Saturday, February 28, 2015

Road Trip: A Lovely Old Mill in Amherst Co.

This is my post card shot of the Brightwell Mill in Madison Heights.
As promised, here's the second half of Saturday's road trip from Roanoke to the Lynchburg/Amherst County area for a hike and some sight-seeing in the snow. This part of the trip wound up at the beautiful old abandoned Brightwell Mill, a 19th Century facility that operated as a general store until a few years ago when the old man who ran it finally died.

This place is simply beautiful, especially in the snow and with the sun providing an azure sky and soft light on the wooden building. Here it is in color and black and white.
This is the 19th Century look at the mill.
This building was across the street and was likely for storage.
The mill wheel sits idle as water flows over the dam.
This is Leah and meah, framed by the mill.

A Beautufil Winter Hike Along the James

The frozen water from the rocks along the path make for a lovely setting.
It's even pretty in black and white.
Took my new Pampamobile out for its first road trip and wound up with a double. Pictured here is the first part: a walk along the snow-covered and frozen solid Blackwater Trail beside the James River in Lynchburg.

It was not a long hike, but because of the frozen snow, it was slow and difficult. My friend Leah and I both came perilously close to falling on the ice, even as we posed with it.

I was taken aback to see several runners, mostly because walking was enough of a challenge for a normal human being. But they seemed both happy and careful. One young woman and man made their way over thick ice into the tunnel about halfway up the Blackwater and began running again as soon as they hit the pavement. Impressive.

It was cold and beautiful, as a good winter hike should be. Here's some of what it looked like. (I'll have the trip over to Amherst County to a 19th Century mill tomorrow. Man, that thing is a beauty to behold.)

The fountain in the James River was frozen solid at its base, but still spouting its tall column of water.
This old red warehouse is stunning.
The path was mostly covered with snow.
Leah stopped to pick an icicle.
Pampa stopped just to be pretty. Heh, heh, heh ...
Leah and the ice in perspective.
The tunnel is simply eerie in a gorgeous way.
These young runners are being careful.
Somebody said, "Don't eat yellow snow." I didn't

Gratitude: Making a Definitive Positive Statement

Today, I am grateful for:

Rays of sunshine on cloudy days.

When I arose this morning--at 6:30--it was predawn and the sun was about 30 minutes away. I looked out my side door and saw this little ray of sunshine in the driveway, and I thought, "Yes. That's it. Sunshine." My punchbuggy now has a name.

I understand that this is just a car. Some people say it is not a very good car--trouble with electrical systems, especially--but I don't look at it that way. It is a statement for me. It says, "Life is wonderful; it is fun; it is exciting; it is full of rocks in the road, but that's what rubber tires are for."

Road trip today. Me and Sunshine. Cool enough for you?

Me and the boys and my new CLOG! shirt. Yay!

How Strong Is That Snow Again?

It's 7 o'clock Saturday morning, 25 degrees, and 8 inches of snow is resting on the ground in my front yard. The snow is frozen. This is a photo of me--all 205 pounds of me--standing on the snow. It is not breaking through. It did not break when I walked across it. One hopes the spring thaw is not far behind.

Friday, February 27, 2015

First Yoga Class: It's a Bitch!

No, that's not me and it will never be me. But I'll be back.
This morning at 8 o'clock, there I was, stretching to beat hell, fighting my first yoga class. This stuff's supposed to be easy--at least from all I've heard--and let me tell you it ain't. I am so happy I didn't start my new exercise regimen with yoga. I would have quit after the first class.

I have been involved in stretching and building strength for about the last six weeks and I needed every bit of that to get through this class ... and my teacher tells me it's one of the easier ones. So, do I go back? Yeh. I do. And I work my ass off so I'll get it.

What I have built so far has been of so much value that I simply will not let it go.

Pampa's New Ride: Yellow Punchbuggy

Here's the new Pampa Punchbuggy.
An orchid on the dasy.
About Wednesday of this week, for reasons that have absolutely no basis in anything, I started jonesing for a VW bug. I've never owned one and, like the Converse All-Stars I had to have last year, I couldn't get away from the thought. So I started doing some research and by late Wednesday evening, I had found the one I wanted: a sunflower yellow little guy that I just fell in love with.

Went to the dealer yesterday, met with a delightful young woman named Tiffany Dobbs who did everything right in trying to sell me the car, but her boss wouldn't give me the deal I wanted, so I left. Swallowed my pride this morning, called Tif and said, "I want the damn car. This is probably the stupidest decision I'll make for the next ... well ... few hours anyway.

