Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Misspelt Headline of the Day: Oylmpic Torch Bearer

Add caption
This photo of a tattoo on an Olympic torch bearer on BBC's website came with this explanation:

"A woman who got a new tattoo to celebrate her role in the Olympic torch relay was shocked to discover it had been spelt incorrectly."

"Spelt" is a kind of wheat. The Brits need to learn to speak English.

Moron of the Day: Aurora Shooting Was Liberals' Fault

Bryan Fischer: Liberals are to blame and other bullshit.
Bryan Fischer of The American Family Association, a right-wing blabbermouth organization that seems to blame everything negative in the world on liberals, is at it again.

This time Fischer says that because we don't have prayer in school, a lot of people lost their lives to a gun-toting nutjob, whose action has spurred an outcry from right-wing gun owners who insist that the killer was well within his rights to have automatic weapons and a houseful of ammunition that included hand grenades.

Here's what Fischer said, according to the Huffington Post, "We have spent 60 years telling God to get lost. What if every single day in [alleged Aurora shooter James Holmes'] educational process, there had been readings from the word of God ... Who knows if things could have been different? But we’ve tried it the other way. The point of my column, we’ve tried it the liberals’ way for 60 years now. What do we got? We have massacres in Aurora.”

We've tried it the conservatives' way with a misinterpretation of the Second Amendment for more than 200 years. We might want to consider putting our guns and ammo under lock and key for a while and give that idea a shot, so to speak.

Nobody in this country has ever even remotely banned god from classrooms. What was banned was organized, out-loud prayer that forces students to conform and goes against the Biblical teaching of that in Mark 6:5-5 ("And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others"). God and prayer are welcome anywhere people have god in their hearts. You don't have to make a public spectacle of god in order to be godly and prayerful.


Quote of the Day: Ed Walker One of Many Visionaries

Ed Walker interviewed at opening of Patrick Henry Hotel.
"But many towns already have their own version of Ed Walker, said Bruce Katz, a vice president at the Brookings Institution and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, which focuses on cities. 'This is happening across the country,' Mr. Katz said.

“'What you’re seeing is a group of vanguard developers and vanguard businesspeople who basically spot a trend and then double down or triple down with their own resources'” to buy property cheap, collaborating with like-minded leaders “'on the placemaking agenda,'” he said. 

--Melena Ryzyk, NYTimes today (here)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Once Again, the NCAA Fails at Its Core Mission

Penn State fans react to sanctions. It was a jaw-dropper.
"There's no doubt the NCAA needed to do something drastic, original and meaningful. It needed to do something that indicated it understood who was innocent, who was guilty and who was victimized. It needed to go outside its normal routine and make a statement that was neither self-serving nor vindictive, something that took into account the shame and conviction that followed Sandusky. If framed properly, a one-year death penalty -- call it an opportunity to regroup and recuperate -- could have worked. Instead, the NCAA fell back on tradition: an utter lack of imagination, with a side of vindictiveness, and a resolution vague enough to be no kind of resolution at all."

--Tim Keown, ESPN

(Photo: Gene Puskar, AP)

Oh, Hell, There's No Middle Class

John Kyl
"I just think the whole discussion of class is wrong. It's not what we do here in America ... I don't think there's anything called 'middle class values' that are different from the values of other people in this country. Tell me what's different about the values of someone who the president identifies as middle class?"

-- Sen John Kyl, a Republican (as if I have to tell you that) from Arizona. The question that arises: Where does this guy live that he's so far removed from reality? The United States is increasingly moving toward two distinct classes: rich and poor and the bottom end has the worker bees that support the leisure bees.

Why Dan Casey is the Best Metro Columnist Here in a Long Time

My pal Dan Casey has a column in a local Roanoke daily today that pretty well defines the position of "metro columnist." It's about a tiny, but important detail of daily life that would go unreported without a guy like Dan paying attention. Already, he has apparently affected change in an unjust and probably illegal fee charged at a Roanoke high school just by checking into it.

I wrote Dan this note today:

Today's is the kind of column that makes you the best metro columnist the local daily has had ... well, I was going to say "since Mike Ives," but Mike never did anything like this. He just wrote pretty (and funny). So, we'll change that to "the best metro columnist in my experience," which goes to 1971.

