Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Lunch with the Girls

I had lunch and a photo shoot with my girls today at the Hotel Roanoke. That's Leah at the left with her niece Ann next to me and Ann's daughter Emily, who is about 14. Got some good pix. Hotel's a fine place to shoot. Food was right tasty in the Regency Room, too. Thanx, Leah. (You'll note that I dressed up.)

Tenacious Boots with Crud Protection

I just placed an order for what I hope will be the best hiking boots I've ever had. And maybe the last I'll ever need. They are Bergamo boots made in Italy for Hi-Tec and the retail price on them is $400. I paid $149 on a close-out.

These are heavy-duty, waterproof boots that will be great for the feet winter and summer, on a greenway trail or a mountainside.

I love this passage from the marketing material: "Built with a trail-dominating mix of agility, tenacity and unyielding protection from the kind of crud lesser boots would succumb to." Hmmm. Tenacious boots with crud protection. Who'd-a thunk it?

I had a pair of top-end Asolos a number of years ago and they were the best of mine until this point. The Asolos lasted 20 years with heavy use and they never wore out. I lost them in a move. Since then, I've mostly had second or third line boots or shoes because my knee became so dysfunctional that great shoes didn't make much difference to a guy who couldn't hike the way I used to.

I got the knee replaced two years ago and the hiking has returned to me full scale in the past year, so the new boots are more a defensive mechanism than a luxury item. I've stubbed my toe and bruised the bottoms of my feet in recent hikes because my shoes weren't up to the trail. These Bergamos, I suspect, will be.

My dad, who cooked for a living, once told me that "anybody with a good knife can cook." I suspect that applies equally to hiking and shoes.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Devaluing of the Written Word

Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris: A dying breed?
"... the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third."

That comes from a New York Times story today by Dan Streitfeld (here) on the massive increase in the number of published books in the United States. The upside is that writers are getting their works circulated. The underbelly is that those same writers are seeing their earnings potential for their written work crash. Writers who have quit day jobs to assume full-time writing careers are hurrying back to the classroom or the office or the food stamp facility.

At the center of the story--as usual--is amazon.com. This time it's Kindle Unlimited, which has dramatically increased the number of books available, while decreasing author royalties in an equally dramatic fashion. E-book revenue "leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012." But writers' checks got smaller along the way.

We come away from this confusion with the distinct impression that Amazon has very little regard or respect for the people who earn their profits: the writers. And the writers are taking notice. If Amazon loses its stock of books, it will be hard-pressed to ... well, sell books.

The explanation we get from the prime offender in the book world is this: "An Amazon spokesman declined to answer questions about Kindle Unlimited." Writer Kathryn Meyer Griffith explains it this way, according to the NYTimes: "They’re doing a good job of recreating that whole unfair bogus system where they make the money and we authors survive on the pennies that are left."

The landscape is changing almost daily in publishing and we'll have to wait and see what shakes out of the blanket. A couple of big-time writers from our region will talk about "The Future of the Book" Jan. 23 at the opening session of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. Roland Lazenby and Keith Ferrell have had bestsellers in the past year and Roland has been at the center of a huge row with Amazon. They know what's going on.  You can register for the conference here.


Throwback Thursday: The First Writers Conference

(From left) Sandy Smith, Sharyn McCrumb, moi.
This photo is one of the few items that survive from the first Roanoke Regional Writers Conference Jan. 25-26, 2008, at the Jefferson Center's Fitzpatrick Hall in Roanoke.

The keynote speaker was Sharyn McCrumb, the popular Appalachian novelist, and my brother, Sandy, an internationally-known speaker and consultant. Sharon gave her stirring talk--the best I've ever heard on the topic--about our Appalachian writing heritage and you could see the pride swell in the full house of the region's writers.

That's me addressing the nearly full house.
Sandy gave a pep talk, as well. He had just finished writing his first book at the time, a children's book that has outsold every book I've written combined--a fact that pisses me off no end.

The RRWC emerged from the Sedalia Writers Conference in Bedford County, which was put together by my friend Darrell Laurant, the former Lynchburg News-Advance metro columnist, who is now retired to his home in upstate New York where he is writing good novels. Darrell asked me to speak at the spring conference in 2008 and I was so impressed at the turnout and the quality of the students that I thought, "If this can be this good and this big in remote Bedford County, what can it do in Roanoke?" The answer was: outstanding.

After a year in the Jefferson Center, which was a lovely place for the conference, we moved to Hollins University at the invitation of President Nancy Gray. Hollins has been our home since then and it is, of course a natural. The 2015 conference is just about a month away, Jan. 23-24, and you can register (and find out all you need to know) at this web site.