This morning--actually about noon--I drive away with my car and I'm really digging it. Like really. This is the only car I've ever had that has a receptical for a flower on the dash. Screw cupholders (though I have plenty of them), I have an orchid on my dash.

So, I Facetimed my grandgirl Madeline, who has also had a thing for VW Bugs for a while (she calls them Punchbuggies, as in "Yellow Punchbuggy! No punchback" at which point, she wallops me). She loved the little yellow car, which gave me all the permission I needed. Here it is.

By the way, I kept my truck. Can't fit my kayaks into the Punchbuggy.

Pampa in the Pampamobile.

Another Celebration in Spain

Maddie on the move.
The perfect cap to a lovely girl.
The Spanish tend to throw a festival for just about anything and since tomorrow is "el Dia de Andalucia," school is out and my grandgirl Madeline got ready yesterday by wearing her flamenco outfit. (Andalucia is the province where Cordoba rests and Cordoba is home.)

The kid has some growing to do to fill it out, but she looks great as a Spanish dancer here. Maddie loves living in Spain, I suspect.

Yes, my best girl is growing up fast. She's 10 in March.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Confederate Flags Will Continue To Fly in DRI Parades

A mass of Confederate flags at St. Patrick's Day Parade in Roanoke.
"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Shakespeare in Henry the Sixth

So, I'm down with that.

Lawyers tend to make the logical impossible, tend to pour crude oil into the bathtub waters of the Bahamas. I'm seeing that with the Downtown Roanoke Inc. efforts to make its parades appealing to all, offensive to none. I get the lawyers' point that everybody's freedom of speech must be protected--and I agree with it--but there must be a way to tone down the Confederate flag rhetoric and its impact on a large segment of our population, and not just the African-Americans who count slaves among their ancestors.

The committee that is looking into this issue has been reasonable and reasoned, creative and deliberate, and, frankly, its decisions about the St. Patrick's Day Parade in March, reached in a furious rush of activity, has been impressive.

It has created a a manageable number of entries (108), taught those entering to abide by deadlines, ensured that 40 percent of the entries have floats, structured the parade so that it won't stop for long periods or have large gaps between entries, but those Confederate flags will fly. That's just the way it is at the moment.

My issue was never with the St. Patrick's Day Parade, however. It was with the Confederate flag being flown in the Christmas parade, creating an obnoxious confrontation during the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace. We have time to work on that, if we can get the lawyers--and maybe even the law--to be flexible and the Sons of the Confederacy, et. al. (there are three Confederate groups in the St. Patrick's Day Parade) to try to understand objections and be respectful to those objecting. I won't count on that happening, but we can work toward it.

Note: Not All Tea Parties Are Political

It is truly sad when our language is simply stolen from under us. That was the case this morning when I got the following press release from Taylor Ricotta about a Tea Party. I thought it was a political right-wing gathering. It was not. Here's the release (enough of it so you get the gist, anyway):

Princesses to Impart Anti-Bullying, Confidence Inspiration with Tea Party

ROANOKE, VIRGINIA, FEBRUARY 23, 2015 - Mission-based Pixie Dust Princess Headquarters and the Patrick Henry Ballroom and Conference Center are pleased to announce a Princess Tea Party. The event will be held on February 28, 2015, where girls are invited to enjoy manicures, pedicures, hairstyling, crowns, and much more.

For information, you may reach Shay Brown at 540-892-4932 or email her at

Sigh. Manicures and tiaras, huh?

Another Breakthrough in Addiction Understanding from VTC-RI?

Read Montague: Reverse engineer addiction?
The Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke has been doing some vital work in understanding addiction and Read Montague's new breakthrough could be significant. The latest findings have to do with perception and reality. Here is a Tech press release on the topic:

Two identical cigarettes led to a discovery by scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. Study participants inhaled nicotine, yet they showed significantly different brain activity. Why the difference? Some subjects were told their cigarettes were nicotine free.