Read the column here.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dragon Fruit: An Expensive, Yummy Dessert from Happy's

Dragon fruit, uncut.
Dragon fruit, inside.
Dragon fruit, which we found at Happy's Flea Market yesterday, is called, strawberry pear or pitaya and is a fruit of several cactus species with a sweet delicate taste and creamy pulp. This version is the red pitaya, but other varieties include the Costa Rica pataya and the yellow pataya.

You can make juice or wine from the fruit, and the flowers can be eaten or used for tea.This dragon fruit cost about $5 and is the size of a softball. I wouldn't want to make it a regular part of my diet because of the expense, but as a treat it is simply marvelous.

The pink rind on the dragon fruit peels off, not unlike that of a roll of bologna. But it ain't tastin' like no baloney, babies.

You'll note that the dragon fruit was used at my house as dessert at lunch today (along with a fresh papaya--also from Happy's). Lunch proper was 'mater sammiches. Mmmmmm. Luuuuuuu-nch.

Do-Right Family Assaults Us With Song

The Do-Rights flex their vocal cords.
Leah and I went to breakfast at K&W Cafeteria this morning, one of my favorite things to do on a Sunday, and were greeted with good food and this table full of people who insisted on using our breakfast time to sing gospel music. Loud gospel music. Obnoxious gospel music. Rude gospel music. Invasive gospel music. Conversation-stopping gospel music.

I nicknamed them the Do-Right Family Gospel Singers after the old Ray Stevens song, which did not put this music genre in a favorable light.

I don't guess I need to tell you I was pissed. Some of the people in the restaurant liked being serenaded. I was not among them. I will not speak for Leah, but she did not seem to be amused, especially when she had to repeat what she had just said. Seven times.

The big guy on the right at the table had this bellowing bass voice that overwhelmed any attempt at harmony within the group. They sounded more like cats on a fence than a choir.

I realize these lovely people were feeling the power of the lord, but I didn't get to eat my breakfast in peace, which was an immediate goal. I think that very often these religious types, who are in the Sell Jesus mode 100 percent of the time, don't take into account that my time is as valuable to me as theirs is to them and that I don't necessarily share their zeal for this music. I would prefer not to be assaulted with it.

I was a good boy, though, and didn't make a scene. Maybe I should have. It would decrease the likelihood of it happening again, I suspect. But when people are this rude and self-absorbed not much gets through to them.

Fire Aftermath: Building Loss Is Near Total

This was the scene this morning as the cleanup began at General Truck Body in Roanoke, following a dramatic fire.
The dramatic fire that lit up the Roanoke night sky Saturday was still smoldering Sunday morning as emergency crews remained at the scene assessing damage and making certain the fire did not re-start. General Truck Body's loss was in the millions, according to published reports. The buildings, assessed at $300,000 also contained considerable equipment and other resources and the loss was a good bit higher than the assessment.

Sources say the fire destroyed 65 percent of the building and the total of the damage was put at between $3 million and $4 million. In addition to General Tire, the building housed two apartments and two medical businesses.

(Photo: Leah Weiss)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Oz Gets His First Baseball Cap

This is my grandboy Oz and his first baseball cap. His mama, Kara, bought it for him at tonight's Salem-Wilmington Carolina League game. His sister, Maddie got one, too, but she's a veteran of the baseball cap fashion wars. Pretty good looking prospect, huh?

General Tire Burning in Downtown Roanoke

General Truck and Body in Roanoke fully engaged with flames.
Those driving by stopped to take photos. Cops were not amused.
View from Interstate 581.
The scene above greeted Leah Weiss and me tonight as we returned from a Salem Red Sox baseball game. This is General Truck and Body near 10th Street in Downtown Roanoke burning vigorously. Roanoke's fire apparatus was on the scene, but the police department and state troopers had not yet gotten control of the Interstate traffic passing by.

Drivers slowed to a crawl in order to watch the fire and some even stopped to take photos. Leah shot out of the passenger-side window and got these photos. The cops stopped and gave several tickets as we passed by. It was a dramatic scene that is still fully underway as I write this.

Maddie and Pampa Pig Out on Frozen Yogurt

We went for a sunset ride in Leah's convertible last night--one of grandgirl Maddie's favorite activities--and made a quick pitstop at McDonald's for some frozen yogurt, not realizing the challenges facing us, and that poor counter clerk who had to create the cones.