Sandy was animated, as always.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Come on Over: The Cabbage Stew's Ready

Here it is, Mother Smith's World Famous Cabbage Stew with Ham (and celery, leeks, carrots, onions, potatoes, sea salt and bits of a baked ham). Simmered for hours with a ham bone. It's as tasty as it looks and with a side of cornbread, I suspect I'll take a winter's nap when I finish eating.

Alpha: Memory of a Heartbreak and a Career Break

This 1955 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider--actually one very much like it--sat on the lot, under a shed, at Ed Orr Motors on Biltmore Avenue in Asheville, N.C., for about six months in 1964. It was priced at $1,000 and I had to walk past it every day on the way to work at the Glidden Paint Company's warehouse on the other side of town.

I lusted after the Alfa, standing transfixed each morning and afternoon as I strode briskly to work and paused for the moments I could. I earned $50 a week ($1.25 an hour, which was minimum wage) and was in a constant state of doing the math on being able to buy this beauty.

I day-dreamed of somebody who looked distractingly like Audrey Hepburn in the passenger seat wearing a yellow sundress, white scarf and pearls. I wore my plaid newsboy cap and belted brown tweed jacket, tan turtleneck and calfskin driving gloves, and was driving with one hand on the steering wheel, an arm around Audrey. She was smiling. I was beaming.

I fantasized day and night and during the day it got me in a lot of trouble at work because I didn't pay attention. I made a mistake shipping a large order of the wrong color of paint to a construction site downtown and was fired. It was a large bank building on Pack Square that still is prominent on the Asheville skyline.

I got a job quickly with King Arthur's Roundtable barbecue shop and after a bit followed my mother's advice to show up at the newspaper and see if I could get a job there. I did and I did.

This Alpha Romeo was just named one of "The 10 Most Beautiful Cars in History" and I have absolutely no argument with that assessment. I know that on the day I passed Ed Orr Motors and the shed no longer held the little red car, my heart was broken. A few months later, I bought a 1956 Ford Station Wagon, my friend Al Geremonte's fishing car. It was as distant from the Alpha as Jupiter from my house. The old Ford tank was my first car. Al taught me to drive it. He was my first newspaper mentor, a World War II platoon sergeant at Guadalcanal who "taught you everything you know, kid, but I didn't teach you everything I know."

I got the job at the newspaper because I lost the job at Glidden because I daydreamed about Audrey and the Alpha. That was 50 years ago. I'm still writing and I still love that car. And Audrey shows up in my dreams occasionally, too.


Friday, December 26, 2014

Getting (Really) Close to Nature

Deer prints over hiking boot prints: Who's chasing whom?
Moss, up close and personal.
These closeups are from a little hike-ette I took a while ago out near Botetourt County. Funny how things look wildly different when you stick your nose right in them.

Here's the bird's nose view of some common hike things.

I would liken lichens to things I like. But I won't say that.
More lichens to like. (Oh, shut up!)


The Pampettes and Their New Sweats

This is the straight view of the Pampettes.
This is Oz being Oz.
This is Oz being Dr. Cool Dude.
Sophisticated Madeline.
I asked my grandkids' (the Pampettes) Mom to get a couple of photos of Madeline and Oz in their Pampa-generated sweatshirts that I sent them for Christmas and this is what she came up with. Oz's shirt, of course, says "OZ" and Maddie's is the title of my novel, CLOG!. They seem to like the hoodies, so I guess I get a passing grade in Pampa-ing.

Pop Quiz: Which is the real Santa?



New Glasses and I Can See! (for Now)

OK, so here are the new glasses, picked up a couple of hours ago at the glasses shop. They seem to be working well, unlike their previous half dozen or so predecessors.

I went for the bigger lenses this time because the only pair of glasses I had prior to these that I could see out of with any degree of consistency is a pair I bought maybe 15 years ago. They're big "old man" glasses.

More recently, I have preferred the slim, horizontal dealies that are trendy and damn near useless if seeing is the goal.

I like these. I hope I like them two days from now.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas on the Trail: Crabtree Falls, Beauty and Mystery

The 1,000-foot-high falls overlooks Leah as she climbs.
Even in winter, it's gorgeous.
My friend Leah Weiss and I began what I hope is a Christmas tradition today with a hike into one of the wondrous corners of our mountains: Crabtree Falls in Nelson County. This is a string of waterfalls, counting 1,000 feet ultimately and the hike is almost straight up the side of the mountain.

It's 3.4 miles and I don't know whether it's more tiring going up or coming down, but it is breathtakingly beautiful either way.

Here is some of what we saw today. I look forward to a series of Christmas hikes in the future--if I get to live that long. What a wondrous way to spend one of my favorite days of the year.