"Our research group has begun to show that beliefs are as powerful a physical influence on the brain as neuroactive drugs," says Read Montague, director of the Computational Psychiatry Unit at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute and lead author of a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Nicotine has formidable effects throughout the brain, especially in the reward-based learning pathways. Nicotine teaches the brain that smoking leads to reward. Once the brain learns that correlation, the addictive chemical cycle is difficult to break. In this study, scientists tracked the brain responses using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
"We suspected that we would be able to see neural signals based on the subjects' belief rather than their actual nicotine intake," says Montague. After smoking cigarettes, volunteers played a reward-based learning game while their brains were scanned. The subjects viewed a historical stock price graph, made an investment, and repeated the cycle multiple times.
Researchers used computational models of learning signals thought to be generated by the brain during these kinds of tasks. In each subject, the individually tracked signals were specifically influenced by beliefs about nicotine.
Montague and his team found that the people who believed they had smoked nicotine cigarettes made different choices and had different neural signals than the other participants, despite the fact that both groups had consumed the same substance.  They also found people who believed they had smoked nicotine had significantly higher activity in their reward-learning pathways. Those who did not believe they had smoked nicotine did not exhibit those same signals. "It was the belief alone that modulated activity in the learning pathway," Montague says. "This goes beyond the placebo effect."
Multiple studies support the placebo effect, showing sham treatments can improve a patient's condition simply because the person believed it would be helpful. In the current study, however, researchers found belief alone could actually erase or enhance the effects of nicotine in participants who were under the influence of the active drug.

"Nothing is more convincing than how a drug can make you feel differently," Montague said. "A drug can induce a belief state, which itself causes the change." Scientists might be able to harness this belief system, capable of inducing physiological changes, to reverse-engineer addiction. "Just as drugs micromanage the belief state, maybe we can micromanage beliefs to better effect behavior change in addiction."

A Thing of Beauty Is a Joy Forever

OK, so complain if you will, but the new-fallen snow this morning is truly a thing of beauty. Now, where'd I put that snow shovel?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

'Obamacare for Internet' Gets a Victory

Here's another quiet victory for Barack Obama over the forces of darkness (and in this case, it would be a monopoly on what information you received via the internet). Republicans have conceded that the president has winning support for his net neutrality stance and have conceded victory, in what they call "Obamacare for the Internet."

A NYTimes story today reports the FCC committee ruling on net neutrality will meet "Thursday to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. While the two Democratic commissioners are negotiating over technical details, they are widely expected to side with the Democratic chairman, Tom Wheeler, against the two Republican commissioners."

This may not be the end of the argument, however, because vested interests are likely to take this to court (mostly Republican these days) and if the commission gets a Republican majority in the near future (say, a Republican presidential appointment), the ruling will likely be overturned in favor of the huge cable companies. Republicans like BIG businesses, don't much like the middle class or small business.

Liba Rubenstein of Tumblr put the issue in a nutshell when she said, "“We don’t have an army of lobbyists to deploy. We don’t have financial resources to throw around. What we do have is access to an incredibly engaged, incredibly passionate user base, and we can give folks the tools to respond.” Power to the people.

Coming Attractions at Tech: Journalism, Cooking

At Tech, a chance to learn to cook.
A couple of completely different opportunities to learn at Virginia Tech loom on the horizon and they are about as different—and appealing—as they can be. One’s about journalism, the other cooking … two topics dear to my heart.

First, Virginia Tech chefs, who have helped the university earn national recognition for its dining services, will share their skills at the Culinary Camp for Adults, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. March 9 to March 11 in the Turner Place kitchen at Lavery Hall. The cmap costs $295. Register here

Mark Moritz, executive chef at Turner Place at Lavery Hall, will teach basic knife skills and cooking techniques to help improve home cooking skills. Chef de Cuisine Charles Morse will facilitate camp alongside Moritz.

The first day of camp will focus on knife skills and breads, followed by a day learning about roasting, sautéing, and other cooking techniques. On the final day of camp, the emphasis will be on desserts.
Tech also offers several camps for those under 18. Info is here

Richard Harris of NPR.
Then, National Public Radio science reporter  will be the College of Engineering’s visiting Scholar on Mar. 31 and April 1 and on April Fool’s day, he will talk about "Using the tools of science and journalism to make a difference," at 4 p.m. in 190 Goodwin Hall on the Virginia Tech campus. The talk is free and open to everybody.

 Harris, who is now focusing on biomedical research in his reporting, has traveled to all seven continents for NPR. His reports have originated from Timbuktu, the South Pole, the Galapagos Islands, Beijing during the SARS epidemic, the center of Greenland, the Amazon rain forest, the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro for a story about tuberculosis, and Japan to cover the nuclear aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Study: Marijuana Least Harmful Rec Drug

A new study published in the current issue of Scientific Reports tells us all something we already knew, but it could still be important: marijuana, of all the most-used recreational drugs is the least harmful.

Marijuana was tested along with alcohol, tobacco, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, methamphetamine, diazepam, amphetamine and methadone and was found to have "the lowest risk of mortality and is safer than the commonly used alcohol and tobacco, as well as the rest of the drugs in the study."

Researchers conclude that "legal regulation of cannabis might be a more reasonable approach than current prohibitions."

Those conducting the study "determined the risk of mortality by comparing the lethal dose of each substance with a commonly used amount of each substance."