I asked the kid to give us "big ones," something most of the clerks at McDonald's are loath to do (they either don't know how or they think the ice cream comes out of their pay). This kid went at it with gusto and when I told him I wanted a dipped cone, he didn't hesitate. However, a combination of the soft ice cream being soft and him trying to create a monster portion led him to drop the top of the ice cream into the chocolate four times. That's FOUR times. Didn't make much money on us, but we came away with great cones, a better experience and Maddie going against Pampa's advice to "never eat anything bigger than your head."

Thanks Mickie D's for a good time. And a lot of 'scream.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Cantaloupe Cocktail: Here's Something for Those Hot Days

Here's a little drink from Mother Smith's World Famous North Carolina Kitchen to serve with the chef salad tonight. It's a summer-perfect cantaloupe cocktail (and don't let the name fool you, it's as free of booze as a Shirley Temple). Smooth, refreshing and with the lime, just the right touch of summer to be a delight.

Here's how to do it (and it's so easy a small kid can be put in charge):

What you need

1 ripe cantaloupe or other small melon (I mixed cantaloupe and honeydew here), diced(about 4 cups)
3 cups cold water
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (I'm diabetic and use Stevia, about 1/2 tsp.)

Mix it up

Place the cantaloupe, 1 1/2 cups of the water, the lime juice, and masured sugar in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds.

If you're a real weenie, strain through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large pitcher or bowl, using a ladle or wooden spoon to press down on the solids. If you're me, you leave the pulp in. It's good.

Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups water and stir to combine (I prefer putting ice in and blending that, getting an Icee).

Taste and add additional sugar (or lime) as needed. Refrigerate until cold.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How Not To Apologize for a Stupid Remark

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling
Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling mad a thoughtless and insensitive remark a couple of days ago, saying, in effect, that anybody who believes Barack Obama has done a good job as president should be in a mental institute. That remark is wrong on so many levels that I can't begin to count, but his "apology" may be worse because it is one of those political passive "mistakes were made" non-admissions that amplifies the original problem.

Bolling was criticized by fellow Republican Joseph Yost of Blacksburg, who said (in a Daily Press report), "... I call on [Bolling] to issue an apology not only to the citizens of this Commonwealth but to all individuals who suffer from a mental health issue and their friends and family. The comments were not only a disappointment and distasteful but continue the stigmatization of individuals with mental illness. This is not a partisan issue. Twenty-five percent of the population suffers from a diagnosable mental health problem.

"While we may elect to disagree with each other's political views, we should chose to do it in a respectful manner and not one that continues the practice of stigmatizing individuals with mental illness or any others."

Bolling did not dignify the criticism with a direct response, instead going to spokeswoman Ibbie Hedrick, who said, "The Lieutenant Governor did not intend to offend anyone, and if anyone was offended by his comment he would certainly apologize for that." (Incidentally, the way this sentence is structured, the offended person would apologize.)

The proper response would have been, "I apologize. The statement was meant as a joke, but I take full responsibility for its insensitivity and I thank those of you who pointed out my error. I will learn from this and will not make the mistake again." That would be sincere. The response he gave covered his ass. With bathroom tissue.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Victory from Defeat and a Kid Grows a Bit More

Maddie reacts to being unable to finish. She was humiliated.
It has not yet ceased to amaze me that I fall apart every time that little grandgirl of mine is in competition. I have a long history of athletic competition, public speaking, acting, teaching and--in general--appearing before groups without having nerve one. I can't remember ever being nervous before being involved in any of those activities.

Teammate Erin Tudor consoles Maddie
But put a seven-year-old, vulnerable little girl desperate to please on a diving platform, ready to race and I'm a wreck.

Maddie has had a couple of embarrassing failures this swim season, mostly because seven weeks ago she couldn't swim a stroke and she was cast into it with a literal "sink or swim" attitude. She sank a few times and my heart broke to see her standing there alone in the water, her face buried in her hands, crying because she was humiliated and embarrassed.

But not now. Monday, she finished fourth in the backstroke against Roanoke Country Club and qualified for the City-County meet. It was her first earned ribbon and you never saw a happier kid when it was given to her after practice at the Hunting Hills pool Tuesday.

