Sunday, October 23, 2016

Maddie and Her New Pals in Memphis

Maddie (left) and her pals, at least one of them spooky.
Halloween Maddie.
My daughter-in-law just posted a piece about my best grandgirl Maddie and her youth group doing  some fun fall stuff yesterday. Cara's explanation:

Their United Methodist group "went to another UMC in Memphis to help as members of the Guatemalan consulate worked with Guatemalans in the community with their paperwork and IDs.

"Then we went to Shelby Farms Park for Halloween fun. Zombie hunting (with paint balls on a trailer/truck), haunted trail, pumpkin painting, and knockerballs (mini hamster balls). Long day, late night, lots of fun!"

I just noted to Margie how much Madeline is beginning to look like her mama.

Here's some of what it looked like.
The light of the living Ewwwwwwww!
Maddie and her new Memphis buds (that's her front, third from left and looking happy).

It's Butternut Squash Soup Time in Roanoke

Stuffing staymans into a peck bag.
The perfect butternut squash
For about three to four weeks each mid-fall, stayman  apples are at their peak of tartness and taste and I take that opportunity each year to make a cauldron of butternut squash soup.

It is so good, it'll make you cry--but only when the staymans are in season. Today was stayman day in the Smith household, so Margie and I drove out to Ikenberry Orchards in Botetourt County to pick up a load. I got half a peck (and I can stuff one of those peck bags), which is enough for a while. I also picked a nice fat butternut squash.

I'll cook about four apples and the two-pound squash, puree them, caramelize an onion, chop some garlic and saute it in three tablespoons of olive and three tablespoons of butter. I'll add a quart of chicken stock, cup of heavy cream and add a tablespoon of Worstershire, a third of a cup of Parmesian cheese and a smidge of nutmeg. That'll all simmer until it has a single taste ... about 30 minutes.

I'll refrigerate it over night and then serve. I love to watch people cry when they taste it.

Ikenberry's was a busy place with people loading up on pumpkins and other fall goodies, but the pumpkins were nearly gone. I am accustomed to seeing half an acre out there, but there were only a few available. But there was plenty of other great food inside (and Margie loaded up on the most expensive of it).

Nice day trip. Now comes the cooking.
You want a pumpkin? Good luck.
Just a few remained.
Margie's looking over the boxed soups.
Young woman re-stocking the apples.
Colorful fall goodies for your home.
Country (style) ham.

MMT's 2017 Season: A Grand Stocking Stuffer

'A Christmas Story,' one of my all-time faves
If you've started thinking about Christmas, here's a gift suggestion: Mill Mountain Theatre tickets. Next year's season of plays, readings, music and young people theatrics looks inviting at the region's premier professional theater.

The season is--as always--sprinkled with the familiar, with music and with comedy. MMT's main stage, especially, is geared toward the traditional and that philosophy is exemplified by the coming season's lineup.

Here's a list of what's coming up (and I can't wait for "A Christmas Story," the Jean Sheppard story of a boy who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB rifle ("You'll shoot your eye out!" for Christmas).

Trinkle Main Stage

April 26-May 7: “Moonlight and Magnolias” by Ron Hutchinson, a comedy about the writing of the screenplay for “Gone With the Wind”

July 26-Aug. 6: “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka Jr.,” a musical adapted from Dahl’s children’s novel “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” 
Oct. 4-22: “Little Shop of Horrors” by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, a musical about a carnivorous plant from outer space

December 6-23: “A Christmas Story” by Philip Grecian

Waldron Fringe Series

Feb. 24-25: “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall, staged reading about civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s final days

June 22-July 1: “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” a musical that invites audience participation, performed by Mill Mountain’s summer apprentices

Sept. 8-9: “The Little Lion” by Irene Ziegler, staged reading of a play based on a novel about the Holocaust

Mill Mountain Music Series

March 17-18: “Acoustic Legends” 
June 2-3: “One Hit Wonders” 
Aug. 18-19: “Best of Broadway: The Songs of the 2000s”

Young Audiences Series

March 25-April 1: “The Velveteen Rabbit”
June 3-July 1: “The Jungle Book”
Oct. 21-28: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

A Fall Afternoon in Beautiful Lexington

Margie, Susan and me enjoying lunch on the lawn at Washington & Lee University. This photo has a 1930s feel.
Cowbells at the ball game (Booooo!).
It was one of those crisp, bright, breezy, perfect fall days yesterday and Margie, Susan and I headed up to Lexington for our annual trek to a Washington & Lee University football game, this one against rival Hampden-Sydney for homecoming. (W&L won 52-7, but that was secondary to everything else.)