According to a story on the report (here), "Marijuana is so much less risky than alcohol and tobacco that the researchers say their results point toward developing policies that prioritize managing the risks associated with alcohol and tobacco, rather than the illicit drugs in the study. Further, the low risk of cannabis use suggests government should use 'a strict legal regulatory approach rather than the current prohibition approach' to manage the substance."

I am not one to recommend that anybody use marijuana or any other recreational mood changer, but I believe our drug laws are simply nuts and need a little reason behind them. If cigarettes are legal, for chrissakes, then possession of marijuana should not be a jail offense. Tobacco kills more than 400,000 Americans a year.

My guess is marijuana is responsible for no more than a handful of deaths a year (if that), far less, for example, than AIDs. writes, "An exhaustive search of the literature finds no credible reports of deaths induced by marijuana." It says the amount of THC (a chemical in MaryJane required to kill you) would be found in 30,000 marijuana cigarettes.

Corned Beef Hash, the Right Way

One of my favorite foods on the face of the planet is corned beef hash, but it has to be prepared just right and that's not easy.

Note that the hash above has a brown crust on it and onions and bell peppers mixed in. You must have the right pan or the hash will make a messy sticky goo that burns and ruins your pan. You have to cook it hot enough to create the crust and cool enough to keep it from sticking. It's a delicate procedure, but when it's right it's yummy.

Rape: They're Still Blaming the Victims

The March/April issue of the Roanoker Magazine has a piece I did on rape (RAPE: Speaking About the Totally Unspeakable) that I consider one of the more important I've written. It features interviews with several women who have been raped over the years--some more than once or even twice--and the aftermath of those rapes. It is a powerful piece.

(The magazine has been delivered to subscribers and will be in grocery stores soon. It will be on line the first of the month. It is at

And then, we find atrocities like the above collection of elected officials who simply will never get that rape is a vicious crime of control, not of sex. It has little to do with sex, except that the sex act is mimicked in some cases. There is a supreme irony in rape: an act of human closeness, of love and of trust is distorted into this inhuman act of violence that is exceeded only by murder.

My friend Mary Miller in Blacksburg sent me a Facebook message saying, "Just this week I saw a news report on an Orlando Station reporting a rape. The victim did everything right and went directly to police - The reporter said in closing - . . . she was raped but not physically harmed.

My response: "I'll bet the reporter--and the editor--was a man. No woman would ever say she was "not physically harmed" following a rape. The police investigator I talked to for the rape story in the Roanoker, who's been doing these investigations for 40 years, said that police often say the victim was not harmed because she didn't have the absolute hell beaten out of her in addition to the rape."

Men get away with it because society lets them, blaming the rapes on the victim in most cases. I discovered in the course of researching the story that the vast majority--the VAST majority--of police officers believe the woman is responsible in most rapes. Bad start for the victim.

She is shamed and accused right off the bat, after being violated and humiliated. Is it any wonder women react with such visceral hatred at the very mention of rape?

It is a sad and hateful state we find ourselves in when our own representatives--the same ones denying climate change, equal pay for equal work, voting rights for non-Republican demographics, fair taxation of the wealthy and of corporations, so many logical and potentially effective issues--are among the people blaming rape victims. There's just no damn sense in any of this.

Monday, February 23, 2015

At Valley View, the Post-Snow Piles

The snowbank was a little higher than the van.
Piled and ugly.
A quick walk over to Valley View Mall a little earlier gave an indication of just how much snow all those motorized movers were dealing with over the last couple of days.

 It didn't say how long these piles will sit there, but my guess is they'll be there well into March. Here's some of what I saw.

Snow movers taking a little rest.
This is the middle of the parking lot at Belk's.
That's me trying to measure up.

A Rare Moment of Peace

My daughter-in-law, Kara, said that just a few minutes ago, she caught the kidlings in a calm moment. "It lasted about 10 seconds." But she got it on film to prove it happened. That's Maddie and Oz brother and sistering it.

Hey, Pampa: What's for Supper?

Hmmm. How about a slightly out of focus, fall-apart at the touch, pork rib roast, sauteed baby kale in garlic and olive oil, creamed corn and a light baby greens salad with Spanish olive oil and white balsamic vinegar? That work for you?

Oscar: A Call for Equality (and the Right's Response)

Patricia Arquette: Equal pay for equal work. How novel.
I see where the political right is raising holy hell over Patricia Arquette's Oscar acceptance speech which asked for equal treatment and pay for women actors and is screaming "liberal discrimination" at the lack of awards for "American Sniper."