I don't think this could have happened without the failures, without the teammates and coaches gathering around her, encouraging her and loving her as only those engaged with a similar goal can.

The kid has grown a foot taller in seven weeks and, again, I don't think it would have happened if it had come easily. I'm pretty damn proud of my little angel.

With buddy Emma celebrating victory

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Studio Roanoke Closed, But Mission Continues

Ristau and writer Lucy Thurber
Todd Ristau, who taught Studio Roanoke founder Kenley Smith at Hollins University and who is a major player in Roanoke's theater circle, has been involved with studio Roanoke from the beginning and weighs in below on its loss.

Todd knows theater and understands what this little group is/was/will continue to be and he offers hope for the future to those who believe what Studio Roanoke stands for is gone.

My thought is that the foundation of the group that worked Studio Roanoke is strong and that the concept is here to stay. It is sad that the arts in Virginia has lost its government funding, but with Republicans in office, that is not unexpected. Art funding in the U.S. now, under Republican domination, has fallen to the level of Third World nations and it wasn't all that hot to begin with. Casualties abound and we are all poorer for the loss.

Here's Todd's statement:

I think that first, and foremost, it is important to draw a distinction between the KW "Pete" Smith Theatre building and Studio Roanoke, which was the resident theatre company housed there. Ken owned one and founded the other, so there are ... two things to be sad about--that this amazing theatre space is up for sale (and unlikely to remain a theatre space when purchased by a new owner), and also that the resident company is not in a position to continue as a viable company outside that space and without Kenley's direct support.

When Kenley Smith bought the building and formed the resident company it was a very exciting time and I am very proud of the work we did together to open that space and provide a home for new plays and the people who create them. We produced a tremendous amount of work there and the creative relationship with the Playwright's Lab at Hollins University, and the Board of Advisors I assembled, allowed Studio Roanoke to bring in some amazing theatre artists with international reputations to work side by side with our local writers and performers as well as the MFA playwriting students in the Lab.

While I was Artistic Director there was a divergence in philosophy between myself and the Studio Roanoke Board which led to my departure but I continued support them--including directing shows last season and underwriting major expenses for their productions of plays by our students--such as the very successful production of "To The New Girl" by Samantha Macher.

Sadly, though it had great reviews and large audiences, that play will turn out to be the last full production. For that show, the Playwright's Lab provided the honorarium, housing and travel expenses for the guest director as we have done for nearly every other production in that theatre written by one of our students. We will continue to share resources and defray costs for any theatre in the area interested in working with us to produce plays coming out of our program.

Even though Studio Roanoke is closing and the building is up for sale, the commitment and support for new works by our playwriting program is actually stronger than ever. Even with the closing of that great space, those efforts by the playwright's lab will continue. I think there is cause for a lot of hope and enthusiasm for new works in Roanoke, even as we lament the closing of this innovative space. Remember that a theatre is really a reflection of the community it serves, not simply the brick and mortar where that community gathers.

No Shame is still here. Overnight Sensations is still here. The Festival of Student Readings is still here. We already have plans for two new plays to be produced at Mill Mountain Theatre in the coming year and one full production at Hollins University as well as co-productions in theatres from New York to Los Angeles. This summer we have nearly 30 playwriting students and expect that number to continue to grow as Roanoke builds on our reputation as the place in the South East for new play development.

I am sad to hear the news that Studio Roanoke is dissolving and the building will go up for sale. While it would be wonderful if some angel could purchase the building to make it available as a resource to area writers and performers, I don't know if such angels exist.

Ken Smith is to be commended for taking that risk and all of Roanoke should be very proud of the work made possible in that space. And, it sounds like Ken is very excited about what he might accomplish in Nashville and I wish him well as he joins a new community there.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Money Runs Out; Studio Roanoke Closing

Melora Kordos (from left), writer Ben Williams, Founder Kenley Smith
I just got the note from artistic director Melora Kordos that Studio Roanoke is closing. This has been one of the true bright lights in the history of Roanoke theater and its closing will leave a hole in the continuing effort to bring new and younger people into the theatrical sphere.

The theater, founded by Kenley Smith in Downtown Roanoke just a couple of years ago, brought fresh new plans and talent into a market that was becoming increasingly broad and sophisticated for theater. I am pained by this, but I certainly understand the struggle to keep any of the arts alive in an age when the Republican government counts anything educational and cultural as a drain on personal budgets. It's a damn shame.

