Sunday, November 29, 2015

Picking Fuente Smart for Tech and Memphis

Shirley Raines
Justin Fuente, the head football coach at Memphis will follow Frank Beamer's 29 years at Virginia Tech with a brand of football the fans should appreciate. It is fast, high-scoring on offense and fast, fast, fast on defense. Fuente likes speed. He's a man of great energy who is in a hurry to kick your butt if you're on the other sideline.

My former sister-in-law, Shirley Raines, hired him a few years ago when Memphis was without both a coach and athletic director and was generally considered to be at the very bottom of the mid-majors as a job with possibilities. Other than a win over Peyton Manning when he was at Tennessee, I can't recall anything Memphis ever did, other than change its name from Memphis State and play a pretty good game of basketball.

Justin Fuente
Shirley, who is not a stranger to controversy, still elicits a kind of sexist mockery from the redneck white guys who sometimes follow Memphis, but to say she didn't know football is ludicrous. She and my brother--a two-time team captain at the college where he and Shirley met and fell in love--were deeply involved in football and she's always been a fan.

"I want to thank the person who decided to take a chance on a young, unknown coach. That person is Shirley Raines," said Fuente following the Miami Bowl, in which Memphis participated.

Eastman & Beaudine Management Consultants of Plano, Texas, was hired by Shirley to help a search committee that she led. She said Fuente’s “energy and enthusiasm” were at the top of the list of his attributes that impressed her.
My guess is that Fuente is a solid selection for a job where coaching--and not necessarily recruiting--is imperative. Beamer leaves good talent and Fuente has proved that he can win with players not at the elite level. You can also expect to be entertained by his offense. Keeping long-time defensive coordinator Bud Foster may or may not be a wise decision. It depends on how Foster feels about being second banana to the newbie. But Foster would do well to be grateful for the chance to continue to coach "his" defense. And Fuente needs to be grateful to have Foster in the fold.
Fuente was a great pick for Memphis and my suggestion for Memphis is that it bring Shirley back as a consultant to pick Fuentes' successor. Her record is 1-0. That's undefeated, I'd say.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Pottery Extravaganza in Bedford County

These are unfinished pieces in Bea's studio.
Pottery against a lovely backdrop.
My friend Bea Gutierrez held a show and sale at her Bedford County log cabin today and it drew a pretty dang good crowd to almost the middle of nowhere.

I drove out there, thinking it was about 35 miles from Roanoke and it turned out to be 65 miles and half an hour late for me who hates being late.

As usual, Bea made some lovely food and drink--all extraordinarily healthy and full bodied--but it was the pottery the crowd came to see. The word has circulated about her work and she has begun to sell quite a bit, much of it to the well-heeled.

Here is some of what I saw today at the home of Bea and her lovely husband, Paul.

Pots, cups and saucers in the Bea style.
Bea (in overalls) greets visitors.
Bea's mom-in-law Leah Weiss (right) and a customer chat.
Pottery on the porch.
Bea and a customer/friend.
Leah Weiss reflected in the window of the cabin.
Two beauties: Bea and her gorgeous friend Ann Schoew.
Bea talks pottery.
Bea's smile ...
... and her laugh ...
... are captivating.
Bea and her artist husband Paul Clements.

Ice Skating on a Warm Fall Day in Roanoke

The skating rink in Elmwood Park promotes quality family time.
Slipping on the ice skates.
It was probably 60 degrees when I went downtown Saturday morning to buy a Christmas gift for one of my posse members and I noted when I parked that the new ice skating rink in Elmwood Park was open and very busy.

Roanoke's parks department continues to understand its role in our lives and it has come up with a real winner here: an activity for all the family and a real boost for downtown Roanoke.

The faces projected sheer joy--especially the faces of the children--and parents joined while grandparents hovered along the rail watching and encouraging. This baby will be enormously popular and should quickly outgrow its limited space.

This big portable machine makes the ice.
The ice is "piped" to the rink (pipe on the right).
The setting is artistic and lovely.
A little help from Dad.
... In the age of photography.
The view from the amphitheatre.
Renting skates.
Getting ready to skate.
Putting it all together for a marvy urban winter (in the fall) experience.

Edible Christmas Dress at La De Da

Eat the dress and you can't fit into it.
This "dress" at La De Da in downtown Roanoke is all candy all the time and was created by Robyn Gross and Carole Hughes. Loise Bisese and Addy Bisese did the gluing.

Every year, owner Carole, designs a dress made of something not generally used in clothing and it is always a wonderful artistic success. This dress is composed of:
  • Bustier: Fruit Rollup and jelly beans;
  • Corset: Red Hots, Live Savers, licorce;
  • Overskirt and underskirt: Gummy Bears;
  • Necklace: Rock candy and jelly beans. 
One question remains: Who gets to eat the dress when it's days of entertaining are over?