Here's a piece of what the 46-year-old actress said upon accepting the Oscar: "The truth is, even though we sort of feel like we have equal rights in America under the surface, there are huge issues that are at play that really do affect women, so it’s time all the women in America and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

The right is always looking for something to bitch about, but I ask one question about Miss Arquette's plea: What is there to oppose here? She is simply asking equal treatment/pay for equal work. Is that something the right opposes or is the opposition simply to anything the right perceives Obama supports (and that labor might support, as well)?

Can I add my voice to the din and say that "Mr. Turner," a simply superb British movie--one without pretty stars--was nominated in several categories and shut out, and that "Selma," which the left loved (I didn't, left or not), won nothing of significance?

This is another case where the 24/7 "news" and talk show cycle reaches for anything to fill time and space and gets us all into trouble by manufacturing issues. There are no issues here. So shut the hell up.

The Results of the Extreme: More Extremity

This poster, making the rounds on Facebook today, is disgusting to many of us, whether or not we support Barack Obama. It should be. But it exists because a fringe element--this one on the right--has seen fit to oppose the president in ways that are extreme in order to make the point that they are racists or that they oppose the president or both.

We are in a society where the middle has been completely obscured by the far edges and we are paying for that division with a level of hatred that accompanies the gap. 

This is not new. Johnson, Nixon, Clinton, Bush II were all despised and reviled for their views. Bush II was often depicted as a monkey. Jefferson had migraine headaches throughout his presidency because of the hatred he felt. Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Grant, both Roosevelts, Hoover: hated. Jimmy Carter, reviled.

The hatred, I'm afraid, is not going anywhere so long as we are divided, but we could begin to learn a little about being honorable. That seems either to have been lost or never to have been a substantial part of the political equation.

I'm guilty of inappropriate remarks about Bush II, Cheney, Nixon, Johnson. Nixon and Johnson, Bush and Cheney were responsible for wars that killed thousands of innocents--on both sides of the shooting--for reasons that were never acceptable. I consider them all to be war criminals. But not monkeys. I'm not sure that's being fair to the monkey ... but I digress.

I suspect that if we could get away from the frustrated name-calling, we might begin to make progress. If I've learned anything in the years of writing this blog, it is that screaming at the opposition only brings returned screams.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How Cold Did You Say It Is?

From the "a picture is worth 1,000 words" reference point, here are 1,000 words about the weather of late.

Gratitude: A Happy Kind of Day (Week)

This is my friend Anne Sampson and it's how I feel.
Today, I am grateful for:

That general degree of endorphin high that visits occasionally. I'm kinda on a roll of late and even the nuisance of the heavy and persistent snow and ice has done nothing but help re-focus the energy. It has not dulled the interest or the contentment a bit.

I'm happy. And I won't argue with that or question it. I think I'll just enjoy it.

Photos: The Ice Man Cometh

This is the ship's bell on my deck.
Here are a couple of views of the ice on my Edinburgh Drive mansion this morning at about 8:15, just as I finished shoveling the snow (for the 34th time in two days). As you can see, the ice has taken over from the snow, even though it's 40 degrees outside. I don't understand the physics of weather and won't pretend to understand why the snow didn't freeze when it was 7 degrees, but is forming icicles when it's 40.

In any case, this is as much a warning as anything else. This stuff is slicker than greased owl poo and quite heavy. It will bend or break a cheap snow shovel. (Go to Northwest Hardware and get a real snow shovel. It's $25 instead of $20 and it will last as long as your kids, who don't want to go out on their own).

Yes, it's pretty. Very, very pretty. But please be careful.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Gratitude: Learning Hot To Relax

Today I am grateful for:

The relaxation exercises my coach has taught me in stretch class. I used the exercises today to lie on the bed and go lights out for a restful nap on a snowy day. That has not always been a thing of ease and beauty, but today it was.

My coach uses her lovely voice in class to soothe, but the relaxation progression, beginning with my toes and going, step-by-step, to my eyebrows can't help but send me into a state of complete relaxation in less than five minutes.

It's really cool.

Photos: The Delicate Beauty of New Fallen Snow

This is the cherry tree in my back yard. It is rarely as beautiful as it is today.
My ship's bell on the deck.
Sometimes all you have to do to get interesting photos is stick the camera out the doorway and release the shutter. George Smith, the late photographer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch once said of his photographic philosophy: "F8 and be there." That works.

Here is some of what is outside my backdoor at this moment.

The gas grill has a hat.
My kayaks are under a blanket now.
The sun ain't gonna shine an-y mooooore ...
The Norfolk pines are big and heavy.
The big oak is next door.