A Pause in the Rain and a Road Trip

Margie found a red chair and tiny yellow flowers right in front of the Peaks of Otter.

Those ribs are mine!

Because the rain has been so consistent of late, Margie and didn’t plan to do anything outside today, but when the sun came out, we got inspired. I suggested we drive up the Parkway to the Peaks of Otter and have lunch. That way we would get out, but we wouldn’t take a chance of drowning.

As it turned out, the day was perfect and the lunch was delicious, unlike my most recent trip to the Peaks when the food was both expensive and lame. This time it was still expensive, but it was good. I ate a plate full of ribs and a bunch of veggies. It was all satisfying. Margie had fish and veggies.

We took a leisurely walk around the lake afterwards and shot some photos. Here’s what we came up with.

This view of the Peaks never gets old.

Rhododendron is in full bloom along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Rhododendron, up close and personal.

Mushrooms are everywhere after all the rain.

Margie photographed me sitting on a stump.

I like these sprouting pine cones.

Selfie on a Parkway overlook.

River Creeping Upward in Roanoke

After days of heavy rain in Roanoke, the Roanoke river is licking at the greenway, spilling over at most of the low water bridges and low spots.

Couple quietly enjoys the rising river.

Saw a couple of bikers ride through this under a bridge.

The greenway going into South Roanoke Park is closed and the river is over the bridge (center of this photo).


The Weather: Beauty and the Beast

The back half of my neighbor’s yard is covered in three downed trees.

The front half of the back yard has its own damage.

It actually didn’t occur to me that all the rain we’ve had of late was much of a threat here on Edinburgh Drive in Northwest Roanoke, where we sit higher than most of the city. I was looking toward wet basements (my sump pump has been working full time) and perhaps a little flooding in lower areas.

But big trees falling? Nope. Didn’t expect that.

My part of this neighborhood has been crunched with high wind, heavy snow and the like, cracking some old oaks and, of course, the Bradford pears, which are a hazard when there is any wind at all. I did not expect to see what I saw off my deck a few minutes ago, though: my next-door neighbor has lost three Bradfords–two because a big oak in the next yard crashed into them–and his back hard is covered in trees.

Miss Julia’s peach.

Poor Joe will be out there with a chain saw as soon as he can, I’m sure, but the fault, dear Brutus, is not with the stars or Joe. It’s with Joe’s neighbor who didn’t cut the oak down when last it was split by a storm, leaving it hovering threateningly. That three has been split three times now and not cutting it down after the last incident led to this one. My guess is that there’s a lawsuit hovering if the owner of the tree doesn’t offer to clean everything up.

Anyhow, as I toured my own yard, I ran into one of Miss Julia’s irises, the peach one that I so adore. Miss Julia was the Iris Lady who was on City Market for many years, selling her creations to those of us who love irises and color. I am reminded of that lovely old lady every year at this time.

No Politics for a While; Maybe Ever

Yesterday, I took the day off from politics. I enjoyed the day so much that I’m going to continue the exercise and see what it does for my outlook, my physical health, my relationships and life in general.

Like so many Americans these days, I have been in a constant state of political despair–virtually since Richard Nixon was elected in 1968 (with my help, I’m afraid).The last year and a half has all but stripped me of hope for the future of our country and has told me in no uncertain terms that I can do absolutely nothing about this head-long dash to self-destruction. My comments fall on deaf ears, but they take time, effort and cause a great deal of stress.

Recently, those comments about the day’s events have not just drawn fire from those I would expect to be in opposition, but they have resulted in hateful responses from those who say they are liberals–like me. I’m doing something terribly wrong here and I’m going to stop–at least for a while; maybe for good–and find out what the other side feels like. Call it blissful ignorance if you’d like, but I’m 71 years old and getting weary of the constant battle, one my side is losing these days.

So, today, I continue the emphasis on personal gratitude. And that means that today I am grateful I have a choice and can exercise it.

How Mom Made a Difference

Mom with some of her grandchildren (including my son, Evan, back left). She was about 70 here. Wish my grandgirl, Madeline (Evan’s daughter), had known her. They would have adored each other.