Friday, November 27, 2015

Shopping on City Market; Protesting the Battle Flag

I'm getting ready to go to Roanoke City Market to purchase at least one Christmas gift. While I am there, I will tell the manager that I disapprove of the Confederate battle flag being flown in the Downtown Roanoke Inc. Christmas parade which is coming up in early December.

Most of the merchants in downtown are members of DRI and many--most--of them do not approve of the flag being part of the Christmas parade. I had earlier called for a boycott of downtown merchants, but that would be unfair. The flag represents slavery and war and has no place in a parade honoring the birth of Jesus.

I am not certain if DRI can legally ban the flag without also banning the American flag because of the parade's loose affiliation with the City of Roanoke. But DRI can disassociate from the city and fully sponsor the parade. That would make it private and it could, indeed, exclude the battle flag.

In any case, what I would like to see is people who oppose the flag's presence to speak up, wear black if they go to the parade and turn their backs when the flags pass. That is quiet, effective and expresses disapproval without any question.

Debating My Conservative Brother, Paul

My brother, Paul, and his daughter, Paula, at a 5K run Thanksgiving Day.
My brother, Paul, and I spent a good bit of time talking over Thanksgiving and while I knew he was more conservative than I am, it didn't occur to me just how conservative he is. No, we didn't get in a fistfight. The Smiths tend toward peaceful settlements when settlements can be reached and acceptance when they can't.

One of the drawbacks many families experience during gatherings is political differences. We don't seem to argue so much as we talk--sometimes surprising each other.

Paul said some things that aren't especially palatable to me in the realm of race, gender and international relations, but he's a man who generally has good sense, an intensely held sense of fair play and a solid intellect that most often leads him to good decisions. That's why he was the chairman of Asheville's Board of Variance, the second most powerful body in the Land of the Sky, for more than a decade. The board, as Paul describes it, "lets people get around the law," mostly for development, so it is not a position to be lightly considered.

Paul's not a guy who goes along to get along and he simply can't be bought, so the developers and lawyers trying to influence the board have most often tried to go around him. They've also found that his decisions--and the weight of them that influences others on the board--aren't always predictable. For example, when WalMart wanted to buy a thoroughly polluted and decayed former bleach plant along the French Broad River, the Asheville progressive community was up in arms.

Paul favored WalMart's request because "it was the only institution with enough money and will to clean the dang property up." And WalMart cleaned it up, created a park and a greenway. People with my political philosophy had to admit Paul was right.

In other cases, he decided that "the city was just wrong" for a decision and he bucked the professional planners--something you don't want to do because they tend to be an arrogant bunch--talking in his straightforward, blunt way to them and in one case saying, "As a member of this board, I apologize for characterizing that property as a junk heap, but as a citizen, I say it is a junk heap."

He calls me a "liberal, liberal, progressive, socialist." One "liberal" is not enough and he knows how I hate the term "progressive" (it's for soft-headed weenies, who are let Rush Limbaugh get away with demonizing "liberal," a noble word and a noble philosophy). He says he is not necessarily a Republican (he registered as one when he was 18 because "Mama told me to"), but he leans heavily that way on most issues (immigration being foremost). I never knew Mom had any thought at all on politics.

 He's liberal on gay rights ("I don't care who you marry. Don't affect me"). He hates the Affordable Care Act because it costs him a good chunk of extra change every year (he has and has had a good income for years) and believes small business regulation is beyond excessive and into the realm of oppressive (he's right).

When I got home yesterday, I ran into this missive, explaining how in 2016, the Republican "revolution" will be smashed and the left will pretty much take over. It will be a temporary reprieve for my side because the Republicans will regroup, come up with some sense and become competitive again--at least partly because the Democrats will engage in the same excess the ruling party always falls into.

Still, the country is changing dramatically, as the essay suggests. Paul is seeing it in Asheville where old slums are becoming gentrified and outlanders with new ideas are taking over the city government. Paul says that recently the liberal government was tossed out for one even more liberal. He feels like a stranger in his own hometown.

I think there are many Americans feeling that way with the growth of minority groups, the power of women and a sharp turn in attitudes (fewer churchgoers, more who favor full rights for alternative lifestyles and the like).

Here's what's happening, according to the essay:

"A majority of U.S. households are headed by unmarried people, and, in cities, 40 percent of households include only a single person. Church attendance is in decline, and non-religious seculars now outnumber mainline Protestants. Three-quarters of working-age women are in the labor force, and two-thirds of women are the breadwinners or co-breadwinners of their households.