Let me offer a modest suggestion (from Christina Koomen): The Taubman Museum has a very nice auditorium that is used by Roanoke Children's Theatre and could invite those affiliated with Studio Roanoke to continue presenting their unusual fare there. There wouldn't be a lot of money to be made, but this would get people into the Taubman and would create lot of good will in the community.

Here's Maria's note:

Dear Friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the closing of Studio Roanoke. Since its opening, it has brought over 30 new plays to Roanoke, showcasing some of the most exciting new writers from around the country and here in our own town. It has filled a much needed niche not just in Roanoke, but in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And it is because of this that it truly breaks my heart to see it come to an end. Unfortunately, a number of reasons have coalesced to make this decision a reality. It is not unknown that the small size of our venue made it very difficult to financially sustain ourselves on ticket sales alone and we have been greatly dependent on grants and donations to keep our doors open.

While the 2012/2013 season was looking more promising,(the largest amount of grant money awarded to the theatre to date) our private donations had tapered off to an all-time low and other circumstances beyond our control, (the selling of the building we currently are housed in) have made moving into this next season financially impossible.

We will be raising funds to pay off our current debt with a sale of the theater's items that include tech items, lumber, tools, furnishings used in our plays, costumes, props, theatre seats, office furniture, artwork, books, office supplies and just about everything else in our space. We will offer the items for sale in the theater, 30 Campbell Ave., SW on July 28 & 29 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

On a personal note, my time with Studio Roanoke has brought so many talented, extraordinary people into my life that I will hold them dear to me forever. And I hope that someone will be able to pick up where Studio Roanoke left off letting the Phoenix of new play production rise from the ashes.

-Melora Kordos, Artistic Director

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Finally: A New Home for Pooka

Poo (top) and his new brother lounging
Pooka found a new home this weekend--Julia and Steve Smith (no relation) of Forest--and we're both tickled to death about the development. Julia and Steve have three cats--one white and mostly deaf, like Poo, They took him in and I swear, I think my buddy thinks he died and went to heaven.

Talk about cat friendly. Each cat has a heated bed. There is a cat bedroom, a cat dining room, a cat poop room in a piece of furniture housed in the garage. Attention is lavished on the cats and the minute Pooka walked in the door, I was history.

When I went by to pick up the borrowed cat carrier today, Poo's new people asked that I avoid coming in to say "goodbye" because it might upset him. Poo's happy. Dan's happy. The family's happy. Couldn't ask for better. Except maybe for my grandgirl, who's not happy. But she has a little brother, so she'll get over it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Customer Service Clinic: A Case Study from Sears

I've told the story 100 times about how, maybe 20-25 years ago, I was standing in the tools department at Sears when this guy comes in carrying a tape measure in his arms. The spring in it had obviously sprung and it was all over the place. He sat it on the counter and the clerk left for a minute and came back with a new one, handed it to the guy and he left. They didn't even speak.

That, I thought, was just about as good as customer service gets.

Today--at Sears--I got a personal dose of that service and mentioned to the sales clerk, a guy named Tom Elmore, that "this is the Sears I remember." He smiled.

What happened was this: About six days ago, I bought an 18-inch electric chain saw at Sears. It's a good saw, one we cut up a tree with this morning in no time. We had no problem at all until the end of the cutting, when the saw gasped, then stopped, completely locked up. We finished the job with a gas-powered saw that one of the boys who was working with me brought.

I took the electric saw back to Sears as soon as we finished the job and met Tom at the counter. He'd sold it to me and I told him what happened. "It probably burned out," he said. "What kind of cord were you using?" I told him and he said, "That's too small. It needs at least a 12-gauge, probably even an 8. With the small cord, it doesn't get enough juice, works too hard and burns out." But he didn't hesitate. He went into the back and brought me a new one. I bought a 12-gauge, 100-foot cord to go with it (as it turned out, the cord was on some kind of silent half-price sale).

I made out like a bandit with a retailer who knows how to make a customer happy. I've been shopping at Sears for about 45 years. I will shop there for another 45, given the opportunity. These guys are a clinic in customer service.