My friend Susan asked me yesterday as we were paddling toward the sunset on the Roanoke River if I was going to write something about my late mother today, Mother’s Day. I said I wasn’t sure, hadn’t thought about it, even though it has become something of a tradition, beginning on Mom’s 70th birthday in 1985 (“How terribly strange to be 70” my remembrance then began, quoting Paul Simon’s song “Old Friends”).

“I love stories about your mother,” Susan said and I smiled. I’ve often heard that. I do too. The chapter dealing with Mom in my memoir, Burning the Furnitire, is always the readers’ favorite. The title of the memoir is straight from Mom’s mouth.

Opal McCourry Smith was a genu-wine enigma: a woman with a subtle sense of humor that often made me fall down with laughter once I got her quite, sophisticated little joke, and alternately one whose depression was so deep it sometimes seemed bottomless. I’ve often said that when she entered a room, we didn’t know if the lights would go off or come on. Such were her swings. We didn’t even have a name for it then, but have since known it as bipolar disorder.

Mom spent horrible, draconian time in state mental hospitals and was given shock therapy for a while. The only treatment she ever swore by was acupuncture given by a Chinese physician who moved in next door to her when she was about 60. She took the man and his wife a homemade lemon pie with four-inch high meringue the day they moved in–as was her custom–and they became fast friends. One day, he suggested the good doctor might be able to help her. He did.

As Susan and I chatted, I repeated an old story of mine with a new twist: “You know I’ve told you that I stopped going to church when I was 10 because one of the older church woman took me aside one day and said I needed to find another church, one where my clothing would be more appropriate.” We were poor and I didn’t have dress-up clothes.

When I came home crying that day and explained to Mom what had happened, she looked at me calmly and said, “Well, I guess you don’t need to go back there. Those people are not good enough to have my son as one of them.”

That settled on me like a soft blanket and has been there for me ever since. That’s what mothers do. Good mothers, anyway.

Tech Prominent in National Drone Program

Tech students work with a drone in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech has been well out front in development in drone technology and policy for more than a decade, so the latest step for its program is not much of a surprise.

Here’s Tech’s press release on the development:

Virginia’s successful bid for a spot in the Department of Transportation’s UAS Integration Pilot Program is the latest evidence of the state’s dominance in a growing field. It’s also good news for the commonwealth’s residents, who will have a strong voice in the conversations unfolding around drones and their benefits.

Through the program, the Virginia team will seek expedited flight permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration to perform some of the most complex flight testing ever attempted in the U.S.

“Today’s award is recognition that this team has assembled some of the strongest expertise in the nation and has put forward a proposal that will prove critical to shared efforts to safely integrate drones into our communities and airspace,” says Sen. Mark Warner, who put forth Tech’s nomination.”

Over the next three years, the team will explore applications of drone technology that stand to offer Virginians significant benefits, including package delivery, emergency management, and infrastructure inspection.

Steger Joins Murphy in Our Memory

From left: Steger, then Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, Ed Murphy.

Charles Steger and Ed Murphy were, without dispute, two of the most important visionaries ever to live in Western Virginia. Separately they did much for respective Virginia Tech and Carilion, two of the largest employers in the region. Together, they created the Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School and Research Institute in Roanoke.

Yesterday, Steger joined Ed Murphy, who died in mid-October with cancer. Steger, VirginiaTech’s 15th president, was 70.

Steger and Murphy, CEO of Carilion, envisioned, then cobbled together the Virginia Tech Carilion Medical School and Research Institute, a futuristic institute on the grounds of Carilion’s Riverside campus in Roanoke. The college has become world-famous in a few years. To those who said it couldn’t be done, Steger and Murphy thumbed their noses and forged ahead with multiple partnerships and their national network of associates.

Steger also led Tech through its darkest period, April 16, 2007, when a gunman murdered 32 Tech students, creating worldwide outrage.

Here’s how the Virginia Tech press release remembers Steger:

“During Steger’s presidential tenure, Virginia Tech grew in enrollment from 28,000 to 31,000, increased graduate enrollment by 12 percent, raised more than $1 billion in private funding, formed a school of biomedical engineering, created a public-private school of medicine, joined the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and constructed the Moss Arts Center and the Virginia Tech Research Center — Arlington as part of the largest building boom in university history.

“Under his leadership, Virginia Tech charted a course to become a top research university; a year after his retirement, the university’s research expenditures ranked 39th in the nation. During his presidency, Virginia Tech increased its total research expenditures from $192 million to more than $450 million.

“Steger’s ground-breaking partnership with Carilion Clinic led to the creation of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute, forming the fifth medical school in Virginia. The medical school, which graduated its first class in 2014, will fully integrate into Virginia Tech and become its ninth college on July 1.

“A hallmark of his administration was the realization of a 50-year dream for Hokie fans—entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) in 2004. The university’s football program, led by Steger’s undergraduate classmate Frank Beamer, won four conference titles in the first eight years of ACC play.

“Steger calmly guided the university when it lost almost 25 percent of its state funding in the early 2000s. He developed alternative business models and new funding streams, increased philanthropic support, and fostered innovative public-private partnerships, helping Virginia Tech not only adapt, but also thrive. He also championed efforts to grow Virginia Tech’s reputation for high-quality academic and research programs.”

DIP Class: A Lesson in Feeling Stupid

Think this hand position is right? Wrong!

I love learning. Except when I don’t. Yesterday was a case of the latter: a Driver Improvement Program class of eight hours and a 50-question test at the end.

The class was my choice–among three bad alternatives–allowing me to avoid conviction for a speeding ticket (and the insurance ramifications of that) for a bit of my time and effort. Learning has never been easy for me, but I don’t generally exit these experiences feeling as stupid as I did yesterday.

When I finished my test, I was absolutely the dead last of 19 students to turn it in and I was so uncertain about the answers (open book answers, some of which weren’t in the book that I could find) that I actually thought I might fail. Missing 11 is failing. One of the guys who finished ahead of me couldn’t read English.

I missed four and finished with a 92, which teacher Mickey Owens, a former high school principal with a PhD, said was about average a “C.” A lot of what I “knew” entering the class was simply wrong, some of it taught to me in high school driver’s ed class in 1964.

The ticket: This is how it begins.

I missed all six questions on the first test in the book, during class. All of them. The questions were like this (true or false, and all of them were false):

  • Vehicles equipped with anti-lock brakes can stop in a shorter distance than vehicles without ABS.
  • A safe following distance is one car length for every 10 mph you are traveling.
  • The correct tire inflation pressure is marked on the tire’s outside edge.
  • Steering wheel hand position should be 10 and 2.
  • When skidding, steer in the direction of the skid.
  • When you double your speed, your minimum stopping distance will also double.

I have had the wrong information on a lot of important details about driving all my driving life. Most of the class did–those over 20, anyway. The younger drivers seemed to know everything. They said so.

So, I sat there having to re-learn it all. Because of the test at the end (and the correct answers we put in our workbook as we went along), there was no snoozing, chatting, talking on the cell phone or playing footsie. Not a single spitball was thrown that I witnessed.

I was occasionally taken aback at sexist comments coming from both the teacher and the male students, though I didn’t note any objection from the four or five women in the class (whose spare numbers give you a clue about which gender drives worst). I was taken aback at one point–when we were learning about road rage–that the teacher said he keeps a Glock handy to take care of that eventuality. I felt at times that I was at a Trump rally.

The class cost $65 a head for those of us being punished, making for a $1,235 payday for Drive This Way, which presented the class. Of that, the DMV gets $10 a head, netting DTW $1,045, a nice eight-hour take. Owen said the AAA video accompanying the class cost $600, so, with the building and the workbooks, there was a little overhead.

The offshoot of the class is that I learned a lot that I thought I already knew. My old AA sponsor once told me that if I’d go to enough meetings, I’d learn a hell of a lot more than I imagine “just from osmosis.” I think that was the active ingredient for me yesterday. I learned some, felt stupid much of the time and am damn glad it’s over today.