I put together a picnic (pasta salad with artichoke tapinade, cream cheese, fancy olives, sun dried tomatoes, asparagus and whole grain wraps with all those goodies inside, plus shrimp and crab). It was a smidge over the top, but hey, what's a picnic for if not celebration of the richness of family and friends?

Lexington is a wonderful little town, one Susan had not visited, so there were special pleasures all around for her and watching her delight was our delight. A lovely day for us all, I suspect.
Susan and Margie: Having fun yet?
My best girl and me on the bridge to the stadium.
Yes, a football game was played and it was entertaining.
Division III football doesn't draw a lot of fans, but I love it for its absolute amateurism.
Lunch. Yum.
Lee Chapel, where Robert E. Lee is buried (below) ...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Peter and the Starcatcher: Rip-Roaring Fun at Hollins

"Peter and the Starcatcher," Rick Elice's theatrical adaptation of the comic novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, is a perfectly delightful fall diversion playing through this weekend at Hollins University. The play, which is one of the more lavish you'll see produced locally, presents what director Ernie Zulia calls a "good teaching moment" for his talented students because of its extraordinary opportunity for inventive theater craft.

The play, a prequel to "Peter Pan," presents the whole cast of characters you know a generation before they become literary icons. Peter Pan (Stephanie Wollmann in a fine performance) doesn't yet have a name yet; Wendy (her mother Mollie here, played with sterling authority by Roanoker Emma Sala) has not been born; the Lost Boys (Anna Holland and Lindsay Bronston) aren't lost, they're just poor and powerless. Captain Hook (or Black Stache, delightfully over the top in Megan McCranie's world) still has both hands and Smee ... well Smee is Smee (Kendall Comolli is fun).

This is a big cast, presented with lavish costumes (Max Levitt designs), a lush and movable set (Derek Smith) borrowed from Barter Theatre and the kind of craft that keeps people coming back to theater with its clever inventiveness. Even with the extraordinary set, Zuila resorted to ropes, rubber gloves and assorted other low tech materials to create visuals like waves, doors, colorful bed sheets, windows, birds and the like.

The dialogue is crisp and funny, though if the production has a weakness it's in understanding the faux-British accents. It is lively, musical and affecting. We had the distinct pleasure of sharing the theater's seats with Hollins' athletic teams, who were fully involved, appreciative and as much fun to watch as what was going on on stage.

Let me emphasize that it is not a play for children because of its 2 hours, 45 minutes (by my watch) length. There were children in the audience (well behaved, I'll add), but most were snoozing by the time the second act began at about 9 p.m.

This is the kind of production--lavish, inventive, challenging, and extraordinarily entertaining--we've come to expect from the nationally-ranked Hollins Theatre Department and it's one you shouldn't miss ... if you can get in; last night was a full house.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Heads are Down, the Frowns Are Distinct

This photo of the Trump family following this week's presidential debate (by Chip Somodevilla for Getty Images) tells us all we need to know. They appear embarrassed, defeated and 50 percent blonde.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Election Theft Not New; Total Disrpution Is

I recall twice in my life when presidential races ended with whispers and shouts of "rigged." Richard Nixon's organization accused (probably with good cause) the Kennedys of stealing the 1960 election and 40 years later, those of us backing Al Gore were apoplectic at the outcome against George Bush.

In neither case did the losing candidate publicly question the outcome of the election. Both gracefully and graciously conceded, considering the stability of the United States first and theirs and their party's ambitions further down the list. That's the way this government works best, even though some of us feel the pain of the loss--the unfair loss--for years afterward.

Donald Trump--as is his way--disputes that. He says the 2016 election is being rigged and he doubts he will accept the result. He will continue to stir the pot, to whip up mistrust and resentment, to be an agent for violence and discontent. Sen. John McCain says that if Hillary Clinton is elected president--as she certainly will be; the question is by how much--he and his Republican colleagues in the Senate will reject any appointments to courts made by her. McCain is considered a moderate Republican; Trump is ... well, what?