"The proportion of racial minorities is approaching 40 percent, but blowing up all projections are the 15 percent of new marriages that are interracial. People are moving from the suburbs to the cities. And in the past five years, two-thirds of millennial college graduates have settled in the 50 largest cities, transforming them.

"Shifting attitudes were underscored in this year’s Gallup Poll when 60 to 70 percent of the country said gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, sex between an unmarried man and woman, and divorce are all “morally acceptable."

That's encouraging to people who believe as I do, threatening to people in Paul's corner. What I'd like is for us all to sit back, talk about it and come up with something we can all live with. As Paul and I do.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Turkey Day Run and the Firemen Show Up

Big group of firemen in full turnout head toward the finish line.
The winner flies to the finish.
My niece got up early this morning to run in the Thanksgiving Day 5K in downtown Asheville and I thought the least I could do would be to photograph her and the festivities.

This is much like Roanoke's Drumstick Dash, which benefits the Rescue Mission (and boy! does it benefit the Rescue Mission), but I have no idea who the sponsor is. This one drew about 2,000 runners on a clear, brisk, perfect morning and the main ingredient I saw in the run was that the runners had a heck of a lot of fun.

My neice, Paula, and brother, Paul.
There was a group of 10 firemen (all men or I'd call them something else) who ran the 3.2 miles in full turnout gear ... and not a one seemed to break a sweat. Runners came in contests and some took the whole thing entirely too seriously. I would have loved to have given the guys running with their girlfriends and spouses a mini-seminar about how to finish a race: stop just before the finish, bow and let your lady finish ahead of you. That's points into next week for grace. Sigh.

Here's some of what we saw today.

The race is on.
Paula (right) and her posse.
Loved this guy's 'stash.
First woman to finish was tiny, but a blazer.
Bad Christmas sweaters were encouraged.
Fireman sprints home.
Why are these turkeys laughing?
Paul encourages Paula at the finish line.

Gratitude: All of My Family

Today, I am thankful for:

Family and all its permutations. Mine is extended, ranging from down the street to across the big water and I love every member, including those not related to me by blood.

I will avoid names because of the risk--at my age--of omitting one or two, but I'm surrounded today by blood family and later this evening, I will be with the woman I love and her family. My dearest friends have mostly been in touch by phone or e-mail with extraordinary warmth. Even some of those who needle me endlessly over my politics have wished me and mine well in keeping with the season.

There is great warmth and love in my life, much of it family, some of it outside those confines. And for that, I am deeply grateful.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Evening of Remembering Family

Becky, Sandy, me, Paul, Jackie, Paula at dinner.
Sandy and I  spend some time chatting this afternoon.
My brother, Paul, said he heard the other day that when the family gets together for Thanksgiving, there are three topics that should never discussed: "politics, what happened the last time you got together, and I forget the other."

We violated two of those tonight and probably would have violated the other if we'd known what it was. But it was a hell of a lot of fun and reminded me of exactly what it was like growing up in a big family (there were eight kids).

We're in Asheville, my hometown, where Paul and my sister, Becky, still live. Paul was in rare form in giving the Land of the Sky (what the natives call it) a tough review.

"You can tell everybody this is heaven for liberals," said Paul, who does not lean left like his brother does. Asheville had a heavily leftist city council  recently that was tossed out in favor of one further to the left, who are hell bent on creating a gentrified city in the areas that had been depressed. Asheville has always been an expensive city to live in, but has suffered from low wages. My mentor, Al Geremonte, used to tell me that, "If you're going to live in Asheville, you have to consider the mountans as part of your salary," and that's still the situation.

It has also always been a city for artistic temperament and alternative lifestyles. Still does. Gay people love Asheville and are genuinely welcomed here. "It's the San Francisco of the South," says my brother.

It is also a traffic nightmare. I drove from north to west in Asheville today and it was a madhouse of stacked traffic and impenetrable exit and on ramps. I was to stay at my friend Pete Krull's tonight, but I had to cancel that because I didn't feel like I could get across town.

I've talked to several people today, asking a serious question: Should I continue to recommend my hometown as a place to live. The closest I got to an endorsement was, "Maybe, but not for long." This is a lovely city with a lot to recommend it. I think city council wants to retain what's here and limit growth, but as my brother points out, "There are people who need to earn a living from this economy" and no growth won't help them. It's a tough call and I'm glad I live in Roanoke and can still visit here.