Photo Essay: A Little Tree Work at the Smith Ranch

Andrew (left) and Johathan attack the tree.
This is the target; cut it up, take it to the curb.
The boys are lost in the bushes.
This is the front view. We're calling it Ft. Smith and hoping the city will help us return to normal.
This is where the tree's going. We have city mulch for a year or two now.
My young pals Andrew Bailey and Johathan Bocca came over this morning to take my downed Bradford Pear from the back yard to the front yard so the City of Roanoke can add the tree to its mulch and firewood piles.

The kids, who worked like they were being paid by the job (which they were) rather than by the hour, finished in two hours. That's with cleanup.

This will eventually be true recycling when I go to the City Recycling Center and get a load or two of mulch to take care of the new plantings at the back of the house. I'm looking at maybe a couple of plum trees or two crepe myrtles.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Hot Was It? Really?

Kevin Myatt writes weather for a Roanoke daily paper and website and has gained quite a reputation for his insightful look at what's happening outside and why.

I posed a few questions to him this morning about why the weather service and I don't see eye to eye on just how hot it was last week and he had some good answers.

Here they are:

"The reason the weather service sets up official temperature sites like the one at Roanoke Regional Airport is to create a uniform system of measurement so that data is apples to apples, oranges to oranges as much as is possible from site to site. So every official thermometer is 6 feet high and enclosed in a ventilated box to protect it from the sun while allowing air to circulate within.

"I'm guessing your thermometer doesn't meet these criteria -- the one at my house doesn't either, and it topped 100 each day as well and reached as high as 109. Things like how sun reflects off various surfaces, heat from buildings, wind circulation patterns around structures can affect individual thermometer readings several degrees even within a very small area.
"I suspect you are correct about the asphalt and development in your part of town being a factor. The National Weather Service requires weather measuring instruments to be a certain distance from any streets or buildings or the readings are not considered official.

"And there are certainly microclimates, too -- they also show up in the winter when the snow starts sticking faster at one location than another not far away. In our one decent snow last winter, I had 2 more inches than the official 5.5, mainly because of slightly higher elevation and being a little colder, so the snow started sticking faster.

"I suspect home thermometers in 1983 and 1977 were showing higher temperatures than official readings as well."

What all this means to me is that the weather service is giving us a general guideline and that the guideline is not always the absolute truth, except in that place and at that box. I know when I walk onto my porch and it's 112 degrees--not 104--my body reacts differently. But this is our system and it's one that's worked for a long time. It's just that this summer, it's hotter than that.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

South Carolina Governor 1, The Arts 0

Nikki Haley (Palin Light)
South Carolina's Tea Party governor Nikki Haley (Sarah Palin Light, or Heavy, depending on your perspective) finally got her way, eliminating two state arts agencies with one stroke of the veto pen that cut $9.5 million for the arts yesterday. She has tried to do this before, but a quirk of the budget allowed her to eliminate the budget without consulting the general assembly. She also vetoed a tiny raise for teachers and another $10 million in industrial recruitment funds.

The State newspaper in Columbia quotes Haley as saying, “I would rather give this money to the taxpayers and let them decide which charities they are going to give money to than to allow the legislature to decide. It’s the responsible thing to do.” That is a basic Tea Party mantra that would, if drawn out, essentially eliminate government and sharing of responsibilities for that which can't be afforded individually.

House Minority Leader Harry Ott is quoted as saying, “It’s been proven over and over that having access to the arts helps attract industry to South Carolina. ... The sea grants is pure research. By saying she doesn’t want it, I guess she wants to not research and not be on the forefront of trying to improve things in South Carolina.”

It has been proven over and over that the arts is a huge element in industrial recruitment and in inexpensive education. Somehow that gets lost constantly in a country that spends more on military bands than all the other arts put together.

Read more here:

Monday, July 9, 2012

Another of Those Gorgeous Summer Suppers

My mama used to tell me that "when food's pretty, food's healthy, so eat it." This is a summer fruit salad (watermelon, canteloupe, mango, peach with blueberry yogurt) and a tuna salad (with fresh salad greens and garden tomato) topped by deviled eggs.

The deviled eggs have dried onions and curry with the normal ingredients (I don't use mustard). I have poured pear-infused balsamic vinegar over the greens. Oh, lord! It's good.

New Business Magazine Finally Available

The new Virginia Business/Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce magazine that has been so ballyhooed is here and I finally saw a copy today. There's not much way I can evaluate it that would sound fair, so I'll leave it up to you to judge its worthiness for this market.

