted.