Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Pampettes Get Ready for Halloween

Madeline gets eye makeup and doesn't quite know how to handle it.
Meet Frankye Stein, the big guy's daughter.
The face that launched 1,000 fellowships.
Oz has his pumpkin Peeps, so he hasn't lost it yet. Yet.
Pampa and the Pampettes: Ready for the 'ween.
OK, so Oz couldn't hold the cool. I primed him (bribed him) with pumpkin Peeps, but that only lasted so long. Soon as Maddie, Oz and me posed at the front door for the picture above, he lost it. Kid hates me. Even with Peeps. They keep telling me it's the hat, the glasses, the something or other all the time. But when I pick up Oz, he picks up a freak-out.

Anyhow, here we are: the loving Pampa and the Pampettes. Maddie's as cute as ever and Oz is ... well ... Oz. But he'll get over it.

TED Talking About Food

John Garland (standing left) and his son, Aaron, have initiated a series of TED Talks in downtown Roanoke at the new food market in 16 West (for former cafeteria and gym). Today's talk, which drew about 25 people, was about food. The video came from a TED conference on food.

The TED Talks are scheduled each Wednesday at noon and they're free.

The Cultural Gulf Between the Presidential Candidates

"The demographic bases of the rival coalitions couldn’t be more different. Monday’s poll from the Pew Research Center is just the latest to show Obama with a decisive lead (in this case, 21 percentage points) among voters younger than 30. Obama’s margin declines to six points among voters ages 30 through 44, and he breaks even with Romney among voters ages 45 through 64. Romney’s home turf is voters 65 and older; among those, he leads Obama by 19 points. Age polarization is not specific to the presidential election. On a host of issues, as diverse as same-sex-marriage attitudes, gay and lesbian rights and skepticism about the merits of capitalism, polls have shown that younger voters are consistently more tolerant and well to the left of their elders."

--Harold Meyerson, Washington Post (Tuesday)


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Registration Underway for 2013 Writers Conference in January

Author Cathy Hankla addresses last year's Roanoke Regional writers Conference at Hollins.
The website is up and registration is moving right along for the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, scheduled Jan. 25-26 at Hollins. Here's a quick look at a blog post I did a couple of weeks ago, telling you who's going to be teaching and talking, but you can go here to get all the details.

If you already know the details and want to register, simply go here. The cost is $60 for two days, 23 classes, a roundtable discussion, a wine reception, a keynote speaker (Kathy Grisson, who wrote The Kitchen House), gallons of coffee and lunch Saturday. It's the best deal you can even imagine.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Leah Takes on the Camera (and Does It with Style)

Leah has decent form already, but we'll make a few adjustments.
Framing a nice shot of the creek.
Leah and I went out on a lovely trail this morning, camera in hand to give her a few pointers on how to use an SLR (single lens reflex, 35mm). Leah's an artist, so I didn't have to say much about composition, color or anything that has to do with the artistry of the form.

She picked it up pretty quickly and I was impressed with some of the shots she got. The woman constantly amazes me with how much she knows about so much and with her innate creativity. Inspiring, I'd say.

Leah shoots one of her favorite views, the big oak lying across the path, creating a bridge.

A Robbery at the Smith House: What Might Have Been

When I got home from a weekend trip to Leah's in Lynchburg this evening, this is the first thing I saw when I walked into the house. That big white space behind the credenza normally has a 47-inch flat-screen television set in it. It was gone. That was a hint.

On further inspection, I discovered that both of my television sets (a guy who rarely watches TV has two sets; go figure) were history. So was a camera rig and a laptop computer. What remained raised the most significant questions. The thief, for example, took a Lenova laptop computer, which was sitting on top of another computer just like it. He left me one. He took a Canon camera rig in a bag that was sitting on the floor next to a Nikon rig.

He left a ton of other stuff that would have sold quickly at a pawn shop, I suspect, and I'm grateful he was either nervous or considerate. So, now I get to go through all the insurance stuff, hit the stores and make some replacements. Fortunately, nothing is gone that can't easily--and relatively inexpensively--be replaced. The insurance company will be pissed, but hey, they lost the bet.

I've been robbed before and it never feels good. The policeman who was dusting for prints said there has been a spate of break-ins in this neighborhood in recent weeks, but nobody's been caught. I asked him if catching the culprits was likely and he said he thought so. I asked if getting my stuff back was much of a probability. He asked if I had serial numbers. I said no. He shook his head. "Almost no chance," he said.