We are looking at a government that will be given no chance to operate with anything like efficiency and effectiveness. The only real possibility we have right now is for the Democrats to take the Senate and then bounce the filibuster, which can be an agent for good or for complete meltdown, depending on how it is used. If there is no filibuster and the Dems control of the Senate, a majority of votes would ensure judges could be appointed to federal courts, including the Supreme Court.

All this said, I do not blame Trump or the Republicans or those forces that formed them to fit the electorate. The problem here is the electorate, itself. We have about 40 million Americans who are beside themselves with grief, hate, anger and the feeling that their country has been taken from them by unworthies: the poor, the dark-skinned, people with accents, liberals of all stripe, religions not theirs, the educated, the different.

For most of our history, America has been controlled by middle-to-old-aged, rich, privileged, white men who have stuck together to keep others out of the power structure. That structure has been fractured and with the break, power is becoming a possibility for the previously dispossessed. I hear my brother's voice saying, with some anguish, regret and anger, that the world he grew up with is changed and he doesn't like it. I hear friends angrily and often with vulgarity talking of their support for the hateful, the ugly, the people who want to "Make America Great Again," as if there were some point to which we could return to make everything right.

We are facing a substantial period where our government will not work without leadership that is considerably different than what this election will give us--regardless of who wins and by how much. In the Roanoke Valley, we will elect with sizeable margins two congressmen--Bob Goodlatte and Morgan Griffith--known primarily for what they have not done: unite us. Neither has that as a goal. Neither has America's best interest in his list of things to do. It is about power, money, continuity and party for them. Anything else is just words.

I am not encouraged by what I see, but the only real bright light I've seen in many political years has been the election of Barack Obama, one that was the very definition of hope and change. The hope remains, but the change has not come and will not come as long as we continue to elect people whose primary mission is disruption and failure.

We deserve better than that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Liberty Reflects Evangelical Divide

Trump with Jerry Falwell, Jr.: Good buddies, still.
“The evangelical movement has, in my view, forfeited any future moral authority in American public life.”--Mark DeMoss, former executive committe board member at Liberty University

Mark DeMoss was sent packing by Liberty University when he criticized President Jerry Falwell Jr.'s enthusiastic endorsement of Donald Trump for president, in spite of actions by the candidate that were unquestionably un-Christian.

Liberty's stubborn insistence upon staying the course with a man who is quite possibly the worst presidential candidate for a major party in American history is a distinct sign of a fracture not only within the GOP, but also within evangelical Christianity, a solid base for the party in the past. Recently, some Liberty students publicly took issue with Falwell's stand.

A New York Times opinion piece today (here) included this from Andy Crouch, editor of Christianity Today: “Enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.”

Conclusion: Evangelical honchos are "driven by a quest to retain a seat at a potential Republican White House table."

And here's the nail in the coffin: "By hitching their wagon to Mr. Trump, religious-right leaders are also tying their fortunes to the alt-right, the predominant movement supportive of, and bolstered by, the Trump campaign. As a largely secular movement, though, the alt-right not only is uninterested in the religious right’s concerns, it also threatens to eclipse the religious right within the Republican Party. And it’s a movement simmering with racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism."


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Big Guitars, Little Kids

It is only natural that my son--an accomplished musician who plays about seven instruments--would take his herd to the Gibson factory museum in Memphis shortly after arriving there to live recently.

Here are photos taken yesterday of grandgirl Madeline (left), who plays the guitar, and her little brother Oz (below), who bangs on it. Oz, who is 5 to Maddie's 11) is more a threat than a musician.

These huge thematic guitars interesting because of their color and who they represent (most of whom, I would guess, neither Maddie nor Oz would know in any context).

Jennie and Eddy Jack: Winning Combo

My gorgeous daughter, Jenniffer, and her horse Eddy Jack recently won two third-place finishes and a fifth in a barrel racing competition in Georgia, where she lives.