You will recall that Chamber executives created an arrangement with Virginia Business to found this magazine and has been an enthusiastic supporter of the Richmond/Norfolk-based publication.

The "Supplement to Virginia Business" (which is on the cover) is very much like the mother ship and even the introduction is not written by the Roanoke editor, Tim Thornton, but by its publisher, who works in Richmond and promises to visit us upon occasion.

It is a smallish 30 pages (our first issue was 96 pages and we have settled on 72 since).

I will say that the content is lighter than I expected and even its most serious story--one on Virginia Tech Carilion--is warmed over, a story that has been written at least a dozen times. (We have one coming in FRONT that you haven't read.) It did not have a list of the best lawyers in the region, but I suspect that is to come sooner or later. That list seems to be a large profit center for this group, which used to be owned by Media General, but no longer is.

You will note that the address for the magazine is similar to that of the Chamber, which is because the magazine's Roanoke office is in the Chamber's offices. The last three pages of the magazine are devoted to the chamber as "sponsored content" and are, from what I've been told by those who know, part of the reason this magazine is in this market at this time.

I will mention that Tim Thornton is a solid, veteran journalist and an award-winner in environmental writing (which some of the business readers may find hard to swallow). Tim is one of dozens of former daily paper reporters who left under circumstances less than ideal (they include me and my partner Tom Field) and I wrote a couple of blog posts about his dismissal at the time that were especially vehement. Tim has written for our magazine on several occasions. I don't know the other reporters. I know one of the photographers (Doug Miller, who used to work in Roanoke, but is now based in Richmond).

In any case, welcome to the fray.

Summer Delight: 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Wes Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom," showing at the Grandin Theatre in Roanoke, is so full of delight and metaphor that you'll want to see it twice.  Or three times. Maybe four. It's one of those mighty surprises that makes the Grandin special and movie-going a small adventure.

This is the tale of two 12-year-old lovers--and yep, they're that; keep that in mind when you have the kids in tow--from difficult backgrounds who plot to be together on an isolated and little-inhabited island as a storm forms, adults and Khaki Scouts search furiously for them and they are pushed ever-closer.

This is one of those little pictures where you can play in the margins for two hours with the metaphors, star watching (Bruce Willis, the wondrous Tilda Swinton and Frances McDormand, the deadpan Bill Murray at his best, Harvey Keitel (for whom I could not find a credit), Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton and the kids, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman), imaginative cinematography and set design (is that a doll house or not?) and a story that is rare. Occasionally, there is a sound problem, but I'm not sure that's the movie and not the Grandin's equipment. It's an old theater and you don't go there for modernity. You go for the movies, the popcorn and the iced herbal tea (I do, anyway).

I'll mention once again that this is not a movie for young kids for a number of reasons, sex being only one (though I don't have any problem with it personally). There's some graphic violence--kid on kid--that could upset some of the more sensitive types or put ideas into the head of the less sensitive babies.

Go see the movie, though, and when it gets to DVD or one of the online streamers, see it again so you get all of it.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Cat for You: Pooka Up for Adoption

Pooka, reclining.
You know, I hate to do this, but it's time and I must. Pooka has to find a new home, a good home, a home where he can be himself, love his owner, raise a little hell and be a cat. I have discovered that household animals and I don't do well together and it's nobody's fault, just the way the dice were rolled a bunch of years ago when I got my personality.

I found Poo at the Wild Animal Rescue three months ago and like the immediate attraction you have to somebody you love briefly--which burns itself out from too hot a flame--we had some good times, but now we're getting on each other's nerves.

Poo is probably one of the top two cats I've ever known (Porkchop, the Himalayan who adopted me is the other; he was killed by a car), but I am at an age where I like to sleep all night, prefer to keep things ON shelves and don't want cat hair where it shouldn't be. Cat lovers don't mind any of that. They like a little warm body snugging in on them at night and they put their good stuff away. Cat hair, as one cat lover once said, "is a condiment." Not here.

So, what we get is a reluctant parting of the ways, but good memories and a few good photos. Madeline, my grandgirl, is going to kill me when she finds out. Poo loves kids and those two are bonded pretty well, but not enough so that I have to keep Poo here. Maddie can't have him at home, so you get him.