Did I mention that I can't find my wallet. I think I left it at the Goodwill store on U.S. 460 where I bought this wonderful doll for my grandgirl on the way home. I'll go by and see if they have it tomorrow. The way my luck's running, I'll get a ticket for driving without a license.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Quick Look at the Sedalia Chili Festival

This is what we were looking for.
Taking a big taste of one of the contestants' offerings.
Leah (right) with her sister, Glo, and Glo's husband John Swann. Chomp. Chomp.
Pineapple upside down cornbread. Swear to god.
Fashion was ... uh ... optional.
Taking a photo is a team effort.
Sun, mountains, color, people, chili. Good day.
Pensive Leah in the poetry garden at the Sedalia Center.
Mark Minuto's chili was, by far, the best.
This was not the oldest person attending. Promise.
This is what it was all about.
The Sedalia Chili Festival at the Sedalia Center in Big Island today mixed fall color, a  big crowd, good smells, loud music and some pretty good chili, topped by Mark Minuto's mixture that featured lean steak and apple cider.

Mark is an Edward Jones financial advisor based in Bedford and he brought in 75 pounds of raw steak, gallons of cider and a bunch of other chili stuff to produce a batch that would have won on my card at the Virginia State Chili Festival in Roanoke (I was a judge in the last one). Mild, sweet, smooth and rich. Good chili, Mark. Hope you'll register for the state tournament next year. This was better than anything I tasted there.

Leah and I went to the festival with her sister Gloria Swann and Glo's husband John. Here are some photos from the day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Spelling Bee to Benefit the New Readers

The young guy in the middle eagerly consults with his seniors.
Table awaits the beginning of competition.
My buddies Luanne Traud Rife, Christina Koomen and Richard Rife work on a word.
This kid wanted to spell in French. She's 4 months.
Young woman reads the rules.
Referee Russ Merritt, in his Sandy Koufax jersey, explains how it works.
Blue Ridge Literacy held its annual fundraiser at a Presbyterian church in Raleigh Court tonight and there was a packed house of people proving they could spell. I had little in common with the people on the 22 teams of three and four people. I can't spell NBA.

The money will go toward literacy programs through BRL, which used to be Literacy Volunteers of the Roanoke Valley. The name reflects an expanded geographic coverage area. Gina French of BRL says that estimates of illiteracy in the region range as high as 25 percent, meaning these people can't read a newspaper or fill out a job application. The group has been around a long time, but not as long as bad spelling--which it made a righteous effort to correct tonight.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New Hollins Trailhead: Not Much To Brag About

Sun shines through the cedars on the trail.
The sign announcing you're there.
This bridge marks the beginning.
This is about as good as the view got. Not much to write home about.
I finally found and walked the new Hollins Trailhead to the Tinker Creek Greenway this week and, frankly, I was disappointed. The portion I walked (and with my brand new knee, I couldn't do it all) had very little to see, even at the height of fall color. It was basically a cedar forest and the cedars had been trimmed along the pathway.

The trail is uphill, every step I walked, and ends, I'm told, at Carvin's Cove, the Roanoke water compound. It's a peaceful walk, but if you're looking for a view, try something else.

This one's hard to find, by the way, but let me help (since I pretty much had to find it on my own). Don't go to Hollins University. Instead, go to Exit 146 off I-81 and go west--away from the busy side. You'll shortly come to the end of Plantation Road (onto which you've exited) and will see a yellow and black arrow pointing two ways. Go right. This road will take you--in about a mile--to the clearly-marked trailhead.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How Much Chicken in a Can of Campbell's?

This is how much chicken was in my lunch today: a can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup (yes, I eat crap sometimes, too). You'll notice it's about a quarter's worth (that's a quarter on the right). I can't wait to measure the amount of hamburger in a Texas Tavern bowl of chili. Probably about a ha'penny's worth.

Photo Essay: That Golden Time of Year

This is why people fish. Has little to do with the fish, themselves.
Canopy of leaves at Wasena Park.
Fall's powerful light on the bridge to Vic Thomas Park.
This is the very personification of "fall color."
Backlighting in South Roanoke.
Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
The Roanoke River as a reflecting pool.
George Smith, the long-time chief photographer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch once described his photographic philosophy as "f-8 and be there." I was reminded of that today as I took the camera out for a little fall exercise. If you can't shoot a pretty picture this time of the year, put your camera up and sing or something because you're hopeless as a photographer.

Here's what I got today just by pointing the camera (and even breaking Rule 1 by pointing it into the sun for one of these shots). Just point and fire. You'll get something because the light is simply magic.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Maddie's First Big-Time* Football Game

Maddie's first pose in front of the UVa team and crowd in Charlottesville. Likely won't be her last.
Pampa the photographer reflected in Mads' shades.
Mads naps while Leah and Christina watch game and Pampa (shadow) photos.
Mads poses wearing her favorite editor's UVa hat.
Leah and I at OUR first UVa game.

We ran up to Charlottesville today, taking grandgirl Madeline to her first major college football game, this one between UVa and  Wake Forest (16-10 Wake final). Chistina (my favorite ex) and Leah (my girl) went along with Mads, who found the football less than fascinating (she napped for a while), but loved the overall feel of the trip. She adores being with adults and the kid is a delight.  I just love road trips with her.

(*OK, I know Virginia-Wake is not exactly 'Bama-Tennessee, but there were about 35,000 people packed into a 62,000-seat stadium..)

'Decision Height' Another Hollins Theatre Hit

Hollins University's latest theatrical offering, "Decision Height," is a showcase for one of its own student-writers, Meredith Dayna Levy, a master's candidate. "Decision Height" is her senior honors thesis and an impressive beginning it is for this 22-year-old.

The play revolves around six young women who have joined the WASP, an Army Air Corps auxiliary project for women pilots who shuttled planes to airbases in the U.S. and Britain. The women are undergoing basic training in Sweetwater, Tx., and their individual stories give the story its depth and its bredth. This is one of the most under-appreciated episodes of World War II and the way the women volunteers were treated remains a shame for our American military, but Ms. Levy doesn't dwell on the boorish male behavior, so much as she celebrates the depth of friendship and camaraderie. This is very much a war story, very much a woman's story.

(Decision height, by the way, is the height at which a pilot makes her decision on whether to land the plane or pass and try it again.)

Director Ernie Zuila, whose theater is the best in this end of the state--even when the pros are around--has nailed this one with his typical spot-on state movement and ensemble casting. The young women in the lead roles (Susanna Young, Emma Sperka, Maria Latiolais, Maya Rioux, Julie Abernethy and Russell Wilson heading a large cast) are perfectly cast with Miss Young effectively stealing the show. She plays a strutting, swaggering, arrogant young woman with no regard for the rules or anybody else's  privacy. But she learns, as they all do.

Miss Levy has obviously done impressive research on this small moment in history (one I know something about) and I could detect but one very small questionable piece of information (about pushing a button to eject from a training plane) in the entire two hour play. The writing is good, the directing nearly perfect and John Sailer's imaginative set so good that it becomes a character. This one was hard to design, but Sailer, who was with Mill Mounain Theatre in Roanoke for years, pulls it off with style--especially the flying scenes.

The play runs through Oct. 21 at Hollins and you can order tickets ($10) at 362-6517. This one's highly recommended.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tech Dining Hall No. 2 in the Country

My goodness, who'da thunk it: Virginia Tech is No. 2 in the country in campus food and James Madison is fourth. We knew Tech had a pretty good hospitality school and that its annual feeds on the lawn are exquisite, but that doesn't always translate to the dining hall.

No. 1 in the poll is Bowdoin College in Maine, a tiny school most have never heard of. The one glaring omission is Roanoke College and maybe the football training table at Vanderbilt. Here's the whole story.

Here's some of what the review of Tech says:

"They serve ribeye and whole lobster daily—and no, we’re not talking about the fancy restaurant downtown. In addition to the chop house options in Virginia Tech’s West End Market, VT students can find gourmet pizza cooked in wood-fired ovens at its Italian restaurant, or eat signature burgers while watching big screen projection TVs in its sports lounge."

CityWorks (X)po Kicks Off in Downtown Roanoke

Conference founder Ed Walker speaks to the packed house.
The CityWorks (X)po was off to a resounding start earlier today at the Roanoke City Market building, where it packed the house again. CityWorks, Ed Walker's brainchild, which is run by a group of young "creatives," as Ed calls them, is three days of talking and listening about the challenges facing small cities.

CityWorks host Toni Blackman welcomes the crowd.
Ed pointed out in his introduction today that the conference is as much about learning from each other as it is absorbing what a distinguished group of speakers has to say. He has gathered an impressive group from throughout the country and today through Saturday will be spent in a variety of sessions where the students are as important as the teachers. You can pick up a schedule of events at