We ran into some delightful people with the same idea we had, and also a couple of mysteries. Leah rested in a bench dedicated to a man named Bill Christmas, who died in 1978 at 22. Did he fall into the waterfall at this dangerous junction?

A bit further up, I discovered a bunch of roses and a photograph of a pretty young blonde. What's the story there?

The falls are quite dangerous in many places, but far less dangerous today with all the build-up than in the past. It's worth your time to walk it.

The water is powerful and beautiful, the colors vivid.
Leah at the entrance to the trail, ready to hike.
Steps are steep and today they were wet.
Happy? Yep. Doing what I love to do.
The prettiest girl in the room, even the big room.
Meandering nicely.
The falls fall in pieces.
And here's another piece.
The trail was wet, dangerous.
More steep steps.
Pampa the hikerman at the halfway point.
These guys grow on the logs and catch my eye every time.
This bench is a memorial to Bill Christmas, who died at 22 in 1978, perhaps on the trail. I don't know.
Little Red Leah-hood: Black and white and color.
Pampa in red.
Top of the falls.
This is the view from the top of the falls. Can't see the water.
Roses and a photo and a lot of questions why.
Leah coming down ...
... and down and down and down ...

Lynchburg Through the Years

This is a new installation by my artist friend Paul Clements in Lynchburg, downtown near the river.

The metal silhouettes represent the skylines of Lynchburg at different times in the city's history and they are backlit metal on concrete. Just gorgeous. A powerful statement on the Hill City's growth over the years. Gorgeous piece.

A Very Gaudy Christmas To You

This was the scene in Lynchburg last night. Can't 'splain it, Lucy, but I could sit there for a goodly while and gawk at it. Hmmmmm. The real meaning of Christmas? Who the hell knows?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

In Florida, Football Has Priority Over Rape

Women in Florida might as well yell at the wall.
As Juliet Macur writes in her indictment of Florida State football in this morning's NYTimes (here), Seminole fans, graduates and followers probably need to take a shower after Heismann winner Jameis Winston's student conduct trial recently.

He was cleared of raping a young student--who since has left the university and gets to live with a rape for the rest of her life--by a kangaroo court in which his only defense was to hesitatingly say the young victim "moaned" while he violated her. The judge took that to mean she approved.

I have been working a story on rape for the past three weeks and the testimony and the treatment by the justice system in this case is a classic example of why women don't report rape. They believe with some justification that little will be done, that the police simply don't believe them (police officials tell me this) and that they have little or no chance of doing anything but embarrassing themselves publicly. In the Florida State case, for example, the perpetrator's lawyer released the name of the victim. At the very, very best that is unethical and deserving of action by the Florida bar. But, hey, this is Florida and football is football. You know, boys will be boys.

An investigation by The Times has found just about everything wrong with the pursuit of Winston as a rapist and the clear suggestion is that Florida law enforcement officials believe football success to be far more important than a young woman's safety on a college campus.

Florida is and has been a Third World nation for some time now in many respects, but this pushes it even deeper into that netherworld of greed and misplaced priorities. Somebody somewhere along the line needs to make some serious changes and I don't think anybody in Florida has that capacity. It took the NYTimes, for example, to investigate both the case and the investigation of the case, both shoddy and criminally negligent.

I will not watch the Florida State playoff game coming up on New Year's, but I will openly hope that Oregon and its outrageous uniforms treat the Seminoles as the (in)justice system in Florida has treated the young woman and as Winston treated her, as well.

Christmas Eve: Tick, Tick, Tick ...

Who gets hathead at 8 a.m.? Hint: me.
OK, so now the Santa wait begins. It's rainy and warmish in Virginia and it feels like neither Wednesday, nor Christmas eve, but I see by the calendar on the lower right of my screen that it is both and computers don't lie.

Most of the gift-giving/getting is done and the visits have been full, rich and overflowing with calories. I have spent a pretty good bit of time in front of the stove, baking, cooking soups and stews and closing my eyes at the frightening number of calories staring me in the face. I didn't eat the baked goods because of the dang diabetes, but the soups and stews? Yep. Ate them and invited others to share.

This is the part of Christmas I like best: the anticipation, preparation and sharing of moments. It's like trout fishing, I suspect. I have, for example, finished Christmas shopping 11 times since August. Promised not to buy another thing.

This year, the Pampettes (Oz and Maddie, my grandkids) are spending their first yule in Spain and my only visit with them will come via FaceTime tomorrow. It will be morning my time, afternoon--and well past the excitement of pre-dawn--for them. I love seeing those little faces in the fullness of the moment, though I'm not especially taken with the overwhelming amount of goods we foist upon our children these days. But that's for another time. Right now, I think I'll just enjoy it.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Sad, Sad State of News Consumption in America

Time was when TV watching didn't involve political statements.
"America’s dominant news source is television, and the disparity between heavy viewers of TV news and everyone else is as startling as the gap between the plutocrats and the people."