Here are the details:

  • One year old
  • 9 pounds
  • White (beautiful, healthy, trim)
  • Deaf (vet says most white cats are deaf)
  • Affectionate
  • No claws up front (I had this done--although I hated to--because he is deaf and outside he's vulnerable; he must be an inside cat)
  • Neutered
  • Energetic
  • Talky

Here's the deal: You can have him for nothing if I am convinced he'll have a good home. I like this cat and I want him to have a loving place to go. I'm not a cat guy, but this is a special cat. If you're interested, call me at 540-556-8510 and we'll arrange for you to take a look and have a sit-down with Poo.

Photo Essay: Overnight Sensational

This is our group sitting down for the first read-through of our play about why the Titanic sank. It was a comedy.
Director Art Borrecca (left) and writer John Galvez talk out the plot.
Actress Rae West reads the script.
Bayla Sussman (left) and Mary Jean Levin chat.
Patrick Kelly played the first mate to my Captain Edward James Smith.
Art and Patrick talk over a point in the script.
T.J. Anderson plays his drum (on his lap; it's steel).
Caitlin Morgan hugs her favorite prop.
Our final scene played before an audience of our cast.
Dinner before the show.
The show with camera shake had difficult focus.
More camera shake. Hey, it's a play; it's not made for cameras.
Last night's nearly sold out "Overnight Sensations" at Hollins University's Little Theatre was a delight for those of us taking part as writers, directors or actors. It was my third trip to the stage and I suspect this was my favorite.

The real Capt. Edward James Smith (not me).
Our play, "The Last Secret of the Titanic," was written by Jonathan Galvez, a New York writer in for the weekend, even as he had a show opening in New York. He seemed delighted to be here. The director was Art Borreca, who teaches at the college level. This was a comedy, giving an alternate explanation of why the Titanic was put in the position of hitting an iceberg. It was filled with laughs, blood and death.

I played Captain Edward James Smith, a guy who looked a lot like I look today. Our first mate, Patrick Kelly, pointed to the irony that his wife was in her last day of a cruise in icy waters (Alaska). Our cast was sprinkled with experienced actors (Patrick, Mary Jean Levin, Rae West and Caitlin Morgan) and we threw in an academic, T.J. LaRoche and a candy maker, the delightful Bayla Sussman.

The level of talent in all the shows was high and the writing was so good it was often scary. All of this was done in 24 hours and I want to do it again tonight. I think most of those in the audience felt the same way.

I'm hoping that when Mill Mountain Theatre opens again, it premiers with something local like these plays (done in a 1924 "Little Theater," which was built as a protest against theatrical professionalism) or maybe even a revival of the wildly popular local production of "Henry Street."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Casts and Scenarios Selected for Saturday Night's "Overnight Sensations"

Todd Ristau gathers up the troops at Hollins' Little Theatre.
Roanoke theater royalty: GAMUT girls (front) and Stevie Holcomb with Ross and Kris Laguzza in the back.
Directors and writers pick their teams and scenarios.
We got our marching orders for "Overnight Sensations" this evening at Hollins University and I'm pumped because we got a New York writer, a master director and some pretty dang good actors in our little gang for our play, which is set on a cruise ship.

My partner Tom Field in the middle left with his cast.
"Overnight Sensations" is a group of six, 10-minute plays that are being written tonight based on scenarios and a group of actors that were selected at our gathering earlier. The writer puts the script together tonight and we actors get with the director at noon tomorrow to rehearse until showtime at 8.

I'm in a group of actors that includes Rae Norton West (whom I've just loved in Kenley Smith's "12 Stations of the Cross" as well as a production at Roanoke Children's Theatre, among other things) and Mary Jean Levin, who's been a solid Roanoke actress for years. We're being directed by Art Borreca, who is an artist in residence at Hollins these days, and the playwright is New York school teacher and theater veteran John Galvez, who stood in front of us for about 15 minutes, asking questions and writing about half a script. My guess is he'll be through by about 9 o'clock tonight.

Our cast has Rae Norton West (left), Mary Jean Levin (center) and writer John Galvez (right).
There are a lot of good--and enthusiastic--people in this production and you need to be there. It's free, so you have no excuse. It's air conditioned (boy! is it ever!), so there's that, too. Come laugh at us or with us, but laugh you will.