An Evening with Lovely People

Allison and Meghann cleaning up after dinner.
Spent a joyful evening last night with my Margie and her lovely daughter Megann and Meg's dear Allison. These are two talented (dancer and an actor), lovely, smart, curious young women in the fullness of life, living the dream in New York City.

We did a complete role reversal. Margie's TV croaked yesterday, so she went out and bought a new one. Meg and Ali put the TV together while I prepared a meal of stuffed salmon, caramelized apples,  whipped cheese broccoli, red cabbage cole slaw and yeast rolls.

These two act and dance in the cultural capital of America and drink deeply of a lively city, enjoying a wealth of friends and all the good that New York implies. They are happy people with smiles that have obviously been used a great deal.

I feel fortunate to know them and I understand now why Margie is so proud of her young one.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mamie Vest: A Courtly Southern Lady

Mamie Vest
Mamie Vest always insisted she was a moderate Republican and when I reminded her that "moderate" and "Republican" created an oxymoron, she bristled, "Well I am one."

Indeed, she was. Mamie, until the very end and against enormous odds, remained temperate, intelligent, thoughtful and occasionally forceful in her beliefs.

Mamie, who died Saturday, was in advertising most of her adult life and among her clients in the 1970s, '80s and '90s were Republican politicians, including some big Virginia names.

She and I locked horns often over former Rocky Mount Congressman Virgil Goode, a man I considered a level lower than Congressman Morgan Griffith of the 9th District in intelligence. She staunchly defended him as "a good man." She occasionally rolled her eyes at the antics of today's Republican politicians.

Mamie, a native of Floyd, was a courtly southern lady who lived and died--at 77--with grace.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Au Revoir, Happy's

Happy's was more alive today than at any other time this year.
Farmer Simon Wagner will miss friends.
This was the Happy's I remember: alive, warm and sunny, smiling, excited, money changing hands, a wide demographic of shoppers. In recent months, it has been anything but those things, mostly because it was under a threat that would eventually lead to it closing.

That happens tomorrow.

First, the inside of the big building--one that started as a grocery store--was deemed too wobbly to have people inside and now the outside, where many of the vendors escaped to, will close at the end of business on Sunday.

Simon Wagner, a Franklin County farmer who has been selling his exotic Asian vegetables (which he grows) for 25 years at Happy's, says he is sad because he will miss his friends. "It is really a shame," he says. "I see a lot of well-to-do, high society people who come from all over to shop here."

Mama Johnson's stand.
Simon is married to a Vietnamese woman (he met her in Vietnam) and together they farm 26-acre plot within the campus at Ferrum College. "I pioneered fresh Asian vegetables in the Roanoke Valley," he says.

Simon says (couldn't resist that; sorry) Ferrum "has been after me to grow the vegetables for their dining room for a long time," but he likes growing the exotic and a contract there would mean he'd grow the mundane. His farm, he says, "is high tech. You'd be surprised."

He calls his Happy's experience "a good adventure." And, he assures--like so many of the regulars--"I'll be back."

Simon's is one of two large produce stands at Happy's. The second is Reyna Produce, a Hispanic stand that will move next door (5324 Williamson Road) beginning next week. The owners of this stand (one of my favorite places to buy fresh food) have been planning the departure for weeks and will land softly with a couple of other vendors in the neighborhood. The small restaurant that is with Reyna will also move.

Today I picked up some big, crisp stamen apples from Doris Johnson, the best I've seen anywhere this year. Doris is 83 and before the inside of Happy's closed, she'd been considered the grand dame there for the past 10 years. "Everybody calls me 'Mama,'" she says with a hint of satisfaction.

Mama not only sells fresh fruit, but she pickles damn near anything that grows and her chow-chow and apple butter are simply toe-curling. She's "moving to the antique shop's parking lot across the street," she says, "but it will only be Monday-Thursday. I don't want to get to far away from my customers and that spot was open."

Mama says she uses her Happy's exposure to minister to the customers. "It's about the Lord," she says. A lot of people would agree.

Tools are always popular at Happy's.
A sign on the deteriorating building.
I bought socks and watch caps here.
Closed doors with directions to new locations for vendors.
Setting up beside the building.
Simon Wagner with two Hispanic customers for his Asian veggies.
Asian veggies at Wagner Farm's stand.
Now, that's a doll!
Young woman at Reyna Produce (right) scrapes cactus for sale. I once grilled it and it's very good.
Not sure what a "frozen egg" is.
Long shadows in the morning sun.
"Sad Sack" helmet from World War II.
Mickey and Minnie ready for Christmas.
People were out in force looking for treasures one more time at Happy's.
Doris (Mama) Johnson fills up a bag with some of her apples.
Remember it as it was: A great place to mix a wide, wild variety of interesting people.