That is from a Salon Magazine piece today (here) about just how ill informed Americans are. 

Most of us understand that while TV news is awful in general, cable news is the nadir. TV news is so bad, in fact, that it makes the declining state of newspapers look positively sunny by comparison. With that in mind, consider this: "A heavy local news viewer watches about 22 minutes of it a day at home, and a heavy network news viewer watches about 32 minutes a day.  But a heavy cable news consumer averages 72 minutes of it a day."

As to those who only watch one philosophically-friendly channel: "about one-quarter of American adults watch only Fox News, another quarter watch only CNN and 15 percent watch only MSNBC.  But 28 percent of Fox News viewers also watch MSNBC, and 34 percent of MSNBC viewers watch Fox. More than half of MSNBC viewers, and nearly half of Fox viewers, watch CNN, and of CNN’s viewers, about 4 out of 10 also watch Fox, and 4 out of 10 also watch MSNBC."

Marty Kaplan's story, noting the Pew Research, adds, "The top third of the country does 88 percent of the day’s TV news viewing; the middle third watches only 10 percent of the total time; the bottom third sees just 2 percent of the minutes of news consumed. Two-thirds of Americans live in an information underclass as journalistically impoverished as the minuscule bazillionaire class is triumphant."

 Writer Marty Kaplan concludes, "The danger democracy faces isn’t so much that different segments of our country inhabit alternative realities constructed from different data delivered by different news sources. It’s that a minority of the country watches a fair amount of news, and a majority may as well be living on the moon."

My only dispute with Kaplan is that the Americans who watch a lot of cable news are better off for it. A couple of years ago, a study concluded that those who watch Fox News knew less about what was going on in the country/world than those who consumed no news at all.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sexual Assault: 'Women at the Edges' Most Vulnerable

"Women at the margins are the ones who bear the brunt of the harshest realities, including sexual violence, and they do so with the least resources."

The heavy emphasis of late has been on sexual assault on college campuses, but that emphasis may be misplaced. The previous quote is from a study at American University by Callie Rennison and Lynn Addington on the vulnerability of women in our society to sexual assault. It is, of course, the poor and uneducated who are most frequently the victims.

Consider these study findings:
  • College students between 18 and 24 years old are raped at a rate of 6.1 per 1,000, while other women are at 8 per 1,000, 30 percent higher.
  • Poor women are victims of sex crimes at a rate that is 3.7 percent higher than middle income women and a jaw-dropping six times that of high income women.
  • Women in rental housing are assaulted at a rate of 3.2 times that of women in homes they own.
  • Single women with children have the highest rate of sexual assault, nine times that of married women with no children, 3.6 times that of married women with children and 3.2 times the rate of single women with no children.
  • Women without a high school diploma are sexually assaulted at four times the rate of women with a bachelor's degree.
Rennison, writing in the New York Times (here), notes, "The one risk factor that remains consistent whether women are advantaged or disadvantaged is age, and women ages 16 to 20 are sexually victimized at the highest rates."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

My Friends Get Hitched in a Viking Wedding

The newlyweds: Charisse and Jeff
My friends Jeffrey Rigdon and Charisse Asvor had a Viking wedding on Mill Mountain in Roanoke today. These are two of the very best people I know. They recently had a lovely girl baby and decided to tie the knot on this longest day of the year (longest ever, Jeff says).


Their little one.
It is the solstice and a good time for Vikings to get married. Wedding days for Vikings are normally on Friday, but the equinox is a pretty good incentive to change it to Sunday. Viking weddings most often last a week, but this one will likely be over late tonight, since work awaits. 

They were boiling mead on the mountain. Mead is a honey-based drink and with the wedding officially lasting a month, we get the term "honeymoon." This was a lovely wedding of two people of wildly different ages (Jeff's in his 60s, Charisse in her 20s); different ethnicities and different ... well, who cares? They are suited. You could tell from the smiles, the cracked jokes during the solemn moment, the quiet touches and glances.

I'm happy for both of them and for their little girl and all the grandkids and kids. It's a great blended and extended family.
Jeff with the mother of us all, Pearlie Mae Fu.
Jeff and his grandgirl.
Looking for diversity? Try this.
My friend Anne Sampson shoots the details.
Anne shoots me shooting her.
The ceremony.
More ceremony (that's Charisse's dad on the left).
Taking the pledge with a sword.
The new family.
A procession of Vikings.
Celebrating their friends.
The exotic bride.
The noble groom.
Charisse takes a moment for herself.
Anne looking all pretty.