Sunday, July 31, 2016

'How Terribly Strange To Be 70'

Margie and me in D.C. yesterday. The air was hot, the feet cool.
I wrote that Paul Simon line for my mother on her 70th birthday in February of 1985. It all seemed "terribly strange" to me then, even as becoming old had the first time I heard the song sung on the Simon & Garfunkel album "Bookends." The title was "Old Friends" and Simon wrote it about old Jews in the park in New York hanging out in a way that was strange to the young songster.

"Old friends, sat on the park bench like bookends; A newspaper blows through the grass, falls on the round toes of the high shoes of the old friends ..."

Old people are, indeed "terribly strange" to young people and I suspect we are even stranger to ourselves and to each other. The standard joke among those attending 50th or 60th reunions is, "Who the hell were all those old people?"

I turned 70 today and I've been practicing for six months telling people about it. I'm adjusting. Still. 70 is not a real number. "I'm only as old as I feel," I keep trying to convince myself and at the same moment I realize another part has failed to work, has fallen off, has become useless. My brain works fine--except when it doesn't--and it keeps saying, "Hey, look at that pretty young girl. What fun it would be if ..." Actually, no, it wouldn't. I can't do what I did. Can't really even think about it seriously.

Taking time to break the rules.
Being 70 means understanding my assignments and none of those includes hotties. There's a lot I can no longer do because of various physical restrictions. I've spent a lot of time since my 40th birthday replacing old activities with new ones--mostly physical. My knee replacement three years ago, restored a lot I had lost and replacement technology makes a lot possible. But it can't make me 25.

At 70 I understand a lot more than I did at 25, 35, 45, 55 ... but I don't know that the knowledge is much of a benefit. I understand politics, for instance. That's like having a personal relationship with the devil. Does it do me any good? No. It only makes my days longer, worrying about what my generation will leave the next. Will Donald Trump be our gift to the future?

I have accomplished far more than I ever dreamed and in some cases, more than I even wanted to. I never had much money, but that was never a goal. I've written books, won awards, loved well and hard (and unwell and unhard), known my grandkids, overcome alcoholism (for 20-plus years), seen my kids grow up and become what I had hoped, owned a home and a business, made friends who've been around for many years, experienced adventure at high levels and ... well ... lived. Not always well, not always successfully, but as fully as I could.

At 70, I can look back and smile. And I can look ahead and anticipate a good bit more to come.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Out of the Woods and Into the Woods

Madeline (inside left) and her fellow campers as Superheroes.
The girls made this flag.
Today was Madeline's last day at Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival School camp for middle school girls and we went straight from the Craig County camp to Mill Mountain Theatre's production of "Into the Woods." My biggest worry? Did Maddie have fresh underwear (she did)?

The camp was all it was promised to be by my friend Dina Bennett, who came up with the idea of bringing in young girls for a dose of the reality of the woods.  The camp was as much about teamwork as it was the skills of the woods, though it was heavy on that, too. I suspect each of the girls learned a good bit more than they expected. As they hugged goodbye, they promised a return visit next summer.

Here's some of what it looked like.

Three counselors and four campers were all smiles on the last day.
My pretty gals ready for the theater.

MMT's Into the Woods Delightful

Mill Mountain Theatre's late summer children's production of "Into the Woods, Jr." is a delightful mix of color, sound and visual artistry that will thrill the child in all of us.

The production features a full stage of delightful actors (22), Ginger Poole's thoughtful direction, marvelous scenic design (movable trees, which become a character) and richly-designed costuming by Jessica Gaffney. In its one-hour of stage time, it pulls kids to the edge of their seats with an old-style (violent) mixture of famous children's literature fused in a brand new story.

The acting is quite good, but standouts include Olivia Goodman as an animated Red Riding Hood, CJ Rodenberg as a prince and the wolf and Savannah Amos as the shrill witch.

This one is worth your time and if you have a child, by all means, take her and have her bring a friend. They will be delighted.

Oz the Train Man at the Museum

Pampa and Pampette No. 2: Train boys.
Oz strikes a manly pose.
Oz has had this fascination with trains since his first Thomas the Train book half of his life ago (he'll be 5 in September).

So it only fell to the natural end that we should end up at the Virginia Museum of Transportation yesterday during his Roanoke layover between job stops for his dad.

Evan, who works for ABB, has been stationed in Spain for the last two years and now takes the family to the Memphis area (home there, job in Jackson) for a while. While they are moving, the kids are here. This week, grandgirl Madeline was at the Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival camp taking part in a special camp for middle school girls. Oz is on his own, so the museum seemed a fit. It was.

The transportation museum (I was on its board a
Oz, Judy and an opld electric car.
few years ago) is not necessarily intended as an interactive attraction for young kids, but it turned out that way. Oz climbed on everything, tested everything, touched everything, had a theory about everything and was generally in his own brand of heaven.

The famous J-611 engine was on an excursion, but that didn't matter at all. He had no idea what a J-611 is anyway. But he did recognize Thomas the Train's dad and brother among the "rolling stock," as the train people call it.

Oz's grandmother, Judy Dickerson, came with us as a defense for me, since I'm not very good with little children (no patience), especially one who makes the Energizer Bunny look lazy. But on this day, with Oz so thoroughly occupied, her grandparent skills were not needed.

Oz found lots of places to climb.
Engineer Oz.
Not all the exhibits involve trains. This is an old buckboard.
Lots of places to explore.
Oscar Smith: Train Man.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

VTC Med School: 42 Slots, 4,600 Applications

VTC Medical College in Roanoke
Want a couple of numbers that exemplify success? How about  42 and 4,611?

The 42 is the number of students the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine admits each year. The 4,611 is the number of applications for those slots this year.

And I can tell you from experience, that all 4,611 are brilliant. I helped select the first class at VTC Med School a few years ago and was simply floored by the intelligence and wisdom of the young people who applied. And I'm sure the pool gets better each year as the reputation of this excellent school's--combining research and state-of-the-art medicine--international reputation grows.

Dean Cynda Johnson, addressing the students, said, "Eighty percent of our applicants met the academic bar to be here. Each of you has something special that you can contribute to the Class of 2020. You were selected because we felt you would do well in our unique, patient-centered, problem-based curriculum that utilizes a team approach to learning."

A press release says, "Seventeen members of the new class are Virginia residents; 40 percent are women; and most arrived with considerable research experience under their belts. The school offers a rigorous research-intensive curriculum in which students will spend more than 1,200 hours on individual research projects over the course of four years, culminating in an academic research paper of publishable quality. By graduation, most students have presented their work nationally and even internationally."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A 'Tween Day at Survival Camp

Dina Bennett (right) shows the girls (Maddie, left) evidence of a squirrel's recent visit.
Maddie: Flag bearer of the day.
My grandgirl Madeline is at Mountain Shepherd Wilderness Survival camp this week and I thought I'd run out to Craig County this morning for a brief visit.

I pretty much know what the middle school girls are doing because Maddie and I did a day of it last summer. This, of course, is more intensive and is specifically for young girls. The camp was my friend Dina Bennett's idea. She and her husband Reggie run the camp and are experts in the outdoors (Reggie has long been considered one of the nation's premier outdoorsmen).

It is a skill, confidence, assertiveness and self-esteem builder for these girls. It is also a lot of work and, one would hope, a great deal of fun.

Here is a bit of what they were doing today.

Dina fills a small pool in order to do a water test. There was no standing water.
Dina explains the kind of wood to look for when starting a fire.
Hiking up a steep hill to the camp atop the mountain.
A good piece of firewood has been found.
Don't eat the mushrooms. Just enjoy their pretty colors.
Hiking around a big puddle. The camp is at the top.
This is the outdoor classroom, beneath a parachute.
This is a shelter the girls built Tuesday.
An introduction to fire, Dina at the blackboard.
The girls find a leaf bug on one of their pup tents.
Pup tents do a lot, including catching rainwater if all the knots are tied properly.
Inside is a leaf-filled sleeping bag, home-made.
Gathered around the fireplace to learn how to build a good one. Dina's cutting wood.
Split the wood.
'Tweens in class.
A guarded class.
Dina's fire-starter kit.
Maddie's super-hero cape: Animal Whisperer. Each of the kids made one and ID'd herself as a super hero.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tim Kaine: Not Just Another Pretty Face

Kaine and Mrs. Clinton
A thoughtful piece in the NYTimes today (here) gives a strong indication that Democratic presidential nominee (presumably) Hillary Clinton selected Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate for reasons other than the bump he could give her at the polls in November.

"Mr. Kaine," writes Patrick Healy, "is considered a self-effacing workhorse who shuns the spotlight and prefers digging into domestic policy and national security rather than showboating on Sunday news programs. Mrs. Clinton sees herself in much the same way. Unlike some of his rivals for the ticket, he is widely viewed by colleagues as fully capable of being president — Mrs. Clinton’s top criterion for a running mate.

"Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who acts as a sounding board for her, as Mr. Biden did for Mr. Obama and Al Gore for her husband, and can handle any task, domestic or foreign. ..."

First up will be defeating Trump VP Mike Pence, another senator, but one without Kaine's extensive background in international affairs and one as wildly radical on the conservative side as Ted Cruz.

Here is where Kaine and Clinton stand on the issues.


Monday, July 25, 2016

The Trump Crowd in Roanoke: Ordinary People

The crowd wrapped from the Conference Center entrance, about a mile to the old Norfolk Southern office buildings.,
My friend Alison Weaver and I could not get into the Donald Trump campaign rally at the Hotel Roanoke a bit ago, but, instead, I collected some numbers for you:
  • 1: A mile, my estimated length of the line to get into the event, four abreast.
    Young protester: Last name Chittum.
  • 1: The number of African-Americans we saw in line (and we saw most of those who got in, standing on the balcony above them. When the line was finally stopped, three African-American young men were next in line).
  • 2: the number of ballrooms that were used (one with a big TV, one for the candidate).
  • 3 or 5: O'clock. The time the first people arrived. A Hotel Roanoke official says 5 a.m.; a person in line said he heard the first arrival was at 3.
  • 14: When I first mentioned on Facebook that I was going to the rally, 14 people said one or another derivations of "be careful." I have never before been told to "be careful" at a political rally.
  •  107: Degrees. The temperature downtown at 3 p.m., according to the outside thermometer in my car (which is consistently accurate).
  • 1,000: Capacity for Ballroom 1 at the Hotel Roanoke.
  • 1,000: The crowd expected (according to published reports) for the event.
  • 1,800: The number of tickets printed for the event.
  • 15,000-20,000: My estimate of the number of people who showed up to get in. 
The temperature at 3 p.m. was 107 degrees.
Both Alison and I were surprised--almost shocked--at the behavior of the crowd. We expected unruly rednecks. What we saw was our neighbors at a church bazaar (one guy and what appeared to be his parents were dressed in matching "Jesus Saves" and "Trump" T-shirts; I suspect Jesus would not have approved of that pairing).

As I mentioned, it probably said more about Alison and me than about the crowd that we expected it to be wild, unruly and out of control, shouting racial epithets and chasing off anybody with an accent (though I heard fewer accents than I saw black people).

The most unruly people--and they were hardly that--were about 200 protesters who lined the street leading from Williamson Road to the hotel entrance. Mostly, they chanted. I could not make out what they were chanting, but one T-shirt read FCKH8.

The line was long, well-behaved.
The worst of the Trump people seemed to be the purveyors of T-shirts. Here's what some said: "Hillary Sucks, but Not Like Monica", "Ted Cruz Sucks", "No More Bullshit" and "Donald Fuckin' Trump."

I mentioned to several different cops (trying all angles) that I had tickets and most of the people in the line couldn't have them if, as the Trump campaign stated, only 1,800 were printed and 10 times that were in line. One cop said, "It's a Trump campaign. What else would you expect?" I liked that guy.

The line from the overpass.
I saw one woman overcome by heat, but I was inside the air conditioned hotel. I have no idea how many passed outside waiting in line for hours. The crowd, in general, was older and older people are more susceptible to heat. Several trucks (I don't know the saint who sponsored them) drove by the crowd passing out water. I noticed that at check-in, the officers had confiscated a lot of drinks and even umbrellas, used to keep the oppressive sun off those attending.

Trump is speaking at this moment. I didn't go to hear him, but to get a feel for what the crowd was like. It wasn't what I expected. These were ordinary, friendly, nice people (a bunch of them saw my University of Tennessee hat and yelled, "Go Vols!). That scares me even more than if it had been unruly crazies.

Matched set of Trumpsters.
The crowd inside the hotel.
The end of the line. They all got in, ticket or no.
The end of the line: Three black kids.

The only African-American (with his girlfriend) we saw get in.
Checking for elicit tennis balls and guns.
Trump crowd commerce: "Hillary Sucks Better Than Monica."
Body scan for everybody.
Matching family: The boy's shirt praised Jesus.