Jennie has loved horses (and dogs) since she was a kid and has been a horse owner for years. She looks mighty good in the saddle, too, said the proud dad.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Colors Resisting Fall at the Cove

The fashion plate goes full geek with rolled up pants.
A little color was present ... but not much.
I simply could not figure out whether to wear less or more this morning for a paddle at Carvins Cove, so I did both (see above). The workout pants are long, rolled up and the sweatshirt wound up getting a free ride on my boat, but not on me.

It was a pretty, clear, brisk morning with my pal Cathy Dick, but the one attraction of paddling this time of year was not present: the leaves have not turned at the cove (or anywhere else in the Roanoke Valley from what I've seen). I don't know why, but I'll keep an eye on it. Dusk in the leaf-peak fall at the cove is heaven.

Here's some of what the cove looked like this morning.

A couple of fat little camouflaged terns bask in the sun on the rocks.
Cathy heading for the deep.

Americans Moving Toward Handguns

"Two widely cited examinations, published in 1992 and 1993 in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that people who kept guns in the home faced a 2.7-fold greater risk of homicide and a 4.8-fold greater risk of suicide.

"'On average, the gun imperils everyone in the home more than it protects them,' said Matthew Miller, a professor at Northeastern University and an author of the 2015 study. 'If you can get people to understand the risk that they are assuming and imposing on people in their home, you can actually save lives.'"--NYTimes article this morning (here).

An exhaustive new study on gun ownership reported by the Times this morning shows owners are moving away from long guns toward handguns. The study also emphasizes emphasizes earlier studiea that show gun owners kill far more innocent people (including themselves) than criminals wishing to do those owners harm. 

The new study, which will be published next year and polled 4,000 people, shows that in the past 25 or so years, ownership has more than doubled and that just three percent of Americans own more than half of the guns. More handguns are being bought these days than rifles and shotguns and family protection is the most often cited reason for gun purchases, especially among handguns.

The survey showed that women and African-Americans prefer  handguns to longer guns, though white men still prefer rifles and shotguns. 

Guns are being concentrated in the hands of vastly fewer people, mostly rural white men over the age of 30. "While the percentage of households with guns has declined to 22 percent from 25 percent, the net numbers of guns and gun owners have gone up. In 1994, about 44 million Americans owned 192 million guns. Today, about 55 million Americans own 265 million guns."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things Observed in the Park Today

The Civitan Club's playground is now a memory.
The colorful slides are ripped up.
A walk in the park today resulted in some raised eyebrows. I was walking through the Riverside Park area (Wasena Park, Smith Park, etc.) when I happened upon the smashed remains of the Civitan Club's children's playground in Smith Park along the Roanoke River.

My kids and grandkids have both played there and it was a sad discovery. My guess is that something equally popular will rise in this space soon. I certainly hope so.

Dinner? You bet your butt.
On a better note, I happened into a couple of old men doing what old men do in a park with a river: reading and fishing, both successfully.

A couple of fishermen were celebrating the catch of pan-sized (about 10-12 inches) rainbow trout, just stocked and truly lovely animals. I've never cared much for fishing stocked streams because, frankly, stocked trout are about as smart as seventh-grade boys. Truly easy to catch with a little corn.

These old boys, though, were using expensive fly fishing gear and the bigger of the two said he only had "to catch one more for a mess of them for dinner." Not sure I would eat anything out of the Roanoke River, but he didn't seem to have any compunction about. "I catch it, I eat it," seemed to be his motto. Wonder if "I clean it" fits in there anywhere.
Old boys doing what old boys do.
Catching dinner in the middle of the city is a rare luxury.

Liberty Students Rebel: No to Trump

Trump with a book he knows little about.
We are Liberty students who are disappointed with President Falwell’s endorsement and are tired of being associated with one of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Donald Trump does not represent our values and we want nothing to do with him. … He has made his name by maligning others and bragging about his sins. Not only is Donald Trump a bad candidate for president, he is actively promoting the very things that we as Christians ought to oppose.” --Statement from Liberty University students, released yesterday (WaPost story here).

My experience with students and some teachers from Liberty runs counter to the cliched version of a bunch of non-thinking automatons who simply do what Jerry Falwell Jr. and the Christian right dictate. They are conservative Christians, but they are not mindless, controlled young people who believe only what they are told to believe.

Liberty is a conservative--some say that is a conservative description--Christian university whose leaders have often delved into radical politics. Some students feel the same way. Many do not. You're not going to find a lot of left wingers on campus, but my guess is that if you visit, attend class and school functions--as I have--you will get a better understanding of who these kids are and what motivates them. That would be a dedication to the teachings of Jesus, which often are counter to the radical views of their elders. As is the case here.

Meanwhile, Republican students at the University of Virginia and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia have gone on record as opposing Trump because, according to the HSC statement, he "has gone from simply being an embarrassment to our party, to a potentially permanent stain on our brand and our country."

In endorsing Trump, Falwell, according to reports, said, "“Let’s stop trying to choose the political leaders who we believe are the most godly because, in reality, only God knows people’s hearts. You and I don’t, and we are all sinners.” That seems to be diametrically opposed to his previous thinking where candidates had to pass a Christian purity test and only Republicans could do that. Falwell's is the official line at Liberty, one that doesn't pass the student sniff test.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Another Set-To with the DMV (and I Win!)

It was a slow day at the DMV.
There is little that frustrates me more than trying to deal with Virginia's Division of Motor Vehicles. I spent major parts of today and yesterday getting madder and redder and more distracted with each exchange.

The goal was quite simple, something that should have taken minutes to complete and should have been easily accessible via internet. Except that the DMV's web page doesn't seem to work. After trying to negotiate it for 30 minutes, I gave up when I finally realized that no matter what I tried, I could not get a pin number, the equivalent of a password (including going to the DMV and getting a temporary pin number, which didn't work).

What I wanted with the DMV--and believe me, if it wasn't really necessary, I would not have tried--was a title to my truck. I lost the one I've had for 12 years and I'm in the mode of getting my affairs in order so I can die without troubling the kids unnecessarily. I have all my marriage/divorce papers (a substantial file) and titles to my house and car. Easy stuff.

But when I went to the DMV yesterday (the day after a holiday and a packed house) with all my documents in hand, the clerk said, "Your truck has a lien." I was taken aback. I paid for it in 2004 and had the title in hand at one point. I lost it in a move. Nothing I could say would convince the clerk, but she told me my bank (NBC, formerly Valley Bank) could fax it and we'd be fine. So I called and had the main office fax it to the branch near me.

I took the copy to the DMV this morning. No dice. It had to be faxed to the DMV directly. I tried calling the bank officer who was handling it and he was out, so I drove downtown and got the original note. That eventually worked (at one point, the clerk asked, "does it say, formerly known as Valley Bank? Oh, yes, here"), but it took three trips to the DMV, two visits to its website, two trips to my bank and one phone call to the bank.

I will mention that if my bank had notified the DMV that my loan was paid 12 years ago, none of this would have been necessary. Still, with all that, I beat a deadline today on a story that's not due until Oct. 28. So, kiss my ass DMV. You can slow progress, but you damn well can't stop it.

Monday, October 10, 2016

A Spiritual Journey on a Sunday Afternoon

Susan shoots the falls at Camp Alta Mons.
Maybe I can do this, but I won't.
A day or so after Hurricane Matthew finished playing with the East Coast (and us), my friend Susan and I decided that staying inside was not an option any more. We took a hike to Stiles Falls on the grounds of Camp Alta Mons in Montgomery and it turned out to be the correct decision.

This was a simply pristine early-fall day with a chill in the air, a cold rushing mountain stream, leaves struggling to turn colors for us and the kind of spiritual solitude that I consider the Church of the Holy Mental Health. It is where I go to worship, to find peace, to ease stress, to rediscover the real meaning of it all. Susan says she emphatically agrees (which is why we make good company for each other).

Herewith are some shots I took, mostly of Susan (she has a bunch of me and some lovely landscapes, as well), some of them with her in yoga poses. She teaches yoga (in addition to being my exercise coach and my favorite coach of all those I've worked for, regardless of the sport or the purpose).

The black jacket she is wearing here is weighted. She can never get enough exercise, it seems.
I like this shot. It makes the point about spirituality well, I think.
Susan and me in wonderland.
Yoga post? Prayer pose? Not much difference.
Looking for the right angle for a falls shot.
Rocks and woods and hills and water and ...
Sometimes it feels like we can just fly.
Stiles Falls: 40 feet of beauty and power.
Susan says this is her favorite hike. I favor it, too.
Praise be.